The Ten Stages of Writing a Series: Part 3 Book Three

One novel is now a post-apocalyptic series.

Welcome to Part 3 of how I wrote a post-apocalyptic fiction series: from one novel to three novels in three years.

Let’s recall the first five stages:

  1. An Idea
  2. A Short Story
  3. A Novel
  4. A Rejection
  5. An Acceptance

If you need a full recap of how it all started, check out this post.

And then three more steps:

  1. The Sequel
  2. A Plan for Book 2
  3. Writing Book 2

If you need a recap of how I got to Book 2, check out this post. Now we’re up to Book 3.

The Ruined Land cover
The Chronicles of the Pale #3: The Ruined Land

Stage 9: The End Game

I admit that deadlines are good for me. I love writing inside a time frame. But remember, I’m a bit weird – I loved exams. Adrenaline = inspiration for me.

Broad Plain Darkening raised a lot of questions that I couldn’t wait to tackle. So many issues that I wanted to resolve. Imagine me rubbing my hands together in glee.

Once again, I needed a plan.

Strangely, my “plan” looks almost like a maths problem. How does it work?

Notes in a book
Example page from my TRL (The Ruined Land) notebook
  1. You’ll notice very few words. The story was in my head. These are just reminders so that nothing got left out. Sticky notes for my brain.
  2. Chapters are important. They need a starting point, an action or change point, and some sort of conclusion – one that leads to the next chapter, or one that closes the action and allows the next chapter to tackle another aspect of the story.
  3. Chapter length is important. That’s what the numbers are about. I’m moving scenes around to ensure that each chapter is a similar length.
  4. The first page of this notebook is dated Oct 19th, 2018. Three years ago today! That means that I was deep in writing Book Three while waiting for the edits to come back for Book Two.

Editing and writing at the same time: heaven!

Editing is such a satisfying task. You wrestle with what comes back; you suddenly see what doesn’t work. Then you scratch your head over how to make this or that point any clearer. You laugh at your hilarious typos (the runted land LOL!) and in your imagination, you high-five the editor at the brilliant saves.

Once again, working with Odyssey Books suited me down to the ground.

So within two years of launching The Pale, and inside 12 months of launching Broad Plain Darkening, I was back at Readings Carlton, surrounded by well-wishers, thrilled to introduce my new book to the world.

The Ruined Land was born, and my idea for a novel is now a post-apocalyptic series.

Stage 10: The Series in a Box

The Chronicles of the Pale is now a complete entity. You can even buy it as an ebook box set:

The Chronicles of the Pale Complete Series

The Chronicles of the Pale Complete Series available as an ebook
The Chronicles of the Pale Complete Series available as an ebook

Seven-piece Essential Toolkit for Writing a Series

  1. follow up your good starting idea
  2. create characters to care about … ones that YOU care about
  3. expect a great deal of work writing your idea into the first novel … possibly years
  4. refrain from killing your characters too early – but be prepared to kill them at the right time
  5. keep tweaking and submitting until you find a match
  6. be responsive to your publisher’s needs
  7. treasure the publisher who believes in you and your work

What next?

I have a dozen ideas for short stories set in the world of the Pale, but it’s no use planning a short story collection (working title The Chronicles of the Pale #4: Before and After) until I actually write those stories.

Jotted words in a notebook – useful as they are – do not turn themselves into publishable writing. And I also have in mind the possibility of a graphic novel or an animation. So a lot of work to be done first, but the world of the Pale now has to wait on edits for my current projects.

In the meantime, watch out for my next novel

How to Survive Your Magical Family

which will be out in time for Christmas. More news soon!

Coming soon
Coming soon: How to Survive your Magical Family

The Ten Stages of Writing a Series: Part 2 Book Two

Once upon a time, a single idea became a novel, and a novel sparked a series.

Welcome to Part 2, where I cover the big picture of how I moved from a stand-alone novel to a post-apocalyptic fiction series: from one novel to three novels in three years.

Let’s recall the first five stages:

  1. An Idea
  2. A Short Story
  3. A Novel
  4. A Rejection
  5. An Acceptance

If you need a full recap of how it all started, check out the previous post.

Stage 6: The Sequel

It took a little while to get my head around the possibility of more novels in the world of The Pale. A whole series of post-apocalyptic fiction? But hey! The world was all there, the characters created, and a trajectory beckoned. Plus the world always needs more books with talking animals.

