Wednesday, May 22, 2013

End of an Epic?

Forty-four years ago, while I was still at school, I had an idea while I was taking our dog for a walk in the country.  The title The Winter Legend came into my head, followed by elements of a story it could go with, about the downfall of an evil sorcerer called the Winter Lord.  I didn't want to go home till I'd got it well enough worked out (my home environment was supportive to reading and writing, but there were always distractions) so the poor dog was exhausted by the time we got back.

I began writing it as a series of ballads, but I abandoned that, partly because I realised that there was a whole earlier section to the story, and started writing it as a blank-verse narrative — I abandoned that, too, after about 2000 lines.  A few years later, I wrote a proper prose novel version of the whole first section, but I didn't go any further.  This was partly because no-one showed interest in it (and, looking back on how it was written, I'm not surprised) and partly because, though I knew what should be in the first and third parts, I only had a very vague idea of how to link them.

I wrote other things, including a number of stories set in the same world, which extended it in both history and geography, but eventually returned to The Winter Legend about ten years later and rewrote the first part, now called The Tryst Flame.  Besides general writing quality, I made a number of improvements, most notably changing the main antagonist from a cardboard pantomime villain into a more interesting character.

I immediately followed that with the second part, Children of Ice, having realised what story it needed to tell, but came to a halt again after that.  This version, too, was failing to impress anyone and, as the rejections came in, I began to understand why. 

Anyway, I got distracted, becoming intrigued by the backstory  I'd given to one of the supporting characters.  I started writing stories about the Traveller, extending the world by thousands of miles and thousands of years, and the main backstory I'd created became the basis for my novel At An Uncertain Hour, published in 2009.

In the mid-00s, though, I decided I was going to go back to The Winter Legend and make a concerted effort to get it done.  I wrote new versions of the first two books and then started writing the third, Dreams of Fire and Snow (it was originally going to be Songs of Fire and Snow, but some guy called George got there first — serve me right for not using ideas when I have them).  This was odd, because I was now using the plot elements I'd come up with on that walk for the first time since the ballad versions, although they'd mutated almost beyond recognition.

I got about three-quarters of the way through and came to a grinding halt.  There were various reasons, I think.  The story had developed a good deal since I'd started, and I found I'd written myself into several corners that would need some thought to get out of.  Beyond that, though, I think I was a bit scared of actually finishing this thing that had been a work-in-progress for most of my life.

So I wrote more about the world, extending it even further.  My novella The Treason of Memory, for instance, is set at a later period after the discovery of gunpowder, while a forthcoming story, The Flowers of Kebash, manages to link its neolithic and computer ages.

About three years ago, though, I came back to The Winter Legend.  I revised The Tryst Flame into submittable form, and did a more radical revision of Children of Ice, before finally returning to Dreams of Fire and Snow earlier this year.  I'd worked out how to fix the plot holes (more or less) but, instead of going back and changing them, I ploughed on to the end, simply retconning several issues and marking them to be changed in revision.

On Monday, I wrote the final words of the epilogue.  For the first time in forty-four years, I have a complete version of The Winter Legend.

It's a strange feeling — partly elation and partly bereavement.  I've felt that to some extent when I've finished novels before, something almost like postnatal depression (not that I'd seriously compare it to the traumas some women go through for that) but it's far stronger this time.  I think I understand why Tolkien never finished work on The Silmarillion, which he spent nearly sixty years writing.

Of course, I haven't finished with The Winter Legend.  The Tryst Flame is currently doing its best to impress the good people at Harper Voyager, but I have revision to do on Children of Ice and a lot of revision on Dreams of Fire and Snow.  And then I'll have (I live in hope) extensive copy edits and line edits to work through on all three, till I'm sick of the whole thing.  But that's all just tinkering, if on a large scale.

And what then?  Well, I have a novel ready to go that's a sequel to At An Uncertain Hour and a prequel to The Winter Legend — I'm using The Empire of Nandesh as its working title, though there's almost zero chance that'll be the title it'll finish with.  Then there's a trilogy set a couple of centuries later, and a further novel to finish off the whole process, though hopefully that won't be the end of my exploration of the world all these are set in.  And I have unrelated projects, too.  My Sam Nemesis stories have been well received, and I have several more ideas, and I also have another world, which uses magic technology, I want to develop further.

But The Winter Legend has been the central pillar of my imagination since childhood.  Besides the story itself, it's given me a world of seven continents and ten thousand years as a playground, and my most successful recurring character, the Traveller.  I feel both proud and scared to have finished it.


  1. Congrats. I think there is indeed a sense of loss associated with finishing something. I certainly am finding it hard to let go of even my first volume in what I hope will be a longer tale.

  2. Although it hasn't been with me for forty-four years, The Green Woman was a long time in the writing, dismembering and rewriting. Probably close to fifteen years. As soon as I finished it I began another series that carried on from the events of the first trilogy, and have written several stories set in the world. Like your world, I use it as a background for unrelated stories. I'd say it's impossible to let go completely, because once you create a world, it starts to live. The characters don't want to lie down and be quiet. You're probably going to live with it for many more years to come.

    1. Probably the rest of my life (I hope). Yes, both the characters and the places are constantly demanding more stories about them.

      Good luck with your series.

  3. Oh, congrats, and no doubt this world of long duration will stay with you.
    I've staved off the perils of 'longterm companion world bereavement' by planning a sequel to the last book of the quartet I'm presently writing! :)