I wrote ‘The Chapel’ in Boca, shortly after I came back from England. I like the scene where the ghostly black monk with the hooked nose appears. Despite the frightening apparition, Jimmy and Sparrow manage to find the third and final clue and escape back to the safe haven of the shelter. Exciting stuff!
Now I wanted to slow things down for a chapter. I wanted to introduce a new character into the plot, a girl called Annie. She was going to be a great foil for the two boys, providing some common sense when their wild ideas got the better of them. She is essentially a younger version of a girl I knew when living in Munich. I find it makes it a lot easier to describe a new character if I base them off someone in real life.
I wanted Sparrow and Annie to meet in a park. Since she was living on the streets, just as he had been, I imagined the scene where Sparrow sees her hiding inside a large bush. Since she was going to be a healer, but also an empath, I thought it would be fun to have her talking to ducks. I also needed to give her an opportunity to heal someone. When I was very young, I remember getting a really bad scrape when I fell off a roundabout that was spinning at some speed. The chapter almost wrote itself.
So I scoured a map of the area looking for a large park with a lake, somewhere very close to Aldgate tube station. And there wasn’t one – at least not large enough. There are several good sized parks closer to the center of London, but it seemed odd to have Sparrow trudge miles and miles just to go to a park for the day.
So I just invented one. The park I wrote about is actually in my home town of Billericay, Essex, but don’t tell anyone I told you!
I think the scene when Sparrow first meets Annie has to be my favorite scene in the entire book. There is something magical about the first time you meet someone who is going to play a huge part in your life. More than that, I can just see the surprised look on his face as he sees a grubby hand appear from a bush and grab a piece of bread. I think that would look great on TV, don’t you? It reminds me a little of a book I read as child, called ‘Stig of the Dump’.
More than one person has told me that my writing is uneven in places. In particular, “Annie” interrupts what is essentially a boy’s action story, and seems to have been aimed at a younger reader than the rest of the book. The former was intentional, though the latter most certainly was not. I think the chapter just brought back happy childhood memories for me, and so it seemed natural to write it in a younger, simpler style.
I had been lucky so far I suppose. I hadn’t been writing as fast as I would have liked, but I was never short of ideas. All that changed in summer of 2009. I was hit by the dreaded “Writer’s block”. This was a new experience for me, and not a good one. I would sit for hours on end staring at a blank page, and no words would come. I tried changing things up – I would try and write in a different room. Try writing on my PC instead of using a notebook and then typing it up later. Nothing helped. The story stopped after Sparrow met Annie, and I was worried I would be stuck forever.
It was late summer when I decided I needed to travel again. I was angry, frustrated, and weeks had gone by with no progress at all. Several years ago, friends had told me how wonderful Sanibel Island was. It turns out that it is only a two hour drive from the East coast of Florida to the West coast, so off I went!
It was early September, and still hot and sticky. I found a reasonably priced hotel right on the beach. At once I fell in love with the soft white sand, and the warm, calm waters of the gulf. This might not be paradise, for a start it had too many insects that seemed to descend on me whenever I ventured inland a bit, but it was pretty close.
I forced myself to write a few words each morning. It was slow going, but over a week I pieced together ‘The Beast in the Well’. In the afternoons I would laze by the beach and swim a little. In the evening I found a local sports bar/restaurant to dine in. My writing wasn’t flowing as I had hoped, but I was getting through my block at least.
I liked Sanibel island a lot. The fishing pier was a bit disappointing, crowded, hot, with no shade anywhere. But the beaches were wonderful, the people friendly. I found several shops selling an impressive range of polished shells. It also has two bookshops, both of which had sections for local authors. One day, I thought, I’d like to see signed copies of my book here.
Still, things didn’t seem much better when I got back to Boca. I was still frustrated by my lack of progess. If I wanted to be a full-time writer, why couldn’t I write? Defeated for now, I stopped writing for several months. The adventures of Jimmy and Sparrow were put on hold, maybe forever?