Shop Talk: Juggling

The year is not yet a month old, but very nearly. As my New Year’s resolution regarding social media is to post here more and visit Twitter less I’d planned to post to my blog at least once a month. Some posts, such as this, will be chatty accounts of what I’ve been reading, writing, thinking of late. FYI, I took the photo above on my afternoon walk yesterday. A long walk along the lake is one of my favorite means of getting out of the way of my imagination.

Writing-wise I am busier than usual, juggling two books at once. I’ve friends who are often finishing one book while beginning another but I’ve never found that doable—until the past few weeks. I didn’t intend to jump into another book, it just happened, and I’m always curious to give free rein to such creative impulses. I’d begun to play with ideas for the Owen Archer that’s due under contract in March 2024, and started jotting notes on one of the white boards in my office, gathering reading material next to the reading chair in here about what’s going on in 1376-77, and then Tom Merchet started popping into my head at odd times and I realized it’s high time I became better acquainted with him. I never really explained why he’s the brewer rather than Bess, women typically doing the brewing at this time in England, and he’s decided to fill me in on how it came about. So books about ale and brewing are also accumulating next to my reading chair.

AND I’m almost finished with a major rewriting of the middle third of an experiment, writing in the genre I abandoned for historical fiction–i.e., fantasy, or, more appropriately in my case, the otherworldly ideas that existed in the medieval period I write about, greatly inspired by Richard Firth Green’s study Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church (Penn Press 2016). I’ve incorporated this aspect of medieval culture in small doses in almost all of my books, especially in the character Magda Digby but also Christiana in the Margaret Kerr trilogy, Efa in A Triple Knot, and Petra in the Kate Clifford series, and I wanted to see whether I could sustain it throughout an entire book. I’m using a character from the Owen Archer series who I have long wanted to bring front and center—with my agent’s enthusiastic encouragement. It’s much, much more challenging than I’d imagined. I’ve learned a great deal, especially through copious, wide-scale rewrites. I always revise and rewrite as I go, my first draft being what others might consider their 10th or 15th, but this book has morphed and changed as I’ve discovered what I want to say and how I want to shape it. That’s all I’m ready to reveal about it at present, as I don’t know whether I’ll ever deem it ready for publication. But you can see why I’ve been eager to dive into the next Owen Archer—a return to the familiar!

At least I’ve stayed within the century I often feel I know better than the two in which I’ve lived, so both books are historical, set in late 14th century Yorkshire.  


Some reading notes:

I am enjoying Queens of the Wild: Pagan Goddesses in Christian Europe, An Investigation by Ronald Hutton (Yale University Press 2022), learning about yet another arena of historical research in which the Victorians made it up as they went along, a “pagan survival” to suit their own pet theories about folklore, mythology, legends, and archeological sites. He covers Mother Earth, The Fairy Queen, The Lady of the Night, The Cailleach, and, in an epilogue, The Green Man. It’s a delight.

I’ve been rereading The Beguines of Medieval Paris by Tanya Stabler Miller (Penn Press 2014) as background while reading the ARC of a novel based on her research, coming out in April from Pushkin Press. The Mirror of Simple Souls by Aline Kiner. More about that in a future post because I’m not quite finished with the novel, but it is so engaging. It’s reminded me how much I enjoyed Tanya’s study of the Beguines (you’ll remember them from the Kate Clifford series) and her contribution to this blog when it was published. I’ll repost that soon.

4 Comments on “Shop Talk: Juggling

  1. i want to read Queens of the Wild. Thanks…i’m already reading 3 books at once. Yikes. Absolutely over the moon about your plans for the next Owen Archer book. I LOVED the development of Magda’s past and present. I think she’s my favorite character….most of the time. I want to grow up to be like Magda, but at 75, a long shot at best. I’ve picked up writing again, after decades of ignoring what was once a talent. It’s not coming back to me easily, but I’m forging ahead. I want to write based on the adventures in life that I really experienced, but I’m torn between 1st and 3rd person. My youth was (mis)spent in the late 60’s and early 70’s, full of adventures and miraculous survival. My mother used to say that the gods takes care of fools and children, and I qualified under both. Maybe I want to just change the names to protect the guilty. I also want to set the chapters to music (possible in ebooks, I would think). One could say we were the first generation with a constant sound track, and there are theme songs to my projected chapters. Anyway, thanks for the inspiration of your books, and the guidance from your blogs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Is there any explanation for why Magda uses archaic English like thee and thou? (I remember that her usage of third-person is explained in “A Vigil of Spies”)


    • I had discovered in talking to people in Yorkshire that the elderly remembered people still using those pronouns–within living memory–and I added that to Magda’s speech to suggest she was older than people realized. I tried it out and it felt right. So I kept it. Not all choices in creating characters are entirely rational.


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