An overnight success is years in the making. I’m not saying I’m a successful author. Not in the commercial sense. I may have sold a few hundred copies of Under the Black Sand, but that is not commercial success. Blood and Rain is coming in just under two weeks and it may sell 10 copies. I have no idea.
I firmly believe though that I am a successful author. I have finished two novels. It is an achievement in itself, even if nobody was ever to read them. Thousands, possibly millions, of people dream of writing a novel but never pull it off. Never finish the task. I have done it twice. But I wasn’t really planning to become an author. Never thought I had the patience and the stamina to pull it off. So where did it start?
As a child, I wrote simple stories. I wrote half a novel in my twenties. Life is a Bitch. It was simplistic, naive, ultimately abandoned. As I entered my thirties, I wrote a novel called Plastic. It’s not horrible, but it’s not very good. Abandoned again.
I attended film school shortly thereafter. Wrote and directed a short film, The Small Hours. It was simple, the story tight, a horrible and surprising ending. Maybe I should adapt it into a short story some day. 2006 saw me writing and directing another short. Black Sand. I made the mistake of trying to create an epic short. I misunderstood the format, tried to cramp too much into the small space. A 20 minute movie gives you too little time to tell an epic story and a 20 minute short is too long.
Under the Black Sand – movie screenplay
There was more to Black Sand than could be told in a short film or story. After resigning to the fact that the film had failed the simplicity test, I did what I should have done from the start. I fleshed it out and adapted it into a feature film screenplay. My first notes date from January 2007 and the first draft of the screenplay was finished in July that same year. By April 2008, I had replaced the opening scene with the “film noir” murder scene that opens the novel. As 2008 came to a close, I had a solid version of the movie on paper. In late summer and autumn 2008, a couple of production companies in Iceland had expressed interest and were waiting for me to deliver a final draft.
October 2008 changed everything. The economy crashed and funds dried up. Slowly, they all pulled out. There would be no money available to risk making this movie. They were struggling and bigger names obviously would take preference.
I kept working on the screenplay and the last version is dated 18 May 2009. As the production companies had done earlier, I abandoned the story.
Somewhere around the beginning of 2010, I met a film director. He read the screenplay, liked it, told me the dialogue was more natural than most Icelandic works before it and the story was deep, well developed and intriguing. However, he confirmed that there was no money. He’d just finished his debut feature, financed by himself and other non-industry people and companies. He told me to adapt my story into a novel. It was a story that needed to be read and would fit the novel format perfectly. And having a novel made the making of a movie more likely.
I wasn’t sure. I had never finished a novel and didn’t believe I could pull it off. But I didn’t have a choice if I wanted the story to be told.
Under the Black Sand
First treatment for the novel was drafted in April 2010. I started writing it in Icelandic but gave up. Didn’t find myself in it, the language was getting in my way. I quickly switched to English and slaved on. I copied and pasted the screenplay into Apple Pages and wrote up the scenes, one by one. It was a turbulent time in my life and it took a while before the work was finished. Writing long form in a word processor is tough, but I was saved by a new app. I imported the draft into Scrivener in 2011 and the writing process took off. The first draft is dated 29 March 2012. April saw a new draft and on my birthday, 10 May 2012 I had a final draft.
I had a few paperbacks printed and a few people read it. A lot of useful feedback helped me shape the story in the weeks and months following that draft. One suggestion caused me a huge headache. Somewhere along the way, I had made the decision to move the setting of the story from Iceland to Scotland. I felt stupid writing an Icelandic story in English and I was fascinated by being able to include burning witches and castles. One of the readers asked why I’d done this. It’s an Icelandic story and should be set in Iceland.
I resisted. I’d spent years on this thing and really didn’t feel like going back to it. But he was right and I knew it. Deep down inside I knew I’d made a mistake when changing the setting. So I went back to work.
A year later, in May 2013, Under the Black Sand was completed and my first novel was published. It was a long time in the making, mainly due to the many detours, but I was happy with it. Some say it’s a fairly hard read, although a satisfying one. Others have completely lost themselves in it and absolutely loved it.
It’s a bit odd, but after the publishing, I mostly abandoned the writing “career”. Under the Black Sand sat on Amazon and trickled onto a few Kindles. A couple of reviews were posted and I didn’t notice them until they were pointed out to me. They inspired me to get back to writing.
Blood and Rain – paperback cover
A year after Under the Black Sand, I had a rough draft of a new novel. Blood and Rain was inspired by a short film from 2011 (I may want to adapt The Girl from Nowhere into a short story). I spent a good year writing, polishing and by late 2015, I was done. Again a few readers read it, gave good feedback and again one reader asked a critical question. A question that made me rethink the last 3-4 chapters. The final draft was ready in early January 2016.
Something happened on the day he died. I have been a huge Bowie fan for decades. When he died, in January 2016, I put Blood and Rain down and had no desire to continue. It took 10-11 months to get back to it. By January 2017, the final draft was done and ready to be published.
Now that we are on the eve of Blood and Rain’s publishing, I’m wondering what to do next. I have no aspirations to make a movie, but won’t object if someone wants to adapt one of my novels. But writing books has grabbed me by the horns and that’s where I’m going from here.
So, what’s next? I have no idea. I have an idea for a sequel to Blood and Rain. I have already outlined potential series based on Under the Blacks Sand. I have already written about 70% of a novella called Hunger City, a dystopian story set in the world David Bowie created on his Diamond Dogs album. And maybe I’ll do something entirely different.
One thing is certain. I will write a third novel. I am a successful writer, whether anyone notices or not.
Blood and Rain is available on 3 March 2017