The Sterkarm Relativity


The Sterkarm books by Susan Price
          I’ve finished summarising every scene in Sterkarm 3, in different coloured inks, with emoticons, and many notes to self.
          It has been very useful: and has made clear that the time-scale, in places, is impossible.
          I have different parties heading off in different directions to roam the soggy, midge-ridden hills while having varied adventures, before finally meeting up again… but the timing just doesn’t work.  Everything that happens to Party B just couldn’t be crammed into the time that elapses before they join Party A again.
          I have to admit that I haven’t worked out in enough detail where the places in the story are in relation to each other, how far apart, and what the terrain between them is like.  And, most importantly, how long it would take my characters to get from one place to another, do what I want them to do, and get back again.
          I have to do this for six different groups of characters, who’re all in different places, doing different things.  Trying to kill each other, mostly.
           The ‘terrain’ option on Google Maps has allowed me to hover over Sterkarm country, looking down on all the burns and waters, the fells and laws.  I could decide where to site the towers and the Time Tube.  So many streams!  It brought back memories of tramping those hills, meeting deer in the twilight.  I could hear the burns splashing down the hillsides and smell the heather; could hear skylarks and whaups as I hunched over my laptop.
          Some of my characters are riding the tough, strong, sure-footed little reiver horses – but how fast could they travel?  I’ve read that rievers could cover 40 miles in a night, but surely that was only in desperation?  Or would they, as Davy suggested, take spare horses with them?  Would 20 miles be more usual?
          The riders were ‘light cavalry’, but would have worn helmets and heavy leather ‘jakkes’ stitched with pieces of metal, and carried lances and swords.  Other equipment too: blankets, food, bows, arrows, axes.  And the country was difficult – steep slopes, boulders, scree, thickets and many streams and rivers.  Come on, Karen (aka madwippit) and Kath Roberts, those expert riders– and any other expert riders out there - what’s your opinion?  (And Kath - wow! I like your website's new look!)
         Another party’s on foot.  If they were all fit, strong men, I could use the yomping experience of my ex-army acquaintance, but some of my characters are ill, or unfit - and they’re not all suitably dressed for scrambling over border hills either.  (One is dressed like a 16th century lady, in clothes that would hamper you walking across a room. I should add, this character is a 16th century lady. I've no doubt the rievers had their cross-dressers, but that's for another book.) My guess is that, under the circumstances, they’d be lucky to cover much more than six or seven miles in a day, if that. Walking that country is hard work.
          So, can I cut some of the events?  I’ve read through them with a hard eye, while asking those damning questions: Is this scene introducing or developing a character?  Is it introducing or developing something important to the plot?  Is it necessary?  Even so, it’s hard to see what I can lose.  Maybe I just need a good editor.
          Can I reduce events by combining  them?  Kill two Sterkarms with one arrow, so to speak.  I’ve already divided the parties differently, so one character doesn’t have to go to and fro so much.
          Time, distance, speed - I’m beginning to see what Einstein was on about.
          Davy, unable to put his cup down because of my sketch maps scribbled in coloured inks, my laptop open on a satellite scene of empty moors, my index cards and beat-sheets, said, “I dunno why you’re doing all this, getting yourself all of a fash.  You can bet other writers don’t bother.”
          Tell him, people, tell him.

          And to get you in the Border reiver mood, here's the wonderful June Tabor, from her album An Echo of Hooves -            

And here's Blott: