Several years ago, I became aware that the Ranger’s Apprentice series would eventually finish – although not quite as soon as I then expected.
At that time, I had in mind my concept for the final book, which was panned as Number 10 but will now become Book 12. But I wasn’t ready to begin writing it. And I didn’t want to in case I wrote it, then realized I had more to say in the series.
I didn’t want to do another flashback, as I had done with the seventh book. I wanted to be sure it was really all over – all i’s had been dotted and all t’s had been crossed. So I decided that I’d like to buy myself a little time.
And that’s where the concept for Brotherband began. I wanted to write another series, set in the same world and time frame, but using new characters, and a different location.
This was allied to a long held interest in ships and sailing. I decided I’d like to do a series set in Skandia, based on the idea of a young boy who designs a new, more efficient type of sail plan – a fore and aft rig that will point higher into the wind than conventional Skandian square rigged ships. I’ve always liked the Skandians in my RA books. This became obvious as they assumed increasingly important roles on the books as the series progressed.
I mentioned this idea to my Australian publishers and they reacted positively to it.
So then I was left, over the next few years, to work out who the main characters were. I wanted the series to be similar in feel to Ranger’s Apprentice, but not a carbon copy. So I began by setting out differences between my main characters – initially Will and Hal, but later Thorn and Halt.
Hal was initially called Dirk, by the way, but I thought that was a bit phony sounding – a little bit too much of a made-up hero type of name. I decided that he would be a capable warrior, but not a highly skilled one, as Will became.
Instead, Hal would have an ingenious streak that would lead him to inventing new ideas – although not all of them would be successful. I jotted down a few ideas about things he might have invented. Later on, I deleted most of them from the first book, concentrating only on his disastrous running water project for his mother’s kitchen.
I also like my central character to have the sort of social problem that kids reading the books can identify with. Will was small, which has resonated with many readers. Hal, I decided, would be like one of those who is the last to be chosen when kids make up teams for a scratch game of football or cricket. He’d be something of an outcast.
(I included a scene in the first book where Brotherbands are selected. Hal and his eventual crew are the leftovers – the ones nobody wants. I thought a lot of kids would empathize with this.)
I decided that Hal’s rejection would stem from the fact that he was of mixed parentage – and so was seen by neither side as belonging. His mother was Araluen. His father was Skandian. And his father had died when Hal was young, to point the problem up even further. Also, the concept of someone being regarded as “different” because he is of a different race or nationality gave me a powerful social theme to work with.
This led to the thought that all of his crew would be outcasts in some ways – the forgotten group, the discards, the ones nobody wanted. So I began jotting down reasons why each of them was on the outer.
Thorn, of course, was the biggest outcast of all. I didn’t want him to be a mirror image of Halt. I wanted him to have his own reality.
I think the idea of having him as a recovering drunk, saved from himself by Hal’s mother, was one of my best. Then I had to ask, why was he a drunk in the first place?
Because he’d lost his right arm. Once I had that idea, I was off and running with Thorn. And I was able to create an intriguing secret in his back story that very few people knew about or remembered.
I had about three years to think about my new cast of characters – to jot down ideas and flesh out the bare bones that I had originally created. The principal ones, Thorn, Hal and Stig, I worked on in quite an amount of detail. Stig appealed to me. I had him down initially as having a violent and unpredictable temper.
The concept of his father bringing shame on his family was a breakthrough for me. It gave Stig a reason for his thin skinned attitude and made him more human and believable.
With the other, lesser characters, I noted down broad outlines and decided they would come to life as I wrote the stories. Which they did. Ingvar, in particular, came as a bit of s surprise, taking on a far more important role than I’d previously seen for him.
So, after three years of thinking about these new people, pushing ideas around in my head and figuring how they would use their unique abilities and/or failings to defeat their rivals, I was ready to begin writing Book 1. The name for it by then was obvious – The Outcasts.
I sat down one Monday morning and typed “Chapter 1”. Then I came to a screeching, panicked stop. Where were all the old friends who had sustained me through ten Ranger’s Apprentice Books? How would I cope without them?
I typed: “Pass me another bucket please Thorn.” And stopped again. Where to from here?
Then, thankfully, Hal Mikkelson stepped onto my page, took control of things and brought Thorn and Stig with him to help out. And I realized that, even though my old friends were no longer available, I had three new friends to show me the way.
I’ve just finished the third Brotherband book. The characters are all old friends for me now and the minor characters are growing and broadening in the narrative. I’m enjoying spending my time with them.