I love running. It's something I've gotten into over the last few years but especially about a year ago when I first ventured from the treadmill and ran outside. I'm lucky that I live near Wimbledon Common and even on wet, cold days like today, it's a beautiful place to go for a trot. I go as early as I can and, for most of the time, I don't see a soul. It's just me huffing and puffing along with some tunes in my ears.
It's funny how once you get into a hobby, the more stuff you need. Proper running shoes, dry-fit clothes, running socks, gps watch, and as it's now freezing out, leggings, body-warmers and so on. I check weather forecasts, sun rise times. I make protein shakes and drink electrolytes. I get up at 5am when the rest of the world is still asleep. It's a whole new world of beautiful madness.
We've got some guests staying with us this week and their 8 year old son has to write a short story about Jack The Giant Killer as a school project. It has to be a retelling of the story, written in the present tense. Naturally, after being told of this, I couldn't help but start wondering myself what happened and how a ten year old boy could kill a giant. This is what I wrote:
The castle on top of St Michael’s Mount looms closer with every pull of the oars and Jack thinks, not for the first time, “This is a really bad idea.”
Yes, Billy the Miller’s Son had bet a copper coin that Jack wasn’t brave enough to spend a day and a night at the castle but now, as he rows closer and closer, a copper coin doesn’t seem like very much money. Not just because he knows his mum will tell him off when he returns home tomorrow – for staying out all night and for taking the nob of cheese that’s in his pocket from the kitchen. And not just because the island is actually a long way from shore and Jack’s arms are already aching from rowing. He doesn’t even mind that the early morning sun is scorching hot, and he’s sweating rivers down his back.
Jack thinks his little trip to the island is a really bad idea because suddenly the tales he’s heard all his life, about a giant living in the castle, don’t seem quite so silly. Now he’s nearly there, the castle doesn’t look quite so small. In fact it does seem large enough to house a giant. So much so, he can’t imagine who else would live there other than a giant. It’s far too big for a normal man.
It towers above him, four or five times bigger than any house he’s ever seen, made up of stone bricks that didn’t just magically appear on the island. They had to have been carried there by someone — or something.
If the castle’s not a giant’s home, why was it built in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the sea? Jack’s brave for a ten year old but perhaps that’s not quite brave enough after all.
“There are no giants,” he tells himself as the boat shudders to a stop in the shingles of the beach.
“There are no giants,” he tells himself as he steps out of the boat, mouth dry. A seagull squawks as it flies past Jack, heading back across the bay to Marazion, the town where he’s spent his whole life, as if to tell Jack to follow on behind. He gulps at how far away his home seems now, how small. Too far to get back to in a hurry. Too far for anyone to come and rescue him in time if a giant should suddenly appear.
“There are no giants,” he says once more, trying not to notice his knees knocking together and the squirming in his tummy.
The castle perches on top of the hill, all misshapen and covered in wild vines. Two big windows sit in the middle of the main tower, like a pair of black eyes gazing down on him. The gatehouse yawns beneath them, showing off the portcullis like a row of metal teeth, all sharp and pointy.
Jack may be brave for a ten year old but he’d have to be mad to go up to the castle itself, even in the broad daylight. And he’s not that. He’s brave but not mad.
Instead, he walks off around the island, looking for somewhere to spend the day and night. Somewhere safe. Just in case. Not that he believes in giants of course.
On the eastern side of the island, with a good view of both the castle and Marazion, Jack finds a large rock half-buried in the beach with a hollow centre, just big enough for him to sneak inside and curl up. It’s a good place, a safe place, to wait until he can row back in the morning and take that copper coin off Billy.
Sitting in the hollow, Jake takes the cheese out of his pocket and has a nibble, just enough to stop his tummy rumbling. It doesn’t taste as good as he thought it would in his dry mouth. He should’ve brought some bread with him as well but that would have been too much to take from home. No point surviving a night on the island then have his mum kill him for stealing all their food.
Of course if a giant gets him first, making his mum angry didn’t really matter.
He looks back at Marazion and wishes he was sitting in his kitchen with his mother, maybe having a hug, instead of curled up inside a rock on a beach with a hard knob of cheese. That seems a much better idea than trying to win a copper coin off Billy.
Jack squeezes back out of the rock but stops himself from running back to his boat.
“There are no giants,” he says to remind himself he’s just being silly. After all, if they did exist, he would’ve seen one by now surely? There’s nothing for Jack to be scared off really. A load of old rumours and myths can’t hurt him. And if he does stay the night, the next time the village elders say “the giant from St Michael’s Mount will eat you up if you’re naughty,” he’ll be able to reply that its just an empty old ruin. Jack puffs his chest out. He’s brave, braver than most ten year olds he knows. He can do this.
Of course, if there was a giant, he definitely doesn’t want to be eaten just to be proved wrong. He needs to be cleverer than that.
His dad hunted a wolf once. His dad dug a large pit, covered it in sticks and leaves, and the wolf fell in it. Perhaps, if Jack did the same and dig a big pit, if there was a giant, he’d fall in it like the wolf did and get trapped instead of eating him? That seems a much better idea than just hoping for the best.
With nothing else to do to pass the time, Jack finds a large piece of driftwood to use as a spade and starts digging. He digs and he digs and he digs. By the time the sun goes down, the pit is waist deep and Jack is exhausted with blisters on his fingers. It takes him three attempts to climb out of the hole but eventually he crawls back to his rock. Now he’s gazing down at it, the hole doesn’t look very deep, but he’s too tired to dig any more. It’ll have to do. Anyway, there’s no such thing as giants so to dig any more would be a waste of time.
