Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Page 2 of 80

Learning to fly again

The last few months have seen some changes happening with The Dragon House. Don’t panic, they’re all changes for the better, but there’s a bit of a theme to them. It’s only become clear to me quite recently what that theme is.

I’ve been learning how to let go. Of old ways of thinking, mostly, but also of ideas that have run their course. Things I’ve been holding onto just because I loved them, and had loved them for so long that they had become part of the Wild Hunt Quartet’s furniture.

Towards the end of last year, I realised something about myself as a writer. In all the stress and anxiety of coming to terms with my increasing disability, whilst also having a *very* late book to finish, I’d been focusing too hard on what my brain thought I *should* be doing with said book, instead of what the story actually needed (I blogged about that here).

It’s a dramatic scene, containing two of my favourite lines, that has been a tentpole incident in the script since forever

Basically, I’d stopped trusting my storytelling instincts, the very things which had carried me through three-and-a-bit books to date. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not a planner by nature; my process is more organic and free-range ¹. So realising I’d started trying to enforce rules and rigidity on myself, and that was strangling my forward progress, was revelatory.

Fast forward to this summer. Long-time readers will be aware that I’ve had persistent timeline issues with The Dragon House, as a consequence of narrative choices I made at the end of The Raven’s Shadow that put Gair several days ahead of the rest of the principal cast.

To avoid postponing his return as a point-of-view character, I sliced-and-diced the timeline of TDH. Tried time-jumping interludes. I even rearranged the script into parts by region/story arc – twice! – putting it back to chronological order in between. But nothing worked, and I was increasingly miserable.


Birds in flight above a misty river as the sun goes down, cropped to banner proportions


In July 2023 I figured out why. I was afraid of a repeat of what happened with Trinity Rising, when I chose to begin it with Teia: it delayed Gair’s reintroduction, which resulted in a reviewer accusing me of having abandoned him for half the book.

Reviews are for readers, not writers. Seems silly to be afraid of what one might say in the future, right? Yet even though I thought I’d moved on, it was still affecting my decision-making. I was contorting and confining my story for the sake of one solitary opinion that I had allowed to live in my head rent-free for literally years.

So I let go of that notion too, and trusted my storytelling instincts again.

Fast forward to this week. Riding something of a high from all the progress I’ve been making with The Dragon House, I stumbled over another notion I’ve been wedded to for far too long.

This one is a plot-thing, rather than a structural issue. It’s a dramatic scene, containing two of my favourite lines, that has been a tentpole incident in the script since forever. I love the idea of it, but this section is bogging me down. I can never seem to get beyond 90% happy with it. I keep returning to fiddle with the dialogue and action beats in search of that elusive last 10%, but never find it.

But nothing worked, and I was increasingly miserable

Reader, I’ve deleted the entire chapter. It’s clear to me now that the greater story has evolved away from it over time, and it no longer serves the purpose I imagined for it. Trying to make it work is probably why I’ve been bogged down here. It’s time to let it go, even if it has always been there.

So the Sunk Cost Fallacy also applies to writing. Who knew?

Obviously, there’s a cascade of consequences to removing this scene which I have yet to fully address, but on the whole this letting go/killing my darlings experience has been liberating. I’m having fun again. I’m so much more at ease with my writing, it almost feels like I’ve rediscovered something I hadn’t quite realised I’d lost: the gift of flight.

The only mystery is why it’s taken me so bloody long to recognise what I needed to do.


¹ Who am I kidding? I am a chaotic-good word-goblin, and I am not sorry.


Featured image by Adrian Campfield from Pixabay

Clowder of none

For the first time in more than 30 years, I have no cats. On Wednesday night, we had to take Tinkerbell to the vet for the final time, and now the house feels empty and wrong.

I grew up with a cat in the house. Uncharacteristically for a Siamese, he was a placid old gent who according to family legend appointed himself my guardian by lying down beside my carry-cot the day I came home from the hospital as a newborn. I have been a cat person ever since.

