The Arris Project

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.

Arris Project 2

Writing in the Garden on a Bank Holiday

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That counts as work, right?

But seeing as today is a day of indulgence, I am “indulging” in some editing – of a novel that I have already published. Oops. Was it really finished? Is anything every really finished? That is the most difficult thing to judge. But I know that when I read one of my novels, I only want to make minor corrections, whereas the other begs for major rewrites. I know in my heart which one I rushed to publish. And I know I am much happier with the rewriting. Being your own writer, editor and publisher is not easy. But I’m not worrying about that today! Happy Bank Holiday. It might not look exciting, but sitting in the garden with my laptop and a glass of wine makes me extremely happy.

Here Be Dragons

Quillon

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.

Arris 1988 1st page
Look at that type – eye-aching!

 

 

The Second Novel

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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.

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Cliché Klaxon – “clad in shining armour” – how cheesy!

 

 

My First Novel

So, I was definitely growing up as a girl who loved reading and writing. My love of The Famous Five had taken me from wanting to be a detective when I grew up to wanting to be a librarian. My best subject at school was story writing; funnily enough, I can’t remember many of the books I was reading at that time, but I can still remember some of the stories I wrote at school. It was the only time I felt like a star, when the other children in the class wanted to hear my stories read out loud. I knew then that writing was something I could do better than most of the others.

In my teens, I also began to be interested in Fantasy. That world of wizards, heroes, kings, princesses, magic, dragons and all the other clichés, really appealed to me. But I felt like a freak, believing that I was the only one. I hadn’t realised that there was actually a massive Fantasy market out there, because the rather limited children’s literature that I was reading did not provide much. I had to satisfy my cravings with The Chronicles of Narnia, and the film Time Bandits, and a rather dreadful cartoon series called Dungeons and Dragons. (I had been introduced to The Hobbit, but being made to read it in first year of secondary school seemed to have only make me hate it – my Tolkien obsession was to come much later.) So, with an absence of books that I wanted to read, I started to write my own.

I look back on it now and can see that I wasn’t just influenced by my inspirations, but was actually directly ripping them off. My story was about a group of children magically transported to another world, very different to their own – that was Dungeons and Dragons. The geography, history and life-style of the world were completely Narnian, and the battle between good and evil came straight from Time Bandits. But I wasn’t worried about that. After all, my story was different, because it was about me and my school friends, dragged away from a school disco, into a world where an Evil sorcerer kept everyone under a spell of cruelty, and only the child of destiny could break the spell. Of course, I was the child of destiny, but I wouldn’t learn that until my friends and I had gone on our quest to find the way home. Along the way, the evil sorcerer would do his best to stop us, and one by one, terrible things happened to my friends until it was just me alone to face the evil sorcerer, and successfully break the spell.

When I started this story, it felt no different to every other story I had started, destined to be begun in a nice thick notebook and never finished. But this time, I did one thing differently – I told my friends about it. After all, they were in it, and they loved my stories. This was the best thing I could have done, because once they knew, they wanted to read it. And as they couldn’t read it until it was finished, they encouraged me to keep writing. So this time, I did. Page after page of lined A4 paper, filled with my italic hand-writing, in one long continuous narrative. I had the basic plot in my head but was making it all up as I went along. And as the page numbers grew, I realised that this one different. This was serious. This was a novel, my first novel, and I was actually now a writer, using school holidays and weekends to advance my story. It took me over a year, but with my friends expecting regular updates, I kept going, until the momentous day came when I finished it. I had written a novel and I was only fourteen years old.

My friends had waited patiently all this time and still wanted to read it, and I was eager to hand over the A4 ring folder that my manuscript was now contained in, ready for their adulation. Even if editing had been possible in those pre-computer days, I wouldn’t have done any, for I had already achieved the most impressive thing ever simply by completing it. I think this fact was enough to impress my friends too, because they all loved it. I would lend it to anyone who expressed an interest, confident that they were going to be blown away by my achievement. And because they were my friends, they didn’t say anything mean about it, so I continued to believe in my own brilliance. And why not – no-one else that I knew had written a novel at the age of fourteen. I had such expectations of greatness, with sequels and film-deals and imagined appearances on Blue Peter. But though I might have been premature in my hopes, I allow myself some pride as I look back on what is technically my first novel, because it was an impressive achievement for a child. More importantly, it taught me that I was capable of writing and completing novels, setting me on a course that brings me to where I am today, with six and a half novels under my belt and this website.

 

STOP PRESS – In planning this blog, I wanted to include a photograph of that novel, still in its A4 ring folder. But when I went to find it, confident that I knew where it was, IT WASN’T THERE! I have no idea when I last saw it, or why I may have moved it. For thirty years, it has been moved around from house to house, always safely guarded, but never read or touched. So at this moment in time, I am extremely perplexed; I know it must be in the house somewhere, but the thought of losing something so precious is very worrying. If I have to turn the house upside down to find it, I will.

 

Welcome to my Shop

The sun is shining, the sky is blue, it is a perfect day to launch a new venture. So this is it, the day I confess to everything I have been up, while trying not to squirm at this blatant self advertising – hey, I’m English, I’m not good at this.

