How Conspiracy 365 came to be Or Wrangling a 12 volume series
To keep the pressure up in the story, I’ve set up poor Cal to be hunted not only by the police who believe he has viciously assaulted family members, but also by not one, but two criminal gangs: one headed up by Mr Vulcan Sligo, the other led by criminal lawyer Oriana de la Force. Both these parties are determined to beat Cal to the possession of the secret of the Ormond singularity – and to eliminate him if they can. Over the course of the 12 books, as other people get wind of the huge reward that lies behind the Ormond singularity, Cal finds he has other rivals and enemies.
The story of what lies behind the Ormond singularity, involving historical figures and a smidgen of reality, provides the spine of the story. This is the quest the 15-year-old boy must undertake. But around and leading up to the quest, Cal must deal with all those forces who are trying to intercept him. This is what creates the action. Solving a riddle no matter how complex, is not a very active business. So the clues have to be spread around and create difficulty and danger before they can be found and used. Along the way, Cal needs to find allies in strange places, to confront enemies, and deal with them. But in all this, he must never lose sight of the main game. Neither must the writer. In such a pile of words and stories, it’s easy to get lost.
To keep the satisfaction rate high, in every book, Cal needs to find something essential to the quest – he has a trusted friend, Boges, who is a total brain, handy with computers and who provides Cal with the moral and technical support that he needs in his fugitive life – not to mention cheeseburgers and chips – as well as coming to his aid in both a physical and mental way. An enigmatic and beautiful girl, Winter Frey, seems to be a helpful figure, yet is very closely associated with one of the criminal gangs. Can she be trusted? Or is she playing a hidden hand of her own?
To further strengthen the sense of tension and purpose throughout the 12 books, each of the three main characters needed to have a journey of his and her own. Both Boges and Winter have goals of their own and sometimes these interfere with Cal’s needs as do Cal’s needs with theirs.
Just managing this amount of material is a bit overwhelming. After having broken the story down along the months of the year, I sat down and I started writing movie-style treatments of each book – about five or 6000 words outlining the shape and structure of the book, the plot points, any gains made by Cal towards solving any part of the mystery left him by his father, reversals and losses, and the final build towards the resolution of that book, and then the cascade running towards the cliffhanger—whether it’s being chased along the railway line into the path of an approaching train, of finding himself trapped in a fast filling underground oil tank, trying to land an aeroplane without any fuel, escaping from a cannibal in the middle of the night, (Scholastic blinked at this one!) finding himself in the lions’ enclosure with an angry lion swishing its tail at him, diving into a flooded river to save his washed-away little sister, or being buried alive 6 foot under – thank God for mobile phones!….whatever mortal danger he is in that accelerates towards the end of each book…
Each book in the series has to be meticulously structured because it has to work as a book itself – it can’t be just a bleeding chunk – it has to be an elegant, well shaped read.
By the time I had written the 12 treatments, I had a fair idea of where I was heading, not to mention a solid document of about 150 pages. Most of the action takes place around the city and countryside but the last book takes Cal and his friends to Ireland, where they confront the final obstacles and discover at last the amazing truth behind the Ormond singularity. Creating this final scene, gave me great pleasure and delight. It also gave me the very best excuse to go to Ireland myself and research some of the rumours I’d heard about black Tom and Elizabeth the first. Walking through Kilkenny and Waterford I encountered all the names from the Irish side of my family—the Butlers, the Foleys, the McNamaras and the Cusacks. At Carrick on Suir, due to the Intervention of a local poet – historian, Michael Coady, Ormond Castle, closed for the season, was opened up and although I wasn’t allowed to take photographs, I could walk through the 14th century Norman battlements and into the Tudor manor house built by black Tom in his attempt to lure the Queen to Ireland for a visit. As I walked into the narrow hallway that led from the watergate courtyard, there is still just discernible in the stucco, the fading portraits, black Tom on the right opposite his cousin the sovereign Lady on the opposite wall.* In the intricate ceiling decorations, the Queen features again – her likeness and her coat of arms repeating along the architraves. Whatever the truth about their relationship, they seemed very important to each other – when Elizabeth made her famous speech to the fleet before the English navy sailed out to deal with the Spanish Armada, Black Tom was riding behind her holding the Sword of State.
“Can you think of anything that will make this huge job easier for you?” Asked my kind partner. “Yes. A dedicated laptop – a laptop that only has Conspiracy 365 on it – each draft of every book – and believe me there have been a few – there are at least six or seven for each book, sometimes many more, saved on the hard drive as well as on a dedicated memory card. The new laptop has nothing on it except Conspiracy 365 and a few letters. We went to Kmart and bought 12 deep plastic lidded boxes, one for each book, and a much larger one for all the research notes, the history books, and notes I’d made in Ireland, the maps of Kilkenny, Waterford, and Carrick, the photographs I’d taken, including photographs of the Butler chalice, gifted to Duiske abbey at Graignamanah (the meadow of the monks) by a 16th century Butler. Duiske Abbey and surrounding lands formed part of the inheritance left by his father Black Tom to illegitimate Piers.
Then switching on my new laptop, I opened up the big mauve folder that held the12 treatments, opened up the first page – Treatment of Book 1 – and started writing “January”, the first book in the series. Or rather, dictating, because chronic RSI after 30 years of keyboarding in less than ergonomically perfect conditions, have made typing and mousing very problematic.
It’s the story of a young man coming into his inheritance – in every sense of the word. It’s my hope that over the year of reading, young readers will also discover much about themselves, and become better equipped to deal with the complexities facing them. Above all, Conspiracy 365 is about love. The project too was undertaken with a lot of love by me, the ancient secret at its heart is all about love, and Cal’s motivation is also based in love – the love of his family of life itself.