by Bill Kirton
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
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 Aberdeen North
Sea as part of the crew of the beautiful square-rigger Christian
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
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.
|An offshoot of my research - one of my own carvings|
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
. 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
|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.