That difficult second book

Danny nobly chose combat instead and was able to defeat Carman in a straight-up fight which culminated in her being despatched by Dother, her own son, who released Danny and baby Luke to the human world out of gratitude for enabling his rise to power. The book was to finish with a glimpse of a blood-red moon and the distinct impression Dother wasn’t going to sit on his laurels now he had control of the Otherworld.

Such was the climax of Folk’d in its one-book form. Getting there, however, I realised that I wanted to create something more than simply the story of Danny. I was interested in the story of Ellie, and of Steve, and of Danny’s father Tony. My favourite television shows were those with a fantastic ensemble cast, and I wanted Folk’d to have that feeling of an ensemble piece. I also realised that my original idea of pressing the big ole reset button when Danny and Luke were eventually regurgitated back into the world, erasing wholescale the events of the book from almost everyone’s minds, was something I hated. I despise reset buttons. I abhor anything that smacks of “and then they woke up and it was all a dream”.

So I knew Danny had to go down to the Otherworld, down the rabbit hole, over the rainbow and into Oz. What about everyone else? What were they doing while Danny was gone? I had to write their stories. If I was going to do that, I needed to give these characters a narrative arc. Ellie was easy. Ellie I imagined to be all the sensible girls in all the families of the world, outshone by their more unsteady siblings or (in Ellie’s case) mothers. The ones of whom more is expected and less attention is paid, and yet the injustice is that girls like Ellie are the most wonderful girls there are (and I should know, I’m with one of those girls in real life).

The reason, ladies and gentlemen, why Big Brother and its ilk eventually waned down to nothingness is that every year they would go less for real people and more for walking gimmicks. The trouble with those people, the wackily-haircutted and the kookily-dressed and the self-confessed “party animals” who will tell you without provocation that people either “love them or hate them” is that they are about as deep as a playing card’s eyebrows. Real people blessed with actual honest-to-God personalities don’t rely on a personality shorthand of a wacky outfit or a gimmick; they trust that when you meet them and spend time with them, chat to them, that they will prove interesting enough for you to remember them.

This is why I was horrified to read Billy Connolly’s biography where he launches into a tirade against “beige” people and sings the praises of people who wear dayglo socks and have pierced nipples. Billy, these things do not an interesting person make. These are the hallmarks of those who can’t be bothered. The catchphrase people. The sort who use the phrase “that is so me” and mean it.

What about Steve? I decided Steve’s great love was the girl Danny was with at the time he discovered Ellie’s pregnancy, thereby creating a whopping great love quadrangle in one fell swoop. I wanted to make Steve’s experiences a whisker away from Danny’s own, to show what can happen, how easily lives can diverge.

So I had a lot of backstory to impart, and my first instinct was to go right back to the start of book 1 and start rippling it through the book. And then I thought – what if I don’t? What if I try something a bit more ambitious with book 2? I had all of those middle-of-a-trilogy stories running through my head from Two Towers to Empire Strikes Back and the one thing they seemed to have in common was a fragmenting of the characters; they split off into little groups and have their own adventures. I was already doing that with Danny getting sucked down below. So I decided to make the second book very non-linear. As Danny went on his sort-of vision quest in the Otherworld, he would encounter emotions or remember events from his own life. If he saw the Morrigan at the peak of her powers, he would remember his own past glories, etc.

It wasn’t especially difficult to write, but I have to admit, I fretted about it endlessly. For those who enjoyed the arrow-like narrative of book 1, to suddenly be pulled back to Ancient Ireland one minute, to Danny and Ellie’s first meeting the next, to a flashback to Danny’s father in the 1970s a few pages later to fill in his backstory would be a jolt. I didn’t originally have the little time and date stamp at the beginning of each section of the book; I added that in as a concession when the first few proofreaders started complaining they didn’t know where they were (or when they were) from one moment to the next. My hope was that I’d hooked people sufficiently with the characters they’d encountered in book 1 that they wouldn’t mind a slightly randomised take on their histories, to fill in some of the blanks about who they were. My even more fervent hope was that the much more overt supernatural nature of events in book 2 would be similarly forgiven; the “gateway drug for fantasy” effect I’d hoped would hook people in needed to take hold.

So came about book 2, Folk’d Up Beyond All Recognition. The stakes are higher. The canvas is pretty sweeping, all the way from hundreds of years BC to the present day, with stopovers in the United Irishmen revolutionary days, in the 60s, 70s, 80s and modern times. There’s a fight between a man and a giant spider, and a heated argument between a man and a toddler. People die, including one person you’d never expect. The odd universe gets created.

You call writing a job? You’re having a laugh.



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