At some point after beginning the Arris novel, I made a huge discovery, something that was to be a massive influence on my writing. In short, I discovered Fantasy Fiction. Up until that point, I had honestly thought that I was the only person interested in Fantasy. I was writing it with no idea who would want to read it; my only hope was that other teenagers like myself might be interested. Then, in my local bookshop, I came across a whole section of books with dwarves and elves, sorcerers, magic worlds, epic quests and even dragons, and these were books for adults! I was amazed and thrilled. Not only had I discovered a heap of books I wanted to read, but I was also reassured that there was market for my books.
I began ploughing my way through authors such as David Eddings, R A Salvatore and Tad Williams, mainly picking books according to which cover art I liked the best. I quickly realised that the quality of writing could vary wildly, and that clichés and tropes were all too common. I also eventually turned to Tolkien and saw what the worst authors were merely copying and the best were developing into something new and exciting. Good fantasy writing was like all good writing – it had to have depth, originality and style. I was determined to give Arris this.
Another thing that I really liked about Fantasy Fiction was the way it was often published in multiple volumes. Trilogies seemed to be the thing, and I was inspired to turn my Arris novel into a trilogy. The first novel was about the magic sword, the second would be about a magic stone and the third would be about the seal that would combine their power. I even had a cast of new characters to take up the story in the second volume. There was Arris’s son Aord, who would inherit his father’s power. There was another, even more evil sorcerer. And there was an increasingly magical team of heroes to help Aord on his mission – dark elves, men who could turn into eagles, victims of powerful mind control. There was a lot of back story but not a lot of plot, but that didn’t stop me beginning to write some stuff. I was learning that writing didn’t have to be chronological – if there was something I fancied writing, I could, no matter where in the story it occurred, and then it could be kept for when it was needed. I call this the “patchwork” method, writing patches ready to be stitched together eventually. I still do it today, even though I often find the original patch will change significantly by the time I come to need it, or maybe even cease to be needed at all.
So, I was writing Volume One – The Mission of the Sword (the novel about Arris), and writing chunks of the second two volumes, as well as sitting GCSEs and A-levels, keeping notes on many other ideas for future novels, some of which I even started, and writing lots of teen-angst poetry. But by 1991, I was developing my new plan, the Arris Project. I even have the written notes I made at the time, laying out what needed to change and how I was going to do it. I wasn’t happy with the work I had done, knowing it was too childish and clichéd and generally not very well written. The subject was getting darker, and to carry that, I wanted more depth for my main characters. By developing their back stories, I began to get under their skin, building up the layers that made them who they were and influenced the way they behaved. Arris had to be more than the innocent boy who accidentally pulls the magic sword from the stone. Imagining the psychological effect of his unhappy childhood, I saw that the mission to find the sword wasn’t just an adventure to him but his first chance to prove himself, to his family, to his friends, and even to himself. When the mission ends in disaster, he is almost destroyed, but then he fights back, finding that true power only exists within a person, not in magic swords. The leader of the mission, Lewis, became a much more flawed but interesting character. He is vain and selfish, but charismatic and compelling. Arris is completely aware of the man’s faults but is drawn to his courage and openness. He has no illusions that Lewis is the hero he thinks he is, but Arris admires him anyway. Rynn’s backstory became a crucial part of the plot. Because she is small and beautiful, she has grown up defending herself from men who would try to take advantage of her, including members of her own family. Even Lewis tried it when he first met her; she only joined the mission because she was so desperate to escape and because she could shame Lewis into training her as a warrior. She and Lewis have a thorny relationship; he would still like to win her, and she knows she can only trust him so far. Arris’s friendship with Rynn ruffles Lewis’s feathers and introduces a new, uneasy dynamic to the group. It all leads to tragedy in the mountain, where the characters’ human flaws are what eventually defeat them rather than evil magic. I’m not sure exactly when it happened but by this time, the dragons disappeared from the plot. The evil sorcerer’s worst power lay in his all-too-human greed and lust. Arris would end up taking the sword from Lewis to save himself, not because of any destiny. And if there was no destiny, there was no trilogy. But what was this, a fantasy novel with no magic? Oh yes, and that was exactly the way I wanted it. I had found the Fantasy novel I wanted to write.
After lots of planning and building backstory, I began writing in earnest sometime after finishing University. I had my first job, and I was using all my spare time to write. It began to feel very serious, and I was fairly confident that my writing had improved by vast amounts. I still do think I wrote some pretty good stuff. However, I never did finish that novel. Something else came along and got in the way – more on that in my next blog. But I think there was another reason why something was able to distract me from this story that I loved so much, something I had been working on for over ten years; quite simply, I fell out of love with Fantasy. I was no longer reading it very often, and I lost interest in the details of world-building that was still necessary for a Fantasy novel, even one without magic. In order to tell the stories of Arris, Rynn, Lewis and Calla, I had to create a world for them to exist in, but my heart wasn’t in it any more. So once again, Arris went off on his mission but never got chance to complete it. I wouldn’t say I have given up completely on the idea of returning to finish this novel, because I still love it very much, but I think it is unlikely. It remains in my head, my own private Fantasy novel, something I occasionally return to for personal pleasure. But what I learnt from developing and writing it was fundamental to my progress as an author. And the character of Arris, my beloved boy, would appear in again in other disguises.