On THE RIDE again: (2) Who’s in charge here?

I clicked save for the last time and sighed deeply. Instead of almost 44000 words, my manuscript now weighs an athletic 40500 words. Ready to take on the world. All right, all right, I hoped to lose a little bit more, but here’s the thing: I’m not sure that I am entirely in charge here.

Oh, that’s funny, is it?

After all, I’m the writer; I get it. And I can make the characters do whatever they want, you’re right about that, too. But sometimes, a plot strand does just emerge and take over. Take a look at the draft blurb for Punch

blurb 2

‘You had me at ‘dancing bear’, my clever illustrator friend said.

‘I was just really intrigued by the dancing bear’ said my pal.

‘More about the dancing bear!’ requested my editor. 

All right then!

But as soon as I started to dig, the waters became muddied. Far from being a majestic spectacle, many dancing bears were being mistreated: a nose ring cruelly inserted through their nose, the most sensitive body part. This was attached to a heavy metal chain. In addition, the bear was often also prodded with a long stick to force it one way or the other. More research showed that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was just founded decades before my story, and Queen Victoria herself was patron. Wow – there was an interesting story-line here, slap bang in the no-man’s land of changing attitudes. I was hooked.

I exercised that particular muscle of the novel quite a bit over this rewrite, set as it is twenty years or so before bear-leading is actually made illegal. I didn’t want to write a story about animal cruelty; that had been done before.

Image result for dancing bear
Michael Morpurgo tackles the subject in his children’s book.

But many questions about our relationship with animals are now raised through the plot. Were all bear-tamers monsters who didn’t care about the suffering of their creatures? Was it possible to own a performing bear, and care deeply about its welfare at the same time? How did Victorians perceive such entertainment? 

One thing is certain: This version of Punch is quite a different book that the one I submitted first time round. In essence, there is still a lot that is upbeat and good in it. But at the same time, if it’s gained a bit of depth, provokes a bit of thought I’m not upset. Let the dancing bear be in charge for a while!

In other news:

  • Work has got underway on the cover and I am so excited! I’m lucky enough to be consulted by my publishers, and it’s such a buzz!
  • I look forward to appearing on an XPO North panel on writing and publishing in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland on 8th June.
  • Punch will be launched at Waterstones Inverness on 26th October, so save the date!


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