Why it took me six Years to finish my first Middle-Grade Novel

1,309 words (5 min read)

Once upon a time, on a day in 2014, I began writing a novel, although I didn't know it at the time

The night before, I had a vivid dream about a host of goblin characters in a fantasy world. I couldn't get the horrid creatures out of my mind, so I began to scribble. I didn't know exactly what I was doing, but as the day progressed, I remembered more and more, and I continued to scribble. Eventually, I had pages and pages of... something. A few weeks later, the story was all I could think about, so I decided to turn it into a short story, or at least try. Over the next two years, the characters were never too far away, always drawing me back to continue building out their world. The short story slowly progressed into a novella with developed characters, plans for a series, and I even had a logo, character artwork, and a cover design.

B&T Logo

Then, in 2017, as I began renovating an 1800s Irish Farmhouse, the characters who had been so excited about potentially being released upon the world faded into the background through muffled cries. Sorry, goblins, I needed a roof over my head.

But as 2019 came to a close, I began thinking about the horrid goblins again; they deserved better. Well, they didn't, but I had their backs nonetheless. Taking a chance, I entered what I had written into a literary competition and won. Panic ensued. I had not expected to win and was equally excited and terrified that I would soon be sitting in front of one of the UK's top literary agents. Also, I hadn't contributed a new word to the manuscript in three years.


The agent conveyed to me that I had a unique story worth pursuing, that the characters were great, and that my creative writing was also half decent. She then proceeded to ask me what I was thinking with the series of novellas. She told me in no uncertain terms to ditch the series and just write a well-rounded, and importantly, standalone novel with a beginning, middle, and end. "Publishers do not buy series from unknowns," she said. I felt like such an idiot. Sometimes, when you hear someone say certain things out loud, it seems so obvious. Hindsight and all of that. I was deflated, but as I drove home, I realised that an agent, like a proper, real live, flesh-and-bone literary agent, had told me I was a half-decent writer with a good story and great characters. Hells yeah. Before I reached home, I'd already mapped out new ideas and an ending to the story. Things were about to get gruesome. Since I'd last worked on the manuscript, I'd watched Game of Thrones; goblins were gonna die #GreenWedding.

As 2020 rolled in, and the Christmas ads played on TV, so too did news of a highly contagious virus. "You've got to be frickin' kidding me," I thought, as I had just spent the holidays mapping and writing up a plague storyline. The news stories of this strange virus became more frequent, eventually turning into coverage of a full-blown pandemic, and then came something called a "lockdown."

I toned down the whole plague thing and began to write again. It had been so long since I had lost myself in my characters' world; I wasn't sure if they would let me back in. They grumbled for a while, as goblins do, but eventually welcomed me back, and we got to work. I finished the novel in 2021, more than seven years after I first began my scribblings.

Book cover

It's hard to believe it took seven years to write those two all-important little words, "The End." And when people ask, "Why did it take so long?" I shamelessly drop my name in with the likes of James Joyce, Tolkien, and even Stephen King (a notoriously speedy writer). Joyce took 17 years to complete Finnegans Wake, Tolkien another 17 for The Lord of the Rings, and Stephen King, a writer who can produce four books a year, took seven years for The Gunslinger. I won't even mention George R. R. Martin. Of course, I only associate myself with the greats to shut down the question. I don't see myself as an author or even as a writer; I'm a storyteller. But there isn't a straightforward answer to the question. It took seven years because, well, it just did. And yes, seven years is a hell of a long time. But questions like, "Have you not finished that book yet?" suggest that I was keen to finish. I was in no hurry at all to finish the book that I never intended to write. And those two little words? Meh, they'd happen someday.

I was just happy tapping away at the keyboard whenever I had the time. Give me squabbling goblins over the doom and gloom of the six o'clock news any time. I was enjoying the process and the writing. Who needs therapy? Sometimes, I worried about actually finishing the book and not having the characters rattling around my brain and bickering about their parts. The only end goal I had was to do the characters justice. I had never planned on being an author. I still don't. Product design is my bag, but creative writing is an escape. Some people watch young fellas running around a field hammering the bejayzuz out of each other with sticks. I write about goblins. I love losing myself in a story, and like creating a digital product, or renovating an old home, or restoring an old British icon, there's nothing better than creating something that didn't exist before or fixing something beautiful that's broken. Reading back over a story I've written months, or even years, after I've written it is like catnip to a, well, cat. I love it.

The pier creaked underfoot as the two goblins passed over. Brom glimpsed through the gaps in the ramshackle planks and spotted a rotting head, half stripped of its flesh and long separated from its body, bobbing up and down in the water. It was caught by small tangled strands of hair. One of the eyes had been plucked clean by whatever vicious scavengers skulked beneath the fetid water, leaving a dark gaping hole now filled with green canal slime. The other eye trailed off in front of the rotting skull but was held from flight by a thin cord of green flesh. Brom's stomach began to churn as the strands of hair trapping the head snapped. It broke free and floated down the canal, led away by its one good eye.
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