BUT, I can’t help being pleased with myself. So, like a shopkeeper with a new shop, I’m going to put out the bunting, hang the posters and offer my wares. Welcome to the website of M J Schofield, Author, where you will find:

Four books for sale on Amazon

Free Printable stories for Advent Calendars

A link to share my Advent Story idea on Pinterest

Links to the Facebook page, Twitter account and gmail address of MJ Schofield Author

The least embarrassing photograph of me that I could find

My first few blogs, and a promise of more.

 

Come on in, have a browse, everyone is welcome. I’ll just stand over here in the corner, grinning like an idiot. A year ago, I knew I where I wanted to take my writing and I had a plan on how to do it. And today, I have achieved it. I’ve no idea what will happen next, but for now, I’m just going to bask in my achievements.

I Owe Everything to a Box of Enid Blytons

I’ve said on my profile page that I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was seven, which sounds like the kind of thing all writers say, but I can say exactly how I first knew that, with sound, historical facts to prove it.

From a young age, I loved books. I can remember making up my own stories to the pictures in my Ladybird Fairy Tales before I could read the words. I remember getting gold stars for my story writing in school. I remember being fascinated by a book my mum was reading, a Catherine Cookson novel with the intriguing title Slinky Jane. I even got my first typewriter for Christmas when I was six. But I don’t count these vague, anecdotal memories. The real turning point came when I was seven, when I discovered Enid Blyton.

I can date it exactly, because in 1980, just after my seventh birthday, my family moved house. The previous owners of our new house had been a family with teenage sons – I remember viewing the room that was to be mine, which was decorated with a life sized skeleton. Knowing that young children were moving in, this family left behind a box of books which those teenage sons no longer wanted. There were a lot of Enid Blyton books, including a nearly full set of the Famous Five books, in well-read 1970s paperbacks. Being the precocious child that I was, I immediately began to read them. I remember being a bit confused during the first book I read – I knew that the Famous Five comprised of two boys and two girls, but I hadn’t understood that George was not a boy, and had somehow decided that Julian was a girl called Gillian! But I persevered, and read another (number eight, incidentally, Five get into Trouble. I never read them in order!), and that time, every fell into place. And I was hooked. I read my way through them all, delighting in the stories and also in my own ability to read these big, proper books so quickly. But more importantly, I read them with a growing consciousness of the process of creation behind the stories, an awareness of the author at work, an understanding that it had been someone’s job the write these books. And I knew then that I wanted to do that too. Part of me wanted to be one of the Famous Five, but another part of me wanted to be Enid Blyton.

And so I began. From that age on, I was forever scribbling stories, mostly Enid Blyton style adventures featuring myself and my school friends, often with illustrations too. I wish I still had some of those notebooks, but they are lost forever. But that desire to publish my own books, with my name on the cover, was never lost. I might have grown out my Famous Five obsession, but I never grew out of wanting to be a writer. Thank you, Enid Blyton. And thank you to the family that left that box of books.

I Have a Website!

Well, when I wrote my first (ever) blog, I was lost and confused. Now I have a website! Not only that, but I set it up all by myself. Thank you WordPress. I may be a Luddite, but I can follow instructions, and thanks to the ten-day tutorial course, I have a website that looks a lot like I imagined it would look. It’s not finished – it still needs a few more photographs, and there will be some more content to add in the future, but I am so pleased with myself.

Adding more content means doing the work that I have been putting off while I have been creating the website. I have a list, starting with two really big editing projects. The aim is to get two new items on KDP by the summer. But all this is old work, and I’m aware that I haven’t written any new fiction for a while. I know all the editing and marketing is work, and just as vital, but I can’t help feeling that it’s getting in the way of the writing. I really want to have something new on the go before September, when my other “new project” begins – nothing to do with writing and a big distraction in the shape of a career change. I feel it will be easier to keep going at something already begun than begin something new in what could be limited free time. There are one or two ideas bubbling below the surface, and I tell myself that I am waiting for one of them to grab me. I’m quite sure something will – it’s always worked in the past – but time ticks on. I can’t believe it is April already. Still, launching my website is a big tick on the list of things I wanted to achieve this year. Well done me.

Becoming an Author

How does one become an Author? If it’s just a question of writing some stuff, I’ve been doing that since I was eight years old, so does that make me an author? Bookshops and bank managers might beg to differ. No, I think becoming an Author means turning your writing into publications. But I’ve done that too, via the miracle of KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing, who are now making my novels available to Kindle owners, thanks to a few simple steps and up-loads. But is that enough to make an Author out of me? So it takes more readers than friends and grannies to make an Author, which means marketing and promotion. Ughh, this is why Publishers exist, to do all that hard work. But Publishers are not easy to come by, so I must do the work all by myself. And that means setting up this website. My own website. With my name on it. All done by little old me, a technical Luddite.

So far, I’ve written three novels for adults and one for children, and that was the easy part compared to this. If only I had spent less time writing and more time swotting up on computing.