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Blogaversary Celebrations - Guest post by Alexia Casale and Paperback Giveaway of The Bone Dragon

20 Jun 2013

The Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale



Synopsis

Evie's shattered ribs have been a secret for the last four years. Now she has found the strength to tell her adoptive parents, and the physical traces of her past are fixed - the only remaining signs a scar on her side and a fragment of bone taken home from the hospital, which her uncle Ben helps her to carve into a dragon as a sign of her strength.

Soon this ivory talisman begins to come to life at night, offering wisdom and encouragement in roaming dreams of smoke and moonlight that come to feel ever more real.

As Evie grows stronger there remains one problem her new parents can't fix for her: a revenge that must be taken. And it seems that the Dragon is the one to take it.

This subtly unsettling novel is told from the viewpoint of a fourteen-year-old girl damaged by a past she can't talk about, in a hypnotic narrative that, while giving increasing insight, also becomes increasingly unreliable.

A blend of psychological thriller and fairytale, The Bone Dragon explores the fragile boundaries between real life and fantasy, and the darkest corners of the human mind


First draft to final draft


            Draft: 6 May 2007

I floated up towards the surface.

Through velvet-blue to the grey dimness, up towards the light.

And sound started to penetrate now. Low echoes, vibrating through the water.

I wasn’t ready yet. Was safe below the surface.

My hands, fingers, skulled uselessly.

Beneath the light now, looking up into the daylight. A face, wide and distorted, pink with the heat that couldn’t touch me here in the cool shadow of the water. Mouth opening, her words rippled across the surface, dim and uncertain.

I reached out. My fingers broke through. I latched on: her wrist. Fumbled to grasp. Something to hold on to. To keep me under the water. In the shadows. Where it was safe. And the pain was distant, belonging to the light and the warmth and the air.

For a breath I rose, breaking the surface of the water, wanted to cry out at the loss.

Felt a tear slithering down. Curving over my cheek.

A sound in my throat.

Another face, peering, bending down. Fingers closing over my own. A hand patting mine.

I pushed off, back under the water. And the world became distant.

The shadows were calm. Unhurried. The darkness beckoned me down.

 
This is the first draft of the first page of The Bone Dragon: a beautiful demonstration of my dyslexic issues with indented paragraphs. (I hate’em, I tell you! Yack. Nasty things.)

I wrote this material some time between late 2004 and 6 May 2007, but didn’t edit it at all as the plan was to leave the re-writing until I had a complete first draft. I knew from the start that while the ideas and the imagery were right, something about the way they were delivered was wrong. There was an issue with the voice: with the immediacy of the first-person narration.

It was important for the passage to be written in short, incomplete sentences so that it had an abrupt, static feel matching Evie’s disjointed thought process as she surfaces briefly from the aesthetic, but this version felt uncomfortably like a series of notes about what I wanted to write, rather than an actual attempt at a draft. The rhythm and flow of the language didn’t have the effect I wanted at all.

My default writing position is third person past tense, so it took a shift in thinking even to start with a first person perspective. It took almost three years for me to reconsider the tense. This was partly because I tend to loathe stories delivered in the present tense. Over time, though, I’ve discovered that I don’t have nearly so much of a problem with first-person present tense: it’s third person present tense that I just can’t take. Anyway, the realisation that I needed to write in the present tense was one of those ‘lightbulb’ moments – when it finally came.

On 6 May 2007, I was still working to inch the draft forwards. On 7 May 2007, I decided I needed to go back to the start and find out how to make a present tense narration work. Having never written in the present tense before, I knew I’d need an effective beginning to build on before I could move forwards effectively.

As soon as I swapped to the present tense, Evie’s voice came alive on the page.

 

Draft: 7 May 2007

 
I rise up, towards the surface.

Through velvet-blue into grey dimness, up towards the light.

And sound starts to penetrate now. Low echoes, vibrating through the water.

I’m not ready to leave yet: am safe floating below the surface.

My hands, fingers, skull uselessly.

