Where do you start to write a book? In reality, probably with procrastination but like other writers, I am forced into it because I have a contract with a publisher which specifies a delivery date for the manuscript. Of course, in my initial proposal I outlined my story with a beginning, middle and end. However, actually researching and writing it often changes everything and you are left with a mass of information wondering where to start.
With my latest book “The Earl and the Pharaoh”, I was most fortunate to find that the 4th Earl of Carnarvon (my character’s father) wrote a diary most days. Even better his handwriting was relatively easy to read.
Handwriting is very personal. It reflects our character and personality and connects our thoughts to the world in more ways than just the words we use. Whole industries have grown up around handwriting analysis in contrast to typing which makes the construction of each word uniform.
At some points of the 4th Earl’s life his handwriting clearly struggled. I could see he was not well and even if the thoughts and words reflected an excellent brain, his handwriting gave the game away: the fluidity and evenness of the previous pages was absent.
However, whilst his actual handwriting may have flowed, it was nevertheless something of an effort to work my way through the diaries. The rhythm of his sentences run differently to today’s syntax seeming more stilted and formal. Equally, I was conscious of needing to change the pace of what I was writing for the early part of the book in order to draw the reader into this period.
As I read, I typed up some of them along with some of his letters to make it easier to manage when I need to refer back to certain passages. Typing makes it much quicker to skim through the entries and I can obviously recheck and search for quotes with far greater speed.
Once I get absorbed in research, I get completely caught up in the subject, concentrating and happy, my head full of what I am reading in terms of both fact and emotion. On the CD player, at the back of my mind and thoughts, is familiar music: Mozart, Bach, Rutter, Mahler, Handel, Beethoven or lilting opera. It seeps into the corners of my head. Of course, my character, the 5th Earl, loved opera and played the piano rather well so it was part of his background as well.
Full of thought, I find a beginning and start to write. In this case, I knew I would begin in December 1874, with the prospect and hope of the birth of a baby. My character is a slight boy of 8 years old when he goes to London with his two other siblings (9 and 4 years old) to meet the newest Baby just arrived into their mother’s arms. But his world and that of his family falls apart when his mother dies. Taking my reader with me through this trauma, I hope they feel his tears and the hollowed-out emptiness of grief.
I think of writing in terms of sculpture, almost as if I am trying to form the character in a three-dimensional exercise, adding a little here, shaping a little there. It is not and cannot be perfect because I am writing it and part of the journey of reading a book is that the author and the reader form the character together and for each one it is subtly different, depending on their individual interpretations.
My own experience of deep loss is in there too: my sisters’ and my own devastation when our parents died too early makes its way into my words. My youngest sister was just 12 when our father died so I tried to remember how she felt although it was almost too painful to go there. Losing a parent too early happens to many of us and our memories of them are shaped and altered over time so that the people we loved and hugged, and who are part of who we are, becomes a fractionally different version of themselves as time moves on.
I learnt so much from writing about the 5th Earl. Notwithstanding the prejudices about Victorian parenting, the 4th Earl stepped back from a successful career in politics to look after his young family.
For all his well-meaning efforts and erudite approach, his son had a somewhat more dilettante approach to schooling and education. His letters from school were clearly carefully crafted in an effort to deflect his father’s attention from less than encouraging school reports.
They did make me cry with laughter – we have all been there, either writing them or receiving such missives. I wonder with this will continue or whether such letters will just become a series of emojis… I hope not..
Writing a book is a true exercise in dedication.
Beautiful entry, I look forward to reading your book!
I am a great fan of your books. The family history and Highclere. Look forward to your next book. I live in the Channel Islands but look forward to visiting Highclere one of these days.
I do admire you all for the hard work you all put in to maintain your wonderful family home for us to enjoy .
Thank you very much
Very inspiring, your book will be brilliant! Can’t wait to have a read.
I have always wanted to see where your write. I have visited Highclere twice and tried to peer around doorways to find your spot! I have read your other two books already and have ordered this one now. I wish I had been able to pick it up on my last visit in England. I cannot wait to read this one! Thank you for continuing to write!