All I needed to do was pick up where I left off, right?

It’s not that easy. Something I found quite testing was to check and re-check my built world, to ensure the consistency of both stories. Remember that I’d invented a highly-detailed setting, with too many characters, too many places, too much that was too clever by half (including an over-clever calendar)? Well, thanks to me being such a smarty-pants, there was too much in my head. I had to match the published version of my world, not the one teeming in my brain.

Hmm, did I mention this particular detail before? I kept asking.
I told myself: probably not.

Can I include it? I thought: Yes, but…

Can I do without it? Answer: YES!

The thing about world-building

It so happens that I know a lot more about the back-stories of the characters than will ever be published.

And that’s the way it should be. I am the iceberg. The published work is the best fraction of it.

Readers really only want to know what’s happening NOW.

They want ACTION. And they want EMOTION. They want RESOLUTION.*

*Beware generalisations. Some readers like the long way round a story

Readers don’t want to know about the hours I devoted to googling baby names as I tried to make my cast diverse and interesting. They don’t want to know about my failed attempts at tracing maps of Tasmania and putting Pale-style names in tricky terrain. And they especially don’t want to hear me arguing with myself about just how evil I can make the villain without turning science fiction into horror.

Stage 7: A Plan for Book 2

Take one ambitious time frame, add a thriving cast, lots of conflict and then make the world explode. Or at least cause the ground to shake.

I’m a pantser by nature, but I needed a plan. More, I needed – for the first time in my fiction writing – to create lists and signposts. I discovered that writing a series is like writing a thesis: there is more material than you can keep in your head at one time. You MUST be organised.

A character list was easy enough, and here it is. I also asked for it to be included in the printed book, because many readers like to refer back as they’re reading.

A map! Fortunately, I have very talented people in my family – they’re so creative, this lot! – and @bernardjmaher listened carefully, coped with my scribbled diagrams, and voila! a map.

Territory and city map ThePale
Territory map for The Pale

Stage 8: Writing Book 2

The deadline was good for me: six months to the first draft – remember that the first novel took several years to gestate.

I wrote and wrote and wrote. My method is to write a lot, and then edit, edit, edit. Then I add, subtract, rearrange and polish.

Characters from offstage demanded to be heard – for example, Helm, the lost tribesman. He’d always been there as Feather’s missing father, but he insisted that he had a much bigger part to play. More talking animals wanted to be heard, and many of the villains began to flex their muscles. Dystopia is like that!

Back and forth with editing. It was so much better this time around. I was more relaxed about strangers’ eyes on my imagined world, and more confident in my choices. I mus say that working with Odyssey Books has been amazing – truly life-changing.

Amazingly, within a year of launching The Pale, I was back at Readings Carlton, surrounded by well-wishers, thrilled to introduce my new book to the world.

Broad Plain Darkening was born, and my idea for a novel became a post-apocalyptic fiction series!

The Chronicles of the Pale #2: Broad Plain Darkening

 

Next time, I’ll talk about how Book 3 rounds out the series, and test out whether there’s more to come from the world of The Pale.

 

 

 

The Ten Stages of Writing a Series: Part 1 The First Novel

The Chronicles of the Pale series

This month is the second book-iversary of my dystopian fiction series The Chronicles of the Pale.

I’m very proud of these books and still very much in love with them.

But how did this love affair with talking animal stories begin?

Today I’m letting you into the ten hidden stages behind the Chronicles.

Stage 1: An Idea

Ideas comes from everywhere. I can’t stop them.

This one began with a dream in 2014. We were shut inside a gated compound while outside, crying babies were dying from exposure. We couldn’t get out, but my dog Dinny (an ancient and beloved German Shepherd) snuck out and carried the two babies into safety.

German Shepherd Dinny
German Shepherd Dinny, the original model for Mashtuk

From small kernels of inspiration, a big story grew.

Dogs had to feature!

Stage 2: A Short Story

The story of the babies left to die Outside was too good to lose, especially during the height of the worldwide refugee crisis. The wise and compassionate canini Mashtuk and Zelie, the heartless humachines, and fully-human Hector appeared in my head.  I wrote them into a story and submitted it to progressive journal Overland. My first ever short story acceptance!

Man-machine-dog-Illustration
Man-machine-dog-Illustration from Overland #215

Man/Machine/Dog‘ is available online.

If you’ve read The Pale, you might like to see where it started.

