Writing fiction was totally new to me. I’d written several books in areas such as philosophy and economics, but had never attempted fiction before, or written for young adult readers. I knew it was a different skill, so I read a couple of books that told how to do it, and absorbed their lessons.
First, I leaned that you should stick close to your protagonist and don’t write much about things that happen in their absence. Second, you should use all five senses to take readers into a scene. Don’t just say what it looks like; bring in smell, touch, taste, sound. Third, I read that children these days won’t tolerate pages of description that their Victorian forebears absorbed. They now prefer dialogue. These were lessons I determined to apply.
I mapped out the characters and the plot, and wrote a paragraph about what would happen in each chapter, and then I began to write. I called it “The Waters of Andros,” about the children on a distant water world who bonded with the giant sea-creatures they called plesiosaurs, and who rode them through the seas. “Andros” was an oblique reference to St Andrews.
When I’d finished it, I knew it was too long, and that there were sections of it that dragged, so I engaged a professional editor to go over it and prune it. After several such exercises the book was finally done, and I began on the second. My aim was to recapture the hard science fiction of my youth, as opposed to the fantasy that dominates young adult reading today. I was, in effect, writing to my 12-year-old self.
I’ve written one roughly every 18 months since then, with 9 currently in print and a 10th on the way. But, as always, there was a magic about the first one, and the feeling of having acquired not only a new skill, but a thoroughly engaging one that still allows me to become lost in faraway worlds.