When I had grown up and moved out into a house of my own, within a month I had rescued two little kittens from a sad hutch facing a wall in the local pet shop. I named them Felix and Cleo and I was smitten.

Ginger tabby cat sticking her tongue out

Pepper being sassy

Six months later, two little ginger girls followed from the RSPCA. Though only vaguely related (they were from the same feral colony) they bonded like siblings. Pepper was a medical basket case from the get-go, but ten tons of personality packed into five pounds of cat. Her sort-of sister Sophie was pale, elegant, utterly gorgeous and destined always to push on doors marked ‘Pull’. *

Tabby cat with white cheeks and chin, dozing on a flat stone, shrubs behind him


In time, I met Rob and we moved in together, adding his cat Barney to the clowder. Barnes was a reserved sort, affectionate only on his own terms, and possessed of the loudest snore I’ve ever heard in a cat.

As the years passed, we had to say goodbye to all of them. Cleo was the last of the original crew to go, and it was tough on both of us. I’d had a particularly close bond with her; she always came to find me if I was sad, as I often was in the early stages of my illness, and she made sure to tell us to go to bed if we stayed up past 10pm.

After she was gone, we weren’t going to have any more pets. Dealing with Cleo’s tumour, two surgeries and ultimately kidney failure was so emotionally draining, we didn’t think we had it in us to do that again. I was sick, book two was running behind, and Rob had just lost his mum. It was not a good time.

But I was selfish. I was writing full-time by then, having given up my job earlier that year. I struggled to adjust to the new routine. The house felt cold and the days long; I was lonely, and probably more than a little depressed. Something was missing, and I decided what was missing was a cat.

Of course, after a visit to the shelter, that turned into two. Tigger and Tinkerbell, a seven-year-old brother and sister who’d been surrendered by their owner. Rob was dubious; I begged, and so home with us they came. The house felt complete again.

Fast forward. My two editorial assistants helped me shepherd three books into the world. They listened to me ramble, drove me to distraction and loved me when I couldn’t love myself. They asked for nothing but a warm lap, and I gave them my whole heart.

Tabby cat with white paws sits in a sunbeam on beige carpet, an oak chest of drawers behind her.

Tinkerbell in the sun. Sleep tight, sweetheart.

We lost Tigger to kidney disease two years ago, at the ripe old age of 18. Soon after, we learned that Tinkerbell too was showing early signs of kidney disease, and moved heaven and earth to get her on a supportive diet, ameliorate her arthritis, treat her hyperthyroidism. But this last month an aggressive bout of cystitis led to the words no-one wants to hear from the vet: “I can feel something in her abdomen.”

So here we are, at the end. Saying goodbye never gets any easier. Grief is the price we pay for the good times, for the funny photos, the littery footprints in the shower tray, the soft nudge of head against hand. Pets might only be with us for a short while, but for them it’s their whole lives. That’s a sacred trust, so while both Rob and I are broken-hearted right now, we know we did our damnedest to ensure all those lives were well lived, until they couldn’t be. And then we did right by them.

Knowing that doesn’t stop it hurting like hell, of course.

So I woke up yesterday morning to a new normal. It doesn’t fit, and everything is weird and uncomfortable, like wearing clothes in the wrong size. There’s a furry patch on the rug under my chair in the kitchen where Tinkerbell liked to sit, but no-one sitting in it. Her food is still in the cupboard, her blanket on the bed, but she’s not coming home. Although I’ve washed her bowls and put them away, I’m not ready to let go entirely just yet.

When I do, will I get another cat? I’ve said no, because it’s not fair on Rob, who feels these losses deeply. If the days get long and the house feels cold again, I will just have to find a way to deal with that. In the meantime, I have lots of memories to keep me warm.


* Seriously, she never got the hang of doors that opened towards her

All photos (c) Elspeth Cooper.
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