He crawls back into his rock just as the sun sets and the stars come out. Snug as a bug, Jack falls asleep, dreaming of being the bravest boy in the world.
Thunder wakes him, a deep rumble that shakes him to his bones. Jack’s eyes pop open, expecting to see lightening and rain. But the night sky is filled with nothing but twinkling stars. There is no storm.
The thunder roars again, pounding the ground like a drum, quickly followed by another beat, and another, and another. In fact, Jack thinks, more like the sound of running. But if feet were to make that much noise, they would have to be… giant-sized.
Jack gulps, more scared than he ever thought possible. His heart races as if it could escape from his chest. His legs shake and his body shivers as he looks up towards the castle. And it takes everything he has not to scream when he sees what’s coming towards him.
A giant runs down the hill. His big legs make short work of the distance. His long nose leads the way like a dog hunting rabbit. An old bearskin covers his wide shoulders and, in his hand, glistening in the moonlight, is an enormous sword, perfect for killing little boys. And by the looks of his huge grin on his face, the giant is very excited at the thought of catching a silly little boy sleeping on his island for a bet.
Jack screams and the giant laughs.
The boy squeezes his way out of his hiding place and starts to run back to where he’s left the boat. If he can reach it in time, perhaps he can row out to sea and be safe. He tries not to think about how easy it will be for the giant to wade out after him or how even at the deepest part, the sea will only come up to tickle the giant’s tummy.
“Little boy, little boy, do not run,” calls out the giant. “Even though it’s such a stupid thing you’ve done. Stay and play, at least a while, you never know…”
An enormous bang drowns out the last of the giant’s words.
At first, Jack keeps running until he notices the pounding of the giant’s feet has stopped as well. He glances back over his shoulder, but there’s no sign of the giant in pursuit. He slows down to a walk, grateful for the chance to catch his breath as he looks for where the giant could be. Something that big couldn’t have just disappeared after all.
The only sounds Jack can hear are the waves licking the beach and the beating of his own heart, still pounding in his chest. It is so quiet in fact, Jack almost thinks perhaps he’d been dreaming. Perhaps he’d imagined there was a giant chasing him.
He takes a cautious step back towards his hiding place. And then another. He still can’t see where the giant has gone. Had it been all a dream?
“There are no giants,” he says to the wind rushing past, but this time he doesn’t believe it.
He walks slowly back to his hiding place, expecting at any time for the giant to jump up and grab him, but nothing happens. Jack is all alone on the island. He laughs at how sacred he’d been and is glad there was no one there to see him scream. Billy would never let him forget that.
But, as he reaches the rock, Jack sees something that wasn’t there earlier. A big, giant-shaped shadow lies next to it. At first he thinks its just another rock but rocks don’t have ears and noses, arms and legs. No, it’s not a rock lying there. It’s definitely a giant.
Jack’s knees start knocking gain and his tummy tightens up into a little knot. Going to the island might have been a very bad idea but not leaving when he had the chance might well be an even worse one.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Giant,” he says. “Please don’t eat me.” But the giant doesn’t reply. In fact he looks like he’s asleep. “Mr. Giant?”
The giant doesn’t move.
“Mr Giant?” asks Jack once more, taking a step closer. That’s when he sees the giant’s sword. It’s sticking out of the giant’s back. It looks very painful. In fact, now Jack looks closer, the giant doesn’t look asleep, he looks quite dead.
Feeling braver than he has felt all day, Jack steps even closer. He sees the giant’s foot is inside the hole he’d dug earlier. He must have tripped while chasing Jack and landed on his sword.
“Oh,” says Jack. “I just killed a giant.” He grins from ear to ear. “Jack the Giant Killer. I like the sound of that.” And Jack pugs his chest out once more.
Red Rising came out a year ago to much hype but maybe because it was classed as YA, I let it pass me by. It was only after it kept appearing on the Best of 2014 lists of people who have very similar tastes to me that I picked it up. I struggled with the first half despite the fact it was beautifully written because I could see the author's influences a little too clearly. I know we all stand on the shoulders of giants these days but it was all a little bit too "Lord Of The Flies on Mars" for my liking. Then just as I was about to give up on it, it hooked me in and never let go. Relentless, edge-of-your-seat stuff.
But the best thing about playing catch up was Book 2 was already out. And my god, it was even better than the first. It was a sequel where everything took off in a truly spectacular way. The ambition of Brown in even attempting to pull off a book like this was to be applauded. The fact he succeeded was incredible. Often the middle book of the trilogy is a let down, moving chest pieces around but nothing actually happens. Forget that with this book. This is how you do it. I have a new favourite author. Unfortunately I now have a year to wait for the final part..
I've emailed my book off to my agent today. I kinda feel a bit weird about it. So hard to let go and not keep thinking what I should change/is it good/is it crap etc. Time to let a fresh pair of eyes see it. But proud of where I've got to with it. 128,000 words of hopefully Nathaniel Rane Book One
I finished the first draft of my book on Sunday. 126,000 words with a start, middle and end. I'm spending this week just tweaking some stuff to match everything up, get older bits link up with newer bits, stuff added later seeded earlier and so forth and then it's time to send it off to my agent. I am crapping myself at this point to be honest. I have no idea if what I've written is any good and am convincing myself it really isn't. Stupid I know but fairly typical part of the process. However I am ecstatic that I actually finished it. Six months in total, averaging 20,000 words per month (that I kept).
So off on Sunday to the agent. While I'm waiting, I'm going to start writing up notes on a very different book that I've had bugging me — very high concept sci-fi.