England is a compact country of cities, towns, villages, and rural areas that often come up right against each other – little “middle ground” between them. While driving, one minute you may find you’re in a town, and suddenly you are through it and in countryside. The change between urban and rural (and vice-versa) is sometimes startlingly abrupt.
“Endless” suburban subdivisions as one sees in parts of the U.S. are virtually non-existent here. Very few homes have American-sized backyards. People live much closer together, which is probably why they prize their boundary hedges, fences, and generally try to respect each other’s privacy.
One also tends to forget England can be hilly, and with that height sometimes you get a broad view you don’t expect. It sometimes could almost be a painting. For example, here’s our Hertfordshire village from a mile or so away, spread out below:
I like to joke occasionally that I consider the eighteenth century the beginning of everything. That’s an exaggeration, I know. But by that I mean the second half of that century sees the beginnings of “ourselves” in a myriad of ways that we today would easily recognize.
We have moved well-beyond what nearly all of those people living then would have imagined the future to be. While, for instance, Thomas Jefferson, who owned enslaved persons, held that African men in that degraded position still possessed an innate human equality with white men, he also wrote (privately) that he could not abide the idea of any woman in government. (A “woman’s trade” was to produce children and maintain “domestic felicity.”) It was still widely accepted that a man should own a goodly amount of property (usually land) in order to vote (because owning property meant you had a true stake in the society). The likes of LGBT equality would have simply been unfathomable to them.
Yet Jefferson’s noting he believed women were unsuited to government also meant that he had at least thought about it. It was by then among the many other no longer “unthinkables.” He, and so many others of that time, helped get “a process” started.
With France’s defeat by Britain in America in 1763, we see the beginnings of the “modern” Great Britain, France and United States that we all live in today.
I wouldn’t have trouble making “that 9:30 lecture” this morning. I woke up at 4:30. I’m typing this now with a first coffee at just after 6 AM.
We know it isn’t just university students who’ve returned to school. We live on our Hertfordshire village’s high street, which is a busy stretch of road in the morning and late afternoon “rushes” (and it’s officially 30 MPH, and if some few idiots insist on speeding – as they do – they’ll be a speed camera here eventually because that’s how this country is). The rest of the day, it’s an unpredictable flow.
There’s also a bus stop right in front of our house. Mostly it’s only lightly used, with the exception of weekday mornings when a few dozen teens in the same school uniforms appear from every direction and congregate on the sidewalk (“pavement” in English) to wait for a bus that passes around 8 AM. They don’t generally have “yellow” school buses here in England; kids use the public buses. (At that, some American parents clutch their chests; but it is safe.)
Since “Day 1” I have known broadly how Conventions would end. Back on Friday, I summoned up the courage and wrote it in detail – the final chapter. While writing one always also surprises oneself, too: as I worked on it I realized I could toss in an unexpected (and in my humble opinion, great) last twist.
After the dust had settled, re-reading it in its entirety, I found the chapter to be – accidentally – a combination of happy and sad (and poignant). That’s striking a bit of “lucky” balance. I’d “signed off” for the weekend well-pleased with what I’d managed.
I don’t want Conventions to be too similar to the Atlantic Lives novels (which I plan currently to return to after Conventions). It’s a huge challenge as a writer to try to head down a different path. But tackling new challenges is what authoring is all about: if you stay in your “comfort zone,” you’ll get stale.
For the first time I’m discovering the real challenge in being original is to be original again and again. We all have distinctive styles and I’m increasingly seeing what constitutes mine. We are inherently ourselves as writers, so it’s exceedingly difficult to avoid writing your previous books… over and over.
But this latest one has to be different in a variety of senses. First off, it will take place mostly between 1787-1795. That alone makes it a true “historical” effort – none of us living remember that time.
I’d posted a few weeks ago that we’d found George Bernard Shaw’s house, known as “Shaw’s Corner,” in neighboring Ayot St Lawrence. The other day – Sunday – with my nephew, who was visiting us for the weekend, we walked back there again and actually went in to see it. Admission is £7.50 per adult, and worth it.
I thought I would use this post this morning to pause and simply say “thank you.”
For starters, I say “thanks” because I’ve gone from of course virtually no one reading this blog in its infancy in December 2013, to a LOT more of you now, many of you on a regular basis. Over the years quite a few of you have been buying my books also – a fact which, when I think about it, truly humbles me. That you do always drives me on to make the next novel better than the last one.