Yesterday, I finally got around to going to a training session with the London Sword & Dagger Club, a HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) group I’d been meaning to join since I came back home at the end of February. I meant to start about a month ago, but coming off my anti-depressants made me ill and then I was in Canada, so it didn’t happen until now.
I’ve wanted to do HEMA for a while, partly because I’m the sort of person who enjoys hitting things and/or other people with antiquated weaponry — that’s my idea of a good time. I used to do archery (I’m thinking of going back to it, possibly very soon), and while I’m far from a sporty person, I know that I need a physical outlet for my frustrations and stresses, something to do that isn’t purely cerebral but which uses my whole body. Dance fulfils this, archery used to, and now swordfighting.
It turns out that spending an entire day trying not to swear at and/or punch annoying students leads to a lot of frustrations that can be channelled into attacking very nice people I’ve only just met. I’m not sure exactly how many times I punched my partner in the face with the pommel of a sword until I got the technique right, but it seemed like a lot. As did the number of times I held a sword against her throat.
(She could easily have taken me down if she wanted to. Probably, when I’m no longer the newbie, I will find I’m the one being punched in the face. I would say I’m looking forward to it, but honestly, I already broke my nose once this year and it sucked. Definitely need to get a good fencing mask.)
I had another reason for wanting to learn to fight, too: writing. Knowing how to swing a sword around seemed to me to be generally useful as a writer (all that historical fiction I don’t write, all the fantasy I do) as I’m sure I’ve written many terrible, inaccurate fight scenes in the past. But there’s also The Knight Shift to think about.
For those who aren’t aware, The Knight Shift, a novel formerly known as The Quiet Ones, is a project of mine that revolves around a group of modern-day knights. What they do isn’t exactly HEMA, but that’s probably the closest parallel. It’s fighting designed to actually hurt or incapacitate opponents (unlike sport fencing), and it uses swords.
I’ve been working on The Knight Shift for a fair while now: I wrote the first draft in late 2011, and have been generally picking away at it every year since. As of last summer I think I have a fourth or fifth draft completed, and the plan for the last two years has been to query it, but I keep backing out at the last minute.
I’m not sure what I’m scared of. I post my writing on the internet — first drafts, controversial blog posts, thirteen thousand tweets over the course of six years. I regularly put myself out there for the entire world to see, but sending to one agent is scary? I think it’s partly that I’m worried about blowing my chances by sending a bad book and putting agents off me forever, even though I don’t think that’s how it works. And I guess rejection means a lot more coming from a specific person you hoped would like your work, rather than one of a dozen strangers on the internet who stumbled on it.
Whatever my reasons, I haven’t queried yet. I keep questioning the decision to do so. Is The Knight Shift even the kind of book that would sell? Would I be better off posting it on Wattpad or self-publishing it? Are the plot holes that were pointed out to me after I wrote four drafts too insurmountable, or would the majority of readers not even notice them?
I thought I was done with editing the book, but I know at this stage I’m not — whatever I do with it next, whether posting it online or querying, it needs another pass. Not least so that I can improve the realism of the fight scenes with the knowledge I’m gaining from HEMA. There’s nothing like learning how to smash someone’s face in with the pommel of a sword to make you want to redraft a novel.
And I think it probably is worth it. I’m relatively confident that my doubts on reading the book through the other day were because I was (a) expecting something finished, and it isn’t, and (b) because I’ve got so used to writing in present tense recently that my own writing style in past is not what I was hoping for.
Maybe I’ll query it and no one will bite. Maybe they will, but it won’t sell. That’s okay. I can self-publish, I know how to do that, or I can post it on the internet for free and maybe gain a few readers before trying to make any money from another project — also an option, although it wouldn’t be my first choice.
Maybe I can go to all the training sessions I want for the five more months I’m in the area, and I still won’t be able to write a decent fight scene because fight scenes are hard. I don’t know. I want to believe I’m physically capable of making this book better, because at the moment I feel like my edits are just making it different, and aren’t really an improvement.
Whatever happens, though, it won’t be until after I’ve finished writing Bard, and I don’t know how long that’s going to take — I’ve passed the 50k mark and I still have absolutely no idea whatsoever how the book is going to end or how to get there. So it’s not really today’s problem, not like finding some decent painkillers or buying new trainers that don’t chew my heels into pieces when I wear them to fight.
I may have learned how to hit people in the face with a sword, but I think it’s going to be a while longer before I figure out exactly how to do the same to self doubt. If I manage it at all. Still. I think I’ve got the technique now. I just need to find a weapon heavy enough to do some damage. Maybe a draft that I can actually be proud of would do the trick.