by Kate Lattey
Today has been a big day. I have
finally finished, and published, my fourth full-length novel. It wasn't
supposed to be my fourth novel - it was intended to be my second. But my
best laid plans didn't quite turn out the way that I'd expected...
After I wrote and self-published my first novel Flying Changes in 2011, I started work on the sequel right away. Partly because I wanted to, and partly because I was told to. Don’t stop! everyone said. Keep the momentum going. Don’t be a one hit wonder.
Small chance of that. Everything I write is part of a series. I can’t seem to do it any other way, even when I want to.
My first book was optimistically labelled Clearwater Bay #1.
It was always going to be part of a four-book series. I had titles for
four books, and I had commissioned four cover photos. I knew what
happened in book 3. I knew what happened in book 4. (I’ve had the final
chapter and epilogue of the last book written for at least two years
There was just one problem. I didn’t know what happened in book 2. Other than the fact that it was called Against the Clock, it was a blank slate, a page without any words.
Looking back, no wonder it was hard to write.
Just skip it, suggested my mother. Move on to the story of book 3. Make it a trilogy instead.
terrible advice, except that there was no way I could do that. For the
events of book 3 to have emotional resonance, there needed to be time
and character development from book 1. I needed Jay, my protagonist, to
grow up a little bit more before I could throw her into the dramatic
events of book 3. But I was struggling. I looked over the first draft
and knew that it wasn’t great. The story leapt all over the place,
characters turned up for a few chapters then vanished without any
resolution to their part of the story, and the whole plot just meandered
Eventually, I was so disparaged
that I couldn’t even look at it, so I decided to write something that
would just flow. Something that I had no stakes in or expectations of,
just pick a scene in my head and start writing, and see where the
storyline would go. I clearly recall sitting in my bedroom in Ireland,
visualising that house’s cluttered front hallway, and starting to write.
She ran down the hall, bare feet slapping against the dusty floorboards.
kept writing, intrigued, as my new heroine ran into the kitchen to find
her big sister sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by overdue
“Nimble’s caught in the fence! Van cut him out but he’s gushing blood all down his leg, and you have to call the vet.”
was supposed to be one scene, a writing exercise full of action that
would break me free of the net that I was trapped in. It wasn’t supposed
to turn into a book, but those characters moved into my head and took
over. A year and a half later, I had completed a novel called Dare to Dream.
I released it into the world, and went back to working on Against the Clock.
Armed with more skills and experience and the newfound realisation that
even pony books can’t be all about ponies all of the time, I started
hacking storylines and characters out of the first draft. But then the
story just lay there, apathetic and dull and uninspiring. I fumbled
around for ideas, and found a few. I added them to the story, watched
them settle in and become part of the fabric of that world. They worked,
but they were small character moments, not big plot moments. And the
plot itself was still feeble. It still didn’t work.
Meanwhile, Dare to Dream was
gaining traction. It sold well, and consistently. It got five-star
reviews. Readers loved these characters, loved this storyline, and
wanted more. And the characters themselves wouldn’t go away either. They
wanted their story to be continued. I knew what happened after the
events of Dare to Dream, but nobody else did. I wrote the
epilogue to the sequel, and it made me cry. So I decided that everyone
else should get to read it too. I put Against the Clock aside once more, and started writing Dream On.
Just under a year later, Dream On was released to rave reviews, and I went back once more to Against the Clock.
This time I was going to make it work. Armed with yet more knowledge
and writing ability, I stripped the story right back to its bare bones,
then slowly pasted the character moments back in around the plot.
Slowly, slowly, it started to form into a proper novel. It fell into
place, just needing me to write some additional scenes and trim back or
rewrite a few existing ones. It was almost ready.
There was only one problem - I was really struggling to let go of Dream On.
I don’t usually like reading my own work, but I kept going back and
re-reading that book, just so that I could live in that world a little
longer. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to go back to Clearwater Bay
and deal with Jay’s smaller, more trivial problems. I didn’t want to go
back into first person and not be able to explore different viewpoints,
or jump to another character to keep the pace going. And I love the
girls in Dare to Dream and its sequel. They’re the kind of people
I’d be friends with (are in fact loosely-based on actual friends of
mine) and I was still missing them. They're sisters, with a strong
sisterly bond, and I felt as though they were part of my family. It was
really hard to walk away, but I made myself do it.
made myself step back into Jay’s life and take her hand and guide her
along the path towards book 3. And eventually she stopped snatching her
hand away from me and telling me that her story was stupid and boring
and I shouldn’t really bother, and we started working together. And when
it got hard and stagnant and I wondered why I was bothering, the voice
of one of Jay’s good friends in the book came into my head, as it does
hers when things get tough in the narrative.
“Suck it up, buttercup.”
We both took his advice.
Against the Clock is
done now. It got auto-delivered to the lovely people who have
pre-ordered it on April 19th, and I can sit back and cross my fingers
and hope that people enjoy it as much as my beta-readers (fortunately)
did. So far, so good.
And so, on to book 3
in the series. I’m looking forward to this one, although it’s going to
require a lot of research and a hefty dose of imagination. There are
some dark moments in this book, and while I can’t wait to explore them,
it’s going to take some work to get myself into the heads of these
characters. Because the thing with writing a series in first person is
that there are only so many things that can happen to and directly
affect one character. For Jay, her journey is as much about learning
from other people as it is about herself. It’s about learning to
recognise other people’s problems, and understand their opinions, and
expand her own view of the world through the framework of how others
also perceive it, and how she perceives other people. I’m excited to
explore that, and I can’t wait to get to the end. I'm on a roll now, and
Jay has decided that yes, she does want her story told. It also helps
that the next two books will involve more outside characters, and less
internal monologuing. And in those moments that still creep in, when I’m
feeling particularly dispirited and wondering if I can be bothered
writing these books, I re-read the last chapter of book 4, and I know
that it will all be worth it when I get there.
the meantime, to stop myself from stalling when Jay has a tantrum and
refuses to be written (it happens), I’ve started a new series. (Yes, I’m
crazy.) I didn’t mean to do it, but I wanted to know how fast I could
write a novel. Dream On took the shortest length of time, and it
was still almost a year. So I set myself a challenge over Easter to
write a novel in four days. Astonishingly enough (even to me!) I
achieved it in three days. It’s short – only 30,000 words – but I’m
intrigued to see if I can keep it up. To write short, complete novels in
very short periods of time is a good exercise for me, and I already
have characters and storylines for the next three novels. And these
girls all desperately want their viewpoints shared. (Characters can be
You can read First Fence, the
first book in the Pony Jumpers series, for free on Wattpad
it will soon be available on Kindle as well, with a sneak preview of the
upcoming sequel at the back. I hope to have the sequel out by the end
of this month (the first two chapters are up on Wattpad, but the whole
book will only be available on Kindle), and the third book in the series
out by late May.
As for book 3 in Jay’s story,
I’ve already got some scenes written. In fact, I wrote one last night,
and it’s included at the end of Against the Clock to whet
readers’ appetites for what’s to come. I’m excited to get going on it,
because I’ve been wanting to write about these characters and tell this
story for years. And now I feel as though I’m ready. It’s their time.
Trouble is, there are a few others out there who want their books written too, and they still won’t shut up…