Why I wrote a novel, and why I’ll write another.
When one writes – especially something LONG that isn’t part of a thesis one HAS to finish – one does get to wonder WHY? Why on earth did I start this? Why am I carrying on? And then: Why am I going to put myself through all this again?
Initially, the adventure was almost entirely accidental. Through a series of connections I was invited to join a new writers group in the seaside village I lived in near Wellington – two of the group were published and a third about to be, and three had completed the acclaimed Masters in International Letters at Victoria University. How I got to be there is anyone’s guess.
New Zealand urban myth though has it that most Kiwis have a book in them. I’d certainly always known I had.
In true JK Rowling style, my entire first book, from beginning to end (well, more or less) came to me as I drove along the Petone foreshore around Wellington’s stunning harbour one beautiful summer morning. It had to be written. And indeed, large chunks of it told itself.
I wrote a lot in our local cafe, aptly named The Beach Cafe, in Eastbourne. I needed the ‘white noise’ of the background chatter, and anyway if I was at home I would – like many other writers – find myself doing excessive amounts of housework to avoid the onerous task of actually writing.
So the outline and first decent draft for the first book came relatively easily. Then it sat on a shelf for three years. I’d written two hundred pages and got to the end of the ‘story’, but the book was far from finished. Many characters were flat, there were gaps in many aspects of the description, and the story kind-of went 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10. I needed to write 6, 7, 8 and 9. So it eventually came back of the shelf and was re-written and re-written and re-written. Characters and story were filled out and the ending no longer came too soon. By the time I’d finished I honestly couldn’t have faced another word of it. The last pages felt like drawing blood from a stone.
To start with this was a story about autism and the idea – one I fully believe – that there is so much more going on in the heads of autists (people with autism). I felt sure there was not only utter brilliance locked in there, but that autists have a special connection to the world and to realms that the ordinary among us don’t see so easily.
By the time the book was done, it was about so much more as well: it was a story about being different; it was about the unity of the religions; it had age-old philosophical questions in it, like for example, is there a God and what can we really know; it conjectured on the connection of past and future; and it flitted across the surface of quantum physics and explored the unity of science and religion.
In short it became a statement of my own beliefs, told via what turned out to be a fairly compelling story. I’m really quite proud of it.
And so to the next book, originally entitled No Bastard’s Duty, and now somewhat differently In the Company of Angels. Myself, I really prefer the former, but I’ve been converted to the notion of a trilogy, so feel free to offer a title for the third and final installment.
The second book emerged entirely from a week’s journey in the Highlands of Scotland. This had followed a week (rather a whirlwind trip) in Ireland. As a Fitzmaurice (or FitzMaurice, as my Irish relatives write our last name), my Irish heritage is a lengthy and noble one, and has been well researched; I have great pride in tracing my ancestry to the sixth century. It was a surprise then to find myself on Scottish soil and discovering it was this land, rather than Eire, that was my turangawaewae – the place were I stand.
Tūrangawaewae is one of the most well-known and powerful Māori concepts. Literally tūranga (standing place), waewae (feet), it is often translated as ‘a place to stand’. Tūrangawaewae are places where we feel especially empowered and connected. They are our foundation, our place in the world, our home.
We were MacDonald-hunting, since that was the heritage of the friend I was with. Clan Ranald MacDonalds, specifically. Not only is the Scottish history generally one of the richest, most story-laden and exciting of all national histories, but the MacDonald history is a keen part of that. And what’s more it includes arguably the most popular and well-known of Scottish heroines: Flora MacDonald; who famously rowed ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charles across the sea to Skye, in the 1700s.
Flora’s forebear, and the mother of the progenitor of Clan Ranald, was the almost divinely eulogised Amy of Garmoran, wife to John, Lord of the Isles, in the 1300s. (Above is the ruin of Amy’s castle, Tioram – pronounced Cheerim – in the far western, remote Highlands.) Can you see a story starting here?
As with Angels in the Architecture, this story too will have multiple layers; three time periods; and some old friends from Angels, Part I will apparently be showing up again.
I will do my best to have it for you by Christmas. Well, preferably a couple of weeks before that. Best I get moving.