Today, a friend asked me to dedicate a blog post to a “Tabitha Trilogy making-of”. So here goes.
I’m sure it’ll be rambly, and there’ll be loads I miss out. But maybe something very small and slightly useful can be gleaned from the process if you’re looking to write your own novels, and feel as puzzled and overwhelmed as everyone else does before they start writing one.
…And while they’re writing one. And after they’ve written one too. That never really goes away.
But anyway. Onward!
The Tabitha Trilogy is 568,000 words of everything I love about action, adventure, fantasy and science fiction. Working around day jobs and freelance gigs it took four years to write, three versions of the front cover to start selling any copies, and countless experiments with price, promotion and advertising to gain any traction.
But it all started years earlier, with one short story.
Tabitha Jones began life as the same young loser, in the same old town, with the same bland everyday problems. I was determined to write a short story that toed the line of normality. Just an average girl with an average life. And after a page or two of struggling with that, I wanted to jump out the window.
Because you see… I can’t do normal. I’m not even sure what it is. So Tabitha the short story had to start sprouting some alien plants, and have something much bigger going on in its weird little world, pronto. Or I never would’ve bothered to finish it. And I never would’ve achieved my life ambition, to write and publish books.
And so, Tabitha the short story grew the tiniest possible inciting incident: a dandelion seed. Her murderer. The end of the world.
That’s how the short story grew its gruesome bio-metal spiders. And how those spiders got their life cycle, and purpose, and hunting habits. All just by writing it down, getting it wrong, and rewriting it.
And more random thoughts started finding places to fit. An old idea, for a short film script that never was, suddenly made Tabitha electrified. My love of movies and monsters, games and graphic novels, gave her this slow-burning superpower. To make it relatable for readers, and claustrophobic too, all this strangeness still had to take place inside the normal confines of Tabitha’s seaside house. And so this loser, this Tabitha Jones person, was pushed to fight back; to go on living. Then, surprising herself, Tabitha suddenly found that she was one bad, resourceful, spider-slaying fucker-upper. Total savage.
And suddenly, a real deep instinct just knew: out of all the characters I’ve ever come up with, this is The One. The Survivor. This is the one person I most want to follow, and to see what the hell she does next.
So, I had the short story end with this ultimate loser become an electrified superhero. She tore herself out from her normal life, her Ordinary World, and leapt into some vague grey adventure that I hadn’t built yet. And so it went:
“Drunk on voltage, she picked up the TV and sent it bursting through the window. She leapt out after it; cast her old self aside. Tabitha was about to become much, much more.”
The short story was done. I added it to a collection of them.
And then… I didn’t really do anything with it. I ate; I slept; I did life; I did a whole lot of day job.
Then, year or so later, I felt fed up enough one night to write my dormant superhero into a new short story. I called it Tabitha Jones, Monster Hunter. If you’ve read the first book, this short story became that one chapter about Tabitha’s grim journey into the City of Skins. In terms of the Hero’s Journey blueprint, it was her long-awaited journey into the Abyss, to face a bizarre steel-eating vision of death itself.
And I slept on the idea, and soon after I started dreaming up mental concept art for this glaring, growling, rain-gleaming juggernaut that might occupy this ruined city. Something she would fear… and fight anyway. Just for her to give humanity some shred of vengeance.
I wrote another small section. And another. In gaming terms, I mentally dropped Tabitha’s T-pose self into more and more situations I wanted to write about. I adore heavy metal, and I found just how well it fuelled the writing of Tabitha’s fight scenes. I love Bond movies, and so I wanted her to roar around this ever-growing apocalypse in a fast classic car. I’ve grown up with a love of sci-fi shows and videogames, and so I was desperate to take Tabs into altered states and strange new worlds. These were really the fuel cells that conjured the moods, that made the thoughts and feelings, that wrote it.
Suddenly, Tabitha had more and more adventures to write about. And this short-story manuscript became a growing patchwork quilt of very strange words.
I became… addicted.
I gamed. I watched movies. All enjoyed with a sticky mind; a Tabitha filter. Always on the lookout for more ideas to write down and apply to the novel-in-progress. And, I decided that it needed to be a long novel. An epic, if I dared to have such a dream. I filled my head with countless songs, and listened to lyrics that might light Tabitha’s path or illuminate her character. Clues about who she was.
I wandered all over, drove to new towns and countrysides, and took notes obsessively. Observing everything. Packing every single thought into my very first novel. On a day out, supposedly to get me away from writing so intensely, I made sure to take a notepad… so that I could carry on writing intensely.
And so, in a busy town centre overlooked by a castle, I wondered who might survive a spidery alien apocalypse by locking themselves inside there. I wondered what kind of terrible beast might terrorise that castle, and so another fun strand to weave in eventually led me to think up Seven, Tabitha’s future companion. I wondered as I wandered, and perhaps being stared at, about designs for glassy alien architecture, and the specific looks and size of extraterrestrial knives. It all went into more and more stacks of more and more notes. Only reason being, that I loved every second of it. Dreaming it up.
Moral of which is this: there is no shortcut. Ever. You just have to obsess. It really just takes loads and loads, and loads and loads, of time and patient typing and retyping. So you may as well write the stories you absolutely love to death, and don’t worry about who else will read them.
And out of all the things I’ve ever written, whether for day jobs or freelance or just messing around with failed ideas… yeah. I look at my Tabitha books, and they’re really the only things I’ve written that make me think, yeah. I really do love these to death.
…But where was I. Oh yeah.
And, like the slow spreading of crazy alien bio-branches, more and more chapters of Tabitha the novel emerged shrieking and bloody from who-the-hell-knows-where. That summer, I wrote the whole knotted mess together, and put some dragons and aliens and nuclear explosions in it, because cool.
And nervously, excitedly, and half don’t-care-anymoreishly, I self-published the damn thing. And told myself what the hell. It’s a book, anyways. Maybe someone will read it.
And they did. And lots of people did. And do.
And thank you for reading it.
Very, very, very much.
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