On writing Merely a Madness

Merely a Madness appears in sci-fi anthology No Way Home which will be released on 2 March 2015.

No Way Home Kindle

Merely a Madness  signifies something of a shift change for me and my writing. Like most writers (or at least the published ones), I’ve put a lot of words down on screen and paper, and the vast majority of those haven’t seen print.

A couple of months ago, I came across the printed manuscript for my first novel Halcyon Days. I hadn’t looked at it in more than ten years, which is probably a long enough break to look at it objectively.

The objective verdict? It’s bad. The story idea isn’t that awful, but the writing? Definitely amateur level stuff.  Maybe one day if I have time and can be bothered, I’ll salvage the idea and rewrite it.

I wrote a second novel after that. It was some sort of horror novel about demonic possession. That one is long lost (I saved it onto a stiffy disk and lost that).  I suspect that’s no great loss either.

The Secret Dead was my third novel and I remember very clearly the first thoughts I had after reading the first chapter: ‘This isn’t very good.’

I’m a writer, but reading will always be my first love.  I know good writing when I see it. And that wasn’t it.

It was something of a watershed moment for me. Instead of getting miserable, I just grew determined. Maybe I wasn’t good at writing, but that was fine. All I had to do was work at it until I was good. Easy. All that was needed was  hard work, and I’ve never been scared of that.

This is the real reason The Secret Dead took so many years to write. Part of it was juggling writing with a full time job as well as motherhood. Part of it was sitting in front of the keyboard and rewriting that first chapter thirty times. Most of it was learning how to write and figuring out how to make something readable.

The Secret Dead isn’t perfect. It’s a long way from it, and more-experienced-writer-me wants to go back and fix it. I suspect all writers want to do this. It’s the way it works. As we grow in experience and learn more of the craft, the next book is (hopefully) always going to be better written. I still have a lot to learn.

Merely a Madness is part of this process.  Because it’s a short (just a tad under 10,000 words), it was an excellent opportunity to play around and try something new.

***Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read it. Consider yourself warned***

It started out simply as tourists stranded on a post-civilisation Earth. I had the vague idea that someone in the party would end up betraying them, and that was the seed when I started writing.

Scifi is also new for me.  I read boatloads of it, but I’d never attempted to write it. You’ll notice there’s not a lot of technical sciencey stuff in the story. That’s because I didn’t want to come across as an idiot. (No one wants to be the one who comes up with metaphorical midi-chlorians)

Readers had mentioned that Vivia (the protagonist in The Secret Dead) can be a bit of a cold fish. (They may be interested to know that I went in and did a draft just to add extra emoting because she came across as something of a psychopath in the beginning.) This is my comfort zone. I like description, and detail, and plotting. All that human emoting? Much trickier to get right.

The challenge: write a character who is emotionally driven to the point of ignoring common sense and logic.

That fed through into everything else. The story started off as past tense, but about 2000 words in I shifted into present because it suited the immediacy and emotionality of it. I’d also never written a love story before. My readers will know there’s not much sentimentality in my other work.  Again, new challenge.

I’ll admit I think it’s a little over-the-top and dramatic sometimes, but it works and I’m really proud of it. Reviewers have been kind too, which always makes me want to do the dance of joy.

I’m really excited about this. Not just because it’s something different, but because I have reached the point in my writing where I have learned enough and have enough tools in my toolbox, that I can play around and experiment.  And do so with some success.

I’m really enjoying it. I’m working on a couple of other short stories right now – some for the Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror anthology coming later this year, and also a couple of London Bones stories to give out as freebies.

Trying to turn each story into a good read is still hard work, but it’s fun work. I’m having a whale of a time.

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