The Story Behind The Amber Trail

I remember when it started.

It was the year 2002, and I was sitting on a beach in Thailand. The sea water was drying on my skin after coming back from a swim. In my hand was a book I’d borrowed from the hostel book shelf on the way to the beach. As I finished the first chapter, I made a decision: I’m going to try to write a novel.

It’s was easier to make decisions like that in my twenties. I had time to burn. I was trying new things all the time. I wasn’t overly worried what friends or people at work would think if they found out. I had a lot of room to fail. How hard could it be? I’d been writing as a hobby for a while – in travel blog emails and short stories. I could piece a readable novel together…couldn’t I?

A theme? It would be a backpacking road trip about a guy travelling through South East Asia. The plot? I didn’t have one – I figured it would sort itself out once I got going. So, when I returned from the holiday, I opened my laptop, and got started.

Initially, I struggled to gain momentum. My basic grammar was shocking. I had to open a book to figure out how to punctuate speech. But I managed to grind out about a hundred pages over a few months…before I finally admitted the truth: The story was awful. I didn’t like my main character. The plot had no drive. The dialogue was unbelievable, and even if I thought up a worthwhile scene – I just couldn’t describe it on paper the way I saw it in my head.

So, I gave up.

Over the next few years I moved around a lot – from Ireland to Canada to England. In London I met a girl. In 2007 we returned to Australia, and got married. Over those years the story hung around in the dusty hard drives of one laptop to the next, a reminder of a goal uncompleted.

In 2010 I reopened the files. By that stage my daughter had arrived on the scene. Time was suddenly at a premium – but the itch to write was still with me. I wondered if I restructured the plot, and reworked a few characters, whether it could be better.

So I started studying. Reading articles on the basics of sentence structure, description, plot, and character building. Eventually I was ready to give it another go. I got writing again, mostly late at night after work – if I had enough energy…which wasn’t all that often.
It was slow going, but after a couple of years I had 150 pages done. I was happier with the story, but I knew it still had issues. The premise of the plot felt clichéd, and the initial setting, a chemical company, was boring. Nonetheless, the words were flowing better, and I reasoned that if I could at least just get to the end, I could at least prove to myself that I could do it, even if it never saw print.

Then, in early 2013, I moved to a new project office for work, building a new railway line on the south western edge of Sydney. The office was located on the opposite corner of the city to my home – meaning I was suddenly faced with a 90 minute commute. After a few months, the travel was taking its toll. I was tired, getting frustrated with aggressive peak hour drivers, and the mileage in my car was racking up. When I arrived home, my brain was too scrambled to string words together. I’d hit another wall.

I struggled to find a way forward, and I mulled it over one Thursday night as I waited for my friend to arrive at the pub. As I sat at a rickety back corner table, nursing a beer and staring at the bubbles floating up behind the frosty glass – the idea came. A change to the story that was better. For the first time, I felt a real excitement about it.

That night, I made two decisions. First, I would start the story again, for the third time, with my revised plot. Second, I wasn’t going to drive to work anymore. Even if it took longer, I would use public transport and dedicate the whole journey to writing, every day, and not stop until it was done.

This choice opened things up for me. I suddenly had fifteen hours of dedicated writing time each week. Time that I wasn’t distracted by TV or games, time where nobody would interrupt me. For months, I sat hunched over a laptop on trains, buses and ferries, and kept at it. By the end of the year, the first draft was done.

It’s taken me another two years to edit that draft into its final form. But now, thirteen years after I had that first thought on the beach in Thailand, it’s finally done.

Is it any good? I’ll let you decide. I’m realistic enough to know my learning curve has a chunk left to travel. But hopefully the story will appeal to someone out there. Just one will be enough to make it all worthwhile.

I still write on public transport to this day. With the arrival of Google docs, I now do most of my drafting and editing on my phone. The second novel is underway, so if you spot me in the back corner of a bus, tapping into my screen, you’ll know what I’m doing. I’m back in the writing den, battling away at the next one. Hopefully it won’t take thirteen years this time. 🙂

MJK

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