Historical novelists are sometimes asked whether they’d rather live in the times they write about than in the twenty-first century. In my case the short answer is, ‘No.’ The long answer involves words like anaesthetics, slavery, contact lenses and gas heating - not to mention the fact that I’d probably be dead by the age I am now.
In fact I’ve never heard anyone answer ‘yes’ to this question about any era, and suspect a lot of it has to do with advances in health care.
Readers who subscribe to the version of Victorian England in which the streets were full of jolly coachmen, prancing horses and rosy-cheeked choirboys standing under gas lamps in the snow (very prevalent at this time of year) should leave now. To those made of sterner stuff, I can thoroughly recommend a visit* to Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret that used to be part of St Thomas’ Hospital in London. No longer in use, of course, but apparently the oldest operating theatre in Britain. Obviously the nineteenth century is a long way removed from the Romans, but it’s said that surgery made very few advances between Classical times and the Victorian era. The Garret is a fascinating place to wander round, and a salutary reminder that whatever we may find wrong with the modern world, there’s a lot that we really, really wouldn’t want to go back to…
*a virtual visit is the only kind that can be made at the moment – it reopens on 6 January 2010 when, for reasons not entirely clear, it is celebrating The Odyssey of Chocolate. (I always knew chocolate was medicinal.)
I know we’ve been here before on this blog, but a comment from Phil about manuscript submission prompts me to observe how fast things are changing even in the few years I’ve been involved this publishing game.
Not that long ago, sending the latest effort to the agent involved hunting round for a box to hold 400+ sheets of paper, lots of Sellotape and a chance to queue in the Post Office. Usually a stamped addressed postcard went in with it, so she could confirm it had arrived.
Even as recently as the second Ruso novel, the American editor pencilled her comments on the paper copy and sent them across the Atlantic by FedEx.
Not any more. There was some paper about for the third book, but much of the copy editing was done on-screen, with little red and green notes and comments appearing around the typing. All slightly embarrassing, as it recorded every change of mind.
The first draft of Ruso 4 (including three chapters that are still just notes) has now reached the agent by email. She’ll be going through it on her journey to work. Not on paper, but on her e-reader. I’ll be using the breathing space to do all the other stuff one does at this time of year, but in case there are a few quiet moments I’ve just downloaded ‘A Christmas Carol’ to read on my phone.
For someone who spends much of the day imagining the year 120, where every document had to be copied by hand and no letter could travel faster than the courier’s horse, it’s all rather hard to believe.
I know I wasn’t going to post anything till the book’s done but this is too good to ignore. In case anyone’s missed it on the news – the wondrous Google Street View is now available for Pompeii. Hooray!
I haven’t explored all of it yet (there is a book to finish) but did discover a very interesting man with half a head and no body somewhere near the amphitheatre entrance. Perhaps the ghost of one of the victims.
…because the deadline for the initial draft of Ruso 4 is 31 December. I am too ashamed to say what it was before the nice people at the publishers agreed to extend it.
So, apologies for the dearth of posts over the last few weeks. It’s looking like a quiet Christmas here at Downie Towers – but hopefully a cheerful New Year.