Writing, wailing and whaling

NotebookThis morning I passed the 10,000 word mark on the current novel-in-progress, a new adventure for my prehistoric crimefighter, Talus, AKA the world’s first detective. The title’s still under wraps, so I’ve given it a codename: Project Whale.

Project Whale has given me trouble right from the start. My original pitch for Talus and the Frozen King included outlines for two sequels. However, book one changed so much in the writing that, when I started work on book two, I found many of the ideas had become redundant. So I kept the central concept, threw the rest out and started again. I didn’t get very far.

The problem was, I think, that I did all that in too much of a hurry. When you’ve sold a book to a publisher, it’s tempting to bash out the next one as quickly as you can. Strike while the iron’s hot, right? Wrong. I’m no stranger to being creative under pressure (I’ve worked to some deadlines you wouldn’t believe), but I’ve got too much emotion bound up in this particular series to see it hamstrung by poor planning.

All of which is a long way round to say the first draft of book two crashed and burned. I put it aside several months ago in dismay. The turning point came a few weeks later when I stopped wailing and started whaling.

My original outline for book two featured a neolithic hunter called Selig. The idea of hunting was central to the story, in fact, but for some reason I just couldn’t get excited about it. That’s one of the reasons the first draft failed. As I was regrouping, I recalled a documentary I’d seen about Inuit whalers hunting off the coast of Alaska. The techniques they use today haven’t changed much in hundreds, even thousands of years. A lightbulb flashed on in my head, I exchanged hunting wild game on the Scottish glens for spearing whales in the cold North Sea and the words started flowing again.

The other change I made was introducing a new POV character. Book one has just two points of view – those of Talus the traveling bard and his faithful companion Bran. Project Whale now has a third. Writing in a different voice lets me observe my two main characters from a fresh perspective, and the new character’s unique take on things creates good opportunities to expand the fictional ancient world I’m steadily building. The minute I let her open her mouth, she started speaking in her own voice, telling me her past and generally inhabiting the skin I’d stretched out for her. Actually, it’s proving hard to get her to shut up, and that’s a good sign.

As for the whaling, well, I’m already sharpening my stone-tipped spear and preparing to brave the storm-tossed ocean in my primitive vessel of wood and stretched sealskin. Will I succeed harpooning the monstrous denizen of the deep? Only time will tell.

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