Remember topsecretprojects3.1-3.3? They’re finished! I think I’m allowed to talk about them too… I don’t see any reason why I can’t talk about them, save for the fact we haven’t quite nailed a title yet… watch this space…
I’ve been writing some novellas.
Some eleven months ago, my editor, who I think I might love unconditionally, grabbed me at the end of a panel I’d been on, and, with a cry of ‘Psst! Kate!’ pulled me into an oversized stationary cupboard.
“This is all very secret,” she whispered, “but I’ve been talking with your agent,” she explained, (another woman who I quite possibly love beyond all reason) “and because there’s a bit of a gap between Harry August being published, and Touch being published, we’ve been talking about getting you to write something in between… have you ever written novellas?”
No. I had never written novellas. I wasn’t even sure what a novella is. Bigger than a short story, right, but smaller than a novel?
“Exactly that! We’re thinking three of them, to be published as e-books, as Claire North, but you can’t tell anyone yet!”
Okay… anything else I should know?
“We’d like the stories to be inter-linked but separate. They need to be sorta like the stuff you write as Claire North, but kinda different, and we want it to be sorta epic, but it also has to be narratively tight because novellas are short, and each novella needs to stand on its own feet, but share thematic or universal trends with the rest of the series.”
“I’m not sure I know what that means…”
“No! It’s going to be exciting, isn’t it?”
There it was then: the briefest brief I think I’ve ever had. For a few months we batted ideas around, and as I waited for my US and UK publishers to pick from the list of ideas I sent them, something that seemed most apt, I kept myself occupied with topsecretproject4 which remains, I’m afraid, the very last of the topsecretprojects that must for now remain classified. I finished topsecretproject4 in January, and within 45 minutes was a little bit restless.
Within two days, my editor was being bombarded with demands for a final discussion on which of the many potential novella ideas on the table would be most awesome, and a few weeks after that, we settled on one.
The novellas tell the story of the Gameshouse.
It’s a house with no fixed address, but doors all across the world lead to it. In the public areas of the house, it’s just like a member’s club, where you can go to play chess, backgammon, go, checkers, cards etc.. Some people bet money, possessions; others just play for the love of the game. However, go a little bit deeper into the house, and you find the higher league, where Risk is played with real cannon across the map of the world, Battleships involves actual submarines, and the stakes can be years of your life, pieces of your soul, or the fealty of governments and kings. To the players of the higher games, the Cold War is no more than a larger game of chess on a bigger board; the stock exchange is simply an oversized Monopoly set, and people are pieces to be moved in a game too big for most people to perceive.
It’s been a very different one to write – the format of three novellas across a shared world allows the overall story of the Gameshouse to be huge (spanning, in the case of these books, from 1610 to the present day) but the stories within each novella have to be, by word count alone, very tight. Thus, big scales become human again, and the giant stakes are both built up, and pulled back down, all in the same breath. Does it work? Hope so! I enjoyed writing them, and so far those very few people who’ve read them haven’t tried to eat their own eyeballs so, touch wood, they’ll be a new and interesting thing that I can do again, and people will enjoy reading too!