JUST A DREAM
All my life I have experienced very vivid dreams. When I was younger I used to wake up in the middle of the night with fear and the feeling of a knife entering slowly into my back. Thankfully, those dreams never stayed with me. But other’s did. As I got older I would toy with them in my head, replaying them and adding bits and pieces that would fit, but never thinking to write them down. It wasn’t until I learned about dream journaling that I began that process. And it was with that process that The One True Child started.
The catalyst for my writing always seems to be triggered by something momentous happening in my life. The first book I fully wrote was proceeded by the passing of my mother. It was my way of coping and getting through my grief, losing myself in a world of my making. And it was also prompted from a dream. It was the same for The One True Child Series, in this case it was my own diagnosis of breast cancer in 2014. After spending a year going through first surgery, then chemo, and in the latter half of the year radiation treatment, I don’t think I was in a particularly good place mentally and was starting to dream again.
I still remember the dream that started this series. I was running from someone, weaving through crowded streets of people and cars, until finding myself pressed in between the rows of seats in a run-down theatre. I remember the ancient carpet underneath me smelling musty and feeling damp. I also remember the absolute horror and fear of been found. A tall man in a long overcoat standing over me holding out a hand and saying, “Sorry kid”, before the scene jumped to that of a small town surrounded by hills and mountains and being brought before a woman and her son and being told I was part of a secret community.
That was the dream. Not long, but full of emotion. It stayed with me throughout the morning after I woke, and I played with it as I got my kids to school and did my normal housework. It was that afternoon that I started to write it down. And ‘Claire’ was born.
JUST A DREAM? THE JOURNEY HAS JUST BEGUN.
When I first started writing ‘Claire’, I typed out the events as they came to me. I had this urge to know who she was and why she was so frightened to be found. For a long time now I have always said that the story was my character’s and I just wrote it down as she told me. That is how it felt when I wrote the first book of the series, although I didn’t know that it was going to be a series at this point. The fact that it became one is all thanks to my best friend.
For a long time I had not let other’s read my stories, I always thought they were a bit naff and silly. Until I let the first story I wrote go and got feedback from those that I let read it. It was with this encouragement that I let Jody, my best friend, read ‘Claire’ sometime in 2015. She had read that first story and was eager to read ‘Claire’ (or Secrets and Lies as I had first named it). I was not prepared for all the questions she started to fire at me. “What happens next? Do Claire and Adam live happily ever after? Where do the talents come from? What is this mysterious Community?”
It was her fault that the next was written.
‘Guardians’ (originally named Beginnings) was born out of not only Jody’s curiosity with the characters, but my own. I started thinking, what did happen next? The story just started to flow from there.
The idea to have the next book mainly take place overseas was immediately grasped upon. I had to have Claire head overseas for some reason and my own interest in archaeology was a great excuse. To have her take over from her aunt in researching where the Community came from seemed a natural leap into the field. My other fascination of where my own family comes from was again another catalyst for having her journey of discovery take place in Scotland. Where better than a land full of history, mystery and myth? It just seemed organic.
The relationship between Claire and Adam always seemed to bug me. Adam in my mind was always that quintessential rich boy, who was never really happy with what he had. Which spurred me on to break them up. But Matt was a surprise. I hadn’t intentionally set out to write his character the way I did. He was always supposed to be in the story, but at first I had him as an elder, someone who recognised Claire as someone special and guided her. But, as I have said previously, it was their story. It was the decision to change their relationship that led me to many wonderful characters, like Gran and Tony, also the introduction of the stones and the valley. History was starting to be written and ideas were forming that would take me into the past.
With ‘Guardians’ finished, Jody was still not happy and had more questions for me. “What happens next? You have to have Claire and Matt marry. Do they have kids? You still haven’t answered where the talents come from.” Then ‘Stones’ (originally called Endings because I thought that was going to be the end) was born.
My best friend was right, what did happen next? And to answer that I also had a loose end in the form of Marcus Ryder to deal with. In ‘Guardians’ Claire faced up against his son Jack, but what or who caused Jack to go after Claire? I hoped to answer that question in ‘Stones’ (but it wasn’t to be fully explored until Tony’s backstory was written).
‘Stones’ felt different to write. Early on I knew I couldn’t only just tell the story from Claire’s point of view. It would have to be told in the multiple because of the vast distances the story unfolded in and also the many characters who were trying to save Claire. I also had this need to explore Tony a bit more. He was a character that was only supposed to have a small bit part in ‘Claire’, a thug who was chasing her. But he really developed his own personality in ‘Guardians’ and by the time Stones was started he was starting to demand his story be told more.
