Sarah Morris is the author of Le Temps Viendra: A Novel of Anne Boleyn and co-author of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, a visitor’s companion to all the places and artifacts associated with one of England’s most iconic and controversial queens. You can visit her Facebook page for updates on her latest projects. This piece is a part of of our guest series, “Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers.”
I am writing this article for all of you who harbour a secret desire to write and express your passion for a subject that is no doubt close to your heart. It is true that every ‘would be’ creator of prose must face their own unique smorgasbord of obstacles – both real and imagined – in order to deliver the finished article. I do not know yours; but I do know that there were plenty of reasons why my recent publications should never have even been written in the first place. My hope is that in sharing some of my trials and tribulations, at least one of you will realise that there is no difference between us, and that your dream is right there for the taking – that if I can do it, then so can you.
First and foremost, although I had a life-long yen to write a book, my goal had steadfastly eluded me for nearly forty years. I certainly did not see myself as an author, and when I began to write the novel that would eventually turn into Le Temps Viendra: A Novel of Anne Boleyn in 2010, it was never meant to be published. It took three months of solid writing before I finally convinced myself that what was flowing from my imagination might be of interest to anyone other than me. This is an important milestone to reach; a shift in how we see ourselves, our very identity. I had to begin to relate to myself as an author.
In a way, maybe I was lucky. I never set out to write Le Temps Viendra (LTV), nor my second book, In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, which, for me, flowed naturally from the first. I have always said that LTV happened to me, and so I found myself caught up in a miraculous process of creativity that swept me along in its wake. Quite often it felt as though the book demanded to be written, and I was merely a conduit through which the words could flow. But through this, I came to understand a key ingredient for success for both the books that I have written thus far; I felt passionately about my heroine, her story and her innocence. Ultimately, I was seized by an unstoppable desire to tell that story of innocence and play my part in righting the ancient injustice of her judicial murder. It became evident over the coming months just how important was that connection between me and Anne, and my sense of purpose in retelling her story. It would provide the drive and energy that would keep me going, when it might otherwise have been easier to set my work aside and confine it to the ‘too difficult’ pile.
In addition, to compound matters further, like many of you, I did not have the luxury of being able to write full-time. The financial reality of life meant, and still means, that writing is not my main occupation. My main work is in running my own business as a leadership coach, requiring me to divide my time between the sixteenth century, and the twenty-first, on a daily basis. Of all the obstacles, I personally find this the most challenging to navigate. It is not just physically about finding enough hours in the day to accommodate the demands of both, but energetically being able to elegantly dance between two very different worlds that require such different disciplines from me; being able to bring right concentration and effort to both is a continual struggle, demanding ruthless discipline and the ability to remain organised.
Yet, committing to write a book is no easy task, no matter how organised you are. This is why so many people speak of their desire to publish something, but never actually do it. One of my favourite quotes, that so perfectly sums up my relationship with writing, comes from Pablo Picasso who said, ‘I have put my heart and soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.’ There have been times when I literally felt like this was what was happening to me. In the case of both books, I have experienced the intensity of penning a work of fiction and non-fiction, and how success in reaching one’s goal requires not just a modicum of talent, but a fierce, relentless determination to stay the course, a sort of bloody-minded stubbornness to write that last word – no matter what. And for me, there was a cost. Hours of sitting in front of a computer screen during evening, weekends and holiday periods took its toll physically, and I developed what some people call ‘Electromagnetic Field Sickness’. It is something that I have had to work hard to manage, mainly by ensuring that I make time to go outside, in nature. My dog, Milly provides the perfect excuse to get me outdoors, where I can physically regroup and get my energy moving around my body.
After I finished In the Footsteps, I desperately needed time of to rest and recover. It had been an intense three years of writing. I have learnt many lessons about being more realistic with what I can achieve, given my innate capacity, and how much I can take on and still remain sane – and well. I suspect I needed to pass through this rite of passage; that this wisdom is borne only from the bloody aftermath of the heat of battle. And so I am taking my time, keeping my writing muscle flexed but giving myself space to allow the creative impulse to emerge once more. But if I were ever asked about what I feel is most important factor in writing a book, it would be that you start, and that you consistently turn up, and put one foot in front of the other, day after day. By doing so, you will eventually reach the summit, and although weary, I can promise you this – it will be exhilarating!