One of the first, and admittedly rather major, obstacles to overcome when beginning my debut novel was my complete and utter lack of writing experience. I’m not talking about ‘I’ve attended a few talks and writing workshops / I’ve written a number of short stories in the past / that degree in Humanities might finally come in useful’ lack of experience. I’m talking about a ‘B’ at GCSE English (achieved by ripping off the lyrics to an Iron Maiden song) lack of experience.
An eclectic mix of careers for the ambulance service, the RSPCA, and most recently for the RNLI, didn’t do a lot to encourage the writing process. What I did do during those years is rot my mind with an abundance of television shows and movies, finally inspiring me to write my first ever screenplay, which in retrospect was indeed ‘a poorly executed take on an even poorer idea’.
I did this for years, writing between work shifts, waiting anxiously for the BBC submissions window and bombarding unsuspecting agents with unsolicited reams of paper. Needless to say, none of it got me anywhere. Ragdoll was among those rejected screenplays, that original pilot episode covering the first quarter of what would eventually become the novel.
Years later, reasonably confident that I was deluded, and on the brink of giving up entirely, I decided to abandon the screenplays and try one final, everything or nothing, last-ditch attempt at a writing career – that most daunting of projects: committing myself to writing a novel. Ragdoll had always been my favourite of my stories and it had frustrated me to set up such a strong premise only to leave it at the first major cliff-hanger. So, I set to work on adapting my own rejected screenplay of a partial story into an entire book.
Never having had to write anything more descriptive than INT/POLICE CELL/NIGHT and the occasional screen direction, I found myself consulting my favourite novel (yes, it was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) as a guide on how to actually start writing a book.
As must be the case for everyone, that first chapter was the hardest – repeated attempts to work out my voice and gauge the tone. Finally satisfied – Ragdoll was completed approximately a year later.
I have no doubt that had Ragdoll been dismissed out of hand like everything else I’d ever written, I would have finally taken the hint and given up. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and the story that I thought was dead and buried almost six years ago is now receiving a level of attention all over the world that I could have never dreamed of.
Overall, it has been challenging, at times hopeless, occasionally heart-breaking – but, writing this four days before publication, I can honestly say that it was all worthwhile.