Tigers in Blue is under construction. It’s the third volume in the Shire’s Union trilogy. I’ve talked in the past about how writing a second novel compares to writing your first, so what’s it like to be setting sail again? Do I want to change my approach or adapt my style? What themes might I want to draw out for this final instalment? To what extent does what has gone before steer what I’m yet to write?
A lesson re-enforced when working on The Copper Road with my editor, Patrick Lobrutto, was to make sure that all of the characters have story arcs were complete and satisfying within that novel. In order to ensure that for Tigers in Blue, I’ve had to revisit their wants and needs, understand their motivations, both conscious and subconscious. Getting going has been a little like a family reunion, a wedding perhaps, where you may not have seen everyone for a while and need to catch up, remind yourself what they’ve been doing, what makes them tick. Perhaps they’ve found something, or someone, new to wind their clock. Of course, all my characters are several years into a brutal and murderous war. It’s unlikely their circumstances will be on the up. So maybe the wedding analogy isn’t a good one. More a like a wake where we see who’s still alive and kicking. For a trilogy you have the added challenge that there are story arcs that span the series and not just one book. The stuttering on-off, love vs friendship relationship between Shire and Clara being the prime example.
To get into their mindsets, I’ve done a lot of free writing. A campfire is always a good setting (readers will know I do love a good campfire scene). Just get a bunch of characters together, pick a big theme – love, home, death - give them all a shot or two of whiskey and let them talk it out. There’s no need to use the end product, but it’s surprising how much your characters will share if you get them nice and relaxed and use your god like author powers to switch off any reserve they might naturally have. First person is excellent for this, so writing a letter from a character perspective, or a diary entry. It’s a sneaky way to prize out their secrets.
Shire being my main character, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him. His conscious and subconscious want is what it’s always been, namely Clara, but his experience of America and the grim war that he can’t escape have changed him. When he arrived in New York in Whirligig, he was almost twenty-two, naïve as to the wider world and almost laughable as a soldier in his early days. Two years later he would be considered a veteran in the Union Army. He’s fought many battles, combat and personal. He carries physical and psychological scars from the men he has seen killed or who died because of his decisions and actions. What would this do to his character? How much of that naïve Shire, the boy who left England, is left? Consciously or not, I think Shire wants some of that boy to survive. There’s a tension between trying to preserve some vestige of himself and the changes the war imposes on him. It's the same for his squad and for the characters outside of the armies. For those who survive, in a sense that survival is only partial; they will all be changed people after the war.
Ultimately, you have to leave the exercises and pen the novel. That remains the biggest adventure for a writer. I know the history and the setting. The time comes to let my characters back into the world and see how they fare. Wants and needs will clash. Not everyone can be there at the end.
Whirligig - Shire's Union Book I
The Copper Road - Shire's Union Book II
Battle Town (a short story)