Stage 3: A Novel

After the story was published, an indie publisher contacted me because my Overland bio said that I was writing a novel about these characters.

Ahem.

I hadn’t started, but I immediately began. Ideas came too fast and the novel grew too long, but I submitted it within six months.

Stage 4: A Rejection

Sadly, The Pale Version 01 didn’t make the grade. The novel was BLOATED with too many characters and dozens of subplots, and falling over itself with over-complex world building.

While the feedback was positive, the novel needed severe editing.

Stage 5: An Acceptance

More time passed. I took a good hard look at my manuscript and pruned a few thousand words. Some of the off-cuts were old favourites: names for every (and I mean every) minor character, a newly invented calendar based on the many seasons recognised in indigenous cultures, and a subplot involving flashbacks to the time before the Great Cataclysm…

Then I sent the new manuscript to my dear, dear beta readers. Their ultra-valuable feedback (thank you – you know who you are!) resulted in more tidying…and THEN

I sent the manuscript off to another indie press looking for new authors.

The Pale cover detail: Mashtuk
The Pale cover detail: Mashtuk

About three months later, and email came, asking if The Pale was still available.

Yes! I shrieked. Yes, yes, yes!

(Thank you Odyssey Books!)

 

What next?

Oh, my. Having a novel published was a lifelong dream come true.

I fell onto a steep learning curve. Working with fiction editors challenged me, but I could see that every discussion, every point, made my work better. A wonderful cover artist sent me concepts, and I jumped with delight on the one with the city and the canini – of course, it’s Mashtuk!

I’ve talked about launching here, and I can still remember the wonderful feeling. The Pale sold some copies. Readers contacted me and asked about the characters and what happened next? The characters gambolled around in my head.

And the publisher said: is there a sequel?

Next week, I’ll explain how I got from a single dream to a three-novel series … and perhaps a set of short stories in genesis.

The Pale
Chronicles of the Pale #1: The Pale

 

Love is in the … anthology

Crown Affairs

Do you like romance?

If you’re keen on a little HEA (happily ever after) in these locked down times, maybe a peek into this romantic anthology is just what you need.

Crown Affairs: royal entanglements of steamy proportions , from US publisher Paramour Ink, is now available in both Kindle and paperback editions in Australia:

 

Scandal, love affairs, tales of relationships that go against the odds and more can be found between the sheets…pages…of Crown Affairs, steamy tales of love among royals.

From olden time romances to modern royalty trying to escape the paparazzi, there’s something for all romantic types in this anthology from Paramour Ink.

Keep a fan handy, because things can get a little hot…

 

Watch out for my story “An Unexpected Arrival”. Poor Crown Prince Felix didn’t plan for his mistress and his betrothed to visit him at exactly the same time…

Stories in this anthology are from Lynn Yorke  (Author), Chisto Healy (Author), Clare Rhoden (Author), Lana Trick (Author), Alice Mollihan (Author), S.O. Green (Author), Dorian J. Sinnott (Author), Jodie Francis (Author), and Matt McGee (Author)

Don’t forget me, cobber

Grave of an unknown Australian at Fromelles

Fromelles Anniversary Book Bundle

What is it that makes the Attack at Fromelles resonate with Australians?

Fromelles Anniversary Book Bundle
Fromelles Anniversary Book Bundle from Odyssey Books: three fascinating WWI stories from Australian authors

July 19-20, 1916

The Battle of Fromelles was Australia’s first action on the Western Front. It was disastrous.

Arguably the worst 24 hours in Australian military history, there were over 5,500 Australian casualties.

Five hundred men were taken prisoner and almost 2,000 were killed.

In one night at Fromelles the Australian casualties

were equivalent to those in

the Boer, Korean and Vietnam Wars, combined.

 

The Fromelles Anniversary Book Bundle Special features three Australian novels of the war. Now available at these online stores for only $9.99. Grab your copy before the end of July!

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Apple Books

Google Books

 

This statue, titled “Cobbers” by Melbourne artist Peter Corlett was was installed in the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles, France in 1998.

In the days after the battle rescuers recovered some 300 wounded from no-man’s land.

As one soldier carried a wounded companion from the field he heard a call for help.

Don’t forget me, cobber

Cobbers

The “Cobbers” statue in the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles in France features Sergeant Simon Fraser from Western Victoria carrying a fallen comrade from the field.

