Friday, 21 April 2017

The Secret History of Genghis Khan - Katherine Roberts

I love secret histories - the sort of history that doesn't get taught in schools.

About ten years ago, following a divorce and house move, I began writing a rather strange spiritual/historical novel based on a 13th-century Mongolian prose poem called The Secret History of the Mongols. Subtitled 'The Origin of Chingis Khan', this is a fantastic account of the young Genghis Khan, his childhood sweetheart Borta, and his blood brother Jamukha. It ends when the great Khan, who throughout the story is known by his boyhood name of Temujin, takes the title 'Genghis' and becomes Khan of all "the people who live in felt tents" (in other words, yurts - or, to give them their proper Mongolian name, gers). This makes it ideal YA material, since the characters are of the right age and most of Genghis Khan's bloodbaths and empire building are still in the future. A couple of YA publishers and agents looked at the result, suggested various changes to make it more marketable, but in the end decided it wasn't commercial enough for them to take on.

The book had a challenging structure, which I dutifully changed several times - once on the advice of a well-meaning editor, who suggested making the story linear to appeal to young readers; and a few years later on the advice of an equally well-meaning agent, who suggested putting in more romance and concentrating on Borta's viewpoint in an attempt to sell it to the YA paranormal romance crowd (mostly girls). Since my book includes a Mongolian version of a werewolf, as well as shamanic journeys into the animal kingdom, both of these seemed perfectly sensible suggestions that might well have made the book more appealing to YA readers. But both were ultimately, as I can see now, doomed.

The linear approach would have made the story more accessible for young readers, yes, but it destroyed the one thing that made my book unique - its three viewpoint structure. The romance angle would no doubt have given the story more girl appeal, but it meant losing the fighting and brotherhood that was an essential part of the young Genghis Khan's life. But at the time, increasingly panicky about income and the possibility of having wasted two years writing a long book requiring careful historical research that it seemed nobody wanted, I turned a blind eye to the damage these changes were doing to my story, and wasted yet more years struggling to fit my triangular novel into a rectangular hole so that it could sit on the teen/YA shelf in a bookstore, when in fact my book really wanted to be floating in the mist of Mongolian myth, somewhere between the folklore category where you can find King Arthur, the adult historical category where you'll find Conn Iggulden's epic series about Genghis Khan, the romance category where you'll come across all those rugged half-naked Highlanders (the Scottish version of Genghis Khan), the YA section where eternal war rages between packs of werewolves and vampires, and perhaps even the literary section where the clever books with prizes lurk, only they don't as a rule give out prizes to borderline genre books by little-known children's authors. In other words, I'd written something a bit too clever for younger readers with no obvious market that hadn't a hope of winning a literary prize to lift sales, and I was whistling in the Mongolian wind if I thought anyone was going to publish it for me and get it into bookshops in sufficient quantities to satisfy their shareholders... so, once ebooks came along and made such things possible, I decided to tackle its publication myself.

First, though, I had to heal my book.

The original text was long gone, lost on an old computer my brother brought back with him from Hong Kong that got broken during a house move of a mere 100 miles or so across the same country - though thankfully I had backups of several stages of my rewrites. I now needed to find the best of these rewritten failures, break the story up into small pieces, and then restructure the text into something similar to the original three-viewpoint format I'd started with ten years ago, and which had been inspired by a drama series on TV at the time, showing a different character's viewpoint of the same story in three separate episodes that, when taken together at the end of the series, totally changed the way the viewer thought about the characters and the plot (if anyone can remember the title of this series, I'd love to know what it was... about the only thing I know is that it wasn't about Genghis Khan!) On my way through this book-healing process, I used a surprising number of the changes I'd made during my 'failed' rewrites to tighten the plot, doing away with some long-winded repetition from my first draft, so as it turned out not all the work I did during those torturous rewrites was wasted effort, and would probably have had to be done anyway during an edit.

This reduced the novel to about 90,000 words from its original epic proportions, and if I had been planning to sell it in shops where books are displayed spine-out in the traditional way, I'd probably have kept the story as a single novel with an internal triptych structure. But ebooks have no such length restrictions, so I decided to publish my story as a trilogy of ebook novellas, each about 30,000 words long, under a series title The Legend of Genghis Khan (chosen over my original title Red Moon for clarity's sake, and also with an eye to our new friend, Search Engine Optimisation). If anyone is interested, the novella titles come from the Secret History, where Temujin and his gang of brothers are often referred to as wolves, and the covers were inspired by Mongolian portraits of Temujin's family.






Book 1 - Prince of Wolves - Temujin's story, the young Genghis Khan.
Book 2 - Bride of Wolves - Borta's story, Temujin's childhood sweetheart.
Book 3 - Blood of Wolves - Jamukha's story, Temujin's blood brother.

Up until now, these three short books have been lurking in Kindle Select, meaning that Amazon Prime members can read them for free, and if people do actually read the books (as opposed to simply downloading them), then Amazon pay me a few pence per page read out of their global Select fund for that month. The downside is that, while they are in Select, the ebooks cannot also be made available in epub format for readers to download from other stores such as Apple or Kobo, or sold from any other website. But that is about to change. Books 2 and 3 are already out of the program, with only Book 1 Prince of Wolves still available for free reads by Amazon Prime members until May. After that, all three ebooks will be on sale in the normal way, with a print edition coming soon.

Authors Electric blog readers get special treatment! In advance of these changes, Book 1 Prince of Wolves is on its final Select free promotion for the next five days. You don't have to be in Amazon Prime to take advantage of this free download, just click the link below.


Download The Legend of Genghis Khan Book 1 - PRINCE OF WOLVES free* from amazon.co.uk

(*offer ends Tuesday 25th April 2017, also available from other participating amazon stores, please check price is zero before downloading.)

*

Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young readers with a focus on legend and myth. She also writes historical fiction with a touch of romance for older readers under the name 'Katherine A Roberts'. For more details, visit www.katherineroberts.co.uk.


4 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

Ah yes, that frustrating genre stranglehold, but well done for persisting and believing in yourself, Katherine. A fascinating post about the strange considerations that surround the actual writing process.

Ann Turnbull said...

I loved these books! And I'm so glad, Katherine, that in the end you stopped trying to compromise and wrote this story the way it needed to be written.

Katherine Roberts said...

Thanks Ann and Bill! Yes, I'm glad the books are finally out there, even if they are not in the shops. I have been talking to a small press about a print edition that would hopefully get into some UK bookshops, but not sure yet if that will happen... if not, I'll be doing a print-on-demand edition eventually.

Umberto Tosi said...

You inspire me to negotiate the tangles in creating my present opus, on its third reorganization! Hats off to you for keeping faith with such a grand project. I've always been fascinated with Genghis Khan (a much misunderstood figure). I look forward to reading your trilogy.