How My approach to Writing Novels has Changed

When I started my first novel, I was eighteen. I’d written many stories before this, but this one felt different. I didn’t know much then. I just enjoyed writing for the sake of it: building new worlds, creating new people to populate them. That hasn’t changed, but how I approached a new project has steadily evolved over time.

My first novel had so much planning before I started. There were maps, time-lines, character biographies and so on. I had chapter plans and little record cards with important notes for quick reference. I went through about five or six plans for the first chapter before I even put pen to paper. The whole thing took me about eight years on and off to write. Frankly, it’s about as good as you’d expect from something created by a teenager with no experience or teaching.

My next book only took five years. I still had a chapter plan (it’s saved in Evernote on my phone even now). This time thought, I didn’t worry about drawing out all the other details. Again, it wasn’t great. I thought it was at the time, but looking back on it is painful. I might go back to it one day. I like the setting and several of the characters, but my biggest problem was I didn’t really care about the main character.

Apple was spawned a little differently. I had the idea for the first chapter and it was only after I had written that and part of the next one that I really knew what genre story it was, let alone where it was going. Once I had worked out it was a horror story, I stopped and planned out the rest. I knew the end right from that point, which meant writing towards that climax was always a little painful, but I was happy with it. The story went through several changes as it progressed through editing and beta-readers, but the end was never going to change.

The focus on the ending continued with The Mortician’s Boy. I felt comfortable writing towards a destination, even if many of the stops on the way were vague and hazy. I think this story changed less through the editing stage. It was more about polishing the narrative than sculpting it. I didn’t bother writing down any time lines or character guides but I knew what the nexus points where and made my way between them.

Happily Ever After started with a thought sparked from a film, and again, was a first chapter I had to get down. I knew the ending, I had the perfect image in my head. I knew what the last couple of lines were going to be. I looked forward to getting to that point. It was going to be powerful, dramatic. And when I got about half-way through the book I knew it was never going to happen. The characters had got away from me, evolved in their own right and I knew if I forced that ending, then it would feel false. It was a little disappointing to know I’ll never get to portray that moment I saw so clearly, but I’d rather stay true to my characters.

And what of the latest project? This one is completely organic. I have no idea how it will end, and the setting is still working itself out in my head as I write. This means I’m almost certainly going to have a hell of an editing job when I get to that point, but on the other hand it’s exciting. I like the idea of giving the characters the rein and seeing what they do with the story.

How do you write? Are you a details planner, or do you just see what happens and go with it? If you’ve done both, what advantages and disadvantages have you found?

Apple – Extract 2

Trapped in Cavington Hall, Apple wakes to a strange sound.

I wake in darkness, drenched in sweat and shaking. I must have been thrashing about in my sleep as I am completely tangled up in the blanket. Unwinding it from my ankle, I wrap it round my shoulders. I won’t be able to get back to sleep while I am as tense as this; I’m still trembling from the dream. In the gloom I can make out the shape of my brother on the bed, so I hold his hand to help me calm down.


My blood runs cold. It is the sound from my dream, I am certain of it! I pinch myself just to make certain and wince quietly from the sharp pain. No solace there.


There’s no denying it now. I definitely heard that noise and it sounds horribly close. I grip Skye’s hand tightly, silently begging him to wake up and protect me. Still holding on, I wiggle under the bed and lie there, quivering like a mouse. My heart beats faster as I hold my breath, listening. Under the bed is very dusty and I can feel my nose itching. I pray desperately not to sneeze.


I try to think rationally. Skye said there was no such thing as ghosts, and he was right about the owl in the woods. Surely there were no such things as monsters? It must just be George banging around downstairs, or the doctor doing some work? Right? As hard as I try, in the enveloping darkness of the strange house it is very hard to think rationally.

I think of my father’s ghost stories, of the woman alone in the graveyard and the unseen thing pursuing her. It was scary enough then, wrapped in the blanket with Skye awake and teasing me. Now the very thought of it turns my muscles to jelly. I try to push back the memories, but they rush through, unstoppable, like the cloud of bats that emerges from the forbidden cave in his tales.


I let out a quiet whimper, unable to suppress it completely. The noise sounds louder now, as if it is right outside the door. I let go of Skye’s hand, and move further under the bed, curling myself up into a tiny ball. If I keep really quiet, really still, maybe it won’t notice me. I wrap my hands around my knees, trying to prevent them from knocking together as they shake. It doesn’t really sound like footsteps, not human ones at least. What creature moves with a sound like that? Nothing normal comes to mind.


