I first wrote this post a year ago, when I had just sent off the final MS of The Late Lord to Pen & Sword. I still had months ahead of me of editing and proofs, although I didn’t know that yet. It was all too raw to post, so I didn’t put it up.
Now the book is published and I am genuinely knuckling down to The Next Project, I feel I have a little more distance, even if I still feel very much the same. (I’ve updated the post slightly to reflect the fact I am now post-publication, but it has changed very little.)
So here it is — the moment I realised I had to break up with my book boyfriend.
When I was fifteen years old, I went to see The Madness of King George at the cinema. I loved it. I got sucked into reading more about the politics behind the film, and fate led me to Pitt the Younger. As I struggled through Robin Reilly’s biography of Pitt, something in my head went zing. I had found “the Spark”, that mysterious attraction that grabs me by the lapels and doesn’t let me go.
Twenty years, three history degrees, and countless essays and aborted novels later, I have just published a biography of Pitt’s brother Lord Chatham. If you’d told me even five years ago that I’d be writing Chatham’s biography, I’d have laughed in your face. But the Spark ambushed me again, and this time I’ve got it bad.
I’ve probably been researching Chatham exclusively for half a decade now. Intensively for the past three years, certainly. It’s got to the point where I thrill at the sight of his handwriting, where the mere mention of his name in a book makes the hairs on the back of my neck rise. I’ve followed him to Gibraltar and Holland. I’ve been inside his houses; I’ve held things that have belonged to him; heck, I’ve even eaten with his cutlery.
He is alive to me. I’d even say he has become a part of me. That, I suppose, is inevitable, given the degree of immersion it takes to write a biography.
I’ve spent years building his life-story from the tiniest flakes, watching it slowly gather into snowballs. I’ve discovered things about him nobody knew before (possibly not even his own mother). I’ve experienced the full range of emotions: amusement (many LOLs in the archive); frustration (the perils of researching a man who, essentially, failed); shock and grief (yes, I have shed tears). My children grew up thinking he lived in the house. They would greet his portrait when they sat down to breakfast in the mornings.
Now I have to say goodbye.
How can I possibly move on? I’m Chatham’s biographer, so he belongs to me in a way. I’m giving him a voice. But now I’ve given him that voice, he will fade and leave me for good, because I can only write his biography once. I have to let him go, and I don’t want to. But I must.
Goodbye, John. I hope others will read my words and be inspired in their turn to explore more about the period, the family, the man. I hope readers approve of what I have written. Above all, I hope you are happy with everything I have done for you.
It’s been fun. Thank you, and, in the words of the 4th Duke of Rutland, “God bless you and love you as much as I do.”
Thank you for sharing him with the rest of us, Jacqui!
When I finished writing Britannia’s Dragon, I was convinced that would be my last non-fiction book, that it was the one I was meant to write, that I’d never want to do anything else. And then, one day, The Next Idea suddenly hatched – as it will for you!
Already working on it! It’s just not John. This is slowly becoming less of a problem and more of an exciting prospect.
Bitter-sweet I know. Weren’t you intending to write it as a novel? If so I bet you are glad that P&S encouraged you to make it a biography.
Yes, it was originally a novel. And yes, I’m pleased with the nonfic version 🙂
The hardest part for me was getting rid of research notes. Had a kindly Knighton relative not accepted them I’d never been able let them go.
G-getting rid of research notes? You jest, surely…
Wonderful Jacqui and well done, but what I really want to know is what can we look forward to next?
I’ve changed my mind far too many times, I’m afraid! Think I’m pretty committed now, but will keep mum a little longer. 🙂
Congratulations on getting your book published. As a resident of John’s birthplace I now share your fascination with this remarkable family. Thank you for helping to bring them to life again. I have much enjoyed your posts and I look forward to reading the Late Lord and searching for any references to Hayes!
*blushes* Thank you! It’s something of a shame Chatham had to sell Hayes Place, but you’ll see from the biography he really had no choice in the matter (the financial complications were so convoluted he only made about £980 out of the sale, although it sold for £8500). But yes, he was one of the only two children of Pitt the Elder born there — the other, of course, being Pitt the Younger.
Yes and their father Pitt the Elder died there. it was a shame that they were forced to sell Hayes Place and also that their father briefly sold it for a short period around the time of him being made a Lord by George III or presumably your hero may have been Hayes rather than Chatham! Also, a shame the final owners of the Hambro banking family (I live in Hambro Avenue on the former site of Hayes Place) were forced to sell it in the 1930’s for similar reasons as it would have been a lasting memorial to the Pitts but then again I wouldn’t be living here or have discovered the history!! Good luck with your next venture.
Indeed — the title was Earl of Chatham and Viscount Burton Pynsent, so possibly might have been “Viscount Hayes”. 🙂 How lovely to live on the spot — I’ve been to Hayes many times and it is a lovely place.
Yes that would have been good, bad timing. Yes Hayes is a nice place to live but would be nice to go back and see in at the time of the Pitt’s. Thanks again.
Even though you are leaving Pitt, I am glad to have discovered your blog. Thank you for explaining how you get caught up in someone and have to know all about them–it is hard to explain. Cheers, MDC
Thank you! And likewise (I’ve been enjoying your A-Z adventures!). It is indeed hard to explain what spurs a person on to study something. It looks like my farewell is only an “au revoir”, albeit from a distance, but still it’s been the hardest thing to extract myself from this project.