The end of the first draft, for me, is always something of a cathartic experience. The ideas that have been boiling in my head for months (and, in the case of some scenes, years) are ‘on the page’: I’ve pinned them down, given them substance, made them physical. In the case of the more abstract concepts, I’ve defined them. I’ve made choices, and those choices have informed the characters I’ve created and the plots I’ve woven.
At last, the thing is done. It’s there. It has a beginning, middle, and end. In some ways, it feels like I’ve exorcised the story from my life.
Now I’m free to meddle with it.
This stage is what I call the ‘End’. Not ‘The End’, quotes around the article and everything. It’s not the only End: it’s an ending, one of many, a pause, a break. I’ve told the story to myself, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I have to go back and make it fit for human consumption.
But I treasure this ending, because it’s the only point of certainty I’ll ever experience in the writing of this thing. Over the next weeks and months I’ll fiddle, meddle, and mess with the book. I’ll bring in new beats and take out redundant ones; I’ll add and remove more full stops and commas than I care to think about; characters will loosen and start to warm up; the first chapters will undergo more re-writes than a studio-directed Hollywood blockbuster.
And, in the end, it’ll sort of trickle to a halt somewhere. I’ll read through it one day and decide, “Yeah, I guess that’ll have to do.” Then I’ll format it for Kindle and upload it to Amazon (for free, that’s right), and some people will download it and enjoy it.
But I’ll never experience this feeling again — this sense of finality, this satisfaction in typing the last full stop on the last page and letting the story go like the string of a balloon, watching it float away, separate from me, alive by itself, open to judgement and interpretation. It’s not mine anymore. The cats have all been let out of this particular bag; I’ve nothing more to surprise the reader with.
And that, I think, is why I’ll go on and write the next one. Not because I’m being paid to, but because I love the thrill of it.
* * *
Out of interest, I was just thinking back on how this book started. Originally Coals of Fire didn’t really fit into my series plan. I’d half thought about writing a book set in our world, featuring Rachel in some way, but I’d not given it any serious thought.
Then I finished The Endless Circle (well, I say ‘finished’ — I’m still redrafting it now, but that’s another story) and, despite having planned — and started — the next ‘Banac and Balor’ book (see Iamascel), I just didn’t feel like diving back into Erun just yet. I wanted to start from a new angle, approach the story of Erun from a different direction, to throw light on to some facets I had not yet explored in any great detail.
So instead I sat down, and I wrote the first few paragraphs of the Prologue of Coals of Fire, just like that, with no idea where I was going. I like to start my books with people running away, it seems. I got a couple of paragraphs in, and I wasn’t sure where to go, so I put in a page break and started on chapter one, off the top of my head, writing about a boy being shouted at by his mum to get to school. I started in the third person (I later switched to first person), and spent a chapter exploring exactly what was in Jason’s bag, and why it was there.
From Skellig I stole the idea of something secret being hidden (not in the garage, in my case, but in the house) and eventually linked it with Rachel and the unnamed boy from my prologue. From Rebus I stole the idea of a police procedural (sort of), and dredged Colin up from some stereotypes’ graveyard, and the rest is … Anyway, enough with the cliches.
It’s funny, looking back on it, what a pleasure it’s been to weave these new characters into Rachel’s story — because, the more I think about it, the more I realise that these stories are about Banac and Rachel, and the relationship between them, which is … complicated. (It’s actually quite fitting, seeing as the first scene I ever wrote of these books featured them sitting side-by-side, even though I didn’t realise it at the time.) I’ve come to like Colin and Jason. I’ll enjoy seeing more of them. I’m happy to leave Rachel in Jason’s hands, and I’m rubbing my hands at the thought of what I’m going to do to Colin — Kindling will be fun, it seems.
* * *
Here’s the plan …
Immediately: Go back and do continuity edits. Means I do one more read-through and change whatever occurs to me now. I’m looking at cosmetics, rather than the big picture: making sure days add up, people don’t go from sitting to standing without me saying so, and the like.
Weeks 1-6: Leave Ash to marinate. Start work on Kindling (already done, so keep going with Kindling). Send Ash off to my trusted Reader (who has been holding off on looking at any chapters in order to be fresh coming into it) and wait for feedback.
Weeks 7-8: Get all notes back, take Ash out of the drawer, and assess the damage. Make my own notes on what I’m going to change.
Weeks 9-12: Do re-writes. No idea how long exactly this will take, so I’ve given it a month. Maybe it’ll be quicker.
Weeks 13-16: Do publicity for the release of Ash on Kindle. Actually, I may do some planning prior to this, but this will be my Action month.
End of Week 16: Release Coals of Fire: Ash.
All being well, this means a release date of January 2013 (first week). That’s right: it’ll be a New Year’s baby!
Of course, as we get nearer I’ll let you know more. But when you do hear of things going down, tell your friends and tell them it’ll be free.
Anyway, thanks for sticking with me so far. Next up: More Flowers of the Field, The Christmas Cat, and (if you’re good) Kindling!
Thanks for reading,