Cobbers is a memorial to Australian service and sacrifice at the Battle of Fromelles. Fraser risked his life and a possible court martial when he returned to save a stricken soldier whose identity is unknown.

(Photo by Clare Rhoden)

 

Let’s start with Murder on the Menu: Fiona Leitch

book cover, Murder on the Menu

We all need a bit of a lift for 2021. Times are tricky. This year, my weekly blog foregrounds INSPIRATION. Every author also gives you a FREE sample of their work!

Inspirational words plus free reading: get it here every Friday.

That’s my plan for you in 2021.

Author Fiona Leitch
Author Fiona Leitch

First up is the wonderful Fiona Leitch  , novelist and screenwriter. Fiona’s new novel, the cosy mystery Murder on the Menu, has just been released in ebook and will be available in paperback in April. See all Fiona’s books here.

I asked Fiona about her inspiration. 

Fiona says: I love a good murder mystery, but I’m a bit of a wuss; I don’t like anything too graphic. On the other hand, I don’t like anything too twee either. I enjoy TV programmes like ‘Midsummer Murders’ and ‘Death in Paradise’, and they inspired me to create something similar with my new cozy mystery series, the Nosey Parker Mysteries.

I’m also inspired by location. My previous books have been set in Venice (my favourite place in the entire world), Paris and Berlin, so I thought I would set this series in my OTHER favourite place, Cornwall. I lived in St Ives for a couple of years, and my mum and sister still live in the West Country, so it’s a place I know and love well. Although my protagonist Jodie lives in a made-up town, Penstowan, it’s based on two real life places: Holsworthy, right on the Devon/Cornwall border, and Bude, a seaside town on the North Cornwall coast. It’s a beautiful part of the world, loved by holidaymakers, but it’s not always an easy place to live. There’s not much work out of the summer season, and it’s very cut off from the rest of the country, with just one road in and out. I have sat on the A303 for more hours of my life than I care to count!

Crooklets Beach Cornwall
Crooklets Beach near Bude in Cornwall

I’m inspired by strong women, too. There are so many women out there, juggling careers and businesses with childcare (and increasingly, caring for elderly parents), while still managing to have a social life and maybe even a bit of romance. Jodie (the protagonist of the Nosey Parker mysteries) is a single mum, an ex-copper turned caterer; so not only is she a dab hand at solving murders, she can whip up a smashing Victoria sponge while helping her daughter with her maths homework AND encouraging/fending off attractive men all at the same time. Jodie is warm, funny, flawed and ultimately loveable, like so many of the amazing women I know.

Thanks Fiona!

Now here’s your gift sample of Fiona’s writing. Enjoy!        

 

EXCERPT FROM MURDER ON THE MENU :

Tony stood by the top table, where yesterday he should have been toasting his new wife and being embarrassed by his best man’s speech. Instead, he was holding the middle tier of the beautifully iced wedding cake. I didn’t need to ask where the top tiers were; they were on the floor, dropped and then trampled on, absolutely destroyed. His face was flushed with anger as he raised the cake above his head.

            “Tony!” I cried. He stopped for a moment and looked at me, but it was as if he didn’t recognise me. “Tony, calm down. Don’t take it out on the cake! Or the hotel carpet.” It was a right bugger getting fondant icing and marzipan out of a deep pile carpet – I’d learnt that the hard way after one of Daisy’s early birthday parties. Half a mermaid had ended up ground into the Axminster when a game of Pass The Parcel had turned bad.

            “What’s the point?” he said. He shifted the cake – which was a big hefty fruit cake, going by what was on the carpet – and looked at the delicate purple sugar paste flowers that decorated it. “Do you know how much this cake cost? Two grand. Two grand on a bloody cake.” He lifted it over his head and threw it as hard as he could across the room, where it hit a sideboard covered in glasses. I heard something smash.

            “Tony, mate – ” Callum held his hands out in a placatory gesture, but Tony just glared at him.

            “Callum, mate, did you know? I bet everybody knew.” He reached out and pulled a chunk of cake off the next layer, and I couldn’t help but look at it, rich with mixed fruit, and think, damn that looks like a good cake.

            “Know what?” Callum genuinely didn’t seem to know what Tony was talking about.

            “I bet everyone knew but me,” said Tony, smearing the cake between his fingers and then studying them. He was losing the plot. “I bet even Nosey knew about it.”

            “Tony – ” I started, watching as he began to pick lumps of cake up and throw them at the glasses stacked up on the sideboard, like a petulant child at a coconut shy.

