And behold, the focus is shifting…

When I began this writing odyssey, one of the main things that boggled my brains–and of which I’ve spoken at length–was how we’d got to the point of segregating our views of early 19th century British history almost by genre. 

On the one hand, we had the scenarios of domestic and romantic life which began with Jane Austen’s work and over centuries transmogrified into Regency romances.  And on the other hand, we had the world of the military derring-do–the naval and army glory of the Napoleonic wars–which has been celebrated in the works of such as Bernard Cornwell and Patrick O’Brian, among others. 

Beyond that, nothing.  

Not anything.  The rest didn’t exist.

And if one’s view of the early 19th century, and hence one’s work, didn’t fit into those boxes, well, that was just wrong, wasn’t it?  It defied the publishing world’s diktats and therefore must not be allowed

Always one to do as I’m told, I wrote a novel about the politics of the early 19th century, specifically focusing on the assassination of the Prime Minister in 1812, threw in a little domesticity for veracity’s sake (for which of us does not have domestic arrangements and crises?), a little foreign contretemps for good measure, and I called it simply May 1812.  It was published by diiarts last November. 

But of course, being a research addict, I had long since extended my work beyond the boundaries which could reasonably be expected for a novelist focusing on the political and social history of the period.  It’s all connected; it was just a case of one thing leading to another. 

Research on Castlereagh led to study of Wellington led to code-breaking led to books on Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign of 1812, which led to enquiries about the intelligence networks and Pozzo di Borgo (another Corsican!  but in the pay of Russia and Britain)…

I did mention it’s an addiction, did I not?  A compulsion to keep asking ‘why did…?’ and ‘but who…?’

And it’s not so much a case of getting farther and farther from where I started, but more of the world growing rounder and rounder, with more detail, more shadings, and more of the emotional, intellectual and psychological topography revealed…so that I understand, I trust, more and more of the world they knew.

All of which has led inevitably to another novel.  (Go on, act surprised.)

Still set in the period, of course. 

So now, as I see it, this world of the early nineteeth century is become a mediaeval city, walled, and set foursquare.  There are, or shall be, four gates through which one may enter:  Northgate, Southgate, Eastgate and Westgate. 

Each of the gates does lead into the city.  And through whichever port one enters, one may traverse all the way into the centre.  But each will lead there through a different neighbourhood, on different streets upon which one will encounter different characters.  Four diverse views, four gates, same city.

The first gate is May 1812.  The Home Front gate, if you will.  Yes, they had troops fighting on the Peninsula, yes, there were marriages in the cities and villages and Jane Austen was publishing her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, and Lord Byron was swanning about London with Caro Lamb and her mother-in-law; Sir Walter Scott was about to launch his career of writing historical fiction.  But, in the midst of this, the Prime Minister was assassinated, the government fell and England experienced a security crisis equal to that of  the 7/7 bombings. 

The second gate, that new shifting of focus I mentioned, is now known as Of Honest Fame…the title taken from something Byron wrote a few years later.  It is still mainly set in London, but through the covert work of the Foreign Office invites you to glimpse Europe as they saw it, and not the ballrooms of the haut ton, but the back alleys of London and the backroads of Britain.

The other two gates?  They are inchoate but certain.  The research is underway, the characters forming but not yet speaking, (or not much) and their journeys only sketched upon the map. 

Welcome to my world.


4 comments on “And behold, the focus is shifting…

  1. Your various ‘gates’, MM, are an excellent analogy – not least because I have a certain fondness for the four ‘gates’ of Gloucester (they were laid down in Roman times and remain to this day) but because that IS exactly how the researcher works. The constant search for ALL the germaine facts; not only the ‘who did’ and ‘why’ but the ‘where’ and ‘when’ and ‘how would it have looked, felt, smelled’ etc. They are all inter-connected and give the narrator a truer sense of the time, place, attitudes and sensibilities of those directly involved and those merely on the periphery of the events described.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I’m quite fond of the gates of Winchester, myself.

      This is the thing–every subject will lead one deeper, if only it is allowed to. This, in turn, adds depth and breadth to the work. So the initial study on the Continental Blockade (just so that I understood the basics) led to study of the various European micro-economies and how they were damaged by Napoleon’s imposition of the Continental Blockade. Which curiously leads to an understanding in the changes in taste in food, and er, cleanliness. (Soap–like sugar, the spices, tea, coffee, chocolate–was among those items which the Continental Blockade eliminated from the European market…doesn’t bear thinking of really.)

  2. Garaltcanton says:

    Doris Lessing would be proud of you….

    I will forward Canon Maud Questing’s biography to keep you entertained.

  3. M M Bennetts says:

    Liking or not liking writing description is often a matter of practice. The more you do it, the more you demand of yourself that you look, see, observe and then let the words fall into your head which say it best, the easier it becomes. I won’t say everything is always stroll in the park, that would be telling porkies…but I don’t find it nearly as much a challenge as I first faced Paul Bavister and he gave the assignment…

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