Taking a Break

With the second year of my course, I fully immersed myself in university life, joining the Rugby League club and becoming far more active in the History Society, participating in far more social nights.

In terms of my writing, I again returned to historical fiction, writing essays on the Vietnam War, the Cold War, early Modern Russia, Charlemagne and the Crusades. This gave me an in-depth look at a wide range of cultures and time periods, something which sparked my imagination, particularly with regards to early Modern Russia and the Crusades.

Alongside these, I managed to read half of Bernard Cornwell’s The Warrior Chronicles, about Anglo-Saxon England, which were very entertaining, given the last time I read Bernard Cornwell was when I was much younger, reading The Grail Quest, and Warlord Chronicles series.

In the Shadow of the Storm

With the end of my first year exams in mid-May, I continued to write my first attempt at a novel, In the Shadow of the Storm. At this point, a very limited amount of planning had gone into the structure of the book. Initially I had thought to fit the entire story-line of the planned series, now called The War of the Ancients, into a single book, but as I began to write, it became increasingly clear that this would be difficult at best. I decided early on to write each character as a separate story, before cutting them together once they were all completed.

Such an approach has had both pros and cons. The obvious pros are that it aids in a smoother character development, as I did not have to jump in and out of one particular point of view. The greatest con I’ve encountered, particularly since trying to work out an order for the narrative, is a certain ‘disjointed’ quality to the book.

Much of the development of the specific story-line of the book, as well as the addition of a few more characters and cultures continued alongside its writing. As such, there were more than a few inconsistencies between the start of the book, and its conclusion, inconsistencies which are making editing the first draft a very long and painful task.

The extra point-of-view characters added included a variety of diverse points of view. Kendryek I added for a Laternae perspective, with the aim of making the reader empathise with Laternas, at least for certain members of the faction. I had a very specific story-line in mind, which relied on another character, who I ended up naming Qira, with the basis for much of her appearance and personality being on one of the many new people I met during my first year at university. Similarly, I added Markus with a very specific opening scene in mind, which then went on, over the course of the summer, to develop into a full-length narrative.

The development of these characters and cultures happened largely out of the need to keep myself entertained on my total hour and a half commute every day. With a simple 9-5 data entry job, I was able to continue developing the world my novels were to be set in while doing my work.

In its most raw form, I finished In the Shadow of the Storm in early September, shortly before I returned to Nottingham to start my second year. The first draft was 120,000 words, though I realised very early that it was very raw.

Putting pen to paper

After developing the cultures and groups involved in the opening scene, I started to write with no real research. At the time, I had very little to do, residing in a kind of limbo between 6th form and university.  It was a summer I spent largely in a state of nervous suspense, from the end of my school term at the start of July until the middle of August when I got my results, to see whether or not I had made it into university. While unemployed, I ended up writing merely as a source of entertainment.

The opening scene gradually began to develop. I wanted to write a fight between individuals, where one was physically much bigger and stronger, outmatching an already-powerful opponent. The inspiration for this was arguably drawn from the Halo franchise of games, with its 8-foot tall ‘Elites’ being soundly beaten by the lethal ‘Spartans’. Although a science-fiction game, it was the basic idea which interested me. This led to the creation of the first incarnation of the Ethernath Wraiths, at the time given the working name of ‘Forerunners’, and my first protagonist, then named Ingvarr.

Perhaps merely to challenge myself, I also wanted to write a scene simultaneously from two different points of view. This led to the expansion of my story-line, with the establishment of another major character, Althalos.

When I started to write, I quickly discovered that writing two points of view on the same scene was a painstaking and difficult task, and resolved never to do it again! Although I started writing in August, I was unused to writing longer pieces, so it was a fairly slow start, and it ground to a halt when I moved to university up in Nottingham.

At this point I felt the need to concentrate on my studies, and the ‘university experience’, meaning that most of what I wrote was historical non-fiction, in keeping with my degree course.

Where it all began…

Hi, just a quick introduction: my name is Jack, and I like to write. I’m not sure much more elaboration is required, but as an exercise in creativity, I’ve decided to write a short blog series about the history of my influences and inspiration, as best I can remember them.

I’ve been interested in creative writing since the age of about 8, when I first began to write stories as part of my English classes. My specific interests quickly led in the direction of epic fantasy, shortly after I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. When the films started to come out in 2001, it sparked my imagination further still, but I think I was aged 13 before I read The Silmarillion, which spurred me to attempt my first ‘extended story’.

Aged 13 me thought  that stretching a story to about 5,000 words was difficult enough. I forget exactly what its premise was, but I think the vast majority of the 5,000 words were taken up by long, convoluted, and badly-written fight scenes. I’m not sure I even gave the story a title, it was just sort of scribbled out onto 20-something journal pages.

Over the next few years I played around with a few ideas, but did not really write anything down. It was in this time that I read The Wheel of Time series which, while complicated, introduced me to writing about a wide range of diverse cultures, while giving them each a distinct flavour. What I particularly enjoyed were the sequences where god-like power was displayed, if only in short bursts, and The Wheel of Time introduced me to the concept of flawed protagonists perhaps more so than The Lord of the Rings; the idea that great power must be tempered with some major flaw (as with Rand’s insanity).

The creative writing involved in my schoolwork was forced to adhere to fairly strict guidelines, so there was no real outlet for any ideas. Busy as I was with various sets of exams, I did not really have much time to write, meaning that it was years until I attempted a longer story again.

My next serious attempt came immediately after my A-level exams, aged 18. While revising in the spring, I had caught an  episode of what had then been the first season of Game of Thrones. I ended up watching the entire series over the course of the next weeks, despite the important set of exams, so gripped was I by the adaptation. At that point I had not read the books, and over the summer I instead ended up reading my way through Steven Erikson’s Malazan: Book of the Fallen, and working 9-hour shifts at my local stable-yard for 6 days a week.

It was around this time that I ended up thinking seriously about writing a novel. The idea started simply, with the names of two cultures at war: the Ethernath and the Laternae. The Ethernath were to be based upon the Mongols, having recently read Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series, while the Laternae would essentially be ruled by the ‘Lancer Corps’. At such an early point in the summer, that was all I had developed – there weren’t even any specific characters.