‘Normal as Hell’
I finished the first book of my series shortly after returning from holiday – not a bad accomplishment for a seventeen-year-old dropout. It was written by hand, and took up two-and-a-half A5-sized exercise books. Immediately, I redrafted, beginning in a new exercise book, one that was A4-sized (I was moving up in the world, after all) but it felt redundant. I’d done the handwritten book. My productivity tapered until I wasn’t doing much of anything for the next month or so.
Then I felt like I was losing myself.
One night, I went out with my cousins. We were coming home from a bar when we saw a warehouse on fire. We pulled into an opposing driveway to watch the fire-fighters battle the blaze, and were talking when I sheared in two. My consciousness slid to the left, but funnelled until I was losing awareness of my surroundings, my thoughts, even myself. I had to shake my head – as if trying to clear a fog – to ground myself.
Over the next month, this happened repeatedly. I felt like I was slipping out of reality. I thought maybe I was being possessed and started reading the Bible. I also thought that my deteriorating physical condition – since breaking my arm, exercise had gone out the window; and I was smoking and drinking whenever I went out – might be a contributor, and began to exercise.
Something else that occurred to me was I had all these ideas in my head – for my book, for other stories – and I wondered whether my imagination was running rampant and I was losing touch with reality. I needed to find a way to get this stuff out, or it would consume me.
I had to write seriously. If not because of all this other stuff, but because the desire was building up in me. And I wanted to tell my fantasy epic. I wanted to get it out on the page, because if I could do that it would become part of fantasy canon.
I went to a typewriter store to look at the manual typewriters. That was all I could afford, but it was enough. I found a second-hand clunker that had a lovely tap-tap-tap feel whenever I hit the keys. That was important to me. It had to sound right, to feel right.
In fact, the whole back room – which I’d infested, and little by little was taking over – had to be that way. I rearranged everything – couches, chairs, bookshelves, TV, C64 computer. Then I cleaned up. I tried to keep things neat. But all it took was one thing out of place, and that was an invitation to lose all order. Then books wouldn’t be put back, papers wouldn’t be filed, nothing would be returned to where it belonged. There’d be anarchy, and anarchy always clouded me in a way I felt I couldn’t write.
But that stuff aside, I wrote every day. I worked on short stories and on part one of my fantasy epic. The short stories were good in that they were small, self-contained entities. I could write them, be done with them, and move on.
The fantasy epic was something else entirely.
I called my book The Warriors’ Triangle, because it involved three warriors – one, the young, inexperienced King of Men through whom the story is told; the King of Elves; and a Half-elf warrior – on a quest to regain these mystical crowns that would bring hope back to the people and prosperity to the land, (a la the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend).
First, I drew a map. This involved spreading four by four A4 sheets across the pool table and drawing everything in – the kingdoms, the forests, the mountains, lakes, rivers, all that. There’s something … Godly about creating a world. Oh wait. Map-making-slash-world-building was therapeutic. It gave me control. I taped the sheets together, and stuck the map on the wall above my writing desk. The map allowed me to see where my characters were and where they were heading at any given time.
There were lots of false starts to the writing itself – lots of times I got a hundred pages in and felt I didn’t have things right. On those occasions, I contemplated finishing the book and fixing everything in the rewrite, or just starting over. I took the latter option on each occasion, doing that maybe four or five times. I’d rather get it right from the onset, than keep going with something that wasn’t right.
When I finally developed some momentum, my second-hand clunker bit the dust. Damn. Still, I’d gotten months of service out of it, but now it was back to the typewriter store. I bought a new manual typewriter this time. It didn’t have the same tap-tap-tap feel of its predecessor. It didn’t even get close. Nor did it have the same type-face. That meant I had to start my book again. Again.
I worked for a year, and had no more spells of losing myself. And although I still smoked, and drank too much when I went out (like most teenagers), I exercised regularly, playing tennis weekly with a cousin. I wasn’t in awesome shape – as I was just before I broke my arm. But I was in good shape.
As I neared the completion of the book, I became aware that I had no idea what to do with it. Where did writers go with their books? I looked at some of the fantasy series I owned, and found out they were published by Doubleday. So, there was a place to begin. Well, begin isn’t right, because that would suggest I’d go somewhere next, and my book was going to be accepted first off.
I never expected anything different.