The False Summit
I’ve been writing as a published author for a handful of years now, since 2012, and many years before that as a hobby – a wonderful, exciting, frustrating hobby. I’m still a rookie, by any measure, but the game changes once the book is published, once something you’ve spent hours upon hours in the writin’ chair creating ships off to see the world.
As an author, I hope the book takes care and that I’ve given the pages all the structure and guidance I can to survive—strong story, even stronger characters—but as a reader I don’t want the book to take care. Not in the slightest. I want the book to keep me out all night, until my eyes are bloodshot and I’m blinking against harsh dawn light. The best stories I’ve ever read don’t hold back, and pull lesser punches only to deliver a knockout blow. Those are the stories I try and write.
I’ve learnt a lot about the craft in the years since publication, and I expect I’ll be making a similar statement in years to come. I think, as a writer, I grow with the words – and still make the same old mistakes, but in interesting new ways. I’ve forgotten rules, I’ve discovered a few new ones—better, I’ve found how far some can bend. Guidelines, in the end, and dangerous shortcuts along a perilous edge. I still have trouble remembering the difference between past and passed. Without fail, I’ll use one of those words incorrectly at least twice a manuscript.
But the more I think on the passed the more excited I am about the future! And all the stories I want to tell. Young Adult, Thrillers, and Urban Fantasy – I want to dabble across genres, I’ve already started to do so. At 2000 words a day, I hope to tell a fair few of them in the months and years ahead.
That said, one thing I’ve noticed is how much aspects of my life, my work in counterterrorism, security, and intelligence, has bled into the pages of my stories. Take The Rig and Crystal Force, for example. High-octane action thrillers, I’ve been told, and indeed they are – with elements of science fiction thrown in for good measure, as I’ve yet to find a way to write a story without a dragon or something of equivalent absurdity. Yet beneath all that, the issues discussed in the books range from modern security practice, to treatment of juvenile offenders and the risk of radicalisation, and to the privatisation of government services. Not exactly high-octane stuff, eh?
I believe a good story shouldn’t preach political, social, or indeed ideological issues from the rooftop—a good story should be, simply, a good read—but I always find it rather intriguing, reading back over my first drafts, what has crept into the narrative unexpectedly. Speaking of which, it was only in the last few months I began to understand the difference between plot and narrative. Another lesson learned. A fellow author, much better at this game than I, schooled me well over some lovely dinner.
Writing has a steep learning curve with, as far as I can tell, an infinite number of false summits on any writer’s journey up the hill. Drawing on aspects of my life in these works of fiction added a strength to my words, an authority, and, I believe, was somewhat inevitable. I do well to remember not to plateau, however. No, no. There’s still so much to learn, so many great books to find and read, and many stories to write.
So far, the only writing ‘trick’ that holds true for me, whether I’m writing a blog, a short story, or a whole novel of high-octane action thriller (with a dragon or two), is to finish what I start. I believe many writers before me have reached that particular conclusion, but I need the occasional reminder that I’m only as good as my next sentence.
I have past only a handful of false summits. Plenty of work yet to be done.
See you on the mountain.