The moment has come. I am about to submit my new novel, The Red King, to my publisher, Permuted Press. http://www.permutedpress.com.
Every writer faces this moment, when the new manuscript sails off. It’s a weird time. And really, I have Jack the Ripper’s sister to thank. Whoever she was. If he even had one. Because she helped create the book, in an indirect way.
In my diary is the date I started writing it. It was almost exactly a year ago. On the 17 April 2013 I started the first few paragraphs. Actually, back then it was a very different animal. Back then, it was going to be a novella. I pictured 35,000 to 40,000 words, tops. Now, a year later, and it’s the first book of a trilogy. Things happen like that. On 4 November 2014, I finished the first draft. Since then, I’ve been editing, and working on the second book, An Unkindness of Ravens.
The whole thing was originally inspired by a picture.
This cracked me up. I don’t know who drew it, and I apologise for posting it here if they didn’t want it to be. But the picture arrived on my Facebook page at an appropriate time, and just seemed to strike a chord. What if Dorothy and Alice met and discussed their adventures? Where would that lead?
I’ve always loved the Alice in Wonderland books and the Oz series by L. Frank Baum. In 2010 I directed a school production of the William Brown/Charlie Smalls musical The Wiz.
So I guess I sort of had the characters in my mind when I started on a novella about Jack the Ripper’s sister. I was doing research on the Ripper and when this cartoon arrived I thought, what if Alice and Dorothy went on the hunt for him. Jack the Ripper’s sister got nowhere, but it was the inspiration for what was to become The Red King.
Then, things got moving as I started to write. The Ripper became the Red King, a minor character from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. I devised an excuse for Alice and Dorothy to meet and started what I thought would be under 50,000 words. I threw in the son of Inspector Lestrade from the Sherlock Holmes stories as another character as I needed a policeman, and I was sure Conan Doyle wouldn’t mind mixing it with Carroll and Baum. (The man did believe in fairies, after all.)
Well, 50,000 words later and I realised, since the story wasn’t finished, that I had a full-length novel on my hands. I started to write that with the idea of self-publishing it. Then I got wind that Permuted Press were on the hunt for new writers so I sent off a pitch to them and was offered a five-book contract, three of which are to be The Red King series.
So now I’m busier than ever thrashing out three books and thoroughly enjoying myself.
Only now, I’m finished the first one, it’s a bit like being a parent. My child is leaving home. The first of three children in rapid succession. I’m proud, and a little nervous. I wonder if I’ve done the right thing, tried all I could. Will I think of something else to put n while writing the rest of the series and need to have included some foreshadowing in the first book? I don’t want to have some fantastic idea and find it’s too late to include it.
I only recently worked out how the story ends. That’s the thing with writing. You never know what’s going to happen, and half the fun is finding out as you go what happens to these characters you invented. I tutor English, and recently I was helping a year 8 girl write a story for homework. We came up with an idea and she put her character into terrible danger facing a wild, ravenous wolf. Her mother came in at one point and the girl was all caught up in composing the story and said excitedly, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next!” And it was all up to her as to what did happen! It was so cool to see her excitement, and share in it. She actually found what she thought would be a chore to be something thrilling.
That’s why being a writer is hard work, but ultimately so rewarding. Emotionally, you are there with the characters, you share their danger, you make it up as you go. Maybe you work from an outline, but the details fill themselves in as the writing takes place, and sometimes new paths appear, awaiting exploration.
So I’m about to hit the “Send” button and dispatch The Red King to its fate. Who knows how it will turn out? Two more books to go in the series, and only one of those is almost complete. The third, The Looking-Glass War, exists only as a few ideas and a fond hope at the moment.
I never did finish the story about Jack the Ripper’s sister. But she helped me find a new story, a bigger one. Maybe she will have her own story one day. I hope so, she sounds like quite a girl.
When I’ve finished this one, maybe I’ll sit down with her and hear what else she has to say.
Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com.
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