Progress with writing the book

Inspired by a new comment on my last post, it’s time for an update .
I’ve found that going from writing the occasional blog post and preparing course materials to writing a novel with four (potentially more) main characters is a little like going from composing a doorbell chime to composing the Ring Cycle! Turns out there’s quite a lot to handle.
Most of the work I’m up to is research. The great advice “write what you know” definitely applies. So to write about Mesolithic hunter-gatherers is taking a whole chunk of research, this not being a lifestyle with which I’m personally highly experienced. Toddling down to Whole Foods and the local farmers’ market doesn’t count, it turns out.
Now, this research is reward in itself. I’ve been learning about hunter-gatherer er… hunting and gathering. Ray Mears is the fellow for that, and his excellent series (and book) on wild foods now on YouTube. That’s led me to scratch the surface of anthropology with Robert L. Kelly’s “The Lifeways of Hunter-Gatherers: The Foraging Spectrum” chock full of interesting data about, for instance, the ratio of energy expended versus energy gained for various foodstuffs. I’m sure that your Mesolithic forager wasn’t thinking in calories, but you can bet your boots that when your life’s major concerns are food, shelter, and safety that you get really good at acquiring them for the least effort. Had I a spare lifetime, I’d so nerd out with this whole field.
Then there’s how youngsters are brought up. (I’m avoiding the word “children” where possible since there are strong arguments for the concept of “childhood” being a relatively modern development.) “Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution” is a very dry title for a rather entertaining, if academic, collection of papers on child-rearing over the millennia. Clearly this is a field filled with scholars capable of adding delight and wit to their scholarship. The short version seems to be that little ones, long ago and once weened, learned by playing. Their play would largely consist of imitating adults, and so, with a little adult supervision and gradual inclusion into the world of adults, often formalized with a rite of passage, humans grew from dependent infants to great competence without any hint of formal education for almost all of human history.
And so these are just two of the many themes in the book: survival and “education”. Others are family, social group size and society, communication, possibly religion (a hot potato, so we’ll see), sex and gender, dogs and other animals’ domestication, fun and fear, tools, music and art, and the big one – relationships.
I’ve started writing, and have finished first drafts of the Mesolithic sections of the first three chapters. This has revealed to me just how much is entailed in keep track of details to ensure consistency. It’s also revealed how much research I’ll have to do when I get to the farmer character, as I’m still not clear if they’re going to be set early in the Agricultural Revolution, or in the middle, or towards the end. Much research and drafting will get me there. When it comes to the Industrial character, there’s a much shorter timescale and I’m familiar with most of it through my degree in literature and delight in Victorian history. Of course, when I finally get to the last character, the software engineering manager, this is a world where I can “write what I know” with very little research at all!
All the characters move through the arc of the Hero’s Journey dealing with all these themes, and through them demonstrating that we have become less and less well adapted to the world we’ve been creating.
But there is something we can do about it…

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