There is a certain part in ‘Stones’ when Tony reveals something to Claire’s Uncle David while they are in sitting in the New Zealand bush that took me by surprise. (I am not going to reveal it here, you will just have to read the books it to find out what it is.) When I finished the revelation I had to sit back and take a break. This single piece of information changed the story immensely. So much so, that I had to go back to ‘Claire’ and ‘Guardians’ to change certain things and enhance other parts of the story. It shook me. This story really wasn’t mine and that is when I first started to say: “It’s their story, I just write it down.”
This was not the only “Aha” moment in ‘Stones’, the other was the interaction between Claire and Marcus. Marcus had become a bit of an enigma in my mind. He was very elusive to start with but the more I delved into his character and developed his back story it all became clear as to how I should write him. There were some aspects of their interaction that was thrilling to write, but one part was extremely hard. There is an event that happens between them that I hesitated in writing, I didn’t want to be too graphic in the description of what takes place, but I didn’t want to trivialise it either. I have been told that I handled it well, I gave enough to let the reader know what was happening but not shove it in their face. It was more the aftermath that I needed to focus on and how Claire dealt with it that was necessary for the story going forward.
I thought that was the end to the Claire story. Boy was I wrong.
I don’t like that term but that is what Sentinels and Carling are. Prequels. The story that explains what happened before. At the end of ‘Stones’ I thought I had wrapped it all up nice and neat. I had dealt with the enemy in the form of Marcus, and Claire and Matt were happy with their family and Tony was no longer a problem for them. But the three books still didn’t answer that pesky question of: “Where did the talents come from?”
For that I had to look way into the past.
At some point between finishing ‘Stones’ and writing ‘Carling’ there were a couple of documentaries play on tv about the time of Roman occupation of Northern England and their entry into Scotland. One dealt with the logistics, the forts, and the building of Hadrian’s Wall. The other dealt with they mysterious disappearance of a legion of Roman soldiers.
These documentaries and also the myths of Scotland that had always fascinated me, led me onto a little bit of research. I delved much deeper into those legends and discovered that the talents I had developed matched a few of the long-standing myths I hadn’t heard about before. It all seemed perfect, as some people do say, there is always a kernel to truth to any myth. With this in mind I set out and wrote ‘Carling’.
It was great writing about the original Marcus and where the madness within his spirit started and the connection between his and Carling’s spirit. The forming of these ideas was extremely exciting, and I looked forward to writing each day as I developed the story more. But it still wasn’t enough. I had introduced the “Coimheadair” but not explained where they came from. The story still wasn’t complete, so I had to go back further still, and their story examined.
In developing ‘Sentinels’ I realised I had to start at the very beginning. I had to explain exactly where they came from and why they were on this world. In ‘Carling’ I had hinted at what their story was, but it didn’t feel right to tell it in that book. In ‘Sentinels’ it was easy. I took the basic normal religious story of creation and melded it together with the scientific one. A great explosion that created our Universe, caused by a selfish ‘god-like’ figure bringing about the creation of his opposite. Enter Chaos and Order.
When I first wrote those words, Chaos and Order, I had always thought I would change their names. For that moment it was just a way of giving them names so I could go forward with the story. The same reasoning was giving to the names of the Sentinels. They were just there temporarily until I could find better and more suitable names. But the more I wrote, the more they stuck, especially when I described them as refusing the name of ‘god’ but wanting to be guardians of the world.
Chaos on the other hand was a different matter. Although I kept the simple name, he was determined to be a ‘god’. His whole personality was one of self-absorption. The world and universe revolved around him and they were his to do with as he wished. It was this book that made me realise that he was acting like a toddler and didn’t want to share his toys. That came in handy later.
‘Sentinels’ gave me free reign, but I still felt that some of what I had written would be too incredulous to be believed. I found myself tempering some aspects and changing it so the reader would find it more realistic, but then I remembered: this is a fantasy. I could make up anything I wanted, as long as it seemed sensible to the story and how it flowed. It was a great revelation to me at that point, and again I found myself going back over the other stories and changing things that I had always felt uneasy about, and also allowed me to go back and revisit a certain character who had come to mean so much to me.
Tony, as I have said previously, was never meant to be a major character in the stories. He was always supposed to have been a bit part in ‘Claire’, a thug that represented the men of Marcus. But he had a personality that just wouldn’t stay quiet. Also Jody asked that question, “What about Tony? I want to know his backstory.”
In writing this series I had always written up character lists, stating who was related to who and how, what their personalities were like, what talents they had and basically where they fitted in the timeline. When it came time to write Tony’s, it became more, and with the revelation in ‘Stones’ I knew he was larger than life. So he got his own book.
