I wrote what I thought were the final versions of ‘The Dragon Throne’ and ‘The Unicorn Throne’ back in 1997. They were rejected by one publisher, and I never tried further. Partially because I was never happy with the ending. I felt that I had great character development, I liked the cultural backgrounds I’d given to the dragons, the unicorns, and the humans, and I felt the plot held together. But I couldn’t get the ending to work. So the novels were filed to my hard drive and were forgotten.
When I found a way to convert the files earlier this year (note to writers: Be careful what word processor you use, you can be left with work which more modern software refuses to open!), I’d forgotten most of what I’d written. So in many ways I was a reader of my own novels. And I could see immediately what the problem was. I hadn’t used the bomb.
I’m borrowing an idea from Alfred Hitchcock here. This is him explaining how to build suspense in a film:
‘There is a distinct difference between "suspense" and "surprise," and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean.
‘We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let's suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, "Boom!" There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: "You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!"
‘In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.’
With my characters I had, in effect, revealed a number of bombs to the reader. But I hadn’t detonated all of them. After the build up, we hadn’t seen Sallah carry out her plans, nor the exposure of Arwan’s terrible secret. And what does Fianna ultimately have to give up? I felt cheated, and I knew that any other reader would have felt cheated.
Nor had I fully understood the ending. I fear I’m not quite certain I still do, but then the Land is supposed to be slightly beyond understanding. Just like the ability of the dragons (the Family) to change the past is also a bit mind warping. (Let’s face it, time travel is always a complex and mind warping concept.)
So, after some new scenes, and revision of older ones, I think I’ve got there. The characters are still, I feel, the main strength of the two novels. As I write in the blurb, ‘Whether human or unicorn, the greatest wars are not fought on the battlefield, but in the heart.’ For those who prefer lots of sword and sorcery, these books ain’t it. But for those who like drama based on the emotional drives of people (humans or otherwise), then this should be right up your street. And the bombs are not only seen, but allowed to explode.