I can’t recall when I finished that first novel, but I do know exactly when I started the next one, because that manuscript is clearly marked with a date – 22nd January, 1988. This was just a few days after my 15th birthday, in the fourth year of secondary school, well into my GCSEs. It also comes just a month after getting my first electric typewriter for Christmas – I was a novelist now and I had big plans. I don’t remember where the idea for my second novel came from. I was still obsessed with fantasy, and I think I wanted something with even more fantasy elements in it. And dragons, because I loved dragons.
It has all the best fantasy clichés in it. It takes place in a made-up world, with castles, knights and a pseudo-medieval setting. There is a nation at war, humans against trolls. The King and the Prince are missing, presumed to be held captive the trolls’ northern, mountainous homeland. The heroine is a plucky princess, who has a chance encounter with a peasant boy who is the only one who might be able to help her rescue her father and brother. Together, they take on this mission, with outstanding courage in the face of unexpected dangers and trials (and dragons) to the inevitable conclusion – I would say happy ending, except it is too painfully won to be happy.
As with the first, I had the basic plot (girl meets boy, girl and boy go to rescue father and brother, battle with the trolls, father and brother rescued, war over, peace restored, girl and boy rewarded and honoured) but my method of writing was still to make it up as I went along. Some of it is typed, some is written longhand, and once something was committed to paper, there was no changing it. I started at the beginning and didn’t stop until the end. Creating chapters was a new development in this novel – sixteen altogether. As for the story itself, it is very melodramatic. As well as building the story as I went along, the characters developed chapter by chapter. And it is very obvious that I like my peasant boy hero much more than my princess, because even though the story is supposed to be about rescuing the king, the main plot is about the peasant boy’s struggle to overcome the difficulties and prejudices that have dogged his life. He is absurdly courageous, and even though I make him suffer terribly, he remains stoic and self-deprecating. He is called Liam, and I can remember really liking the name and wanting to create a hero worthy of it. And oh boy, I gave it all to Liam. It is his story. His actions save the princess, the king, the prince, and the country several times over, usually by some painful sacrifice on his part. He does get his reward in the end, though it is rather quiet and understated. He doesn’t marry the princess. Instead, he goes off to resolve his issues and find a life for himself beyond the problems of his past. I’m still quite proud of the ending, for it shows a step away from the clichés, and an understanding that end of a novel is never really the end of the story. I can also see in Liam the beginnings of certain ideas that I was to return again and again.
Annoyingly, my careful record of the start date doesn’t extend to the end of the novel. It finishes with no clue as to when that happened. Writers – MAKE NOTE OF THESE THINGS, THEY ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU REALISE! I only know that it must have been finished by the summer of 1988, because that was when I started writing my third novel, which means I wrote this one very quickly. I remember giving it to my friends to read, but I remember less about their reactions. Maybe they didn’t like this one as much because they weren’t in it. I knew it was better than the first and had very high hopes for it. There was an idea for a sequel, when Liam and the princess would finally get together, but it never got more than a few hundred words. The novel remains as it was the day I finished it, unedited, untitled, an artefact full of terrible spelling and burgeoning ideas. I’m incredibly fond of it, even if I have no intentions of ever returning to it. In my progression as a writer, it represents my toddler stage- still unsteady on my feet, copying others to learn the way but determined to go forward on my own.