Here’s the third in a brief series of articles about the creation of the Hiram Grange novellas, currently being released by Shroud Publishing, and due to conclude soon with my own ‘Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow’. You can find part one here, in which Tim from Shroud Publishing lures five writers to him, and here, in which babies are mercilessly (and metaphorically) slaughtered.
I don’t often talk in any detail about what I’m writing at a given time until I’ve actually written it. An idea is not a story. Everyone has ideas, and everyone blurts them out, and they never sound as good on the tongue as they did in the blurters head. A story is crafted over time, honed and sharpened, and if the writer knows his or her stuff, far less disappointing than the muddled notion it grew from. Nothing makes me lose interest in my own ideas faster than telling somebody about them before the words are pinned and polished on the page.
Of course, with Hiram we had no choice. We had discussed him endlessly before wandering off to our own novellas, nailing down details, setting limits, pre-exploring the character as fully as we could in order to establish a consistent central figure. In the end though, we all had to leave the nest, and get down to the solitary business of putting words on pages.
So, what went into my own Hiram tale? Clearly, it was first held to the bible we developed, the backdrop, and the character, though I won’t say much more about those because that’s what the books themselves are for.
On the other hand, now is a great time to bring on board Malcolm McClinton, the series artist. At some point during the brainstorm, editor Tim Deal threw out some sample images from artists he though might be a good fit for the insane, modern pulp feel we were looking for. While I can’t place exactly when Malcolm joined the party, I can say for sure that the first images we got from him knocked us sideways. This character Hiram, this pretend man we made up in our collective heads, suddenly had a face. In general, I’m avoiding speaking for the team in these little essays, but on this occasion I’ll chance my arm and state that there was an instant feeling that Malcolm nailed it. I’m still a bit staggered every time I look at one of his images, because that’s Hiram. That’s what was in my head. There was a very informal group vote, and a very fast one. We had our series artist. That we made the right choice is pretty obvious from the covers so far released. I think my favourite remains the very first. Hiram, on that chair, the dead piled up around his feet…
Having said that, everything Malcolm’s done within the series has been both astonishing, and absolutely right. There’s one image in particular, that you won’t have seen yet, that defined the conclusion of Nymphs in a very direct way. It was one of the samples he produced, before the plots of each book were fully defined, and that’s why Hiram’s very final battle in the series so far is with an honest-to-goodness *spoiler*. That defining image will be reproduced somewhere in Nymphs, though I don’t yet know whether it’s a cover or an interior.
The second big influence on Nymphs was the city of Krakow. I’d recently taken my girlfriend, now wife, there for her birthday (a blurry but brilliant affair), and it had screamed at me to use it in a story. Nymphs was a perfect opportunity, and there are many key locations lifted straight from our break, almost as though the book is some sort of literary photo album. The flat Hiram exits so hurriedly, the club where he staggers to meet his nemesis, so many of them things Kirsty and I roamed by in our brief weekend. Even the weather, though the snow wasn’t quite as bad during our brief break. It’s a city that makes an impression, and I hope I did it a little justice. Go visit. It’s splendid.
Other ingredients came and went. In homage to my favourite modern pulp hero, Indiana Jones, I was determined that my installment of the Grange saga would open with the conclusion of an otherwise unseen adventure, that then plays into the main story. I accomplished that, taking a snippet written years ago, for an entirely different character (Jackson Greene – anybody remember him?), and finally fleshing it out. It’s a fun storytelling gimmick, that I think be can really only pulled off with a serial character like Hiram. It means I can drop you into a story that opens at a hundred miles an hour, and I hope you feel a touch breathless when you read it.
Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow (it’s not a random title – a little research into Eastern European / Russian mythology gave rise to the perfect beast for Hiram to race to Krakow to face down) has the further distinction of being the only published piece of writing (except for that opening, three hundred word snippet that was then adapted) I’ve ever written long-hand. You know those self-important guys you see in coffee shops, pen in hand, looking thoughtfully out of the window? That was me. I really was that pretentious. The first draft of the book exists in a moleskin notebook upstairs, written in fits and starts in Costa Coffee and Starbucks outlets across Glasgow.
Finally, there was the music. When I write, I usually have a piece of music that I put on every time I sit down to a story. Once you’ve got the right tunes, they’re like a short cut back into the story, a fast way to get into the particular mood of the piece. Nymphs was written to the Zimmer/Howard soundtrack to The Dark Knight, a movie I can no longer watch without a part of me rejoining Hiram in Krakow.
By January 2009, the first draft was written and I breathed a sigh of relief. Prematurely, as it turned out. Editing and rewriting this book has been like nothing else I’ve experienced as a writer. But that’s for next time. For now, head over to your local Amazon and tap ‘Hiram Grange’ into the search box…