The ancestry of a novel

Novels, like people, have ancestors. Of course, they have ancestors in the ‘I would not be writing these precise books if I hadn’t read Pern and Darkover and the Vorkosiverse and Georgette Heyer’ sense, but I don’t quite mean that. I mean that anything from the sight of a stranger walking down the street to a half-listened-to science program on the radio can be the genesis of something that shows up in a book years later, like a baby turning out to have its great-aunt’s nose.

For example, when I was seventeen I went to Nantes for two weeks on a French Exchange. I swam, danced, spoke bad French, lived on salad and seafood (and, bafflingly, got spottier than I’d ever been before or since), wrote terrible poetry, and visited Mont Saint-Michel.

Some years later – either 2003 or 2004, I don’t recall, but I think it was 2003, and yes, these books have been gestating a heck of a long time – I had a dream about a girl called Leeil Boccamera, whose story I haven’t written yet, who lived in a castle-city called a Spire. I started writing a prologue about some ancestors of Leeil’s in order to explain why her Spire was having a feud with the next Spire over, and the characters in the prologue came to life and took over and started falling in love and falling over things and getting involved in conspiracies and all the things that characters do, and I never did get back to Leeil.

And then, after the books were finally finished, when I was looking at stock art, I came across some pictures of Mont Saint-Michel and realised, that’s what a Spire looks like.

So that’s one route to the book.

And, serendipitously, James’s ‘Sit Down’ just came on the stereo, which was the song that was playing when I finished my first novel ever. It was lumpily plotted and borderline plagiaristic and full of jokes that only roleplayers would get and generally not terribly good, but I finished it, and I knew that if I’d finished one book, I could finish another one.

And so here we are.

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