I feel that I haven’t achieved very much in the last few weeks. I didn’t publish a blog post last week, and I haven’t done a great deal of new writing. But I’ve been looking through my notes for the WIP, book 4 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries. This one is going to be called, you might remember, The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish. It should be published at the beginning of November this year. I’ve been thinking about this book for about three years, and I now know – or at least I think I know – where it’s going. It’s exciting, I feel like I’m embarking on a journey I’ve been planning for a long while.
There’s quite a bit involved in working on the early stages of a new book. To begin with, I have to refamiliarise myself with the minor characters who have appeared in the first three books, as I’m terrible for remembering names. When I’m writing an actual first draft chapter, if I forget a character’s name, I just write X or XXX then go back later and fill in the person’s name. I don’t stop in the middle of a writing session to go and look up the name as I never want to interrupt the flow.
I’ve also had to look up a few things to do with train travel in the 1930s, and to look up details about various places in the UK. Not really research, just kind of getting things straight in my head. Obviously I spend a lot of time tidying pens and notebooks and making sure I have enough sticky notes. I’ve checked that I’ve got the right month of 1934 printed up from my computer, so I can see where the weekends fall and that kind of thing. I always need to have a specific day worked out in my head to orient myself in the era and make sure my plot works.
Unusually for me, I’ve made quite a lot of notes about this book. mainly because, as the series progresses, there are things I need to remember for future books. Whilst my books are stand-alone, there are also continuing storylines from one to the next, and sometimes across more than two books, and there are essential strands I want to make sure I don’t leave out. Hence the notes. Also, i did have a few plot quibbles I couldn’t decide on. Sometimes too many ideas is worse than too few; I find it hard to make a decision.
Then, I have started typing up the handwritten first drafts, and I’m making a few amendments as I go, though I wouldn’t call it a rewrite, more tweaking along the way. Now I have three full (rough) chapters, and about 9000 words so far. I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve got. I feel like this might work.
Later on, I will reach the panic stages of ‘It’s not going to work, it’s not going to work!’ But at the moment I’m calm. usually, when I get to the 45,000 to 50,000 word point, I again relax, finally confident that this book will actually come together and will be finished.
In case you’re interested, here’s a little snippet of Chapter One. It’s not set in stone, it might disappear, and will undoubtedly get rewritten a dozen times, but at the moment, this is what sits at the outset of the story of The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish:
The war was over. That was the main thing. That was all that mattered. Not the lives lost. Nor the devastation. Not even the hostile, resentful power struggle throughout Europe. Or even the victory. In the end, all that mattered, was that the long years of anguish and despair had come to an end.
Up and down the country, people celebrated the fact that life could now go back to normal. Whatever that was. Women left the factories in their tens of thousands, and went home to cook, clean and have babies. Men lay aside their rifles and bayonets and took up their hammers and saws once more. They hammered their swords into ploughshares, figuratively if not literally, and tried to forget what they had seen.
Across the nation, there were street parties, tea parties, balls, lunches, drinks evenings, galas and dances to celebrate the return of the heroes and the return of everyday life as it had been years earlier.
Obviously, no one mentioned the dead.
The Member for Hamfield and West Nottingham, the Honourable Peter Maynard, along with his charming wife Augustine, hosted one such event at their elegant home in the leafy suburb of Hamfield.
It was a glorious evening. The weather for the first week of an English June was perfect: warm and sunny, with a cloudless blue sky and the merest hint of a breeze ruffling its fingers through the early roses, bringing their fragrance lightly into the house.
The ballroom, a recent and somewhat garish addition from the outside, inside followed neatly from the hall, the dining room and the drawing room by the simple expedient of moving back the furniture and flinging back the folding doors that separated the rooms. The result was a vast flowing space where guests could mingle and roam, drink in hand, from the dancefloor to the buffet and back again.
In one corner of the ballroom, on a small, purpose-built raised platform, the little orchestra played a series of dance tunes, and couples, young and old, circled the floor as they had done just five years earlier. All around them, people gathered in little groups and laughed and talked then laughed again. Cocktails of all kinds were drunk in large quantities.
And obviously, no one mentioned the dead.
The war, Richard Dawlish reflected as he sipped his champagne cocktail with great reluctance, might never have happened.
No one mentioned the dead, but he could still see them, their clutching, decaying flesh protruding from muddy dips and hollows, and at night the rats would come out of their hiding places and nibble the naked limbs. Richard didn’t even need to close his eyes. The images were always before him. He carried them with him wherever he went, whatever he did. He began to think they would never leave him. Even when he was an old man, he would still see those corpses, like so many strange species growing in a wasteland of a garden.
Turning, he looked out through the open doors at the long lawn surrounded by blossoming borders. Was this what those millions had died for? He took another drink.
Behind him in the ballroom, someone tapped a spoon against a glass to get everyone’s attention. The chatter stopped, the laughter faded, and everyone turned to face Peter Maynard, at the front of the orchestra stage. He embarked upon a long and largely predictable second-hand speech, culminating in, ‘So let us raise our glasses in a toast as we welcome back our heroes, and thank them for their part in keeping England’s green and pleasant land free of tyranny and destruction.’
There were loud shouts of ‘hear, hear’ and ‘just so’, and everyone repeated some rambling form of the toast and drank. Maynard then said, ‘And another toast to celebrate the fine achievements of these young men in the field of combat: Captain Algy Compton,’ there was a loud and raucous cheer, ‘Group Captain Michael Maynard,’ and further, louder chorus of cheers and catcalls, and someone at the back shouted, ‘Thinks he can bloody fly, so he does!’ There was general laughter, though some of the ladies tsked at the language. Peter Maynard, smiling proudly, ‘From what I hear, he can fly!’
‘Showed the bloody Boche a thing or two, let me tell you!’ came another voice from the back. Again, everyone laughed, and Maynard said, ‘Indeed. But let’s keep it polite, gentlemen, remember the ladies. Er, next on the list, is some young scallywag by the name of Second Lieutenant Gervase Parfitt. A second lieutenant at just nineteen. That’s a sterling achievement, my dear boy!’ A lanky youth nodded, and received with blushes the back-slaps and cheers of those around him.
The audience turned back to Maynard, whose glass was being topped up by a manservant. ‘Then we mustn’t forget Gervase’s big brother Arthur, better known as Captain Arthur Parfitt,’ he paused to drink his toast, then went on, ‘And yet another of the overachieving Parfitt brothers, this time it’s none other than Reggie, a lieutenent in the navy, which as we all know, is just some strange, salt-water name for a Captain! Lieutenant Reginald Parfitt, and last, but by no means least, our good friend and my nephew Algy’s comrade-in-arms, Lieutenant Richard Dawlish. Richard, my dear fellow, do step up with the others for the photograph.’
Richard had smiled dutifully and raised his glass for each toast. He had wondered if he would be mentioned and was a little surprised that he was. As a ripple of polite applause went around the room, he made his way forward, embarrassed but smiling. Maynard shook his hand, then the six young men stood together whilst the photographer arrived to capture the moment for posterity. The photographer had some difficulty getting the right light reading and focus.
‘Your black face is mucking up his lens, Dickie,’ Algy laughed. He swayed, clearly fairly tipsy. The others joined in with the joking and laughter. Richard smiled politely and said nothing.