After reading DC Green’s great guest post about writing the opening to his novel Monster School, it got me thinking about my first book The Running Man and the journey that led to the opening paragraph as it now appears in the published novel. It was a journey spread over twenty years.
Here is that journey, briefly outlined in words, and pictures of words.
The whole story of The Running Man started from some childhood memories I have of a big mulberry tree that grew in the backyard of our family home in Ashgrove Brisbane. The memories consisted of two things – unsuccessfully looking for silkworms on the tree when I was little, and also my fears about a big black lizard that lived in a hollow in the mulberry tree. My brother and I called him Gorgo.
More than twenty years before I started writing the novel, I wrote a 100 line poem based on those memories.
In the poem the narrator recalls my two childhood memories and eventually, when he is older and the mulberry starts to die, it is chopped down and burnt in the incinerator next to which it was growing.
As he watches the tree burn the narrator imagines all the silkworms and cocoons he couldn’t find as a child being destroyed, but when only ashes remain, he thinks he can still hear Gorgo beneath them.
Maybe our dreams and innocence are more easily destroyed than our fears and nightmares?
I wrote that poem while I was at University. Later when I became a teacher I had dreams of writing short stories to see if I could get them published. I never got around to doing it. One of the short stories would have been based on my mulberry tree memories and that poem I’d written at Uni.
As evidence, I seek leave to table exhibit 57 (a) – a page of ‘Goals’ from my 1998 diary:
You’ll be pleased to know that I built the pond.
Even though I didn’t write the Mulberry Tree short story, I kept thinking about it and it started to grow into something bigger and more significant in my mind.
In the year or two before I resigned from my teaching job, I searched for a way to start the story that was in my head, and for a voice to tell it. On a few rare occasions I actually tried to get my thoughts and feelings down on paper.
Some of those early attempts were third person and I have to say, pretty bland …
Some were written by first person observers – perhaps the reclusive Vietnam Vet Tom Leyton …
The fact is, that when I resigned halfway through the teaching year in 2000 to write the ‘great Ashgrovian novel’ I’d written nothing of it except those scraps you see above and a couple more like them.
I still hadn’t found a voice to tell my story or even a way to take the lid off it.
Two and a half years later, after short-term teaching contracts at 4 different schools separated by time off in between to write, I had finally finished the manuscript for that ‘Mulberry Tree’ story. By then it had become 60,000 words long and was entitled ‘In Dream Too Deep’ based on a line from Douglas Stewart’s beautiful and haunting poem ‘The Silkworms’. Later the title of the novel would be changed to The Running Man.
I had finally found my voice – a third person narration limited (except for the epilogue) to the main character Joseph’s point of view – and a beginning which would also be an ending – a funeral.
This is the opening paragraph of that original manuscript (with some editor’s comments) …
And after the editing process the final paragraph ended up looking like this …
2014 will be the tenth anniversary of the publishing of The Running Man. I had no idea back then, the journey I was about to begin. I am thankful for every moment of it.