Very interesting. I have enjoyed reading all of your books. Just finished “Seasons at Highclere”, and “The Earl and the Pharaoh” is next. You do an excellent job of educating and entertaining the reader at the same time. Thank you for enriching my life. I look forward to your blog every Monday here in California.
I look forward to reading your newest book. And with excitement, look forward to receiving your book when I visit Highclere in March. A bucket list moment. Thanks!
I look forward to greeting you in March
Greetings again Lady Carnarvon,
So impressed that so many of your husbands previous family relatives and spouses kept diaries and are found stored in Highclere and still readable and full of historic truths and information. I agree with the challenge you face reading their writing and pulling it all together when writing a book on his family history and that of Highclere Castle too. You’ve done a wonderful job as I own each of your books (but not the latest one yet) and enjoyed reading every one of them. Sorry to learn of the early passing of your parents as I understand how that has ongoing emotions as years and events go by. Also impressive that you manage to do all that writing when you have a small desktop where your computer is plus you are also swarmed with paperwork for Highclere Castle.
I agree with your comments about handwriting as I have always been a fan and still enjoy personally writing letters myself and receiving them from family & friends and agree with you hoping that all will continue to do so given all the computer work and phone text messages that are part of our lives daily. Sadly, receiving hand written notes and letters these days has reduced a lot.
Thank you for another personal & historic blog with interesting photos again today.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Thank you so much for your interesting books, blogs and often hilarious podcasts. Having spent 9 days in hospital reading and listening made my time there so much easier. The optimism and laughter were such a comfort to me.
Along with a couple of friends, I have just started writing letters again, rather than emailing. The handwriting and the pace at which you compose is different to merely typing isn’t it? So lovely to read too, and yes, age and health changes our own hand. I have loved reading how you approach a new book, so much so, that I want to read your latest now!
Thank you for sharing a little about your writing process! I do enjoy your work and anticipate adding each release to my collection. Perhaps one day you will write a memoir of your life and experiences?
Lady Carnarvon. I enjoyed reading you description of the research you have done for your books. The overall gratification of finishing a book and acquiring the knowledge of your subject must be so satisfying.
I know it’s off today’s subject but do you and Lord Carnarvon live full time in the castle now?
Love this one! Thank you for sharing all the beautiful old letters, too.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
your new book sounds amazing, the Castle is fascinating, and to bring the family to us is very exciting. Your ancestors would be very proud to know they are being honoured with a book all about them. Makes the house a home, and so very interesting.
As always, even your blog is interesting and well done. I look so forward to this book. “Dressing the Abbey” is in Mobile Alabama’s fine history museum and I am so looking forward to a reception at the beginning of it this week.
You are doing such a service in preserving the history of Highclere and making it come alive for any who visit there. I hope to return in the next year or two. Happy writing…but as a friend of mine who won a Pulitzer said to me once when asked when he wrote…answered, I am always writing if only in my head. I believe the same of you as you go about your day.
I lovely to handwriting and lovely to visit highcelere castle and did you and lord Carnarvon have a nice weekend and lovely to visit highcelere castle and fan of Downton Abbey
This post is helpful and I identify somewhat. My dear husband, best friend and business partner — was a brilliant artist and I co-authored 8 books on pencil drawing, one of his many mediums (circulation 2.5 million, which astonished us as much as everyone!). He died 2 years ago on Saturday (the 28th). I miss and grieve him still. I am in the process of gathering information from the many journals I kept throughout our life to write his story. Your process of research and writing is very similar to mine. The tears and laughter are a kind of catharsis. Thank you so much for this post. It is enormously encouraging. Blessings on your work.
My husband’s name was/is Gene Franks, if you ever run across those books.
I am sorry to hear about the loss of your husband
Greetings from Fort Worth, Texas. I was raised in a family of school teachers. One aunt in particular, Aunt Faye, was very particular about diction and proper use of the English language. She also had an absolutely beautiful, flowing style of handwriting, working with me on style. As a result, I have been complimented many times on my handwriting. Aunt Faye was also sternly opposed to slang speech. When I was a child, I was outside playing with other children and learned a new word. To impress her at the dinner table, I incorporated “ain’t” into the conversation. Aunt Faye’s eyebrows shot upward to her hairline, she laid her fork down, and slowly turned to look at me, and said, “Linda Faye, ain’ts crawl on the ground. Not in your mouth. If you are unable to say what you mean, you will never mean what you say.” I was suitably chastened.
