The Dark Beloved is the second book in the Changeling trilogy – a YA fantasy romance set in the west of Ireland, between the human and the fairy world. If you are interested in the foundational inspiration for the series, you can read my original article on writing.ie about the first book, The Changeling. In this article, I want to address the unexpected pleasures of writing a sequel.
The Changeling was my first ever fantasy-based novel. My previous novels, Primrose Hill and Sky High, dealt with real-life teenagers and their troubles, and were set in real locations in London’s inner city. I had briefly imagined that working in fantasy-land might turn out to be simpler than working in the real one, because it would give me more freedom to “make things up”. I would be God, creating a brand new universe!
As it turned out, I was more of a poorly-equipped explorer – no compass, no map, cheap shoes – venturing out into an unknown world. There might have been a map to this world folded away in the locked box of my subconscious, but my conscious mind had no access to it. Every road I ventured down disappeared after a few yards into a thick wall of mist. Even feeling my way around the small human town of Kilduff was a slow, painful journey resulting in a lot of stubbed toes. In the magical Land of the Young, buried beneath the wilds of Connacht, there were forests to cross and mountains to climb – all in the same dark fog, crawling along the edge of unseen abysses.
Because of this experience, when I embarked on The Dark Beloved, it came as a pleasant surprise how much easier it was to get around now that both the human world and large sections of the fairy world were mapped already. What a delight it was to set off on my journey in broad daylight, without having to worry about bumping into things!
It was also a pleasure to work with characters whose motives and intentions I now understood. Like the worlds in which they lived, Aoife and Shay had turned out to have an existence independent of my conscious wishes –writing them in the first book hadn’t felt like creating them, it had felt like getting to know them. It took a while, but by the end of The Changeling I felt I understood Aoife and Shay very well, while realising that I could never know them better than they knew themselves.
With the bulk of both worlds now illuminated, and fully-formed characters to work with, writing the sequel felt a lot more like writing my social realism books – all I had to so was give my characters a push to set them moving through the known world, and then just follow them around taking notes while they reacted naturally to the inevitable consequences of that first action.
Except, because The Dark Beloved was a sequel, I didn’t even have to come up with the first push. When I arrived on page one, events were already in motion. Aoife had just returned home from the fairy world after less than two days away, to find five months had passed – because time goes a hundred times faster in the human world than in the Land of the Young. Therefore, everyone had assumed she was dead. Therefore, her bedroom was a tidy and well-dusted shrine to her memory. There had to be a Facebook memorial page, with the usual mix of heart-felt tributes and crocodile tears. And naturally, no-one was going to believe where she’d been – I mean, this is the twenty first century! – and even Carla, the most sensible and trusting friend a girl could wish for, will be obliged to conclude that Aoife has had a nervous breakdown when she persists in believing she is a fairy. As for Shay, the love of Aoife’s life – nothing’s going to alter the fact that his love for her carries a terrible risk. So what is Shay going to do about that? No need for me, as author, to make things up – I just had to allow Shay to act in keeping with his personal moral code. And if Dorocha was going to come after Aoife – and why would he not? it would be out of character – what’s the first target he’s going to strike at? Again, just let Dorocha do what Dorocha does…
I don’t want this to sound easy, because it wasn’t – it was hard work, as always. But it was different. The challenge in writing the sequel wasn’t one of discovery but one of trust: I had to trust that if the characters I knew did what they naturally wanted to do in any given circumstance, with the world shaped as it was and the rules established, then everything would work out for the best and the story wouldn’t just collapse. Every working day, I had to resist the nervous temptation to interfere in Aoife’s decisions. Frequently, I failed and made the mistake of pushing her – or Shay, or Carla – to go against the character’s natural inclination, just for the sake of my plot. But every attempt to guide my characters onto neater pathways came to nothing, and had to be rewritten. In the end, I had to take their hands and let them lead me through the labyrinth of my own subconscious, hoping against hope they would bring me out again into the light.
Well, a year passed by and we got there. And, looking back, I like the path they took.
Which is why I am currently following them down the next. See you same time, next year!
(c) Helen Falconer
About The Dark Beloved
Aoife has returned.
Back with her family after her adventures in the Land of the Young – where she rescued her younger sister Eva, narrowly escaping the evil fairy Dorocha – she is adjusting to life in the human world. But this is hard when you are trying to contain an otherworldly power . . . and even harder when you’ve been thought dead, mourned by those you love.
Aoife’s world collapses completely when Shay, her fellow traveller and love of her life, abandons her. He is a lenanshee – and it is dangerous to love, and be loved, by such a fairy.
But Shay is trapped in his own web of desire, as dark forces move against the pair. When he is taken in by a beautiful demon, this can only mean a return to the Fairy World. Aoife – with her best friend Carla – must battle old and new enemies, meet old and new friends, and use all her Fairy Powers to save Shay – her true Beloved.
And when days in the Fairy World are months in the human world, time runs out very fast indeed . . .
The Dark Beloved is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!