Monday, 24 August 2009

Accountants, index card boxes and the Forest of Dean

It appears I am low maintenance. At least according to my accountant.


I have, apparently, not claimed enough expenses in the last tax year.


Well, writing is pretty low-imput isn’t it? Even taking into account the internet which I use constantly for research, it’s not exactly a technology-intensive job. And you don’t need posh clothes to do it. Or a car. I keep trying to persuade myself that my laptop needs replacing but, as I generally can't bear to replace anything I own while it still actually works/fits/isn’t actually steam-powered, I plod on, bearing with it as it takes three minutes to log on to the internet and crashes if I even think about having iTunes and webmail on the go at the same time...


I may be about to gladden my accountant’s heart, however, as this weekend will see the Other Half and me and set off for the first of what will probably amount to half a dozen research excursions for The Black and The White. (It's what I heard Antonia Fraser refer to on the radio the other day - quaintly I thought - as 'optical research'. Aka actually eyeballing the places you're writing about as opposed to reading about them or looking at a map and inferring madly.)


To start with, we are off to the Forest of Dean because that’s where my central character comes from. And – hooray of hoorays - the Dean Heritage Centre is running a charcoal burning demonstration over the bank holiday weekend. So, I shall be in my element. I may have to borrow the Ultimate Frisbee Freak’s video camera and record the whole thing. The Other Half suspects I may be mentally preparing myself to back an unsuspecting charcoal burner into a dark woodland corner and fire arcane questions at him for as long as he's prepared to bear it. She says she’ll be in the cafĂ© reading her book.


This has all come to pass thanks to the wonders – of course – of the internet. I was surfing around looking for details of the medieval extent of the Forest of Dean when I came across a reference to the Dean Heritage Centre and its lovely website.


Other things I have been using today as I plot – literally – my character’s journey through the novel are the online Domesday Book which will give you a list of every village in any given county mentioned in the said tax record (excellent for checking whether villages which are there now and look ancient were actually there then looking new) and Google’s map function which enables me to look at terrain as well as where things are in relation to each other. I basically have to get my main character across England while the Black Death rages and I want to make sure he’s taking a sensible route and not choosing to go over nasty steep hills when there are convenient valleys he could be following instead. In theory I can read an OS map perfectly competently, but it's so much more mentally strenuous than letting Google paint you a simple picture.


I also spent a lot of time today toggling between about four different websites as I tried to work out whether the bridge in Gloucester which crossed the Severn in the fourteenth century – a bridge which no longer exists as it crossed a channel of the ever-dividing river which also no longer exists – was inside or outside the city wall. OK, I know I could fudge it (‘…after crossing the river at Gloucester, he….) but I don’t want to. The people of Gloucester barred their gates to all comers to try and keep the plague out (sensible them, shame they didn’t know they should be trying to keep rats out) and I want to put that in. If he couldn’t go through the gates when he needed to, then that would have implications, even for a fudge.


Lest you think all my research is internet-based and therefore shallow and of dubious authenticity I would (if I wasn’t so lazy about taking and downloading photos) include a picture of my current work-area in our kitchen. The table is littered with books propped open, books sprouting yellow post-its like slim pointy fungus, books still waiting to be consulted and dozens and dozens of index cards with spider-diagrams and cryptic notes-to-self on them. For reasons of economy, when I bought the index cards (usually I’m a notebook person but my notes were beginning to resemble the disjointed ravings of a lunatic) I neglected to buy an index-box. However, this means that any minute now I’m going to have to go all Blue Peter and make one out of a cereal box before the cards start to migrate about the house and I lose track of some pearl-like thought or vital fourteenth-century fact.


Or maybe I should just bite the bullet, buy a plastic box and gladden my accountant’s heart….

6 comments:

Elizabeth M Rimmer said...

Shoe-boxes always work for me. And then, you could buy shoes!

Alis said...

Hi Elizabeth! Yes, shoe boxes - there are a couple of football-boot sized ones lurking here somewhere so I won't even need to go to the bother of buying myself any shoes! (See comments about failure to replace anything unless totally worn out etc etc...I'm a sad case!)

David Isaak said...

Do you write off the books you buy?

At least Over Here, those are deductible agasint income from writing...

Alis said...

Hi David! Oh yes, for sure. One of my bigger deductibles!

Frances Garrood said...

This won't be at all helpful for the novel, but have you read 'A Child of the Forest' by Winifred Foley? A delightful book about a childhood spent in the Forest of Dean. Wrong period, of course, but maybe some of the trees will be the same...

Alis said...

Thanks, Frances. I'll see if I can get hold of a copy. All atmosphere is good, I find!