I’ve written before about how my writing journey has forced me out of my “comfort zone” when it comes to social media/marketing. Shy wallflowers like me are not great at self-promotion; I’ve had to force myself every step of the way. The actual writing has always been the soft squidgy part of the process. That’s what I’m good at, sitting at my laptop and playing with my characters, manipulating them to do my bidding.
Writing my Isle of Wight mysteries has been the literary equivalent of putting on a pair of well-worn slippers. It’s been a joy, a delightful escape which has kept me occupied for the best part of the last three years, and I do feel a little sad it’s come to an end (although never say never because I’ve had an idea for a possible future Christmas special for Eliza and Charlie…).
But now I’m casting those slippers aside to put on a pair of super-high stilettoes, the type of shoes you buy and wear only once because they pinch and rub, cause blisters and broken ankles…
My next project requires RESEARCH on a large scale and it’s anything but comfortable. Each Eliza Kane mystery has involved a limited amount of research – I knew nothing about the Isle of Wight’s aviation industry until I started writing A Crisis at Clifftops, even less about golf, but it was very much a case of looking things up as a I went along, and also with the knowledge that most readers probably knew even less about these things than I did.
But now I’ve got to man-up! My WIP (work in progress) – which is still very much at the in my head stage – is a major epic, a historical saga very different to anything I’ve written before. It is based on real events that took place during the Second World War, and I need to stick to the facts. Not only that, but the relatives of the central characters are still alive and kicking, and have very kindly allowed me to re-tell the family history. I have to do them and their ancestors justice. I want the background/setting for this story to be as accurate as it can be, even though I have a licence to embellish the plot.
Fortunately my local library has several shelves of local history books. My reading list is growing. There’s also the internet research and YouTube videos…
The setting for the story is the local to me in the New Forest, in particular the villages on the western banks of Southampton Water. These days this side of Southampton Water is dominated by the enormous oil refinery at Fawley, but the refinery wasn’t constructed until the 1950s. Before then, the western banks of the water were flanked by open fields and farmland.
Any descriptions of the local landscape I include in this new novel, when I finally get round to putting my fingers to the keyboard, are going to vary a lot from what a visitor to this area sees today. It’s not as if I can go for a walk and experience the same sights and sounds as my 1940s heroine. If you think a stroll in through the trees in the Forest might help, think again. Most of the New Forest was out of bounds for the entire duration of the War, requisitioned by the military for top secret training camps, dummy bombing raids and hastily constructed aerodromes. (Research paying off already!)
The War itself is very central to the story. I’ve read a handful of novels set during that time, I know about ration books and air-raids, black-outs, the Home Guard, digging for Victory, etc, but now I need more detailed knowledge. What music did my heroine dance to? There must have been more choice than Glen Miller and the Andrews Sisters. What was she wearing? Probably something she made or altered herself. What was her favourite tipple? A watered down beer – how delicious! There’s a lot of information out there, but filtering out the bits I need will take time.
In addition, I need to adopt a new “serious” voice. This isn’t a frivolous story, and although I’m sure humour will creep into certain scenes, I have to make sure it’s appropriate for the setting and the time. My characters will have fun, but they also have some huge choices and heart-wrenching decisions to make. I can’t trivialise that.
I’ll keep you updated on my progress but I’m in this for the long haul. It will be a learning curve, and a challenge, but I’m determined to give it a go. I don’t have a title, and the three central characters have already undergone several name changes before they’ve even been cast onto paper (I’m not using their real names but coming up with new ones that suit them is proving a bit trickier than I thought). I’ll get there. Some parts of the story are set in stone, others have some wriggle room.
On a lighter note, and talking of things that wriggle….Ed the cat has been a great hindrance during the proof-reading of Trouble on the Tide, but we’re still on target for ebook launch at the end of June. Paperbacks will follow later in the year. Cover reveal coming soon!