It must be spring. I’m starting my next book.
I really ought to be more organised, and write my mysteries during autumn and winter, leaving me free to enjoy the good weather (we hope!) of spring and summer without worrying about deadlines. But here I am, April in full swing, and raring to get on with the fifth Aurelia Marcella mystery. Never mind; if a book goes well it can take you over, whatever the weather.
Just now I’m getting together the ingredients for the book. It’s a bit like preparing an elaborate meal. First you compile a list of things you want to include, then you blend them into a viable recipe or several, (the plot outline,) and then you cook it all up and hope the result is a gourmet experience.
As this is the fifth in a series, my ingredients list should begin with some obvious choices of people and locations: so obvious I don’t even need to write them down. Aurelia and her family, her mansio near York, and perhaps a few of the minor characters, such as servants or local friends. But each book must stand alone, so readers can tackle them in any order, though naturally I hope the whole world will devour all of them eventually. So I must give new readers just a little back-story about the main characters, but keep it to the bare essentials. I dislike books in a series, (it’s usually the later ones,) when each plot contains too much information about the protagonists’ past lives, often served up in large dollops near the beginning. That can really slow a story down.
It’s the new ingredients I’m assembling now, and a very odd lot they are. They can come from anywhere, even straight out of my head on a good day, but mostly I admit they arise from research. For example, this book will be set partly in Londinium, so naturally I’ve been reading up about how different it was in Roman times. I don’t just mean much smaller; it was also much damper. The Thames was a lot wider, with no embankments to contain it, and there were areas of marsh with small islands in them, quite close to the Romans’ settlement. And it was tidal, of course…so suppose someone got lost, or was lured to a place that would be flooded when the tide rose?
Last summer when I gave a paper on Roman law and justice, I came across a fascinating case of a man accused of sorcery, and how he defended himself in court. Sorcery was something the Romans were terrified of, and the punishments were dire. Suppose you wanted rid of a rival; could you destroy him by accusing him of Roman black magic?
And last week the unseasonable snow triggered a good thought. It didn’t reach us here, but it covered much of Yorkshire, including York. I’d planned to start the story with Aurelia and family setting out for Londinium on a sunny morning, full of the joys of spring. Then I realised it would be much more interesting if they have snow to contend with. The joys of spring need toning down a little…this is a mystery, after all.
So my opening line will be: “It shouldn’t snow in April. The gods should not allow it.”
There! I’ve made a start. Only another ninety-some thousand words to go.