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 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.


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


For We Are Young And Free by Maddison Stoff

for we are young and feee book cover

Sub-titled ‘a short collection of experimental cyberpunk’, Maddison Stoff’s tales are strange and intriguing. Cyberpunk may not be quite the right term to use for this collection of fascinating short stories, because the motivations and situations feel all too humanly-real. The settings in near-future Australia are recognisably possible, even when they seem completely impossible.
I love the title ‘For We Are Young and Free‘, which is a line from the Australian National Anthem – it’s like invoking the Stars and Stripes, and used ironically to highlight the dissatisfaction and despair of the children of the future – or today’s children grown into a world too miserable to nurture them, a world completely at the mercy of neo-liberal, capitalist priorities. The scenarios which Stoff conjures – such as elixirs of youth for the baby-boomer elite, the tyranny of choice which enables cyber-control of humanity, the backbreaking reality of terra-forming another planet after un-terra-forming our own – are, like the best of dystopian sci-fi, firmly connected to current day reality. George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948 … Stoff may just have written 2081 in 2018.
I’d actually like to see the vast majority of these stories worked up into novellas or novels, because the world-biulding, plot lines and characterisation could sustain it. Nice.

For readers of Steven Amsterdam, Emily St John Mandel, and Karen Heuler. And if you like Tim Winton’s more pessimistically whimsical tales, give this a try. You won’t be disappointed.

for we are young and free