Those who always look for the negative might wonder why it took me 5 whole years to write a 200 page novel. Some writers claim they can finish a book that length in just a few months. Then again, there are plenty of writers with unpublished novels lying forgotten in a drawer.
I spent over three years rewriting A Pinch of Moonlight (at least 5 full re-drafts, and who knows how many times I rewrote Chapter 1) because I wanted to get the story as good as it could be. I was sure that the themes and the characters I had created were strong enough to share with the world, and that other people would be interested in them. I just needed to keep working on the story so that it, too – every bit of it – was good enough to deserve the time a total stranger would spend in reading it.
I knew I had to approach the story, not as a loving parent oblivious to its faults, but as a reader choosing a book would. Thousands and thousands of novels are published every year, and every reader only has a limited amount of time and money to spend. I also needed to think like a publisher, looking for something which could easily be fitted into a bookshop category, and would lend itself to promotion. Publishers exist to make money, not to make dreamy wannabe author’s wishes come true.
So I rewrote, and developed, and polished, and improved the story. I kept posting my work on www.youwriteon.com where it continued to get four star reviews, and useful feedback. When the criticism became mere nit-picking, I knew I was getting there. I completed the fourth full redraft in April 2012. At the time I was taking a script writing course at Bridgend college. A fellow student offered to read my story, and provide some feedback. I didn’t know at the time that she had experience in the publishing industry. I emailed her the story, and she responded a few days later with some thoughtful, wonderfully detailed, and overwhelmingly positive thoughts.
She’d picked up on the humour in the story. The setting isn’t obviously comic, and my SOH is rather dry, so I was glad I was relieved and delighted that she’d noticed it.
She liked all the characters, and made several other positive comments. However, there were a few areas she felt still needed work. The first was Demi-Lee’s quest, Walking the Walk. I’d already rewritten and expanded this several times, and although it had become much more of an ordeal for Demi, Karen felt it still lacked drama, and wasn’t life threatening enough. A fair point – I was struggling to concoct a situation in which a lazy, not very bright, but incredibly determined 14-year-old could just survive. There were a few life-threatening moments, but I felt hamstrung by the fact that Demi was a central character – we knew she was too important to die. I soon realised I lacked the talent for constructing those elaborate James Bond situations where the complexity of the method of execution is used to escape. Besides, it’s old hat now, and Demi is a very different sort of hero. I managed it eventually – see this blog post for more info, including the chance occurrence which helped me solve a major problem.
The other section which needed to be rewritten concerned teenage elf Madryn, a minor but pivotal character. She’s the fanatic who changes sides. Before Demi can undertake her quest, Madryn has to leave her elfish homeworld, visit our world, and obtain Demi’s ‘last meal’, a Mega Meal from the fictional Burg-A-World chain. Initially i made it very easy for Madryn to obtain the money she needed for the burger, and Karen pulled me up for this, reminding me that ‘my readers’ (an encouragement if there ever was one) wouldn’t let me get away with such laziness. Although Madryn was subjected to humiliation and discomfort, and returns to Annwn wet, dirty and dishevelled, she still needed to earn the money to pay for the burger.
But how? It seemed clear to me that Madryn’s elfish society would have a strong code of honour, and the terms of her quest would forbid lying, stealing, begging or cheating. In 21st century Britain, with every movement recorded and supervised, how could an unskilled, undocumented character find cash-in-hand work which would provide the money? Not surprisingly, a male friend raised an eyebrow and suggested, ‘Prostitution?’
I had already rejected that idea for several reasons. For a start, it wouldn’t have fitted the character – submissiveness and pleasing others aren’t part of her nature, and besides, she didn’t deserve that sort of humiliation. Madryn is an obnoxious arrogant bigot, but she’s definitely not just a mobile assortment of moist orifices, available to provide pleasure for a price. I found it worrying that the most ‘obvious’ way for a woman to obtain money quickly is through selling sex. What does that say about our society’s view of women? Also, I was writing a book that I hoped teenagers would read, and that would provide positive role models. Undermining Madryn’s ego was totally acceptable; degrading and objectifying her was not.
I don’t remember what sparked the idea that she could infiltrate an ‘Esoteric Fayre’ and pretend to be one of the therapists, but it felt right. An unusual-looking woman in weird floaty clothes, with a distracted manner and aloof, superior attitude – Madryn would make a fantastic New Age therapist. I had already established that the people of Annwn had the ability to pick up unspoken thoughts, in the manner of an MRI scanner sensing electrical activity in the brain. So she could use all these attributes to make some money – and of course she would be rumbled as an imposter, leading to more comedy. However, I didn’t want to totally alienate readers who may be fans of New Age, Alternative, or Esoteric events, but I did want to remind people that, just because someone claims they can communicate with angels/fairies/ghosts/ Native American Spirits/your dead relatives, you’re not obliged to believe them. Nor are you obliged to give them lots of money for what will probably be just a standard counselling session with some mumbo-jumbo attached. You can get really good counselling on the NHS, you know – and a good counsellor will never give you advice or try to sell you anything.
So Madryn takes over Doreen Skye’s ‘Angels and Auras’ table whilst Doreen is indisposed, and makes some money from a consultation with a vulnerable young woman who already knows what she does and doesn’t want to do with her life, but lacks the confidence to stand up for herself. Madryn doesn’t give advice, she just lets the woman discover her own truth – but with ‘the angels’ supporting her decision, Jenna is now unstoppable. And Madryn has a £20 tip.