Often I’ll finish a story and that will be the end of it. I’ll do a couple of re-edits, and then I’ll move on to the next thing. Whether that story takes the form of a play or a novella, it will usually just end up tucked away on my computer somewhere, before I stumble across it one day, re-read it, and laugh at it while getting all nostalgic.
But there are some stories and characters that will not go away. The big one was my book Windmills, and that was a four year process of writing, rewriting, adapting into a play, writing a sequel, then finally mashing the whole lot together in a relatively cohesive book. And even then I had a lot of re-editing to do. Then I wrote my little epilogue, The Lost Girl… Okay, maybe I sometimes have trouble letting go. Sure, in day to day life that can be unhealthy, but often with a story it means that you haven’t yet brought it to its full potential.
Of course, there’s a fine line. When I was fifteen I wrote eight different stories about a character called Chris Hawkins, because my friends seemed to like him and, realising that this guy actually meant something to more people than just myself, I got attached. But re-reading all of them last year, only two of those stories really have any merit. The rest are pretty shit. The problem was, I couldn’t let go. Even two years ago I was considering writing a new Chris story. I could not accept that I just had nothing left to say about him. Likewise, it’s only recently that I’ve accepted that there will probably never be a Windmills sequel. Any more would ultimately be a disservice to the characters.
Sometimes you want to do more, but the story deceives you. Like Phoenix, my old YouTube series turned screenplay turned novel. Phoenix was cool and marketable, a kind of Tomorrow When the War Began meets Hunger Games young adult thriller that could have been pretty good. But ultimately, I like writing stuff that is a bit strange, or different, and Phoenix was too generic to ever really hold my full investment. I wrote a whole novel before I realised that I was barking up the wrong tree with this story, and it was time to move on to something else.
So all this brings me to a guy by the name of Boone Shepard. In 2008, during one of the few times I got sick of Chris, I wrote a quirky little steampunk murder mystery about a witty, eccentric journalist in 1960’s England who travels around the country solving crimes. Being me, there was an undercurrent of darkness, but it was funny and odd, which I liked. I wrote three stories about him before I realised nobody really liked him, so I left it and went back to Chris. But I never forgot Boone.
I always toyed with the notion of redoing his story. Making it into more of a dark fantasy story, perhaps. Or trying to do a comic book. I was missing the point, though. Boone was strange, funny and totally individual. Imagine a cross between Tintin, Indiana Jones and The Doctor; that’s who this guy is. I liked his stories because they were light and fun, something that could not be said for a lot of the other stuff I’ve written. I always felt that there was more to be done with Boone, and about a year ago, I spontaneously started writing a new story about him. Three years later, it was like he never went away. Boone sprung back on to the page, as sharp, free spirited and acerbic as ever, and I realised that I was far from done with him. If I wanted other people to see in Boone what I saw in him, I had to do his story right.
Recently I’ve been writing possibly the darkest play I’ve ever come up with. Called The Kommandant and the Common Girl, it’s a drama about a Nazi who falls in love with a Jewish girl in a Concentration Camp. Seriously heavy stuff. Two days ago I finished a brutal, climactic scene and found myself just feeling depressed. Listening to happy music didn’t work, but I had to do something to change my headspace. So I started writing a new version of Boone’s first story. And it flowed like you wouldn’t believe. Yesterday I wrote more. And today I had to look at myself in the mirror and say ‘right, you finish your uni work, finish Kommandant, and THEN you can run off and have adventures with Boone!’
Boone’s been waiting for me for years. And I cannot wait to see what he has in store for me this time.
Writing words about writing words.