In a series of articles for W&A, self-published author Tim Bradley explains the process of writing his first children's novel, Arnie Jenks and the House of Strangers. In this first instalment he discusses developing his story idea and completing a first draft.
It’s going to be great! I’ve always wanted to write and now I’m going to. I’m ready – and I know what my story is all about because I’ve been imagining it…for most of my life.
The seed of the idea was planted in my mind one particular Sunday when I, aged 9, behaved rather badly while traipsing through one boring room after another at Hampton Court Palace, tired, grumpy, and trailing behind dispirited parents.
The reason? Suits of armour that you couldn’t fight against, heavily polished floors that you mustn’t slide across, drab paintings of long deceased nobility you couldn’t talk to and spaces crammed with squashy looking four-poster beds that you weren’t even allowed to sit on. Not much fun or excitement. I remember stomping about looking for the bouncy castle. Slamming the door tore it – and I was taken home.
But if history could be made to come to life around an unsuspecting boy on a seemingly dull visit to a stately home; wouldn’t that be exciting? Could I make that happen?
My world of work for the last 25 years has been in television drama and for more than half of that time, I've been a producer, helping scripts by wonderful (and not so wonderful) scriptwriters transform from the written word into the visual medium. I felt I’d gained a solid sense of how story and structure could be crafted. So that was all right then. If I know how it’s done in television, couldn’t I ‘copy that across’ and try to write something of my own?
In the development process of a television script, there are a number of supportive people involved in guiding a writer from page to screen, whether commissioned by a broadcaster as a unique authored-piece, or one episode of a long-running established series: ironing out the creases, understanding problems and forming the catalyst for solutions, hoping to make it as good as possible.
But I decided that I wanted to write a book, not a script, to create a story I wanted to tell. One that could, of course, translate into television or film but would start life as personal to a reader. Where their imagination could add flesh to the bones offered up by me through character and story. A world they could immerse themselves in as I’d loved doing when I was a child.
So how to get going? After the conclusion of a tough television assignment, I elected to take a break. I booked a holiday. On the first sunny morning, I sat on the terrace outside the hotel and doodled on a napkin. By the end of the week, I’d outlined my time-travel story set in a country house and seen through the eyes of a young innocent boy on a school outing. Character faces grew and names attached themselves as I gathered research on which juicy portions of history I might want to include.
Returning home with several pages of scrawled headlines and chapter breakdowns, I booted up the computer.
I selected ‘New Blank Word Document’ and tapped appropriately:
“Chapter One – The Start of Everything.’
The words flowed, the coffee poured.
Days drifted into nights as I pushed on to complete the manuscript. Up to 10 hours a day for nearly five months, much of it up in the eves of our very kind neighbours’ flat who allowed us to take refuge while our house was being renovated. By the end, I’d crafted 45,000 words. I washed out the cups for the last time, attached the final manuscript and pinged it back to myself by e-mail. Complete, final, locked, done. In the true belief that my characters were fully formed, wonderfully believable, delivering a perfectly satisfying journey for my newly grown hero – Arnie Jenks.
I attached a summary to catch the eye of the professional reader who I now sought:
The adventures of Arnie Jenks, a 12-year-old schoolboy take an unexpected turn after the conclusion of a school trip to Shabbington Hall. He waits on to be collected by his Aunt. Before she can get there, a sudden snowfall forces him to stay the night. As he wanders the corridors and rooms in search of secrets, he is suddenly transported back in time.
As the mystery deepens with each time-travel journey, the final episode brings him closer to the revelation as to why he – Arnie – has been chosen above all others for this extraordinary insight into the lives of the Clifton family over 500 years.
Then the answer comes with the last stranger arriving at the front door.
That’s all good then. Now time to seek some professional comment. I mean, it’s pretty much all there I think, I assume there’ll be a few suggestions about grammar and perhaps a tweak of the story here and there, maybe some typos to get rid of but otherwise good enough for the publisher to rip it out of my hand and make me an offer!
And publishers are bound to be a bit forgiving, aren’t they, this being my first book? Though I’d better make sure there are no howlers lurking in my perfect tale. So, I had better get on and find someone to help me.
Over to the professional review and edit process. And when the report arrived - it was very detailed. And long. I stocked up on coffee.
Tim Bradley was born in Portsmouth in 1964. After obtaining his degree from Southampton University he joined the BBC where he became a producer in television drama. In 2000 he left to freelance. Works include Teachers (Channel 4), Primeval, Unforgotten (ITV), Silent Witness, D-Day and Death in Paradise (BBC). He lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife, son and dog. Arnie Jenks and the House of Strangers is Tim’s debut novel for children aged 9-13 years. Follow him on Twitter here.