You have to say the title of this blog in a New York accent. You know the New York accent? It’s my 4th favourite accent after Mediterranean French, Welsh, and Russian. It’s quite possible my next book with have a character from New York as I have just realised that my first book had French and Russian characters and my second had two Welsh characters and I have absolutely no idea why! And as I write this I remembered that Alia Henry and the Ghost Writer does have a character from New York; Mrs Grant!
Okay So I’ll have to decide on my 5th favourite accent… I know! Irish!
You’ve probably guessed by the title that I have signed up for the Masterclass app and I am currently working my way through the James Patterson lessons. He’s droll and unpretentious, and says he absolutely loves writing. I love when famous creatives say they love their work and are not scared to be all nerdy about it. I am currently devoting 20 minutes each morning to sitting down with my journal and a pen to listen to the lessons. I wanted to give it my total focus and I have to set a timer or I might sit there all day! It’s fantastic (said in a New York accent…in my head anyway!)
I’m up to the editing lessons now which is handy because I am editing my new novel Circle of Ashes. I actually love editing and it seems I already have a similar process to Patterson. I write my first draft mostly longhand then voice-to-text it into a word document. Word tends to not appreciate my Australian accent so I’ll have to work on my diction. Then I go through the drafts repeatedly fleshing out the story and improving as I go. I think a lot of writers view editing as ‘fixing mistakes’ but Patterson urges us simply to view it as improving upon the basic story. But I found myself getting bogged down in a chapter last week. It’s the first chapter in a different POV and finding the voice of that character is challenging. Dr Barton could sound a bit like me I suppose, like most of my other characters…? But Gallice must sound different; She is a neo-lithic Druid acolyte after all.
I cheerfully sent my Beta readers the first 5 chapters, all of which focus on Dr Barton, a paleoanthropologist, but this new chapter introduces Gallice. It is the day of rebirth, the day the priests of the temple scrape the rotting flesh from the corpses of the elders who died over the winter. It’s very unlike anything I have ever written before. (I have done a lot of research but this is a fiction story and not supposed to be factual or based on any evidence or science. Just like my time portal in the basement of a Paris hotel, the reader is urged to suspend reality and come along for a ride.)
I has taken me around 3 weeks to write two pages of this new chapter because I am labouring over her voice, showing and not telling, and getting the sciencey bits at least sounding coherent. In his Masterclass, Patterson urges us to put down our polishing rag until after the building is complete, my metaphor, not his.
It’s a bit like The Block. Bear with me while I labour on this metaphor…
We have a TV show in Australia called The Block. The contestants, usually a married couple but often siblings, father/daughter, workmates, that kind of thing, are assigned a section of a ‘block’ to renovate. This block might be an apartment block or a house on a block of similar homes. Last year they did a block in a Melbourne suburb with houses from 5 different decades.
Each week the contestants complete a room in their allotted house or apartment and the best room or space of the week wins. They work hard on that one room, making it perfect, while the rest of the rooms, even those they’ve already completed get dusty and become store rooms for power tools and plasterboard. The whole thing would drive me completely bonkers. The Block is actually my idea of hell but this is how I’m writing at the moment! I am trying to polish Gallice before she can even tell her story.
Here’s the beginning of her story.
The lands of the Carnutes, 3500BCE
Gallice buried her head in the soft linen folds of her pallet bed as Belenus, the sky dancer, made his presence felt in the room. Their home, perched on the hill above the village, was positioned to catch the first and last rays of the day and the warm glow on the walls telling her it would be a clear day. Her belly growled from hunger and fear. For the first time, she would follow the elders to the hill temple to scrape the bones of the priests who had died during the dark season. When Cailleach reigns Anu closes her heart but with the new buds in the orchard and baby animals in the pens and forests, the time had come to prepare the bodies. Gallice had always loved to see Anu awaken. Twice she had conceived a child on the full moon just when the light and darkness were in balance, with light on the rise, Belenus, regaining his strength. It was said this was the perfect time to welcome a child. Now as she stared at the patch of golden sun on the beaten-earth floor, she saw the awakening of Anu in a new light. Just as her own body had become open to a child, Anu, the earth on which they all lived, opens too, to bring forth roots, fruits, and fungi. Now Gallice understood, she also becomes willing to accept the bones of the dead.
Allora, Gallice’s full-blood sister, had died too, in the dark season, with her child still inside her. They too were lying deep within the hill temple waiting to be welcomed home to rest in the caves under the floors. Allora’s child, conceived at harvest, was too large, Enora had said quietly, not daring to look at the tall warrior who had fathered the child. He had left the same day. The people had loved Allora, the elder of the daughters of Enora. Everyone said she was sweet and thoughtful, while Gallice, they said, was spirited. Allora had gone to the temple with an open heart while Gallice was discontent with her role as an apprentice to the healer, even if that was her own mother. Allora, with her affinity for reverence, had seemed blessed by Damona, her breasts full and belly rounded, but she had died bringing her second child into the world, while Gallice, with her narrow hips and strong shoulders, had given the village two sturdy offspring and the promise of more.
Gallice felt hot tears prick at her eyes. Sometimes she dreamed of Allora, alive and smiling, and then she would wake and call to her sister. Full of life and fat with child, to see her in death was a test, she knew. Gallice would only be called a priestess, admitted to the inner rooms, if she could keep the contents of her belly inside her during the ritual. At least, after three days of fasting there was precious little in her belly to be concerned about.
Gallice could not hide in her bed any longer. Each in the procession had their role to play, even Gallice, and she would not become a priestess by any other method. She hurriedly dressed and nodding a greeting to her mother and the other apprentices, made her way to the temple.