I have started writing Book 6 of the Dragonkeeper series. This book, as yet untitled, follows on after Blood Brothers and Shadow Sister, and will finish the second trilogy that features Tao as Kai’s human companion.
Writing sequels is sometimes a pleasure, sometimes a pain. It’s a challenge to come up with new and, hopefully, original ideas, while still maintaining a sense of returning to a familiar world. The pleasure is in starting afresh and making up new stuff, taking themes I’ve touched on before and developing them, thinking up twists and turns. The pain is when I get a really good idea, but I can’t use it because it doesn’t fit with something I’ve already set up in an earlier book.
I didn’t know I was going to be writing six books when I started the series. I didn’t know it was going to be a series! I had the story for the first book and a few ideas left over to start off the second, but nothing more than that. So each book is like starting all over again.
The first place I look for ideas is in the earlier books. There are often things that I have mentioned in passing that I can go back to and develop more. In Dragonkeeper, I mentioned Ping’s family and why she was living as a slave. In the second book, Garden of the Purple Dragon, I revisited her family and revealed that things weren’t quite as they’d seemed in Book 1. In Blood Brothers, Tao’s family moves to the southern capital. In Shadow Sister, Tao returns to his empty family home and weird things happen. I don’t want to give away any of the story that I’m writing now (who knows, I might completely rewrite it before it’s published!), but I will say that I’m going back to themes way back in the first trilogy.
I also find inspiration for stories from real historical events. The Han emperor Liu Che was, according to the historical records, really obsessed with living a very long life. The destruction of Luoyang that happened before Blood Brothers opened was a real event. There really was a Buddhist monk called Fo Tu Deng who travelled from what is now India to China to spread the word of Buddha.
I occasionally use events that happen to me in my life. I’ve been to China, and some of the things that happened to me there ended up in the books. For example, Ping’s experience of eating turtle soup was something that happened to me. I climbed thousands of steps to get to the top of a Chinese mountain. Here in Melbourne, I worked for a while as a receptionist for a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, and what I learned about Chinese herbal medicine has crept into most of the books.
Once I’ve come up with the bare bones of the story, I try to flesh out the plot. It gives me confidence to start, but honestly, it’s often a waste of time. A lot of the ideas don’t come until I’m writing, until I’m deep in the Dragonkeeper world again.
So, I’m starting another journey in ancient China when dragons walked the earth and flew in the skies. It will be my sixth journey there. There are hundreds of ideas that I must come up with, thousands of words to write … and rewrite many times. There will be days when I’ll wish I had a job which I didn’t have to think about, where I just follow a routine. There will be days when I can’t think of what to write next or the story threads don’t hang together. But there will also be days when I escape into my world of dragons and leave my own problems behind. Times when I get great ideas that I can weave into the tapestry of my story as if they were always meant to be there. Those are the days when writing is a pleasure.
PS It’s going to take me a while. The book won’t be published until late next year, or maybe even early 2017.