Jan. 27th, 2013

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I only got a couple of hours of open windows and clear breathing before the rain stopped, but it was lovely while it lasted.

Today I'm thinking about the relationship between writers and the history they use again. The thing that bugs me most about some novels is not when the depiction of the past is wrong or invented, but when the society depicted could not possibly operate. Some changes to what I know of a place or time bug me, but I know that what we know as historians is mutable and it's annoying that Matilda loses a husband and an Empire in Pillars of the Earth, but it's not nearly as bad as building a cathedral without a diocese. This is because the novel rests on the cathedral and cathedrals are quite specific in their function (the word 'cathedral' says this, too - it reminds us of its function). And this is one of those instances where I've become emotive and will no doubt discover I'm wrong. I'm much clearer on why George RR Martin's Westeros is non-functional.

What this means is that I need to send off my proposal for a book sooner rather than later (I hate finding publishers!) and write those chapters on world-building and why some things can work and why others absolutely don't. The bottom line isn't what's right and wrong or what meets the desires of historians and what doesn't (although I have a lot of fun examining both of these in other contexts), but what works as a narrative and why.

My reasons for disliking certain aspects of poor world-building are quite specific. I need to explain why this doesn't make them unimportant, how understanding how societies operate can create a better piece of fiction.

It's all tied very tightly together in my mind. It's not about what writers do, but what they're capable of doing, of how much they can achieve if they allow themselves to understand at a deeper level, to think about genre and audience and the roles of humans and human behaviour in their societies. I just need to find someone who wants to publish a book about this, for it's almost all researched and maybe 20% written (what I do in my copious spare time). Or I could turn chapters into essays and sprinkle them over the academic writersphere, if openings arise. Either way, I need to explain it all and bring my interviews with writers together with my work on how we interpret history through fiction together with genre analysis and what novels are about. It's when the non-fiction/research side of me uses the same core as the part of me that writes novels: it's a very deep need.

And this is my work for the next little while. This and the Beast. The Beast is wholly the Middle Ages and is painstakingly proceeding, section by section, two of us working on each and every word some nights.

I ought to finish my ANZAMEMS paper, too. I have the notes for it and they're in order and thought out (for it's related to the book that insists on being written) but actually sitting down and writing it hasn't quite yet happened. I've given myself until 1 February, though. Heaps of time. And in the meantime, I'm afraid I'm going to work on the other stuff, for it's what my soul craves right now.

I started it a while before the PhD (why the research is mostly done) and now that I don't have something else big taking up so much of my attention, it taps on my shoulder and says "You know, you can make sense of this." And so I do.

May 2013

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