Plot Outline:The second volume in a noirish, gritty urban fantasy for adults from the bestselling author otherwise known as Darren Shan. The Cardinal is the City and the City is The Cardinal. They are joined at the soul. When Al Jeery is seconded by The Cardinal from guard duties at Party Central to investigate the murder of a woman at a hotel he little suspects that the dead woman will turn out to be his girlfriend. Soon he is involved in a terrifying mystery that draws in the dead, the city's Incan forefathers, the imposing figure of The Cardinal himself, and the near-mythical assassin, Paucar Wami. Wami is a law unto himself, a shadowy, mysterious figure who can apparently kill anyone he chooses without fear of punishment or retribution. And Al is about to find out that he has a lot more in common with Wami than he could ever have imagined...
Author Notes:Hell’s Horizon is, hands down, the hardest book I’ve ever had to write, requiring the greatest amount of rewrites and fresh approaches. It was a book that failed three times, that should have been scrapped, that seemed to be going nowhere, but which ultimately became what I look upon as my own personal greatest triumph.
It started simply enough in September 1995. I’ve always liked detective fiction, the works of Chandler, Hammett, Spillane. I don’t read a huge number of books in the genre, but I’ve seen loads of noir movies over the years. I wanted to add one of my own stories to the mountain. I planned to write a short, sharp, throwaway novel, full of sexy ladies and a cynical private detectivewho made wisecracks about everything. I was attempting all sorts of books at the time, playing around with styles and genres. I wanted to have a varied career, to try different types of stories, not tie myself down to one specific area. I’d attempted weird, ambitious novels. Now it was time to see if I could do a fun hack piece. In my diary, on Monday September 4th, 1995, I wrote: “Had an idea for a new book. It’s a mystery novel called Hell’s Horizon. I’m a bit hazy on the finer details at the moment, but I think it could be good.”
I soon found out that I sucked at writing a straightforward detective story! What I know these days is that I’m at my best when my central character is sucked into a situation, without knowing too much about what’s going on. I identify best with non-professionals who find themselves out of their depth, who have to struggle to keep afloat. Like the best Hitchcock movies, I need to focus on an Ordinary Joe, an Everyman who isn’t as smart or as cunning or as experienced as those he finds himself up against, but who fights hard, refuses to give up, and comes good in the end by sheer persistence more than anything else. I don’t handle experts very comfortably. In the first draft of Hell’s Horizon, my central character - Al Jeery - was a professional detective, and I just couldn’t make it ring true. He didn’t sound right. His cynical wisecracks rang hollow. It didn’t work.
Regardless of that, something in me liked something in the book. I started writing on Sunday, September 10th. I was still working for a TV cable company called Horizon in Limerick at the time, so I only wrote at the weekends. I finished up with them on September 22nd and began working full-time on the book on the 26th. I added new kinks and twists as I went along, expanding slightly on my original plot. I finished the first draft on October 30th. In my diary that day, I wrote: “I’m happy with the final result. Maybe it’s a bit too bare, a bit too simplistic, but I think it stands a chance…”
Over the next couple of years I worked on a variety of first drafts — eight, in total, including a book for younger readers called Cirque Du Freak, which was to change the entire direction of my career for the next decade or so! One of the novels I wrote during that time linked in with Ayuamarca and Hell’s Horizon. It was set a few decades before those books, and gave us a look at younger incarnations of quite a few characters from those two novels. It also introduced a new character by the name of Paucar Wami. The assassin, who later became a key player in the series, didn’t appear in the first draft of either Ayuamarca or Hell’s Horizon. It was only when I wrote the third book (which isn’t scheduled to be published any time in the near future — it was VERY dark, even by my standards, and I’m not sure it’s a book I’ll ever want to release) that I came up with Paucar Wami. I was editing Ayuamarca at the time, and I worked Wami into it over the course of several rewrites and edits. Then, on July 27th, 1997, I started on a rewrite of Hell’s Horizon. In my diary I note, “Lots of it will need fiddling with, but I think it’s going to turn out well. It’s working Paucar Wami into the plot that’s going to be the tricky bit…”
The first draft of the book didn’t link in with Ayuamarca directly. The story was set in the City, and Ford Tasso had a small role in it, but otherwise it didn’t connect. My vague plan back then had been to use the City as a setting for different types of unconnected stories. As I worked on the second draft of Hell’s Horizon in August 1997, that plan was still pretty much in place. I worked in a few more links to Ayuamarca, and gave Paucar Wami a small role in the book. But it was still trying to be a normal detectic story — Al still worked for a firm as a detective, and instead of Incan priests, he dealt with a group of Satanists during the course of his investigation. I wasn’t sure if I could release the novel as a sequel to Ayuamarca. I had sold the righs to that book to Orion by this stage, and they wanted to see what I had planned for a follow-up. Although I was enjoying HH, it had no fantastical elements. I thought, if it was going to be released, that maybe I would have to release it under a pseudonym.
