(Clearly, it never works. Must try harder.)
I have to admit I am mostly reading books for a conference paper and my thesis generally, tracing a line between representations of Sappho through the millennia and La Maupin over the centuries. Long bow? We'll see. Anyway, it has reinforced my belief that Margaret Reynolds should probably rule the world. Or Emma Donoghue. I can't decide.
I'm also flicking endlessly through books about France in advance on next month's research trip. There are piles of travel guides, architectural tomes, history texts and maps and I am on the verge of tipping over into some research-based abyss. There was no clear space to eat breakfast this morning so I just stood there staring at it. (Dodgy laptop webcam shot - my house may be eccentric, but it isn't really built on that angle.)
So that's the other main thing I've been doing, besides blowing my nose and coughing...
I have a month in France. It seems like a long time but there is so much to do I'm feeling a little anxious about it all.
But I now have a day-by-day task list so I make sure I cover everything I need to do, although of course I can't yet tell what I'll find in some of the archives, museums and libraries, so I don't know how long I'll need at each.
I have to make sure I visit each actual site mentioned in any of La Maupin's biographies (where they still exist) and understand what those places looked like at the time. For example, I don't what to describe something in the church where she threatened to blow out the Duchess of Luxembourg's brains (bless her, she was cross), if that feature or window wasn't actually there in 1701.
So I'm also making a list of a whole lot of streets and buildings that haven't changed much since 1707 so I can visit, photograph and get the feel of them.
The feel of the thing. That's probably the most important part. How did Paris feel/smell/look, what did the opera sound like, how high were the heels, how low the ceilings?
It's the part that's impossible to plan, the serendipitous part of research, when your turn a corner and breathe and know.
I love that bit.
I've posted earlier about my experiences with Chambermade Opera's libretto writing workshop. I can't say I have suddenly turned into a librettist, but I can say that it has helped focus my mind on how I'm writing dialogue, on how to refine and distill.
In the meantime, I'm hoping to finish draft zero (that's PhD talk for the version you do before your proper full first draft) of Tragédie by the end of the year. It's mostly sketched out now, in time to go to France, so I know everything I need to fact-check on site.
Here's a little extract from the current ms:
— Are you happy, Mademoiselle de Maupin?
— At this moment? Yes.
— Other moments?
— It depends.
— On what?
— On the moment.
[there'll be a bit of fencing in here but I haven't decided on the sequence yet]
— And you, Marquise? You are married?
— I thought it would make me happy. I was misinformed.
— A pity. You’re wealthy. You could have chosen anyone.
— I have. It’s just taken me a while.
That's right. There are no personal pronouns in the dialogue. Anywhere.
The voice switches from a first person recitative to the third person, present tense, and with dialogue as brief and as pointed as I can manage, and no olde worlde ye gods wench get thee to a nunnery talk.
But now I am imagining every word sung, on stage, it helps me refine what is most essential. If I had to get it down to twenty words, or five, what is the thing that must be said? So there will a lot be redrafting and rethinking to do. For example, now I look at the dialogue above, I know I can't use any of it. Or maybe five words. The rest is headed for that cute little waste paper basket icon on my desktop.
Luckily, I still have six years left to finish the PhD. I might manage it, too, if I can stop driving myself mad with research.