This year is the 25th anniversary of my first novel, Dragoncharm. You’ll forgive me if I take a little trip down memory lane, right?
Dragoncharm was one of the first fantasy paperbacks published under the Voyager imprint launched by HarperCollins in 1995. I wrote the original draft longhand, and submitted the final typescript to two other UK publishers, both of whom roundly rejected it. Third time around it landed on the desk of Jane Johnson, then editorial director of Voyager. Jane delighted me by snapping it up, and amazed me by saying she received around 2,000 unsolicited manuscripts every year – and published maybe two or three of them. That was the day I learned the term ‘slush pile survivor’, and realised that’s exactly what Dragoncharm was.
Dragoncharm was inspired by a childhood favourite: Watership Down by Richard Adams. I’d long wondered if it was possible to pull off the same trick using mythical creatures instead of rabbits. But what creatures? Eventually, I realised the answer was staring me in the face. Dragons!
The result was a classic fantasy quest story with a twist. In Dragoncharm, there are no swords, no sorcery (although there is a breed of magic called charm), no hoards of gold, no knights rescuing princesses. In fact, there are no people whatsoever. Just dragons, plus a small supporting cast of faeries, sprites and giants.
Being a novice, I plotted the story quite extensively before I began. As I was writing, however, I realised it wasn’t enough just to send my dragons on a quest through a fantasy world. I needed to know what that world was, and why it existed, and what relationship it bore to our own.
Gradually the story evolved into something more than the one I’d begun, to the point where I changed the working title from Dragon Charm (sic) to The Turning of the World. Why the switch? Because I’d decided my dragons lived not in a vague fantasy realm, but in the prehistory of our own world. An alternate prehistory, in fact, a past of magic and myth, not science and evolution.
This led to the core idea of the turning – the critical moment in history when all the old laws stopped working and the new order arose, changing past, present and future in one fell stroke. In short, the day the magic went away. At the time, I was reading the incredible fantasy fiction of John Crowley – notably Little, Big and Aegypt, both of which inspired me to explore the rarefied terrain that lies between what was and what might have been.
A gentle steer from Jane Johnson encouraged me to abandon my long and somewhat opaque title and revert to something shorter. With the word ‘dragon’ in it. For a time the book was called Dragonheart, but that was never really a contender given the imminent release of the film of the same name. In the end we reverted to my original working title, with the letterspace elided to created the portmanteau Dragoncharm. From a commercial point of view I’m delighted we made the change, although in my mind the novel is, and always will be, titled The Turning of the World.
Watch the 1997 proof-of-concept trailer for the Dragoncharm TV/feature adaptation that never was:
Dragoncharm was published in the UK, US and Australia, and in translation in Germany and Hungary. It was optioned twice for television and motion picture adaptation, but both times sank into development hell. Second time around we got as far as producing a proof-of-concept trailer featuring animatronic dragons and some very early CG animation. I’ve written about that experience on this blog before – click here to read the article.
I wrote two sequels to Dragoncharm and, when the books finally dropped out print, I reclaimed the rights and self-published a special edition of the first novel as an ebook. It’s a slightly edited version of the original Dragoncharm manuscript, nipped and tucked to smooth out a few of the young writer’s quirks that have grown to annoy me increasingly over the years.
Other than that, the Dragoncharm ebook is the exact same story I wrote way back in the early ‘90s, told in the exact same way. It’s a story of love and magic, battle and sacrifice. It’s a story of charm. Above all, it’s a story of dragons.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Dragoncharm, the special edition ebook is currently on sale at the Amazon Kindle store at the reduced price just £1.99, or free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.
Go on, grab yourself a copy. Let the dragons charm you.