Excerpt from the postscript of Illiya – Taylor Neeran Chronicles #1.
Insights into the creation of the book series, and the development of Taylor’s character.
Taylor Alice Neeran.
That girl has been no end of trouble for
With the first review draft, Taylor was unbearable.
Annoying, selfish, childish in many ways – in short, a brat. She has
done a lot of growing up since those early drafts, but those steps only brought
her to where she really should have been in the first place. She has always
been nineteen-turning twenty, but it took a lot of words to get to know her so
she could be introduced properly. Three hundred and fifty thousand words over
ten months, in fact. In the course of figuring out who she really was and what
she can (and will) become, I drafted the first three books (Illiya, Incursion
and Intercession) to really get to know her and the wider cast of
characters better, then I went back to Illiya and did extensive
I did more reading as well. I was blown away by the first few gripping drip-fed descriptive chapters in Wool – Hugh Howey, you have a fan – and reshaped Taylor’s introduction even more.
Why am I telling you this? Well, for
several reasons. The first is that I hope that you find Taylor to be a more
fully developed character than she had started out to be, which would have been
awful if she hadn’t changed. She was injured by a negligent mother, but she’s a
survivor. She needs that depth in order to withstand her coming ordeals, and
the first versions of Taylor frankly should have crumbled – the character
growth might have been too sudden, too unbelievable. It took a while to fix
that and figure out her starting point, but the poor girl had been through a
lot before she ever set foot on Aeden, and I dragged her through it over and
over again. Sorry about that.
I’m not talking spoilers – just that I didn’t
really understand her until later on. I thought I did at first, but I was
wrong. The crew developed more fully along the way, and much of that has been
reflected back into Illiya.
How it all began… A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… (called Canada).
The initial spark behind Illiya
began quite a long time before I actually began to write the book. Nearly
thirty years ago in a cold country far, far away from New Zealand, inside a
bleak concrete structure on the top of a mountain, shrouded in grey mist for
most of the winter, a sketch of an idea formed in a short story in my illegible
scrawl. Not a very good story, mind you, but a kernel of a concept. I parked it
on a mental shelf, then brushed it off and reshaped it into something more
interesting long years later. I spent three years imagining the biology and
science of Aeden and the Illiya before I wrote the first words of this book in
I assembled the crew, their backgrounds,
their stories, put them on a ship and pointed them towards an appointment with
the first key plot point, but this isn’t just about them. It isn’t about the
Illiya, or the alien biology, though that was the start of it all. They are
each essential to the plot, of course – each aspect is woven into the fabric of
the story and hopefully I did them all equal justice.
The landscape was prepared, the forests
seeded, the planet populated, the back stories lined up, and then Taylor hopped
onto the ship with her pony tail and her backpack. I wasn’t ready for that.
I needed to abandon somebody, and she was
expendable. She had a history of abandonment by her mother, so it was a fitting
thing to do. (Authors can be mean and horrible to their characters. You need to
be in order to make a story interesting. But we’re actually nice people – well,
most are. I have a Disney baseball cap with Grumpy embroidered across
the front. It was a gift, just like the shirt.)
The best laid plans…
One week into writing and Taylor had taken
turned into book one of the Taylor Neeran Chronicles. It isn’t what I
had originally imagined, but this is her story. That’s probably why it
took me a while to figure her out. If you only knew the enormous destructive
power of a single human female – or at least their capacity to wreak change
onto a carefully prepared landscape, you may start to get an idea of what I
struggled with. I had to park the book for three months and read all kinds of
things (some good and some very, very bad) before I could figure things out for
her, and then I still got them wrong. Well, parts of it, anyway. Many scenes
have changed very little since their first draft, while others have been ripped
apart and rebuilt over and over again. Three whole books and a lot of other
reading to really figure out the first few chapters of book one is a humbling
experience to go through.
Along the way, the depth of the story
universe grew from a teacup into a galaxy to explore, at least in terms of
Taylor’s potential. It’s a lot to fit in, but people are complicated creatures.
He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, the people, the people. (Māori proverb)
Stories are about people and relationships
– the rest is just the backdrop, the stage for where everything plays out. Is
it a love story? Perhaps. But it’s also about coming of age and beginning to
grow into your potential as well. It’s tough being twenty, don’t let anyone
tell you otherwise. You don’t really know who you are yet, and you’re tired of
being treated like a juvenile. Confusing times, even when you’re not stranded
on a planet ten thousand light years from home.
The other reason I’m telling you this is
that you won’t have to wait years and years for the next book. Incursion
is fully formed at the time of my writing this passage, and is in review draft
but will soon undergo extensive editing, and Intercession is currently a
solid first draft. Icarus will start turning into words soon as well.
(No, it’s not a trilogy).
As for Taylor, she has her own ideas about
how to handle what life brings at her.
This is her story, after all.
I’m just writing it down, as fast as I can
I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey so far.
We’re in for an interesting ride.
J J Mathews
April 2019 update: Incursion was published in September, 2018 and Intercession was published in January 2019. It was a very busy twenty months (or a very long thirty-odd years!) from when I started writing Illiya, until the first three books were completed and published. Icarus will take a bit longer – much of it is still scrabbling around in my head. However, sample chapters are available on the website.