At this point in time, Heide and I are knee-deep in planning individual chapters of the Clovenhoof novel (have I mentioned we still need a cool title?). We’re perhaps even only days away from writing some actual prose.
However, the more detailed our planning and plotting has become, the more we need to co-ordinate our thoughts. The twenty-first century has yet to throw up mind-reading technology and Heide and I cannot directly view each other’s mental images of characters, scenes and places within our story. What we need is a reference point for those people, events and places that we are going to be commonly using.
With that in mind, we have begun a shared document (Dropbox continues to rock!) called the Clovenhoof Bible in which we can jot down facts that must be shared if we are to avoid continuity issues.
For example, we need to agree (and we haven’t yet) on the ages of our human characters. Do any of them wear glasses? Does Ben wear jeans or formal trousers? Does Nerys drink red or white or not care which as long as it’s plonk? Does such personal detail matter? I think it does.
I remember, as a teenager, watching the sitcom Red Dwarf and being a bit put out to see Lister having his appendix removed for the second time. Written fiction also abounds with continuity errors. The Harry Potter books feature lines of dialogue spoken by people who aren’t actually present in the scene. Even in the Iliad, Homer has a character die at one point in the story only to reappear perfectly alive later. My favourite by far comes from Robinson Crusoe in which our eponymous hero swims out to a ship naked where he then proceeds to stuff his pockets with biscuits.
Crusoe: naked pocket biscuit man
Continuity matters. And continuity is based on an agreed reality.
For example, we want our characters to have a local pub that they frequent, a place to drink, chat and annoy old ladies (see Planning in more detail). Now one pub is very definitely not like another. There’s a world of difference between a clean and characterless chain pub, a grungy real ale pub and a posh gastro pub. It doesn’t necessarily matter which kind of pub we choose but whatever pub it is, it has to stay the same. Our Bible document has to contain that kind of detail.
Of course, the easiest way to maintain continuity and share mental images is to use real places. Heide and I have already decided that the Clovenhoof is going to be set in Sutton Coldfield. You may ask why and there are two reasons, one practical and one fictional.
In practical terms, it is a town halfway between our respective homes, we are both familiar with it and, in the nicest possible sense, it is like a hundred other towns across the UK. If you’ve not been to Sutton Coldfield, you’ve been to a Sutton Coldfield.
Sutton Coldfield: Everytown
There is also a reason within the story why Satan has been exiled to Sutton Coldfield. But I’m not going to tell you (unless we excise it from the finished text) because it forms part of a plot twist and I think it’s quite quite clever.
So, if we’re going to set the story in a real town we might as well use real pubs, clubs, houses, cafes, shops, churches, parks and offices as our locations. We can visit them (in person or virtually via the internet) and answer questions that, whilst not vital to the plot, give our story a sense of reality. Questions such as “How long does it take Nerys to stagger drunkenly home from the pub on foot?” or “If Clovenhoof runs butt-naked down the high street, pursued by angry green grocers, what are the chances of Ben seeing him from his shop?”
The obvious place to start seems to be the Bishop Vesey pub on Boldmere Road. It’s in the Sutton Coldfield suburbs and it was where Heide and I had our first pub-based planning session. Also the link to established religion tickles me (Vesey was a local lad, appointed bishop by Henry VIII). I can see Clovenhoof, Nerys and Ben supping a few drinks in the Bishop Vesey (neat vodka, a fruity chardonnay and a half of cider and black respectively). It’s not a great pub – the floor, the furniture and the beer are all the same colour – but it’s unthreatening and, with the exception of the occasional grumbling biddy, very welcoming.
If that’s to be their local then we need to look further down Boldmere Road for some suitable flats. There are some across the road from St Michael’s Church (St Michael, eh? I wonder if there is a statue of the victorious archangel standing astride the Great Dragon inside?). There’s the Cafe Vitos at the other end of Boldmere Rd where Ben might buy his lunchtime sandwiches or Clovenhoof skulk with the Racing Post until the bookies opens.
We might use these locations. We might use others. We may very well change the names to avoid angry publicans who reckon we’ve slandered the floor, furniture and ale of their establishments. Whatever happens, if we keep to the Bible then we at least stand a better chance of convincing the reader that our story is the product of a single creative entity.
Sutton Coldfield picture –  copyright Erebus555 – taken from