Lock down, apart from everything else, is a very good opportunity to write. When this new lock down was announced in early January, I expected the month to be a peaceful one with plenty of DIY, clearing up the garden and a lot of spare time for creativity.
Yet it seems January has other plans, bringing with it a surprising and unexpected burst of activity.
For a start, there has been the filming in Long Sutton for a TV show. The production company needed a local historian to be interviewed on the show about the history of Sutton Bridge and I agreed, as you do. I had only five days in which to prepare for it, though, and began to wonder what I had taken on. In the end, it was all very enjoyable and friendly, as well as being very safe Covid-wise, of course. I was able to chat about Sutton Bridge and its development. I talked about the marsh that had remained as the old estuary of the Wash silted up and how eventually it had been drained and reclaimed for farming. Sutton Bridge as such had come into its own once the first bridge had been constructed in the 1830s. The village’s history therefore is not a long one, but still has plenty to tell. Talking about it reminded me yet again of the absorbing tale of the Fens, their constantly changing fortunes and never-ending battles with drainage.
I have to wait now, until the programme is produced and aired to see how much of the recorded interview is used. I am not permitted yet to mention the title of the programme. It’s all terribly secretive at this stage!
The following day, I talked via Zoom to a local group about ‘In the Wash’, which they had just finished reading. Their feedback was constructive and made me think. The main point they raised echoed thoughts and doubts I had had myself. You know how it is; sometimes we have these nagging doubts but don’t act on them. Then someone else confirms what we were thinking and it helps us to focus on what needs to be done.
As a result, I began pulling to pieces the new book I am writing.
It had all been going so smoothly. As with ‘The Quayside Poet’ and ‘In the Wash’, I was using two time frames. I had also reintroduced some of the modern characters from those books and was enjoying seeing how they were developing, almost independently of me. Monica, for example, had ditched Archie at last and had found herself a new man. It was flowing so nicely, with the main, medieval story line fitting neatly in between.
But, partly as a result of the feedback, I decided to delete all of the modern chapters. It was a little painful, that ripping apart; I was half afraid of throwing the rubber duck out with the bath water, but what remains feels better now.
The medieval world of Wisbech and the Fens in 1339 can fend for itself, I realised. The plot needs no support from a modern time zone.
1339 came shortly before the visitation of the Black Death. The people of that time were still blissfully unaware of the coming plague, the pestilence which would turn their descendants’ lives upside-down. Their world was far from problem free, however. A series of long, freezing winters, poor summers and failing harvests had already begun.
Wisbech is thought to have had two hospitals at that time, one dedicated to St John the Baptist and another which offered sanctuary to the many sufferers of leprosy. The leper hospital was situated on the boundary between the manors of Elm and Wisbech and it is there that the main plot of the story unfolds.
Already, the book’s medieval characters are coming to life. Perhaps they’re benefiting from no longer having to share the narrative with their twenty-first century counterparts. They have no need of them; I am sure of that now.
So, the new book has become a tale set in Wisbech’s medieval past with no element of the present to confine it. Already, it feels refreshed and reinvigorated. It has a long way yet to go, but I can’t wait to return to it each morning, and that has to be a good thing.
So thank you for your feedback everyone. Things are really taking shape now.