Article published on November 2, 2015.
The prologue for The Hidden Legacy was initially created as a standalone assignment for my MA. I was clear about what my priority would be. The piece had to be arresting, vivid, a little disturbing maybe but above all else I wanted it to earn me a distinction. I knew what my lecturers would expect to find in there and, just as importantly, what they most definitely did not want to see and I tailored it to meet their requirements.
I’m not totally sure about this now but I don’t think I saw it as part of a bigger picture at that stage. It was essentially a one-off and that perhaps makes it surprising that the opening scene in the school playground in 1966 has hardly changed at all now that the novel is complete. It has survived frequent edits of the whole novel, both on my part and also at the behest of my publishers Twenty7, and although there have been odd changes of phraseology or bits of dialogue that have been tweaked slightly, the scene in essence remains exactly the same, which at first struck me as remarkable. You’d have thought, given that it was written initially for a very specific purpose and with a particular set of readers in mind, that it would need to undergo significant changes in order to act as a springboard for the rest of the novel. The opening lines, after all are crucial. We are told time and time again that if as writers we do not succeed in hooking the casual, uncommitted reader in the first few chapters, we may lose them altogether, so why was I not tempted to spice it up a little to draw readers in?
The answer perhaps is that I didn’t see the two audiences as being that different. My lecturers at university may have been assessing the assignment with specific criteria in mind but they are all readers in the final analysis. They were keen for me to take it forward because they felt this prologue had potential. They commented in particular on the way the tension builds as curiosity gives way to a sense of dread and ultimately something akin to horror. If they saw it that way, why would a reader not do the same?
With the prologue having set the tone, I was never in any doubt as to which character I particularly wanted to take forward from there. In theory I could have chosen to follow events from the perspective of one of the teachers in the playground or Carol Bingham, one of the victims, or her family or an investigating officer. I knew all along however that it was the boy himself, John Michael Adams, who had captured my interest. I knew what he’d done but at that stage I had only the sketchiest of impressions as to why. But there must have been something there in the back of my mind all along because that opening scene contains a few details about his background and recent events that came to play a significant part in the way I fleshed out his story later. It would be fascinating to know how many readers manage to form their own impression of what has been going on before they reach the crucial scene towards the end when all is explained. Even so, whatever seeds might have been there all along, that level of detail was still a long way off when I first wrote the prologue.
It was always going to be a challenge to build on a promising beginning and maintain the same level of intrigue and suspense throughout the novel but I suppose I’ll find out in the coming weeks whether readers feel I was able to do that.
GJ Minett, October 2015
G.J Minett studied Languages at Churchill College, Cambridge before teaching in Gloucestershire and West Sussex. In 2008 he finished a part-time MA in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester. He wrote the first chapter of The Hidden Legacy as part of his course and the piece subsequently won both the inaugural Segora Short Story Competition in 2008 and the Chapter One Competition in 2010. The prize for the latter involved a chance to work with editor Baden Prince Jr to finish the novel. Graham is currently working on his second novel, The Goose Drank Wine. He lives with his wife and children and still works at Angmering School in West Sussex. @grahamminett511
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