Very funny story!
I left a previous comment but think it disappeared before sending ! Yes, it is hard work and
mine was distributed worldwide, but privately and not for gain. Few replies were received so
I had to assume my enthusiasm was lost en route… better luck with yours. Diana, Hungerford.
Lovely to handwriting and you and l am fan of Downton Abbey and did you and lord Carnarvon have a nice weekend and lovely highcelere castle
I’m looking forward to reading your next book. The 5th Earl’s mother, Evelyn, was a beautiful lady. How sad she died so young. It’s so hard to lose a parent when you are just a child. My own dad died when I was nine. I can certainly sympathize with you, losing your parents at a young age.
Wishing you smooth sailing as you finish your book.
I met my only pen pal down the street from where i live. I was entering the trail where I begin my skiing day and there stood a girl looking lost. “you look lost,” I said and she said she was very lost and that she had somehow become separated from her Portland Oregon USA ski club. I asked if she knew the name of the ski lodge here on Big mountain Montana …..she did and I told to wait right where she was and I returned with my little Toyota pickup, threw her skis in the back, and drove her to her lodging. Ever since that day (30 years ago) we have became pen pals and it is a joy to get what we both call REAL MAIL from each other.
Sandie Carpenter, Whitefish, Montana USA
Real letters are a treat to receive
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I have started listening to your audio books. I am currently listening to The Earl and Pharoah. It is truly fascinating, just like your other books.
I love sending handwritten letters, even Christmas cards, as I love to receive them too. Fantastic job in research.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I have tried my hand at writing but am sorry to say it all remains to be handwriting on paper and in my head. I was not strong in English grammar in school. I do understand how it can become a big part of one’s daily life. I am currently reading “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey” and thoroughly enjoying it. I have to say I am jealous because the historic resources you have at hand and how interesting they must be. I know it must be difficult at times but please don’t stop writing. You have such a flare for capturing your reader. Thank you. Take care.
You are very kind thank you
Greetings from Sarasota, Florida!!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
You have been gifted with a daunting task of writing the history of your family. You are forced to go back in time, read diaries and decipher handwriting from a golden age. I admire your task for I love history. As I write this e-mail, I just dismissed my 6th grade students after reading the great discovery of King Tut.
Tomorrow, I will present a clip from the original film of the discovery by Egyptologist Howard and Lord Carnarvon.
Wishing you all the best!!
PS I have become experienced at deciphering student writing over the years. This includes vandalism in my textbooks.
I can’t wait to read your book. This small glimpse into your thought process and storyline is both riveting and poignant! Thank you!
in the book Lady Catherine I started in several places.. this one was in my head from the beginning
Good morning! You truly are a “sculptor of words” and I am completely drawn in as you paint these beautiful and thoughtful word pictures. I am an artist and calligrapher so of course extremely visual. A book or story must be well written to hold my attention and I can barely wait to read your Monday offerings. As you can imagine a story about handwriting was a double pleasure today!!
1) Winston Churchill’s school performance was also a disappointment to his father, who was convinced his son would never amount to anything. History proved otherwise; and
2). The reading of handwriting put to paper a century (or more) ago is quite a challenge, as my wife & I learned reading Italian birth records (on microfilm) in researching her ancestors. Some of it stunningly beautiful; others “not so much”. Your comments about the changes in penmanship that accompanied the 4th Earl’s decline in health were especially insightful. The diaries are a treasure.
Thank you – they and other diaries are a treasure
I’m very happy to know that you are fond of classical music and the 5th Earl was a pianist. We can easily consider the writing of a book as a genuine symphony, like Beethoven ‘s famous symphonies, in which all the pages must work connected in order to create the perfect harmony
Lady Carnarvon, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post today. I’m so excited to hear about your new book and it’ll definitely be on my reading list.
