Writing in the shadow of CS Lewis

Last year I decided to write a novel in a month. Over the course of November I wrote on most days and ended up with 32 chapters totalling over 56 000 words. This was not just for the sake of it. Although once I’ve said a little more you might think there was no greater purpose. Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a challenge to write a 50 000 word novel from scratch during November, you can plan beforehand but not write, and because the rules are actually more or less non-existent plenty of people do it in different way – including working on existing projects.

Last year I had no plot until the night before I started. I lay in the bath and came up with a cast of characters and a couple of defining events and then started writing. It was a bit crazy and I lost a fair amount of sleep and by virtue of posting a chapter each day to this blog lost quite a few readers as well. The story was basically a Christian romance novel. It was pretty dire. I had about half a dozen regular readers, and the plot development was aided by a couple of crowd sourced brain storming sessions where new characters jumped onto the page and interacted with each other.

This year I’m doing it again.

I said I wouldn’t. A bit like Steve Redgrave when he got out of the boat, except it’s not at all like that. I felt I had achieved something, shown what I could do with a large helping of self disciple and swift typing skills. I also felt it was unnecessary to do that again to produce something that I would never get published, or even try to get published.

But then I came across a single line in a book and I knew I would do it again. I was reading through Rowan William’s book about Narnia, The Lion’s World and found a letter from CS Lewis to a reader regarding Susan Pevensie: “The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman.” It goes on a bit but I don’t want to give anything away.

I had the starting point for my story. And I had all of October to research and prepare.

Unfortunately moving house and doing a lot of work writing meant my research amounted to reading books 1-6 of the Narnia series, and hoping to get through the Last Battle in the next couple of days. I also have only a vague plan of what will happen in the story, but as well as a starting point I also have a rather intimidating back drop against which to write and ensure at least some measure of continuity.

Firstly though, it is worth stating very clearly that this is fan-fiction, it is not to be published other then on this blog and I am doing so for no financial gain. I don’t know who owns the copyright for the books and characters, but no infringement is intended. I am also doing this from the place of huge respect and appreciation for the series and CS Lewis’ other writings.

Secondly, this is rather scary, CS Lewis is a brilliant writer with hidden gems within and between each sentence, reading through them again has drawn out new aspects and reinforced other themes I’ve seen before. In writing a sequel to the series I have the challenge of deciding how closely to try and follow his style and themes. I am setting the book a few years after The Silver Chair and probably more or less contemporaneously to The Last Battle. This poses two additional challenges, firstly to ensure the language and especially the dialogue is appropriate to the period. The second challenge is that the Narnia books are written about children and for children. Down to the little asides CS Lewis throws in about grown-ups not understanding things and similar, the writing is so brilliant because it is simple and profound and presented from a childlike mentality – especially the earlier books.

What I intend to do is shift that a few years forward. Susan will be twenty-one at the start of the book and I intend to write from that period in life, with a mind towards readers also at a similar stage. While I will try and situate the novel in the right era, i.e. starting in 1949, much of it will take place in Narnia so that becomes less relevant.

A final challenge is that in The Last Battle the old Narnia is passing away. That’s why I say that it’s more or less contemporary, because I’m making the most of the discrepancy between times in different worlds to present a story happening in Narnia before it draws to a close, yet after Peter, Edmund and Lucy are on their way to Aslan’s country.

I hope you enjoy reading, I don’t think I’ll post daily, but probably twice a week or so in longer chunks but as PDFs so as not to overload the blog posts. Currently undecided on the title, either The Centaur and the Heir or Hunting the Heir, or something else that strikes me soon.

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