Memories coming up on my social media news feed tell me that five years ago today I wrote the fateful words ‘The End’ at the very end of the first draft of The King’s Man.*
In my head, though, it actually happened on Friday 13th November 2015 not Saturday the 14th. That’s because I wrote those words at 2.25 a.m., so very early on Saturday morning, having been writing all day and into the evening, bar a solitary walk around 9.30 p.m. That was when I suddenly hit a brick wall (or, to be honest, an empty alleyway, or score, that I, or rather Matthew, had to step in to…) So technically it was Saturday… although as I was in Turkey at the time, it was still Friday back home in the UK…
Perhaps this explains why, to some readers, the book appears to end abruptly. One reviewer has even said it ends on a cliffhanger. It certainly isn’t meant to be that. It was simply because I was shattered at the end of a long day – after three other long days at the start of what was supposed to be a holiday: the Battle of Bosworth was written at the airport and on the plane (which, I’ll admit, accounts for the sea imagery towards the end – I was writing that just as we were coming in to land over the Mediterranean!), its final act the following morning (I couldn’t face finishing it so late the night before), and the last few chapters while enjoying the late autumn sun on the terrace of our apartment.
At 2.25 a.m. I took a brief break at the end of the climactic scene, and the final sentence came to me. I wrote it down and then thought, ‘Perhaps that should be the end.’ I had planned a last chapter, tying up a few ends, even involving a sad burial at sea and a discarded rosary (the rosary ultimately didn’t make the final cut), but it suddenly seemed unnecessary.
Looking back it seemed almost like that great anecdote from the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first Indiana Jones film, about what became one of the most memorable moments in movie history – when Indy watches the giant sword-wielding adversary in Alexandria complete his swirling, twirling preparations for his devastating attack. You know it’s the prelude to a spectacular whip-versus-scimitar set-piece fight – and so it was meant to be. Except that Harrison Ford was suffering from dysentery and was exhausted, and apparently just said to director Steven Spielberg, ‘Can’t I just shoot him instead?’ And the rest, as they say, is history.
Not that I can claim anything great about my ending. But it did seem just right when I read it back the next day. And meant I could actually have a holiday for the next few days, rather than do any more writing. It was lovely!
Months before, I had taken a tip from Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, who had said she knew the final line of the very last Harry Potter book before she even wrote the first one. She said it gave her something to aim for. At that time I had decided what my last line would be, and it was true – knowing how I would end the book had provided a nice arc towards the ending, like an arrow shot at a target in the distance. Yet ultimately, I didn’t use that line … not in The Order of the White Boar or The King’s Man anyway.
Funnily enough it appears in an early chapter of the third book, King in Waiting, in a slightly modified form. This time the lights – real or imagined – that Matthew sees in the distance across the water are not on the shores of Friesland, but looking back home – to England. And his emotions on seeing them are very different.
Hopefully I’ll soon be writing ‘The End’ for King in Waiting too…
*The two books The Order of the White Boar and The King’s Man were originally written as a single book, but ultimately proved to be too long for the targeted readership of 10+ and were therefore separated into two. So the ‘first draft’ mentioned here was in fact the 130,000+ word original.
Alex Marchant is author of two books telling the story of the real King Richard III for children aged 10+, The Order of the White Boar and The King’s Man, and editor of Grant Me the Carving of My Name and Right Trusty and Well Beloved…, two anthologies of short fiction inspired by the king, sold in support of Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK).
Alex’s books can be found on Amazon at: