Like Justine, I’ve set myself a personal deadline to finish my book, so right now I have my head down. I’ve tackled a thorny issue that I’ve been ignoring for months, and I think it’s going to work out fine, but I’m not ready to share, so I’ll post about that later. I haven’t been reading new books or doing anything else to fill the creative well, but yesterday I gave myself an extra incentive to keep going for it.
I wrote in this post a few months ago that my home county of Derbyshire would make a great setting for a steampunk or fantasy world, and I promised myself that when Rose and Ian finally get their HEA, I’ll take a little time to have fun, play with the idea and see what happens. I’ve just been Up North for a family visit, and I decided to take the opportunity to acquire some background reading.
Yesterday morning I raided the local history section of the excellent bookshop in Bakewell, and started a new TBR pile that I hope to start dipping into very soon. I planned to treat myself to a few weeks just reading, but then yesterday in this post about research v writing, Michaeline said “it’s only when I started writing that my research started forming that firm patch beneath my feet.” Hm. Now I’m wondering whether it might be a better idea sketch out the bones of a story first and use that as a prompt for my research readings.
Although I’ve lived in London for most of my adult life, I grew up in Derbyshire and my family still lives there, so I know it pretty well – but if I’m going to create some kind of alternative history and do the area justice, knowing it pretty well is not going to be good enough.
I want to create a world that takes advantage of the county’s spectacular geology. The lower, Southern half, the White Peak, is built on soft, pale-colored limestone. It’s a civilised place of steep-sided gorges and dales. The higher, Northern half, the Dark Peak, is built on hard, dark, millstone grit. It’s a harsh place of rocky outcrops, moorland, brooding skyline and Gothic follies. And the whole county, White and Dark, is riddled with caves.
I don’t know much about the story yet, but I’m sure the caves will be important, so the first book I bought on my shopping spree was Derbyshire Cavemen, by Stephen Cliffe. It looks fascinating, and I’m having a hard time keeping my hands off it. Here are just a few nuggets I picked up from my first, superficial browse of the book:
- Today’s temperate Derbyshire landscape is a legacy of some mind-boggling extremes of climate. The limestone was created by tropical sea creatures more than 300 million years ago, when the land that is now Britain lay on the equator. Volcanoes erupted. Swamp-like forests became seams of coal. Mineral-rich liquids became veins of lead, copper, quartz and fluorspar. A more recent half a million years ago (ish) the same land was in the grip of an ice age.
- Lions, hyenas, hippopotami, woolly rhinoceros, bear and wolf have lived in the caves.
- Humans used them from the Neanderthal period (55,000 years ago), maybe earlier. They were inhabited during the Iron Age and Roman times, and continued to be so until the 1800s, when they were occupied by lead miners and rope-makers.
- Supernatural stories abound. Eldon Hole was believed to reach to Hades. Peak Cavern supposedly contained an enchanted, sunlit, underground world. Deep Dale and its caves were said to be home to all kinds of elves and faeries. The Romans built a temple to the Goddess by the sacred spring in Buxton. There are barrows, ghosts, druids, hermits, a dragon (yay!) and much, much more.
I have no idea where I’m going to go with it, but I know this book is going to be a brilliant story starter for me. Just a quick flick through it has my mind bursting with ideas, and because I go up to Derbyshire on a regular basis, I can easily walk the terrain and visit any site that catches my imagination. I suspect this might be my fun side project for next year.
How about you?