Monday, 13 January 2014
With the paperback of The Reviver being released on Thursday, it’s a good time to look back at how the book came about.
There are plenty of people who deserve my thanks, but the two most directly responsible for the birth of the book are bestselling British crime author Peter James, and American master of Gothic, Edgar Allan Poe.
It was back in 2004 that I joined a writing course run by Peter James, and the homework Peter gave us at the end of the first lesson was this: write the first page of a scary novel, introducing your protagonist and a murder weapon.
He’d spent much of that first lesson drilling into us the importance of grabbing your reader on page one, so I knew I needed something different. We were going to be reading our work out to the rest of the class, something I hadn’t had to do since I was at school, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.
I had a week to get it done, but it wasn’t going to be easy. By ‘first page’, Peter meant the first 250 words – the first page of a manuscript that a prospective agent or publisher would read. And, unless you got their attention, it could well be all that they would read.
It’s a great writing exercise, because 250 words is a lot shorter than you might think – by the time you’ve read to the end of this sentence, you’ve already read over 250 words in this blog.
Days passed, and I’d come up with nothing. The idea finally came when a friend showed me Wikipedia’s entries for specific dates, letting you see who you share a birthday with. That’s where Edgar Allan Poe came in: we were both born on January 19th. The thought of Poe brought back two of his most memorable tales: Murders in the Rue Morgue, widely considered to be the first modern detective story, and The Facts in the Case of Monsieur Valdemar, in which a man hypnotises a terminally-ill friend who then continues to speak after dying.
The image of the detective in the first story talking to the corpse from the second flashed into my head, and I had my opening! When I came to read it out, the response was fantastic.
Over the rest of the course, that one page became the first chapter. The reaction and encouragement I got from Peter spurred me on: to continue with the story, complete a novel, then hone it until the time came to send it to an agent.
It took a while, but it finally happened.
Now the paperback is coming out, appropriately enough, in the same week as Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday.
And if you want to read that first page? It’s there in the Amazon preview, and it’s hardly changed since I first wrote it.