First and foremost, apologies for the lack of blogging of late, caused by a complete inability to think of things to blog about – presumably caused in turn by lockdown ennui. Actually, though, lockdown has proved to be quite productive for me:
- Books read – not really keeping count, but somewhere in the region of 25 (and one of them was The Mirror and the Light, which surely counts quintuple)
- Books abandoned part way through – 5
- Books currently ‘on the go’ – 3
- Books written by self sent off to publisher – 1
- Netflix watched – 0
- Quality TV watched – plenty
- Mindless TV watched – even more
- Local walks discovered – probably around 10
- Manors once owned by William the Conqueror’s sister discovered on said walks – 1
- Lofts tidied – 1
Recently, though, I’ve started to reread some of my own books, not because I’ve run out of other authors’ work to read (books in ‘to read’ pile, either physical or Kindle – somewhere around 30 at least) but essentially to reacquaint myself with the Quinton titles, several of which I haven’t actually read since I finished writing them. I always used to scoff at those actors who appeared on talk shows and said they’d forgotten a lot about the film they were meant to be promoting because they were now so bound up in their next project. But it’s true; even before a book has gone through all its production stages and been published, an author has probably already started writing the next one, or at least planning it. It actually feels quite odd to go back and read one’s own words in this way, rather than during the white heat of the original writing and editing processes, so I thought I’d try to explain some of the thoughts that have gone through my mind as I’ve done so.
- Good grief, did I really write this? I can’t remember doing it.
- Good grief, did I really write this? It’s actually pretty good.
- (A few lines later) Good grief, did I really write this? It’s absolute garbage.
- I wish I’d added this joke / fact / violent character death at this point.
- I wish I’d deleted this adjective / flowery description / character / entire subplot.
- I made that mistake? Phew, what a whopper. Thank goodness nobody seems to have noticed.
- How on earth did that typo somehow slip through all the editing and proofreading stages?
- This book is how long?
The one that I’m rereading at the moment is the third of the Quinton Journals, The Blast That Tears the Skies. This is set in 1665 and could easily have been given a Friends-like subtitle, ‘The One with the Plague in it’. (Note the date. According to one academic article which I stumbled across the other day, ‘Along with the return of the monarchy London also undergoes restoration after the Great Fire of London in 1665, and a plague the subsequent year’. FAIL.) Some of the passages which I wrote some ten years ago now – ten years!! how did that happen? – seem to me have acquired new layers of meaning in the last few months. See if you agree!
From a passage where Matthew Quinton and his party attend a royal reception at the Banqueting House in Whitehall
…for all the surface bonhomie, the atmosphere was markedly less carefree than usual. The first glance of a courtier is always laden with suspicion: will you prove a rival to me? will you seduce my woman? But that night, men and women eyed each other even more keenly. Was that bead of sweat upon one’s brow merely a natural response to the heat, or the first symptom of the plague? Was that slight cough issuing from Lady So-and-So’s throat the harbinger of doom for us all?
Matthew’s uncle Tristram falls into conversation with his old friend Sir William Petty at a meeting of the Royal Society
‘The mortality rates are troubling so early in the year, particularly in Saint Giles-in-the-Fields’, said Petty gloomily.
‘Mortality rates!’ Tristram scoffed. ‘Not worth the paper they’re printed on, Will. Meaningless numbers. Every man knows that half or more of plague cases never get recorded as such – who wants their houses shut up for all those weeks? And the constables and the aldermen connive in it, of course, so that their wards and parishes don’t lose trade.’
‘Quite, Tristram,’ said Petty. ‘But therefore, and by your own logic, the true incidence of plague must be especially troubling, it being still so early in the season. Yet here we are, the Royal Society, allegedly the finest minds in all of England, and are we putting all our efforts into finding a remedy for the plague? No, we are not! We are –‘
‘Killing cats and getting hens drunk, Will?’
‘Ah – umm – well, perhaps it might have been more revealing if you had tried the Florentine poison upon some poor soul afflicted with the plague.’ Petty shrugged. ‘But I suppose that would have meant bringing him among us, and we could hardly risk infecting this august body with the pestilence…’
Finally, the Quinton family’s eccentric retainer Phineas Musk relaxes after what he considers to be a hard day’s work
Musk had consumed a most acceptable rabbit pie at the Vulture on Cornhill, noticeably quieter than usual as the more timid clientele sought to avoid any risk of infection; he had contemplated the merits of several tankards of prime Wapping ale, and found them satisfactory; best of all, Goodwife Marten, cheerily unconcerned by plague and her marriage vows alike, had proved very willing to entertain him for an hour or so. True, he had seen a beggar drop dead in Portsoken and heard those who ran to attend the corpse proclaim in terror that it was the pestilence, but one less beggar was hardly a matter of much concern. Moreover, Musk had never been within twenty feet of the cadaver, so in his estimation the plague could not trouble him. Besides, it was well known that drinking prodigiously was one of the surest defences against the pestilence. Phineas Musk was doubly secure.