Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Son (or probably Daughter) of The Figurehead

by Bill Kirton
The original
This blog’s intended to embarrass me. I only say that because it seems I’ve been mentioning the present Work In Progress for ages, maybe even years. Usually, once I start the actual writing of it, the first draft of a novel takes me about six months. This one is resisting me and it’s embarrassing that it’s taking so long. This is the story so far.

Way back, a friend, out of the blue, said ‘You should write a book about a figurehead carver’. At that point, I’d published 3 modern mysteries. But I like sailing boats, I live in Aberdeen, Scotland, which has a great shipbuilding tradition, and I love the Romantic period, so why not?

Research involved looking through the usual archive materials and reading newspapers about events in the Aberdeen of 1840. I also took up wood carving, so that I could get the feel of conjuring a distinct shape out of a big log. And I sailed across the North Sea as part of the crew of the beautiful square-rigger Christian Radich.

So there I was, starting yet another crime novel, but this time with no worries about DNA or any of the other CSI techniques. And I created a character, John Grant, who’s a figurehead carver. He’s also a handsome loner – you know the type – and he was going to be my Miss Marple and solve the mystery of the body found on the beach.

But all that was before I met Helen Anderson. She’s a young woman who resists the oppressions imposed on her sex in the 1840s and defies conventions. She’s bright, witty, self-assured and more complicated than I know. She’s also intrigued by the death of the man on the beach, a shipwright who was building her father’s new ship, which was to be named after her mother, Elizabeth.

I won’t go into details of the plot because I always find synopses very
An offshoot of my research - one of my own carvings
unsatisfactory. John continues with his sleuthing but it’s the intervention of Helen that gives him the final insight he needs to piece things together. Meanwhile, he’s carving a figurehead for the Elizabeth Anderson and, at the request of Helen’s mother, he’s making it a composite image of herself and Helen. So he’s coaxing her likeness from the oak in his workshop and the carving lies there continually reminding him (and me) of Helen. For her, the carving is an excuse to visit John and, incidentally, discuss their respective theories about the killing.

But what came to be far more important than the detective work was the growth in their relationship. She’s rich and, despite her intelligence, protected from any real awareness of the lives lived by the people who work around the quays of Aberdeen. But her curiosity and her determination to involve herself in her father’s world of trade and intrigue lead her to befriend the dead man’s wife and form relationships which would appal her parents (if she hadn’t already shown them her determination to be independent).

A dream come true - helming the Christian Radich
And, as she was doing all this, she quite quickly pushed her way to the front of the narrative – or at least to a position of sharing the spotlight with John. Neither admits openly to the fascination they hold for one another and love is never mentioned, but the tenderness, the tensions, the playfulness and the quarrels they have all suggest a passion which surely can’t be suppressed forever. So I found that I became far more interested in how their actions affected each other, how the mind of each was filled with thoughts of the other, and how their strong personalities clashed and sparked and led to more frustrations than satisfactions. And it all happened in that wonderful writing state in which you just sit there, listen to what the characters are saying, watch what they’re doing, and write it all down.

The novel ends on a kiss (after the mystery has been solved, of course), but now, here I am trying to get deeper into the sequel. It’s another crime novel because that’s what readers expect, but the main character is Helen, not John, and it’ll be as much a romance as a mystery – probably more. I’ve written a big chunk of it but the thing that’s holding me back is ‘What have they been doing in the twelve months since that first kiss?’ I still can’t answer that question or another which I’ve been asked by several readers – ‘Will John and Helen get together?’ I think they will but I really don’t know. In the end, it’s up to Helen. I just wish she’d hurry up and let me know.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I read the book some time ago and enjoyed the intrigue, mystery, and "romance." I love the new cover and look forward to reading the sequel.

Bill Kirton said...

Yes, I remember your very generous review, Jean. Thanks
Since writing the blog, I've had a lovely review from someone who insists I get on with that sequel. Just the kick up the backside I needed. (I hope.)

Jackie King said...

I love this story! Perhaps Helen isn't talking just now for some inner turmoil that she herself is having trouble admitting.

If this were my book, When I was stuck with Helen, I'd consider moving into the hero's POV. I'd think about a scene with a switching POV between the two. (I know this is discouraged.) Hard to do, but you're up to it. I've read your books.

Hope this isn't presumptuous, it's a scene that just flashed into my mind. I know you will do something else...something wonderful...but brainstorming with friends helps me.

Good luck. I can hardly wait to read this.

Jackie King said...

Good Grief, I just reread this and it makes no kind of sense. I should have done a review/edit first. So sorry.

Bill Kirton said...

No need for apologies, Jackie, it makes perfect sense to me. Thanks for giving me a nudge in another direction. I think the ‘inner turmoil’ you mention is the fact that she and John really do love one another but, apart from the problems resulting from them occupying different social strata, she loathes almost everything that marriage demands of the Victorian woman. There’s also the fact that she’s getting involved in her father’s business and about to set sail on a short voyage just to find out what it’s like being at sea.

I get annoyed at the POV police. The omniscient narrator is allowed inside all the heads of her/his characters. Of course, we mustn’t confuse the reader but shifting POV doesn’t automatically mean that’ll happen.

Thanks again for the comment. You’re the 4th person in recent weeks who’s waiting for this sequel to appear. None of you wants it more than I do, however. I’ll get there.

Jackie King said...

I'm late with my response. (And most everything else, these days. Sigh.) But this book sounds wonderful. Different and cutting-edge. I'm sure you know this, but when I get stuck, I give myself permission to write a really, really, really bad chapter. This removes the fear of failure, for me.
Keep moving forward.

Bill Kirton said...

That's a new one, Jackie. I think I know what you mean, though. I say to students in writing workshops that they shouldn't worry too much about the niceties of style, grammar, etc. on the first draft - just get something down on the page/screen. It's easier then to come back to it and rewrite, correct, delete, etc. It's sort of what I've been doing to get past the sticking point and, slowly, it's working.