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.

6 comments on “Chapter One: The Curse Of ‘The Curse Of Snakes’”

  1. Chris Lancaster says:

    Well I was one of the eight people who bought it — and liked it! It’s a shame, as to me it was as good as many of the successful YA series that started at a similar time, such as the Gone, Time Riders or Young Sherlock Holmes offerings. I’m sure there’s a parallel universe where it was very successful. Not that that would be much consolation …

  2. Helen Martin says:

    I was another one and had I been in a secondary school I’d have bought it for the school as well. My oldest kids were twelve and reading below that level for various reasons. I would be willing to bet that the parts you had to take out were the reason some bits seemed a little flat. I hate the age appropriate thing and ignored it as much as possible. We used to say that most readers would be one to two years younger than the protagonist but it depends on a lot of things.
    I keep hoping you’ll go back to that series idea at some point. It was worth doing.

  3. Brian says:

    Perhaps you could use the Neil Gaiman approach to books where the publishers have been difficult about the content. When buying his books I always purchase, if it is available, the “author’s preferred text” edition. Unfortunately for me, this has usually meant buying second copies of some his titles just to get this preferred text.

    However, it may be that Gaiman can do that because of his status in the publishing industry?

  4. Matt says:

    I too am one of the eight. I loved the book and now I know there is more of it in the Kindle edition I am buying that too as soon as I have finished here.

    Its a shame there wasn’t a whole series as I really wanted to read more when I finished the book. Its one I particularly like and read frequently.

    I am also interested in Breathe and only thought this was a short story from one of the collections so will be buying that too if I can find a copy.

  5. Jo W says:

    No,no s****s please. Signed an ophidiaphobe.:-(

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Jo, I really feel sorry for anyone fearing snakes so much. I understand the fear – it’s like spiders and crabs – but all I can do is sympathise. My Mother remembered me bringing a garter snake to be admired into the kitchen when I was about four and I was the one who had to find out what a boa constrictor felt like – warm and dry and very muscular.

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