I finished my second draft of Hell’s Horizon on August 28th and sent it to my agent, not feeling too confident about it. I didn’t think it was a particularly strong book, and it didn’t link in with Ayuamarca, but I needed a second opinion, just in case I was wrong. Well, as it turned, out, I was, but perhaps not as wrong as I thought! A guy called Gerry Vaugan-Hughes, who worked for my agent, read the revised HH and made some recommendations for was in which it might be improved. Encouraged by this, I came up with some new ideas (including the link between Al and Paucar Wami, which became a core element of the plot) and did another complete rewrite in October 1997. This draft was more multi-layered, with extra mysteries worked in, and it linked up more closely with Ayuamarca. But Al was still a private detective, and it still read like a flawed attempt to do a Mickey Spillane book. I wrote in my diary: “I’m very happy with this version. As good as Ayuamarca? I don’t think so. But in the same ball-park now.”
My agent didn’t think it was in the same ball-park. On January 30th 1998 we had a chat on the phone and he told me it didn’t cut mustard and that we should shelve it. And he was absolutely right — it wasn’t working. But I couldn’t drop it. Something about the book still appealed to me. I had a feeling that it could be made work — I just didn’t know how! I worked on other books over the coming months, trying to find the right book to follow up Ayuamarca. I had all sorts of novels ready to go, but nothing in that mould. As I continued editing Ayuamarca, my thoughts returned again to Hell’s Horizon. What was wrong with it? Why wasn’t it working? What could I do to fix it? Somewhere along the line, I had the idea of changing the character of Al, making him one of The Cardinal’s employees instead of a private detective. And that was the key which unlocked the novel’s potential.
I began my fourth draft of Hell’s Horizon on July 17th, 1998, and wrapped up work on it on September 23rd — it had taken longer to write than the first draft! It was a completely different beast by the time I’d finished. It was much longer now. The Cardinal was in it. Paucar Wami’s role had been expanded. Al was no longer a wise-cracking smartass, but a troubled, likeable guy who get manipulated by just about everyone close to him. I broke everything down and built it all up again, working in more fantasy angles, tying it in more closely to the story I’d told in Ayuamarca. By the end, I was sure I’d done good, and in my diary I said simply, “I think it’s quality.”
I wasn’t alone in my opinion. I met Gerry again in London on October 9th. He’d only had time to read the first quarter of the book, but he now thought it was even stronger than Ayuamarca. On November 20th I spoke with Chris, and although he wanted me to do a bit more work on the book, he thought I’d done a great job and summed it all up by saying simply, “it’s there.” Then, on September 30th, Chris told me that my editor at Orion had read the book and loved it, and that they were going to make an offer. There was still plenty of work to do on the book, lots of editing, sharpening and tweaking. But everything from this point on was fine-tuning. Even when I returned to the book more than nine years later, in December 2007, to begin preparing it for its re-release, I didn’t have a huge amount of work to do on it. I tightened it up a bit, and cut out a few things which I felt the book didn’t need, but for the most part I was able to leave it as it was. After four complete rewrites, I had found the story at last. I’d also found my style, and if any one book of mine can be said to have defined my career, I think it’s Hell’s Horizon. I was a writer looking for a voice up until this point, even though I’d already sold a couple of books in Ayuamarca and Cirque Du Freak. But Hell’s Horizon was when it all clicked and everything came together. I still experimented with books after Hell’s Horizon, and some of the novels I attempted didn’t work out quite as well as others. But from this time on I wrote with confidence. I’d faced every sort of challenge going with Hell’s Horizon, and I’d come through them all. I was on my path, I’d found my way, and I didn’t think that anything in the world could stop me from pursuing my dream now.
And so far, it hasn’t.