G R Matthews
Not planning a series
Right, and I find myself saying that a lot, here’s the news; Book 3, The Red Plains, is done and being released on February 4th 2016. I've added the year just so you know.
Why is this important? Well, for you, the person, if such you be and not an alien (though, if you are an alien, “Take me too your leader! Actually, better yet, bring him/her/it here. I’m tired and the sofa is quite comfy. Plus, Dave Gorman’s Modern Life is Goodish is on soon and I really don’t want to move. Tell him/her/it they can have a whiskey too,”) reading this, it may not be vital. And now, if you’ve made it through that mostly grammatically correct sentence, let me tell you why it matters to me.
I started The Stone Road as part of my intended English Degree (I'll finish it one day). It was to be my second year piece, the final assignment for one of the units, the creative writing one. Talking it through with the tutor, it became clear that the story I wanted to tell was just too long. So I wrote something else. Well, you do, don’t you.
The Stone Road was still there, in my mind, a series of images and scenes, so I wrote it. I mean, I started it for a NaNo because, being honest, I’ve started a lot of books and finished few. I needed a deadline. A push, a shove. A gentle one. I mean, I didn’t want someone to push me to the ground or out of window. Can’t imagine that many folks do.
At the time, I knew there was more to the story, but I didn’t have much of clue where it was going to lead. I set some things up, some ideas I might want to follow as the story progressed. But, at the time, I wasn’t totally sure (I had no clue) where they would eventually lead. There was a history to world that I didn’t know. Someone knew, they must have done, it just wasn’t me. I think the characters did. I think Haung had an idea. Zhou probably thought he knew it exactly, but when you have confidence like that it deserves being punctured. The Emperor had a good idea, he just didn’t tell me. And the lady in the camp, the one at the end, you’ll know the one if you’ve read the books, probably knew quite a bit too – even if I didn’t know quite who she was when she appeared.
I’ve sat at a few panels now (not on them, just in the crowd, a listener, a fan, a learner), mostly Grim-Gatherings organised by the dangerous (if you’re in the ring with him) and totally polite (if you're anywhere else. Though, to be fair, he might say, “so sorry” every time he lands a punch in the ring. I don’t know. I’ve got more sense than to get into the ring with him) Marc Aplin of Fantasy-Faction fame. I’ve heard authors, famous, best-selling, fantastic, erudite, wise and intelligent authors say they planned out every detail of the book or start with a blank screen and just see what comes out. Surely, one way must be best?
Me? I tend to fall into the latter camp. A vague idea, a blank screen and see what happens. I mean, I do have a journal where notes, research and future ideas go and I use a whiteboard whilst writing; a place to capture quick ideas, to note down why a character did something – or what I could have for tea or when the car windscreen is being fixed (that’s currently on the board). Also, being honest, first drafts are written on a piece of software where I can make notes for future chapters – some of which I totally ignored – and doesn’t spell check my words.
Back to the books, my books. The Blue Mountain, Book 2, generally considered to be better than the first, came next. Should I be insulted that the second is better than the first? My initial reaction was yes, I should. Hold on a moment. Surely my second book should be better, shouldn’t it? Think about it this way, I did, I play the guitar. Not well, but I can strum or pick out a tune. Sometimes other people even recognise it – usually by saying such things as “I know that one… it’s… oh, what is it… perhaps play it in tune and I’ll get it.” Now, I didn’t pick up my first guitar (I started teaching myself to play at Uni. Sorry to Claire W, Claire H, Paul, Gi and Justin, for that) and notes issued forth like Eric Clapton or Jimi had inhabited my body. No, it took practice and pain (learning to play can really hurt your fingers (especially if you start on an old acoustic)) before a recognisable tune could be heard, before I could change between chords smoothly, before I could pick out a melody line. It’s the same with writing (I know Marc Aplin drew comparisons with learning to fight over on FF). The more you practice, the better you get.
So no, I am not insulted. In fact, all is right with the world!
And now Book 3, The Red Plains, is done and I can look back.
You know what I see? Me.
I see a three book story, a trilogy, where fantasy and magic play a large part. But, really, it is a story about a few families. All of their emotions, the loves and losses, the joy and the pain are there. I hope. I didn’t really know it at the time, but that was the real story I wanted to tell. The threat to the Empire/world/people is really just a backdrop, something to hang each of the characters tales upon. Perhaps that’s the secret to stories – it’s not about the events, it’s about the people.
Looking back, I can see the pathway the books followed. I just didn’t know I was following it when I was actually doing the writing.