Over to you, Gabrielle!
Working on a novel from finished draft to final copy is much easier now that I’m doing it for the third time around. That’s because of the lessons I learned from my first novel. When I wrote The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle I winged my way through it with a loose destination in mind and no map of how I was going to get there. I crammed in every cool idea that popped into my head and seeded the novel with dozens of secrets that would be revealed in later books. Looking back, I realise now that the agents I was approaching must have felt as though they were trying to focus on a toddler who had just been fed a bag of sugar with a pot of coffee to wash it down.
The first draft was around 76,000 words which I realise now is very long for middle grade. I had taken the same approach as many other authors and Googled the length of the first Harry Potter novel and used it as a benchmark. I now know that the 50,000 word mark is a good length for this age group. So, I was trying to sell an overly long children’s novel full of McGuffins, dubious motivations, dozens of hints foreshadowing future novels and Alfie and his cousins just hanging around having fun instead of getting on with their adventure. Something had to go.
My husband, Satish, finally convinced me to make some drastic cuts in a very clever way. He created an excel spreadsheet listing all 22 chapters and ranked each one of them out of ten for excitement, interest/intrigue etc, as well as writing a tiny synopsis for each. When he had finished he turned his figures into a graph and the problems with the manuscript became clear. The worst culprit was chapter four. I knew a writer must have a great first three chapters to hook an agent, however, the graph clearly showed where things were going wrong. Chapter four in particular flatlined. Like a teenager shoving all of their mess and dirty washing under the bed, I had created a cracking start to the novel and then crammed all the exposition and backstory in chapter four. After condensing that whole chapter down to a single paragraph, and snipping other sections that didn’t advance the plot, I hooked the first agent to read it.
There was still work to be done before I landed a publishing deal. The first few publishers to see the manuscript found Alfie gifts, the villains’ motivations and parts of the story overly complex. They also became frustrated with all of the hints that didn’t go anywhere yet. It took a lot of willpower, but I forced myself to cut back on all the little ideas and references I had crammed in there and then turned my attention to clarifying and streamlining the plot. I asked myself what the characters wanted most of all and why, then I worked on making that need influence all of their actions. Then the secateurs came out and I pruned back all of the loose strands until the story could breathe. Scholastic were the next publisher to see the manuscript and my dreams came true, I was offered a three book deal with world rights.
Scholastic were very happy with the state of the manuscript and fortunately there was only minimal editing from that point. My editors, Helen Thomas and Lena McCauley, had me go back and clarify Alfie’s arc as well as picking up on little sections that no longer made sense after the big cull. The manuscript was then passed on to a line editor, Pete Matthews, who picked up on overuse of particular words and made some suggestions for a smoother flow. Finally, the book was ready for print.
Over the course of editing, The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle was cut by 25,000 words and an additional 12,000 were written. I took a lot of lessons from that process which I applied to the writing of The Talisman Thief. I read up on structure and mapped out the novel chapter by chapter before I even thought about getting started. I thought about my characters’ fears and motivations and considered where we would see that in the story. Of course things always change as you write, but it’s so much easier to polish a planned draft than to tame a narrative gone wild!
When Alfie Bloom inherited a castle and a centuries-old magic, his dull and lonely life was changed forever. But Alfie's new life has come with dangers he never could have expected. When Ashford the butler is kidnapped in the middle of the night, the castle comes under threat from a terrifying enemy. Trapped inside with only his twin cousins and best friend Amy, it's up to Alfie to defend his inheritance and prevent a terrible fate from befalling the whole of England!
Information about the Book
Title: Alfie Bloom and the Talisman Thief (Alfie Bloom #2)
Author: Gabrielle Kent
Release Date: 2nd June 2016
Genre: MG Fantasy
Age Range: 8-12 year olds
Gabrielle Kent has worked in and around the videogames industry for fifteen years and currently lectures in games art and design at Teesside University. As well as teaching, she directs and presents Animex, the UK’s largest annual games and animation festival, bringing young people together from all over Europe. Gabriellehas written and contributed to a number of articles, papers and broadcasts on gaming and is a regular judge on the Games BAFTA awards. In 2006 she was voted one of the Top 100 most Influential Women in the games industry by US based Next Gen magazine.
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