Friday 28 September 2012

The Night Flight: work-in-progress

Where have the days gone? The week has passed in an instant as I went back to the work-in-progress, the long-awaited return to desk punctuated with visits from pleasant chaps, old favourites all, who keep our domestic show on the road: the electrician, the plumber, handyman and chimney sweep.

The house glitches have been mended and secured. A new bookcase has been installed in my study so that I can see my current research books clearly in the shelves instead of having to hunt for them in the piles on the floor. From now on, there’s no excuse for not putting my head down.

You know you love what you do when work, no matter how intense, never really feels like work. All week, I’ve been in a good mood. I haven’t even achieved that much yet, what with all the interruptions and chats over cups of tea, but as the decks have been cleared I’ve been assessing and reorganizing what I’ve already written.

In response to the lovely messages - and curiosity about the subject matter - both in blog comments and privately, here is a little taster of what’s on the desk. There’s France, and wartime, but also England, secrecy and romance, a Mediterranean island and an impossible task. The working title for the book is The Night Flight.

I’m intending to take a bit of a risk with the structure of this novel. Regular readers of this blog who are interested in writing might recall that I began writing this book last autumn. About 30,000 words in, I decided to concentrate some of the material into a novella as it seemed too much of a diversion from the main narrative.

The novella took shape, and the original idea – agreed with agents and publishers on both sides of the Atlantic – was that it could be published as a free e-book, a marketing come-on for the new full-length novel. By the time I’d done the story justice, this novella, The Lavender Field, was a bit longer than intended but I was pleased with it and had some lovely reactions from my usual early readers.

Then came a long wait to hear back, during which time I hesitated to get back to the main novel in case I was on the wrong track. During the summer I was contacted by the London publishers. They loved the novella and thought it was too good to give away (hurray!) - would I consider expanding it into a full-length novel? (hmm…) I thought about that for a while, but decided that what made it work was that it held the right amount of story in the right number of words. It’s fairly fast-paced with a dash of adventure and anything more would just be padding.

So here’s the solution, and I’d be very interested in your reaction to it: it this appealing or not? The idea is that the new novel will be ‘a novel in three stories’, each the length of the novella (which is about a third of a normal novel). Each story will focus on a different character who has been introduced in the previous one, and although there will be a satisfying, self-contained plot and characters in each, they will add up to a whole picture, from the past to the present.

The Lavender Field would form the first part. It’s the story of Marthe Lincel, the blind perfume creator in The Lantern: what really happened to her in wartime Manosque, omitted from her sister Bénédicte's narrative – perhaps because she never knew. Here’s a short blurb and the prologue as a taster:

"When Marthe Lincel leaves the school for the blind in Manosque for an apprenticeship at the local perfume factory during the Second World War, she has no idea that the Distillerie Musset is at the heart of a Resistance cell operating in Nazi-occupied Provence. As secret messages are passed in scent and planes land by moonlight on a plateau covered in lavender, danger comes ever closer." 


Provence, 1944

   Not a word should be said. The scent was the word.

   Each week it was the same routine with only minute variations: the girl caught the bus coming down from Digne, no different from any other nineteen year old with a job to do. The bus drew in under the plane trees in the village of Céreste and she alighted. By a bench where she placed her baskets for a moment, she reached into her shoulder bag for the perfume bottle and carefully dabbed her wrists, rubbing the scent up her arms just to make sure. Nothing suspicious about this, simply attention to detail; a charming advertisement for the Distillerie Musset, makers of soap and scent. A blue scarf secured her hair and she wore the lavender print apron she would wear to serve in the shop. Then she picked up her two heavy baskets and made her deliveries: one to the hotel, one to the doctor’s surgery and one to the general store. She walked purposefully but would stop for a few minutes to pass the time of day with occasional customers. Then, when her load was lighter, she went on to various houses around and beyond the village and finally arrived at the café.

