How I write: Day Five

I’m at that stage I call the accummulation of random facts.  It involves reading, of course, and a lot of lying around half-asleep.  I wake up in the middle of the night and scribble sentences in a big A4 hardback notebook.  Random scenes begin to emerge.  Sometimes they’re no more than a glance between characters.  Sometimes snatches of dialogue or descriptions of a place with its particular atmosphere.  What I should be doing according to the standard ‘how to write a novel’ course is fleshing out my characters and refining my plot lines.  When I taught creative writing a few years ago in London I began with the line:  there is one rule for writing a novel , at which every pen became poised, only to say:  there are no rules.  Philosophically, of course, it’s ambiguous, but you get the point I’m sure.

I’d planned to write chapter one on Monday morning but am being pulled by wild horses towards starting tomorrow.  Hildegard is eager to get up and at ’em.

A point worth remembering is that words are not sacrosanct until you make them so.

Meanwhile I read Chaucer writing about his astrolabe yesterday.  His son, ‘lytel Lewys,’ must have been a bright spark.  At the age of ten he was begging his father to show him how the astrolabe worked and Chaucer, good dad, decided to write it out for him like a little lesson, beginning with a description of what the astrolabe looked like and how it should be held and then going into ever more detail to demonstrate what it could do.  Apart from being able to measure the altitude of the stars, movements of the sun, timing of the tides and so forth, it could be used for astrology.  Chaucer set his constant fix on Oxford, that hotbed of Lollardry, so-called.  The scholars were free enough in King Richard II’s time to follow their researches into the seven liberal arts of which astronomy was one, without danger to themselves – until Arundel decided to hound them out.  This led them to a small fenland port on the river Cam where they set up shop again.  I believe there’s a unniversity and a science park there to this very day.  It was ten years later after usurper Henry IV seized the throne that burning at the stake was introduced into England as punishment for pioneering scientific thought, or indeed, any thought at all.

I really need a stroll round Netlay Abbey to find out exactly where the guest quarters were and how the brothers got down to the quayside to unload their imports.   Fat chance though.  Car still kaput.


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