Writing Greenwood Tree
The idea started with a competition (although I never submitted it). Lichfield Council set it up as a biennial event, with a promise of prizes and publication. It was a good promotional wheeze, the main stipulation being that the books submitted be set in or around Lichfield. Information packs could be ordered from the local tourist office, and this was duly done. Apart from the more obvious inclusion of Dr Johnson, there were other, more mysterious elements that surfaced : pagan sites, the Greenhill Bower procession, rituals and traditions with the Green Man weaving in and out of the whole.
Added to this was Lichfield’s position in Regency society, with its salons, literati, ballrooms and gardens. I was sorely tempted by the possibilities this afforded. The Georgian Period is a favourite of mine for its architecture, design, literature, arts and sciences . . . Britain was not yet so embroiled in the soot of Industrial misery nor ‘driven into factories,often where . . . there is no necessity for it, save again the profit-tyranny.’ (thank you, William Morris)
But I was also in a quandary here. I was most emphatically uninterested in anything approaching Mills & Boon Regency Romance , and most emphatically intrigued by mystery, suspense and detection. How to combine those elements ? A mystery that started somehow in the late 1780’s, say, but which left a thread to be picked up several generations later. This was a while before the recent spat of ‘cold case’ series now so regularly produced for home entertainment. I decided against a present-day detective – for one thing, it would require more resources than I had available to keep up to the minute with the latest discoveries in forensic science – and for another, more importantly : I wanted total escapism. How to ensure you are never ‘out-of-date’? Place the whole thing securely in the past. A very distinct past, where there is moreover opportunity for the kind of atmosphere I wanted to create. Add to this a predilection for Michael Innes , Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie and a pattern begins to emerge. The twenties. Roaring, desperate, depressed, ravaged by a Great War which so many wished fervently to forget – and a new form of Enlightenment to mirror that of the 18th century. Ho, and onwards to the invention of a crime writer, looking for a new plotline, under mild pressure from her editor. Female ? Because so many crime writers in the twenties (yes, and now too) happened to be women.
Bits and pieces, fragments and oddities, ‘a thing of shreds and patches’, the whole phantasmagoria wandering around in my head in a series of images. Transient, haunting, intertwining, . . . now, to maintain that fragility, while moving the narrative forward cohesively through time . . . Quite probably an over-ambitious project, but I was too far in to back out now. Besides, the images were there now, fluttering about, asking to be sewn together.
I scribbled and typed as and when scenes occurred to me. Several times the plot line was overhauled, rearranged, mauled, shredded, patched together again . . .There were other projects getting in the way too. It sat, sulking, on laptop or in notebooks, on loose flying scraps of paper, on the backs of train tickets, the usual. I left it to doze for a couple of years, occasionally prodding at it to see if it was feeling any better. A renewed enthusiasm emerged one summer to actually finish the damn thing . If only to throw it out. At least it would be done. And then along came Authonomy. This was probably the incentive that urged me on to complete it to as decent a stage as could be tentatively uploaded without causing too much offence. I wanted to leave it again, walk away and come back to it later, as with a painting. I still do this, making occasional adjustments, adding bits here and there and pestering a few people whose opinions I value to read it. Yet again.
This is partly why I started AuthorsAnon – to invite those whose opinions I trust to pop by, post their thoughts, upload excerpts they want to dissect, and so forth. A little less crowded here than on Authonomy.