Clearwater Bay series · Dare To Dream · Dream On · writing

Finding a way to the finish

As originally posted on Horse Crossings.Clearwater Bay covers 1&2

Today has been a big day. I have finally finished, and published, my fourth full-length novel. It wasn’t supposed to be my fourth novel – it was intended to be my second. But my best laid plans didn’t quite turn out the way that I’d expected…

After I wrote and self-published my first novel Flying Changes in 2011, I started work on the sequel right away. Partly because I wanted to, and partly because I was told to. Don’t stop! everyone said. Keep the momentum going. Don’t be a one hit wonder.

Small chance of that. Everything I write is part of a series. I can’t seem to do it any other way, even when I want to.

My first book was optimistically labelled Clearwater Bay #1. It was always going to be part of a four-book series. I had titles for four books, and I had commissioned four cover photos. I knew what happened in book 3. I knew what happened in book 4. (I’ve had the final chapter and epilogue of the last book written for at least two years now.)

There was just one problem. I didn’t know what happened in book 2. Other than the fact that it was called Against the Clock, it was a blank slate, a page without any words.

Looking back, no wonder it was hard to write.

Just skip it, suggested my mother. Move on to the story of book 3. Make it a trilogy instead.

Not terrible advice, except that there was no way I could do that. For the events of book 3 to have emotional resonance, there needed to be time and character development from book 1. I needed Jay, my protagonist, to grow up a little bit more before I could throw her into the dramatic events of book 3. But I was struggling. I looked over the first draft and knew that it wasn’t great. The story leapt all over the place, characters turned up for a few chapters then vanished without any resolution to their part of the story, and the whole plot just meandered along vaguely.

Eventually, I was so disparaged that I couldn’t even look at it, so I decided to write something that would just flow. Something that I had no stakes in or expectations of, just pick a scene in my head and start writing, and see where the storyline would go. I clearly recall sitting in my bedroom in Ireland, visualising that house’s cluttered front hallway, and starting to write.

She ran down the hall, bare feet slapping against the dusty floorboards.

I kept writing, intrigued, as my new heroine ran into the kitchen to find her big sister sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by overdue accounts.

“Nimble’s caught in the fence! Van cut him out but he’s gushing blood all down his leg, and you have to call the vet.”

It was supposed to be one scene, a writing exercise full of action that would break me free of the net that I was trapped in. It wasn’t supposed to turn into a book, but those characters moved into my head and took over. A year and a half later, I had completed a novel called Dare to Dream.

I released it into the world, and went back to working on Against the Clock. Armed with more skills and experience and the newfound realisation that even pony books can’t be all about ponies all of the time, I started hacking storylines and characters out of the first draft. But then the story just lay there, apathetic and dull and uninspiring. I fumbled around for ideas, and found a few. I added them to the story, watched them settle in and become part of the fabric of that world. They worked, but they were small character moments, not big plot moments. And the plot itself was still feeble. It still didn’t work.

Meanwhile, Dare to Dream was gaining traction. It sold well, and consistently. It got five-star reviews. Readers loved these characters, loved this storyline, and wanted more. And the characters themselves wouldn’t go away either. They wanted their story to be continued. I knew what happened after the events of Dare to Dream, but nobody else did. I wrote the epilogue to the sequel, and it made me cry. So I decided that everyone else should get to read it too. I put Against the Clock aside once more, and started writing Dream On.

Just under a year later, Dream On was released to rave reviews, and I went back once more to Against the Clock. This time I was going to make it work. Armed with yet more knowledge and writing ability, I stripped the story right back to its bare bones, then slowly pasted the character moments back in around the plot. Slowly, slowly, it started to form into a proper novel. It fell into place, just needing me to write some additional scenes and trim back or rewrite a few existing ones. It was almost ready.

There was only one problem – I was really struggling to let go of Dream On. I don’t usually like reading my own work, but I kept going back and re-reading that book, just so that I could live in that world a little longer. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to go back to Clearwater Bay and deal with Jay’s smaller, more trivial problems. I didn’t want to go back into first person and not be able to explore different viewpoints, or jump to another character to keep the pace going. And I love the girls in Dare to Dream and its sequel. They’re the kind of people I’d be friends with (are in fact loosely-based on actual friends of mine) and I was still missing them. They’re sisters, with a strong sisterly bond, and I felt as though they were part of my family. It was really hard to walk away, but I made myself do it.

I made myself step back into Jay’s life and take her hand and guide her along the path towards book 3. And eventually she stopped snatching her hand away from me and telling me that her story was stupid and boring and I shouldn’t really bother, and we started working together. And when it got hard and stagnant and I wondered why I was bothering, the voice of one of Jay’s good friends in the book came into my head, as it does hers when things get tough in the narrative.

“Suck it up, buttercup.”

We both took his advice.

Against the Clock is done now. It got auto-delivered to the lovely people who have pre-ordered it on April 19th, and I can sit back and cross my fingers and hope that people enjoy it as much as my beta-readers (fortunately) did. So far, so good.

