••• The International Writers Magazine - 22 Years on-line - The Creative Process
About Writing a First Draft
I have just finished the first draft of a new novel. Lockdown does wonders for the concentration, however this particular story started life quite a few years ago.
It was 2013. I was in Montreal promoting my Genie Magee books and it was cold, as you would expect in winter. I was in the coffee shop directly opposite the Assassin’s Creed factory (yes it’s full of artists and coders in a giant white building and there’s always a group of smokers furiously filling their lungs with poison outside). I was suddenly struck with a ‘good idea’ for a new book. These are important moments for a writer. Once you finish a book you often wonder where the next idea will come from, if ever, so if comes, and quite often fully formed, you want to get it written down as fast possible. I spent five hours in that coffee shop writing by hand and anxious moments between the bucket-sized coffees hoping the one and only toilet would be free very soon.
It’s a story set in deep space. A hard one to write about a young girl; a lone survivor of a major disaster with zero chance of ever getting back home. I spent all those hours detailing every plot point, developing a second story thread and characters backstories. It was great. All there. All I had to do when I got back to England was write it. I went to the loo one last time and when I came back my notebook and coat had gone. No one saw it go, especially the girl I asked to keep an eye on it. I’m not going into how gutted I was, or annoyed my coat had gone as well, it being -20c outside. Take the coat if you need it, but not someone’s notebook. You just don’t do that.
“Did you write your phone number on it?” Someone asked.
As if the thief was going to call and return it, or my coat. I felt exhausted and numb. It’s no use saying, well just sit down and rewrite it. I was under inspiration (and caffeine) and now I only felt despair. I couldn’t possibly recapture that moment or the five hours it took to work it all out.
The next day I caught the train to Toronto and as time went by the loss slowly faded and I came up with different stories and I buried that girl in space.
Last autumn I was developing a Young YA script under the mentorship of Anna Southgate at Euroscript and the lost girl in space made reappearance, as part of another story. She may have lost hope of rescue but what if there was a chance she could be saved? The first draft script was 156 pages. Too long and Anna had serious questions about motives and the ‘lesson learned’. She got me to cut the script to 120 pages which lost quite a lot of the humour, but I don’t think I ever quite got to the ‘lesson learned’ bit because it involves climate change and well you and I know that we are in the process of shutting the barn door years after the horse bolted.
I decided to explore the story as a novel, taking me back to 2013 and all the hopes and dreams that that lonely girl once had about survival. She might be alone but now there's others coming to her rescue. I had fun developing them and good arguments with my mentor about how to get them involved despite their young ages. I remember my young self reading sci-fi and devouring books about kids in space or Philip K Dick stories with their bleak outlook that has stayed with me for life. The thing to remember is that kids are passionate about what they are interested in and lock on to that. The logic of the story depends upon it.
I have to admit; even now, that the book’s ending doesn’t resolve everything neatly. The kids on this journey to save the girl are focused on that mission, even though they know that it might be a one-way journey. And the further you get from Earth, the less likely you’ll ever return.
So now I await a first reader’s response. *It’s the hardest thing in the world to find first readers who will give honest, useful feedback. Ask any writer. But it's an essential tool of the creative process.
© Sam Hawksmoor - March 11th 2021
Meanwhile – take a look at a novel I finished just before Christmas. We Feel Your Pain might seem like a mystery but I suspect it’s more a character study about unlikely people drawn to each other to feel safer and more secure. But what do I know; I’m just the writer.
More life isssue