- Here he is, the Great Warty one. I have a picture of him in my study, and he's watching me. Weighing me.
I'm trying to write him; and it's hobbling me.
In Treason's Daughter, my characters interacted with history. Where their lives brushed great events, I took great pains to get both the events, and their reactions, to feel as authentic as possible. I know there is an inherently fraudulent tango between the history and my reimagining of it: but I try to be honest, and truthful. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, there are sufficient unknown unknowns in the writing of historical fiction without introducing known unknowns.
In The Winter Isles, my next book, although some of the characters are based on real people, they are sufficiently shrouded in myth and muddle to allow considerable leeway in my portrayal.
SO... this means my attempt on Cromwell is my first lengthy portrait of a real, and well documented, colossus of political history. He is not even the central character – rather my existing protagonists (and a few new ones) interact with him, watch him and contemplate him.
I am well prepared. I have read his speeches and letters and umpteen biographies. I think I have an image of him, sitting clenched-fisted in that weird half-light where my characters wait for me to write them.
But. But. I am struggling with an un-writerly, incoherent, raging But. I don’t seem to be able to get going. I’m intimidated by him. I don’t want to get him wrong, even though I know that it is a technical impossibility to get him right. Even Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell can only be an interpretive shadow of the real thing – a puppet dancing on a wall of her making.
My current Cromwell lumbers along like some sort of dour Golem. This is a man who came from nowhere, from nothing, to be King in all but name. A polarising man of great physical presence and charisma. My shadow-puppet, so far, is static and flat.
The answer? Not inspiration or muses, or fannying about writing blogs about my Cromwell Block.
Discipline. Hard work. Words on the page. More words. Some might be worth rescuing. I’ll start tomorrow. Hold on. Tomorrow is Friday. OK. I’ll definitely start on Monday, Oliver. I promise.