Some time ago I was in Paperchase, which had a sale on, and I bought myself a lovely notebook. Here it is.
A4, hardback, with a magnetic closing flap, a ribbon, and an inside pocket for documents. I mean, I couldn’t LEAVE it there. And it was only £4 in the sale.
Like many writers, I have a notebook habit. However, I also have a habit of not using the notebooks I buy because I don’t want to spoil them with my scrawls. I know this makes no sense, but there you go. My kids called me out on this when I picked up the gorgeous specimen above, and I promised I would use it. ‘But it will be for something special,’ I said. ‘That notebook deserves it.’
Fast forward to now, and it was my birthday last Wednesday. Among my presents (thanks all), I received this from my friend and co-conspirator Paula Harmon:
That’s right, a squirrel. But not just ANY squirrel. This is a Huguenot plotting squirrel whom, after consultation with Paula, I have named Romilly.
I have been brewing a new series for some time. It’s a spinoff from the Caster & Fleet series featuring Maisie Frobisher, a minor character who has turned up in a few books but most notably in The Case of the Masquerade Mob. At the end of that book she decides to go off travelling, and I thought following Maisie on her travels might be a fun thing to do. However, while I’d done a fair bit of reading around the topic, and even researched comparable books, I hadn’t taken the step of opening a document and typing Chapter One. All I had was a two-page outline of the first book, a list of possible characters, and a couple of Maisie’s letters which I’d dictated on my phone, on a whim, while out walking.
I’m not sure why, but the arrival of Romilly set off something in my brain. Now I had a plotting squirrel, I could begin! And due to the arrival of two new cats, who are given to strolling over and sitting on any unattended pieces of paper, gathering plot notes and research and other bits and bobs in a notebook made perfect sense. Given that Maisie would be travelling, what other notebook could I choose?
I spent quite a few hours on my birthday first setting up my notebook with an expanded character list, the key research points for the first book (so far), and a calculation of the probable number of chapters based on the planned length of the book. From that I moved to working on a detailed outline, which led to more research to make sure I was on the right lines. For instance, I needed to know what stops a cruise ship would make on the London-Bombay route in the 1890s, and where those would occur in the voyage, then make sure that the plot would work with them. I don’t normally produce anything so specific before I begin, but I had a feeling that this book/series might need it.
The next day, writing in earnest began. Only it wasn’t writing, as such.
I had the first scene clear in my mind, and I decided that as I’d begun by dictating Maisie’s letters, maybe I should try doing the first scene in the same way, and see what happened. After all, Maisie was constantly moving, so maybe I should, too!
So I went for a walk and as soon as I was away from the main road, out came the phone. Around an hour and three miles later, chapter one was done. A bit messy, admittedly, and with some interesting substitutions by Evernote (!), but the bones were there. Half an hour later, the chapter was on my laptop and cleaned up. I tried it out at my writers’ group that evening, and while it split the group (I’m aiming for a Golden Age detective story feel), feedback was very positive.
I went out the next day, in the rain. And again on Saturday, and Sunday. I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but it’s beginning to seem quite normal to go out in the rain and talk into my phone for an hour.
Stats so far:
- Chapters: 4
- Words: 8172
- Miles travelled (me): 13.3
- Rain: must be a few inches
- Miles travelled (Maisie): approx 2315 (nautical)
So there you go. I’ve begun a new book, in a new series, in a new way, facilitated by a Huguenot plotting squirrel and a notebook. Makes perfect sense.