Back in the winter of 2015, I attended a seminar for my English Literature class which started the wheel towards what I now have today. A very nearly completed novel.
Sat amongst a largely mature classroom of fellow Open Uni students, we were given a task. This was to generate a list of completely random story titles using the nouns or objects around the room or otherwise from our imagination. I no longer have that list but one of them I wrote was ‘Coffee, Cakes, and Cocaine’.
We immediately shared and got a few laughs and raised eyebrows from everyone’s titles. From this, we discussed the plot ideas you can build just around a title, rather than the other way around which is far more conventional. It definitely spiked my curiosity.
When I got back home, I started scribbling together ideas for the story. Could it be a group of people who meet for coffee, but really it’s a front for a drug ring that deals in cocaine? I explored it more and wrote a few pages and finally chapters. It was those chapters that ended up being my next assignment for the class. Which received great feedback!
But that wasn’t enough.
Over the next several months and into 2016, I took my notebook and papers with me everywhere. I wrote more and more and changed the story beyond its original conception. Soon, the use of cocaine was merely a small entry into a completely new story around a string of gruesome murders around London. I was completely absorbed by it all but had forgotten the key components: the characters.
What was I thinking?! Characters are the main driving force of any good story. So, in reality, I had no driving force. I had to fix that. So I started creating what would eventually become DCI John Hiraoka, DC Kukua Leigh and DC Daniel Hudson – the main protagonists of the story. From them came more. Nguyen, Anderson, Superintendent Haskell, Reed and Hudson’s housemate Eisa. It started to come together slowly and with long periods of no writing, they started to call back to me and in turn, I fleshed them out with real personalities, motivations, and needs.
e.g. Nguyen is a casual character but I hint at a possible drinking problem. Reed is all about appearance and reputation, arrogant and this can be seen in his treatment of others and material objects. Haskell is brash, confident and old school which speaks of the attitudes held within high authority in the police. Leigh, deliberately, is a representation of what change needs to look like in the police. Young, intelligent, new generation, represents the BAME communities of London and being female, a further minority in the force.
Juxtaposing this, I knew I wanted Hudson to be her companion and opposite. It all began to fall into place and I began to relate to each character. I finally had my driving force.
By November 2016, I decided to really get things down on paper and entered #NaNoWriMo – which lead me to write 50,000. This I did on a gorgeous trip to the Lake District, staying in a cottage in Cockermouth (genuine placename).
Following that, I sought to write the rest and by early 2017, I had completed the majority of the book. I still had plenty of additions to make, chop and change chapters and get it edited – but the bulk of the work had been done! Unfortunately, I fell off the bike and put it to one side. I regret it but I eventually pooled together money to get it professionally edited. This I did in 2018 after moving flat with my ex-girlfriend.
Interestingly, I started to write a sequel to what is now called ‘Crimson Snow’. Why? Good question but I needed to kick start my writing addiction and new stuff was the way to do that, so #NaNoWriMo 2017 and 2018 gave birth to a solid start to a new story. Before November, however, I had finally received my editorial report in May. This was exactly what I needed to finally complete the project.
‘This is a strong and commercial idea’ – Claire McGowan. This was the start of a very constructive and valuable feedback report on my first manuscript. It contained a great analysis of the plot, characters, and issues I had with the story. It went on to show common errors with grammar just to top it off. Either way, it instilled in me a great amount of confidence to carry on – so I did.
I went out and bought a couple of whiteboards, sticky notes, notepads, the lot! I began getting to work on making some serious changes that needed making. It got messy and stressful but I’d never felt so engaged in a project before. Getting down to the nitty-gritty of it all. At the time, my ex-partner was very supportive and numerous late nights and coffees got me through the bulk.
Following a move to our new flat at the time, an extra room for the office was perfect to help me focus. I set up a desk, the computer, and all my writing notes. I took one final sprint and polished up the story before sending it out to agents in the Spring of 2019. Then I stopped again.
As with any creative endeavour, things can happen in a person’s life that pulls them off track. I had a lot going on in 2019 that contributed to that. I stopped reading, stopped writing and really just threw myself into other things that weren’t great for me. To make matters worse, I received rejections from agents which really dented my confidence in my work. I would read the manuscript back and deem it a steaming pile of nonsense. It wasn’t going to get me anywhere.
After the split with my ex in the summer of 2019, I eventually moved into a small place (where I currently reside), to save money and get myself back on track. It was a time for healing and for me to refocus. After many late nights out drinking and just letting loose, I picked up my novel and noticed I hadn’t given it the ending it deserved. I wanted to change that, but I also wanted to approach publishing differently.
What did I want from all this?
It was a question that was hard to answer. Ultimately, I just wanted people to read my book. The project I’d poured my life and soul into for going on half a decade. I’d started this adventure back when I was 25, living on a very low wage, juggling a terrible job and my degree. Now, coming up to 30, I’ve lived through so much it’s changed me irreversibly. I didn’t care about fame, or my name on a shelf, or the money (which is still nice). What did I really want from all this? To give to others the stories I had lived.
I skipped out on #NaNoWriMo2019 in favour of focusing on tidying up the book. I did it slowly, whilst also focusing on myself and my health. It made a huge difference and, after meeting someone great, getting into better shape, my self-esteem took a new high. I took this energy and threw it into my work. I revived this website, started reading again and set a calendar up with a goal to self-publish my book by March 2020.
Now here we are.
I’ve published three podcasts for my Drunk Wiki series I’ve always wanted to do (disclaimer, I bulk record them for obvious health reasons). I’m back reviewing books and blogging like I used to. The book is very very nearly done and now all I need is to confirm a book cover artist and I’m good to go.
Looking back, it’s been a hell of a journey. It’s been filled with misery, disappointment, rejection and a feeling of constant inferiority. It’s also been filled with elation, discovery, awe and that triumphant sensation of completing something big and important. I’ve learned a lot and it’s taught me a great deal about writing a novel and everything that comes with it. Life doesn’t just stop to watch, it joins in, becomes part of the papers of your story.
If you’re in the process of writing a book, I would genuinely love to hear from you. It’s both a brilliant and hellish thing to undertake, depending on your experience, so with that in mind, I’m sure any writer reading this as a few tales to tell.