There is a quote I like very much from Lewis Carroll, ‘Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’
I assume he was talking about writing, though you could usefully apply his advice to many things. If only writing a novel was as simple as this sounds.
The early days writing ‘The Misplaced’ were spent in my study in Boca Raton. I had written an outline for the book, which contained a large hole in the middle. I planned some sort of summer excursion for Sparrow here, but I was not sure exactly where to send him.
I would write almost every weekday, even if it was just a few hundred words. I chose to write mainly in the mornings, when my brain was most alert. I would scribble down my first draft in a notebook, not worrying about anything other than turning ideas into prose. In the afternoon I would proudly type up the new addition to my developing story.
My early chapters gave Sparrow an introduction to the Shelter, and the gifted children who lived there. To his surprise, he discovers he has powers himself, and begins to explore his surroundings underground with his new friend Jimmy.
I am a huge Tolkien fan, and had always loved the riddles in ‘The Hobbit’. I needed to give Jimmy and Sparrow a reason to explore their new surroundings, and what better reason than a mysterious set of riddles leading to a long-lost treasure? This gave structure to the early part of the book, as I had Jimmy and Sparrow uncovering the clues that would lead them to the treasure. Each of the three clues would lead them to a new and exciting location.
I can vividly remember reading action-adventure stories as a boy. One series in particular grabbed my attention. It featured two brothers who would follow their father on adventures gathering new animals for a zoo or wildlife park. Each book would deal with a different place – the Congo or Kenya in one book, the Amazon jungle in another. The books were divided neatly into chapters, where the author would tell a complete story about one animal in one or two chapters, and then move on to the next. One chapter might see them tangling with a leopard. The next they would cross paths with a spitting cobra. This was the structure I wanted for ‘The Misplaced’. A series of books with the same core characters, but each book would have them visiting a new location (with the Shelter as a base). Although there needed to be a core story running through each book, ideally I wanted each chapter or two to deal with a new adventure.
My initial optimism waned as the days and weeks passed. I wanted a break from the treasure hunt. I did have Tanya and Sally in the Shelter, but I wanted to add a new female character; someone new to the shelter, someone that could join Jimmy and Sparrow on their adventures. Eventually I decided on Annie – a character based loosely on someone I knew many years ago.
I think the scene where Sparrow first meets Annie is one of my favorite parts of the book. I can see the surprised look on Sparrow’s face as he sees a grubby hand emerge from a bush to grab a wayward piece of bread. The lake is based on a lake in my hometown. Using the amazing powers of a fiction-writer, I simply transplanted the lake from Essex to East London!
After a few months writing I began to realize this was going to take me longer than I had first thought. I had an outline, I had a cast of characters, and I had started their adventures. I needed a break. I decided to go to England for a couple of weeks. If I spent a week visiting family and friends, I needed to think of somewhere else to stay for week. Preferably a hotel in the south of England, ideally with some literary connections.