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The Dustshoveller's Gazette: November 2010

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Snowed In

More frustration.  Flew to Edinburgh to attend an annual reunion with university friends, but delayed coming back by bad weather.  In the end we had to abandon the return flights and get a train back to London the day after - which could have been seven hours of prime time for working on the book but I had neither laptop nor printout with me, nor any way of getting the files on my flashdisk printed out in time.  I was chewing the train carpet with frustration at the lost opportunity, all the way home...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Time's Winged Chariot

Had planned today as a day off, to complete work on chapter 7, but the fates conspired against me and I was called back into work for an urgent meeting which I couldn't avoid.  Then, when that was shifted to 90 minutes later, even the chance of having an afternoon free began to recede.  In the end I managed 90 mins at the end of the day in the Bodleian checking online newspaper references but feeling a bit frustrated at present, as this was pretty much the only work day I had free till Christmas.


Saturday, 20 November 2010

Mices Crisis

1834 was also a bad year for German mice.  One of the newspapers I was reading reported alongside the fire that:

A remarkable phenomenon has been observed in the neighbourhood of Frankfort. It is a sudden malady among the mice, thousands of which are found dead or dying in the fields.


Saturday, 13 November 2010

Firemen to the Rescue

Yesterday (Friday) I had a quick chat with some of the fire safety guys at the Houses of Parliament.  They are all ex-firemen so they really know their stuff.  I wanted to make sure I understood the technical details of the descriptions of the fire from contemporary newspapers and other sources I have been working on.  We discussed 6 or 7 extracts from the book which I had queries about.  Now I know much more about pyrolysis, flashover, the reasons why flames are different colours, and the melting points of different metals.  All fascinating.   Today (Saturday) I spent an hour in the Bodleian Library checking some references in various online databases of 19th century periodicals and newspapers - a real boon for researchers, and something it would have been impossible to cover twenty years ago.

James Braidwood, hero fireman of the
1834 disaster, photographed in much later life

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Monday, 8 November 2010

Stage Two: Serious Stuff

Today and tomorrow I have taken as leave, to work on the book.  I'm now knitting together new references and polishing chapters 4 to 7, which are all interlinked. 

But most importantly, and very excitingly, today I met the agent who will be representing me, all being well. We had a half-hour meeting at her office, discussed future book plans, likely publishers and the next steps.   I'll be signing on the dotted line with her when I deliver the full manucript, which will be towards the beginning of February 2011.  So now I'd better get back to writing...


Sunday, 7 November 2010

Telling Stories

Just back from a fascinating four days attending Bob McKee's Story Seminar.  Although intended to be useful for work, in terms of interpreting historical stories for the public, it was also tremendously helpful for my book.  McKee is a famous (perhaps, the most famous) Hollywood script doctor, and a polemicist for 'story' in all narrative, particularly film and novels.  However, it can equally easily apply to narrative non-fiction or exhibition curation.  The best bits for me, at this stage in the writing of the book, was to provide a technical underpinning relating to story structure, pace, scene/act construction and mystery/suspense writing.  With history you are constrained by facts of course, but the order in which you choose to reveal them, and how - in particular - you deal with exposition so it doesn't become clunky is one of the key skills required for any narrative non-fiction work.  Added to which, I got to spend Sunday doing six hours of analysis on the structure of Casablanca (my favourite film) to put into practice all I had learnt.  Bliss.