A Progress Report…

You know that part of a project when you’ve got about a billion different elements clanging about in your head demanding recognition and attention and to be top dog and you know all of them are probably important or essential but you can’t for the life of you sort out how to make anything other than goulash out of the whole mess–maybe a bit more paprika will help?  Well, it’s rather like that.

europe1815A break-through occurred on a day-trip with my rather ingenious and maths-minded daughter a bit ago, when I put forward my difficulty with all the research (no, I am not going to tell you how many tomes or how many languages…) and asked if she could see her way to organising it all for me.  She, being very whizzy at these sorts of problems, had three different solutions in about 30 seconds.  All of which were excellent.  (I hate that.  It’s so breathtakingly easy and she makes it all seem so obvious…)

So we spent several days together with me downloading the contents of my brain and the many books and journals into her magic notebook, which she then turned into a frighteningly efficient thing for cross-referencing as well as a series of maps and other such intellectual delights…we still have several volumes to go.

But it was at this point, when she looked at the pages and pages of notes she’d made, the outsize cast of historical personages (I hadn’t even mentioned the fictional additions…) that she observed, “No wonder you’ve had problems.  This is like a game of chess with twenty players!

“For heaven’s sake, you’ve got five separate armies on the move…”

And that pretty much sums it up.  (Okay, yah, there are a great many generals and staff officers with Russian and Prussian surnames, I admit that…)

But since then, since then–and even with the delicious manifold diversions offered by the Christmas season–progress has not only seemed possible, but has got underway.  Of course, no one is more astonished at this than self.  But there it is.

NPG 891,Robert Stewart, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry (Lord Castlereagh),by Sir Thomas LawrenceA new opening chapter has presented itself which makes brilliant sense of all sorts of things and which just popped out of the too many notebooks of research notes and I find myself in the unusual position of being quite positive, hopeful and even feeling a bit of the old Bennetts wit returning to the page…

So that’s me.  Yes, a trifle overwhelmed by the too much that I know, but with help gaining some sense of control over it all…and you know what that means, don’t you?  That means a book will dribble itself out of my thoughts onto the page and into your hands eventually.

So thanks for all the support, cheer, and encouragement.  It’s meant more than you’ll ever know…

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

[do follow me on Twitter: @mmbennetts ]

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A new standard and a fresh start…

A friend recently reminded me of a truism about reading. 

One written by the late, great, American author, John Gardner.  He said:  “We read five words on the first page of a really good novel and we begin to forget that we are reading printed words on a page; we begin to see images.”

And since reading it, I’ve been considering that statement almost every hour.  Deciding whether I believe it or not.  And concluding that I do.  That I think it’s right. 

And not only have I come to recognise the truth of this, but I’ve concluded that I must take this truth into my work to such a degree that it sets a new standard for everything I write from here on out. 

So I find myself having this new standard by which I shall henceforth and forever judge my work.   Those first essential five of every scene of every chapter, of every book, have to be that perfect, that imagistic, that evocative.  Nothing else will do.

And I’ve arrived at this conclusion pretty much at the same time as I was answering the many questions of the inestimable J.A. Beard, for a new interview about the book I’m now writing.  Which interview will appear in the next few days on his website–he’s interviewed me previously, and then, as now, it was a great pleasure. 

But anyway, the new book is called, as I say in the interview, Or Fear of Peace

And I thought perhaps, given all this, that it might be appropriate for me to at least open the book for you and give you those first five words.  And perhaps, even, a bit more…

Sat like a phasmid, still and wingless, his mouse-coloured coat no more seen among the tiles and slates and chimney-stacks than a heap of old sacking, for three days the boy had been watching the house on Mount Street.  Watching from the leads beneath the summer moods of a fitful London sky, watching as the shadows and light trailed across the classical portico and fine brick face, patient under a patient sky, watching as the morning was bleached of colour and the linens dried white in the yard.  Measuring out the hours from first waking to the lingering midsummer dusk which tarried like a dawdling gabey and counting the number of servants that remained within–the housekeeper, a maid, and two menservants.  Clocking their comings and goings, from that time when the scullery sashes were thrown open to admit the day, until the hour of shutting in when the jowly steward went about locking the doors and checking that the upper windows were shuttered and barred.  Perched beside an attic dormer or slouched against the flaunching of an adjacent chimney, the boy watched as the long hot hours dropped like weights, indifferent to the herring gulls and house sparrows which congregated near and far, chirruping and raucous, across the red tile ridges of the rooftops that stretched away in every direction.