So as I sit down to write this post, there are two tabs open at the top of my screen. One is for this document, the other is the digital ink which is currently drying on the last words of the final chapter of the completed first draft of my Young Adult/Older Adult/Children’s/Fanfiction-inspired fantasy novel.
Now, for anyone who has read my earlier entries on this rambling, direction-less, occasionally witty forum for my words, you will know this is quite the achievement. But the fact that I have gone from random bits of plotting, and scenes, and characters, and then been distracted by Harry Potter fan fiction for months or years at a time, to have FINISHED my original 87’000 word novel – in a little under three weeks – had been something of a bizarre, divine providence sort of experience.
So that’s what I’m going to share with you today.
I’m not going to go over the story itself. I’ve addressed that in other places and I don’t want to flog the only animal in the world that has four legs and flies. Yes, folks, I’m talking about a dead horse. I made a funny. If you want to take a look at the story there are links elsewhere on the blog, so you can go and check them out.
No, what I want to talk about is the very weird sequence of events that led to me cracking away from 10-12 hours per day to finally get this first draft drafted. Because, parts of it are quite spooky and coincidental to things I’ve done in my life, and I’m not sure if it’s just a touch of serendipity, or if I am in fact living my own real life version of that movie Signs, the one with Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix.
And no, I’m not talking about fighting aliens with water. I’m talking about all my raft of procrastinations that actually seemed to tie-in to the story I have been trying to write, since back in the days that I had hope for a life as a writer.
So this all started when I decided I was pretty much done with Potter fanfiction. I came to this decision probably at the end of my last story but one. I couldn’t think of anything else to add to my catalogue of plagiarised tales, so I thought I was done. Then I found a really old story that had some merit, so decided to add it to my others. Only, I didn’t like it very much. It was dicely plotted, required some flights of fancy to believe some of the story, and my wordsmithing wasn’t quite as polished as my arrogance tells me it is these days.
So I started to re-write it. But it quickly morphed into a completely different, and I ran with it basically because I had nothing better to do. But I never really felt it, not like with others I had written. It was a chore to think of new ideas and to coax them into a narrative. Plus the fact that even though I was getting some traction on the story, feedback was at a premium. And I’m a slut for instant gratification. So I decided that I was done, and that was that.
But I’ve been writing Potter fan-fics for 15 odd years. I have had some popularity, and I didn’t want to just dissipate into the sunset. I also need to be writing. It’s my outlet, and I feel stagnant if I’m not scribbling some old drivel down. So I thought I’d try my hand at another of my favourite fandoms – the world of His Dark Materials, as created by the brilliant Philip Pullman. Then the idea came to do a crossover story, a wave goodbye to Potter as I delved into pastures new.
And that is when all this original novel weirdness started happening.
Now, for a bit of background. I completed by first full-length novel at around 18. It was pretty shit. I honed it, and improved it, and for five years I continued to submit samples to publishers and agents. I was, rightly, rejected. Though I did have a couple of hand-written notes praising my writing from a few Agents. And when you have a stack of standard-form rejection letters, something written in actual handwriting is not to be dismissed as folly. These people are busy, overloaded by unsolicited submissions, and even a 19-word scribble is something to be thankful for.
But in my mid-20’s I pretty much abandoned all hope of achieving publication. I knuckled down to my day job, ploughed away at fanfiction, but all the time this niggle in my mind wouldn’t go away. Occasionally, quite a random, and idea would come into my mind. Or a character, or a plot point. And I might pursue it for a bit, only to drop it when I hit a roadblock.
This really exploded in about 2018. My partner was off camping at Wimbledon – she’s a Roger Federer super-fan – and I was left home alone. In one of these bursts of creativity, I had an idea to refocus the beginning of my story onto one of my side characters. I stayed up until 4 am on several consecutive mornings, as I kept receiving more and more ideas, but when I sat down to write I only got so far, as there was still something missing.
