Friday, 24 October 2014

The Game Plan

Life for an author is never easy. The game plan was that as soon as the signings were over and done with, Marcia would get her head down and start writing. We have spent a lot of time over the last few months (admittedly squeezed in between other things that had to be done) visiting various places and sitting in coffee bars, tea rooms and so on while trying to find out which ones are visited by the new cast of characters that have been slowly coming to life.

Last week I said I would show you some of the photographs taken at The Hermitage. This was taken in February. As you can see spring is on its way but it was one of those bitterly cold days and we were visited by a flock of starlings. The blackbird on the table looks rather affronted but the blue tit feeding on the nuts is completely indifferent to the invaders.
It is surprising how important it is to locate where characters hang out – or not, of course, and some don’t. I suppose in part this is because if a person chooses such-and-such a place over one on the other side of the road, this says something positive about them. I suspect there is more to it than that: I suspect that Marcia finds places where these guys speak to her and it then follows that these are places they use.

Talking about blue tits: here we see a group of five youngsters on a nut feeder. It is now July and these are no longer reliant on their parents but they still have the yellow plumage that sets them apart from the adults.
This nut feeder is in a cage to stop the grey squirrels taking all the nuts. 
I’ve been thinking about the coffee bars, tea shops and suchlike that Marcia has drawn in her books. A number of them no longer exist – or have changed out of all recognition – which brings me to the thought (and I know we've been here before) that novelists writing in their own time create extraordinarily accurate snapshots of that place and time. Future generations can learn far more about life within that place and time than they can from any history written by someone trying recreate the past from artefacts and records. 

Here we have a common chaffinch - not a bird most people even think about but one I think is rather splendid.
The down side is in that phrase ‘the place’. It represents a tiny droplet in the ocean of humanity that exists: life in the relatively well-heeled society living in the more rural parts of the West Country is totally different from life in cities – be they in those parts that are seriously deprived, amongst the super-rich or anywhere else. Marcia believes in writing only about what she knows and often quotes Jane Austen who once described the ‘canvas’ on which she wrote as being a ‘small, square, two inches of ivory’.

Equally charming if less colourful is Mrs Chaffinch.

However, like all game plans, this one was destined to fail. First up was an email from Kingsbridge Library: could Marcia come to an event they are planning and would she cut the cake, please? If she could manage it, three in the afternoon would be wonderful. Yes, of course she could. Marcia always does everything she can to support libraries and loves talking to groups of readers. Later today we shall be in Kingsbridge.

Michael Chequer of Radio Devon
Then there was Radio Devon. Just before she went on holiday, Marcia’s publicist emailed to ask whether Marcia was happy to be interviewed on Radio Devon. Another ‘of course’ – of course. Marcia naturally assumed that this would be as it has been in the past: popping in to chat to Judi Spiers on her morning programme (long term readers of this blog may remember that I once put up a photograph I had taken of them in the studio). Not so – but we were not to know this until Sarah returned from holiday  it seems that they want Marcia be one of the guests on the ‘Good Morning, Devon’ programme in the 9 to 10 slot on Saturday, November 1. Let’s hope she has as much fun with Michael Chequer as she has always had with Judi.

When the publication date is so late in the year, it (and the associated events) coincide with the time when Marcia usually drifts out of our world and into her own, a world that is infinitely more real to her. It all started with The Christmas Angel (Christmas in Cornwall in the US) which the publishers felt (quite reasonably) could not be brought out during the summer.

The next book, which is set in Dartmouth, starts just before regatta – The Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta to be precise – at the end of August. Anyway, Marcia is hoping that Transworld will bring next year’s book out before then. It has no firm title as yet although it is in production and I expect to receive the copy editor’s comments quite soon. If they do, all the events that follow publication will be well and truly over before she starts writing in earnest next autumn.

We shall see what happens.

How do you define a great novelist? We have been trying to decide and have come to no very firm conclusions so it would be good if some of you could enter into that debate.

Does a novelist have to create characters? That’s not a silly question. Think of books such as Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel where the writer takes real people out of history and tries to bring then to life for the reader.

Do we have to be able to empathise or identify with the characters created by a great novelist? One great novel was Animal Farm by George Orwell and nobody could possibly believe in any of his characters.

What do you think?

I'm not sure which of them is enjoying this encounter most!