Am I nuts?
I’m editing Poor Law, the sequel to A Just and Upright Man and second in the five book James Blakiston series. At least, I thought I was. But a couple of days ago a series of strokes of the sort of genius known only to the greatest minds meant I had to accept that I was into a wholesale rewrite and not just an edit. I’ve spent a large part of today in 18th century Durham county, the POV I’ve been writing these scenes in is that of a young woman and I got into that trance-like state that comes—sometimes—when it’s going well, you’re undisturbed and you’ve left your own world behind and moved completely into someone else’s. If you like—though it’s a word I don’t like—I’ve been channelling a sixteen year old girl from the 1760s. A number of things happened and Kate told me each time how she felt, what was in her mind and what the reaction of other people was. Times like that you have to keep going, keep writing because you don’t know when you’re going to have that rock-solid connection to another world again. When I finally came out of it (because I needed to eat) I was reminded of that time I’d been writing a 20th Century criminal and, when I finally stood up, I was patting my pockets, desperate for a cigarette. It took twenty minutes before I remembered that I don’t smoke.
That took me on to Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper, where protagonist Billy McErlane stood over me while I was working telling me, “Don’t forget the anger management. Tell them about the psych. Wendy wouldn’t have behaved like that, she’d have done this.” And from there it wasn’t a huge step to When the Darkness Comes and Haile Selassie elbowing his way forward when he caught the scent of Barabbas (who he didn’t care for one little bit) and saying, “If he’s in, I’m in.” The Lion of Judah had no place in my plans but he wasn’t going to be denied. He took control, too. So I suppose the question is fairly obvious. Am I completely round the bend? Is there any hope?
As a fruit cake, matey.
Hi.. Am enjoying the blakiston series , when will book 3 be released , patiently waiting..
Book 3 is largely set in the American colonies (you may remember that in Book 1 Kate’s two brothers went there when Joe was falsely accused of murder and the book follows what happens to them there in the lead-up to the American War of Independence). It should have been out in July, but there were some difficulties and it is now scheduled for 1 March. In the meantime, here is a taster from Chapter 2, showing their arrival in their new country:
Barron had said he did not know how long the voyage would take. In fact, the wind remained hard from the west throughout and it was late February when his increasingly grim face at last began to relax.
‘Good news?’ asked Joe over what as three months went by had become a very small evening meal.
‘There are leaves and small debris in the water,’ said Barron.
‘And that’s good?’
‘It means the coast is within reach. In a day or two we shall see it.’
‘Carolina. We shall have to turn north. With luck we shall be in the shelter of the Chesapeake Bay by Friday. And I shall be home.’
‘You have made a hard journey. Will it have been worth it?’
Barron smiled. ‘I shall see my new child. Boy or girl I know not, as yet.’
‘So that was your reason for not waiting till the spring.’
‘As good as yours, I think. So, Joe. What will you do now?’
“What will you do now?” It was a good question. Joe was not a man to feel fear, but the size of what lay before him was daunting. He knew little about the American colonies (and was to find that most of that little was false). He might speak of Virginia and Chesapeake and Carolina but he had no idea where these places actually were, or how one related to another.
The wind eased as they came into the lee of the Carolina shore. The sun shone on the battered ship. It was warmer than any Winlaton February had ever been.
Four days after the lookouts had first seen signs of land drifting on the waves, the entrance to Chesapeake Bay came in sight. Joe had expected something like the mouth of the Tyne at Shields. He and Miles were staggered when they saw the reality. It was as though their new land had determined to overwhelm them with its vastness right from the start.
Barron came to the rail where they stood, and smiled at their astonishment. ‘You know where you are?’
Joe shook his head.
‘Straight ahead, Virginia. The Hampton Roads, the James River and, just there to the left, the Elizabeth River. That is where you will disembark, for Norfolk is our port and my home. To the south, Carolina. And that vast expanse of water to the north, that must look to you as big as the Irish Sea though in truth it is not, will take you to Maryland. Follow it as far as you can and you go beyond, into Pennsylvania. There. Your introduction to American geography. Where will you go?’
Joe spread his hands. ‘I have not the faintest idea.’
‘We’ll land before nightfall. I shall deliver you to an inn where the landlord is honest and the fare good. You will both need fattening after this journey. I wish to spend this evening alone with my wife and child. Come to us at dinner tomorrow and we shall discuss your life as Americans.’
‘You are very kind.’
‘Hospitality is the American way. What you receive from us you must give to others in your turn.’
Norfolk was a small town about the size of Carlisle, which they had left three months before. Joe found himself thinking of James the landlord and Zeb the smuggler and wishing them well. He hoped they continued to confound authority.
As they walked about this first town in their new land, he and Miles were struck by a number of things but none so powerful as the lack of outward shows of deference. A working man would not step aside for someone better dressed, and nor did the latter expect him to. When people stopped to talk in the street no-one touched his forehead, removed his hat or cast his eyes down. On the contrary, the American mode of speech appeared to be straightforward and frank. People looked into each other’s eyes, asked what they wished to know and said what they wished to say.
There was laughter when he said this at Nathaniel Barron’s house the next day. ‘If you think we are democratic here, you should try New England,’ said Barron’s wife, Elizabeth. ‘Our House of Burgesses has had power for only a decade. The lower house in Connecticut won that battle seventy years ago. New Englanders are cussed people.’
‘And my wife knows,’ said Barron. ‘She is one. Come. I have invited a friend to meet you both. This is John Batty. John came here from Yorkshire near ten years ago. He longs to return. Is that not right, John?’
In Batty, Joe saw a strong man with a ready smile that simply could not hide a huge sadness within. He shook Joe’s hand. ‘I would never go back. And neither will you, once you have been here a while. Tell me. Are there religious reasons to govern where you live?’