As part of my Creative Writing degree, one of the modules involved writing a non-linear narrative.
If you’re unfamiliar with them, this is where you can read a story in any order and it still makes sense.
There aren’t many books that do this because frankly it’s really hard. Choose Your Own Adventures are a good example of this type of storytelling.
My writing technique has always been fairly non-linear, but the finished product has always been a linear story.
But no story has had a more non-linear writing technique than Hollywood Romance.
You see, I’ve actually had the ending of it written since I don’t know when, but I think it must have been 2016 or 2017.
I don’t think I have the date on the original file, but I do know that I’ve had Tate and Jack’s ending in my head since before I released What Happens in Paphos in 2019.
And that was before I even started writing the rest of the Hollywood Gossip series.
The rest of Hollywood Romance has been through several iterations. The key events have always stayed fairly similar, but what’s changed is how I’ve shared those key events.
After publishing Hollywood Heartbreak, I was really emotionally drained.
That book covers so many challenging topics.
It was also hard for me to write because I had to face some of my biggest fears.
In fact, for WHNY, it was non-existent.
So the only way to re-familiarise myself with the events of WHNY and WHL, without any useful notes to refer back to, was to reread them.
It may sound melodramatic to say that I didn’t want to go back through and read my own books again to work on Hollywood Heartbreak, but I very much have a philosophy where, when I draw a line under something, I don’t look back.
Looking back is akin to seeing childhood photos of myself wearing a pink velour tracksuit with a Disney Princess on it. They’re memories I’d rather not relive.
Because it was something I was so afraid to do – for reasons I can’t fully explain or will ever understand – just thinking about doing it sapped me of what little energy I have. I hyped myself up so much that it exhausted me.
Because the thing is, worrying about something can sometimes be more exhausting than getting the thing over with already.
Then, once that fear has plateaued, or it’s over, you realise it wasn’t so terrifying after all.
I ended up reading WHNY in about two sessions.
I actually enjoyed reliving it and went on to reread the rest of the series. That’s part of what led me to do the new editions.
Don’t get me wrong, I spotted some stylistic changes I would make now, but other than that I didn’t hate them.
I really thought I would. Working on WHNY and WHL back in 2015-17, I stressed myself out a lot. So I have fairly negative associations with them even though I do actually enjoy the process of writing. It’s publishing I hate.
So, back to my non-linear writing technique.
I started by writing the key scenes that didn’t overlap. Then I weaved in the ones that did. Then filled in the ones that didn’t.
It turned into a Frankenbook, a bit like Behind the Spotlight in its earlier iterations.
Slowly, I chipped away at it while working on other projects.
A scene here.
A chapter there.
A line here.
Because of this, I had no idea if it told a complete story or not. All I knew was that the scenes were in consecutive order (and I know this because of Scrivener). There still could’ve been a lot of gaps to fill in.
But when I had the flu, and could do absolutely nothing for three weeks, I started to hear Tate’s voice again.
It was the first time I’d really heard her since I getting creatively burnt out. So I decided to run with it.
Then, when I started to feel better, I carried on working on it.
It turns out Hollywood Romance does tell a complete story in chronological order.
It does make sense.
And I don’t hate it, which is even better.
I read through it on my laptop and added in some stuff, chipping away at the things I wanted to add or change.
Then, when there was nothing else I could think of to do, I converted it into an e-book file and put it on my reMarkable.
A change of plans (again)
Then I made the decision to read it backwards.
I often do this when I’ve read a book several times or I’ve read it recently. It allows me to spot different things.
Like when I added an injury for Niamh in The Mummy’s Curse at the last minute. Had I not read it backwards she would have miraculously healed a chapter later.
Well, I got about ten chapters into Hollywood Romance and just wasn’t feeling it. I did spot some stuff, but something didn’t feel right. This didn’t feel like the right way to read it. Not yet.
So I put it down for a few days – because it was in between Christmas and New Year and who does any work at that time of year anyway? – then went back to it a few days later.
And that’s when I completely changed a well-established editing process that I’ve had for many books now.
I read the first couple of chapters and realised I didn’t like the order of events.
It was jumpy. It didn’t flow.
But having had a break from working on it, and having the headspace to do so, I figured out how to fix it.
And it got to the point where I was coming up with all of these ideas on how to fix the first two chapters, but I couldn’t fit them all in the margin on my reMarkable.
(I have quite large, messy handwriting.)
And given how messy my handwriting can be, there was a high chance I wouldn’t be able to decipher what I’d written when I sat down to actually make the changes I had planned.
So I broke my own process again.
Normally, I read the entire book in one go before making changes. I don’t read any other fiction. That way I’m fully immersed in that book and so can spot more things I do/don’t like.
But I knew that if I wanted those chapters to turn out how I envisaged them, I had to work on them right away, when the notes were fresh.
So I did.
I went back through those opening scenes, reorganizing when things happened and were discussed.
And it now sets Tate and Jack up for some really interesting situations in their final adventure.
A thank-you note
If you’ve been with me for this long, patiently waiting for the last instalment of Tate and Jack’s story, I just want to say thank you.
The last year has been really painful for me in many physical and mental ways. I only published one book in 2023. I haven’t published one book in a year since 2018.
I needed to go back to basics to allow myself to recharge. And also because the next Afterlife Calls arc is more complicated than the last.
I want to get the worldbuilding right so that I don’t dig myself into a hole, and so that you’re as impressed with what happens in the series as I am. (Occasionally I do impress myself.)
Often, I look back at what I’ve written in Afterlife Calls and I’m surprised at how much worldbuilding I’ve done considering how much I hated it just four years ago.
There will be more updates to come from that series – and there will be at least one book in that series out this year, possibly two.
First, I’m focusing on finishing Hollywood Romance.
Then Afterlife Calls will have my full attention. So stay tuned for updates on what’s next for the Afterlife Calls gang.
In the meantime, Hollywood Romance and The Poltergeist’s Ship are available for preorder now.
It’s highly likely both books will be out in the first half of this year. But I can’t give exact dates until beta readers have been through them and provided feedback.
Covers for both are also coming soon and should be ready some time in the next few weeks.
And as a special present, you can read a preview of Hollywood Romance on Google Play, Apple Books, or Kobo, without even needing to preorder it!
Aaaaaand you can read a preview of The Poltergeist’s Ship, too!
(If you’re wondering why previews are only available on those three, it’s because they’re the only retailers that allow you to do previews for preorders. It’s optional for preorders on Apple Books and required on Google Play and Kobo.)
Oh, and did I mention I brought the preorder date for Hollywood Romance forwards? It’s now up for 26 May 2024. Exactly eight years after the release of What Happens in New York 😉
(I haven’t adjusted the date on Amazon yet as Amazon is less forgiving if you need to push dates back. The other platforms are more flexible. So Amazon’s date will line up with the rest nearer the time.)
*Affiliate link. It won’t cost you any extra if you preorder via this link, but I will make a small commission