Now that I have announced my next book series, I wanted to reflect a little on how I got here!
The Cruel Gods series is a story of mortals rising against the gods who created them and who own their souls. But this wasn’t always the story I envisioned. When I was a kid, I used to play with action figures and act out my own stories, and one of my first story ideas was inspired by RPG’s and magic systems. I came up with a variety of worlds based on various elements which could be accessed via portals or gates. These worlds needed to stay in constant balance, and if one element gained advantage over another, it would cause havoc. This world was also ruled by the Guardians, who were pretty much Jedi that kept everything in balance, and their enemies, the Chaos Lords, who obviously wanted to upset this balance.
The main character of Kayl was a girl who’d become trapped in the city of Chime, a city shaped like an hourglass where the world was split between the angels of the upper half, and the demons of the lower half, and Kayl was just one street rat trying to survive in the lower half. Original so far, right?
In this story, Kayl is tricked by the Chaos Lords into accidentally absorbing elemental power she shouldn’t, thus upsetting the balance of the universe. She’s taken in by the Guardians and tries to serve them, but as she absorbs more elemental powers, she unwittingly helps the Chaos Lords destroy the Guardians. It was very Jedi vs Sith! I played around with this story and the various worlds for years. I even turned it into a video game design document when I studied game design at university! So I’ve tried many ways to translate this story into something tangible. Yet for all my efforts, and for all the notes I’ve kept since I was literally twelve, I eventually gave up on it. I decided that this story wasn’t workable. It was too cliched. And besides, as an author, you’re always coming up with new and better story ideas. Your older ideas aren’t always worth developing.
Or so I thought.
The Birth of New Worlds
Somewhere during the madness of 2020, I became inspired by gaslamp fantasy, steampunk aesthetics, and clockwork mechanics. I started thinking of fantasy worlds ruled by cruel and bizarre gods. In fact, I can pinpoint where some of this inspiration came from: another of my play throughs of Skyrim. I’ve always enjoyed modding and customising my Skyrim experience while roleplaying certain characters. Last year, I became obsessed with the Dunmer/dark elves, the Dwemer and their steampunk unholiness, and the Daedric princes themselves. These inspired a remake of my main character, Kayl, and she became what I now call a Vesper, a dark elf-like race with indigo skin who can manipulate shadows. My love for Dwemer and Daedric lore translated into my cruel gods and steampunk-ish setting.
From there I just went nuts. I wanted a magical gate, and somehow that became tied into times on the clock. Then it made sense to devise twelve dimensions or worlds to fit the clock theme, which turned into twelve domains, with twelve races, all ruled by twelve unique Daedric princes, or gods.
Then I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2020.
The First Draft
It was a chaotic draft. An ambitious and confusing one, really, because creating twelve fantasy races and worlds and gods for one book? Madness!
But you know what, I had a lot of fun creating this absolutely chaotic mix.
As the world took on a life of its own, so it twisted into a more British Edwardian theme, partly because I myself am British and I wanted to incorporate a little of that whimsy into the world. Then the secondary main character of Quen came along, who never existed in my original interpretations of the world, but he fit perfectly. I initially imagined him to be an arrogant, asshole kind of love interest. But then, I’d grown bored with assholes during the year of 2020, and Quen revealed a softer, more sentimental side, and he became my tea-loving train nerd.
Both Kayl and Quen took me on an adventure where I wasn’t entirely sure of the end, but this book became so brash and bold to me, that when events in the story took place, I didn’t hold back. It is a darker tale for that reason, but hopefully it’s a stronger one.
A lot changed between my original version and what has now become The Thirteenth Hour, though some of the core concepts remained the same. There are unique worlds which can only be accessed via a portal. The city is still called Chime, and still retains its hourglass shape, though no angels or demons – unless you count the Ember! The Guardians became the Wardens (and were named Guardians in the first draft!) and as for the Chaos Lords… well, that’s a spoiler!
Evolving as a Writer
When I wrote Sand Dancer, it took me years and multiple drafts and edits before I held the finished product. Fire Walker went by a lot quicker, and the third book even quicker than that. The Thirteenth Hour is my fourth finished book, and is much different from my Young Adult series – it’s more adult, it’s darker, and is also my first attempt at writing from first person AND from two different POV characters. As you can tell, I was experimenting a lot with this book!
This is the best damn book I’ve ever written. I like to think my writing gets better with each book, but The Thirteenth Hour came so easily to me. Getting inside these character’s heads was a pure joy and I deliberately wrote this story and these characters to be the opposite from Sand Dancer, to be something new. I didn’t need to write as many drafts to get to the heart of this story, but as my first venture into the land of self-publishing, I have thrown everything at it with a lot of help along the way! Be assured that I have polished this beast as close to perfection as I can physically get.
I’m truly proud of this world, of this book, and hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. My twelve-year-old self would be pleased, I think. For me, this is the beginning of my self-publishing career, but also my next stage as an author. The Thirteenth Hour represents the direction of stories I now want to write. Adult, dark, and hopefully a lot of fun. I may come back to YA fantasy in the future, and I’m still working on the Sand Dancer series, but my next books are likely to be adult fantasy.
So the moral of the story is to not discount your old ideas! Sometimes they can evolve in unexpected and magical ways.
And sometimes, writing something crazy for fun isn’t the path to madness after all, but the path to writing a great story.