The lead protagonist of my novel Storytellers, a blacksmith called Gunnar, suffers from depression, social anxiety, and possibly a form of PTSD. Today we would be able to steer him gently towards a medical professional of some sort – that is, if he managed to break through the internalised stigma of having to be a Strong Man Who Needs No Help Ever. But Gunnar was born in 1888, the novel takes place in 1920, and all he knows about his condition is that 1) it makes him “not normal” and 2) he can never, ever tell anybody about it.
In 1917, Freud “believed that a person’s unconscious anger over his loss leads to self-hatred and self-destructive behavior. He felt that psychoanalysis could help a person resolve these unconscious conflicts, reducing self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. Other doctors during this time, however, saw depression as a brain disorder”. (Source: verywellmind). As time passed, around 1920 “treatments for severe depression were generally not enough to help patients, leading many people desperate for relief to have lobotomies, which are surgeries to destroy the frontal portion of the brain”. Another technique used back then were electroshocks.
Gunnar lives on the outskirts of a small town. The local doctor, despite trying to keep up with the medical news, wouldn’t be able to administer electroshocks or lobotomy. In any case, he would first have to know what Gunnar suffers from, but the blacksmith can’t find words to describe how he feels. His depression comes and goes, and he refers to it as “the darkness”. His social anxiety manifests in ways that he doesn’t realise are even related to people – he thinks he’s afraid of objects, not understanding he is afraid of what would happen (according to his subconscious) if he accidentally broke or stained something that belonged to somebody else.
Exactly as the title suggests, the twenty-first and final draft of Storytellers arrived from my editor this morning.
The dream I had many years ago inspired the first draft. I was somewhat sick, but not too sick to type, so I wrote it down within the first two weeks of January 2017. At the end of September 2017 I sent what was in my head the final version to the editor, asking only for grammar and spelling corrections. Sixteen months later we both declared the book ready. January 1, 2017 – January 28, 2019. Exactly two years and twenty-eight days.
Obviously, I didn’t spend every single day working on those drafts. When the book was with the editor, I busied myself writing an outline for another book that didn’t work, two drafts for God of Fire which is now in my “perhaps one day in the far future” folder, and recently started rewriting the Norse mythology as a character-driven epic fantasy series. I don’t mind revealing that, because the idea is the easiest part of writing a book…
It all starts with the idea. Many people say they have no ideas. I believe this, generally, to not be true. If you ever looked at your ex and thought “I wish you’d fall into a sewer during the first walk with your new girlfriend”, you came up with an idea you could elaborate on. You, or rather your heroine who would definitely not be you at all, could curse the ex – every time he went on a date, something awful would happen to him. Instead of a werewolf, he could be a wererat or a werecockroach. If you had a conversation and came up with the perfect answer half an hour earlier, you came up with an idea you could write down. Once you had enough of those mini-ideas, you could start writing.
As I might have mentioned once or twice, I am (hopefully) getting close to finishing my first novel, Storytellers, historical suspense with fantasy elements set in Iceland between 1885-1920. Here’s an honest confession about my delusions…
Having read approximately 15823098 articles on writing, I was under the impression that a book is written in three drafts. The first is for the writer. The second is for beta-readers. The third is when everything gets fixed, becomes perfect, and I get my first Pulitzer Prize.
Things didn’t turn out that way.
On January 1, 2017, I started working on the first draft of the story I’ve been carrying in my head ever since I dreamt it years earlier. I vomited rather than wrote that first draft. It took me two weeks to produce roughly a hundred thousand words. At this point, I didn’t know yet where the book would be set, so I went for generic “village” and “ocean” terms. But of course, I was already starting to get obsessed with Iceland. When I read Independent People and Wasteland With Words, I realised it was the perfect setting. In fact, it seemed as if Gods created Iceland with the sole purpose of helping me write the novel.