In the summer of 1988, on holiday in Cornwall, I bought my first dragon. It was a tiny model of a baby dragon emerging from its shell. I was still obsessed with dragons, and even though my second novel had featured dragons, I wanted to write about them even more. And so I began a new story, which my baby dragon was going to play a major role in.
A new story needed a new world, and even though it looked the same as the previous settings, it was completely unconnected to the first two novels. The main character was a boy called Arris, whose destiny was to wield a magic sword that would give him ultimate power over all dragons, a power that he would use in harmony with the dragons and only for good. There would be an epic quest to recover the lost sword before the villain of the story could claim it for himself, this villain being an evil sorcerer with nefarious plans to use the dragons for world domination. Arris would be helped on his quest by a friendship with a dragon that he had saved when he was a boy.
I started writing on 12th August – another carefully recorded date. The story began in Arris’s childhood, and was supposed to tell how the young hero had his first encounter with a dragon, discovering it as a baby and caring for it until it was old enough to release into the wild. It was meant to be about the bond between boy and dragon, however, I soon became more interested in Arris’s family and home life. He was the youngest member of a very poor family, who lived socially and literally on the edge of the small, rural town. His father was a sailor who left the family alone for long periods, leaving his mother bitter and angry, something she took out on all her children but most of all on Arris. He had an older brother and sister who loved him and looked after him, but in trying to make up for the cruelties of their mother, they were often over-protective. Arris was a very quiet, shy boy, half believing that he was as worthless as his mother said he was, but also dreaming of another life far away. After the excitement of finding the dragon, his life seems set on a course of hard-labour helping his brother support the family. He makes his first step towards freedom at the age of sixteen by taking a job at a different farm to his brother. There he makes friends with Calla, the daughter of the wealthy farm owner. He also learns about her older brother Henri, who went off on a mission of adventure to find a magic sword and hasn’t been heard from for years. The other members of the mission then unexpectedly return with news that Henri is missing, almost certainly dead. This is when Arris first meets Lewis, the leader of the mission, who believes the magic sword belongs to him. While trying to comfort Calla, Arris becomes more and more drawn to Lewis. A series of arguments with his family and Calla’s father lead Arris to the conclusion that there is nothing worth staying for and that he should join Lewis, who is still determined to find the sword. On the journey north to the mountain where the sword is believed to be, Arris learns to fight and trains as a warrior; his own qualities of humility, integrity and quiet courage make him a valuable member of the team. In particular, he strikes up a strong friendship with Rynn, a girl his own age, who is tough, cynical and more experienced in the world than he is. She appreciates his honesty and the fact that he doesn’t want to seduce her like every other man she meets. Despite their youth, they were the two who were going to save the mission and bring about its ultimate success.
I loved writing about Arris. He was sweet and innocent, but intelligent and thoughtful. His unhappy childhood had scarred him with low self-esteem and a preference to remain at the edge of things, from where he would watch and observe, usually with a perception that he was quite happy to keep to himself. When he came to trust someone, he did so whole-heartedly, as in his friendships with Calla and Rynn. His naivety and lack of experience held him just on the cusp of sexual maturity, and his feelings for both girls are genuine friendship with a confusing sprinkling of something more. I also loved Calla and Rynn, who shared the same values as Arris but were very different characters; Calla was open, down-to-earth, and utterly warm-hearted, while Rynn was spikey and cool, using a stern exterior to conceal deep vulnerabilities. Arris’s relationship with Rynn developed as I wrote, becoming far more important than I had ever planned. That was taking me by surprise, as I thought I knew exactly how this story was going to be told. Arris would go into the mountain, be the only member of the team to evade capture, find the sword, discover that he was the one with the power, not Lewis, which he would then use to awake the dragons, discover Henri being held prisoner and rescue him, defeat the evil sorcerer and return home triumphant. Except none of that happened. I was writing this novel for the next three years, and over that time, it began to get darker and more serious. As the relationship between Arris and Rynn became more central, new threats emerged. An idea for a horrible plot twist occurred to me, something that would devastate Rynn and ruin Arris’s hopes for the future, but it worked so well that it had to be done. Some ideas just can’t be ‘unthunk’. But it made the story much more than the adventurous frolic it had started out as. I was learning that the “begin at the beginning and keep going until the end” method of writing was neither efficient nor practical. At the same time, I was growing up, studying literature for A-level, discovering new inspirations and learning more about what I wanted from my own writing. Everything I had written so far was childish and silly. For the first time, I contemplated the need for editing, and then decided that there was nothing else for it but to stop and start all over again. That first draft peters out as Arris enters the mountain, with probably the same amount of words I had written for Novel 2 but nowhere near finished. However, I was very up-beat about this decision, and I never felt that all that writing had been a waste, because I had a new plan.