My oldest friends still roll their eyes when I say the word Windmills. Which is fair enough, because at this point that word is synonymous with ‘pathological inability to let go’. Windmills was originally a novel I wrote in year twelve, which became a play which became a novel again which became a screenplay then a novel again and in between spawned all manner of sequels, spin offs and derivatives as I tried to find my way to a version that worked. The closest it came was the TV pilot adaptation that won the Ustinov in 2015, but even that ultimately never saw the light of day.
Time and time again I was told to let it go. Time and time again I refused. I was always sure that THIS version would be the one to get over the line. A belief quickly amended when the next version came along.
The last time I tried to tell this story, my now-agent very kindly pointed out how for many reasons it just fundamentally didn’t work. Finally I listened. I moved on. I wrote The Hunted, The Inheritance and The True Colour of a Little White Lie. For three years I stayed away from Windmills.
But a few months back, needing a new book for my YA contract and not having any ideas, I picked it up again. I didn’t advertise the fact. Too many times before I’d believed Windmills’ moment had come then been proven wrong. I fully expected the same thing to happen again. But I tried anyway. And with the benefit of distance, I approached it differently, treating it like a totally new book. Characters were overhauled, long clung-to plot points rethought. Crucially, I stopped thinking of it as Windmills but instead as something new emerging from the ashes of so many old drafts.
When the draft was finished I wasn’t sure what to think. After so long it was impossible to look at the manuscript with any clarity. But knowing I had done all I could, I sent it to my publisher and I waited. I was nervous, ready for the rejection, for yet another version of Windmills to be sent to the bottom drawer.
Today I got a phone call from her. I didn’t pick up straight away. It took me a moment of courage mustering. I had to try and keep the waver out of my voice when I finally answered and waited for her assessment.
I was overwhelmed with relief. But it was only after I got off the phone that something else hit me. The surreal realisation that after twelve years of obsession, this story, or a version of it, is finally going to hit shelves everywhere. It won’t be called Windmills and it won’t look very much like other versions you might have seen over the years, but at its heart it will be the same story I started writing when I was seventeen.
So many people have been a part of this journey. Too many to name. Everyone who read drafts and gave feedback, who performed in and directed the various stage versions. Every one of you who helped me see with a little more clarity what this story had to be. I owe you all so much.
The journey isn’t over yet. There will be edits and rewrites and promo but by this time next year the story will be out in the world and after that, its fate is no longer in my hands. For the first time in over a decade, I think I’m okay with that.
Anyway. I can now officially confirm that the novel formerly known as Windmills will be my next book.
Writing words about writing words.