Shiny new userpic! The typeface is Grit Primer and the image is from an 1813 painting by James Green that was used to illustrate "The Library" in Rudolph Ackermann's Poetical Sketches of Scarborough.
That library is about five times the size of Nathaniel and Eliza's little shop, but it gives you a sense of the space, and the customers. I love this drawing so much.
On Sunday I felt frantic and overwhelmed by overdue work. I spent all of yesterday working my way through the heap and catching up. Which meant that today I could write. And I actually wrote, putting down the opening scene that's been in my head for months. I cannot begin to articulate what it's like to have the text overlaid on the more nebulous mental concept, or vice versa; there are places where it doesn't quite feel right yet, and somewhere in the back of my head (and trying to come to the front, though I won't let it) I'm already writing editorial notes to myself. But: draft first, revise later. I even caught myself starting to revise when I was about 500 words in, and I made myself stop revising and keep writing. And now the scene's done, at about 1270 actual honest-to-gosh words.
Writing at this length is so freeing! There's room for banter, for character development, for delicate lashings of exposition! I can sneak in the occasional reference to obscure historical figures! (I have helpfully footnoted them in the excerpt below.) I plan to write long, long, long, gloriously long, and cut it down later. 1270 words for just one scene--not even a full chapter! Such a luxurious change from reviewing a book in 200. :D
It's a rough draft it's a rough draft it's a rough draft. I will tattoo these words on my eyelids. But since you've all cheered me on so much, you deserve a peek at the fruits of my research, and so I will stop tweaking the damn thing and just post it. You all understand it can and will change between now and whenever I consider the book actually done, right? Right.
May 12, 1810
Nathaniel Axton looked up, startled, and carefully set down his pen. “What?”
“Mary Hawthorne.” Eliza Carroll’s voice was muffled as she bent over the account books in the back office. “The butcher’s daughter. Doesn’t she go to your church? She’d make you a lovely bride.”
Nathaniel sighed, picked up the pen, dipped it again, and went back to outlining a corner ornament of flowering vines. “I’m not in the market for a bride, lovely or otherwise,” he said. “As I keep trying to tell you.”
“Well, you need some good excuse or people will keep trying to persuade you to marry me.”
“Can’t a man be a bachelor anymore?”
“Can’t a woman be a spinster?” Eliza retorted. “They’re hounding me worse than they are you. Sarah Hodgson sent a list of nine eligible men, their lesser and greater qualities all itemized as though I were choosing a paper supplier. Of course she included her own sons, annotated like the rest. And Thom Harrison keeps giving me meaningful looks every time I walk by their shop.”
“Thom Harrison’s barely twelve years old!”
“Old enough to know he's responsible for perpetuating the Harrison printing dynasty. And wouldn’t they like to add Carroll & Co. to their holdings.”
“Are you sure it was Thom giving you those meaningful looks and not his sister?”
“Which sister, Mary Ann? Oh yes, quite sure. If she’d given me a meaningful look I’d be upstairs primping my hair, not sitting here trying desperately to make one and one sum to three.”
Nathaniel meticulously cross-hatched a leaf and then sat back to examine his handiwork. Satisfied, he blotted it and set it aside.
“Maybe I should marry you,” he said. “To save you from the lecherous twelve-year-olds of London.”
“ ‘Maybe I should marry you,’ ” Eliza mimicked. “The most romantic proposal ever received! We’ll have Karoline Webber engrave it with pretty flowers all ’round to hang on our drawing room wall. Speaking of which, how are those ornaments coming?”
“All finished,” he said. “The type’s all laid, so I’ll make blocks from them tonight and print up the invitations tomorrow. I’m no Mrs. Webber, but I think Mrs. Morrow will be pleased.”
“I don’t care whether she’s pleased so long as she pays. The butcher’s bill is due.” He heard the slap of the account book closing and the scrape of the old wooden chair on the floor. “If you’d just marry Mary Hawthorne we’d never have to pay the butcher again.”
“You’d have me wed every shop girl in the city if it meant a savings for us.”
“I would indeed,” Eliza said, emerging from the back room. Even though Nathaniel was perched on the high stool behind the counter, he had to look up a bit to meet her gaze; he was on the tall side, but she was taller. He’d hoped their banter would bring some merriment to her eyes, but she was frowning as she tied her apron on and came around behind the counter to inspect his artwork. “I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said soberly. “Three of our most lucrative copies expire at the end of the year, and if we don’t find more writers to replace them, we’re sunk.”
Positive and supportive comments only, please; I am v. vulnerable around this and not equipped to handle even the smallest and most helpful suggestion. If you think it sucks or you want to go on a rant about people speaking with contractions in 1810 (p.s. they totally did) or you want to make sure I know about the very obscure law forbidding people named Hawthorne from becoming butchers or whatever, I'm sure you can find another place to express those feelings, secure in the knowledge that I will re-research every word of this book once I write those words.