The latest draft of the new novel is nearly finished. Last week, in an effort to concentrate my mind, I emailed my agent and told her that I would definitely be sending her a copy of it by tuesday. Er, today. Except that I haven't done it yet. No, the dog didn't eat my homework. But here's what happened. I had been working on a printout, making changes and corrections, and was beginning to be reasonably pleased with the results. All novels get to that stage where you are much too close to them to be able to make sound judgements. You need somebody else to read them - but even more importantly, you need a break of weeks so that you can return with fresh eyes. The plan was, and still is, to send the book to Sarah in the knowledge that she wouldn't be able to get back to me about it until the New Year. Which would give me space to stand back from the whole project. I had also just bought a big new book about the period in question and wanted time to read it, just in case I had got something very wrong.
Last week, I was browsing through our local branch of Waterstones, looking for Christmas presents for various people when my eye alighted on another enticing non fiction paperback which didn't just cover the period in question but was a mine of information about the very specific area covered by the novel. I bought it with a mixture of excitement and the sinking feeling you get when you suspect that you may have got something important very very wrong. As it turned out, I hadn't got it wrong at all. But this wonderful book not only confirmed one of my major plot points, but added to it, giving me yet another interesting reason why things would not go according to plan for my main character. This in turn involved a few important rewrites. Hence the delay. I'm still sitting here with a marked up manuscript, all 86,000 words of it - and I promise that I will get the corrections typed up this week!
There are so many excellent historical books out there that it's always going to be a problem knowing when to stop researching and I have to remind myself that I'm working on a piece of fiction. As long as it's accurate enough, it doesn't really have to be a manual on early nineteenth century gardening. As long as something theoretically 'could' happen, as long as there is a modicum of truth about it all, then that's fine.
But I know that when I'm reading historical fiction myself, nothing yanks me out of my suspension of disbelief more quickly than a sudden howler. I don't mean small inaccuracies. I mean the really big stuff. And I know we all make compromises and you can't write in archaisms, but if an eighteenth century character says 'OK' - and this happens in films all the time, God knows why nobody spots it - it definitely jars.
On the other hand I well remember an (English) editor querying every single Scotticism in one of my manuscripts as 'anachronistic'. These included my phrase 'ghostly gear' to describe a dead 18th century woman's possessions. She was thinking Liverpool, 1960s. I was thinking of a very old Scots word for goods or wealth. I had to send her the dictionary reference. There is an excellent piece about just this problem here.
Meanwhile, The Physic Garden will be landing in my agent's inbox before the weekend is out. I promise. I really really do.