November found me up to my eyeballs in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I had challenged myself to write 50,000 words on the second book of what I hope will be a series about England before, during and after the Norman conquest. Even though I met the change, I have my doubts if I’ll do it again. Between the writing and all the other things that need to be done and that I want to do, it became drudgery. Admittedly, I do now have 50,000 words of a second novel, but I have to ask myself how many of those words will I be able to use. The plotting, characters, descriptions, conflicts, and dramatic arc are hit-or-miss. I could not take the time required to sort out the historical facts. All in all, it will need weeks of work to bring it in line with the first book.
And speaking of the first book, even it is having issue right now. I’m still struggling with where history ends and fiction begins. A historian in Hastings has been working on her own book about what Hastings would have been like before William the Conqueror arrived. She’s very carefully stepping backward through historical documents to figure would when various buildings and customs started. Her analysis is highly detailed, and I don’t expect her to have it completed within the timeframe for my book, but I want my book to include as much of her concept of Hastings as possible. It’s an exciting process, but it does have a way of complicating my story.
Another issue with the first book is that it is feeling flat right now. The characters need more life, the plot more twists, the setting more details, and it all needs to be brought together with what is known about the history of the times and places.
For example: Hastings is reported to have salt pans. These are huge pans that the sea is allowed to flow into. Fires drive off the water, leaving the valuable salt. I have included lip service in the book to this feature, but it needs to be integral to the story.
Another example: Hastings had a place that made coins. This also would be nice to bring into the story in some way. The trades included in the book feel hollow, an amateurish effort at best, and are not integrated well.
So I see lots of research still in my future. Research on blacksmiths, potters, moneyers, salt manufacturing and merchants, tanners, butchers, millers, and granaries. Research on the layout of Hastings, its size, where other nearby villages were located, the ties between these communities.
My goal is to have the novel in its final form by the end of 2015. It may even require another trip to Hastings.