Both my parents had very beautiful handwriting and I’m ever so grateful that I inherited that skill! I am often complimented on my cursive and printed handwriting. My youngest son (now aged 30) was not taught cursive handwriting and he always said he had a hard time reading mine. So whenever I had to write a note to one of his teachers, I always did it in cursive so he couldn’t change anything!
As a Southern girl through and through I was raised to always write thank you notes, send cards for birthdays, anniversaries or just to brighten someone’s day. I also send invitations for whatever gatherings we host. I just believe that doing these things it’s such a personal and meaningful touch.
That is funny – I keep letters..
Lady Carnarvon, I think it takes a special person to write a book. Must have an excellent mind, patience and even a sense of humour when things go wrong. For sending cards and letters through the post, I believe it hads a personal touch for communicating. Cheryl.
it is personal
Lovely to handwriting Christmas cards and did you and lord Carnarvon have a nice weekend and l lovely to highcelere castle and fan of Downton Abbey
Thank you so much for your very enjoyable and informative blogs. I have been a fountain pen collector for many years, and very interested in handwriting and its future. This edition of your blog arrived on National Handwriting Day, at least it is in the US. How timely! Thanks for your work.
That is providential!
Lovely to hand writing and lovely to visit highcelere castle and fan of Downton Abbey calendar
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
It is so very precious to hold a letter from someone dear in one’s hand. I do fear it is a dying custom, when emails and texts are faster, with easy delivery. And yes, punctuated by emojis. But there is something very satisfying in writing, and receiving, a letter. Pausing to make sure the spelling is correct, t’s are crossed, i’s are dotted, and everything is legible. Not to mention finding just the right adjective! I have a treasure trove of family letters from World War I and World War II, and I can feel the depths of their emotions….missing dear ones, uncertainty, discomfort. Letters are so much more personal. I completely agree with you…may we keep on writing them.
Thank you for all you bring to us each week. I look forward to reading your most recent book. I have all of your previous editions and they are are fantastic!!
Be well and if it isn’t too late to say- Happy New Year!
Charlotte Merriam Cole
You are very kind!
“……..the author and the reader form the character together”‘
Thanks for this thought.. I very much agree!
It is sad that many students are not taught cursive writing. A study in Science Daily shows that the brain in young adults and children is much more active when handwriting than typing. “The use of pen and paper gives the brain more hooks to hang their memories on.” Thank you for doing what you can to keep Highclere alive!
I think it is really important
Dear Lady Carnarvon: I have been reading your blogs for some time and truly enjoy them all! I’m doing a Viking cruise this fall and was disappointed to Learn there was to be no extension to Highclere! As I am 84, this might have been my last chance, so keeping updated on happenings there is my consolation!
I have a funny story to share regarding handwriting! I was a guest at a great-nephew’s high school graduation. I wrote a note in a card and enclosed some money as I have no idea what an 18 year old wants!! As he opened the card he looked at it for a few seconds and then said “I can’t read cursive”!!
Can you believe it? I couldn’t!!
Wow !!! Sorry about the fact there is no extension – we do have guided tours and they are popular with USA travellers
I was wondering when you would write another book! I have so enjoyed listening to Lady Catherine and Lady Almina. I have a few Audible credits and look forward to using one of them for your upcoming title. I know it may be a while, but I’ll be patient.
The Earl and the Pharaoh is out!
Thank you for sharing your writing process. I particularly like your reference to sculpture when fleshing out a character. I couldn’t agree more.
Your post is a lovely memory of my parents’ letters to each other in the early 1900s. My father actually had a ‘prettier hand’ than my mother, but they both left me treasures.
Your copies of the Lord’s letter is so touching. I know Lady Evelyn would have been proud of him.
I have been reading your posts every Monday morning for about three years now, and they are a very pleasant diversion to my usually busy day!
Thank you for taking the time to do this!
