Sepia coloured manuscript page listing contents of document title MENEWOOD by Nicola Griffith

A monster is born…

Late on the night before the election I finished the first draft of Menewood. It is a monster!

I’ve been working on this for a while. I wrote the first chapter in 2014 but then got distracted by many things: my health, three tours and consequent rounds of publicity for Hild (US, UK, US again) other projects like gender bias in literary prizes, and #CripLit, doing a PhD, writing another novel, doing my first audio narration, grief for my father, writing another other novel (more on that soon), politics, adopting kitties, more politics, more health stuff (more on that another time), and other interesting things I’m not ready to talk about yet. It’s been…busy.

Busyness aside, though, the real problem I was having with Menewood was its length. Hild, the first novel, spanned 14 years of Hild’s life, from her first conscious memory—at age 3, of her father’s death—to her marriage. Menewood, I thought, would pick up immediately after her marriage and cover the 15 years to joining the church at age 33. But as soon as I got about 100 pages in I ran into trouble because given the sheer amount of story I had to cover the novel would end up being about a million words. But that story was what I was contracted for, so I kept trying to shoehorn the story into a smaller container—and kept running into the walls of that container. I kept trying, though, because a) I hate those endless, meandering series, and b) I had a contract. I was determined. 

But every time I reached the 150,000-word mark, I despaired. I kept second-guessing myself: maybe it wasn’t working because I’d made some misstep with Hild’s character; maybe it was the story, or the pacing; maybe I’d got the history wrong, or the mood. So I’d stop and throw away the most recent 10,000 words and try again. And hit a wall. Over and over. Every time I did that I’d turn to another project. Or write another book. Or fly to the UK to deal with my father’s death. Or adopt cats, or whatever. I knew Menewood was a good book, I knew the story I’d told so far was exactly what I wanted to tell, but at the same time I couldn’t see how I could make it work, how I could fit a gallon of story into a pint pot.  

But then at the beginning of this year an interesting thing happened—I’d been working well on Menewood (again) but then had to stop to start work on something that was meant to be a piece of short fiction. For various reasons (I’ll tell that story soon! It’s exciting! I promise!) it broke my constraints, just smashed them to little shiny bits. So when I got back to Menewood I let go of all preconceptions, worries, and constraints—including where the story was supposed to end—and just fucking wrote. I wrote like a beast. Between March and November I wrote 130,00 words, saw the perfect stopping place, and wrote -END-

The book covers four years. Those years are eventful: birth, death, marriage, grief, famine, joy, destruction, contentment, belief, betrayal, two full-fledged wars (or maybe three, depending how you’re counting), love, sex, resentment, surprise, wandering, homecoming, and three—count them, 3—sets of regime change. Trust me when I tell you: a lot happens. And I had the best—the fucking best—time writing it! Right now those events take 39 chapters, 1342 pages, and 285,531 words. In the rewrite the manuscript might grow, it might shrink, but either way it’s going to be a big book.

I’ll start the rewrite in a couple of weeks. As I rewrite I’ll share thoughts, and research, and maps—oh, lots and lots of maps; maps are key—both here and on Gemæcce, my research blog. Until then: time off, and lots and lots of rounds of Brandy Brambles in honour of Hild’s Feast Day—which in the Catholic calendar is today (17 November), in some parts of the Anglican Communion tomorrow (18 November), and in the Church of England the day after that (19 November). Hey, more drinks for me.