The Sequel Got Me!

I’m writing a sequel.

This isn’t necessarily something odd. A lot of writers write sequels. I’ve just finished writing a trilogy* myself, so that’s two sequels one after the other I guess. It’s even expected these days that writers write sequels. Series, we are told. sell. Movies are the same. No one just makes a movie these days, the make entire franchises. They even split books in half to make two movies out of them. All right, that’s fine…a little desperate, but fine. However, this time it’s a bit more noteworthy.

You see, I’m writing a sequel I never intended to write.

A few years ago I finished writing a book called Days of Iron, which was a science-fiction thing I had started writing when I was 17 and scribbled at and tinkered with for years and years until eventually I self-published out of sheer frustration to get the damn thing off my mind.

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By the time I’d finished it (140,000 words in total), I pretty much had the story out of my system. I killed off one character and made sure the others had nothing left to do by the end. I tied up loose ends and added enough information for the readers to piece together any minor plot points not explicitly resolved.

Then it got published. Then I had people reading it (which is something every writer wants to have happen when they publish) and people were suddenly asking me when the sequel was coming out.

‘What sequel?’ I would reply innocently, my heart going pitter-pat just a little faster because (a) I was excited that readers liked the book enough to want more and (b) There was no sequel. Who sent round a memo saying there was a sequel?

What I’d forgotten in writing the thing was that when I was 17 (which was deep, deep in the Twentieth Century) sequels were not the thing. Writers occasionally wrote series, but they weren’t expected to if they didn’t want to. By the time I’d finished writing it (it took me the best part of thirty years) things had changed drastically. Now it was you write a book, you write a sequel. And follow it with a series. Personally, I blame Star Wars. George Lucas made a block-busting ride-of-a-lifetime movie and then casually announced it was the first of nine films. Suddenly Hollywood wanted sequels. And so writers were expected to write series, to the point that publishers and agents now expect writers to write series. And so did the fans.

And don’t get me started on prequels, which as a word didn’t even exist when I was 17. In the old days if any prior information was needed to understand the book the author wrote a Prologue. J. R. R. Tolkien of course went the whole hog with The Lord of the Rings, including both a Prologue and a novel-length set of Appendices. But we can forgive genius its excesses.

So anyway, here I am, writing a sequel, Shepherd Moon, that I am contractually obligated to produce. Actually, it’s rather good fun visiting the old characters. And I have no need to world-build, given that the world already exists. The politics, economics, social structure and cultures of the universe in question are already in place and I just have to write.

But it wasn’t that easy to think of a story I didn’t know existed. It’s there now, and simmering away quite nicely. Now I’m into it, I’m as interested in the story as I hope readers will be. I discovered that the story was there, lurking in the corner, desperate to make itself known. And once I got into the story, I managed to slam down over 90,000 words in a couple of months.

Now I have to turn it into something worth reading, which is where the work comes in. Of course there are inconsistencies, plot holes and that eternal question of which characters do I bring back and which do I let go their merry ways, and are my new characters interesting enough to belong there and yet not too interesting that they over-shadow the efforts of the regulars?

I have until December this year to deliver the manuscript, which might seem like a long time but isn’t really. Not for me. Being a perfectionist with detail isn’t doing myself any favours.

So there we are, a sequel in the works. And the really scary thing was that I discovered lurking in the corner of this new story was another one, that hints of its own existence and put its hand up tremulously to enquire, about half-way through, ‘Excuse me, when is it my turn?’

So Days of Iron looks like becoming a series. But that’s a good thing.

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*The first volume of The Jabberwocky Book is now out from Permuted Press. The Red King. The rest of the series, An Unkindness of Ravens and The Looking-Glass House, will be out this year and next year.

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Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

 

 

My Early Writings and Other Embarrassing Confessions

 

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.

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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.

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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).

Legendary stuff.

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.

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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

Giving away signed copies of “Plato’s Cave”

I received a great review of my novel “Plato’s Cave” from Kirkus reviews. Check it out at: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/russell-proctor/platos-cave/

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In celebration of this, I am giving away three autographed copies of the book to the first three readers of my blog to request one. You can email me from my website at http://www.russellproctor.com/. Just go there, click to the contact page and send me a message as to why you would like a free copy.

While you’re there, check out the site. There is information about my books, links to this blog and my other blog where I post stories and poems, and other news about my writing and editing services.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS OFFER IS RESTRICTED TO THE FIRST THREE REPLIES I RECEIVE. ONCE THREE SUCCESSFUL REPLIES HAVE BEEN RECIEVED, THE OFFER WILL BE WITHDRAWN.

Should you miss out, please feel free to go to Amazon and buy a copy. http://www.amazon.com/Platos-Cave-Russell-Proctor/dp/147930879X

 or a copy of my other novel “Days of Iron”. http://www.amazon.com/Days-Iron-Russell-Proctor/dp/1460934636

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