   She would order a small glass of weak wine, a little food perhaps, and greet the regulars. Acknowledge the Gestapo officers or the Milice at the best tables. Drink the wine, turn to leave and then hesitate by the man reading the paper. Go over to the Germans to ask if they had any special requests, a present for a girl perhaps. Give them a heart-lifting smile. Take a few paces back to the table where the man sits with his newspaper. He’s always there, a little unkempt, smudging his glass with dirty hands. Sometimes he reads, sometimes he stares into space. They all know that his spirit is gone. He drinks too much. Ignore him. Let the scent give the message. It has warmed now on her skin thanks to all the walking, and is released in sweet pulses. Lavender: come to the farm. Rose: we have more men to move. Thyme: supplies needed urgently.

   Stand there to take a note of any orders from these men who enjoy their new powers so much. Be pleasant though all instincts are to spit in their faces.

   Then a walk across the road to wait for the return bus. She times it well, glancing up at the clock on the front face of the Mairie to check her watch is correct. She does not want to hang around too long, does not want the eyes of the men in the café to linger on her face and body. On the other hand she will not risk cutting it too fine and missing the bus. Just a nice normal pace, all the way there and back.


Jacqui@FrenchVillageDiaries said...

Having just finished The Lantern, and really enjoyed it, I am very excited to hear you are writing about Marthe. I will be writing a review on my blog, but intense, intrigue and captivating are the words that came to mind when reading it. I love the idea of the three parts, but being separate books, as I sometimes found the jumping around a little difficult to keep up with in The Lantern - but still could not put it down! Best of luck, Jacqui.

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

I like the idea a lot, especially with interconnecting characters. Best of luck with it.

Bunched Undies said...

Ok Deborah, I'm hooked! Thanks for the delicious preview.
The three segment structure reminds me somewhat of Gotz Spielman's film "Antares". The disparate stories pulled together nicely in the end.

bright star said...

It sounds great ,will be looking forward to reading this. love Angela

Evelyn said...

I love this idea! Scents as secret intriguing. Can I pre-order the book yet??

Gill Edwards said...

sounds like a great idea and a very unusual one too. Id love to hear more about the 'distant' characters from the lantern. Looking forward to reading it so keep writing

Half-heard in the Stillness said...

I think it's a brilliant idea Deborah! I really enjoyed the 'taster' a truly novel idea to use the fragrance as a message. It kind of ties in with how they used to use flowers to send messages to lovers in the past. Intriguing and also enchanting. I like the idea of each part being a contained section of a whole as sometimes I've found other books confusing when they jump back and to a lot.
I wanted to keep reading... always a good sign don't you think?

Jane (p.s. Sorry you had trouble leaving a comment on my blog, it's been mentioned by others, but I'm not sure what to do about it.)

Half-heard in the Stillness said...

Dear Deborah, actually not sure if it was actually you had that trouble now with signing to say you're not a robot in order to leave a comment. I must apologise if I've got it wrong.

Hugs Jane

James Kiester said...

So, 3 interlocking novellas within a s single volume; kind of like Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. Should be interesting. :-)

Marcheline said...

So exciting! Can't wait for the rest.

P.S. I've gone through my sample of Jo Malone's "Amber and Lavender" (truly amazing stuff), and have returned to the "Absinthe Verte", and find that I like it much better once it's warmed on the skin. I actually apply it to my forearms and chafe them together to create heat, which melts the separate layers together and brings out the hidden magic.

aguja said...

I have been wondering what was happening with your book ... and I like the idea of the three stories; different angles. It's good, too, that 'The Lantern' characters will not be dispensed with as they deserve extra life.

I look forward to what you create. I know that i shall enjoy it as I love your writing style and, to me, this is of vital importance in a book, because it then has the potential to be re read.

I have re read both 'The art of Falling'and 'The Lantern'. Plus, having just returned from Florence and Pisa,I shall be returning to 'The Art of Falling'.

Image Manipulation said...

Whatever you see – any good results – are all from the pressure.

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