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In May, I published The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis , a story set in a war-torn land inspired by the Medieval Crusades, and following the...

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Welcome to Reality!

Reality. It can be the bane of the dramatic writer who doesn't know how to work within the laws of the real world to create adventure and mystery. In my latest work, recent finished and now undergoing proofreading and editing, I set myself a real challenge. Writing an adventure story without relying on cheap get-out clauses or improbable events (well, improbable without reason).

The reasons for my strong dislike for those types of scenarios outside very specific situations stems from a natural liking for the realistic. Even in my fantasy worlds, I keep events as realistic as possible. Even in my science fiction, the "science" is based on the real and the possible rather than using Clarke's old tactic of tech being advanced enough for magic (which, while interesting to think about, is something of a cheat when it comes to story writing). But one particular novelist, Clive Cussler, doesn't do any of this. I first encountered Cussler's work through the movie adaptation of his novel Sahara, which I really enjoyed and still enjoy to this day. I decided to buy the original book, and was instantly put off. Any semblance of realism present in the movie was clearly not in the book. My father also reads - or read, at least - Cussler as light entertainment. I tried his other work in Raise the Titanic and Mayday. Suffice to say, these were more than enough to put me of Cussler for life. In reaction to this and my combined enjoyment of and amusement at Dan Brown's novels surrounding the character of Robert Langdon, I decided to write my own story.

First off, I needed a protagonist. She's someone I've tried to get into stories for a long time. Inspired by my love of independent and sassy female heroines (think Lara Croft meets Adele Blanc-Sec with touches of the 1980s Red Sonja and Aeon Flux). I've tried her in fantasy, then in science-fantasy, and neither worked. I think it's because I was using a third-person narrative for a character who deserved a first-person spotlight. She's essentially a version of me, so I was able to write in a convincing way I haven't quite managed with my other works to date. It also enables me to slip in some constructive criticism of genre tropes without it sounding odd or awkward. It's just someone commenting in the narrative on their situation.

Next, I decided to keep my story squarely in reality. I love Lara Croft and Syndey Fox, but you've got to admit the idea of massive temples and tombs with still-working traps after thousands of years does stretch the suspenders of disbelief to breaking point. There's also the modern world problem of where to find undiscovered ruins that aren't either buried under a large amount of jungle (as in completely overgrown and unexplorable) or have been reduced to their foundations. The obvious solution is to make them underground temples and tombs, but then you need to find an area that can accommodate it in the real world. No point putting an underground temple of some scale into rock that's too hard to mine with the tools its builders would have used. Someone will always call you out. So yes, I can hide an ornate tomb in the desert, as long as it's a subterranean structure built into sandstone.

I also wanted to put in some genuine archaeological or historical locations without turning them into surreal "for the reader and for drama" incarnations of their real-world counterparts. I think you can guess what I mean - Egyptian tombs with working traps and vast conveniently lit catacombs, huge undiscovered Khmer ruins with deep catacombs and complex locking systems... Basically what a lot of adventure stories tend to incorporate. My locations eventually included (not strictly in this order) the Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia, the Scavi beneath the Vatican, the Gilf Kebir in Egypt, Pere Lachaise Cemetery the Carriere de Paris, the Cambrian Mountains in Wales, and several minor locations that can be visited today. As to why she's going to all these places, that's part of the story, so I'm not telling you anything here.

All of these places and associated locales had to be meticulously researched, realistically portrayed, and where needed embellished in such a way that it only requires a minor stretch of the imagination and not total suspension of disbelief. It also provided a wonderful opportunity to slip in a few in-jokes at the expense of the very authors I'm emulating. Such as.... a complex locking system on a door breaking due to rot when Helena tries to use it, and in the end all the door needs is a few kicks to get through one of its rotting panels. Yeah, that happens. And she's more than vocal about the fact that ancient locking mechanisms always seem to work in the movies...

Basically, it took five months of alternating between writing and research to complete what I fully consider to be a first draft. There's still editing, proofreading, formatting, and other such tasks to complete. I want it to be as readable as possible. But that's the future. Now, I can enjoy my victory. My first full-length novel written without a scrap of magic or science fiction in its pages.


  1. I really liked this (for the most part.)
    There were specific sentences that were a bit off putting to me such as "real and theoretical stuff"
    And you say "the kind of thing" a couple of times.
    I think you could find different choice of words to get your point across,or go deeper into detail...but refrain from using 'stuff' or 'things'
    It sounded great up until I hit those words.
    I feel like it flowed beautifully and then-it didn't.
    But I truly did enjoy most of it.

    1. Thanks for the criticism. I've adjusted it based on your feedback.