And so, on to book 3 in the series. I’m looking forward to this one, although it’s going to require a lot of research and a hefty dose of imagination. There are some dark moments in this book, and while I can’t wait to explore them, it’s going to take some work to get myself into the heads of these characters. Because the thing with writing a series in first person is that there are only so many things that can happen to and directly affect one character. For Jay, her journey is as much about learning from other people as it is about herself. It’s about learning to recognise other people’s problems, and understand their opinions, and expand her own view of the world through the framework of how others also perceive it, and how she perceives other people. I’m excited to explore that, and I can’t wait to get to the end. I’m on a roll now, and Jay has decided that yes, she does want her story told. It also helps that the next two books will involve more outside characters, and less internal monologuing. And in those moments that still creep in, when I’m feeling particularly dispirited and wondering if I can be bothered writing these books, I re-read the last chapter of book 4, and I know that it will all be worth it when I get there.

In the meantime, to stop myself from stalling when Jay has a tantrum and refuses to be written (it happens), I’ve started a new series. (Yes, I’m crazy.) I didn’t mean to do it, but I wanted to know how fast I could write a novel. Dream On took the shortest length of time, and it was still almost a year. So I set myself a challenge over Easter to write a novel in four days. Astonishingly enough (even to me!) I achieved it in three days. It’s short – only 30,000 words – but I’m intrigued to see if I can keep it up. To write short, complete novels in very short periods of time is a good exercise for me, and I already have characters and storylines for the next three novels. And these girls all desperately want their viewpoints shared. (Characters can be so bossy!)

You can read First Fence, the first book in the Pony Jumpers series, for free on Wattpad (http://www.wattpad.com/story/35897826-first-fence-pony-jumpers-1) and it will soon be available on Kindle as well, with a sneak preview of the upcoming sequel at the back. I hope to have the sequel out by the end of this month (the first two chapters are up on Wattpad, but the whole book will only be available on Kindle), and the third book in the series out by late May.

As for book 3 in Jay’s story, I’ve already got some scenes written. In fact, I wrote one last night, and it’s included at the end of Against the Clock to whet readers’ appetites for what’s to come. I’m excited to get going on it, because I’ve been wanting to write about these characters and tell this story for years. And now I feel as though I’m ready. It’s their time.

Trouble is, there are a few others out there who want their books written too, and they still won’t shut up…

Dare To Dream · Dream On

X-ray enabled

There’s a feature on Amazon’s Kindle books called X-Ray. It isn’t available on every book, and it’s not something that you have the option of adding to your book when you load it onto Amazon, but for some reason, it has turned up on my novel Dare to Dream. I don’t know whether it requires a certain number of downloads, or a certain number of highlighted passages, but whatever the reason, Dare to Dream now has it. And it’s fun.

X-Ray is a feature that allows you to “see the bones of the book”. When you click on the X-Ray tab, it pulls up a list of People and Terms (51 and 10 respectively for Dare to Dream, although some of those “people” are ponies and dogs) and shows you in a wee bar chart where they appear in the book with a black line.

Marley Carmichael is the first name on the list, and her bar is a solid line of black, meaning she appears on pretty much every single page of this book.

Van Carmichael is next, with only a couple of small white spaces where she apparently is less prominent in the story for a while.

Kristen follows, somehow losing her surname, and having a handful of places where she is missing from the story (although I suspect that if Dream On ever manages to get X-Ray enabled, those roles will be reversed – there is more of Kris than Van in the sequel).

Cruise Control is next, and the list goes on.

When you touch on each of these characters’ names, it gives a full list of quotes, showing every time the name is mentioned in the book. Obviously for characters like Marley and Cruise, this happens hundreds of times. For others, who are only mentioned once or twice, the list of quoted passages is much shorter. One of the cool things about it is that it helps if you forget who a character is. For example, when I highlight Laura Buckeridge in the epilogue, it pops up with an X-Ray box reminding me of the last time Laura had shown up in the story:


Laura Buckeridge
“I’m glad you caught him,” Laura said. “He was so scared, he might have busted through the ring ropes.”


When you’re in the main X-Ray box, for each character that you click on, it gives you a quote from the text at the top of the page, providing a quick insight into who this person is. For the characters who turn up regularly, like Marley and her sisters, it’s simply the first time they are mentioned in the text. But for others, who aren’t quite so prominent, it doesn’t seem to pick up just the first one, and it’s quite neat flicking through and getting the X-Ray descriptions of each character.

Here are a few of my favourites:


Cruise stood patiently, alert but relaxed, as she unclipped the lunge line and coiled it up.”


Pete had been a fierce rival of Van’s back in her pony riding days, but unlike his snotty little sister, he’d always been nice to Marley.”


“Their belief that their daughter was the best thing since sliced bread had built up Susannah‘s dangerously high self-esteem.”


“But some of them have been exceptional, she thought, and none more so than Nimble. She’d known from the start that he was special, and he’d definitely proven himself to her last year when he’d beaten all comers at Nationals to take out the Speed Pony Championship.”


Ajax’s muscles were bunching under his shining coat, his mane and tail were like silk and his eyes were bright and alert.”


Breeze flattened her ears at this unflattering analogy and sulked off to stuff herself with more grass.”


Buck fought for his head, trying to see the jump. Susannah gave him just enough rein at the last possible moment, and the honest pony found his stride and cleared the jump.”


“But Dad was always with her, and his touch was everywhere around the farm. He had built this place for his family, and the barn and yards and arena were all testament to his devotion to his three horse-crazy daughters.”


Dottie, an aged spaniel lying on a rug in the corner of the room, lifted her head and whimpered softly.”


Katy O’Reilly was lying on her stomach tearing blades of grass out of the ground and listening to a story being told her by a girl with curly red hair, about staying with her cousin in England.”


If you’ve read Dream On, that last one was for you.