Part of the 52 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.
9. Your favourite secondary character
My favourite secondary character in The Mayor — Part One only, because it’s the book I’m writing at the moment — is probably Jaspher and John’s father, Jeremiah Carson. A man of great integrity, Jeremiah is easy-going, entrepreneurial and quietly intelligent. He has a wicked sense of humour — a trait he shares with his youngest son, John — and knows the value of a thick skin and hard work.
Born and raised as a sailor to immigrant parents, Jeremiah Carson found work on a timber trading vessel — one of many businesses owned by the wealthy Gatley family of the mercantile class. Impressing his superiors with a keen work-ethic, personable demeanour and practically acquired knowledge, Jeremiah grafted his way to the position of captain where he soon became acquainted with Roger Gatley’s daughter, Sofia. Perfectly matched in every respect but station, the two embarked on a passionate affair, but when Jeremiah eventually approached Gatley to request his daughter’s hand in marriage, the union was met with derision and disapproval by Sofia’s brother, Rhode. Rhode Gatley believed his sister capable of marrying richer and ‘better’, and thus made a concerted effort to keep the two apart. Roger Gatley meanwhile tried to resist Jeremiah’s request for several weeks, but was ultimately forced to concede when Sofia declared herself pregnant. The two were married at once, but Jaspher Carson did not appear for at least another fourteen months. Realising with surprisingly good grace that he’d been tricked, Roger Gatley at last welcomed Jeremiah into the family, much to Rhode Gatley’s chagrin.
A year or so later upon Roger Gatley’s death, Jeremiah Carson inherited the bulk of the Gatley’s timber trading business. Leaving the day to day management of the firm to the whip-smart Sofia, Jeremiah continued to sail and negotiate overseas, the two of them taking the business from strength to strength. Even Rhode Gatley’s hostility towards his brother-in-law cooled to a begrudging respect, finding it hard to argue with the man’s monetary success.
When Sofia died of an infection contracted from the birth of their second son Jonathan, Jeremiah was forced to retire from sailing. He grounded himself on New Hardway soil, seeking to raise his two sons by himself and take over from where his wife left off. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, the timber business began to fail, and he began seeking out alternative means of providing for his family.
Salvation came in the form of Craven Winship — a talented but bored accountancy executive whom Jeremiah had become close to over the years through their mutual connection to the Gatley family. Further united by the loss of a spouse, he and Winship proposed to combine their expertise and form a new shipbuilding company. Jeremiah sold his timber business back to his brother-in-law, using the proceeds from the sale to help start up the new firm. Despite their fractious history, Jeremiah also negotiated an agreement with Rhode whereby Winship and Carson could buy timber from him at a reduced rate; a deal that proved to be of great benefit to them both. Winship and Carson went on to be a huge success, and neither Jeremiah nor Craven have ever looked back since.
What I love about Jeremiah is his sheer tenacity; his determination to succeed despite all adversity. He deeply loves and cares for his family, and there’s nothing he won’t do to help them. Having faced both classist and racial prejudice all his life, he has nonetheless managed to carve out a decent life for himself despite a string of familial tragedies which include, but are not limited to, mental illness, suicide and abuse. Occasionally joking the Carson family might be cursed, he always stays positive, and consistently makes light of dreadful situations.
At the start of The Mayor, Jeremiah is desperately ill and, having always lived an active and dynamic lifestyle, is struggling to come to terms with the fact he’s no longer as physically capable as he once was. He relies heavily on his eldest son Jaspher for support — the guilt of which eats away at him — and spends much of his time denying he needs any help at all. As a writer, I enjoy grappling with that slow, reluctant realisation of one’s own mortality; the frustration with one’s own failing body, and how resignation to the inevitable can sometimes be strangely freeing.
10. Your thoughts on… (writing) Gardeners and Architects
I’m pretty sure this originally came from a fantastic interview of George R. R. Martin by one of my favourite authors, Joe Abercrombie (I can’t find a link to it; it was on Sky Arts around the time the first season of Game of Thrones aired… Correct me if I’m wrong!). George has mentioned this concept several times since then, and Joe wrote his own blog post about it shortly afterwards (click here).
In the interview, Joe and George spoke to one another about how they planned and wrote their books. Joe Abercrombie was an Architect, one who “[plans] everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up.” George R. R. Martin meanwhile described himself as a Gardener: “[they] dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows.” (Source)
This is also known as Planning vs. Pantsing in the NaNoWriMo world, but Gardening vs. Architecting sounds way more fancy, doesn’t it?
When it comes to starting new projects, I have to unfortunately place myself firmly in the Gardening/Pantsing category. I say unfortunately, because this method is messy, resulting in a lot of weeds growing where they shouldn’t, neglected saplings suddenly sprouting into forests at inconvenient moments, and crying over your favourite flowers because they won’t bloom the way you want them to. I find it difficult to plan novels without first getting to grips with the characters and world they live in, so I start with an extremely high level story idea and dive right in. I wish this wasn’t the case, because as I mentioned in a previous blog post, my original draft of The Mayor got so out of control I ended up putting the whole thing down for several years.
All the tales are told,
All the orchids gone.
Lost in my own world,
Now I care for dead gardens.
~ ‘Dead Gardens’ – Nightwish, Once (2004)
When I went back to writing The Mayor early last year, I made sure I at least had a list of key scenes in bullet points before tackling the rest of the draft. I also started blocking out events in more exhaustive detail at the start of each new chapter to keep myself from getting completely lost. This method has helped enormously with keeping everything under control whilst still maintaining a sense of creative freedom and growth. I will of course still veer off into a plot-hedge every now and then, but at least this time I can find my way back!
In answer to the original question, I’m a bit of both, I guess… a landscape architect, if you will!
V.E. Schwab‘s video below probably best describes my current method, minus the part about writing the ending first; I’d rather save that particular satisfaction for later when I’m done!