REVIVER: THE REWORKING OF A NOVEL
At the Reviver launch, I was chatting to Bella Pagan about how much of the storyline had changed – or not – in the novel over the eight years I’ve been working on it. She suggested I come up with the top five changes – and here they are! The most notable changes and, uh, NOT-changes, over the course of writing Reviver.
One: The first line
‘Sometimes Jonah Miller hated talking to the dead.’
That was the very first thing I wrote, with a vague notion of where it might go and who this guy was, as he stepped in to the carnage, ready to take the hand of a corpse.
Well, it almost was. What I actually wrote was ‘Miller hated talking to the dead’, my expectation being that whoever Miller was, how could he not hate what he did? Soon enough, Jonah corrected me, so I added the ‘Sometimes’. And by then we were on first name terms . . .
Reviver is set in Richmond, Virginia, the office of the FRS being an unremarkable building in an unglamorous industrial estate. Originally, though, it took place in England, with the FRS headquarters located in an unremarkable building in an unglamorous industrial estate . . . in Croydon.
Then some early readers started to tell me that the UK locations felt inappropriate. It jarred, they told me. Hot Fuzz was cited. ‘Like having the X Files in Blackpool’ said one. I took the plunge, and relocated the book to the US, something that was surprisingly painless. It worked.
Jonah’s best friend is Belfast-born Never Geary. I’ve had the name ‘Never’ sitting around for a long time, originally from a half-finished short I wrote in 1992, and I dusted it off again for Reviver. In the earliest proto-plots Never Geary was more A Team that IT Crowd, an old school-friend Jonah goes to when he has nowhere left to turn. But eventually, the real Never Geary stood up and took a bow, and he worked well…
But. That name.
You see, one thing that’s pretty bloody common is to want to start a sentence with a character’s name.
Instead, it would jar; it was awkward. ‘Never had a long drink of his beer’ feels in need of a ‘tasted so good’ to round it off. The crunch came when I signed with my agent: ‘The name doesn’t work,’ he told me, and he was right. I’d not been careful enough.
Poor old Never looked doomed yet again. There was one chance left to keep the name, one final rewrite to fix things. By then, it was the only name I wanted for him, the only name that fit. I didn’t want to lose it.
He got through by the skin of his teeth! But then, he always does.
I started on Reviver back in 2004. Then set in the UK, Jonah’s favourite tipple was Scrumpy Jack, which at the time also happened to be my own drink of choice. A few years on, curiously enough Jonah’s preferred booze had changed to Tanglefoot Ale, bizarrely mirroring my own switch in allegiance. What are the odds!
When the relocation to the US happened, the Tanglefoot had to go, replaced by Jack Daniel’s and Coke. Now, just between you and me, that happens to be my other favourite drink.
All just coincidence.
Still waiting for those freebies, JD . . .
Five: Supporting cast
Honourable mentions, now, to two of the supporting cast who nearly vanished but managed to cling on one way or another.
First, Jonah’s cat, Marmite. Almost a victim of the UK/US relocation, Marmite faced the ignominy of a renaming, with my first attempt at a US-friendly explanation far too wordy and intrusive. In the end, I got it down to two words: ‘Google it.’ Job done. The nation’s favourite yeast extract, in cat form, secured its place. You’re welcome, Britain.
Second, and finally, to Beth.
From the earliest notes, Beth was an absolutely critical character. At first, she was a symbol of everything Jonah despised in those who campaigned against Revivers! A true hate figure!
Shazam! By the time the first draft was done, Beth was the most important woman in Jonah’s life. A love forever denied. Tragedy! Heartbreak!
By the next draft, things had changed again. The tragedy and heartbreak had calmed right down. Beth was now a symbol of how unlucky in love Jonah was.
Oh, and she died. And then she didn’t die – she was just very badly hurt.
By the final few drafts, Beth had become a bit of a distraction. She needed to go. Problem was, she played one very specific role in the plot, and I couldn’t work out how to ditch her.
It took a while, but a solution came. And Beth, who was hated, then loved, then really went through it, then died, then didn’t but was horribly injured . . . suddenly she was fine. Absolutely fine. No dramas. Phew.
She’s still in one scene, popping up to say hi. Give her a wave!