Words Do Not A Book Make
Well, as promised, I spent a fair proportion of my November evenings (those which weren’t spent cooking or collapsing from a persistent cold) turning out 40,000 words about George and Jane Boleyn. 10,000 short, but I’m still pleased that I got even that much done, because I find writing fiction about two hundred percent more exhausting than any other kind of writing. Of course, what I have written is in no way worthy of being called a novel, not even a very bad novel — it’s more like a loosely connected series of scenes which start and end at odd moments and have random pieces of information left out because the point of the exercise was to get the words out, not to fiddle about with things like ensuring complete internal consistency. Since I hope to get more work done on the story in the coming months, I’m posting a list of Things To Remember for the benefit of myself and the entertainment of any writers who didn’t like my assessment of their earlier efforts in writing Boleyn-centered fiction.
1. I know nothing. I knew I wasn’t a world-class scholar but I had no idea how little I knew about these people until I started trying to write about their daily lives. How many servants did they have, exactly? Where would they have slept on a routine basis? (A tricky question when both of them were technically attendants on those greater than themselves and weren’t always in the same place). What time did they get up? How did they get dressed? How many books did they own, realistically? It wasn’t long before I was running out for more books to tell me the answers to these questions. Which leads to my second item —
2. I have read nothing. Or rather, while I’ve read a fair number of histories, I have read almost nothing which George and Jane Boleyn might have read, and it’s safe to say that George at least would have been pretty well up on the controversial literature of his day (and Jane, daughter of a classics scholar, was unlikely to be a total slouch either). I’ve read summaries and extracts, but damned if I’ve ever sat down and inhaled Henry VIII’s defense of the Seven Sacraments, A Glasse Of The Truthe, or The Obedience Of A Christian Man in their entirety. Similarly with the Supplication of Beggars. The Tyndale/More polemics? Somehow failed to make it into my beach bag last summer. I’m on firmer ground for poetry, but even there I could use a little more background reading. There were literally thousands of poetic works which were not “Whoso List To Hunt” or “Why Come Ye Not To Court”. And now that I’m not trying to get fifty thousand words cranked out in one month, I’ll be able to read quite a few of them, along with the polemics, God help me.
3. I can’t read everything. There are a number of works out there which I simply can’t read (French, no translations that I can find) or which I’m pretty sure were never published, and since I’m currently on the wrong side of the planet there’s no real prospect that I’ll be able to see them. And that’s all right. The things I can get hold of promise to soak up most of my free time for the foreseeable future anyway. But of course …
4. I shouldn’t show too much of my work. Characters who converse entirely in quotes are a pain, though not quite as much of a pain as characters who archly drop a few Shakespearean phrases decades before Shakespeare was born. Of course, I might want to double-check and make sure that none of my characters are doing that accidentally. Shakespeare coined a lot of phrases in his lifetime.
5. I am allowed to make things up. This is especially necessary for Jane, whose life as recorded largely consists of a series of blanks punctuated by one or two instances of incredible folly. If her life isn’t to consist entirely of being at her sister-in-law’s elbow witnessing things that happen to her, it’s entirely all right to give her a failed pregnancy or strong religious opinions or anything which gives her her own story. And considering the various crimes with which writers have loaded her down over the centuries, it’s even all right tilt the scales and give her some flattering attributes!
6. I am not allowed to have anyone commit un-historic rapes, murders, or poisonings. All right, I am technically allowed, I just don’t want to.
7. I have an irrational dislike of Thomas Wyatt and must resist the urge to take it out on him by breaking #6.
8. Yes, I really do have to read those polemics. If my characters read them, so can I.
I’m going to enjoy this — polemics, Wyatt and all.