Skye! I realise I have almost forgotten about him. If there is something out there then he is defenceless, lying above me. I force myself to crawl out from under the bed and stand up, holding on to the post. It takes a while for me to be certain my legs won’t give out beneath me. I take his arm and try to pull him off the bed, but he’s very heavy and my hands are slick with sweat. The mattress is old and has a deep indent in the centre where Skye is lying. After a few struggling attempts, I reluctantly give up.


The sound has not gotten any louder, maybe it has stopped moving? I look at the welcoming darkness under the bed, wanting to hide myself away again. No. I can’t do that. If there is something out there, then I need to be able to protect my brother. It’s my turn to be the strong one. There is no tinder box in the room as George lights the candles in the evening by himself. I pick up the candle-stick though, as it has a reasonable weight for a weapon.

Taking a deep breath I tighten my grip around my weapon.

“Don’t worry, Skye,” I whisper as quietly as I can. “I’ll protect you.”

Being brave for Skye helps me to be brave for myself and I open the bedroom door a crack. Peering out, I can see moonlight flooding in through one window, bathing the corridor with its ethereal light. Nothing moves, not even a spider.


It’s coming from the nursery across the hall, I realise. I tense, memories of the doctor’s reaction flooding back. I almost turn back. He locked the door; I saw him. If there’s anything in there, it won’t be able to get out. But as well as fear, there is a morbid curiosity that grips at me. What on earth is making that noise?

Slowly, I cross the corridor, my bare feet making almost no sound as I move. The air is bitterly cold out here and I can see my breath coming out in a ghostly cloud. Shivering violently, I bend down and prepare to peer through the keyhole. My traitorously vivid imagination pictures an eyeball staring back at me. I close my eyes for a moment and count to ten.


I look though. Something moves by the window. I don’t see it so much as I see the change in the pattern of moonlight, but there was definite movement. Something is in there! My whole body tenses, and my heart beats so fast it’s painful. My hand brushes the doorknob and the door moves. The door is not locked. And if I can get in, whatever is inside can get out.

I want to run and get help, but I don’t know where George or the doctor sleep. And if I just shout for them then I will attract the attention of whatever is in there. I want to run. I want to hide. I want my big brother. But I just have me: Apple and the candle-stick against whatever creeping horror lies inside. And I can’t let whatever it is hurt either of us. I take a deep breath, tighten my grip on the weapon in my hand, and think of Skye.

Then I throw open the door.

It slams against the inside wall with a bang and I hold my breath. Inside the room is complete still. The curtains are open and the moonlight paints a silver highlight on all the surfaces. The wooden horse stands proud on its runners, and the chests of toys sit quiet on the floor, their lids open showing off their treasures. There are no monsters, no demons, no things that go thump in the night. As I stand there looking around, I grow braver and eventually summon the courage to throw open the wardrobe and drawers.

Nothing. Not a rat or a mouse or a spider.

I feel relieved, but also somewhat deflated, as all the tension runs out of me. I take a last look at the rocking horse, the moonlight turning the horsehair to liquid silver. In the distance, I hear a sound, like children laughing. My nerves break and I sprint all the way back to Skye’s room, not bothering to shut the nursery door behind me. Let the doctor punish me in the morning. At least he’s made of flesh and blood.

Panting, I throw myself into my nest of blankets. I pull a pillow over my head and sob quietly until sleep overcomes me.

Apple – Extract 1

After leaving home together, Apple and her brother Skye discuss what to do with their lives.

He comes over and ruffles my hair with his big, calloused hand, staring off into the distance as if thinking hard. After a few moments of this I have had enough and punch his arm. He looks down and gives me a grin as he pulls out a coin from his pocket.

“Heads, we try and find our way back. Tails, I’m stuck with you. Deal?”

I nod, slowly.

“You understand, though,” he continues, suddenly serious. “You understand what it will be like? You might have to sleep out in the rain, or go hungry for days. That’s really want you want? To be cold and dirty and hungry?”

I nod again, harder this time. “Yes,” I tell him firmly. “That’s what I want.”

Skye flips the coin and it goes sailing up above our heads, spinning over and over, changing our fate with every turn. It flashes as it rotates, catching the sun, then begins to fall, still turning, heading towards the mulch of the forest floor. Skye snatches it back before it gets close, slaps it on the back of his left hand and clamps the right over it. He turns his face away from me.

“I can’t look!” he announces theatrically to the forest. “Will I be trapped with the wormy Apple for the rest of my days?”

Ignoring his jibes I pry his fingers up and look at the coin that will decide my destiny.

“It’s tails!” I declare, grabbing the penny and putting it in my pocket.

“Is it? Well, I guess we’re stuck with each other then.” He doesn’t sound angry or upset now. In fact, I think he sounds happy. I think that was the option he was hoping for, too. “Do I get my money back?”

“Nope. This one’s special, so I’m going to hang on to it for a while.”

“Is that so?” He raises an eyebrow. “Oh well, better get moving.” He takes my hand and we start walking down the road. “So, what sort of work shall we look for? Head to the sea and enlist on a ship?”

I shake my head. “No, I bet you’ll get sea-sick! And neither of us can swim,” I point out. Neither of us has seen the sea. In fact the largest body of water we have experienced personally is the duck pond in town.

“No boats then. What about joining the circus?”

“That’s a better idea. I could be an acrobat, one of those ones that rides on the back of a horse and does back-flips and things.”

A circus came to town a when I was ten and I can remember it vividly. The whole tent smelled like burnt sugar and paraffin. The ring master wore a scarlet coat with bright brass buttons that shone in the light. He cracked his whip and made a great big bear dance a jig around the ring. There were acrobats and jugglers and a man who walked across a rope suspended high above the ground. Clowns with painted-on faces and shoes three times the size of a normal foot pranced around, playing pranks on each other and unsuspecting members of the audience.

I liked the woman who rode the horse best, though. She was wearing this beautiful flowing dress with skirts of blue gossamer, and her horse was a pale gold colour with a blond mane that matched the rider’s own hair. Her feet were bare and there were little bells around her ankles that jingled every time she moved. As the horse cantered around the ring she turned and flipped and jumped, never once losing her balance.

Skye looks sceptical. “Really? You on a horse? You can’t ride any more than you can swim and besides, you wouldn’t go near Dorothy-Mae until you were ten.”

“Dorothy-Mae is really big and she doesn’t watch where she’s putting her feet,” I protest, scowling as I think of the farm’s great dun work-horse. More than once I’ve had to snatch my toes away from the clumsy animal’s path. “And she’s really, really big. I know: you could be a clown, Skye. Since you’re so funny.”

Skye confessed to me after the circus that he found the clowns really creepy, which is strange because Pa’s most terrifying ghost stories do nothing to scare him.

He doesn’t seem to like that idea, funnily enough. “I could be a knife thrower. I could throw them and skewer apples on your head,” he suggests as an alternative, miming throwing invisible blades at me.

“No!” I shake my head emphatically. “I don’t trust you with sharp objects. In fact, I don’t trust you at all!”

“That’s a bit stupid, given that you’re stuck with me,” he points out. He’s quiet for a moment. “Apple?”


“Love you, sis,” he mutters.

“I love you too, Cheese-for-brains! What are you being all soppy for?”

“Cheese-for-brains?” he retorts, pretending to be insulted. “I try to be nice and what do I get in return? I ought to tie you to a tree and leave you for the wolves.”

“Wolves are meat-eaters, Skye,” I explain patiently. “They don’t eat Apples.”

He groans. “One more joke like that and I’ll gag you with your own pigtails,” he threatens. “Maybe then I’ll have some peace.”

“You’ll have to catch me first,” I call, skipping ahead down the road.




Enter a gothic story of madness and cruelty, where the bonds of sibling loyalty are tested to the grave and beyond. High on the hill, Cavington Hall lurks like a beast surveying its territory. Spoken of in hushed whispers, it is home to Doctor Charles Cavington, last of a family cursed by genius and insanity in equal parts. It has now become home to twelve year old Apple. A run-away, she is forced into the doctor’s service as payment for saving her brother’s life.

While Apple struggles to cope with her loneliness and isolation, the mysteries surrounding Doctor Cavington are growing. What exactly is his interest in the two siblings? Is there any truth to his strange tales of Guardians and Reapers, ethereal figures he claims are responsible for dealing with the souls of the dead?

And what is making that thumping noise in the locked nursery at night?