… and still going.
I have been a bit quiet of late, blogwise, as my writing time has been spent working on the manuscript I sent into my publisher on Friday (woohoo!) 13 and a half years after I had the original idea.
This is the story of that story.
My latest book-to-be is called “The Operative”. It’s a coming of age novel, so it’s written for a slightly older audience than my other books.
I got the idea during a conversation with my brother’s former flatmate’s father. He was a very interesting man from Derry in Ireland. During “the Troubles” he worked as a surgeon at Derry hospital, and had some very interesting things to say about his life during that period. Being half Irish myself and growing up in the 70s and 80s when the news reports were full of terrorism in Northern Ireland, I found this man’s first-hand experiences fascinating. The thing that really sparked the idea for a story was when he talked about things that disappeared from the hospital: hospital equipment, medical supplies, patient records and, in some cases, the patients themselves! My writer’s mind took that one step further and thought, what about the staff? I imagined a story revolving around a doctor who is kidnapped at gunpoint by a man in a balaclava and forced to operate on a wounded terrorist. Or two.
For a long time (it has been 13 years after all!) my imagination didn’t stray far from there. The story was grounded in Northern Ireland, so I threw myself into researching as much as I could about the Troubles. But the problem was, the more I read, the more I realised I didn’t know, and it became obvious to me that I would never be able to write an authentic-sounding story set in 1980s Northern Ireland.
I was still fascinated by the plight of the main character, so I took the key elements of the story and transplanted them to an imaginary country a century or two in the future. I called this country “Queensland”, stuck a heap of tropical plants and gun-toting terrorists in it and built a fence between it and the rest of Australia.
That’s where the real hard work began. So far I had a scenario and a main character, but I had to get to know her, her past, and the world she is living in (which is called world building), dream up other characters for her to interact with, and think of a good ending.
It turns out I’m not that good at world building and the publisher I sent the story to said no. But she also gave me a heap of constructive criticism (ie, get your world building right!) “should I decide to revisit the manuscript at any stage.” So I read the comments and let my subconscious mull it over for a few months while I wrote a completely new story – also set in Queensland with a medical bent. Then I reworked my kidnap story, let it mull, and reworked it again.
Now version 2 is back in the publisher’s hands (or rather, in her inbox), and I have time for writing other things, including a brand new story with brand new characters while I wait for the verdict. I’ll keep you posted!