This, ladies and gentlemen, was a very hard post for me to prepare.
I know what I write – after three years of scribbling, I damn well should – but telling people what I write … hmm, that’s sort of like sticking pins in my eyes.
For the longest time, I found it impossible to admit that I even wrote. I’d sneak off to the computer, telling my husband I was off to do some “typing”, quickly minimising the screen if he walked by … sigh. What a twit. Nowadays, I’m fine with telling others that I write; it’s just the “what” that trips me up. I guess it’s because it’s mainly family and friends who ask that question, and when I start to answer I can see them thinking “Oh, my God! YOU - our wife/daughter/mum/sister/friend - are writing THAT?!” I guess what I write challenges the view some of my nearest and dearest have of me; not that what I write is anything outrageous, in my humble opinion - it’s just not what others expect of me.
Well, time for them to get over it, and for me to get over myself. And what better place to do so than in the company of other writers – “an advance of authors” being the collective noun, or so I’m told - who just know me as one of them.
So. What I write is what I love to read – historical suspense, a combination of genres that just does it for me.
I do love a good historical, suspense or otherwise - Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome Series, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, works by historical novelists such as Catherine Delors, C.W. Gortner, Philippa Gregory, Margaret George, Michael Cox, Tasha Alexander, Ariana Franklin … I’ve devoured them all. I’m fascinated by how people lived their lives in times gone by, and experience such a thrill when a writer effortlessly (seemingly!) transports me to the past - whether it’s ancient Egypt, Tudor England or nineteenth century Constantinople, I’m there.
I also love being on the edge of my seat, holding my breath with anticipation, when I read. Ah, the suspense! Bodies dumped in streets, innocent victims preyed upon, unpredictable plot twists and turns, heroes and heroines who must choose between taking a stand and risking their lives, or allowing chaos to reign unchecked … books such as C.S. Harris’ Sebastien St Cyr series, Mark Frost’s The List of Seven, most of Stephen King’s offerings, Silence of the Lambs … these all spring to mind as tales of suspense that I just could not put down.
I’m aiming for that same mix - suspense in an historical setting - in my own book, BLOOD OF THE HEART. In part, it deals with a darker side of the human condition; how it is that some people appear outwardly normal – the quiet, keeps-to-himself neighbour, for example – yet are able to snuff out another’s life without compunction, bringing pain and suffering into the world. And what is it that motivates others to do the exact opposite; to do their utmost to help others, to ease pain and suffering? And what happens when these delineations – to harm or to heal – begin to blur?
It’s also about ideals we cherish – reputation, liberty, identity; what it means to have them, and what happens when, one by one, they are taken away.
It’s through my main character, Isabel Knight, and my antagonist, Philippe, the Marquise de Cheverny, an artist and a serial killer, that these themes have become a story.
In 1864, Isabel is a newly minted physician who travels to Paris, the world centre of nineteenth century medicine, in the hope of finding a cure for her father’s debilitating ailments, and of finding some way to put her medical skills into practise. But Isabel lives with a gaping hole in her memory; one entire month of the previous year has been cleanly excised from her mind. She has chosen to try to accept her condition - her mind has clearly decided some things are better not to know, after all; but when a body is discovered dumped on a Parisian boulevard, mutilated by Isabel’s own distinctive, pearl handled scalpel, a medical symbol cut into its chest, the memories begin to flicker into focus – and what she sees makes her blood run cold.
The French police and British Embassy officials circle round her; when another body appears, murdered in the same manner, she becomes their prime suspect, and faces an agonising plight; to clear her name and to stop the murders, she must enter the killer’s game of cat and mouse – and pray that when the memories come tumbling out, she does not come to discover that she is exactly the same as the one she hunts.
It’s not all dark, however; Isabel just cannot help but have a sense of humour, a dry comment always at the ready, which is one of the reasons I love writing her. Philippe, too, is capable of being quite charming, despite his depravities.
So, I’m nearly finished the first draft. I hope (fingers and toes crossed) to be done by Christmas, when I will shove the thing in a drawer for a good six weeks, after which I will get stuck into it with my scissors and lashings of red pen!
I’m going to be a snip-hog, and post two exerpts - Isabel going hammer and tongs with one Mr Skelton, money-lender and thug (a minor character who causes her grief when her shady brother won’t repay his debts); and Philippe, at work.
And my questions for you:
What is your favourite mix of genres to write, or read, or both? And why?
And – because I’m nearing this point and I’m damned curious - what do you do when you reach the end of you first draft? Let it sit and percolate for months? Or type THE END and whip right back into edits?
Oh, and don’t forget, if you comment before 12 noon EST, Friday, October 23rd, you’ll be in the running to win one of Claire’s book picks. They're a fabulous selection; I'm so bummed I can't enter!