Fast forward two years and we arrive at this month, and I make what would turn out to be the fateful direction of my fandom writing. For in an effort to spark something in my brain, I decided to weave a few of my original idea into this new fanfiction. Just a setting or two, a concept here and there, but then I began to write.
And I wrote fast. I was setting one of the Potter characters in an alternate version of that story world, and another in the His Dark Materials world. The basic premise was that it was a year before the events of the first Potter book, and I wanted to give that story an alternate reason for happening. But, as I began writing, I started to see something quite unexpected.
The two Potter characters I was writing could be amalgamated into just the protagonist character my story was crying out for.
And that’s how I progressed writing. These two characters were one half of the sort of hero character I needed to move through the events of my plot. And the more I wrote this fanfic, the more I began to see how I could not only start my story – which was always a headache – but also to get through the middle, which was always a quagmire for me. The end would be a cinch after that. So, after twelve chapters, the fanfic went to one side and I attacked the novel.
Three weeks later and the first draft is complete.
But like I said, the process was bizarre. Because as I raced through my plot, I realised that the random little snippets I’d been jotting down for years could actually be tweaked to fit this story. Not only that, but some of my tangent plot lines, scenes and locations from my fan fictions could be revisited, de-Potter-ised, and would work too.
Then my life events started to come in. Now, in my writing, I use a classic plot structure called Literary Alchemy. It’s a staple of British fantasy stories, from Narnia, to LOTR, to Potter itself. It marries up nicely with the Hero’s Journey arc, and is a fine skeleton to build around. The basic idea is that like the base metal that alchemists try and turn into gold, a base character can go through a series of adventures, which purify and improve him/her making them enlightened at the end, or transformed to spiritual gold. It’s also a storehouse of rich imagery, ideas and traditions that fit into any genre of story.
So, that’s my secret weapon. All the answers to every problem I ever have in writing, can be found in the pages of my alchemy textbooks of the hundreds of doc files I have collected over the years on the subject. Hell, the founding document of alchemy is known alternately as The Emerald Tablet (or table) of Hermes Trismegustus. My novel is called The Emerald Tablet and is a not to this mythical artefact. I had a problem with the title, I went to alchemy, it gave me the answers.
Which is where my feeling that something is happening to me comes from. You see, alchemy is wreathed in allegory, wrapped is esoteric language and carries that same sort of subdued energy that you get from arcane or religious texts. I don’t prescribe to organised religion – they are all constructs created by groups of men who, as such, corrupted any message of divine sense or wisdom that they may have been given, with whatever agendas they brought to the process.
But … the way this writing project has come together over the last month has made me question if something else may be at work.
Now this may be just romantic nonsense, my feeble attempt to apply something mysterious to a process that is more likely a mix of happenstance and hard work. But little nuances I needed in the story, somehow matched things in their real-world counterparts. A simple example is that I have a pub in my story called The Peacock’s Tail and I was trying to work out where the origin of the name would come from. It is located in the centre of Cardiff, near Cardiff Castle. And what do we just happen to have in Cardiff Castle? Yep, roaming peacocks.
Coincidence? Probably? Still a bit weird? I think so.
But I have at least a dozen other instance of similar things. It is almost as if places I’ve been, things I’ve seen and the needs of my story have suddenly matched up in a flick of a heartbeat. It feels a little like I had all the pieces of a puzzle the whole time, but had no idea what the picture was so couldn’t really start putting them together. Then, suddenly, one notion pops into my head and all these little things make sense. Three weeks later and I’m thinking of publishing in my future.
It’s been strange time. But, whether it is something mysterious or entirely banal, it has finally pushed me to finish the first novel of original words in over a decade. The Corona lockdown has been many things, but the opportunity I feel I missed last year – after telling my previous pub employer to kiss my lily white ass following a blatant act of favouritist discrimination – came around again, and this time I did something with it.
So, maybe there is something positive to be taken from all this madness after all!