JJ’s Galactic Musings – A note on Taylor Neeran

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 me.

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 rewriting.

I did more reading as well. I was blown away by the first few gripping drip-fed descriptive chapters in WoolHugh 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 April 2017.

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 over everything.

Illiya had 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 type it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey so far. We’re in for an interesting ride.

J J Mathews

April 2018

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.

You can get Illiya at your favourite retailer by clicking the universal book link below.

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