Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Of Castles and Chillis

Today we went to Eastnor Castle where they hold The Big Chill. Today though, they were holding a chilli festival. (That wasn't why we went - it was incidental. No one in our family is much interested in chillis.)
The weather was changeable. As we approached the castle, there was a great dark cloud of rain hanging over it like smoke. All the turrets, arched doorways and windows were darkened by this lowering, raincloud in a way that would have been very atmospheric had it not been for the accompanying salsa music and huge inflatable chillis everywhere. England can be a bizarre place sometimes.

We made our way through all the people who were eating cartons of chillis in the courtyard (again bizarre) and went into the castle to look around. There were soaring, painted ceilings, antlered animal heads on the walls, suits of armour and chandeliers as big as that iceberg that sank the Titanic (possibly).

Husband appeared to be having quite a nice time, but this visit was his suggestion, so he had no choice other than to look engrossed. More unexpectedly, the boys liked it too. Not only were they interested in all the old furniture and random exhibits (boomerangs, elephant's foot umbrella stand, signed photo of Ant and Dec etc.) there were also pictures of chillis for them to find in each room. My five year old decided that he wanted a four-poster bed in his own room, and my nine year old, upon seeing the book-lined walls of the immense library, whispered that someone ought to tell these people about the invention of the kindle.

I went round with an abstracted air, owing to the fact that I was pretending to be on a research trip for my novel which is set in a castle. Since I'm unpublished, I have to regard my writing as a hobby - which precludes dragging the family on "research trips" - so my husband's suggestion was a nice surprise. I'm planning to mention all the secret doors I saw hidden in the panelling or wallpapered over - which were used by the servants (helping to make them more invisible to the important rich people they were waiting on) and their difference to the heavy wooden doorframes used by the family of the house (or castle). These were more like a short corridors between the rooms than doorways!
I'm also planning to refer to the Peninsula war, so I was interested to see portraits of some of the family members who'd died in Burgos. They looked far too young to have died. There were also some parts of their uniforms on display - which made them seem more real. Is it strange to have felt so sad about the deaths of men who would be long-dead by now anyway?

After I wrote the last post about my favourite comfort reads, I noticed that almost every one of them features a castle or a grand country house. These are romantic or intimidating or poetically-tumbledown - and they all have a deep sense of history. So I suppose this explains why I felt the need to include one in my own story - subconsciously I'd already noted it down as a plot-essential!

This afternoon I'm going to start plotting - and (hopefully) writing the final contemporary chapters of my story. After that, the last historical chapters. I have a pretty good idea of where my plot is going to go and I'm confident that I WILL finish it! I'm over halfway now and I can almost see the downward slope towards the end. I know it'll take weeks more work until I can type THE END - and after that, weeks more editing and polishing before I'm brave enough to send it anywhere. But all the same, I can feel a sort of slow, building excitement whenever I think about my book. This has to be the best stage of all, I think. I'm currently rushing back from the school run to get some more words down in the morning and staying up late at night to finish off scenes I've already played in my head. Even when I switch off the light and try to sleep, extra plot twists or bits of dialogue come into my head without me having to struggle for them.
Going to finish this post now - I've made myself want to go and get some more words down!

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