Hello, friends. One morning last week, as I was still waking up, I had a moment of intense clarity about my work-in-progress: its shape is wrong. I need to restructure the first third of the novel.
As I’m less than halfway through a first draft, I did not welcome this insight. Indeed, I spent a couple of days squinting at the corpus-thus-far-assembled, giving it a poke here and a jab there, as though testing the monster’s reflexes. Still, I think my half-waking vision was accurate. Since then, I’ve made a pile of notes and shuffled some ideas. I can keep some of the sections already written, while others need to be excised. About half of it needs to be rewritten.
Happily, some of the changes I’m going to make mean that I also need to revisit one of my favourite books: Freddy Spencer Chapman’s The Jungle is Neutral. I’m SO EXCITED to spend more time with my historical boyfriend! (If you’re wondering who on earth Freddy Spencer Chapman is, I’ve blogged about him over at the History Girls.) I’m reading partly to re-ground myself, and also for a detailed timeline. For example, here’s a map that includes some of his journeys in the month of January 1941:
(Pedant alert: Freddy didn’t travel to Telok Anson that month. That leg of the journey is included for SECRET WRITERLY PURPOSES.)
But as much fun as I’m having plotting and mapping, the most thrilling part of re-reading The Jungle is Neutral is how much better I’m able to appreciate it. Freddy is as breathtakingly adventurous as ever, of course. But after two years’ research into wartime Malaya, I’m familiar with all the main players. I know the geography and natural landscape. I have a firm grasp on the politics. And I bring this richness of understanding to The Jungle is Neutral. Everything means more.
I make a habit of re-reading favourite novels every few years: Middlemarch, for example, grows and deepens for me every time. I recently read both The Trumpet of the Swan and Pippi Longstocking with my son, and adored them both all over again. Yet I’m not sure I’d have thought to do this with a work of non-fiction, until now. But it’s true, it’s true, it’s true.
Everything means more.
P. S. I finished Paul “Raj Quartet” Scott’s 1960 novel, The Chinese Love Pavilion, and blogged about it at the History Girls. If you read my original blog post, written when I was halfway through the novel, you’ll want to skip down a few paragraphs. If you haven’t… well, brace yourself!