Consumed by Snails – part one

Oh yeah, Project Snails. Heh. Well. Yeah. Hmm.

In order to make this blog post suitably epic, allow me to take you back to my childhood – not the extended childhood I’m living now, but my actual childhood. I was a writer from a very young age, you see… (Wavy visual transition accompanied by harp scales.)

I think the first “novel” I ever wrote was The Thinking Tunnel (it feels weird to italicise that, but my university training demands it), a shameless rip-off of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree books, which filled my young mind with wonder and with which I was obsessed for several years. This was followed by a book called The Red Water World Mystery, a more traditional fantasy tale starring me as a version of myself who found a passage into a magical world while staying in a caravan park. Then came Super Bubble Mix, two kids’ sprawling adventures through space and time, almost certainly inspired by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. These three books were about what you would expect from a child: containing the kind of imaginative ideas that insipid adult minds would automatically reject, but largely derivative, improvisational to the point of utter meaninglessness, and of course very embarrassing to look back on.

By the time I finished Super Bubble Mix, I was about twelve, and beginning to realise my flaws. That’s when I started working on Snails. All I knew was that it would be a new fantasy novel, an epic one, with adventures and magic and battles and arduous journeys across hostile terrain. Needless to say, it was quite directionless at first, and I wrote dozens of opening paragraphs, none of them leading anywhere. Eventually I came up with three characters and started them on a journey that seemed to have some momentum.

I wrote about eight lengthy chapters, but the story was still going nowhere. I started again. One unexpected benefit of this false start was that I now felt I knew several of my characters, and had a vague sense of a world that I could build on. Of course, the characters and world evolved dramatically later, but at least I had a starting point. The eight scrapped chapters had acted as a rehearsal – or perhaps more accurately an audition – for a set of five or six characters (though mainly the central three), and they got the parts. I just needed to write them a good story.

Inspiration struck one day at my granny’s house in Dundee. An idea for a pivotal moment in the story suddenly occurred to me, and I sat in the chilly guest bedroom for a long while, scribbling down a plot summary onto four sheets of A4 paper. The plot has changed a lot since, but these four pages were the structure that allowed me to begin writing the book properly.

Several years later, I completed a draft. There had been many hiccups along the way, including one detour which took me so far off course that I had to completely scrap a large section of the book and write it again, setting it in an entirely different place with a different set of secondary characters. I then began the process I referred to as The Great Revision. I did several major rewrites, gradually becoming more confident in my work.

In this time the novel became my world, the thing I could pour myself into. Almost every walk, car/train journey or quiet moment was a chance to mull over the story and come up with new ideas about where it could go, how this character would behave, why she might do that. I began treating it as more than another silly fantasy diversion; it became more or less the only way I expressed myself. As such, working on it induced heart-pounding excitement when it was going well and total abject misery when I lost faith in it. For a long time I tried not to put too much of myself into other creative projects, because I was saving it all up for Snails.

Then university came along, and, out of necessity, I stopped thinking about my novel for four years.

Earlier this week, I looked at it properly for the first time since 2008. In the last few days I’ve been scouring my old computer, doing a little detective work, copying and pasting from several different documents to try and assemble what is, for now, the definitive, up-to-date version of Project Snails. Sure enough, it is a novel, with a beginning, a middle and an end. It has 200,375 words, divided into 81 chapters and covering 345 A4 pages. And it terrifies me.

To be continued…

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