In past years I have been lucky enough to enjoy a writing retreat over the summer, where I immerse myself in writing as I reach the final stages of a book. This year we had a long holiday in Canada instead – oh, what a hardship – and so I have engineered a mini-retreat for myself this week. My husband is off cycling and visiting family for three days, and I have cleared my desk of “normal” work, and so it’s just me and Sam (and Martha, and Wilson, and Conant, and Wontner, and Freame – heavens, it’s crowded in here).
Yesterday – the first of the three days – I tackled a job that has been much on my mind: timetabling. When I write, I do not anchor the chapters to particular dates. But, as anyone who has read a Sam Plank book will know, each chapter in the final version has a specific date attached to it. This is because I envisage the stories as a sort of constable’s notebook, and in such notebooks dates are very important. And so, at some point in the process, I have to allocate a date to each chapter. But of course by this stage there are all sorts of cross-references in the text, such as “only two days later”, or “three weeks earlier”, or “after she had attended four Sunday meetings” – and they all have to be made to work together. It’s a rather frustrating exercise, involving big blank calendars, a soft pencil and a very big rubber (for my American readers, that’s an eraser…).
Actually, I say “big blank calendars” but that’s not true: on the calendar I first mark any significant dates – such as Sam’s birthday, and important festivals like Easter – and any particularly relevant events. “Plank 5” is set in 1828, and in that year London Zoo was opened on 27th April (which is not at all relevant to my story) and there was an unseasonably harsh frost on 12th November (which is). So it’s like assembling a rather formless jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box to guide you, and I am very relieved to have done it.
(You will notice that I am still referring to “Plank 5”: don’t forget that my title poll is now open, and you can cast your vote here for the title that you like best.)