Threatening Sky

I thought that getting Threatening Sky fit for publishing would be easy. After all, it was half written before I turned serious about it as a sequel.

The truth is, this novel was harder to write than Mackerel Sky. Not simply because it was the sequel. It was actually in bad shape: scattered, plot-holed, endless. I’m grateful to my writing coach for pointing out the issues. I wasn’t early on (which you’ll know if you’ve read the previous post) but I am now. Took her advice too, mostly.

The End

One of the main difficulties was finding an ending. One that would satisfy me and the characters.

Mackerel Sky and Threatening Sky used to be one big novel. And it didn’t end there. I’ve got the bones of books three and four, too. However, they’re not why I never had an explicit ending for this sequel. I simply hadn’t thought of ‘The End’ (or that this might one day bite me on the butt when I tried to publish).

In saying that, though, the novel has ended in much the same way as the long-ago original storyline did–with a new house. When I’d started getting serious about finishing, the writing coach saw a version which had no mention of a new, comfy place where Owen, and Andrew and the kids could live in peace.

After a couple of huge changes to the plot had twisted off other endings, I revisited the possibility of shifting house. I wanted Threatening Sky to end on a positive note after so much heartache, but not be so completely at odds with everything that had changed. In actual fact, shifting house tied in well with those changes and I’m very happy with how it’s come about.

I really had to force myself to stop writing about the house though! Everyone was very excited, but the novel was long enough already. For being such a ‘big’ part of the overall novel, it’s got the smallest ink-print.

Where Owen’s Story Began

The majority of my writing ideas come from dreams. Considering some of the topics in my novels (sometimes also in my short stories), I’m not sure what that says about me. I also have no idea where those ideas really come from since I’m not usually watching something like it on TV that might influence my dreaming.

Owen’s story is no different. The idea came from a dream and below are the first words written for it, represented verbatim (right down to the double quotes, which I no longer use). Where I first indicated the first person narrator’s name, I had a square. Clearly I hadn’t come up with the name at that point, but I’d overwritten the square at some point with Owen. The notes are dated 24 January 1996.

The original idea

“I have to support 4 brothers + sisters,” I said tiredly. “I have no education, I can’t get a real job. I do this because its easy money – there’s always a customer – it doesn’t mean anything to me + and they pay well.”
“Do your bro siblings know where the money comes from that buys their food + clothing?”
“No,” I said. “I told them not to ask, to just be satisfied.” “I told them I had a supermarket job.”
“Where does this usually take place?”
“Not here,” I said evenly. “I wouldn’t do it here. Usually at their place or a motel.”
“Aren’t your siblings suspicious about your odd hours?”
“I don’t know, no-one’s mentioned anything,” I said.

“What were the cops here for?” Jamie asked.
“There was a robbery at the store,” I said.
“Do they think you did it?”
“No, they’re questioning everyone.”
There was a pause then Jamie asked, “Owen, you’re not one of them people from the Square, are you?”
I looked up, startled he’d said it. “How can you imagine such a thing?” I got to my feet. “No, I’m not.”
“Good, because I can’t eat food or wear clothes that have been paid for by money earned that way.”
He turned and left the room & I sank back onto the couch. Did he believe me? Does he have suspicions?

Do they still exist?

Yes. Both of these conversations – the first between Owen and a cop and the second between Owen and his brother – still exist. However, the first conversation is not featured in the published novel, and the second has changed. Jamie still asks about the Square, but it comes at a far more desperate time.

Owen has always been defensive about what he’s done but in this first idea he was a lot more bold and, I think, openly gay. It definitely reads that way, and that he didn’t care about that or about what he was doing. In the re-write, he’s still bold but that’s because he’s a stubborn kid and will defend what he thinks is right. He still talks back the cop, so that has never changed (poor Sergeant Morrison!), and Jamie’s opinion didn’t change at all either. But… he refuses to admit he’s any sort of gay.

With those notes were two other sections. The first is part of the story that hasn’t been published (but has been re-written), while the second is an ‘idea note’ and written (oddly!) in second person format. Not sure why I did that!

“You said they pay well,” he said. “Do you set a price, hourly, nightly or do they?”
“I don’t have to answer that,” I said.
“True, but we would like you to answer it,” the cop said.
“Why? I’m not doing anything wrong. It’s not illegal. I’m not charging great amounts. I’m not stealing from them.”
“Calm down Owen,” the cop said. ‘It may not be illegal to take money for sex – yet – but you are classed as a minor.”
“So, having sex with a minor is an offence of the law.”
I looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“It’s statutory rape, Owen, even if you’ve consented.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “If I let them do it, & get paid, how can that be rape?”
“You’re under the legal age for having sex.”
“It’s my decision – no-one else’s,” I said. “I can do what I like.”
“You like selling your body for other men to have fun with,” the cop said bluntly.
I shuddered. “Of course I don’t like it, but it’s the only job I have and it’s easy money.”
“Easy money?” the cop asked. “It comes easy to you – just giving your body over to someone else.”
I frowned + bit my lip. “It’s easier than it was at first,” I admitted in a low voice. “The money makes it easy to take.”
“You would give it up if you got a real job?”
I looked at him warily. “No-one will give me a job. I’ve got no qualifications.”

The very first note and this one above are actually together. Owen and the cop are having a conversation in the police car sitting in Owen’s drive. Owen’s not happy to be there but it’s better than being dragged down to the local station. And… once he comes back inside, that’s when he tells Jamie they were just talking about a robbery at work. So, even though the notes weren’t written together, they are together in the story. Just not part of the published version.

The second note is this:

Come home one morning face all bloody & bruised. You’d agreed to go with a man back to his place but then you decided you didn’t want to. He didn’t take it kindly and raped you viciously and bet [sic] you up, taking the money you had on you. You won’t say want [sic] happened to your family. Jamie is worried & finally calls in the same cops who interviewed Owen before. They draw out of him what happened. They’ve got other reports of such events too. They want Owen to list all his clients but he doesn’t know their names. So they want him to go and do his job wearing a microphone. They’re going to charge each one with stat rape. Owen is scared they’ll seek revenge.

The note surprises me a lot, since despite what it says I’d never intended Owen to go off wearing a wire. The note has several lines drawn through it so perhaps I thought to toss it out completely. I didn’t, obviously, since the attack is behind the opening chapter of Mackerel Sky.

I have never written the attack, but it’s in my head as much as it stays in Owen’s. In fact, aside from meeting Andrew in the prologue, none of his customers appear in the story in that particular manner. Owen has been writing a letter as a sort of therapeutic way to work through his memories; the men he was with are in there, but I don’t know that he’ll ever let me publish it.

It’s funny going back to where it all started, and I’m really glad I kept the details. I hand-write everything, but I throw that out once I’ve got a typed version. Much of the original handwritten versions of Owen’s story are gone, but I like to think that the versions that exist now are much better than those originals anyway.