In celebration of the release of The Shadow Series, what better topic to blog about than the creation of the books? Consider this the literary version of an audio commentary. In this blog you will learn about the finer details; where the inspiration came from, how I planned the storyline, the editing and finally the publishing (to be published as a three part series). Just like any other art form there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes and here’s where you get a sneak peak.
I actually started writing this blog back in 2011, it was more of a diary for my own records, at the time I had no idea I would publish it in the days leading up to the series launch. This journey has been the single most rewarding experience of my life and you’re about to get a little taste of the work that has gone into creating it.
In 2009 I had just finished working on a two year project, it was my first novel, which in all honesty was meant to be my only novel. I was in the process of editing that book when I started thinking about the concept for The Shadow Series. I can’t remember exactly what brought my attention to shadows but that single topic is literally the entire basis of this storyline.
Shadows are constantly used to represent fear of the unknown in an audience whether it be via movies, music or performance and I was feeling the draw towards a topic that could instil a sense of fear in a reader. I wanted to work on something dark and mysterious not just to scare them but to use it as a contrast for the light. I wanted to take my character to the very edge of her survival ability and then see how she could overcome it.
Shadows were always going to be the focus of the story, I knew that from the beginning but it took weeks of planning for me to decide exactly how I was going to turn that subject from a psychological thriller into a fantasy novel. I worked with the idea of my protagonist being afraid of her shadow, it was the perfect way to make her utterly powerless, no matter how fast she ran or how hard she tried to escape it her shadow would always be one step behind her. To bring the fantasy genre into it I made the shadow responsible for transporting the characters into an alternate universe, where there is no civilisation and the forest is filled with wild animals and soulless men who hunt humans. It wasn’t a psychological thriller if the phenomenon was really happening.
In my mind it was always a series, I’d written a standalone book and I wanted to try something a little more challenging. As soon as the characters were created in my head the storyline seemed to unfold on its own. For me the hardest thing about writing a book is coming up with the initial concept, once that’s done the ideas seem to reproduce and before long I’m thinking of them faster than I can write them down. I knew exactly how the story was going to end before I even started writing it—it gave me a sense of purpose, a clear direction, and made the writing process faster than I thought possible.
The first draft came out in a bit of a frenzy, words can’t really describe the exhilarating feeling of the all those ideas swimming around in my head while I was writing. It was almost like I was living the life of my character, every time she was running I was running, when she was afraid I felt it, when she was emotionally distraught my own heart was racing and by the end of the day I had lived 12 hours in this amazing and terrifying world known as the Shadowlands.
Writing this series took my desire to be a writer to a whole new level, at the time I was feeling a little lost in my career choice to be a nurse and the days I spent writing made me feel more alive than ever. It amazed me how I could spend hours in this tense and emotional state with my character and yet I felt so strong—no matter how much time I spent on it writing didn’t seem to tire me out it actually gave me more energy. It took me four months to write the draft of Beyond the Shadows and in that time something clicked into place, I knew I’d found exactly what I was looking for in life and there was no going back.
With my previous book I only allowed one person to read it, my sister, and it wasn’t until it was completely finished and edited that I sent it to her. For Beyond the Shadows I decided to change that tactic. I sent the first few chapters to my friend Kate, in hindsight I wouldn’t do it again because stopping to edit part way through stunted the writing process, but Kate’s advice had a huge impact on the structure of the book. She made me realise there was too much information being stuffed in the readers’ face and when I worked with the ‘less is more’ approach things shuffled into their rightful place. The entire series would be very different if it wasn’t for that change so she deserves an appropriate shout out. Thanks Kate!
When the draft was finished I shared it amongst friends and family, all of whom gave me amazing support and advice. Thanks to the first readers; Sarah, Mum, Kuch, Annette, Roz, Rachel, Frances, Sue and Jean, your enthusiasm and suggestions helped spur me on, I saved absolutely every piece of advice you gave me and it helped shape the future of the characters.
I truly don’t remember the exact number of times I edited that first book, I know it was at least four and that was before I even decided to publish it—more on that later.
The second book in the series burst out of me at an alarming speed, it took three months to write the draft but it was probably so easy because the characters and their world was already created, plus I’d figured out a pretty good writing rhythm. During this time I did all the cliché things you think a writer would do. I worked way past midnight, I fell asleep with notebooks on my chest, I woke up in the middle of the night to record new ideas, I shut the door and snapped at people who tried to interrupt me. I read an SAS Survival Guide from cover to cover and a book dedicated to the quest for alternate realities. My mum traced and cut out my own shadow for me so I could work on the concept with a visual aid. I was on a role and there was no stopping me.
I was also lulled into a false sense of security because of this book, at the time I didn’t realise that no matter how many books you’ve written the process changes every time. I smashed book two out, passed it onto my official editor—my sister—and moved right onto book three. Initially The Shadow Series was going to be a trilogy, I had no idea of the trouble waiting for me when I began the final book.
Everything changed when I started this book, I expected I would slip back into routine and everything would work out perfectly but that was certainly not the case. Since book three was meant to be the last there were a lot of loose ends to tie up. I had never worked on a storyline as complex as this, there were a lot of characters and a lot of simultaneous plots that needed to line up. I had so many notes and a clear structure of events that needed to happen in order for everything to tie together. It was really difficult to keep all those things in mind without letting it disrupt the flow of my sentences.
I ended up writing all the important events on individual pieces of paper, I knew all those things needed to happen but the order I initially intended for them was constantly changing. To make sure I didn’t miss anything out I stuck all those pieces of paper inside my wardrobe doors and moved them around each time the plot twisted in a direction I didn’t expect it to.
During the writing of book three I had a few moments of despair, days when I started thinking I had screwed it up completely and there was no way to fix it. I was quite close to the end of the draft when I suddenly felt like I had to stop and read it, I just had a feeling things weren’t working. I remember very clearly lying on the rug in my lounge room and reading the draft, within a few hours I went from thinking my manuscript was nearly complete to realising I was less than half way. It was pretty clear to me then that I had to split the book in two. It was a horrifying moment, I just felt like months of work were completely wasted. The problem was I’d tried to jam too many things into a short space and in order to correct the pacing of the story I had to rewrite the entire thing.
So I wrote it again … twice. Book three was the greatest writing challenge I have faced this far, it took close to a year to complete it but looking back I’m so glad I spent that time on it. It taught me a lot about my strength as a writer, I know now that no matter how bad it is there is always a way to fix it, I owed it to my characters to struggle through and finish their story. Of the people who have read advanced copies of the series a number of them told me book three was their favourite—it makes the whole thing worthwhile.
There’s a fine line when you’re developing multiple plotlines, sometimes just a few sentences can be the difference between intriguing the reader and giving everything away prematurely. I had been leaving clues for three books, I wanted the reader to be suspicious but of course I didn’t want them to be able to guess the ending. To begin with I did get that balance wrong and my test audience picked it up pretty quickly. I have to say this is the book where the feedback made the greatest difference, I went through it at least six times picking out all those little hints that gave the wrong idea. Even up to the week before this book went to print I was still rereading the first 50 pages and making subtle changes.
The writing is the part I love and it’s the dedication to the characters and the story that gave me the motivation to get through the editing and the publishing. The truth is these three aspects all hold the same value for the final product so there was no fair way to fit them into the same blog.
Part II Editing the Shadow Series will be published on Saturday 11th May.