‘Breaking the Darke Crusader’s Code’: The making of a book that almost wasn’t to be…

Some of the best moments come from the most difficult of circumstances in this funny old thing we call life. In early 2017 when I began to embrace the idea of drafting a ‘second book’ I never expected that journey, laced with internal creative difficulty and even physical health obstacles, to end up producing a book which is now my most critically and statistically acclaimed.

Of course I am talking about ‘Darke Blood’ which on the surface appears to be a vampire story, but in truth there is a hell of a lot more going on underneath the surface of just blood sucking creatures of the night. This post is a deep dive into the making of that story, and yes there will be some element of light spoilering with the intent more to advertise and spotlight the qualities of a book’s success that still fills me still with baffling but swelling pride. I’ve never really spoken about the process that goes into writing a book and they sort of get forgotten after being released. But what I went through to write ‘DB’ should be remembered, because it did not come easy and hence the swelling pride… 

Rule one in all writing: always embrace the good things that comes from it, especially the one’s you don’t expect…

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Before the books that now make up my back list (I have a back list? even that baffles me sometimes…) there was a time where I exclusively wrote science fiction with a hope to query agents, get a book deal, get a movie deal and thank the academy for giving me  this here best original screenplay award. Let’s just say the experience of getting nothing more than a few good people’s attention, none of them rhymed with Spielberg was humbling and as a writer and person, I grew up and started again mostly from scratch.

It’s never too late to start again, or even start. Starting is the first step to anything worthwhile…just start okay! 

The feeling of dropping a project that saw zero success was liberating to say the least and even though I left those sci fi books behind they stand as a testament to how I learned to write. Post writing liberation came my first foray into the world of indie publishing with a book known as ‘Open Evening’ which had some ‘success’ but before even sending that manuscript to my editor, like always I was looking to what would come next.

With 6 months until ‘Open Evening’ would see the pen of an editor I decided to get into another story which eventually became ‘Darke Blood’. My divine wisdom told me after writing a creature feature chase story with heaps of action I needed to do vampires next along with a slower more mysterious and fleshed out pace. Like everything I write, it needed to have some differential concept to the last project and the whole vampire thing would also be a tribute to probably my all time favourite character driven show – Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

What’s in a name?

Okay, so I’m doing vampires, that means the setting would need to be dark and shadowy, perhaps almost black like the night. This would tie in with the title and be both catchy and unique, something only someone searching for your work would find; and that’s a pro tip when coming to deciding title’s, make it stand out

There would be some kind of forest, one with trees where the leaves don’t fall and a town that’s small enough to realistically host vampires. In 2017 I was spending a lot of time in a place known as Iver Heath which is a neighbourhood surrounded by mostly trees and farmers fields. They have two country parks nearby one of them called ‘Black Park’ so in the beginning I just merged ‘Black’ and ‘Heath’ but it turns out Black Heath is an actual place – back to the drawing board but I was set on using ‘the Heath’ I just needed a word to put before it. Next came Dark, but as the history of the town began to spiderweb in my head, perhaps when it was established back in colonial times it would be spelled oldy worldy style and so ‘Darke Heath’ was born. Put the concept of vampires, blood and all that along side Darke, you have ‘Darke Blood’. Trust me this process sounded prettier in my head…

Black Park

Black Park in Buckinghamshire near Iver Heath in the UK

So we have a forest, it’s going to be shadowy and there’s a colonial history to the place. By the time I had reached this point, the Prologue had already been drafted. A page turning chase in the shadows where some not so happy campers are split up, they first find an old cemetery and then a house – the haunted house trope always, always has a place in my heart, it just does. At the very end of that sequence we are introduced to the perhaps slightly condescending main narrator. Open Evening had more of a pessimistic trope busting narration style, this one, straight up insulting, trust me those differences are important…

What’s in their names?

That narrator just happens to be named Blake Malone. The Blake I can’t recall settling on,  it came after I decided to use Malone which is tribute to the narrator ‘Edward Malone’ from Conan Doyle’s Lost World – a book I first read when I was 12 and then proceeded to get bitten by the literature bug. Blake Malone also shares a light Irish heritage like Edward as they both have a pale complexion and they both are recalling their account of an experience in going into the unknown.

blake quote

The second billed character and creature of the night/ bad ass ‘Caitlyn Turner’ came next. Her inspiration came from the world of video games. One of Fallout 4’s popular and bad ass companion’s is an Irish lady known as ‘Cait’. I gave her a full name and a backstory of depth and history which spans back to those colonial days and is inspired by the many episodes of ‘Angel’ that see’s a younger version of the title character in the past. She has a history of love, deception and fighting along with links to witchcraft. Her story serves as the second part of the first act and by that point should hook most readers in.

caitlyn quote

Another popular face in the lore of ‘Darke’ is the older gentleman known as ‘Angus Greene’ who is a pick up truck driving, helpful and kind country fella who’s family have been taken by the vampire threat in the Heath. His inspiration and name is tributed loosely to ‘Hershel’ from when it was popular TV show The Walking Dead. Although Angus is more of a fighter and perhaps a little more cynical. He becomes more and more of a leader in later books.

