Lately I haven’t been writing; or at least not much. I did some work on Nelson and the Gallagher over Christmas and about a month before that finished my play Three Eulogies for Tyson Miller, but beyond that I haven’t written anything that wasn’t either for a freelance gig, an application or a blog post. And while lots of exciting things have been happening with various projects, I haven’t felt 100% about any of it.
This malaise is the very definition of a first world problem so let me clarify; I’m not throwing myself a pity party or courting sympathy. I have no doubt this vaguely defined flat feeling will pass. No, the reason I’m writing this is to grapple with the source of why I feel this way, something that has genuinely blindsided me in how much it’s affected me.
That, of course, is saying goodbye to Boone Shepard.
A bit of context: by the time The Silhouette and the Sacrifice had gone to print, I felt largely done with Boone. I had told the story I wanted to tell, and while of course I would love the books to reach the biggest audience possible, the fact remained that thousands of people around the world had read the books in either text or audio form, and that’s a hard thing to be unsatisfied with. Add to this the endless list of rewrites and re-edits and eventually you get to a point where you’re just sort of done. I wrote the first ever version of a Boone Shepard story in 2008 and in 2018 his last published adventure was hitting bookshelves. Ten years is a long time to spend with a story.
It wasn’t until a couple of nights before Silhouette was published that the reality of what was about to happen started to dawn on me. I wrote a retrospective post about my journey with the character and the books, and near the end I started to choke up. I wasn’t really sure why; the ending you see in Silhouette is the same ending I originally wrote in 2014. I wrapped up Boone’s adventures back then. But still, this deep, raw sadness remained.
The next day, publication eve, I wrote a short Boone story as a kind of goodbye to him. I had no real plan for it, I was just walking past a pub and thought ‘you know what, I’d like to see Boone again’. So I sat down and wrote what, despite being set prior to the first novel, amounts to a kind of thematic epilogue for him. And as I typed out the last words, I realised why I felt the way I did; I was finished with the character.
That probably sounds simple and obvious, but bear in mind that, consistently after I typed out the words ‘The End’ in 2014, Boone stayed with me, through both short stories and the ongoing re-edits and rewrites of the novels.
But now he’s gone. I look in the place where Boone always waited in my mind, and it’s empty. I used to know he was always there, ready to ride off on some random adventure, to bicker with Promethia and save the day from whatever nonsensical threat he’d stumbled upon this time. But when he rode away at the end of that short epilogue, he rode away from me as well.
It’s a hard thing to quantify. Nothing is stopping me from coming up with a new Boone short story. But I know that it would feel forced and artificial. The need to write about him has dissipated. I let Boone go and I hardly realised I was doing it until he’d ridden off into the sunrise, chasing more adventures and mysteries that I won’t be privy to anymore.
And that has left me feeling hollow, like part of me rode away with him. Because of course it did. Because Boone was part of me and part of my life. My journey with him is my journey into adulthood. And maybe Boone being gone means finally growing up, somehow.
I didn’t think it would feel like this. I had no prior experience to suggest it might. When you finish a play you can always revive it. Before a story is published, you’ll be tinkering, tweaking and re-writing. Windmills has been around almost as long as Boone, but I haven’t had to say goodbye because, unlike Boone, it hasn’t gone out into the world in complete form yet.
It’s bittersweet; knowing you’ve finished something you feel so proud of, knowing that a journey can begin with a weird dream and become a thrilling reality. But journeys end, and maybe when they do part of you ends with them. And that can be harder to come to terms with than you ever let yourself consider.
So the book came out and instead of euphoria I felt empty, uninspired and unlike myself. Because part of what made me myself was gone.
It’s so easy to begrudge authors like J.K. Rowling or John Marsden returning again and again to the properties that made their names. But for the first time I get it. If I feel this way after three relatively short books that only achieved a modest readership, I can’t imagine what saying goodbye to something on the scale of Harry Potter or The Tomorrow Series must be like. Of course we need to know when to let something go, but that doesn’t make letting go easy.
There will be new stories and knew characters who mean as much to me as Boone. I’m confident of that. And of course the times that feel a little colourless always pass. New horizons and new projects make sure of that. Like I said at the start, this isn’t me throwing my hands in the air and wailing ‘woe is me’ because I’m no longer writing about a made up character who, in theory, I can do whatever I want with. This is me trying to articulate a whole new experience that I’ve never had to deal with as a writer before; being done with a story you love.
Writing words about writing words.