To make it fit in with the timeline of the series, I had to rewrite parts from Claire’s story to show it from his point of view, but I also wanted to inform the reader of where he had come from and how he developed. Tony started life as a mistake, a pawn for Marcus to try to control and keep in check. But as you read his story you soon see he is his own man and will not bow down to any master. Writing what drives Tony was very satisfying. He still is one of my favourite characters.
ENDING THE SERIES
I had already signed the contract with Between The Lines Publishing before really beginning Aroha, the final book in the series. I had made notes on what I wanted to happen and who the main players would be, but the story was elusive and wouldn’t really take shape. For some reason there was a hesitancy in writing it, and I realise now it was because it would be the end of the story and interacting with the characters I had come to love.
Once I did sit down to spend time to develop that story I still had to force it to be told. I tried several ways of dealing with it, including maybe delving into the past again and plugging the large time gap between ‘Carling’ and ‘Claire’. But it never fit. Every time I went to write it the story just felt wrong. And that is when I went back to the basics.
Who was Carling really?
She is of course Claire, first and foremost. But why had I named her Claire and not Carling? After all it is an old family name that has been passed down the generations. So I asked myself, why did I make the change? Then it hit me. But you will have to read the book to find out how I answered that question. With the answer staring me in the face the story wrote itself, and I think I neatly tied up a lot of loose ends along with it.
Writing the character of Aroha was like starting again. In many ways she is like Claire, a confident young woman, but who had insecurities and uncertainties. The development of her character I tried to make as natural as possible. She has doubts in the beginning but starts to gain confidence when Claire starts her training. I also made her journey similar to Carlings, by introducing her to the home of Sentinels. By the end she knows what she must do and has no hesitation in acting the way she should. In contrast, I still had Claire a little unsure of her own actions.
To end the story completely, once and for all, so that there could be no more story, I finished it with an epilogue explaining what had happened to the characters. While I was writing this final chapter of Claire’s life I was in floods of tears. I was grieving her final moments. It still makes me cry now when I read it.
For the reader I hope it gives a satisfactory end to the story (and I hope it makes you cry).
Writing for me has always been a need. An itch that needs to be scratched from time to time. As I said previously, I tend to have a trigger to start a new story. An event that is hard to deal with, a very vivid dream or a combination of both. But when I start writing, that is all I can do, all I want to do. But having started writing more in the last six years I have found it easier to pick up a pen or sit down at my keyboard. I don’t seem to need that “event” anymore.
The time between writing ‘Claire’, ‘Guardians’ and the next one ‘Stones’, was really short. When I started to write this blog I went back through all my files. I never delete a single idea that I write, as I figure if I don’t use it for one book then it could be used for another. With this in mind I knew it would help me with the timeline of writing the books. The earliest file I could find for ‘Claire’ was June 2015, for ‘Guardians’ September 2015 and for ‘Stones’ November 2015. In my mind there was a bit of gap between ‘Stones’ and ‘Carling’, but according to my files there wasn’t. I started ‘Carling’ in March 2016 and ‘Sentinels’ only a month later in April.
At the time of writing the series my hubby was a FIFO worker (Fly In Fly Out) in the oil and gas field in the north of Western Australia and would be away for a couple of weeks at a time. This helped my writing. I would write while the kids were at school and in the evenings after having sent them to bed, I would turn the tv off and put some music on, then just write into the night. Before I finished the series, he started to work locally, so writing Aroha was a little bit of a different process for me. My writing became confined to just during the day and seemed to take longer, but no less satisfying.
While I was writing the series, I wrote other stories. I found that helped when I was stuck on something or got that dreaded writer’s block. The beginning of ‘Carling’ was developed out of that. I couldn’t figure out how to start that particular story and was writing something else. This other character was standing beside a pond with mist swirling around in the early morning when a swan glided past. I felt the imagery was eerie and the beauty of the silent swan contrasted nicely. For some reason it made me think of Carling and I immediately started writing the beginning, with the child Carling crouched in the reeds hiding.
I have developed a few tricks to help me along the way, another is to find an image that speaks to me and just describe the scene. It’s amazing where my mind takes me. I always knew I had an over-active imagination, and I am just so glad that I have discovered a way to use it.
I am going to miss writing about Claire and her family, but there are many other stories out there just waiting for their chance to be told.
I’m not done yet.
Firstly, I want to thank my best friend, Jody, for all your encouragement, and questions. Look where it took me.
I want to thank Cherie and her team at Between The Lines Publishing for taking a chance on the ramblings of an unknown writer.
I also want to thank fellow writer, Richard Fisher, for suggesting I submit to them. I miss our conversations and bouncing ideas of each other. You are greatly missed my friend.