Monday 5 February 2018

The many heads of a Hydra by Matt Wesolowski

The Hydra is a many headed serpent of Greek mythology who guards the entrance to the underworld.  The hydra could be utilised in literary terms as a metaphor for futility; when you cut of one of those heads, two sprout up in their place.
That metaphor of futility, of blindly hacking at a many-headed assailant, the actions of which only make the situation worse is an apt one for writing a novel.
The original idea, the inspiration for writing a prequel to Six Stories was the easy part. Premises tend to fall into my head at the most unexpected moments (in this case whilst mopping the kitchen floor and listening to a true crime podcast).
Then there was the structure, the six episodes, the presenter and the bits in-between. That should have made it all easier, right? Writing this would be a breeze.
Oh how indescribably wrong I was.
I don't plan. I never have. I mean, I have, but it's killed the story before I can even be bothered to write it. I have huge admiration for authors who can sit and plot, weaving intricate webs of plot like assiduous literary spiders - perfecting their arcs before settling down to fill the gaps with magic.

This above mess was all I had to go on.
Don't worry, there's no spoilers here - I only ended up using the first line. Actually, only the first four words.
And the bit about BEKS ... don't know what BEKs are? Don't worry ... you will ...
When I wrote Six Stories, I had no idea who killed Tom Jeffries or why until I was half way through episode 5. If I'd have decided beforehand, then it would have been no fun to write. The same rule I imposed on Hydra ... except that with Hydra, we know whodunit, we just don't know why.
My personal circumstances were completely different this time around too. My wife and I had separated the previous year and I was living on my own. Would this have any bearing on my writing? I'd written Six Stories when we were still together.
So the circumstances of the book were different, I was different and this book had to be different too.
I imposed a few rules on Hydra - the first being that it had to be, save for structurally, nothing like Six Stories. There would be no moody landscape that I could hide in if the process got difficult, I wanted this one to be about about motive. Hydra felt like it came from a place of fury. Killing your family with a blunt instrument is an expression of rage. That's where Hydra began and that was the path it had to take. I had little choice in the matter. I never intended to write anything more about Scott King and his podcast!
Then the final rule (imposed by me and some stage in the process) that we'd also find out why Scott King wears a mask.
Now there's a couple of real true crime podcast presenters who hide their identities, one of them even wears a mask! (I assure you, I only found out about him long after Six Stories was published)  and their reasoning is pretty straightforward - they want the story to be the focus, not themselves. That's what Scott King says; he says it a lot. But is it the truth?
It could be, I suppose.
But where would be the fun in that?
I wrote the first draft Hydra in three months. Like most things I write, it gushes from my brain like the pipe of a leaking toilet. The only time it stalled was when we had to find out conclusively why Arla Macleod killed her entire family with a hammer in the middle of the night. Not only that, there were a load of frayed edges, a load of threads that hadn't been tied up, things that had to be resolved. What on earth did BEKs have to do with it? They'd been there from the start, they demanded to be let in. I remember wording whether a resolution would come. If there were too many rules, too many heads to fight. Maybe I simply couldn't write books anymore.
Yet just like in Six Stories, the end announced itself when I least expected it.
As endings sometimes do.

Hydra by Matt Wesolowski published by Orenda Books, January 15, 2018 Pbk £8.99
Before Scarfell Claw, there was Hydra … One cold November night in 2014, in a small town in the north west of England, 26-year-old Arla Macleod bludgeoned her mother, father and younger sister to death with a hammer, in an unprovoked attack known as the 'Macleod Massacre'. Now incarcerated at a medium-security mental-health institution, Arla will speak to no one but Scott King, an investigative journalist, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation. King finds himself immersed in an increasingly complex case, interviewing five witnesses and Arla herself, as he questions whether Arla’s responsibility for the massacre was a diminished as her legal team made out. As he unpicks the stories, he finds himself thrust into a world of deadly forbidden ‘games’, online trolls, and the mysterious Black-eyed Children, whose presence extends far beyond the delusions of a murderess … 

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