It all began with stories at bedtime. My parents read to me every night and I sucked up the fantastic worlds they made come alive from the pages of all those books. I loved when my uncle read Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and the Jungle book, the images of those exotic countries sprang to life in my mind.
I was a Star Wars obsessed child in the early 80’s. Always dreaming up new worlds for Luke and Han to fight off Bounty Hunters and Stormtroopers, as I lived the life of my action figures in every nook and cranny of my bedroom.
My parents tried to bring culture into my life. We would go for long walks in the countryside – in my mind the forests were full of Robin Hood and his Merry men, the fields filled with medieval knights charging on their warhorses. It seemed to my young mind that everywhere we went there were amazing castles, mystic ruins and boring churches (you can tell the ones I preferred). At that time, I would spend hours in the park with friends, where every climbing frame, swing and roundabout was the centre of another siege or battle in our minds.
It has to be said, that although we lived in England, most of my family were Welsh and we visited that fabulous land during the majority of our holidays. And there be Dragons!
As I began to slip towards my teenage years, I was still reading every night before sleep. Somewhere along the line I had read The Hobbit and consumed every Fighting Fantasy book I could find; I will admit that rolling dice under a duvet by torchlight and keeping tally of hit points and stamina was a little annoying, it was much easier to just cheat and keep reading.
My teenage eyes began to wander along the bookshelves at home. A wonderful free library of fiction from every genre, but it was the fantasy books which caught my eye, proud warriors, beautiful maidens and wild landscapes splashed across the covers. So it was that I consumed the works of Tolkien, devoured the Dragonlance chronicles and gobbled my way through The Riftwar Saga. Shannara, The Belgariad, The Tales of Alvin Maker gave me sustenance. The Disc World and all its joyous merriment has left many small footprints running through my mind.
As I got older the series seemed to just get bigger. Along came Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind, Robin Hobb and George R R Martin. Things became truly epic.
Somewhere along the way I found time to squeeze in some Sci-Fi. Dune and all its sequels, any Star Wars book I could find. Alastair Reynolds, Peter F Hamilton and Stephen Baxter have all put words and worlds into the soup of my imagination.
This is not a definitive list of works and authors who I have enjoyed spending time with, the many films and television series surely added to the mix, but they are for another time.
Eventually, I became a teacher. I loved the times when the children were independently writing. It was when I could write. Admittedly, I never finished anything. I somehow felt it would be wrong to just leave them to it! I’d squeeze in a paragraph here and there in between answering questions and reading their work over their shoulders, giving small pieces of advice. I’d prepare short story starters as example texts, which I got more excited about than they did (except that one girl who clapped after I finished reading one day.)
Then the pandemic happened.
I dug a pond, built a shed, designed and installed a new herb garden and read.
A message appeared on Facebook from a friend I had not seen for years.
“Would anyone like to play Dungeons and Dragons over zoom whilst we are all trapped in lockdown?”
I dismissed it.
My son rang me and asked if I had seen the message. He wanted to play and thought it would be a good way of us seeing each other more often. He does not live with me, what a brilliant idea.
I started playing. I became addicted. It was the perfect place for my imagination to go. I linked up with friends who I had not seen for 20 years. I hung out with dwarves and orcs, battled goblins and dragons. The best bit was reading the write up from the week before just before the next session, to get back into character. Then one week the Dungeon Master did not have time to write up our adventure. Could I do it?
Yes, I could.
I had two new addictions. Living a fantasy life and writing about that fantasy life.
Before I knew it, we had written a novel. Easy when you have lots of friends helping and a plot already made. But to me, I now knew that if you wrote a little every week you could end up with a book.
So, I started writing my own story. Just a little most days after work. More at weekends.
The Beast began to crawl out of my mind. There were times I would whoop for joy at the actions of my characters. Times that I would weep in misery for them. Some days I had no ideas, others, the words would just flow out.
I posted on Wattpad and to my amazement people read my words. This just encouraged me to write more. Soon I was past everything I had planned and the story kept coming.
I realised that I would finish the first novel and that this was to be a series. But what should I do with the thing once it was done?
Life loves a good twist. I took redundancy from teaching. It was not easy leaving colleagues and friends that I had known for years. Term ended and I had the time to try and publish the book. I read books on publishing, spent countless hours on the internet finding out all I could and then I put together a proposal to try and get an agent.
It was not good. At the time I believed in it. Looking back now… Oh dear!
I realise that it would be excellent to be published traditionally, but that perhaps it is not yet for me.
I researched more. How did you go about self-publishing?
Easy. Write a book and stick it on Amazon for the world to come and buy.
That is the theory. I am still sticking to it, but there seems to be a lot more to it.
The months rolled by as I worked on formatting the text. Then I re-read the book and did another edit. Then another edit and another. Each time the book got better but I began to doubt.
Was the cover good enough? Did the story make sense?
I found other people to read it (the fans on Wattpad were great at helping with motivation but never gave constructive feedback) and made changes based on their advice.
I put the book on Amazon for pre-order.
Finally, it would be done. That was when I realised that I had to make it better.
I redesigned the cover several times and then did it again (and will probably do it again before release). I enlisted the help of my partner for yet another edit.
I made my own website, a new author account on facebook, stepped into the unfamiliar worlds of Twitter, Instagram and Tic-tock. There is so much to learn, and with each new frontier comes another rabbit hole to fall down and get lost in.
I came to realise that I didn’t need to do it all at once. Just a little at a time.
Book 2 was getting nowhere. The joy was disappearing as it all became just another job. I started taking on supply teaching shifts to keep the money coming in, and panic over finding a ‘real’ job was never far from my mind.
I put back the release date for ‘The Beast’ so that I had more time to get it into the shape I wanted it in.
Now it is 9 days to release. I feel more confident about my final edit. I have put aside thought of spending money on getting a professional cover artist and accepted what I have.
In my mind I could have hired an editor, cover artist and marketing team. Would I have told my story any better… Maybe. But I have told my story to the best of my ability, and it is all mine. If I sell one book, I will still be proud. If I sell a hundred, then I will feel that I have achieved my goal of being an author. If I get some positive reviews then I will smile all day.
I know already that however it goes I am proud of my novel.
Already book 2 is beginning to flow forth again. Then there might be a book 3. There are so many possible worlds yet to visit, so many castles to lay siege to, swords to be drawn, spells to be cast, characters to be sculpted by pain and glory.
This is just the beginning.