My name is Earl, Richie Earl that is and not the character from the comedy TV show, who goes around undoing the many wrongs that he has done, trying to placate karma.
I have been a fan of fantasy fiction since reading the Belgariad and Malloreon series by David Eddings, and although I have long since left my teens, I have a particular love for Young Adult fantasy. Probably because I will always be a child at heart and love nothing more than acting the fool with my own children who are 7, 9 and 13 years old.
As a family there is only one TV show that we all sit down to watch together – Doctor Who. We haven’t missed a single episode since the series was resurrected in 2005, but I also remember cowering behind the sofa as a child on many a Saturday evening. I have to admit that I was far more frightened than my kids are these days.
I have always read bedtime stories to Katie, Lucy and Jonathan, but occasionally made up my own stories, which usually involved the Doctor and his companions, not to mention Daleks, Cyberman and whichever monster had featured in the latest episode. I always included my three little ones in each story, which they loved. It was after one such story, that Katie told me that I should write a book about their adventures. Now it’s easy to please your own kids when making up fantastic stories about them and their favourite TV characters, but writing a book that would appeal to people who I didn’t know was a daunting challenge.
At school I was always an underachiever, ‘could do better’ and ‘Richard has great potential, but always fails to achieve it’ were constant themes in my end of term reports. I guess that I was happy to get away with doing the bare minimum. So now, years later, I decided to write a novel. I had started one a long time ago, but didn’t get beyond a few chapters. I had written some underground satirical magazines lampooning work colleagues for a bit of fun. And I had also written a collection of poems when I was younger. I have a reasonable grasp of grammar and was excellent at spelling, but I have never done a creative writing course. I hadn’t even read a book since Katie was born; the grind of the day job and sleepless nights meant that I usually fell asleep on the same page every night.
So I embarked upon this impossible journey with only three characters as a starting point and no idea where my final destination would be. I wanted the story to be magical and to be something that my kids would enjoy, but I also knew that I would have to enjoy it myself or I would never finish it. I didn’t even know how long the book should be. After Googling ‘how many words are in the average novel?’ I set my sights on 70,000.
I stalled on 30,000 words and didn’t write another for more than six months. ‘What’s the point, I’m never going to be a writer!’ I thought. And yet again I was set to fail to reach my potential. But then, for some reason I decided to give it one more go. ‘I don’t care if nobody ever reads it, I’m going to do this for my kids and for myself!’
It wasn’t easy, working long hours in the day job and then writing way after midnight. The words began to mount up, 50k, 60k, 70k and I was still nowhere near finished. It was at this point that I realised that there was going to be two books in the series. I knew then that I had to finish book 1 on a cliffhanger.
Katie read it and loved it, but she’s my daughter and a character in the book. My mother read it and loved it, but of course she would, even though she’s 80 and had never read a YA fantasy book in her life. Then a colleague at work suggested that I ask his 40 year old, fantasy loving nephew to read it. This was the litmus test, someone I’d never met and who was well versed in the genre.
Ian Robertson’s feedback was what convinced me that there was a good story lurking in my book. He also gave a few great pieces of advice as to how I could improve the book and pointed out a couple of holes in the plot. I fixed these things and then sent it off to two agents and two publishers. And lo and behold, I got an offer of a publishing deal. Ok, it was only from a small, independent press, but professional people saw enough merit in my work to want to publish it.
I couldn’t have hoped for more and was overjoyed. But that was merely the start of the journey.