Hello, friends. The other day on Facebook, my friend Stephanie Burgis posted her answers to a meme, “Five Things About Your Work-in-Progress”. I was delighted! I read it, thinking, “Oh, it’s so great to hear more about what she’s up to!” Then I realized that I, um, NEVER talk about my work-in-progress. One reason is because I’m constitutionally secretive and vaguely superstitious about unpolished work. At some level, I seem to believe that if I discuss it in too much detail, my computer (or worse, I myself) will be hit by lightning. The second reason is because I’ve always assumed that nobody would ever be interested. Judging from my response to Steph’s post, I’m wrong about that. So I’m squaring my shoulders (both literally and metaphorically). Here we go:
1. I actually have 2.5 works in progress. For me, this is a lot. I’m writing the novel I refer to as The Next Book (more below). I’m also writing a short story for an anthology called Petticoats and Pistols, edited by Jessica Spotswood (again, more below). And starting in September, I’m joining The History Girls as a regular blogger. My first post, about historical fiction as a genre, goes up on September 3 and I’m now planning a second, about the history of Kingston Penitentiary.
2. I’m really nervous about the short story because it’s meant to be only 5000 words long. I have no idea how I’m going to compress so many ideas into such a short space! Its working title is “The Fabulous Garrett Girls” and it’s about a pair of sisters running a tavern in Skagway, Alaska during the Gold Rush, and their confrontation with the legendary con man, Soapy Smith. I’ve absolutely adored the research for it but now I have to compress it all into a (hopefully) rollicking story about a pair of accidental con artists. Wish me luck!
3. As part of my research for “The Fabulous Garrett Girls”, I’ve once again been immersed in scenes of heavy toil, knee-deep muck, women wearing men’s trousers, women performing unusual jobs, travel by horse and on foot, and people who are not what they say. Sound familiar, fans of the Agency? The only thing missing, really, is a good romp in a sewer. I haven’t been able to find any enthralling narratives of frontier sewer action. Yet.
4. The Next Book, as I’ve been calling it, also has a working title: Monsoon Season. It’s set in the British colony of Malaya (now two independent countries, Singapore and Malaysia) during the Second World War. I’ve been working on this book for a long time – almost 12 months at this point. That includes two false starts, during which I tried to figure out just how I was going to tell this story. I’ve now found a structure that seems to work, and I’m fine-tuning my narrative voices. Yes, voices: there are three. It’s been quite complicated and nerve-wracking. I’m still not quite sure I can pull this off. But I remain optimistic.
5. My research for Monsoon Season led me to the extraordinary figure of Freddy Spencer Chapman, a British explorer, naturalist, and soldier whose life really should be made into a film. For about three years during the Japanese occupation of Malaya, Spencer Chapman was considered missing and presumed dead by the British Army. In fact, he was alive, hiding in the dense Malayan jungle, and performing work that included destroying bridges and trains, attacking Japanese soldiers, and collaborating with local Communists who were also resisting the Japanese military government. Despite being ill for most of his time in the jungle (at one point, he was unconscious from pneumonia for 17 days and only realized this after the fact, when he noticed the lapse in his journal entries), Spencer Chapman also kept notes on bird species and collected plant seeds to send to Kew Gardens. I’m about to begin his memoir of that period, The Jungle is Neutral.
And that’s what I’ve been up to. Exciting times! What are you writing and reading, friends?