I have just finished the first draft of my latest novel, The Cloud Catcher. From my perspective as a writer, it’s been a very strange journey. Begun in tandem with another novel, Bursting with Life! – writing two books in parallel was something I’d never done before – The Cloud Catcher won the battle for my attention, leaving me to complete the other, half-finished novel later this year.
Rather than unfolding in one, continuous piece, more or less complete, like many of my other stories, The Cloud Catcher came in layers, obliging me to pick up the story from the beginning several times to add new layers or complete existing ones that had only been hinted at. As a result, although I have only now finished the first draft, in reality it has been re-read and edited three or more times already.
The idea for the novel came as I stood close to a walnut tree and a girl on horseback sauntered by. The scene took place in the countryside near my home against a backdrop of wild, fluffy clouds. It was one of those magic moments that has continued to nurture the book ever since. As always, I had no idea how the story would unfold. All I knew was that it would lead to the union of a young girl and a cloud, although in what form I had no idea. I quickly came to realise that my initial choice condemned me to explore and reconcile the immense differences in nature between the two.
What was not immediately apparent as I wrote was that one of the dominating themes was abuse and the empowerment of victims. Re-reading the draft now, it seems obvious. The text was dotted with hints that I didn’t immediately pick up. Maybe I was misled by the travelling between worlds, the talking mind-to-mind, the new methods of healing, the passionate love between two girls, the challenges of saving a dying world and the fight against a largely hostile adult world.
Right to the last of the fifty chapters, I was unsure how the story would end. To make things more challenging, I took the risk of countering the plans of Fran, the main character, in the penultimate chapter, dashing her hopes of a speedy resolution. I can imagine learned professors muttering that you can’t disrupt the story arc at such a late stage in the tale. But, despite my trepidation, I felt compelled to do so.
And there it was, in the middle of the night, the last chapter almost wrote itself. Generally I respect the impulses of the story and rarely try to impose my will on them. But in this case, I was dissatisfied with the final denouement. It lacked power and credibility. So, out walking near the place where the story began, in a blustery cold wind under a cloudless sky, I re-wrote the final paragraphs and ‘found it was good’. That said, as with the rest of the book, this final chapter was still not quite finished, destined, as it was, to be the product of successive layers.