The Darke Crusader’s code

Blake Malone has arrived in Darke Heath for a ‘new start’ or so he says but after confiding in the reader only, he is actually in the Heath to investigate the findings of someone known only as the ‘Darke Crusader’ which is in fact an anonymous internet handle who has reported some weird things going on in the Heath before disappearing. This is the central motive as to why Blake has come to town but worryingly his recollection of anything before arriving is blank, and this works as the conflict our MC would overcome later on in the narrative. It also adds a unique psychological edge to the whole deal – so we’re already better than Twilight…

Much of the time during my writing process I will just throw open ended ideas into the mix, and originally what brought Blake to town was most likely going to be dealt with much later on. The Darke Crusader was originally in fact someone external from outside the character loop who would arrive and lift the dramatic lid later on, sort of like a murder mystery reveal. Unfortunately this concept didn’t really line up or work. Bearing in mind I was already 40,00 words into the book at this point and in April/May of 2017 I was suffering badly with sciatica – to the point where sitting, laying and standing hurt. Writing is still painful by the way… always.

The concept of this mysterious internet persona held everything together. After all it’s why Blake is in the town and why the story is happening. The magic word there is motive, which all stories must have, the why.

I just couldn’t find a way to link it all together to reveal this external character and break the Darke Crusader’s code and it started to piss me off.

The recycling bin beckoned…

Frustration loomed, and anger, lots of it. This was my second foray into writing an original story from scratch and I’m stuck. After an angry gym session (is that sweat or tears?) I seriously considered putting that many words into the recycling bin but then, inspiration hit me. Like always while in the car on the open road a solution appeared.

Never underestimate a good drive to clear the mind and find thoughts… sorry environment I need to think!

What if this Darke Crusader was actually already an existing character? What if Blake had no recollection of the past because it was removed in some way? Maybe he was already from Darke Heath in some capacity and then sent out by the evil forces to shut down this crusader. The whole plot began to turn back on itself and unfold into the series of twists and revelations that followed. I’ll admit I put Blake Malone through a Shutter Island level of mind melt hell. But it worked; just about… I was already going down the psychological route anyway so it lined up. There is also just a slice of the Shining in there too.

Big reveals turned into twisting revelations as the Darke Crusader’s code had been cracked in front of my own eyes and imagination. The characters figure out themselves as the story unfolds. Placing this character into an already introduced persona made for a justified twist that the vampiric powers were willing to go to in order to find out who this crusader was because after all they had control of Blake. He also found out where he had come from and it was much closer than he thought. Doing this aligned him with the forces to fight back and so the final act emerged out of such struggle.

Keeping it in the Heath…

Deciding to keep the Darke Crusader inside the confines of just the town made for the feeling of no escape. The world was just limited to that town between the trees. There is an alternative ending to ‘Back to the Future’ where instead of harnessing lightning from the clock tower in Hill Valley, they go to a nuclear power plant instead, out of town and away from where the story takes place. Comparing my stuff to that masterpiece is a little indulgent but keeping everything in the Hill Valley/ the Heath rounded the story perfectly.

Back To The Future Review | Movie - Empire

Overcoming it all to tell one heck of a tale…

The struggle I went through in both back pain related and story related issues may have made for the reason why Darke Blood stands out as probably my better books. The whole tying together in the penultimate act either turns people away or grips them more. It’s decisive and carries weight. And this is before the awesome editing and cover art work that tops off the whole deal. It didn’t come easy, and much like those difficult second albums, it felt like an uphill fight to tell a story that I desperately wanted to be different from Open Evening and so it was, but they are connected…

The Open Evening Connection…

Open Evening banner with DB and ch

In order for the past elements in Darke Blood to work (Cait’s story and the main antagonist), it made sense for the creatures seen in Open Evening to exist in the same universe. And so after all of that struggle and part of it was making the whole deal fit, I managed to tie it into a wider universe which is still growing today.

the order symbol (weathered with title)

Final witchy thoughts…

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This deep dive is in fact just more of a shallow swim into the complex but satisfying tale that is Darke Blood: You’ve never known true darkness. There is a whole segment of the book that is probably best described as ‘Light Witchcraft’ which I haven’t really mentioned here but later on becomes ever so important. This is also galvanised by the Sisterhood theme that runs beside the second billed character of Caitlyn Turner who turned out to be way popular than I thought. Her journey continues in the next Darke coming this September.