            “You knew she was a wrong ‘un, didn’t you?” He threw a lump, but his aim was off. “You didn’t like her. No one liked her except me.” He threw another, hard. It hit a glass, knocking it on the floor where it shattered into tiny pieces. He did a mini fist pump and picked up another piece of cake.

            Bloom trotted into the room and stopped, aghast at the devastation before him.

            “Mr Penhaligon!” he spluttered, as Tony turned to him holding the baked projectile. I stood in front of him, my arms spread out wide to protect the hotel manager.    

            “Tony, stop it now!” I said.

            “Or what? You’ll arrest me?” he said sarcastically.

            “She won’t but I will,” said a voice behind me. DCI Withers. Damn.

            Tony shrugged and lobbed the fruit cake in his direction, but I darted forward and caught it, staggering slightly under the force behind it. Two uniformed officers appeared from behind Withers and ran at Tony before he had a chance to reload with cake, so he just picked up what remained of the tier, smashing it onto the carpet before they grabbed his arms and pinned him down on the table. I ran over to them, closely followed by Withers who reached out to pull me out of the way.

            “Oh come on, there’s no need for that,” I said, as one of them began to cuff him. Tony struggled and swore and somehow managed to wriggle one hand free before the cuff went on, flinging his arm out and accidentally smacking Withers in the perfectly formed nose. Despite the fact that the situation was rapidly going pear-shaped I felt dangerous laughter rising. The whole scene must look so ludicrous, and Withers getting slapped was the icing – I nearly choked – on the cake.

            “Anthony Penhaligon, I’m arresting you for breach of the peace, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer,” began Withers, although what with him holding onto his wounded nose it sounded more like ‘Andony Pendalion’. If the situation hadn’t been so serious I really would have laughed.

            “Come on – it was an accident!” I said, getting in Withers’ face. “Caused by you sending the boys in when we could’ve talked him down.”

            “Get out of my way, Ms Parker, before I arrest you as well for obstruction.” Withers did not look like a happy bunny; I think he felt a bit daft clutching his nose, which had just started bleeding.

            Tony had finally calmed down, only now of course it was too late.

            “I’m sorry,” he said, looking like he was going to cry again, “I didn’t mean to – I just don’t know what’s going on – ” He looked lost, and I felt my heart break for him. “Jodie – I’m sorry, don’t let them – ”

            But I couldn’t stop them. With one last glare at me, Withers and his two officers marched Tony out of the room, out of the hotel, and into a waiting police car.

***

Wow! I can’t wait to read more. What fun!

Thanks to Fiona Leitch for being first cab of the rank in Last Word of the Week 2021.

 

Fiona’s LINKS:

 

Love Books? Keep them coming!

Gifts of books

It’s no secret that I love books.

This year I’m sharing some bookish ideas for end-of-year gifts, for yourself or others.

I recently heard society philanthropist Lady Primrose Potter interviewed. She’s an interesting person. One comment that stayed with me was that if you love something and you want it to last, do everything your power to support it.

We all have different amounts of power.

Lady Primrose is an important patron of the arts in a number of fields. While I don’t have that kind of might, I can give my love to books in other ways.

I buy books, I read books, I review books, I recommend books, and I do my best to help fellow authors with purchases, reviews and shares. I know how much effort goes into writing.

But buying books costs money

Which is wonderful if you have it. If you don’t, you can truly support books (and authors) for FREE – see the tips at the end of this post. It all helps, truly!

Books to Buy

There are so many good books out there! If you need help deciding which book to buy for a particular person, I recommend that you check out the reviews and recommendations from the independent booksellers such as

Readings: https://www.readings.com.au/newsletters-and-e-news

Here you will find the archive of their newsletters with reviews of 2020 publications in all genres and age groups.

Independent BookSellers Australia: http://indies.com.au/catalogues/

Listings of 2020 books in every genre, with extra attention to Australian authors and presses

Small Press Network Book of the Year: https://smallpressnetwork.com.au/book-of-the-year-award/book-of-the-year-2020/

Supporting small independent presses in Australia, the Indie awards are highly regarded

My 2020 Reviews on Goodreads: Clare’s Books

You will be able to see my short reviews and ratings of the 89 books that I’ve read this year, and the 300+ that I’ve rated on this site since joining in Dec 2016. Feel free to follow my reviews on Goodreads into 2021 and beyond!

