Mark R Mitchell's debut novel, Cold Moonlight, Book 1 of The Game Of Gods, is out now
23rd July 2019
They say that you never know how a story ends until it's all been told.
It seems that is as true of real life as it is of any of the fantasy epics I grew up loving. I've never really been able to remember not wanting to write a fantasy novel. I know logically I wasn't born with the desire in me but I can't remember a time when I didn't have it. I know I had it by the time I left primary school at eleven, because an author visited my primary school and I remember talking to her about wanting to write a novel. It really was a long time ago because she showed the handwritten manuscript that she had submitted to her publisher. I can even remember standing by a fantasy novel bookshelf in a bookshop thinking, in a childishly competitive way, "Watch out here I come".
Now that story does have a bleak ending. Because for three of the most amazing fantasy writers I was looking at I wasn't coming at all: death was. Long before I got anywhere near completing my manuscript he had come to three of the greats: Terry Pratchett, Robert Jordan and Chris Bunch, and taken their light far away from this world. I'll never get to meet any of them. Not all stories, you see, have a happy ending.
But the story of me wanting to write an epic fantasy novel, which to all reading this blog now is in a sense spoiled, you know it ends well. I first started writing at eighteen, in the summer of 2004, and until I was thirty two, in the spring of 2018, that story felt far from a pleasant one. What would you like to know? How it felt to stand at a young, published author's event in my early twenties, feeling every inch a fraud as he held up his book before a packed hall as I thought of my own error-ridden, blandly boring first draft that even my own mum had struggled to have anything good to say about? Would you like to know how it feels to leave a writing group after about eight years because while you see others make progress you feel like you are getting nowhere, with more and more drafts being written and then justly torn to pieces? The leader of the group commenting privately to me about paragraphs of brilliance in seas and oceans of unending drivel.
Or perhaps you'd like to know what it feels like to write your second draft, feel really good about yourself, and then read it back and think, "Well for the first time there's a lot of really good stuff but this just isn't and entertaining read: I'm going to have to start again." Or perhaps you'd like to know what it's like when for the first time your brother starts telling people that he thinks that what you've written is, after many years, as good as published books, but all you can see is that he's only read the first hundred pages of the third attempt, and that everything after that is awful.
To imagine it just think about lying down, curled up with your favourite book. But you know that you haven't done the washing up you were supposed to do. And however much you try to escape into the book the thought of that job is with you. You try to ignore it, but it stays with you, and the longer you leave that job the harder and more impossible it grows inside your mind. Imagine how difficult even simple chores would begin to seem if left undone for a few weeks, the mental mountain that would start laying on your mind each time you thought about it.
Now imagine that pressure on your mind for something as large as an unwritten novel, on your mind everyday, perhaps from eleven, perhaps from eighteen, all the way up until thirty two. Imagine how hard it would seem, how impossible the task.
So it is very strange for me to finally be done, after all these years. There is joy but mostly there is just relief at having finished a task fifteen years in the making. I suppose you could say this is my fourth novel, but more accurately it is my fourth attempt at the same novel. The first three attempts I don't intend to ever see the light of day, no more than a skilled tradesman would want someone getting out his first projects at college.
And yet all of this story, all of this struggling, which at the time often felt so hopeless, all seems so different now that we know the end. In fact I've even turned it into a marketing slogan:
Fifteen Years in the writing!