Although I’d written short stories and novels before, I’d never done a novella, so A Most Peculiar Toy Factory was a completely new experience for me, and one that I very much enjoyed.
It came together fairly easily because I already had a rough draft of the first couple of chapters saved from an idea I had years ago at university. I abandoned it back then, partly because I didn’t think it would quite be able to support a full length novel but, at the same time, I didn’t think it would work as a short story either. I wanted to develop it more than such a limited word count would allow, and a novella was therefore the perfect solution.
In some ways, I don’t think the writing experience differed that greatly from writing a longer book. I still wanted there to be an interesting plot, a satisfying arc, a strong atmosphere and engaging characters who readers would care about. I guess the main difference was that it needed to be very tightly plotted, with no time to waste going off on tangents. The descriptive passages needed to be fairly sparse too, but I think that suits my natural writing style anyway. I’m generally more interested in what characters are saying or doing, than in long descriptions of their outfits or the room they’re standing in.
I also knew that there wouldn’t be lots of time to spare on characterisation, but I still wanted the characters to seem like real people on the page, and so I tried to make them as distinct from each other as possible, both in terms of their physical appearance and their personalities.
The other difference in this case was that the story would have more illustrations than I’d had before. Obviously, I wrote the story before I saw Nan Lawson’s wonderful drawings, so they didn’t change my process at all, but I do think that they help to really bring the story and the world of the toy factory to life.
All in all, it was an extremely enjoyable writing challenge. I’ve never been particularly comfortable with doing short stories, as I find it quite difficult being constrained by the limited word count. A novella, on the other hand, was the perfect opportunity to play with an idea that I really liked and didn’t want to abandon, but which didn’t quite suit a full length novel. Novellas are definitely a sweet spot for a certain kind of story idea, and I’d love to do more of them.
A Most Peculiar Toy Factory is published by Barrington Stoke on 15th September and priced at £6.99.