Szyzygy's Blog

October 29, 2009

Oh noes! A historical novel in the offing…

Filed under: Uncategorized — syzygy @ 7:25 am
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I have to admit that I have been playing with the idea of a historical novel for some time, jotting notes idly all the while to this end. I have just reread with, I must add, the greatest of pleasure, Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin cycle in its entirety, and, earlier this year whilst in Barcelona, and with similar enjoyment,  E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros. Seemingly there is little connection between high seas swashbuckling and a light romantic fantasy. However, one thing does immediately stand out as linkage, and that is the way that both Eddison and O’Brian contrived to consciously use archaic modes of language and manners of speech to reinforce (or, indeed, one might reasonably opine, as the central rationale for) their stories.

The surgeon, intelligence agent and eminent natural philosopher Stephen Maturin of the O’Brian books is a very complex and subtle piece of characterisation performed by an author whose talents have been very seriously under-recognised. Aubrey, his bluff naval sea-captain foil, is a sympathetic, oftimes comical, Watson to Maturin’s Holmes. This is of course a clearly definable trope, for the deficiencies of the foil can easily be exploited to allow the prime mover to articulate for the benefit of the reader the minutiae of explanations. I have my central character, my putative Maturin, well in sight, and now I am casting about for a foil, or possibly a company of foils, or some other mechanism or device, for, having recognised the leeward trope, I am as keen to avoid it as may be imagined. The French Revolution is always something which has interested me, socially, politically, morally and philosophically, and no one has ever done a really good French Revolution historical novel from the inside, certainly none that I have ever read (and let us not even mention Baroness Orczy in jest….) and I certainly intend to touch on that area of history in depth. That said, I am finding the pleasure of writing in faux and archaic 18th/19th century English to be an inordinately illuminating experience and I am frequently finding old words for new as a direct consequence, much to the betterment of my everyday writing. 

The real enemy of this work soon to be in serious progress is time.  I am shortly bound for Greece for the winter to do some programming work (the stuff that pays the inevitable bills) which will necessarily impede progress to a significant extent; moreover I am co-opted onto a WikiMedia task force to deal with improving & strengthening community usage of Commons resources. That said, I am merrily cranking out pages of scene-setting, dialogue and background prose for this novel betwixt and betide almost effortlessly. Normally I struggle and agonise over every single utterance, every comma’s placement, but this feels as though it is being written almost at arm’s length and while I am engaged with it, it feels almost as though I, myself, am not writing it but that it is writing itself…. Which makes for a pleasurable change.


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