Chapter One, Day One

I have set myself the task of completing 3,500 words of my opening chapter before 5th September, as that’s the deadline for the 2015 Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Awards. Today I managed 634 words, which seems like a decent start. At this rate, I need to set aside five or six days for writing between now and the deadline, plus another day for completing the application and a couple of days to send it to someone else for proofreading. So if I need to complete my draft two weeks before what my boss used to call ‘the drop-dead deadline’, I need to have the writing completed by 22 August. A mere 12 days away! I’m away with friends next weekend and working all the weekdays in between, so as long as I can manage to write evenings of Monday 11th, Wednesday 13th, Monday 18th, Tuesday 19th and Wednesday 20th August I should be on target. Fortunately for this schedule my husband is working away from home for that second week, so at least that is one fewer distraction around the house!

Blackwoods front page, April 1817

Blackwoods front page, April 1817

Today’s work was really mostly research, as I needed to set the scene for the birth of Maga. Edinburgh in 1817 shouldn’t be too hard to conjure up as it’s one of the most documented cities of its age and filled with poets, diarists and scribblers of every hue, but I need to assimilate a sense of place in just one afternoon. Fortunately aforesaid husband was able to lay his hands on some 19th century climate records for Scotland, and a little while later I tracked down a journal kept the obscure Stirling surgeon Dr Thomas Lucas (1756 – 1822), which had been obliging transcribed and made publically available by the brilliant Stirling Council Archive Services.  (Hurrah for libraries, museums and archives; have a look here and here for some other examples of fascinating – though completely unrelated – recent work done in the sector.) Dr Lucas’ son was at university in Edinburgh in 1817 so fortunately he often mentions the city, but he also keeps a weather eye on, well, the weather, the crops, and the impact of both of these on the markets.

Henry Raeburn, Portrait of Sir Walter Scott

Henry Raeburn, Portrait of Sir Walter Scott

I also found (thanks to Mr Google) the transcribed letters of Walter Scott from 1817, which really helped to get a sense of what the literary classes were concerned with in that year. Scott writes from both Edinburgh and his home Abbotsford in Melrose and mentions Maga by name (William Blackwood is also Scott’s publisher). Scott provided me with the epigram for the first chapter of Fame is the Monster: ‘…in youth we seek pleasure and in manhood fame and fortune and distinction’ (Walter Scott, Letter to Joanna Baillie, 12 December 1817) which is ideal in that it is both short – no mean feat for Scott – and pretty much perfect for my purposes. I also had a quick check of facts about William Maginn on the DNB and experimented with fiction as I tried to set the scene in William Ambrose’s North British Hotel, Tavern and Coffee House, which inspired the most famous of Maga’s pieces, the mostly fictitious Noctes Ambrosianae.

Words written: 634

Words left: 2866

Days left til deadline: 26

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