Buying Books:

You choose the source: e-books are of course online, and print copies can be found via online retailers, department stores, OR YOUR HEROIC LOCAL BOOKSHOP.

My courageous local bookstore is Benns Books of Bentleigh. They supported me throughout lockdown with local deliveries to my door, yay. Their excellent Christmas Gift Guide is here.

 

Free bookish gifts for authors

Finally, some suggestions to cheer up the writers in your life with some free love.

  1. Use the local library, because authors get a tiny percentage of a cent for each borrowing.
  2. Suggest titles for your local library to buy, because authors will get a little percentage of the cover price for every sale.
  3. Use a free reading platform to rate the books you read, such as Goodreads, BookBub, or Voracious Readers.  If you happen to ever buy anything on Amazon, you can probably post a star rating or even a review on there too. These days, ratings and reviews help sell books.
  4. Share the books you have. The author won’t get another sale but they will get another reader, maybe with a word of mouth recommendation or a library borrowing of their other books. Chances are that the person you lent the book to wouldn’t have bought it or even found it on their own.
  5. Recommend our books. You have access to readers that your writer friends will never meet, especially if you are a member of a book club. More readers is always better for writers, even if it isn’t more book sales. See above: borrowing from the library helps support us too!
  6. Invite us to talk to your book club, especially virtually in these times of virus. We would love to go viral online! Zoom me in, Scotty.
  7. Drop us a line. Let an author know, by email or tweet or Facebook follow, that you enjoyed our books. One of the most satisfying email I ever received was from a reader who told me that my book The Stars in the Night had helped her understand her grandfather, a veteran of WWI. This actually made me cry. All my efforts were worthwhile!
  8. Share our Beautiful Covers: Instagram and TikTok are great platforms for sharing lovely images of the books you’ve enjoyed. #booklove, #bookstagram, #amreading are all useful. Oh, pro tip: if you wish to tag, please tag the title or the publisher, not the individual author. Some algorithms will demote a post that tags individuals as a friend-share, not a customer recommendation. Hey ho.
  9. Enjoy Reading. Keep it going. Like many other industries, publishing has struggled with new releases this year. Online launches sell about a quarter of the books sold in real-life launches. Love your books and pass on the love.

Happy Reading! I look forward to seeing you in 2021.

Until then, love your books to life.

 

History meets Fiction: Frances Quinn and the Smallest Man

Cover image The Smallest man by Frances Quinn

My guest today tells us about the complications of writing historical fiction. Meet Frances Quinn and The Smallest Man.

Frances Quinn

Frances Quinn is the author of The Smallest Man. Her novel tells the story of Nat Davy. Nat becomes court dwarf to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles 1, just as England heads into the civil war. The war that will end in the execution of the king.

Author Frances Quinn
Author Frances Quinn

 

Who’s behind the Smallest Man?

I came across the real life character that inspired The Smallest Man quite by accident. I was working on a historical murder mystery, and I wanted to feature a character with a disability who, as a result of attitudes at the time, would be a bit on the edge of society.

I’d vaguely heard about ‘court dwarfs’, so I Googled ‘17th century dwarf’, and up popped the Wikipedia entry for Jeffrey Hudson.  Jeffrey was a gift to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles 1, and he became a sort of human pet at the court.

Hudson went on to kill a man in a duel and survive an attack on the Queen during the Civil War. He was later captured by pirates and taken to be a slave in Morocco. He then came home and went to prison as a traitor – quite a life!

 

Real life v fiction

I instantly wanted to abandon the murder mystery and write a story about Hudson instead. It seemed to be a gift to a novelist.

Little did I know!

As I tried to plan the novel, I discovered that turning a real life into a novel isn’t as easy as it sounds. A novel needs a shape, and a direction. Real life meanders around, goes off at tangents and has no respect for the need to tie all the ends together in the last chapter.

If the interesting part about the person’s story focuses around one event, or even a shortish period, you can zoom in on that. But Jeffrey’s story had almost too much going on, with the key events stretching over 50 years. Long, boring bits occur in between the action and a vast cast of characters appear who were relevant historically but not necessarily very interesting. His life also had a sad ending – it’s thought Jeffrey died alone and in poverty. Not a very satisfying conclusion to a novel.

I was at the point of giving up on the story, when I re-read Armistead Maupin’s Maybe the Moon . Maupin’s main character also has dwarfism and I wanted to remind myself how he’d treated her disability in the story.

