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Into the Light

Hello? Hello? Is there anybody there? *opens garret window and peers out* Can someone tell me what year it is? 2007? Already? Holy moly, I haven’t left my room since Halloween.

At least, that’s what it feels like. The Book has been delivered. The deed is done and cannot be undone, as someone much more effortlessly glamorous than me once said, and I can stop dreaming about Dartmoor ponies and bogs and seventeenth century soldiers. Actually, I might hang on to the latter…

Like Marsha, I find it hard to let go at the end of a script, and spent yesterday afternoon wandering around the house feeling very wistful that I’d left my heroine and hero in a not-too-steamy clinch on a pile of rocks overlooking the moor. Not a Happy Ever After by any means (anyone who’s read a Warriors book will know that I struggle to let any light shine into my poor tormented characters’ lives), as the heroine’s just realized she’s a witch and liable to be thrown into the nearest duckpond should anyone find out, and her sweetheart is about to go back to the Civil War where he faces almost certain death from a Royalist musketball. This is the happier version of the ending; in my original storyline, the heroine killed her sweetheart (by mistake) and ended up losing everything including her home and her last living relative. I must have been having a bad day when I came up with that.

Top cure for writerly wistfulness, by the way, is several hours of housework, which I’ve been ignoring since Christmas. Oh the therapeutic joys of sucking up dust bunnies with the vacuum cleaner and refolding every item of clothing in my drawers. The dog fled; wisely, since I’ve been known to turn on her with the vacuum cleaner attachment recommended for curtains and soft furnishings. Hey, I’m an editor to the core. I like to be in control of my environment and that includes dog hair.

I know it seems as if I have written this manuscript freakishly quickly, and yes, I do average 5-6,000 words on a day of writing, but I don’t want to claim false credit. There are no tricks to writing this fast, and nothing special about me except perhaps the debt I owe to a Quaker upbringing, with its steely work ethic. I’ve been carrying this story about in my head for more than two years (the first chapter tumbled out of me when I was a third of the way through my previous book; I actually had to stop and write it in order to let myself concentrate on post-World War One feminism instead). During that time, I’ve tramped and ridden all over Dartmoor, located a tor (pile of rocks) high enough for someone to fall off and break their leg but not their neck, measured distances on foot and horseback between various villages, gone metal detecting on a Civil War battlefield in the pouring rain, and read more than I’d ever wanted to about seventeenth century military history. The characters have chattered for hours in my head and I’ve had time to come up with some cracking lines like, “I will kill thee for this, witch!” Well, it seemed cracking when I was typing it.

I also had a lot of back-and-forth debate with my editors at HarperCollins Inc about the storyline, mainly because I started off wanting universal doom and gloom and they, quite rightly, held on for at least a glimpse of happiness at the end. After addressing each of their questions, I ended up with a storyline at least twice as long as for any of my previous historical horse stories, with each scene mapped out almost to the extent of knowing what the characters would say.

So when it came to the actual writing, all I had to do was let my fingertips tap out the words that had been building up inside me. I never had to wonder what happened next, or how a character would be feeling at any point. It was all in my synopsis, or had flickered through my head during a walk along the river with my dog, or on a long car journey. Reader, I met my deadline, but with no magic, no witchcraft, not even any particular writerly powers, just a lot of pre-planning and a dose of hard graft. Oh, and no social life for forty days and forty nights. And an awful lot of Lindt chocolate.

Don’t feel too sorry for me – I thrive on being busy (those Quaker ethics again), and I still managed to find time to nip out for an afternoon last week and buy an apartment. It’s gorgeous, with a huge garden that backs on to the deer-infested wilderness of Richmond Park (a tract of grass and forest in south-west London that is nothing like Central Park). I move in three weeks, so my next three weekends will be taken up with buying furniture and finding reliable daycare for my dog. Thank goodness I’ve finished my book, because Real Life is rushing in to fill the vacuum left by no longer having to write 6,000 words a day.

Back to Warriors storylines now, which feels like light relief after being mired in seventeenth century warfare for so long. And back to more regular postings, I hope. I’m so honoured to be part of Writer Unboxed, indeed, to be classed as an unboxed writer, and I look forward to sharing more of my craft and experiences with you during the second year of this site’s history. I love Kathleen’s ideas for adding to our portfolio of blogs, such as guest contributions and writing exercises based on weird and wonderful pictures (maybe I could submit a photo of me in a fabulous winter coat?). If there’s anything I can do for anyone in terms of advice or helping you out of a writerly conundrum, please let me know. My New Year’s resolution for 2007 is clearly to be Editor of All the World! Now, if we could just start by tidying our workspaces…

About Victoria Holmes [1]