Upstairs and Downstairs


Let it be known I’m 20,000 words into a new novel. Or should I say: I’m learning how to write a picaresque novel that’s set in Egypt. That’s Egypt in 1800. I will say no more about it since I’ve learned that the plans you keep secret are the ones most likely to succeed.

I’m a drain right now when it comes to the book and words are running down the sluice and into the aqueducts of perspiration and the little pool of inspiration. Plus, I tried explaining the story to a friend the other day and it all came out in splatterings, gurgles, false starts, confused endings, lopped off plots, and very immaculate conceptions. I should just realize it’s a moveable feast and there’s no plates or table or silver ware, just a glorious heaping of food.

I’m also beginning to think the writing is going a bit like that 70s Brit drama Upstairs, Downstairs, which was the inspiration for Downton Abbey. Just like the class drama, I’ve got my masters and my servants. The main masters are my two lead characters: Armand, an eighteenth-century savant with the messy DNA of Russell Brand, Schopenhauer, the Gray Mouser, Withnail, Howl (from Howl’s Moving Castle), and Black Adder; and Gaspard, an Old Guard in Napoleon’s Grande Armee with the stoical DNA of Percy Fawcett, Fafhrd, Obelix, and One from The City of Lost Children. The other masters are tone, setting, language, and writing from the hip. The servants, who are responding to every bell, are the plot, action and fight sequences, and where the hell is this all heading and what am I doing? But then servants have to serve somebody.

In fact, the real master right now would be to finish this book as quickly as possible, which is a new challenge for me. But if the class struggle in those shows taught me anything that I can apply to writing it’s: continue to write with style (that’s the Upstairs) while still maintaining fun, humility, and lots of hard work (the Downstairs).

I shall end with some Pontius Pilate: I have written what I have written. Oh, and some early Depeche Mode.


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