Two novels at once…

Draft cover of The Cloud Catcher

I am currently writing two novels at once. The first is Bursting With Life which is half written, and The Cloud Catcher which I have just begun. Very often, especially towards the end of drafting a novel, an idea for a new story arises spontaneously and clamours to be told. I generally take a few notes or even write the first paragraphs, but I avoid getting too involved for fear the new novel will distract from the one I’m writing.

This time I decided to move forward with the two in parallel. This is particularly difficult, as my way of writing requires immersion in the story. So switching from one to the other requires being able to plunge into the current story which, at times, can be hard enough with only one story.

For the moment, this tandem is working. The worlds and characters are quite different and can exist side-by-side without flowing into each other. The last thing you want is no longer to know which of the two novels you are writing. I have found that it is better not to switch frequently from one to the other. Although snippets for the other story don’t alway emerge at the right moment. One thing that helps in maintaining a balance between the two is keeping a daily count of the words written for each book and using that to ensure the two are more or less fairly treated.

One of the fascinating discoveries of working in parallel on two novels is the question of rythm. Bursting with Life is meant to be faster paced with shorter chapters, a hundred in all. Whereas The Cloud Catcher has longer chapters with a total of fifty. A chapter break works as a cadence or a suspension. As these come more often in the former novel, cutting up the narrative, they give a distinct impression of hurrying forward. The action rises and falls or hangs suspended noticeably more often. In the second novel there’s more room to develop, passing over moments that might otherwise have been the end of a chapter. Despite this fact, the novel moves forward fast, but with a stronger impression of depth.

Here’s the draft of the opening paragraphs of The Cloud Catcher. See also an extract from the end of this chapter under the heading, In the beginning was a tree...


Fran reined in her pony and stared up at the sky. Great wispy clouds curled in long tendrils, turning pink as the sun set. A single darker cloud in the West stood out, solitary and intriguing. The countryside was deserted. Traffic rarely travelled that track, certainly not in the evening. 

Her father’s farm was over a mile away. Being Friday, he’d normally be in his study, up to no good, the door locked and the curtains drawn against prying eyes. She shoved away the unwelcome memories and forced her attention back to her surroundings, reminding herself her parents were away for the weekend.

Only the faint rustle of the breeze could be heard. Fran enjoyed being out alone. She found the peace and quiet profoundly moving. Sitting still in the saddle she drank in the silence, long and deep, imagining it could wash her soul clean. As if that were ever possible.

Sighing, she was about to nudge her pony forward when a muffled moan at the horse’s feet had her looking down. In the gloom under a walnut tree, she made out a girl her age sitting barefoot in an old-fashioned nightdress and nightcap, her back against a signpost, crying softly.

Dismounting, Fran tentatively offered the girl a hand, saying, “You shouldn’t sit too long on the ground, it can get very damp when the sun sets.”

The girl stared up at her, her expression blank. Fran took a step closer, meaning to help her stand, but the girl shied away, fear in her eyes. Fran let her hand fall to her side and looked the girl over. She was little more than a waif. The skin on her face was drawn tight over her bones as if she hadn’t eaten in days, possibly months. Her legs and arms were little more than flesh and bone. As for her nightdress, it was stained and torn in places and her feet were filthy as were her hands. Goodness only knew what ordeal she’d been through. (…)

See all Alan McCluskey’s novels

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