The Lay of Angor

The Writing

Planet Urth, with its characters, politics and plotlines, began crashing into my consciousness in the New Year of 2001. After decades of writing formal, third-person prose for academic essays and business reports, it felt like discovering a magic toybox in my psyche, full of colour and excitement... and like many fiction novices, my early attempts at capturing it in words were far too colourful and over-excited! There was so much I wanted to convey that I fell into the common trap of telling, in far too much detail, instead of showing; of using too many adjectives, too many long sentences with dangling clauses, too many over-complicated sub-plots and private jokes; and if I'd included every scene and episode I conceived, the first volume would have been longer than War and Peace (if I'd ever managed to finish it at all).

So, working around the edges of my heritage consultancy business, Gondarlan grew very slowly at first; then the pace picked up when I took early retirement, moved to Wakefield, got married, and started working full-time as a writer and lecturer. Eventually, after countless re-writes, I finished it in 2009 - or so I thought, until one of the friends who had been reading and commenting on it was brave enough to give me some pungent criticism: it had 'too many words getting in the way of a good story' and was 'too clever for its own good'. Ouch. But I had to concede that he was right, and embarked on a fresh round of revisions. With great reluctance, I ditched my treasured 'thous' and 'thines' for 'you' and 'yours'; simplified, streamlined, performed another radical 'adjectivectomy' and lo! thanks to this exercise, I at last found the right style; not a half-baked pastiche of E.R. Eddison, but an authentic 'voice' of my own that flowed and fitted better with the world I wanted to create.

Armed with yet another shorter and better finished version, the next task was to try and get it published. I soon found that, at 150,000 words, Gondarlan was too long for many publishers to consider, and 30,000 words too long to enter into a 'first novel' competition I'd spotted (where the prize was publication and promotion by a major publishing house). So back it went to the chopping board; I axed or amalgamated whole chapters, discarded numerous cherished episodes of sub-plot, and got rid of everything that wasn't essential to moving the story along. Alas, I didn't win the prize; and after a number of rejections followed by an unsuccessful attempt at publishing it with Chipmunkapublishing, I decided to do as I'd done with my non-fiction and self-publish through York Publishing Services. And yes, you've guessed it - that involved another re-write, tweaking and condensing even further to make things fit neatly on the pages I was laying out myself, and minimise the 'white space' (an important economic consideration when you're self-funding a publication!). Altogether it was a long and painful process getting the revised second edition into print in 2012; but the end result was a far better book than I'd started out with, and a story which 'moves at a cracking pace' according to author and historian David Cooke.

And after a decade of so much practice, my storytelling and editing skills had improved by leaps and bounds! That meant Breath of Gaia, which I'd started writing in tandem with the Gondarlan revisions, came out far more quickly and fluently, and needed a lot less editing; it took just over two years to finish, while Book 3, Wolfsbane, flowed even faster and was done in little over a year... a rather more realistic rate of progress for a working writer!

What lessons have I learned from all this? First and foremost, be strong enough to 'murder your babies'. No matter how good and well-written a scene or chapter is, if it doesn't serve the overall story and move the narrative along, then ruthlessly get rid of it. Second, find someone to read your text who has the guts to give you constructive criticism. This is really important... authors are often too close to their work to see it objectively. And third, check out the terms and conditions of any publishing deals very carefully before you sign on the dotted line - sometimes things don't work out in practice quite how you may have imagined!

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