I wrote six books before I started work on The Book and the Blade. They were not great. One, two and three were terrible in fact. Four showed some small promise but floundered (drowned) in the middle. Five was a present for my kids that I’m still happy with, and six was a silly thing that I enjoyed but will never sell to anyone. Ever.
A sixteen-year-old kid runs away from home in 1992 to watch Nirvana play at the Reading Festival while being part of the most cliche-ridden love triangle imaginable.
It is hardly a literary masterpiece.
I have a number of (very patient) friends and family who read these pieces of rubbish and my uncle quite enjoyed the last one but he did ask, ‘when are you going to write some fantasy?’
And that’s the moment I started thinking about it seriously. Let’s forget the fact it took me until I was well into my thirties to actually write what might be considered a ‘complete novel’, why wasn’t I writing in the genre I most loved? I’ve always read fantasy. Sir Terry Pratchett is my favourite author by a long way. Next to him are Neil Gaiman, Bernard Cornwell, David Gemmell, Stephen Kind and Richard Matheson. So that’s quite a potent mix of fantasy, folklore and horror. Maybe it was about time I started writing my own?
So on the 31st of January 2019, I did. I even marked the date in my diary, but what I didn’t comment on was why I started writing.
The thing that really kicked me into gear was a night out and being really quite unhappy at work.
It is frustrating to admit that last part. I’m a teacher. I love teaching. But I was struggling. We had moved from Australia back to Yorkshire and found a dream house (a cottage below a castle) in a dream town because I’d secured what looked to be a dream job. It was our Big England Adventure. My wife found an amazing job in York, and our kids were happy at school. But I wasn’t. I really struggled to get back into the English way of doing things. For the first time in fourteen years of teaching, I felt really quite shit at it. I was surrounded by amazing people and supportive colleagues who became firm friends but I was unhappy. That unhappiness led to a sense of frustration because I couldn’t control it. And that frustration led me to write… because I could control that.
Just before Christmas, 2018 I’d gone for a day out with the lads from university. Naturally, we met in York and toured all our old haunts (pun absolutely intended) and over Christmas, I couldn’t help but think of the story idea that had come to me decades earlier when we first met. So by the time I was back in the classroom (heading to work in the dark and leaving work in the dark and desperately looking forward to the weekends) I started taking a few moments for myself to write the story I’d always wanted to write.
And it made me happy.
There’s nothing quite like writing about a pissed-up, sarcastic loner talking to dead people to put a smile on your face.
York. Some places just exude atmosphere.