Write a trilogy, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.
I should start by saying that the Verity Fassbinder series began as a standalone short story. “Brisneyland by Night” was written at Clarion South in 2009 and caught the eye of someone who helpfully suggested it would make an excellent series if I could manage it.
Ignorance is not only bliss but also a kind of protective Teflon coating that blinds you to any real clue as to what you’re about to attempt. I had no idea what structure was, so turning “Brisneyland” into Vigil took me roughly five years. Luckily for me, Jo Fletcher is patient.
Having at last written and sold this weird book—five years of muttering to independently minded characters, “What are you doing, aren’t you supposed to be my galley slaves?”—I had to do it all again. Luckily, by then I’d learned about structure thanks to a friend who’d explained it using Star Wars. I like to think of it as the Art of Scaffolding, and while it didn’t make things easy, it made them easier, and the writing of Corpselight a little less impossible than I thought.
Plus, I’d learned to trust Verity—if she was wandering off the path it meant she (and my subconscious) probably had a clue about stuff I’d already seeded in the earlier book and how it might come to fruition. Some of the other characters were, however, still pretty untrustworthy (I’m looking at you, Bela Tepes) and it was best not to listen to them. Mostly.
Then suddenly Corpselight was done and I was staring down the barrel of Restoration. Though I knew it would be the last book of the trilogy, I don’t think it really sank in that it would be The Last. I was tangled up in writerly concerns like finishing overarching story questions, giving closure to some characters, comeuppance to others and, of course, there was my own fear of not writing a good enough ending for either readers or myself.
However, if I’ve learned anything it’s that sometimes your story knows best. Corpselight isn’t the book I at first synopsised, and thank the dark gods Restoration wasn’t either, as it was a single line about “stuff happening”. The back brain has its own plans, and it remembers even if you do not the maze of clues you’ve laid down as you write forward. Sometimes I feel like that’s how I’ve always found my endings: creeping forward wearing smudged glasses on a foggy night guided by a torch with dying batteries.
But finish I did and gave a sigh of relief.
Then a scream of fear.
Time to say goodbye to the world I’d lived in for years, to all those imaginary friends I’d spent more time with than actual humans. In finishing there’s satisfaction and fear, peace and distress. Hope that you might get to visit again, and despair that you won’t get the chance. That’s what finishing a trilogy is like.
Angela Slatter is the author of the supernatural crime novels from Jo Fletcher Books/Hachette International: Vigil (2016), Corpselight (2017) and Restoration (2018), as well as eight short story collections, including The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales, Sourdough and Other Stories, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, and A Feast of Sorrows: Stories. Vigil has been nominated for the Dublin Literary Award in 2018. She has won a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, a Ditmar, an Australian Shadows Award and six Aurealis Awards.