Why do I feel like Sisyphus?

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I am stuck, really stuck. I’ve started a historical (is it an historical? I’ve always wondered about that) novel based on the life of Mary Allerton Cushman, who came to the New World on the Mayflower and lived to the ripe old age of 82. She saw so much history! Trying a different genre is a challenge I set myself, and what a challenge it has become.

My problem is: Mary is four years old during the voyage and writing in the voice of a four-year-old is not working for me, nor anyone else as it turns out. I am also writing in third person, which I find difficult. That may be because my three murder mysteries were written in first person, as is the WIP fourth, and it’s a voice in which I’m comfortable.

I’ve consulted both my critique groups, and also my sterling editor Alison Williams, and am still struggling after numerous rewrites. So I’m going to try something different and switch to first person but have two POVs – Mary and her father Isaac. Isaac can provide an in depth POV early on, as he was one of the original Separatists, while Mary can have the longer view as soon as she is old enough – probably ten or twelve.

iSAAC cUSHMAN                                                             Isaac Allerton

MRY cHUSHMN

There are no pictures of Mary and she is just an addendum to her husband’s monument!

The research is overwhelming. I thought I knew a lot about the Separatists (they weren’t called Pilgrims until much later), having grown up in Plymouth and been a tour guide at Plimoth Plantation. Wrong! There is a massive amount of knowledge out there yet to learn.

One thing I have developed, though – a profound respect for this doughty group of settlers and the frequently horrible and terrifying conditions they faced. I could never match them in fortitude and faith, and I hope to convey that with Mary’s story.

In the meantime, I take breaks by writing my fourth mystery, which is like having a picnic.

As an aside, I just finished watching the video Hugh of Hug’s News and Views took during the Second Annual Blogger’s Bash in London.

Meet (Some Of) The Bloggers (On Video) From The 2nd Annual Bloggers Bash

Such fun to see bloggers I actually know. Ten packages of Oreos to Hugh. Maybe next year…?

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45 thoughts on “Why do I feel like Sisyphus?

  1. The play (for theatre) that I found hardest to write… I never liked the outcome and asked a theatre director to tell me why. He said, in the play – both in the writing and in the script – you are obsessed with the form. Once I realized that, it was like a liberation; I just wrote the jolly thing… ! This probably is no help whatsoever, but I pass it on for what it’s worth!! The challenge you set yourself is not to write in “a different genre”, but to write a novel about “Mary Allerton Cushman”!

  2. Children’s voices are tough but fun. They’re so candid. I have a Helen who is 10 in book one and 12 for most of book 3. I enjoyed getting into her head. I suggest hanging out with the age group. I’m a teacher and grandmother to 3, so I’ve been surrounded by children and adolescents all my life. It helps to understand what makes then tick.
    What about rereading Mark Twain he’s excellent with young voices as is my beloved Dickens, for inspiration.
    You could start the story at a later age when she remembers her journey as a flashback.
    You’ll find a way!

  3. I think adding the second pov is a good way to get around the 4-year-old protagonist challenge, Noelle, but it would also be fun to see the journey from a 4-year-old perspective. It definitely changes the content, however, and is tough if you have some adult-level information that must be shared at that specific time in the book. Good luck with it. On another note, I watched the Bash clip too. What fun they had. 🙂

  4. Terry Tyler

    Argh – I sympathise! I long to write historical fiction but keep chickening out!

    You know in Last Child I wrote the POV of a 13 year old boy? You just have to think yourself into their head before you start to write. Just BE her. And if you write the narration as their thoughts, it’s a bit like writing in 1st person anyway. I always do that, because I find 3rd person hard, too. If you look at any of my books that are in the 3rd person, I always write the narrative as if it’s in their head, not as an omniscient narrator. I’m sure that doing that has some name, but I don’t know what it is – you could ask Judith Barrow, who teaches creative writing. Good luck!

    • Thanks, Terry. I think a four year old is tough – I’ve been watching two girls, ages 2 and 5 – but because the background to the voyage, the settlement, and the reasons behind it are so critical to the story, perhaps that second older POV might be good.

  5. I have huge admiration for you taking on a historical novel. Did you consider Mary talking about her young life in flashback? Even from the position of 12 years old….

    • That’s actually how I started it, as a continuous flashback of memories from the 82 year old Mary, but it was so hard to describe what was going on around her from a 4 year old point of view. It sounded like a child’s book. Still thinking about it…

  6. Historical novels have an edge about them which takes a lot to sharpen and put out in a better way. I hope you will be able to get out of writers block and write soon. 🙂 I love history and historical novels as well. It’s amazing how the old times can be brought back to life with a twist.

    have a wonderful time and write well. 🙂 See you.

  7. Thanks for the mention of the Bloggers Bash video, Noelle. I’m so pleased that everyone seems to be enjoying watching it and that it is making people smile.

    Just as a matter of interest, have you found any pictures of The Mayflower during your research?

    • Lots of paintings of the old girl, Hugh, but those were imagined. But the Mayflower II was built in her spitting image and I’ve visited her many times. Another visit is scheduled for July to check my research…

  8. Wow! Challenging indeed. So much to learn. You have received some useful advice though. I think leaving the child’s point of view until older is possibly a good plan. You can show her responses in interactions with her father in earlier sections, or maybe the older version of the girl could be retelling “her” story of the journey as the father has told it to her, with a sprinkling of her own recollections, which is all she would have as a 3-year old. Good luck!

  9. Perhaps if you used first person voice for little Mary, that child’s viewpoint would be easier to express. You could possibly use flashback material using her first person voice in different segments as you tell the overall story in third person. I find such experimentation usually breaks me free from a problem. Good luck!

  10. Can’t you start her off at 12 or whatever and get her to ‘remember’, or does that mess with your story line? I don’t think many 4 year olds could coherently tell their story. Noelle.
    I did think about the Bash this year, but never made it. A worldwide one? Now there’s an ambitious thought 🙂 🙂 Have a good weekend! You’ll get there.

    • I agree – four year olds aren’t the best for story telling. I think I’ve figured out what I will do – will let everyone know if it works out, maybe post part of the first chapter.
      I’m pushing Hubs to go to next year’s Blogger’s Bash. Maybe I can encourage other new attendees!

  11. I like the idea of two POVs. I’m trying that with my third book (not historical, but suspense). And harder, one of the POVS is in first person, the other is in 3rd. Are you doing it that way? It actually seems to be working so far. Excited for you – keep it up!

  12. Alex Hurst

    That sounds like a difficult thing to get stuck on, and I know the feeling. Switching from 1st to 3rd or vice versa can be super difficult, and one of those decisions that can change so much of how the story is being told. Although it is a “crime” in writing, have you considered the first part of the book being a flashback (so told in her older voice, or her time as a younger person)? It might allow you to mention details a four-year-old would never notice. Or, maybe, two perspectives…. I don’t know…. whatever you decide on, good luck!

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