More than a Title

Today I upload Chapter Thirteen of my debut novel for young readers, ‘The Door to Caellfyon‘. This is the book’s final chapter. It is not, however, the end of the story.

When I completed my first draft back in 2015, my initial flush of satisfaction at completing this, my largest project to date, was tempered by the realisation that the end article weighed in at over a hundred and sixty thousand words – way too beefy for my target readership of nine to eleven year-olds.

I was then faced with the task of conducting a significant re-write. I immediately proceeded to split the story into two parts, ensuring each possessed a clearly definable beginning, middle and end. A couple of weeks later I had my reworked, two-part draft. The first half, however, remained cumbersome. It was far too lumbering and long-winded.

It was at that point when I discovered the true meaning of the writer’s term ‘murdering your darlings‘.

I recognised during a critical read-through that the story didn’t really start rolling until that draft’s fifth chapter. I had no choice – four entire chapters of thoughtfully-chosen words and carefully-crafted phrases, sentences and paragraphs, all of which I’d mulled, chewed and sweated over for hours on end had to go. ‘Murdering your darlings.’ How very apt.

But what of the missing backstory? How could I include this without relying on hefty paragraphs of narration?

Using the ‘show don’t tell’ maxim I selected those elements crucial to the tale and worked them into dialogue. For example, two scrapped chapters in which several scenes illustrated my protagonist’s school-bully problem were replaced by eight lines of verbal interaction.

I then had two ‘books’. The first retained the working title of ‘The Door to Caellfyon‘. For the second title I decided that a further read-through was necessary. In doing so I discovered an underlying theme, one I’d intuitively woven into the tale on a subconscious level.

I had the title for part two.

During the period in which I wrote and edited the entire tale and self-published the first half, my uncontrolled epilepsy was particularly troublesome, with seizures occurring many times each day – every twenty minutes or so at one stage. Several more each night also sapped my energy and spirit and played havoc with my short term memory.

By the time I published ‘The Door to Caellfyon’ I was running on empty.’

The desk at which I sat to write the story (and at which I’m seated now) continues to bear the scars of these events, evidence of the numerous hefty kicks I gave it while in the midst of frequent attacks.

To this day I’ve no idea how I managed to publish my book under such circumstances. This disbelief is compounded by the fact that I’ve little or no recollection of what was an extremely difficult period. An appalling memory is a common by-product of epilepsy.

The unfortunate upshot of these stresses was that, by the time I published ‘The Door to Caellfyon‘, I was running on empty. Not only was I no longer able to write, I even lacked the motivation to market the book. Consequently, despite initially being well-received and achieving an Amazon five-star rating, my book quickly sank into Kindle oblivion.

A further consequence was that part-two was never published.

I’m now going to correct this short-coming, and next week will see the start of its serialisation on this site.

Now, back to its title …

Levi watched as the hawk closed fast.’

As mentioned earlier, I conducted a further read-through in search of inspiration. In doing so I unearthed buried thematic imagery which underpinned an overriding theme, which may be summarised as: ‘in the face of adversity, downtrodden schoolboy steps into his power and becomes a hero.’

Here are extracts from my story which illustrate this loosely-woven thread of images and metaphors which gave me my title. The first appears on page one of ‘The Door to Caellfyon‘ and comes in response to a question in which Levi is asked to give an example of something that puzzles him:

‘… how come young birds leap out of a nest before they know how to fly? That’s one.’

Seymour nodded in approval. ‘And a good one. Why do you think?’

No idea, that’s why it’s a puzzle.’

Later in the same chapter, Levi is encouraged to overcome his own fear and step out onto a ledge, high up on an abbey wall:

‘Look, we need to be careful, both of us. But if I thought I was placing you in real danger we wouldn’t be here. Okay? Have faith in yourself, Levi. Remember the young bird leaving the nest? Well, you’re that bird right now.’

Levi nodded and forced a smile. His face felt tight.

It isn’t until part two – the as yet unpublished element of the tale – when the next example appears. Here, Levi and his friends are being pursued across open moorland by a vicious enemy. As though to illustrate their own dire predicament, they witness a tragedy:

They had travelled no more than a league and were passing a small stand of beeches to their left when a sparrow darted from cover, its wings flapping frantically. A second later, like a streak of grey lightening, a hawk flashed out of the trees in pursuit of the doomed bird. Levi’s breath caught in his throat as the whole party turned to watch.

‘Go on little feller,’ he urged.

Nipper turned away and began to walk on.

‘Don’t stand an earthly – would’ve been better to stay in the woods – nipped in the undergrowth or such – happen he’s no chance now.’

Levi watched as the hawk closed fast. ‘Go on,’ he said once more to himself. But it was already too late. The hawk stretched out with its talons and, with a puff of tiny white feathers, snatched the little bird from the air.

The group turned away and continued on, each alone with their thoughts. Eventually, it was Lapblud’s rustic tone that broke the silence.

‘Ee, dunno about thee, but I reckon we could’ve done wi’out seein’ that.’

Levi nodded silently. He had never been one to pay heed to omens. Somehow, to begin the day with such a sad view of death did not bode well.

Much later in the tale, as Levi and his sister must themselves take flight, their need for speed compels them to take to the water in a craft crewed by a shifty pair of rats by the names of of Bilgebob and Pitchrake:

Pitchrake slapped Levi heartily on the back.

‘Aye, that’s the spirit.’ He left them then and returned to his place at the stern where he grasped the waiting tiller. ‘C’mon, Bosun, let’s make some sail.’

Barely ten minutes after stepping aboard the The Sparrow Levi and Poppy were leaning on the taffrail watching Hengeport slip away, as above them taut sailcloth whipped and slapped in the quickening breeze.

Although today’s ‘episode’ concludes ‘The Door to Caellfyon‘, Levi’s adventures will shortly continue in Part Two:

The Flight of the Sparrow’

In the meantime, the final chapter of Book One may be found by accessing the ‘Door to Caellfyon’ menu tab. Or, for a downloadable PDF, click here.

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