The first book

The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is not the first novel I’ve written.

It’s the third. Two other books are buried deep within my computer files, never to see the light of day. But when I occasionally dig them up out of the archives, those books – and especially those characters – fill me with such a warm sense of nostalgia (as long as I ignore the terrible writing!). I still love them, even if they will never be read by anyone ever again!

The first book felt like a major accomplishment for me. I was 15, in high school, and in need of some kind of creative release. I lost myself in two things during those years: writing and the strange world of the internet. But writing came first. That first book topped out at 35,000 words. Yes, hardly novel length (just about novella length) but it had a strong start, a pacy middle and an absolutely godawful ending. But it had an ending, which was big for a girl who started many things and hardly saw any of those ideas through. The book was a time-travelling tale of two modern-day teenagers who, separately, end up in Tudor England (one as a wealthy young lady at court, the other as a poor urchin boy running around the streets of London). There was a love story (featuring the popular YA trope ‘insta-love’ – don’t judge, I was 15!), and a dancing scene which pretty much replicated on paper the dance from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet.

Yes, this is exactly the life I wanted for myself when I was a teen - so I wrote it into my books!

Unfortunately, by the time it got to the end, I couldn’t figure out how to get them back into modern times in an exciting way, so they were transported to a strange interdimensional-portal-type-place where they met their real parents (my two MCs were estranged brother and sister, of course!) who were professional time travellers… it got weird, let’s put it that way!

But those two characters – whose names were Tagwen and Sterlyn (I trawled the baby name websites) – were my two first loves. Their dreams were my dreams, their stories were my stories. And those characters have featured in every story I’ve written since. Up until my first major rewrite of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, my main character was called Sterlyn — until I realized that a name with very English origins probably wasn’t the best for a Mongolian/Asian-based world! But calling him ‘Sterlyn’ in the initial draft gave me this strange sense of familiarity and safety — I had written a whole book with him before, and I could do so again. It felt a bit like stepping into comfortable shoes — although the rest of the world I was exploring was new and different and challenging, I knew I could get through it because I had a main character I knew inside and out, backwards and forwards. I just had to find the right story — the right frame — to put him in, and I knew it would turn out all right.

Anyone else sometimes return to those ‘shelved’ books? And if so, is it with trepidation or nostalgia or a bit of both?

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4 thoughts on “The first book

  1. Peter V. Brett says:

    I know precisely how you feel. I write my first (short, godawful) book at 17, and three more after that before selling The Painted Man. Those books will not (and should not) ever be read by anyone outside my absolute inner circle, but they still fill me with nostalgic joy when I blow the virtual dust off and scan through the manuscripts. Oftentimes I get swept back up in the stories, like hearing old friends tell a beloved anecdote for the thousandth time.

  2. James Smythe says:

    Hm. Difficult question. My first finished long-form thing was a novella, really, called (working title) MonkeyDevil. I loved it at the time, and still do, a little bit. It was poetic and obtuse and difficult structurally, because I was playing a lot. I wrote it at the tail end of my degree, and some people loved it. (Before that, all I wrote were short stories and scripts.) After that, I wrote a novel which I hated, but that some other people really liked. It was published by a very small press, and had a couple of reviews (which ran across a whole spectrum of quality). I know it’s easy for writers to dismiss their work as juvenalia, but that’s what it was. I flick through it and see bits that I like, still, but there’s a lot that needs work. There’s a lot more that needs binning.

    After that, I wrote another novel that’s unpublished, a pulp-y crime thing that I still quite like the twist/reveal in, but that was written in six weeks and never really redrafted. And then… Well, then there’s two other nearly-finished novels (one of which I LOVE, and which is this weird Cthulu meets Elephant Man meets Miss Marple fantasy mystery) before the ones that hit the proverbial nail on the head. That was the last aborted novel, and that’s the one I return to and re-read, along with MonkeyDevil. First and last. I like to think that I’ll do something with them both, one day. (I probably won’t.)

  3. Janet Edwards says:

    Eeek, my last comment escaped with the last paragraph unfinished.

    It’s now two years and five books since I abandoned my first two early books. These five books are all SFF, YAish, and first person pov. I don’t pine for the first two books, and I haven’t gone back to read them, because I like what I’m writing now. If they’d been SFF, I think I’d find it a lot harder to leave them behind. I’d probably end up rewriting them into first person pov.

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