In a trilogy, first you build a house, next you reveal its secret rooms, then burn it down
There is nothing realer than writing for people experiencing the world for the first time without the benefit and shield of experience
Dave Rudden: 'For too long the house many writers have built has had a very clear sense of who belonged inside and who was locked out.' Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
A trilogy is a promise you have no idea if you can keep.
I’ve always known how Knights of the Borrowed Dark was going to end. I’ve been aiming at a single line ever since I wrote the first chapter on November 1st, 2012, but that isn’t to say I knew every event in between.
For me writing is more about having a star to guide by than a map of the road. Ideas are just a framework. I wanted Knights to acknowledge that the next generation of children have grown up steeped in stories about prophecies and chosen ones and shortcuts … and know very well that none of these things exist. A common response to telling anyone you’re a children’s writer is them asking whether you got lost on the way to the real literature. I didn’t, by the way – there is nothing realer than writing for people who are experiencing the world for the first time, without the benefit and shield of experience. I promised myself I was never going to hold back in terms of darkness or depth, because being a teacher taught me that the first thing you do with a class is respect them.
That was the idea. But execution is in the details, and I know my favourite books the way I know my childhood home – every light switch, every shadow, every warped and creaking step. If you are lucky, very lucky, your readers will see your work as real, but more than that, they’ll see it as shelter, a world inside a world, written just for them. For a single book, that’s enough. A sequel must reintroduce that architecture, remind them that your book is home… and then reveal new turns in familiar halls, secret rooms they never knew existed, all without compromising that original frame.
Another promise to keep.
The Endless King, my final Knights novel, is the final Knights novel. It’s a liberating feeling. It’s also terrifying because it’s your last chance to say what you’re trying to say. In The Endless King, my three heroes, Denizen, Abigail and Simon, are thrust from their normal lives of hunting extradimensional shapeshifters into the far more terrifying world of dealing with other teenagers. And stories, like promises, evolve with the telling, and taking my sheltered Mayo orphan out into the wider world meant that I had more journeys to show.
I know, I’m writing fantasy. However, since I don’t fantasise about a world with only straight white people in it, the doors to my work are open
The class Denizen joins is a mix of ethnicities, genders and orientations. This wasn’t a moral choice, though for too long the house many writers have built has had a very clear sense of who belonged inside and who was locked out. They’re included because after speaking in 350 Irish schools I know that portraying a class of teenagers as exclusively white and male and straight would be fundamentally inaccurate, and when you spend 18 months talking to thousands of varied, unique and amazing young people you can’t help but promise to show their stories too.
(And I know, I’m writing fantasy. However, since I don’t fantasise about a world with only straight white people in it, the doors to my work are open.)
When it came to Abigail’s Iranian heritage or Ed being a transgender boy, I knew that I don’t have the experience to make their experience ring true. I reached out to Inclusive Minds, a collective of consultants with a passion for inclusion, equality and accessibility in children’s literature and they were able to find people who did.
And there are always those sneering gargoyles who call this pandering, or censorship, but in reality, it’s quality control. Details matter. Seeing an American film where characters somehow get trains from London to Dublin or walk from Dingle to Tipperary in an afternoon makes you start to appreciate the importance of research.
I was nervous writing these characters. It isn’t up to you whether that promise is kept. All that’s up to you is the effort you make to get it right. And the liberating thing about promising just three books is that you can deliver an ending – holding nothing back.
Knights of the Borrowed Dark is about building a house. The Forever Court is about showing you the secret rooms in a home that you never knew were there.
The Endless King is where I burn the house down.
We learn who we are through crisis, and so the finale must be the moment when everything you’ve grown to love is threatened and you realise in the scramble and smoke what you’d risk to save those you love. Those four words are the ending I wanted to write, and the one – for better or worse – that all the characters deserve. Whether it’s the right ending for everyone else is no longer up to me. I’ve talked enough, and now I’m very excited to listen instead.
The Endless King by Dave Rudden is published by Puffin, priced at £6.99. It’s available from all good bookshops now