Unfinished Beginnings. Why you Should Never Throw Anything Away.

This morning, while wondering what I might blog about today, I turned my attention to my collection of Clearwater notes, and a folder titled ‘Other ideas and texts.’ In it, I found the first 16 draft chapters of a book that never was. (That, by the way, was 60,000, but I decided I could do better, so I started again.) The story was titled ‘Original Part 6’, meaning I’d not yet found a name for it, but I had been playing with the idea of a novel called ‘Men of a Similar Heart’, a title I may, one day, still use. As this draft was never published, I looked at it to remind myself of the story which would have come after ‘Bitter Bloodline’ and before ‘Artful Deception.’ Sure enough, chapter one begins:

Henry Beddington had been the concierge at the National Gallery since it opened in 1865, and took great pride in the fact that, despite the large number of visitors passing through its doors each day, there had never been any trouble in his foyer. Keeping watch over the entrance from his counter on the morning of July 8th he had no reason to suspect that today would be any different.

That paragraph ended up being the opening of ‘Artful Deception’, but what came later in ‘Original Part 6’ differed wildly from the rest of the final book.

I also found two chapters where Archer and Silas take lunch at a dubious club, meet with an old friend of Archer’s who is in serious decline, and take on a new case. That idea was also shelved (though it’s quite a funny scene, so I may rehash it at another time).

Then, there were a few chapters of another version of ‘Men of a Similar Heart’ that never made it into any of the other books. In one version of the story that never was, James, by then a detective (1889) takes on a mysterious case where one man is searching for another before his missing friend ‘does something stupid.’ I have the outline of that mystery/adventure, and it’s a good plot with a few nice twists, so I might return to that one day too.

Then, I found notes for ‘Part 09’, which ended up becoming ‘Negative Exposure.’ After bringing the Jasper and Billy story to a reasonable conclusion in ‘One of a Pair’, I turned my attention to the backstory of Silas and Andrej and came up with ‘Banyak & Fecks’, so by the time I returned to the Clearwater world, other ideas had come to the fore. Much of what underpins ‘Negative Exposure’ comes from events that happened years before in ‘Banyak & Fecks’, which is why I advise reading the prequel between books eight and nine.

While going through some of these notes, wincing at some of my clunky writing (they are first drafts), and also thinking, ‘Hm, now that would be fun to resurrect’, I found a few other starts and ends of chapters I’d like to share. I am always conscious of ending a chapter in a way that leads to another unless that chapter is the first part of a longer scene. There are a few in the collection of never-used which I may well reuse elsewhere. Here is the original opening for another version of ‘Men of a Similar Heart’ that never was; the end of chapter one.

[Archer, Silas, James, Fecks and Tom are swimming in a pond near Larkspur Hall one summer, when Barnaby Nancarrow, then still a footman, comes charging over the hill. He reports that while Archer has been out, someone has broken into the Hall. Nothing has been taken, but something has been left behind.]

Barnaby had started shaking with shock, and Archer was certain it wasn’t from the exertion of running a mile from the Hall to the edge of the estate. Thomas appeared, immaculately dressed and calm, and seeing the state of his footman, stood directly in his line of sight.

‘Barnaby. You must answer His Lordship,’ he said, employing an authoritative but gentle tone. ‘You have done exactly as I would have wished, and there will be no recriminations if you speak plainly and honestly. If nothing has been taken, what has been left behind?’

Hearing his butler address him so naturally gave Barnaby strength. Being more accustomed to talking to the butler than his master, he was able to break the news to Mr Payne, and he cleared his throat before squaring his shoulders.

‘Very sorry to report, Mr Payne,’ he said, ‘but whoever it was, has left behind a corpse.’

Cue mysterious music…

Another opening chapter: In this one, set in December 1889, a new client visits James at the detective agency at Larkspur House and asks him to take on a case. The first chapter ends with:

‘Mr Wright, only you can take my case for three reasons. Firstly, it is not a matter for the police because a crime has not been committed. Secondly, it is a delicate and personal matter, and as I expect you know, the police are neither delicate nor personal. But, most importantly, it must be you who takes my case because it is one that can only be understood by…’ What had been a confident flow of words dried with apprehension, and Norton swallowed. His Adam’s apple rose and fell like the puck on a fairground hammer blow, and James expected to hear a bell ring.

‘Can only be understood?’ he prompted when Norton had hesitated long enough.

Norton cleared his throat and regained his composure. ‘By men like us,’ he said, and when James shook his head in bewilderment, clarified. ‘It is a case that concerns men of a similar heart.’

And that’s where the idea for the title came from.

Another file in my folder is titled ‘Another opening idea’ (I am not very original when naming files), and this time, it’s the start of a chapter and book which I set aside for later use:

[Larkspur Hall, December 11th, 1889. A letter from Mrs Baker to Thomas Payne in London.]

Dear Mr Payne,

I write for your advice because I fear for the safety of Lady Clearwater and do not wish to unduly alarm His Lordship.

Where was that leading?

(It eventually became the sub-plot of ‘Negative Exposure’ and led to the story of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’)

Here’s the end of chapter one of another story that never was. It’s the one I mentioned where Archer and Silas take lunch at a club and are there to meet an old friend of Archer’s, Freddie Falconbridge, who Archer has described as fit and strong, an athlete and a statue of manliness.

Silas followed, picturing Lord Falconbridge as a tall, wide wall of muscles, someone he might see smashing a hammer onto a fairground’s high striker to ring an impossibly high bell, or lifting weights in a show of physical strength before singing bawdy ballads with his manly teammates after a hellish game of football.

When he entered the room, however, the man who struggled from his chair to greet them, could not have been more different.

‘Good Lord, Freddie,’ Archer exclaimed. ‘Will you live through lunch?’

I never used the scene or the chapter ending, though Falconbridge turns up in another guise in ‘Negative Exposure’ because I liked the name.

Finally, another opening that never found an ending, though I have the plot of this story and several draft chapters. I rather liked this one because it gives us the crime to be solved as reported in a newspaper, and we all know how much I like to employ newspaper articles, letters, telegrams and such devices.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette

Monday, November 26th, 1877

Tragedy At Sinford’s

A grim discovery was made on Friday last at Sinford’s School for Boys, Moorside. On rousing the men of Drake House, the Housemaster, Rev. D Spencer discovered a student absent from his bed, and soon after, when searching for the pupil, was confronted with a scene of great tragedy.

The body of Luc Verdier was discovered in the attic of the building hanging from a rafter by a rope fashioned into an ill-formed, but fatal noose about his neck. Verdier, we are told, was the son of a diplomat of the French Embassy and had attended Sinford’s since coming up from prep school…

And so it goes on, as could I, but I will leave you with the point of today’s blog, and that is to say to all aspiring authors, never throw anything away. If you have an idea, write it down and keep it. You can always reuse, as I have done, and even if you don’t, it’s fun to reflect on what you were thinking and where stories might have taken you. It’s also a useful exercise to look back and see how your writing has improved over time, and it will.

So, my thought for the day: