If this blog upsets your pre-conceived ideas about all things German, please let me apologise right now. It is not my intention to eradicate any festering old prejudices against Germans that some of us feel so comfortable with.
Far from it – it’s just that I’m rather like those oddball creatures of the night I’m describing in my Willow the Vampire blog…some of them are neither nocturnal nor day time dwellers, but lead a confused in-between existence!
Having lived half my life in the UK, I fear I no longer belong into any discernable category of national (or do I mean irrational?) behaviour – I guess, I’ve ended up being a universal sort of mess.
I don’t like football, Weißwurst, oompta-oopmta music, I don’t yodel or go skiing and, for a German, I’m rather disorganised. Worst of all, if you’ve read any of my stories on this blog or even my Willow the Vampire book, you’ll have discovered by now, shock horror, that Germans do have a sense of humour.
No, seriously, it’s official. My former Cardiff University creative writing tutors confirmed it – I’m FUNNY – who am I to argue with the experts? (You may doubt the veracity of their observations – donations for the speedy recovery of tutors’ mental well being are gratefully received at an offshore account near you)
Thanks to my general state of disorganisation, I have learned the hard way that being disorganised when writing a book just adds drastically to the workload. Hence my collection of photos and drawings I’m inflicting on you here. I’m attempting to be a proper German…erm…a proper writer, I meant to say.
So, having dutifully crawled out of bed on a cold morning to take my pictures of Schwäbisch Hall’s historic town centre, I considered my second move carefully. The public library was the best option – here I could find out more about the ancient houses, their occupants and their fate through time. Next stop after that, the open air museum a few miles out of town. Where the hell is my time table for the bus? Ah, MOPPLE the cat’s got it…
My novel The First Intergalactic Dating Agency revolves around time travel, you see. While the first adventure of my three child protagonists sets up how they get involved with time travel and manage to lay their sticky hands on a time machine that looks like an upturned tea cup, part two of the adventure throws them back and forth in TIME, but not in PLACE – which is where Schwäbisch Hall’s historic town centre comes into the equation.
Not unusually so, the town burnt down first in 1680 and then again in 1728, because most of the houses dated back to the Middle Ages and had been constructed from wood. Following the last fire, the good burghers of Hall decided to rebuild the town exactly as it had been before, albeit with less flammable materials.
Some fashion-victims of the time managed to smuggle in some fine Baroque buildings like the Town Hall, so there is at least some new-fangled architecture to be taken into account, when researching for my time travelling story. Two major fires, an unsolved murder at a tavern, rich merchants and even wealthier aristocrats, bandits, a cloister that’s more like a fortified castle…monks that are more like knights…all that makes for a really good adventure story!
Hall is the Celtic word for salt and the Celts were happily mining for salt in the town centre as far back as the 5th century. The last salt mine closed in 1925 but the town had grown rich on this valuable commodity in the centuries before the closure. One of the results of this wealth, Comburg Castle, which still towers over the town today, became my next line of enquiry.
The Hall settlement got its first official mention in some document at the end of the 11th century and there are wonderful accounts of who lived where and did what or owed what taxes to whom. This presents me with rich pickings that can be woven into my story to make characters appear “real” within their setting throughout the centuries, without being too difficult to understand for the age range 8 to 12 that I’m writing for.
What is much harder to come by is information about children through the ages – and that’s really the point of my time travelling adventure. Not what nasty, greedy kings and queens got up to but what happened to ordinary families and their children. It is a tough life for children in the UK in the 21st century – only this week a shocking report said that up to 20% of children and young adults are forced to go to bed or school on an empty stomach because they are not being fed.
What must it have been like for children who lived in the remote, barely accessible parts of Hohenlohe, where deep gorges and steep mountains almost permanently covered in cloud during autumn and winter, made travel difficult and condemned many wives and their children to a terrible life with violent husbands or bandits on the prowl, who thought nothing of robbing and slaughtering whole farmsteads?
Travelling through the Hohenlohe terrain didn’t come with travel insurance and many a salt merchant fell foul of the bandits who traversed the forested hills by night and went into hiding in spooky taverns by day, where unscrupulous landlords profited from giving them shelter. That way fortunes were made and lost again in the salt mining industry.
The open air museum at Gailenkirchen in Hohenlohe, just 9 km outside of Schwäbisch Hall, has a wonderful collection of ancient inns, farmhouses and workmen’s cottages on display that were rescued from the whole of Baden Württemberg, but in particular from the Hohenlohe region. Here I found many accounts – some even with evocative photographs from the 19th century – of the families who had lived in these historic homes. At last, a real glimpse into the lives of children – and intriguing time travel destinations for my child protagonists to visit…with or without intergalactic time travel insurance!
Here are some first drafts of what MOPPLE the legendary pet and some of the protagonists will look like (I’m still experimenting with MOPPLE, she’s such an awkward little so and so):
and you can read the draft of the first two chapters for the First Intergalactic Dating Agency on the page Mopple’s World at this blog site, where you’ll see pictures of the three child protagonists, too. I’ve drawn this by “mouse” on Publisher and as you can see, I’m not very good! However, it helps me hugely to know what my characters look like, when writing a series about them (if that makes sense!).
For the novelists among you, how do you prepare for your projects? Are you a proper “German” when it comes to organising your work or are you a confused nocturnal creature caught in the daylight, when it comes to plotting, researching and collating material for your books?