As a writer seeking publication, posts like this are literally like crack to me. I love nothing more than reading about my favourite authors' writing process and I hope all of you enjoy the story of James Dawson's journey to publication.
Beginning, Middle and End
I belong to an online writing group, and much time is dedicated to one of the least fruitful obsessions writers have, which is ‘predicting trends’. Wizards, vampires, post-apocalyptic televised blood sports – new writers are always trying to guess what’s next. Could it be mermaids? Could it be aliens? The pursuit is utterly pointless, however, as the long journey to publication that Hollow Pike took will illustrate.
Hollow Pike started as a nugget of an idea back in early 2009. I had just concluded an on-going serial in a local magazine and needed something to sink my teeth into. At the time I was teaching Year 6 pupils and had already become a fan of the ever-growing YA genre. To me, some of the freshest writing seemed to be in this area – grown up books without the boring bits.
The key ingredient that I felt was missing in the books I was reading was friendship. Lots of doomed romances and issues galore, but the protagonists rarely had a group of mates beyond the cursory best friend figure. When I was at school, my friends were the only reason not to skive, and, to be honest, romance didn’t enter my head until I was a bit older. When I spoke to the girls I taught, they all agreed that friends were more important than boyfriends. With this is mind, I set out to write a story about the power of friendship.
I was so important to me that anything I write has a sense-of-humour. Laughter brings light to the darkest situations, and this is something I often find lacking in YA fiction. Lighten up kids…you’re young! I also knew that I wanted there to be a murder-mystery. I love dark romance, but I also like a plot. I have always felt a good old-fashioned whodunit is the best reason to keep turning the page.
These three things: friendship, laughter and murder, formed the foundation for what was initially called ‘Bracken Hill’ – until I discovered that was a jam company. Then the supernatural stuff kicked in. I don’t know if I was trend-predicting or not, but there was always going to be some sort of supernatural weirdness in the mix.
Initially, Lis, Kitty, Jack and Delilah would have used supernatural powers to solve the mystery at the heart of Hollow Pike. Ley Lines featured heavily in the first draft, making Hollow Pike itself almost magical. However, plot wise this meant there was a lot going on. A character had to die, Lis had to discover the magical powers and come to terms with them, before starting to solve the mystery with her new friends. The first draft of Hollow Pike was a good third longer than it was now – a real door stop.
It was at this stage, in 2010, that I signed to my agency. But by this time, publishing was moving on. Another twelve months of books had come out, including Michael Grant’s ‘Gone’ series which bore some resemblance to Hollow Pike. Already, vampires were dead in the water, with fairies and werewolves on the wane. See what I mean? Publishing doesn’t stay still for long and readers move on. Early feedback from publishers was positive, but word was out that supernatural YA was not hot any longer. Pretty depressing when you’ve just completed a supernatural YA.
I had a fantastic chat with my agent at the end of 2010. Hollow Pike, if it was to succeed, needed to be something new. Something distinctive. It needed to be what it was meant to be in the first place…a mystery with a strong emphasis on friendship. What was interesting was how easy it was to pull out the superpowers element – the book didn’t need those flights of fancy. In fact, the nearer Hollow Pike came to reality, the darker and more menacing it became. Isn’t it scarier not knowing? Whole sections were cut, and the emphasis changed – more noir, more…sinister.
The lovely people at Orion bought Hollow Pike almost immediately after I made the changes.
I would still class Hollow Pike a supernatural YA novel – but something a little different. Hollow Pike is a town with a dirty little secret, one that it has tried to keep buried, but Lis London and her friends are about to uncover it! I don’t think ‘supernatural’ is ever ‘out of fashion’, I mean fantastical, thrilling, scary stories never go out of style. Look at ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’, or ‘Sisters Red’…things move on, but retain a sense of the paranormal.
My advice to fellow writers is bury your head in the sand and write what you want. Ignore the glossy covers, ignore Twitter, ignore the rights deals section of The Bookseller. Publishers are already two years ahead of what’s on the shelves, so why bother? I always write for myself as a teenager, always thinking what I wish had been available in the mid-nineties. Of course, I dearly hope Hollow Pike strikes a chord with young people everywhere, but for now, I’ve written a book that I love now and would have loved then.