Thank you for inviting me to your blog, I’m delighted to be here.
Last year I signed a new contract to write two historical novels, each of around 160,000 words. With the security of the done deal in place, all I had to do was put those words on the page. If only it were so simple! Here, below, is the anatomy of what it takes for me to write a historical novel.
First of all, I choose my subject. I will usually decide this while writing the previous work. As I was finishing Shadows and Strongholds, I knew that two books on William Marshal would be my next project. I read up as much as I could about him so that when the time came, I would be ready to begin.
Still researching, I write a study of the main characters, a 20 page synopsis, a shorter synopsis, a back of the novel blurb and a shout line. These are all preliminaries that will help with the writing process later on. They help me to pin-point my focus and they deepen my knowledge and awareness at the same time. I write the first three chapters and polish them hard.
I send the above material to my agent and editor for comment and approval and then begin writing in earnest. I do the research and the writing alongside each other. I never look back when writing a first draft, but forge on to the end. It’s a bit like doing a painting starting with a rough black and white pencil sketch. Each layer lays on colour and defines and refines.
Once the first draft is finished, I go back to the beginning and work on the second draft. This is where the bulk of the work is done and where the most alterations occur. I probably cut around 10% of the wordage at this stage. While all this is being done at my PC, I am still researching. This doesn’t just involve reading. It includes visiting locations and taking photographs, it involves working with my re-enactment society and finding out about medieval history in a ‘hands on’ sort of way. So for example, I know how to spin wool and cook medieval recipes. I’ve worn a mail shirt and a jousting helm and know what a sword feels like in my hand. The first draft and the above preparation probably take up about 9 months of the 16 month process.
I print out the second draft and read it as if it’s an ordinary book. Instead of looking across at the PC screen, I am looking down at the written word, and that makes a difference to the part of the brain in use and helps build an extra layer into the editing process. I make notes in pen on the manuscript. This is now draft 3 and will take about 3 months.
I transfer the pen alterations to the PC and read through again – draft 4. I print out again and read the manuscript aloud to my long suffering husband! This again is a different way of absorbing the story and shows up things such as favourite phrases and repetitions that need pruning. It’s also good for getting a sense of pace, and since my listener is a man, I can gauge if I have the male mindset right! This will add another month to the schedule.
Returning to the PC, I key in any alterations noticed while reading aloud and read the manuscript again a final time (takes around a fortnight). I then send the manuscript electronically to my agent and editor. The waiting begins! If all is well, we go to the production process which will take around 9 months to a year and will involve two more read-throughs from me. During this time, I will already be hard at work on the next novel!
I work 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year, but I don’t always work 8 hour days. Sometimes it’s less, occasionally it’s more. I probably work about 5 hours a day on the novel itself, and several hours a week on peripheral things such as blogs, answering reader letters, keeping in touch on forums, making movie trailers for the novels etc. It is more than a full time job!
I forgot to mention that one of my inspirations while writing is music. I love modern rock, folk-rock, grunge, and hard-edged pop. I listen to music while away from my writing, and the emotional words and resonances in songs sink into my subconscious and help when writing scenes. I provide a soundtrack each time I hand a novel in – my agent and editor expect it now! The Greatest Knight soundtrack has around 25 songs including Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright, Everybody Knows by Don Henley, and Bring me to Life by Evanescence.
One of the most surprising things that I found out while writing the greatest knight is a small, but telling detail. I discovered that they had clear, sparkling wine like champagne. I do know that at the court of Henry II, the wine was reported to have the consistency of mud and that people filtered it through their teeth, shuddering, so I was fascinated to read in a primary source research book that at the other end of the scale there were wines that were ‘clear, soft on the palate and sparkling.’ I’ll raise a toast to that, and a completed manuscript!
About the Author
Elizabeth Chadwick lives near Nottingham with her husband and two sons. She is the author of 17 historical novels, including Lords of the White Castle, Shadows and Strongholds, A Place Beyond Courage, The Scarlet Lion, The Winter Mantle, and the Falcons of Montebard, four of which have been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Awards. Much of her research is carried out as a member of Regia Anglorum, an early medieval re-enactment society with the emphasis on accurately re-creating the past. She won a Betty Trask Award for The Wild Hunt, her first novel.
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