Living as I do a mere metre and a half above sea level (which at this time of year means several metres below high tide levels), I was astonished to hear that the chairman of the Environment Agency has written in the Daily Telegraph that when it comes to flooding we must decide between town and country – and this from a political party that is supposed to number rural people among its supporters (but that doesn’t include me, I hasten to add!). I cannot believe what is being said. Surely if governments do nothing else, they must protect their constituents from harm, and that doesn’t only mean terrorists. Water can kill, you know; it isn’t just for diluting your expenses-paid whisky in one of the House of Commons bars. Frankly I’m speechless. Lost for words. Dumbfounded. Incredulous.
And I hadn’t planned to write anything about flooding in this post. No, I was going to discuss This That and the Other. To be quite frank, I thought I’d start with a feeble smutty pun based around ‘The Other’, but I’m glad I didn’t have to do that. No, that brain-dead politician saved me, and you, from my usual heavy-handed innuendo. So perhaps I’ve started with a digression. Or have I? Maybe that was the main message: my heartfelt sympathy for the people of the Somerset Levels who have had to endure so much, and for so very long. I can assure you all that the people of the Fens are right behind you. So contact us, if you plan future battles with politicians (of all and any party).
So now to This and That. I spent January strawing-down sheep in the barn and working on the plot of my second Adam Cadbury novel. It’s going to be set in the Fens around Ely, this time. I’ve got a provisional title (which I won’t divulge), but all the plot, cast and timeline files are headed ‘AC Book 2’, or just ‘AC2’. Experience has taught me that titles can, and do, change. I’ve learnt a great deal from the initial sketching-out or planning process, and the most important lesson is that plots develop much better through conversation. I can sit back in a comfortable chair, crackling logs in the fireplace and glass of wine to hand, shut my eyes, determined to think constructive, plotty thoughts. And what happens? Suddenly Mylie Cyrus’s bum twerks1 its way into my mind. Other times it’s something less fruity: a sheep with fly-strike or a pimple on the side of my nose. But never the plot. Then I casually mention to Maisie that I am having trouble trying to work out how Alan can discover why the bishop was found dead in the dyke, and wearing his wife’s knickers. Then she casually suggests that they might have been at a college re-union. And all becomes clear. Sometimes we spent a full hour together working things through – and I don’t believe I’m alone in this. I bet most crime and thriller writers spend huge amounts of time discussing plots with their partners, friends and families. I’m also very lucky to have a wonderful Editor (Liz Garner) at Unbound and in a few days I’ll go to their offices in London to have a good, no-holds-barred, brainstorming session with her. After that, the plot should be in very much better shape. As she told me when we were working through the final edits to the Lifers’ Club manuscript: it’s much easier if you can do the re-arrangement before you start writing…
As light relief from plot-framing, I’ve been writing (or in Alan Cadbury’s case, editing) guest blogs and opinion pieces for the splendid DigVentures blog and website. The first one was a piece about my sheep-farming and how it has affected my life as an archaeologist. You can see it here: http://digventures.com/2014/01/23/francis-pryor-asks-how-are-sheep-relevant-to-life-and-archaeology/
Although I say so myself, I think it’s quite interesting. Says something about archaeology, academia and the real world…
The next piece is scurrilous rubbish written by Alan Cadbury and edited into something resembling the Queen’s English by my good self. I wouldn’t look at it if you’re a member of the archaeological Establishment. Hey-ho, bang goes my OBE (the MBE was ‘for services to tourism’; nothing to do with archaeology; should be given a knighthood, if you ask me. But I digress …):
And finally a wonderful thumbnail sketch that Adrian Teal did on the title page of my copy of his superb satirical romp, The Gin Lane Gazette. It shows a naked Francis Pryor scampering vigorously and brandishing the famous antler Lyngby ‘Axe’ that Adrian discovered in a gravel pit at Earls Barton, in Northamptonshire. You can read about it in Britain BC, pp. 67-9. It’s in The British Museum, but sadly not on display (in common with the vast majority of their possessions… but that’s (yet) another story-cum-digression). When I told him I was going to put the sketch in this blog, Adrian said he wished he’d done something more fully-finished. But I disagree: it’s the ability to dash something off that always hits the bull’s-eye, that separates true artists from the rest of us, mere mortals.