Monday, 12 January 2015

On writing, cannibalism, and my first book series!

...bet that title caught your attention. :P I've wanted to blog about my first ever book series for a while - the one I spent ten years working on, and ultimately shelved. For those of you who know I'm twenty-three and are head-scratching a bit, yes, that does mean I was working on the series from the age of nine until I was nineteen. So, ten years. It started as an interconnected group of short stories centred around a particular group of characters - I wasn't actually writing a novel at nine, though that was the year I decided I was going to be a writer. I got to know these characters really well, and whenever we were asked to write a story at school, I always wrote about them. The stories became longer and longer until I finished the first draft of what became my first novel, which took almost two years.

I'd also started several other novels, but never finished any of them - this was my first clue that I needed two things to finish a book: passion, and an outline. Of course, the story was rough - it was my first novel attempt, so it was more of a random string of events and characters that I'd thrown together because I liked them. And then, when I was fifteen, I read my first writing craft books and learned about the reality of publishing. It looked impossible... but I was going to try anyway. I'd need to rewrite my book, because I knew it wasn't ready. I spent three years improving my writing craft and re-planning the series, but ultimately, the only way you can learn how to write a novel is through trying and failing and trying again. So when I was eighteen, I rewrote the book. And... it worked. I'd planned this huge six-book epic and the first book actually came together. I dared to hope I might be able to publish the story I'd been dreaming of the past nine years.

Unfortunately, there were issues with it. It was set at a boarding school (*cue groan*), the worldbuilding wasn't well-thought-out and I'd saved the most creative parts for future books in the series. The first book looked like a less-magical Harry Potter with telekinesis and demons. And that hit me smack in the face a year later, when, frustrated by rejections, I sent the book for a paid literary analysis and it came back with the suggestion that I start afresh with a more unique concept.

Ouch. 

The thing is, I'd known there were issues with it. And the rest of the report was fine. Every issue was fixable - a more compelling emotional journey, more description - I'd known those were things I'd struggled with. But originality? That's something indefinable.

Onto the subject of cannibalism, seeing as that's the title of this post. Well, I put that first series away, but I knew there was some good stuff there. I had whole folders of character profiles and old drafts and I really didn't want to let them go to waste. And then, in late 2011, I had a sudden idea - what if I took the creepy demon concept, and rewrote it as a YA, set at a university?

Yes - that's how the Darkworld series was born. By taking just one aspect from the first series I wrote, it spawned a whole new series. I also took some other details - like the character of the fortune-teller and some backstory stuff and certain events that were supposed to happen later in the series. I'd fully outlined the whole thing, and it looked like it wasn't going to waste after all. The characters were new, as were most of the plots, but I picked out certain details from that first series and got to give them a whole new life. The creepy monsters from Walking Shadow are from a story I originally wrote at school when I was eleven.

I'm a big believer in reusing ideas. For me, a novel concept comes to life when several ideas mash together, and if I'm stuck, I go through the old drawers of notes and outlines for that first series. There's so much in there waiting to be mined. My children's book, The Clockmaker's Key, uses several characters from that first series, as well as the concept of alternative universes I've been playing around with for years. But the majority of the story was new - I'd just taken certain aspects and reused them.

And I'm still doing it. I have dozens of half-started ideas and concepts waiting for the right inspiration to hit. Even some of the drafts I wrote last year, I feel like I didn't do justice to the idea. So there's a chance I might rewrite them from scratch later - or just mine them for ideas. Cannibalise.

This is also why I keep idea notebooks. Anything could be the inspiration for a future book, so whenever I get an idea or thought, I write it down. Years of keeping these notebooks mean I have pages and pages of potential future story ideas. Some ideas need years to percolate, and like I said, most of my stories come from a bunch of different thoughts colliding. This is something I need to remind myself whenever I get worried I'll never be able to write another book. Because I have seven years' worth of ideas collected in notebooks, just waiting for their time.

7 comments:

  1. I'll tell you a secret that I've never told anyone...and well now your readers too because they will see it...I'm one year older than you. I started a series when I was twelve and worked on it for ten years too. I actually had three books done when I decided to rewrite them when I was seventeen. Then I had to rework the first book several time. I'm trying to get an agent for the first book now though. With no luck yet. So we have a LOT in common. I wish you all the best with yours. :)

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    1. *high five for persistence!* Ultimately, there were too many issues with mine, but I'm glad I got to reuse the parts that worked! I wish you the best of luck querying yours! :)

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  2. Since you were NINE?! Wow. You're really a born writer. It never occurred to me to take a portion of a trunked project and re-imagine it. Thanks for the tip. (BTW, I'm almost halfway through Walking Shadow and loving it!)

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    1. Thank you! (And I'm so glad you're enjoying the book!)

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  3. I have a notebook from when I was around 9, and you know, I'm currently writing in the same genre, although it's a very different story :P I definitely reuse old ideas. Sometimes, they just need time to brew and cross-pollinate.

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    1. Absolutely! The word "cross-pollinate" is perfect. Love it. :P

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  4. I'm very much into cannibalism too. Er, I mean in my writing. I've stolen ideas from my outlines for future stories in order to make a current manuscript work. I'll worry about those future stories later.

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