I haven’t posted anything for a while, as I’ve been hard at work writing the first draft of my new novel, The Red King. For more information about it, and an excerpt of the first chapter, go to my website http://www.russellproctor.com/.
What I want to tell you about here is my writing process and my early attempts as a teenager to write. Because sometimes I like to embarrass myself, okay?
Quite frankly, this is the fastest I have ever produced a first draft. I’ve been trying to write 1,000 words a day of The Red King, which I haven’t quite achieved, but it has been at least a goal to try and move things along.
My last two books, Days of Iron and Plato’s Cave, both took years to write. Literally. Days of Iron was started when I was just seventeen. I wrote a few thousand words (by hand) and thought it was load of rubbish and put it aside. Thankfully I never throw that sort of thing out, and years later I took it out again. What prompted that resurrection was 9/11.
Days of Iron is about terrorism 400 years in the future. But it wasn’t always. It started out as a book about a future society that keeps its citizens under surveillance rather like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. After 9/11, I thought it might work better (and be more contemporary) as a book about terrorism, so I started writing it again and managed to finish it. It had its critics. There is a scene with a suicide bomber in it and an editor I had look over the book suggested that it might be “too close to home” and I should delete that scene. Thankfully, I didn’t.
Plato’s Cave began as a result of a lecture I attended at university about the allegory of the cave that Plato discusses in his book The Republic. I was fascinated by the concept and started writing a story based on the idea. It, too, was judged rubbish after a few thousand words and relegated to the filing cabinet. After Days of Iron was published, I was looking for something else to write, and pulled Plato’s Cave out of the cave. It was still crap, but crap with potential, so I completely re-jigged the story, took out some of the quite frankly stupid stylistic experiments, and managed to finish it, too, in record time (well, record for me).
I have attempted other books, like all authors, and have a filing cabinet full of seminal works. Almost all are total crap. I still have the manuscripts, however. My early teens were filled with efforts to write copy-cat fantasy stories based on J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis – but I guess most fantasy/SF writers had teenage years like that, emulating the giants. Two that I remember (and occasionally read to remind myself what a totally untalented wanker I was) were The Horsemen of the Wind (wanker title – sounds like a story about a troop of cavalry on a ration of baked beans and cabbage!) and The Grey Swordsman (better title, although still not good, and generally better story). Both were initially hand-written, but The Grey Swordsman was eventually typed up on a manual typewriter by me over the course of an entire school holidays. It remains unfinished – the last chapter concludes at the end of the cataclysmic battle between titanic armies of demons and dragon-riding warriors over a literally bottomless chasm, but the resolution breaks off in mid sword-stroke, as it were.
The Horsemen of the Wind, written earlier in time, had a half-written sequel, The Quest of Linhir, which actually had some attempts at characterisation, unusual for teenager-written action-adventure fantasy stories. The fact that every character in the book, including the female ones, acted like a teenage boy was beside the point. I was making an effort.
The Horsemen of the Wind was about two teenagers (boy and girl, although their names kept changing throughout) who are transported by some mysterious means (mysterious to me, too) to another world where they meet the only survivor of the Sheerdawn, the eponymous Horsemen, who have been wiped out by an invading army of totally non-scary warriors from a distant land. The teens help the survivor, whose name also changes practically from one page to the next, to warn a neighbouring country that they are the next for the chop from the invaders. There are two major battles, which said teens somehow manage to survive despite having absolutely no ability to fight at all and they stay there afterwards to live happily ever after until the sequel. In the first draft, they return home to our world, but I thought that was too neat an ending.
The Grey Swordsman was set entirely in a fantasy world that consisted of a series of ‘islands’ that were actually the tops of mountains rising out of a bottomless abyss that extended forever. In this story, the hero , the Grey Swordsman, inherits the title from his father, who is too old for the job of guarding The Sword (I was really good at inventing names back then) which had a legendary history of having one been a set of chains that bound an evil monster. The original Swordsman stole the chains and forged them into a sword to defeat an enemy attacking his country at the time. The Sword was then passed down father to son. The hero of this story is called upon by the ruling gods of the world to return The Sword as it is now needed once more because the original monster the chains were keeping in check has returned in the form of a black flame. So he sets off to return it and ends up having to defeat the flame himself with the help of a good-looking witch (who he actually has sex with in one chapter – racy stuff when you’re sixteen) and a rather unfunny bit of comic relief in the form of a wandering minstrel (whom he doesn’t have sex with).
Of course, there have been other attempts by me to write books. Some of them are ideas I keep on the back burner as I may return to them one day. Phosphorus is set in a clockwork universe. Born and Become is a story about a race of time-travellers engaged in a civil war. I’d like to write the story of my climb up Mt Kilimanjaro (I really did that) and the safari through Africa that followed it. That one would be called Up, Down and Sideways.
But I need to get back to The Red King now. Set in Edwardian London, a serial killer is causing fear and panic through the streets and only two people stand in his way – Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He doesn’t stand a chance!
– Russell Proctor www.russellproctor.com