Yesterday, when I wasn’t editing, I spent writing the gazetteer for Doomsday, the new book whose final words have just been committed to paper. Readers will have gathered that the adventures of the characters, Don and Wen are based very much on what Stuart and I find in the landscape of this country and, as the places are real, when we were first writing The Initiate, we did want to have some kind of gazetteer at the end of the books so others could enjoy these places too.
Then we got down to the nitty-gritty.
We didn’t want a list, with locations and opening times. Or even a list with descriptions and histories of the sites and edifices we visit. To be fair, these have been done by others, better qualified than we are, and our particular take on the sites, churches, and other places we visit tends to be a bit, shall we say, unorthodox. Then, there is the whole thing about atmosphere. The loveliest place can be quickly overwhelmed by a crowd… not that we expected flocks of people to turn up on the basis of our books!
Thinking it through we realised that the sites are all identified in the text anyway, so any reader wanting to see for themselves would be able to do so. Plus, we are easy enough to contact. We didn’t really need the ubiquitous gazetteer for that.
Did we ditch the whole idea? Stick with the traditional format? Or did we do something a bit different?
“We could write it in verse…” The idea was thrown out laughingly, but it stuck. In verse, we could pursue some of the themes we had picked up in the book, add a few ideas for people to explore, and consider perhaps… you can say things in a poem in a completely different way.
So we made it fun instead of a long, dry list. None of the things in the ‘gazetteer’ are named… yet the clues are all there for anyone who wants to play…
And the oddest thing? Researching details to write the scant few lines of verse that describe each site throws up so many clues for us to follow for the next book… every time. Clues, moreover, we would not have even noticed without writing the book we are completing… but then, it seems to be how these things work; the more you bring to something, the more you are able to see.
A college once there was, perhaps, a college stands there still
and wraps its veiling arms around the Merlin’s holy hill.
Some say he rests there sleeping and yet others say he waits
a watching presence standing on this side of Annwn’s gates.
The spiral pathway circles like a dragon’s coiling tail,
and Stukeley’s Solar Serpent whispers echoes in the vale.
A church was built beside it and a grotto pierced its side
one wonders what the builders tried to exorcise or hide…
for Comper’s painted angels and St Michael and his horde
now guard the serpent’s slumbers with a cross that is a sword.