Picking things up where I left off is not easy at all. I think I might have figured out why Carsun keeps stalling…
… and I think I know how to put it right.
Almost twenty years ago, a character came into my mind, and with him, a group of friends, enemies, an entire town and a religion. I was fit to burst with ideas, but I didn’t write the story until I’d been writing notes and building characters for over a year.
I then retold the story as Matt Carsun: Saturnine, shifting the timescales slightly. I reconfigured the story so that the characters were back in high school, rather than have sequences of flashbacks snapping into the current narrative. I broke the story into parts, so that I could essentially tell three stories in one, shifting time by a fortnight, or six months, between parts.
Many years later, I stitched three stories together to make The Cabinet of Dr Blessing. These individual stories had their own time jumps – one picks up the next day, another takes place six months later.
Looking back on Saturnine, it’s as amateurish as you’d expect from a writer who was 22 at the time. It was important though. I banged that thing out in record time – the first draft took 4 weeks to write. I learned that with enough planning, I could have a project that essentially wrote itself.
Plus a lot of the main character’s friends were based on my friends. A lot of the feelings I tried to capture in there, were feelings I had been feeling around that time – moving away from being a child and into adulthood (even though I realise now, nobody’s really an adult until they’re about 27).
I put together a sequel, one much larger in scope than Saturnine was. A story in six parts, where the sixth part was essentially that very first Matt Carsun story with the flashbacks stripped out, keeping and rewriting the current narrative from that episode in the characters’ lives.
Then came that tricky third book. The one I started, but could not for the life of me finish. I was about 27 then, funnily enough. And I felt very different to how I did when I first got to know those characters. And I was chewing it out. So I stopped. If it isn’t fun to write, it won’t be fun to read, that’s what I think.
And then back in 2011 or something, I decided it was time to bring the old boy back. I had a good idea about how to do it, and coming off the back of writing Doctor Blessing, I was full of energy and enthusiasm and ready to bring something new to something older. Something like 10 chapters in, and it fell apart. I lost momentum, lost sight of what I was trying to do.
Carsun has limped and stalled, limped and stalled ever since.
Until a few weeks ago. In the latest round of trying to find the angle for this thing to work, I managed to add a few aspects and some additional depth to some parts of the story, but once again I hit a sticking point.
Some of the characters didn’t know what to do, what to say. They didn’t have a life anymore. Even Carsun himself, who isn’t based on me as much as he features some things that I wish could be true about me (successful businessman probably being chief among them), couldn’t motivate himself anymore.
I had resolved years ago to condense the cast list down and streamline the characters – making composites of characters who, in the grand scheme of things, didn’t have all that much to do. But it wasn’t enough. So I started looking at it again. And something clicked.
I’ve bloody sussed it out, haven’t I? Well, I think I have.
You see, what Carsun is, is what I want. What he wants is nothing I’ve ever wanted, so I needed to crack into new motivations that were purely his. I needed to understand him again, and what he wants.
But it goes way beyond that. All those friends he had in those earlier stories… they are friends I used to have. I don’t know those particular lads anymore. Haven’t got a clue where they are, what they’re doing. Can’t say I give much of a shit, either.
I’ve fallen out of touch with the characters. They’ve moved on with their lives, they can’t be a part of this story. They could work only in a story where Matt Carsun is in High School. I can’t see them as men, I can’t visualise it in any way that feels authentic. They’ve just up and left.
Carsun is going to play with adults now. That’s how it has to be. That’s how I can make it work.
In working through the new character sheets, I feel more productive than I have in years. I’m excited to meet these new people – to get to know them and their motives. And those characters I’m keeping? Well, I’m back to scratch with them, too. From a name and a date of birth. Then their jobs, their religious and political stances (remember, Tilwick doesn’t work like everywhere else), hobbies, interests, disposition and personality. I am finding out who these characters are now. And I’m discovering new things about old characters that breathes new life into them and gives them new angles. They have bad habits, secret talents, gripes and proud remembrances. Carsun himself has a timeline, a history, and a family tree dating back (so far) to 1855.
So I haven’t written a single sentence within this new vision of the story – nothing that will make it to the book. Just scenes as exercises, the outtakes, filler. Just getting them talking to each other about stuff. Literally last night I wrote four pages of just dialogue between Matt and his friend, discussing an event that takes place years before this book kicks off.
But, before addressing the conflict that Matt has to overcome as he sets out to achieve his goals, I had to face myself. I wrote about my own conflicts, what’s going on right now. What I need. What I want. And what’s standing in my way.
And so, you lovely reader, things are moving. Slowly, but with certainty. It really hasn’t been plain sailing this week, but I won’t go into the details – I wrote my self-indulgent moan last week. This week is about gathering momentum. Because I feel like I’m onto something here. And when this story begins to solidify again, it feels like it’s going to be unstoppable.
You might even get to read it one day.