It’s almost the end of the year but I’ve still got stuff to do. Teaching finishes this week — my final session is Thursday. But there’s writing, always writing. I’m not complaining. It is the thing I most love to do and I feel really lucky to be able to do it, not just as much as I do, but at all. For a LONG time, thoughts of writing were in the background, forced there by Life and the priorities you often have to make. Sometimes there is choice but sometimes not.
I was about 19 when I first started thinking about writing a novel. A couple of years earlier I’d begun a journal. Because all serious writers keep a diary, right? Well, that journal became pretty much the only thing I wrote for the next 15 years. I did scrappy bits of this and that. Always taking notes. Typed out — TYPED on like a TYPEWRITER — a few pages of the beginning of a story. I’ve got it here, you know it’s not too bad but when I look at it I think: she’s got no idea. I can see how influenced this is by my love for Wuthering Heights, Adam Ant and an obscure book I read at the time called The Wolf and the Dove. Here’s a snifter of my notes, Please sit back and enjoy the cliche/passive tense ride
SCENE: Coast of England. Dover? – Calais. Paqueboat (1). See ‘Tale of Two Cities’ for reference to travelling between mainland of England and France.
Two lovers – both of Romany Gypsy origin (this is crossed out and there’s a question mark above) – arrive in France with plans to wed(2) but under unusual circumstances, they become separated and each end up with a marriage and children. Perhaps the man has a bastard child(3) by a French woman, whereas the beautiful woman(4) is claimed as a wife by an English aristocrat while he travels in France. (Note: find out where gypsies came from > Rumania)
Walking through the streets of Paris, young couple, childless, plan to settle in Paris and raise family. Train of horses and carriages, coaches fly through the streets and people scatter to avoid being run down by the hasty coaches. Beautiful young girl is seen by English Count/Duke/Lord etc. He halts coach through overwhelming desire to possess this beauty he has seen out his window. Against the protests of the young couple, unable to speak much English, the count? gathers up the girl and takes her with him – he is proud, arrogant, haughty, rich and very influential, he gets what he wants. Young man seeks comfort at local inn – indulges his broken heart and impotent rage by drinking himself into a drunken stupour. Takes out his frustrated fury by consorting with a wanton woman, only to wake the next day full of remorse and revenge for the Duke? Stays in Paris, works humbly laying roads? for a year. Finds himself burdened with his child born by the pro (pro. dies.) (!!) Meets some pirates? in the inn one night when the boy is about five. Too young to accompany father on sea-going voyage as pirate so put into charity institution (church or something) father leaves with pirates. Son doesn’t hear from father for ten years, then father calls to take boy with him on pirating adventures? Father very fond of rum. Boy goes off to sea…
In the meantime the ‘meanie’ Duke? has returned to England with his trophy by paqueboat. They travel from Dover to London. Girl cannot refuse the tyrant as she can speak no English, she tries though by fighting him with fiery abuse and uncontrollable attacks – such as throwing herself on him in fits of fury, battering his chest with her fists (5) – these outbursts did little to hinder the Duke? from enjoying?(6) her company and violent beauty – to the contrary, her passionate temper only provoked his insatiable desire to possess her completely. She only conceded to becoming his wife because she finds she is with child and has no wish to bear a bastard child, for either her sake or that of the babe. (7) The Duke soon tires of the woman, and sends her down to a cottage in Dover, to raise the baby girl by the ocean.(8) Down there, the girl finally meets? the family who bear the same name as her ‘father.’ It is discovered that her marriage to the Duke is not legal because he already has a family and wife living – this family living in Dover too. The young mother dies of consumption(9), which must have been contracted during her frequent wanderings across the wild, cold and windy stretches of beaches(10) near the craggy towers (cliffs). The girl then goes to live with this family, and works for them, helping the cook etc… The Duke moves between London, Dover and France – commuting for reasons of business and pleasure. Child goes as often as she can to the beach, because mainly she cannot relax at ‘home’ of the Duke – she finds the family unpleasant, haughty and like the Duke. They treat her as lower than a servant – so she seeks comfort in nature, who is kind to her and treats her fairly.
