Couple of weeks back, when I wrote of my plans to publish Feast Fables as an e-book, I promised regular updates on progress (see A Makeover for Crimsonprose). I now realise if I wait the month round I risk my promise being swallowed by the Christmas Posts. Besides, there’s probably more to say now than there will be later. But first . . .
Backstory . . . or in the beginning
In the beginning there was The Hare and the Adder, a story begun during my last few months at work before ill-health (CFS) forced redundancy. Redundancy atop the ill-health forced an urgent need to downgrade, downsize, offload . . . MOVE. It wasn’t a wise move, and immediately regretted. Short version of complex events: escalating stress laid low my immune system, nasty bugs entered including a virus that wheedled its way across the blood-brain barrier to infect brain, meninges and spinal cord. Convulsions, projectile vomiting, loss of awareness (I’m told I wasn’t unconscious), a mouth become a babbling brook full of obscenities (though I seldom swear), and a headache that out-ached my worst ever migraine. Oh joy! I was rushed to hospital. Viral meningitis and encephalitis. Two weeks prior I had sent off The Hare and the Adder to an agent.
A full week on acyclovir delivered intravenously, I was discharged. There followed another week on acyclovir tablets—and a stumbling grasping for words. The virus had broken connections, many of my memories were gone. I couldn’t put names to people’s faces. I couldn’t put names to the objects around me. I couldn’t read the book I’d been reading before the virus. Though not returned entirely to illiterate state, I couldn’t grasp abstract concepts. I couldn’t write, exhausted after three sentences of the most basic English. I shan’t bore you with details.
Another month on and thud, my manuscript landed on the door mat. Hand written note. The agent liked it, but it needed a rewrite. But for quite some time yet, that was beyond me.
I took myself off to the North Norfolk Coast for self-imposed convalescence. CFS hadn’t yet kicked in to its extreme degree, I was able to walk 5 or 6 miles a day. (Before CFS I’d walk 15 miles then go clubbing and dance until the dawn.) While strolling beside the sea inspiration invaded me. By the time I returned home I had already head-plotted a new story. Writing it forced a return of language abilities—so long as a dictionary sat beside me. 40k words; I was concerned it was too short but submitted it anyway. Not surprising it winged its way back in double-quick time, rejected. I was later to take that story, Blide the Wood-Elf, with major alterations, and weave it into the blogged time-slip story, Neve. Persistent as ever, and with a head now working (though maybe not yet full capacity) I wrote Skimaskall, which story was also woven into the blogged Neve.
Meanwhile, I figured while I was recovering my language abilities, I’d also brush up on my writing skills. Oh, you mean you can’t just write and that’s it, talent will carry you through? Alas, apparently not.
I thought good and long about The Hare and the Adder. I wasn’t yet ready to return to it (it eventually became part of the Priory Project, another serialised story posted here). But there was a character, Kerrid, a bit of a mystery who screamed for backstory to explain some of her ‘strange’ abilities and her role in the events unfolding. I decided to make her my project. I’d write her story. And so began Feast Fables. BTW, its first working title was In The Beginning.
First, the restructure
Feast Fables has been through so many rewrites I’ve lost count of them. I do remember being horror-struck at the wordcount on the first draft. 180k words. Too many. Yet it was little more than dialogue, brief notes on settings, a few ‘stage directions’ and Kerrid’s cogitations and her reaction scenes. By the time I’d rounded it out the wordcount had more than doubled. No way would a publisher take that from an unknown author. Who did I think I was: Tolkien? Another edit. And again, it grew. With great reluctance I decided to divide it into a . . . the word didn’t want to spill from my tongue . . . a trilogy. But there wasn’t a publisher alive who’d take that. No matter; I was already having discouraging thoughts on the traditional route.
I tried to divide the word-heavy Fables so each part weighed roughly the same. Mistake. Though that’s how it stayed when, CFS now become physically, mentally, socially crippling, I realised the only way I’d ever ‘get it out there’ was to post it to blog in serial form. December 2012. Six years after the meningitis/encephalitis disabled me.
My first task on this current rewrite has been to restructure it. Yet again. A whole wadge at the end of Book 1 by subject matter belongs to Book 2. Now when I look at the structure of Book 1 it really holds. It balances. It . . . satisfies. I’ve also abandoned the 3-act structure to use 5 acts instead. Each act has its own inciting incident, MP and climax, which kicks the reader into the next act. MP of Act 3 doubles as MP of Book 1. But this is a trilogy; the 5-act structure repeated across the 3 books, the story’s MP falling in Book 2.
I’ve gone through all three books. The structure holds. But there is a problem. Book 2 now contains that chunk snipped off the end of Book 1. It’s going to need a severe verbiage reduction. I’m hoping that won’t prove too ticklish. I remember, when analysing the scenes (checking on structure), there were those I allowed to remain for the sole reason of what I called ‘veracity’. They’ll have to go. I just hope they fall more or less equally between the plot-points so as not to skew the structure.
Rewrites and Edits
So much for structure. Now the rewrite.
In Feast Fables (as posted—though all links have now been severed) the story begins with Kerrid a child of seven years old. I remember being worried that she came across of somewhat precocious. Also, there’s a scene in the second act suggestive of paedophilia. Okay, so at this point I’m beginning to build a case against this character which will explode in full force in Book 3. But that scene feels too heavy. To make my protagonist edging on womanhood changes the flavour entirely while still raising the reader’s hackles.
I played with that, applying the changed age to other aspects of the story. And lo, it works better. For a girl to come into her full powers at puberty is a genre trope. I’d say it’s a life trope, too. It’s this difference in age which requires the most rewrite; a constant attention to her reactions to situations and people, and others’ reactions to her.
As far as the rewrite’s concerned I’ve reached what was posted as Episode 13, but is now Chapter 10. I would be way past this if it weren’t for the editing. How easy for those unwanted filter words to flit past the eyes when the brain is otherwise engaged. How easy to get carried away with the story, oblivious to potential barriers to the readers’ experience. And this of a text that’s already been edited . . . how many times? I don’t want errors tripping my beta readers when that time comes. They deserve more respect than that. I don’t want them thinking they’re there as editors.
The other focus of the edit is description. I have visualised every location, down to its most intimate detail. I have sat with the women while they treated the skins and wove the fabrics, and fashioned them into clothes. I’ve been beside them during the Mother’s wild harvest. I’ve been with Kerrid when an ice sheet collapses and a tsunami sweeps over her. I’ve been with her aback an albino aurochs. I’ve been with her entranced in the Web. To me it’s all so familiar, I sometimes forget the reader’s doesn’t share my familiarity; the reader’s not in my head. This, as I progress, is being corrected.
Thoughts on beta readers
For some quirky reason I had thought to rewrite & edit all three books before releasing to beta readers. I’ve revised that. Though I still intend to hold back on publishing until all 3 books are ready to go (cos then is going to be a busy period, with promoting etc) I can see no reason to do the same with beta-readers. After all, my readers could raise issues that require another major restructuring, and that could affect all three books. So, as soon as this first one is ready, I’ll release to my volunteer readers. Though, I’m sorry, I still can’t say when that will be.
A note on health: I am now on the far side of CFS. And the brain being plastic, it has mostly recovered from its viral attack. (Tis true, some words still evade me and in frustration a pterodactyl becomes a pteri-saurus, or a rainbow a prismatic-arch.)
Next update, mid-January.