Novels are strange, wonderful things.
Pick up a book right now and take a look at it. What do you see?
I see sheets of paper glued together down one edge, and each one of these sheets of paper has squiggly black markings running horizontally in lines across the pages and ordered into groups. And our eyes run over these black squiggles and our brain deciphers them into words and sentences and, ultimately, a story.
Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it?
And yet novels can move us to tears, make us angry, feel tension, fear, induce uncontrolled laughter in public spaces, and much more.
This is why I think books are magical, that we are tapping into something beyond our understanding when we read, and are moved by, a good book.
And yet, here’s a thing, when we read and fall in love with a book, and the people within that story, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. There’s a whole mass of undiscovered back story and character history lurking beneath the surface.
I know of some authors who try and map this material. Before they even write a single word of narrative they will have drawn up character profiles, diving deep into each person’s history and documenting that history, even though most of it will not appear in the finished story. Similarly these authors will map out their worlds, and research real historical details, maybe change it to fit their stories, and again most of this will not make the finished book.
But it will shape it.
As a reader I’m, usually, not that interested in the back story of a novel except where I need it to enrich the reading experience.
And as an author I don’t go in for that kind of detailed history, the kind that will never make it to the finished book. I mostly write by the seat of my pants, discovering my characters as I take them through the story. By seeing how they react to certain situations, how they deal with problems, I discover who they are.
I write books for the same reason I read them: to find out what happens next.
I’m up to Season Four of the Joe Coffin books, and I’m starting to wonder about those hidden depths. And my mind has started chipping away, like an archaeologist digging for more information.
A couple of months ago I set myself a challenge, and asked my newsletter subscribers to send me an opening line to a story and I would write it. I chose the one that most intrigued me and then, to my surprise, I found myself writing a Joe Coffin story.
Or, to be more precise, a Joe Coffin back story.
A story that is set before Joe is even born, but fills in some gaps, reveals a little more of that huge archaeological prize I am digging out of the ground.
The kind of story that will delight Joe Coffin fans, the ones who have read all four seasons, that will have them going ‘Ah, okay!” and ‘Yes!’ whilst fist-pumping the air.
Seriously, it will.
How do I know this?
Because those were my reactions as I wrote the story.
I’m going to be unleashing it into the wild very soon.
Keep an eye out for more details.
As always, I’m putting a donate button here for you. I write and publish these blog posts for free, and I keep them up forever so that anyone can go back and read any of them whenever.
If you’d like to donate the cost of a cup of coffee (strong and black please, no sugar) I will be forever grateful.
But whatever you do, thank you for reading anyway.