Looking toward the wider ‘Darke Series’

In what is hopefully going to define my work as an indie author Darke Blood works as a stand alone but can also be delved deeper into a trilogy which will continue this September but the Open Evening side arc is very important to that. They are tied together and will culminate together.

Have you read Darke Blood? Not many have but those who left reviews, thank you. 

Darke Blood banner with OE and ch

Let’s talk about… writing – The First Draft…

A new blog series emerges, out of the unknown void of creativity where I sometimes have ideas…

Let’s talk about writing. You’re probably not going far and neither am I.

So while I’m here and you are (hopefully) let’s use this time to reflect on writing, after all it’s what most of us blogger types do.

Personally there is no full proof blue print to teach someone to write. You have to find that within yourself but I can sure as hell talk about it and hopefully pass on some ‘wisdom’ about the craft. If you tuned in to Twitter recently you may have seen my recent thread that 4 people probably read all about that first draft.

15 Websites And Apps For Creative, Fiction, and Short Story ...

It’s easier and relatable to think of writing in a way that everyone can. So for this post, we are going to use the analogy of cooking to represent writing that first draft…

Drafting a book 101 – The Omelette Analogy

 Egg sales have soared to a 30-year high  — smashing the 6.5billion barrier

So, you’re hungry and it’s approaching lunchtime. You have a hankering for an omelette…

* Translation – you have an idea and want to write a book. 

For a while you’ve been thinking about what you want to put into this omelette and you have some ideas. Do you have the ingredients? Do you have long enough in your lunch break to pull it off? Is there is decent frying pan in the kitchen. Do you even have a kitchen?

* Translation – you have some story ideas that could link together to make an entire book, and you’re set on a genre. Do you have enough ideas to run the course of a book? Do you have the time in your schedule to dedicate to writing. This will need to be a regular time nearly everyday. Do you have a laptop or a working computer? Do you have a dedicated writing space – I wrote on my bed for 4 years, ask my back about it… 

You’ve got several eggs and various other ingredients (ideas) some you know work and others that don’t but you figure ‘what the hell, this art and I am an artiste’. You grab the frying pan (laptop or notepad), make some time and start cracking eggs. You set the heat to medium and begin to mix..

*Translation – you’ve answered most of the questions above and dive in! 

Even though you’ve never cooked an omelette of this kind in full, you are getting a feel for the process and are learning by doing. This is probably the way I found my chef’s voice (writing voice) by spending hours upon hours of cooking (typing).  

*Translation – you’ve probably dabbled in some kind of writing before. A short story here or essay there… 

You then omit some ingredients (story ideas) because there are too many things going on at once hence disrupting the overall flow of things (the story) and so now you pour the mix into the pan. Of course you haven’t greased the pan (know what you’re really doing yet) but go with it and set the heat lower..

*Translation – although things might not have fully formed, you see the potential in your own work – its important to encourage yourself in the early stages because this is solitary effort. Nobody is on the sidelines cheering you on, nobody probably knows or ever will appreciate the time you put in to get better and make a story better…

Things start to shape up pretty well and you grab a spatula to shape the omelette into what omelette’s look like (you’ve read books, lots of them and know what they look like…) although at this point you should be concentrating more on the eggs (story) really being cooked… (you may even go back a few pages and do some editing) 

You move to flip the omelette although it’s stuck to the bottom of the pan but you persevere and manage to flip the thing although it breaks up and is partially burnt. Basically one hot mess…

They feel that it is acceptable to serve a burnt omelette for ...

bon appetite, this isn’t mine….

* Translation – you realise writing is hard, this is where most give up but you persevered no matter how ugly it looks and somehow you’ve dedicated the time to completing the first draft…

You take a bite and although you probably wouldn’t serve this up to anyone else, you like it, and you can see some potential. But a first draft is many things, telling yourself the story, the foundations or even the skeleton of a dream. 

For those who persevere with their dream they know things aren’t fully ‘right’ so they continue to go back and change a few things such as the heat level of the pan, what gets used to grease it, the quality of eggs and ingredients. Some of these can be worked on, but only the cook who wants to cook the omelette can do it on their own accord by carving their own path… 

And so I hope you are still with us and that analogy didn’t quite clog up the brain. Drafting a book is just the first step and I hope you can see what I did in comparing it with cooking. This is just like making an omelette and much like you need the tools to execute in the making, you’ll need the same for writing.

Thanks for reading…

Does your writing process compare to something relatable like cooking?