Parmenides once ‘proved that if Achilles gave a tortoise a hundred-metre start he’d never be able to catch up to the tortoise. In similar vein: if Homer wishes to walk to the end of the path. Before he can get there, he must get halfway there. Before he can get halfway there, he must get a quarter of the way there. Before travelling a quarter, he must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one sixteenth; and so on.
Such paradoxes come to mind as I reach the final chapters of the last book in my trilogy – ‘The Gift’. The close I come to the conclusion, the slower I am and the more it recedes.
I have to finish it because I think it’s my best work, and it’s dominated three years of my life. It also has a USP. No, me neither, until I looked it up: Unique selling point. The agent, John Jarrold told me that, intrigued by how a cosy family saga is fairly soon subsumed by the occult.
The first book, ‘The Gift,’ takes us from an Edwardian Liverpool slum to the high society of 1927. Its heroine is Elizabeth McBride, and through her eyes we experience Aleister Crowley, the Morgans of Tredegar and a young Adolf Hitler. Halfway through the book we realise the enormity of her gift.
The second book, ‘Bloodline,’ traces the kidnapping of her sister, Elsie McBride, her incarceration in a soviet prison, and her subsequent corruption by powerful Satanists. The stage is set for a duel to the death—or worse, between the two sisters.
The final book, ‘Bloodfall,’ has proved the trickiest. Whereas before it’s been immense fun, weaving in historical characters, and making sure they’re placed where they should be and at the right time—inserting fiction in the gaps, the challenge this time has proved far harder and complex.
Writers are often divided between ‘plotters’ and those who ‘write by the seat of their pants.’ Most, I suspect, fall somewhere in between. I usually know up to three chapters ahead what I’m doing. Beyond that it’s ‘here be dragons’ territory, where I have to sit down and map what comes next. Sometimes I’m stuck and have recourse to the Raymond Chandler strategy: ‘When in doubt have a man with a gun come into the room. In my case it’s demons.
So, the final book—Checklist:
Period setting — Check
Evocative? — Check
Plot — Check
Tension — Hmm. Needs more work. It’s a bit ‘stretchy’ at the moment, like bread dough before the final bake. Assuming I succeed where Achilles and Homer failed—in my case reach the bloody conclusion— it’s just a matter of editing: cutting the flab . . . and perhaps introducing demons with guns. Downton Abbey, perversion, Nazis and Satanists—what’s not to like?