Beneath the light now, I look up into the daylight. A face appears above me, wide and distorted, pink with heat that can’t touch me here in the cool shadow of the water. Mouth opening, her words ripple across the surface, dim and uncertain.

I reach out. My fingers break through. I latch on. Fumble to grasp. Her wrist is fat and warm. Something to hold on to. To keep me under the water. In the shadows. Where it is safe. And the pain is distant, belonging to the light and the warmth and the air.

For a breath I rise, breaking the surface of the water, wanting to cry out at the loss.

Feel a tear slithering down. Curving over my cheek.

A sound in my throat.

Another face, peering, bending down. Fingers closing over my own. A hand patting mine.

I push off, back under the water. And the world becomes distant.

The shadows are calm. Unhurried. The darkness beckons me down.


While my first page didn’t change at all between when I started writing The Bone Dragon in 2004 and May 6 2007, it changed dramatically over the following 24 hours. However, it’s changed very little since then.
 

Final Draft

 

I rise up, towards the surface.

Through velvet blue into grey dimness.

Up towards the light.

And sound starts to penetrate now. Low echoes, vibrating through the water.

But I’m not ready to leave yet. I’m safe here, floating in the shadows. The pain is distant, belonging to the light and the warmth and the air.

My hands scull uselessly, trying to cup the water: trying to hold myself down. It eludes my grasp, flowing between my fingers like silk. And still I rise.

Beneath the surface now, I look up into daylight. A face appears above me, wide and distorted: pink with heat that can’t touch me here in the cool shadow of the water. Her mouth opens and words ripple across the surface, dim and uncertain.

For a breath I rise, breaking the surface. I feel a tear slithering down, curving over my cheek. Sound echoes in my throat. I reach out, fumbling to grasp: her wrist is fat and warm. Another face appears, peering at me, bending down. Fingers close over my own. A hand pats mine and eagerly I grip back, finding purchase, then push away.

I sink back under the water.

The world becomes distant.

The shadows are calm, unhurried. The darkness beckons me down.


I’ve tweaked here and there since the 7 May 2007 draft to improve the rhythm of the passage and clarify the imagery, but nothing of substance has changed; the basic framework is the same and so are most of the key visual elements.

Sometimes it’s all about getting a key element right then everything else falls into place. That’s the ideal: for everything to click so that the book can all but write itself. When that happens, I feel like my characters start to speak with voices that are somehow independent of me. It’s one of the most amazing, exhilarating parts of writing… but there’s often a long, slow build up to the realisations and ideas that catapult a writer into these phases of sudden exponential progress.

The key question to ask yourself is whether you’re wedded to your first page because you love it, or whether you’re wedded to it because it really is the right idea, and right approach, for the book as a whole. It’s important to commit, but only when you’re absolutely sure that your attachment to your first line and first page is in the best interests of the book. It’s all too easy to become attached to a beginning that’s more about your personal, emotional journey in writing the book: you can always keep a version of the book that has that ‘personal’ beginning. But if you want to pursue publication, you may well have to give up the beginning that works best for you as the writer in favour of the beginning that works best for your readers. When you want to send the book out into the big wide world, what’s personal to you shouldn’t be a factor in major decisions. This is why feedback on beginnings is so important: quite often it’s impossible for a writer to find the emotional distance necessary to make the best judgement call.

If I feel an anxious, protective determination that ‘I do have the right beginning, I do!’ then it means that I probably don’t. Usually, when I get the beginning right I suddenly feel very relaxed about it. I think this is my way of recognising when I’ve moved beyond personal attachment to an idea to conviction that I really am on the right course and that others will think so too. It’s a great moment, but it’s often one a long time coming.

Thankfully, after months of grumbling to myself that the first paragraph for Book 2 was ‘lovely, very emotive’, I finally realised what it should be and now am very calm about those first few lines. The rest of the book isn’t there yet, but at least I know it starts as I mean it to go on: in the best way I know to tell the story.
 

Giveaway


I am giving away one special edition paperback of The Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale. This will be sent by the publisher and is only open to residents of the US or the UK. Check out my giveaway page for the rules and links to other giveaways.

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