I’d forgotten that the heroine, Cadence Roth, was inspired by the actress Tamara de Treaux, who played ET in the film. Maupin’s novel isn’t Tamara’s story, but it’s the story of an actress with dwarfism who played an iconic character in a children’s movie.

That gave me the idea of creating a fictional character, Nat Davy. Nat becomes a court dwarf and has some of the same adventures as Jeffrey did, and some of his own.

 

What to put in, what to leave out

Once I’d made that decision, the novel took shape.

However I still had to wrestle with real life events. The middle part of the story happens against the background of the build-up to the English Civil War and the war itself. That meant a lot of well-documented events that potentially needed to be woven in.

Fortunately, my early choice to write in first person meant that Nat only needed to talk about the events that touched him personally. I concentrated on the things that the real life Jeffrey Hudson might mention if you bumped into him in a tavern and he told you his life story.

That got me out of writing about a lot of very tedious political and religious stuff from the build-up to the war. I also made sure Nat was well away from the fighting, because there was no way I wanted to write battle scenes!

 

A final twist

It took me four years to research and write the book, going through six full drafts. But the real life aspect still had another curveball to throw me, even after the book was sold to a publisher.

From early on, I’d had my doubts about having Nat kidnapped by pirates and taken to Morocco, as Jeffrey was. That would have meant moving the action not just to a completely new setting but a new cast of characters.

Also, because it was first person, some familiar characters would disappear for many chapters, because Nat wouldn’t know what they were doing.

Everyone I spoke said no, it’s exciting, leave it in. So I did. As it turned out, my editor saw the same problem that I had, and asked me to ditch the pirate section.

That meant not only writing a new third section of 30,000 words, but also tons more research into the last years of the Civil War.  I hadn’t thought I’d need to do that because Nat would be in Morocco and know nothing about it! It felt like a mountain to climb at the time, but the book is, I think, much better for it.

So building a novel on Jeffrey Hudson’s story turned out to be much more difficult than I thought when I read that Wikipedia entry. But I’m very glad now that I didn’t give up on him.

 

The Smallest Man

When should my story begin? Not when I was born, a butcher’s son, in a tiny cottage just like all the other tiny cottages in Oakham. Who’d have thought then that I’d ever have much of a story to tell?

Perhaps it starts when people began to nudge each other and stare as I walked with my mother to market, or the first time someone whispered that we were cursed. But I didn’t know then.

No, I think my story begins on the day of the Oakham Fair, in the year of 1625. When I was ten years old and I found out what I was.

Nat Davy is a dwarf. He is 10 years old, and all he wants is to be normal. After narrowly escaping being sold to the circus by his father, Nat is presented to Queen Henrietta Maria – in a pie. She’s 15, trapped in a loveless marriage to King Charles I, and desperately homesick. 

Loosely based on a true story, this epic tale spans 20 years; during which the war begins, Nat and the queen go on the run, Nat saves the queen’s life, falls in love with the most beautiful girl at court, kills a man, is left in exile. Told from his unique perspective as the smallest man in England, with the clever and engaging voice of a boy turned man yearning for acceptance, this story takes us on an unforgettable journey.

He’s England’s smallest man, but his story is anything but small.

 

Dream Big and Read Often says Melissa Wray

Melissa Wray, author

Melissa Wray finds time to write stories, usually late at night, when the rest of the household is quiet. She’s a mother of two, a teacher and lover of walks along the beach. Her new young adult novel, The Ruby Locket, is a dystopian novel that unfolds through the eyes of the two main characters.

Kerina and Saxon. Two different stories. Two different lives. One connected future.

Great to speak with you, Melissa, and to find out more about what’s behind your writing. What was your favourite book as a child?

Melissa: The Enchanted Wood and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I loved these characters and desperately wanted the giant plum tree in our back yard to become the Magic Faraway tree. I would sit still for as long as possible, hoping to capture a glimpse of Silky or Moonface!

That makes perfect sense! What about creative writing courses – do you think they are valuable?

Absolutely! The key is finding one that suits your needs. There are many courses, both online and in person that an emerging writer can complete. Keep an eye out through your local writer organisation e.g. Writers Victoria or Geelong Writers Inc. Or subscribe to a writing industry newsletter such as Buzz Words or Pass It On. Both are valuable sources for courses, writing advice, and submissions. Both of these are excellent value for money.

I totally agree with that. There’s always more to learn … or re-learn! Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?

I write whatever I feel interested in telling a story about. I have written stories suited to all age groups, from a picture story book to middle grade fiction through to a young adult audience. The genres have ranged from contemporary to historical fiction through to dystopian. I like to challenge myself in life whether it be at work or play and writing is no different.

A born story-teller, then! Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

Of course! Bryce Courtenay, one of my favourite Australian writers, once said “I take a fact and put a top hat on it, and a silk shirt and a bow tie, but I don’t ruin the fact.” I love this quote and try to include some secrets into my writing. It gives me a thrill that only I know what those parallels to real life are.

That’s good to know. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

I have one novel that is about 75% complete. I haven’t worked on it for some time so would like to revisit the characters and storyline to see if I can finish the story. To do this I need to keep a balance between my work, family, social and writing life. Quite a precarious balance!

Cover image: The Ruby Locket by Melissa Wray
The Ruby Locket by Melissa Wray

Yes! Mix all that and add a pandemic…Did you have a big break in writing? What happened?

My debut novel, Destiny Road, was published through Morris Publishing. I entered the first four chapters into a writing competition with them. It was shortlisted and I then had to submit the whole manuscript. From this, Destiny Road was selected for publication. This was a huge break for me! It gave me a boost in confidence that can be far between for writers, especially new ones.

I imagine it would. That’s fabulous. Now that your books are out there, how do you feel about reviews?

Mixed. It is uncomfortable knowing someone is reading your story and forming an opinion about it. Stories can take years to write and even longer to get published. The writing process takes commitment to writing and editing and hoping the characters are built well and the storyline works. Somebody can cut the story to pieces with a bad review or they can build you up with a good review. Both are equally terrifying to learn what people think.

And it’s completely out of your hands. Quite terrifying! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

One reviewer wrote the following review for Destiny Road and it still makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

“Wray has managed to write with absolute brutal honesty that very easily could have become too confronting- especially for those that have undergone a similar situation. The timing is perfect. You have time to catch your breath when needed without ever compromising the flow. In fact, the novel has such a polished feel I was surprised this was indeed her debut novel into the published world.”

That’s perfect. What would readers never guess about you?

My sense of adventure and the need to live a fulfilled life. I once slept in the middle of the Egyptian desert beneath the night sky after travelling all day on a camel. It sounds like a crazy thing to do now, but I love that I have this memory. I don’t want to look back one day on my life and wish I had made different choices.

 I would never have pictured you on a camel, that’s for sure. What would be a dream come true for you?

That’s easy. My book gets made into a movie and I have a cameo role in it. How much fun would that be?!

The Ruby Locket in multiple formats
The Ruby Locket by Melissa Wray

 

LOL! That would be wonderful. Thanks for speaking with me today, Melissa, and all the best with the launch of The Ruby Locket

 

Melissa’s LINKS:

Website: https://melissawray.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DreamBigReadOften/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6465945.Melissa_Wray

 

Buy Links

Odyssey Books: https://www.odysseybooks.com.au/

The Ruby Locket: https://www.odysseybooks.com.au/titles/9781922311245/

 

The Queen’s Almoner has a problem…

Today I’m excited to share in celebrating the release of a new historical novel, set in the days of Mary Queen of Scots. Mary QoS is one of the most intriguing  women of the 16th century, inspiring a large body of fiction and drama, the latest being the movie Mary Queen of Scots (2018) starring Saoirse Ronan. Her story has so many facets to explore. I sometimes wonder how her experiences would look in a modern-day context, but am more than happy to read more about her in historical fiction.

The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown is being released today and is going directly to my TBR list. I’m also looking forward to interviewing Tonya later this year for Last Word of the Week, and discovering more about her historical fiction.

In the meantime….Look at the blurb! Look at the cover! Enjoy!

 

The Queen’s Almoner

Sometimes loyalty to the queen comes at a cost. 

Thomas Broune is a Reformer and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. When Mary embarks on a new life in her estranged homeland of Scotland, Thomas is there to greet her and offer his renewed friendship. But the long-time friends grow closer, and Thomas realizes his innocent friendship has grown into something more. Yet he is a man of the cloth. Mary is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude: he to his conscience and she to her throne.

The Queen's Almoner by Tonya U Brown
The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown

When he must choose between loyalty to his queen or his quiet life away from her court, he finds that the choice comes at a high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves, and crippled by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.