Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dinos and Jungles and Bear Traps, Oh My!

I started my first novel in the summer holidays after I turned 13. Up until that point, I hadn't even entertained the idea of being a writer. I was going to be a cartoonist, or a professional oboe player (yep, I played the oboe, and no, I wasn't very good at it). But that summer, everything changed. My family and I went to the cinema to see a film called Jurassic Park. Afterwards, I couldn't stop thinking about it – about this abandoned island crawling with velociraptors and T-Rexes and brontosaurs; about the theme park buildings slowly being reclaimed by jungle. I started to describe it to myself inside my head, until it became so real I could almost taste the humid air, feel the tropical rain dripping on my face and hear the distant roars of the creatures that had claimed the wreckage of the theme park as their own. I even started to write it down – something I'd never done before, although I was always making up stories inside my head.

Then, during that same holiday, I read the book, and found the scene right near the end – not shown in the film – where the Costa Rican government destroy the island. I was devastated. My abandoned, dinosaur-inhabited island didn't – couldn't – exist. I stopped reading the book, tore the handful of pages I'd written out of my notebook, and tried, not very successfully, to forget about it. 

My original copy of JP, quite literally read to pieces

But then I had a conversation with my grandfather about the book which made me realise that I should have kept reading. Because right before that scene where the island gets bombed, one of the characters notes (spoiler alert #1) that some of the dinosaurs are acting like they're trying to migrate. And right after that scene, at the very end of the book (spoiler alert #2), there's a mention of some activity by an unidentified species of animal on the Costa Rican mainland that follows a pattern very like that of a migration… I spent the rest of the summer holidays thinking, wondering, and reading and re-reading Jurassic Park, and when school started again, I bought a new notebook and started writing. And carried on writing, whenever and wherever I could. I got huge chunks of writing done in maths lessons, with my notebook hidden under my work – which probably explains why I'm so bad at maths now. 

Who needs maths anyway?

The term 'fan fiction' didn't exist back then, but that was basically what my novel was. Title-less to this day, it followed the story of a policeman, Carl, who was sent into the Costa Rican rainforest to look for the migrating dinosaurs with a few of the characters from the original book. The plot was… interesting. And dramatic. Oh, boy, was it dramatic. By page 43, there had been two dino attacks, a suicide, an explosion and a jeep crash. By page 115, a dream-death, a near-drowning, an earthquake and a landslip. But all that was merely a rehearsal for the ending. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the climactic scene…

It was only after Carl had been trying to find the others for another ten minutes that he realised he didn't recognise his surroundings.
He was lost.
And it was nearly dark.
Now he was in a little clearing. There was a lot of leaf litter, and a stake at the edge. Several, in fact. They appeared to be in some kind of square formation. Unthinkingly, he stepped forward to get a closer look. The ground gave way beneath him with surprising suddeness (sic). Carl gave a cry of horror. The fall seemed to go on forever.
He hit the ground so hard that it knocked the wind out of him. He lay doubled up, gasping for air, eyes screwed up in pain. When he'd caught his breath, Carl rolled onto his back. He'd fallen into some kind of huge pit. The walls were twelve feet high.
He was trapped…

Yes. Unable to think how else to end my novel, I had my main character fall into a bear trap. Don't worry, though; he not only got rescued, but engaged. And almost 20 years later, I'm still writing thrillers, with endings that are just as dramatic, but hopefully more believable.

Start as you mean to go on, I say…

Emma Pass grew up at an environmental studies centre near London, went to art school in Cornwall and now lives in the north-east Midlands with her artist husband and The Hound.

Emma is represented by Carolyn Whitaker at London Independent Books and her YA dystopian thriller ACID is out from Random House Children's Books on 25th April 2013. You can find her blog here, check out her website here and catch her procrastinating on Twitter here.


  1. That was so much fun to read, Emma! And pretty darn impressive to have hand-written that long of a book by age 13.

  2. I remember my first notebook novel at the same kids have read it, and cringed! Now my 13-year-old is writing all the time too, it's in the blood. Great post Emma!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! What was your novel about? (Tell ussss… ;) )

  3. Thanks for sharing your formative scribblings Emma. That copy of Jurassic Park is very impressively well read!

    1. It's definitely more sellotape than book now, Joe! Thanks for commenting.

  4. What a great way to be inspired to write! And I love that he fell in a bear trap. Fabulous choice ;)

    1. Thanks, Christa! It was certainly a convenient way to end the novel… :D

  5. I love the drama, the cry of horror, the bear trap!

    Like you said, it's all practice for future manuscripts, so I'm happy you wrote that early fan fiction. Thanks for sharing, Emma!

  6. Oh wow, Jurassic Park!!! You know I still have dinosaur dreams to this day because of that film!!!

    We used to do split-family cinema trips when I was a kid - me, my mum and sisters would watch whatever Disney film was showing, while the boys watched something else! Jurassic Park was the first time I was allowed to see a movie with my dad and brother and I was TERRIFIED!!!! Bloody loved it though. It’s still in my top ten fave films!

    As for early fan-fic writings… Two words for you:

    Point Horror.