With all the stuff that’s been happening lately I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about finishing The Snake House. It’s interesting for me (if no one else) to look back on a project afterwards, especially one as fast-paced as this one, and have a think about what I learned from the experience and what I’ll take with me into the next book.
In terms of prep, this time round I wrote a big old plan over three pieces of A4 paper (I wrote most of it while on holiday in Conwy, scribbling away, huddled under a blanket- Wales is cold, yo), made some character notes, and then dived straight in at the beginning of July. In the end, I wrote the entire novel (around 100,000 words) in two months, which is definitely something of a record for me. The story wandered away from the set course a few times, and various nasty scenes I wasn’t expecting popped up here and there, which was nice (Snake House is a horror novel, after all) but mostly it went according to plan. I think what I will remember from this noveling experience – other than the faint squealing of my sanity as I raced to finish before the end of August – is how I was trying to consciously say something with this story.
Most of the time, themes and meanings grow with a book organically, and often I only notice them on the second read-through; Ink for Thieves is about change and responsibility, I realise now, and Bird and Tower is about growing up. These issues, for me, are usually bubbling under, to be brought out further in re-writes and edits, but this last book was slightly different.
The Snake House is asking questions about the nature of evil- whether it is a real, malevolent presence in human lives, or an absence of something that leaves the human animal easy prey to horrendous appetites (blimey, that’s a bit much. It’s something like that, anyway). When doing my research for TSH I inevitably had to read a lot about serial killers, and aside from being generally depressing and wildly unpleasant, such reading leads you to a number of uncomfortable questions. What makes these people kill repeatedly? Is such behaviour always born of a childhood of abuse, or do they come in to the world that way? Where can you draw the line that divides the sane from the insane in cases like this? Jeffrey Dahmer was thought by some to be experiencing severe psychotic episodes when he was torturing his victims, and maybe it’s easier to think of Ted Bundy as a monster possessed by a demonic presence, yet this was a man willing to drive for hours in a calm and rational state to spend the night with the bodies of the women he murdered.
Obviously I have no answers to these questions – perhaps no one does, or will – but when I started writing The Snake House those were the issues I wanted to explore; it is undoubtedly my darkest book, and in lots of ways it was the hardest to write. I grew up on Stephen King books, so you’d think I’d be fairly immune to the wibblies at this stage, yet there were times where I questioned whether I even wanted to carry on with the story. It seems that reading a book that deals with monsters, and inviting monsters to come and play in your head, are two very different things.