I have been homeroom teacher to first and second graders (6 to 8 year olds) for many years now. Lots of school systems here in the US have dropped handwriting from their curricula, but I work in a private school where we can choose what we teach our students, and handwriting remains near the top of our list. Not only is written communication an important skill to impart — brain studies reveal that important neural connections take place when children learn to coordinate pencil, hand, and thought processes in order to express themselves via writing. With that in mind, long may handwriting flourish, alongside the valuable skill of efficient communication via email and texting! I believe that choosing to write by hand demonstrates caring and thoughtfulness, and our world can certainly use a healthy dose of both.
Greetings Lady Carnarvon,
I’ve always been fascinated by Highclere’s Egyptian connection. I have endeavored to see every television special about it, and read all I can find about the 4th Earl of Carnarvon, Howard Carter, and their expeditions and archelogical explorations. My cousin Martin and I saw the King Tutankamen exhibit at the Pyramid in Memphis Tennessee, and both became immersed in all we could learn about the boy king. Martin, who was a gifted artist, purchased a life size plaster bust of King Tutankamen, and meticiously painted, stained, and sealed it, using countless sheets of gold leaf, and the closest royal blue paint recipe he could find recorded that the ancient Egyptian’s used. We shared a home in Atlanta, on Margaret Mitchell Drive, and when guests in our home would see the life size golden mask of King Tutankamen hanging prominently in the dining room, the questions we fielded ranged from grand larceny to musings about our family heritage. Martin, who was quite the artistic painter, even painted King Tutankamen’s eye’s to follow one around the room. Your blog offering today brought all of those memories flooding back of our days living on Margaret Mitchell Drive. Thank goodness we had an alert Gordon Setter that was an affecionate yet vocal watchdog, or Martin’s King Tutankamen might be gone with the wind. Rank strangers would ring our doorbell and ask to see King Tut. There is a certain magic associated with the boy king that reaches around the world. I hope your book “The Earl and the Pharaoh” reaches around the world in sales and circulation. One will certainly take up residence in my library.
You are very kind – it has many layers – I hope you found it interesting!
Very interesting post! I look forward to reading your book.
Thank you for sharing your story of the writing “The Earl and the Pharaoh” I will truly look forward it! Lady Carnarvon, you have such a grace of capturing all your readers though your blogs and books I have very much enjoyed each and every one!
Such a personal journey writing through Earls life back in the 1922-1923 must have placed you with different emotions of family history whilst preserving these special memories.
I too pray that our world of handwriting letters, diaries, stories with never whether away to emojis, how awfully sad it would become if technology take over, we must try to preserve this through our children and grandchildren and hope they preserve and appreciate how precious it truly is.
When I was young I used to write many letters to a number of pen pals around the world. It was an opportunity to learn how others lived and their thoughts about life in their respective states or countries. How wonderful it is to live in a home that has a built in archive of letters of the lives of the Earls of Carnarvon. I’m on Chapter 4 of The Earl & the Pharaoh and feeling the despair and grief the family is feeling. Letters reveal so much about the writer. I tend to be more expressive on paper than verbally. Thank you for this very interesting read, which is a much needed distraction and escape from a very unsettled, violent, and divisive world we live in.
Looking forward to reading how the 5th Earl lived in Egypt. I saw his house but only visited the house he built for Howard Carter. Such a quaint home.
Beautifully written post, as usual. I will look forward to this book. Highclere castle is very fortunate to have you as the newest caregiver.
Lady Carnarvon –
I’m reading The Earl and the Pharaoh, and thoroughly enjoying your work. My husband and I visited Highclere last year, and you paint a thoughtful picture of the people who lived there. I particularly love how you portray the 5th Earl’s school days!
I am sure your next book will be as beautifully written and full of history as your previous books. I too understand the loss, as I lost my father at the age of twelve as well.
Dear Lady Carnarvon:
Thank you for this Monday’s blog.
I am sorry for the late reply, but I was out-of-town when the same arrived in my Inbox. This is the first opportunity I have had to read it and comment.
Appreciate you sharing where you write. Good to see that I am not the only one with a cluttered workstation. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to write a manuscript for a future book’s publication under a pre-determined deadline.
I must say, though, I did enjoy the audio version of the Earl and the Pharoh as it kept me company on several recent road trips.
I look forward to your next book and weekly story.
Thank you very much