When authors lie, we lie well. How could we not? We deal in fiction, half-truth, and fantasy on a daily basis. The very act of writing is a kind of lie, though one we tell ourselves and must believe wholeheartedly if we’re to be any good.

Before I signed the publishing contract for Winter’s Shadow I was asked the question, do I have plans for a sequel?

I said, yes.

I lied.

The promise of a sequel was written into the contract, I signed it, cashed the check, and thought nothing more of it. According to the deadline, I had a year to deliver the sequel. Plenty of time. Until then, I had an audience to grow on social media.

I started blogging, tweeting, posting updates on Facebook. During the writing of Winter’s Shadow, I hadn’t been working but now needed to get a job again. The publishing cheque was generous, but unfortunately not quite enough to live off. Not for longer than a month or two. Not in Sydney.

To save cash, my girlfriend and I moved in with her mother, and I started freelancing as a graphic designer. Previously, I’d spent many years working in this profession and thought I could transition back again easily enough. I was wrong.

My design skills had atrophied, worse – the software had advanced considerably since I last used it and I was left scratching my head in confusion. It wouldn’t take long to figure it out again but when you’re a freelancer and getting paid by the hour, employers are reluctant to pay you to learn how to do your job again. There was an incident where I was fired for being too slow. This experience left me rattled. I’d never been fired before. My confidence was shot and what was already a nerve-wracking prospect – having to work for a different employer and different project every week – became agonising. I lost sleep. I worried about the future. I forgot about Winter’s Shadow and the sequel I promised I’d write.

Eventually, I managed to secure full-time work and slowly my confidence returned. I was working at an advertising agency with a friendly culture but the hours were long. After a day’s work, I was tired, creatively sapped. I went to bed early most nights. Living with my future mother-in-law, was fine but my girlfriend and I needed our own place so weekends were spent house-hunting.

The release date for Winter’s Shadow loomed and I remembered that I was an author and had a book to promote. I did a few interviews with journalists and the question of a sequel came up. I told them I was in the process of writing it.

I’ve read interviews with J.K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin and other authors of long-running series where they talk about how they always planned to write a saga. It was never meant to be only one book. They had outlines, beat sheets, treatments, detailed character biographies to support their claims. I read these interviews with a healthy amount of scepticism. Authors lie.

I did not have a plan for a Winter’s Shadow sequel. I did, however, have a deadline.

It took approximately eight months to write the first draft of Winter’s Shadow. I had three months to write the sequel. Three months to churn out some 100,000 words. Not an impossible task but tricky, especially when working a full-time job and actively looking for a house.

Having no desk to work on, I piled up some luggage cases at the foot of my bed and set-up my laptop. It wasn’t much of an office space but it was a flat surface at the right height. Mostly, I wrote nights. I was tired. Often, I was stressed and preoccupied with my day job. Still, I set myself a word count of a thousand words a day and more or less stuck to it.

Unlike Winter’s Shadow, there was no time to outline. Every minute was precious. I started writing, trusting that the characters would steer me true. The funny thing is, they did. I knew the characters, I’d already written one book about them so they needed very little prompting to act. I set the scene in my mind, placed the characters on the stage and wrote down what I saw. Sometimes, I was delighted by what my characters did. Sometimes, I was disappointed. I was always surprised. Because I didn’t know what would happen from chapter to chapter, I suspected the reader wouldn’t either.

The structure of the book became looser, a little shaggier, than the more tightly plotted Winter’s Shadow. I do not think this is a bad thing. The looseness led to more interesting scenarios, more creative solutions. The story felt like a living thing. A spectacle to witness. So much so, that I felt less like a writer and more like a court reporter, sitting in the gallery taking notes.

I missed my deadline by about a month but the publisher wasn’t too upset. Evidently, I’m not the first author to miss a deadline. I called the book, Winter’s Light. It felt right. The story is about holding onto a spark of hope in the darkness and that’s what writing the book felt like – finding a light. A beacon. Something to guide me through a particularly troubled period of my life.
If I’d had the luxury of time, or the foresight to craft an outline, I suspect Winter’s Light would have been very different. Perhaps, it would have stuck more closely to the paranormal romance genre of Winter’s Shadow, instead of veering off into horror and fantasy. Perhaps, not. Some stories are written, others are discovered. Winter’s Light was waiting for me to find it.

M.J.