Idea to Book: Upon A Summer’s Day


Today’s Idea to Book post is about Upon A Summer’s Day, which forms a tight duology with Old As The Hills. As I mentioned in last week’s Idea to Book post about Old As The Hills, that book ends in the early afternoon of August 12th and Upon A Summer’s Day picks up early that evening.

In that last chapter, Gabriel Edgarton has been asked a question. Upon A Summer’s Day is his answer – and more importantly and interestingly – exactly how he goes about answering it. With Gabe, it’s always the process, not just the answer. 

Contains spoilers.

Upon A Summer's Day displayed on a tablet in a sunset scene looking out across water to fields beyond, all of it glowing golden and sparkling with magic. The cover of Upon A Summer's Day shows a man in a suit silhouetted over a map of northern Wales in a muted green. He is gesturing, holding his cane in one hand, a cap on his head. Behind him is an astrological chart, with Jupiter and Saturn highlighted in the sign of Taurus.

Gabe himself

It’s probably no secret that I love Gabe and his family a great deal. I’ve talked about Gabe as a particular kind of neurodiversity wish fulfilment. He’s what many of us wish we’d had when we were younger. That’d be parents who may or may not understand how our minds work, but who do figure out how to support those interests and patterns without crushing the other parts. 

(A lot of people I know – me included – have parents who were good at some of this, not so good at other parts. In my case, there was certainly a fair bit of pressure to mask and conform to social expectations by other parts of our lives, like school. I mostly was quick enough about my work that it didn’t bother me too much, until I got to a point where the work was both challenging and interesting. But there are a couple of bits from my personal history that stick out, decades later.) 

Upon A Summer’s Day has a glorious example (in chapter 13) of Richard being amiably baffled, yet again, by how Gabe chains thoughts together. In the midst of more complex topics, Gabe mentions he’s going to work on colours for the powders used for their Holi celebrations with his daughter Avigail. Richard, his father, asks what made him think of that for the day. 

Gabe chuckled. “Something from last night, Papa.”

“How did you get from your challenge to colours for Holi?” Richard had to ask, and for several reasons.

That got Gabe throwing his head back, a long and loud laugh. “Hemington’s Fifth, one of the scribal errors from Erasmus Minor, the implications for fixatives, that thing Sorcha taught us about blaeberries, the way shed snake skin reacts in potions work, and stumbling into a patch of blackberries?” He laid out the chain almost casually. Long experience of his son had taught Richard how to follow it once it was laid out. But he would not have made half those jumps, even allowing for the fact Gabe had a vast store of obscure magical lore in his head that Richard did not.

Upon A Summer’s Day, chapter 13

And of course, there are other examples, all through the book. Chapter 3 has an extended example of all the ways that Gabe is entirely himself, and utterly splendid when he’s given scope. Alexander, the point of view in that chapter, has enough information to realise about half of what Gabe is doing and why, and even he can’t quite sort out what’s coming until it happens. It was also a delight to show how much Gabe is the child of his parents. He’s got both Alysoun’s thorough analysis and Richard’s duelling ability, even if this is all with words. 

A dance

It was tempting for about a second to write this book solely from Gabe’s point of view. But that, of course, would be entirely incomplete. For one thing, this book – as is true with the series as a whole – is about the wide range of relationships in our lives. Here, in one volume, we get Gabe and Rathna, as a married couple. But we also get Gabe’s parents, and then Alexander (friend, then formally a colleague), and Geoffrey. They have relationships to each other, but also to the land magic in other ways than Gabe and his parents. 

And it is fundamentally a dance. 

The book is named for one, first of all. I was able to structure the book based on the dance, couple by couple, with a progression through the sequence. Not only do we get each person’s perspective in a different space, it also let me put the heart of the book, Gabe’s challenge, in the right place proportionately. 

Of course, there are other patterns here. Geoffrey and Gabe’s matched fight – never a duel – is a delight to all involved. That’s another thing about this book, there are a lot of people being very good at what they do, excelling. The tensions in this book, again, come from how the thing will be done, not whether the success will happen. It’s a dance, not combat, in the end. 

A council challenge

And finally, this book is the first time I’d written a Council challenge out in detail. As I write this blog post, I’ve written out extras that touch on four others. They include Cyrus and Alexander in more detail, Mabyn and Garin more briefly. I have notes for a fifth related to the Mysterious Fields trilogy that I’ll be writing soon. And there will probably be a couple of others down the road.

But writing complex initiatory experiences, especially highly individual ones, is a definite writing challenge. Figuring out what would happen in this challenge took a lot of thought. How Gabe responds was even trickier. After all, Gabe – unlike basically anyone else who’s challenged for the Council in recent memory – spends his days solving just those kinds of puzzles. Of course the Lady makes it explicit in his challenge. She’s testing how he reacts, not whether he can succeed. 

Those are just three things of Upon A Summer’s Day. We will get to see yet another iteration of Edgarton children growing into themselves in The Magic of Four. That’s coming out in May 2024. Avigail Edgarton, Gabe and Rathna’s youngest, is one of the POV characters.

By Celia

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