Badlands, my debut novel from Darkstroke began life as a note in my phone on 28th August 2017, but the main character had already existed for three years at that point, albeit in a very different story.
Back in 2014, I’d toyed around with a novel called “Half a World Away”. The story followed Tom, an English man who had fled to Australia to escape his upcoming marriage. There he meets Amber, a wounded soul running from her own failed engagement.
Halfway through the first chapter, I wrote this:
“On the floor next to Col is a girl with red dreadlocks whose name Amber can’t remember”
A few pages later, this followed (from Tom’s viewpoint):
“The patio door slides open, and I swallow as a slim girl with red dreadlocks pads out wearing a peach vest and a white thong. She slides onto Col’s knee, takes the joint he offers her, sucks on it then passes it back, draping her arm around his neck and kissing him on the lips.”
From that point on the story I had been planning to write went south as Willow began to take over.
Who was she? What was her past? How had she ended up in Col’s apartment of backpackers and drifters? She hadn’t existed up until the point where Amber saw her lying in the floor.
But she changed everything.
I persevered with Half a World Away through a draft or two, but shelved it, mainly because I’d tried to shoehorn Willow into the story and it didn’t work.
There were other problems with it too, notably I was attempting to write from two viewpoints in different tenses which started off okay, but fell to pieces halfway through.
Every so often I’d go back to the story and see if it could be saved. And every time I’d wonder about the strange girl with the red dreadlocks.
In summer 2017, I wrote the note that set me on the path to Badlands. But I didn’t have a main character.
I had an idea; a story about suicide or a missing relative or some kind of family secret. I also had my antagonist and what was then a network of petty thieves. But no protagonist.
Then, in May 2019, I had the Eureka moment. What if Willow was the M.C?
Everything changed. Suddenly the whole story came to life. Most of Willow’s back story was already in place, I just tweaked a few things.
Within a month, I’d started the first draft.
To this day, I still have no idea where she came from. She appeared out of nowhere, a flash of inspiration in the middle of writing that’s changed my life forever.
And who knows, maybe now that Willow’s story has been told, Tom and Amber will finally get the chance to tell theirs.