Pirates land at Dover – father still alive. Sees Duke, asks him where woman is. Duke tells him she’s dead, pirate heartbroken. Always cherished the hope that he would be reunited with his ‘true love’. Threatens Duke. Next morning, found drowned on shore (inn near beach, jetty etc.) Had been drinking heavily the night before. CORRECTION – pirate not drowned next day, a few days later. Has told son about his love and the Duke. Son sets out to revenge father’s death. Duke killed father. Son (unknown to Duke) lures Duke’s favourite daughter into love (helped by girl?) then destroys her and Duke – revenge completed. Then pirate’s son and gypsy girl united as their parents should have been – had not the Duke thoughtlessly interfered – pirate’s son takes to being a highwayman as he robs Duke’s coach while travelling London – Dover (helped by info provided by gypsy girl.)
(1) pretty impressed I knew what a paqueboat was.
(2) oh so pompous
(4) natch (5) so glad I didn’t write ‘tiny fists’
(6) either questioning this euphemism here, or questioning that I should have him rape her? Can’t remember
(7) Oh my god
(8) Can you see what’s coming?
(9) bien sur
(10) looking for Heathcliff
And I have 5 typed pages of manuscript and 1 page of character outline. Here’s the beginning:
The young man and woman who walked along the streets in the fauborgs of Paris were indeed a striking couple. As the man strode with a purposeful air, the woman, who was not much more than a girl, seemed oblivious to the admiring glances that were throng her way, by both ladies and gentleman who passed them by.
Though the girl was obviously exhausted and weary, her uncommon beauty was unimpaired by the fact that her clothes were old and creased. She clung to her breast a bundle of belongings, wrapped in a shawl, and in an effort of enthusiasm, quickened her steps in order to catch up to the young man, who was marching a few steps in front of her. Strength and determination were carried in the man’s gait, and his black eyes flashed from side to side in the street as he searched for a quiet inn where he and his betrothed could sit and eat. He turned to her as he felt her presence by his side, the soft touch of her hand on his arm.
‘I must rest, my legs are aching and we have not eaten,’ whispered the girl, keeping her voice lowered as if in fear of being overheard by others on the street. But such a precaution was not necessary, for even had anyone overheard her words, they would not have been understood, for the young couple spoke in Spanish.(11)
The man nodded in compassion, saying ‘there is a little inn down the road a bit, I can see the sign over the door. It is not much farther. Let us go there.’ The girl gave a small smile that curved her ripe lips and the two continued walking, the man’s pace having slowed a touch, the ease of his manner stemming from relief of expected rest and food.
As the two entered the inn, the innkeeper raised his head and watched them. His eyes widened at the sight of the girl, who followed her companion to a table in the corner of the room. He appreciated her slim but strong form, and while watching them, pushed his chair back from his table and rose to go to them. As he approached the table at which the couple were seated, the innkeeper noticed their heads bent together, as they talked softly between themselves. They became aware of the man standing beside them and the younger man looked up.
Of course the innkeeper did not understand Spanish, and the young couple looked totally confounded when the keeper opened his mouth and let loose a stream of French, but on seeing their confusion and obvious hunger, the innkeeper held up his hands, retreated, and returned shortly after carrying two bowls of hot soup and some bread. With an understanding smile, he set the food down on their table and went back to his own. Thankfully the couple settled down to their long awaited(12) meal, for they had not eaten since they had arrived in Paris. It had been an endless and tiring journey in the back of the horse-drawn cart, for the roads were not good from the Spanish border into France. They had been lucky however to meet the farmer who had let them ride in the cart with him, and they were grateful for it meant they had arrived in Paris sooner than they had expected. Now they were faced with the next obstacle of finding somewhere to stay. That done, they could then find someone who was able to marry them.
The woman looked across the table at her lover and spoke in between mouthfuls of her meal. ‘Miguel, perhaps the innkeeper may have some rooms we could take. It may not cost too much, and…’ she looked around the empty inn. ‘It does not look as if he is too busy. He must have some empty rooms.’ Miguel smiled back. ‘Yes, I will communicate with him after our meal, Anna.’ Ann’s lips curled in humour at her lover’s non usage of the word ‘talk.’
(11) – Spanish now?
(12) – no idea about adjectival hyphenation
Fabulous stuff. I remind anyone interested in making this into a film, or indeed commissioning me to write it as a novel, my agent is Virginia Lloyd.