I read in The Guardian this weekend that the journey or ‘quest’ story is enjoying a revival, with sales of some, more esoteric, examples doing well this summer as people buy books for beach or countryside. Regular readers of this site will know that I am currently engaged in writing one such, an historical adventure story set in Al Andalus, albeit for younger readers.
It is due to be with my editor by the beginning of August, so I have only this coming week to finally lick it into shape, add some subtle touches and revise the language where needed ( I always tend towards over complexity of language ). At the moment I am pre-occupied with three inter-twining elements, plot, character and jeopardy.
Unlike ‘The Village’ the form of the story is traditional, following the pattern of the classic adventure story. Our heroes begin at home, travel afar, sometimes together, sometimes separately, and return home, changed. The difference in my story is that, while some of our heroes are having their adventures in far away places, one, the main protagonist, actually stays at home. His journey is of a different sort, but one which, I hope, every teenager ( and quite a few older readers ) will recognise.
The other four main characters are the ones who journey; two of them together ( although they first meet en route ) and two separately. All are known to each other, to a greater or lesser extent, linked through ties of family or friendship. It is the details of what happens to them and how they encroach on each other’s journeys which form my plot. Jeopardy is a very large part of that. Characters can only develop if they are given challenges and obstacles to overcome and dangers to face down and survive. Some of these are internal fears, one character is afraid of heights, for example, while others are natural phenomena, a snow storm or a foundering ship. It is overcoming these and resolving the conflicts that provides the drama. And, of course, we have the villains. Where would a good adventure story be without a good villain?
In time-honoured fashion, especially as so much of the action of the story takes place upon a ship, one of my villains is a pirate ( well, he styles himself a ‘warlord’ and claims he is an ally of the Christian invaders, but I don’t expect anyone to believe him, not even the protagonists ). Here’s a sneak preview –
‘The Hebe’s sails were lying slack against the masts as her oarsmen hurried to their oars and the drum began to sound. The wind had lessened as they passed between the two coasts and the ship was moving very slowly. To port the few lights of Sicilia fell behind them, while to starboard other lights drew closer.
The Hebe’s captain had opened the armoury and weapons were being handed out. A short sword was thrust into Ben’s hand. It was a crude weapon, notched and stained from use and Ben handled it with distaste. Like most young men of his age he had trained with sword and shield on the parade ground, but he took no pleasure in combat. He was aware that he lacked skill, for he was always the last to be chosen when teams were picked for the mock battles. The handle of the sword felt worn and greasy as Ben gripped it, trying to hold on to it firmly. A shove in the back propelled him forward to the bows of the boat.
Sailors and passengers waited there. The moon was low in the sky and it cast an eldritch light on the waves. From out of the darkness, a vessel was fast approaching on a collision course. Hanging from the ship’s spars and rails was a fearsome collection of men, armed with sabres, short swords, knives and billhooks, their faces lit by flaming brands. They shouted and gestured, the light catching the gold in their ears and the steel in their hands. They were intent on boarding the Hebe and taking her captive.
‘Oars!’ the captain yelled.
Sailors wielded the long oars forward, to fend off the oncoming craft. But the impetus of the pirate ship carried her forward and there was a tremendous, splintering crash as she smashed into the Hebe. With blood-curdling cries, the attackers leapt aboard.‘
An episode full of swash and buckle – lots of fun to write ( and, I hope, to read ). If you want to read more about writing, especially this novel, try Story of a Journey or Verano en Jerez or What’s in a name?