Letting Go

Don’t be afraid to “murder your darlings” is frequent advice to writers. Letting go of scenes (or characters) can be tricky. When writing my first novel The Welsh Linnet I set an early scene at Petworth House in Sussex, where the heroine met a charming young man who I later killed off in battle. As readers of this blog know, I do try to visit the locations in my books, but Petworth made it no further than my ‘to-do’ list. In the course of writing the Petworth scene, I researched what it is like now, what it was like then, (before it was rebuilt in 1688), the tennis court, and whether the Earl of Northumberland was likely to have been in residence at the requisite time (early 1641).

Eventually I decided reluctantly that the scene wasn’t needed. Dashing Rafe became a friend of the heroine’s eldest brother Will, and Bess met him when Will brought a party of friends home for Christmas. Much simpler, and it cut out unnecessary complications in the lengthy lead up to the start of the English Civil War.

And then there was the prologue – 2 prologues to be precise. Both ended up on the cutting-room  floor. I was a bit sad about scrapping the first one, which featured 12 -year- old Bess running away from home like Maggie Tulliver in George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss. I had spent days on it, with several rewrites and much checking of facts. The sheepdog, for example, which featured at the opening of the scene had to be replaced by an authentic 17th century hunting spaniel (see photo).  But although it illustrated Bess’s adventurous spirit, it also suggested the book was going to be a light-hearted romp. Readers attracted by the prologue were unlikely to enjoy “The stench of smoke has faded, replaced with that of sweat, fear, blood. The cold and damp of the muddy ground is soaking into his breeches and chilling him to the bone” once the fighting starts…

Undeterred by my own decision, I then wrote a prologue to Tawny Sash, but dropped that too. Prologues are a bit ‘love them or hate them’. To be honest, I think their main use is at the start of murder mysteries when the prologue features the murderer or victim and the reader spends most of the book waiting for a clue to how the events of the prologue relate to the plot. But in my civil war saga? Not so far.

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