The Reader’s Gazetteer: Q

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You get ten points for putting down this Scrabble tile, because Q is a tricky one.

I don’t think I can give myself Qualling (which we knew only as Q- for the first few years of The Comfortable Courtesan) – while the residence of the Duke of Mulcaster is undoubtedly very fine, I said the other day that I wasn’t going to allow Netherfield Park.

Thank goodness, then, for Thomas Hardy, and Quartershot. True, he only uses it twice. The first time, he’s triangulating another location, and dismisses it as an ‘important military station’, but I’ll take that. Later in the book, we learn that it has a music hall. Jude has been doing some masonry work there.

Quartershot is a beautifully apposite name; better, I think, than the original Aldershot. Not only does ‘quarter-‘ pick up the sense of ‘barracks’, but, echoing ‘quarterstaff’, it doubles the martial allusions. Of course, the ‘-shot’ is a gift.

The last time I was in Aldershot was for a hen party last summer. I spent quite a long time sitting on the wall outside the station after the coffee shops closed, waiting for an AirBnB owner to come down from London to let me in. It was a strange couple of hours, watching the minibuses full of care assistants arrive and depart, wondering if my host was going to arrive before I finished reading One Day, trying not to notice that I was getting chilly. I didn’t go looking for any music halls.

Books mentioned in this post

The Comfortable Courtesan series, L. A. Hall

Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy

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Things I know people won’t like about The Real World

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Well, the clue’s in the name, really, isn’t it? Granted, The Real World is set in 2017, which was not quite so spectacularly apocalyptic as 2020’s turning out to be.

That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been quiet around here recently: there’s plenty that’s wrong with the real world, and quite often I feel that the best way for me to contribute to righting it is to show up for my job, to be part of a collective campaigning against racism and transphobia rather than pontificating in my own tiny corner of the internet.

The other reason is that by half past five I tend to feel that my eyeballs will start dribbling out of their sockets if I look at my screen for a moment longer. I turn my computer back on in the evenings, and convert some thoughts into pixels, but it’s slower going than it used to be. I’m not missing my commute, exactly, but it did make a lovely chunk of time that was for writing and nothing else.

So the first thing that people won’t like about The Real World is:

  • I don’t know when it will be published. The last time I had a date in mind, I was thinking of this September, to coincide with the beginning of the academic year. I’m pretty sure I won’t make that now, and, while I’m feeling more optimistic that I will, you know, get this wretched thing finished, I couldn’t tell you when that will be.

Apart from that:

  • Church politics. Church processes. The small but important faultlines between different churches and different Churches. My first beta reader pointed out, tactfully, that there didn’t seem to be anything else. I’ve added some other things since, but there’s still quite a lot of Church stuff in there.  (Depending on your point of view this may, of course, be a feature rather than a bug.)
  • Not everybody gets what they want. In fact, hardly anybody gets what they want. I don’t think this is a pessimistic book, but it’s set in, well, the real world, and at least one of the characters wants two things that are, in the real world, mutually exclusive. And, while an author can of course wave a magic wand and make everything better, that doesn’t feel honest to me; it doesn’t feel respectful to those real people who are having to make those impossible decisions.
  • I’ve managed to develop Unpopular Opinions about a concept that’s a major theme in this book. I’m hoping that my opinions haven’t hijacked everything else, but that’s for the reader to decide. I had an epiphany some time last year when I realised that, just because a character happened to agree with me, it didn’t mean that they were right, but it’s undeniable that they do have their say.
  • Portraying depression from inside the head of someone who has it is probably a risky move. I’m gloomily resigned to the probability of someone mistaking depiction for endorsement, but I’m not looking forward to that.

The thing that I don’t like about it at the moment (apart from the fact that it still needs a lot of work) is the fact that it’s stubbornly refusing to go below 93,000 words, and at the moment I can’t see whether that’s because 93,000 words is, in fact, the length it needs to be, or because there’s something that needs to come out.

I’ll keep you posted. Probably. In the meantime, I hope the real real world is being kind to you.