Saturday, July 21, 2012

A bit of background

Faces from the past

Some of you already know, and others I hope have been directed here from elsewhere so you can find out, about my Work In Progress. I'm currently working on a novel. Technically it's my third. I have one self published and one that needs some serious editing, both as a result of NaNoWriMo for the last two years.

About this time last year I began work on something else that was bubbling around in my head. It was one of those things that was just bashing the inside of my skull and demanding to be written. So quite why I allowed myself to be sidetracked by NaNo and distracted enough to abandon it for half a year, I'm not sure. But now I'm back on it.

It's quite a saga, based around the cotton industry in the North West of England. I set it there to avoid any direct comparisons with the West Yorkshire wool trade, in which my ancestors were involved, but to allow me enough leeway to use my personal and family knowledge. (Brief history/geography lesson for the US readers can be found below.)

Unlike those in my previous works, none of the characters in the current novel is based on anyone I know or knew at any time. The premise is that only two of the Braithwaite family are still alive. One is seriously ill, and none has reached 60 in at least three generations. Narrator Alex Braithwaite is researching the past, desperate to find some sort of foundation to stand on before becoming the last of the line.

The story covers five generations and stretches back to the nineteenth century. (And a little history as background from even earlier than that)  It has a cast of around 40, though they don't all get a chapter to themselves. I've written eight of the main ones, plus several background and connecting chapters. Two characters will have more than one chapter to tell their tales.

It's a challenge. But they don't call me the History Anorak for nothing. It's going to take a lot more time. I will not abandon it again, even if it means NaNo goes out of the window this year.

About the geography and history of the English cloth trade.Towards the north of England (NOT the UK, just the bit as far up as where the map goes very narrow.) down the centre of the country is a range of hills called the Pennines. For various reasons that aren't important here but can probably be researched in any good geography text book, it rains a lot there. That means that there's plentiful water supplies to help the various processes in cloth making. In addition, the rocks on each side of the Pennines are different, giving the resulting ground water very different qualities. To the east, in Yorkshire, it's soft water - perfect for caring for wool.  And to the west, in Lancashire and around Manchester, it's harder water, (contains a lot of calcium carbonate) making it much better for cotton and linen. (The minerals help the bleaching process.) Hence, Yorkshire folk like my ancestors made woollen cloth and the Lancastrians made cotton and linen.


Sandra Davies said...

I was just going to leap around waving my hand and shouting 'King Cotton' - so glad you got there first!
And your novel sounds absolutely wonderful - right up my street.
Did the photograph come first?
(I have to say the idea of doing a family history-based saga has tempred me, but (slaps hand) not yet, please muse, not yet!

Jan said...

This sounds like something I would enjoy with all the social history you will include. Have you read Jeanette Winterson's memoir "Why be happy when you could be normal"? There is a great chapter all about Accrington and the northern towns. I think it was my favourite part of the book.

MorningAJ said...

We went to Quarry Bank Mill earlier this year, partly because I've always wanted to go and partly because of the book. These faces just seemed to fit what I already had in mind.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ann - sounds very interesting and I hadn't realised the E/W divide - different types of water .. so affected the different types of cloth -

I think I tried to read Winterson's novel years ago .. but I wasn't interested in history then .. so sort of scanned it - I'll have to have another read of it .. anon.

Good luck - cheers Hilary

hyperCRYPTICal said...

I didn't know about the E?W divide in relation to water content either.

I admire anyone who writes a book - I have tried but am to easily distracted.

Good luck from me too.

Anna :o]