Journey to Publication

The story begins in 2002, between animation contracts on two feature films, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. I’d been in the field of computer animation for seven years by then, working on everything from the sublime (wonderful LOTR movies) to the ridiculous (beer ads – don’t laugh, they are the bread and butter of animation!) I loved my job and took a great deal of pride in it. But there was another love, long-neglected. Words, as well as images, were trying to squeeze their way out of my brain – with mixed results.

I had always loved writing but shrank from admitting it. I told myself that I must make a living, that writing was something impractical, and that such pastimes would never amount to anything. (There is never a harsher naysayer then that little voice in the back of one’s own mind.) Even so, I could not keep myself from writing altogether. I wrote short stories ‘in the closet,’ behind closed doors, after hours. I wrote poetry – awful, embarrassing poetry. But the words kept pouring out, unstoppable. I also wrote down a blizzard of film concepts and treatments for TV series, ideas as green as I was.

By the end of 2002 I had finished my contract on the first two LOTR films at Weta Digital, and took a break for three months or so before beginning work on the third Jackson film. I had a yen to do something different in the interim. I remember sitting down at my laptop during that holiday in 2002 with an idea for a story set in a giant tree. I knew it was a decent concept, and I was excited about it. I thought, why waste time getting someone interested making a film or series out of this, when I could just write it myself?

Amazing hubris! I’d never done any creative writing courses, studied literature or worked in the field of editing or publishing. But I thought I could do it. I guess having that delusional buzz, the “I can” moment, marks the beginning of any project. Face reality too squarely and you’re bound to wilt. Because the reality was that I had absolutely no idea how to write a novel.

Undaunted by facts, I began. I wrote about a boy raised by seminary Fathers in a world where God was literally underfoot and science was a heresy. It was a very different story to the one existing now, almost a children’s book in retrospect, both in tone and content. I might have written about three chapters or so. Then I went back to work on ROTK and it all came to a grinding halt for nine months.

The writing began in earnest again in 2004. I had a specific goal in mind: I wanted to write a fantasy novel and learn a new craft while doing so. I didn’t think I’d get the book published and treated it as a training project. Luckily I had an ace in the hole: I knew a published writer who was also a creative writing teacher. And that person was my mother, Bahiyyih Nakhjavani.

Some writers are born great. Some achieve greatness. Some have greatness cooking scrambled eggs for them. I am in that final category.

A mentor is a precious thing. My mother taught me, patiently and methodically, just how much I didn’t know about writing a novel. Over the next two years I came to grips with what it is to flesh out character development, to find a distinctive voice and get inside the head of my protagonist. The ABC of story-writing. I struggled with the fine art of plot (still do) and to my surprise and delight, a book began to take shape.

Did I say “mentor?” I meant “mentors.” I’ve been incredibly lucky in this respect to have no less than two remarkable women take an interest in my case. The second was my agent, Helenka Fuglewicz, whom I contacted in 2005 in a fit of overconfidence with half a book to my credit. Sure, she said. It’s a nice idea. Show me the finished product.

I sweated out a complete novel by mid-2006 and sent it off, congratulating myself on a job well done. About a minute later I knew it was trash. I had flubbed something vital. There was an emotional void, a piece of the story I’d omitted. Unsurprisingly, the reader the agent passed the manuscript on to came back with similar comments. The story wasn’t quite “there.” There was something “missing.”

That year my daughter was born, and anyone who has done the newborn thing knows that novel-writing is not exactly a priority in the first few months of an infant’s life. But by 2007 I was writing again. And I was mad. Stomping mad. I threw out ninety percent of what I had already written and started again. This time, I swore, the Tree would come to life.

That second book is the one that went on to become ‘Tymon’s Flight’. It convinced my agent to take me on and found a home with Voyager Books in 2009. The book was published in August 2010, to my great delight, seven and a half years after I first sat down with my laptop and wrote three wobbly chapters. But by then, I was already working on the third installment of ‘Chronicles of the Tree’, deeply ensconced in the wonderful activity I had tried so long to resist.

Never listen to that little naysaying voice.