Chapter One: The Curse Of ‘The Curse Of Snakes’
I’ve been asked about certain books by a few newcomers to the site, so I thought this would be a good time to take a look at first chapters, which can be very revealing – after all, they’re the ones that make the strongest impressions on readers. I’m starting with the oddest of the odd books out.
Timing is everything, and everything conspired against me in the writing of my first – and only – YA novel. First, I hit the problem of my readers’ ages. I’m not a fan of placing age categories on my books – after all, as a child I was reading both below and above my actual age, as I think most voracious readers do. You don’t pick up a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ and find an ‘Suitable for boys aged 12-15’ sticker on it, do you? (At least, I hope not.)
I had written the novel ‘Calabash’ with a young protagonist, but never imagined its readership being limited by age. I figured whether you were young or old you’d find something in it that rang a bell. The publishers panicked and chucked it into the marketplace without deciding upon its readership.
The same was true of ‘The Curse of Snakes’, which I very much wanted to write in the voice of its teenaged hero. I had written a few short stories with teenaged protagonists and enjoyed myself, so why not a novel creepily updating the Medusa legend to an ordinary London park?
Well, it turned out that there were several reasons why not.
First, my new publisher nailed an age bracket on it and wanted me to trim out everything not ‘age appropriate’. I cut the material, rewrote and cut again. We fought over one particular scene toward the end of the book that I absolutely loved, involving the hero’s sister. My editor removed it, I put it back, and we played this game for ages, with me hoping I’d eventually wear her down. No such luck; I didn’t and I hated the result. I restored the cut scenes for the e-book version.
The publisher had promised to set up an amazing interactive website for the book, which turned out to consist of a visibly bored PA filming me on her phone. We went through a ridiculous number of cover designs, most of them appallingly cheesy.
Things got worse as not one but two terrible Medusa films came out at exactly the same time. ‘Clash of the Titans’ and ‘Percy Jackson’ killed any remaining interest in the subject just as my book was about to be launched. Although I was very proud of the novel I think about eight people bought it. ‘The Curse of Snakes’ was originally called ‘Hellion’, because I was going to write six Hellion novels, and even wrote plots for all of them – but the book didn’t take off, so it remains a one-off, rather like my very peculiar forgotten novel ‘Breathe’, which had a draconian rights deal.
I was glad I found room in the novel to mention the Crazy Rainbow Water Lady. Check her out on YouTube. After this I’ll run the first chapter so you can feel what a real marketing flop tastes like. It’ll be the first of an occasional series.