Writing experiences

How Beneath the Veil Was Born

How do I start this? It’s really difficult because I didn’t sit down with a plan, nor did I write this book from beginning to end. I just had a few foundations and worked from there.

A few years ago, I had a dream… Oh that old cliché, yes… But it’s true. I dreamt a man and a woman in the future who loved one another (desperately) would have so many barriers between them that it simply wouldn’t happen. I had to find out what those barriers were. That dream, unlike so many others that fizzle and fade away, never left me. I soon joined this notion to another…

So, it was during a long period of maternity leave I was sat cogitating, brewing ideas… I was trying to harness a way of making something of an idea I’d had in my mind for a while… a bridal shop acting as a cover for something else. As a former journalist, I always keep my beady eye on developments around the world… Anyway, for some reason, I’d decided this bridal shop was one of a few and it stood for more than just marriage. It was outwardly obscure and eccentric, but inwardly much more purposeful and covert. I wanted to turn the whole ideal of a fairytale upside down and kind of just mangle it up a bit. Stick with me here…

In real life, I love to read a romance, a bit of chick-lit now and again, plus a load of other stuff in between. When I started out on this journey, I thought I was heading down the path of being more whimsical than anything. However, I quickly learnt that my talent lay in suspense, thriller, action and intrigue. If I showed you some of the early drafts, you would not believe how some of my stuff evolved. The development of Beneath the Veil was quite incredible. I’ll try to explain as best I can…   

At first, my debut novel was called The Dressmaker. This is the codename of a character who exists in the background of my book, but I thought if it caught on, it would be catchy (but some Booker winner had already written a book called this, lol). I had codenames for other characters and decided I could possibly write other books under their guises. But… stuff happened. As my book grew and sprawled out into some vast expanse of viral mess, I knew this title would not do. So, back to the drawing board. The world I was creating was hiding in the shadow of an event that took place some decades before and I needed a name for this catastrophe. From seemingly nowhere, out popped The Ravage. My editor husband suggested it and at first I said, “God, that’s terrible. Ugh, no.” I really hated it. But then, I grew to see how it could become effective. It’s not a word used invariably in everyday language. It’s a bit uncouth and sticks on the end of your tongue. It’s dislikeable and unattractive. But that is exactly how this terrible event needs to be portrayed; as something a little bit irritating, lingering, frightening and misunderstood – but totally feasible.        

The Ravage it was. But then, something else happened. I realised I had all this imagery, all this psychology, all these layers of meaning – and the title became something else again. I remember the day… I was wracking my brain. Nothing seemed to work. I was about to hop into the shower when I shouted downstairs to my husband, “Beneath the Veil!”

“Yes,” came the response. We knew. When you read the book, you’ll know why too. This title has a quadruple meaning. My main character Seraph/Seraphina wears a veil of fearsomeness everyday to get her job done. Meanwhile, there is a veil of fear cloaked over the world. There is also a literal meaning… from the very origin of the virus that spawned three volumes of work. A canopy to smoke out creatures undiscovered… Plus, of course, it also very much refers to the bridal shop…

The Veil. The wedding veil. Umm… conjure the images…? Why do brides wear a veil? Tradition? Ceremony? Pleasing aesthetics? What does it represent? Femininity, modesty and coming of age? Or… that on her wedding day, she becomes someone totally different after finally having that veil pulled back? Or is the veil really hiding something else? Is all the pomp and ceremony artificial and shallow in comparison to the symbolism of that small, relatively minor detail? It’s a discussion…

With my writing, I aimed to get discussions going. It’s why I vied away from pages and pages and oh so many pages of boring description that many authors add to their work(s) sometimes to clarify or justify themselves. I really empathise with that need, I really do. As an author, you’re often sat there thinking, “Jeez, people will see straight through me. God. This is shit.” But I had to just stick with it and believe in what I was doing, and hope that others could imagine what the future might be like alongside me. I just had to hope that people could see beyond their expectations and give themselves to something totally new and provocative – and BELIEVE. Throw away all your preconceptions and simply believe that anything is impossible. The mind can achieve anything. I wanted my audience to question things and think for themselves. I wanted families and friends and colleagues and spouses to be asking each other over their dinners, “Which bit are you at…? Oh my god, I can’t believe this happened. Why did they do that? How did they get here…?” I didn’t want everything to be straightforward and manifest itself easily.

Originally, the first half of BTV was whimsy; the second full-on action. I had to cut the entire front half of my book. I chopped it out and started again. How I would write is like this… I’d spend a whole day mulling. Whether I was nursing my daughter, washing the dishes, walking down the street, at the cinema or eating… I’d be seeing an action sequence in the back of my mind, twisting it and mutilating it until I knew I could squeeze no more out of it. I’d take the impossible and somehow make it possible. I’d reach for seemingly ridiculous and absurd ideas and make them believable. Then once my baby daughter was in bed at night, I’d furiously type it out with the energy burning out of my fingers. If I didn’t get it out, I’d not sleep that night. That was how it was. I saw everything in my mind, and then I relayed that. I sometimes wrote the dialogue first, then added the location description, then layered up further and further to add action, emotion and suspense in there. I always saw everything before my eyes but I had to drill it into myself, “The reader needs to see everything you can. They can’t without your help. You have to tell them every bit.” The adrenalin often took over and you’d forget that sometimes. And so, I’d go back over chapters again and again and again to ensure I had squeezed every ounce of my vision out onto those pages.       

Sometimes, I’d throw an idea in somewhere and have to go back through the whole book and ensure everything matched up. This was not an easy way of working. I had to have a photographic path through the maze in my mind, mental markers if you like, reminding me where everything was. But I was learning and developing and setting the foundations for something much bigger.

My first book was the hardest I will ever write, I know that for sure. Simply because, I was pretty much experimenting with what I could do. I was determining what kind of author I was going to be. I was evolving just as much as my characters and their fates were. I was living their journey and breathing it along with them. I soon knew I couldn’t leave it at one book. In my mind, these people had other stories, and so The Ravage became the trilogy title. It had to have some place in the whole thing. I saw the path that lay before me and had to take a deep breath and give myself to it. I felt like a medium telling a story that was not my own, that I was not in control of, and that would take me.   

I was a fledgling writer who started out with the notion that I simply wanted to write a book. I knew I could write, I always knew that. However, I never knew what it took until I gave it a bash. I never knew how sometimes, you can feel so sure of something, only to have all your ideals and beliefs blown to smithereens. That in the blink of an eye, a small idea can spawn a thousand others, and lead you to write a novel that has been described to me as “the first thing that has got a true sci-fi fan excited in ten years.” The learning of how to interpret the images came to me eventually and I realised not to force it. I would simply wait for the pieces to slot into place and then write what I saw. I did get writer’s block but I jumped over those bridges and told them, “I’m going to break you down.” I really pushed myself and never allowed myself to write something for writing’s sake. Everything in my books has to have a place and a purpose. My head hurt, and only then, did I realise I was doing something right. No pain, no gain.

It was a true labour of love, in more ways than one, but you need to read it to believe it. If I could ask one thing of my readers it would be this, “What do you see in the future? Really? Be honest and truthful and realistic.”

We all have our ideas, but I try to paint a realistic version, not some techno-world of androids and such like. I wanted it to be so believable, that it would be frightening, but not overtly so. I wanted to show the power of words. I wanted ultimately – to write a damn good rollicking ride that would provoke, challenge, endear, enamour and allow escapism.

More insights into my writing processes to follow soon…

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