Sunday, 29 January 2017


Welcome to the shadowy and not-so-shadowy space behind Sally's books. If you're not familiar with this blog, scroll down to see what it's all about.

 Replay (Post 29)

Replay (2007 / 2017)

It's a strange thing, but I can't remember the first prompting of an idea that led to Replay. The reason it's odd is that this one is one of my favourites. It's one of the most ambitious books I ever wrote, and it spans the longest fictional period.

The story begins in Kent (1067) soon after the Battle of Hastings, and ends (for the reader but not for the characters) in  2309. This is a span of 1242 years and - wait for it - two of the three protagonists are the same characters throughout.

The first chapter (Australian Overture) begins in 2007, which was a year or two after it was written. It is told in the first person by a fourteen-year-old Australian girl named Ellie. She has been ill but is now well, and like many girls, she's devoted to her pet dog. All is not as it appears, because although Ellie is a girl and Harry a schnauzer, they are also husband and wife.

Ellie's story is a long one, spanning more than a thousand years. She recounts it in some detail to her new friend Saranna, with whom she has been abducted and locked in a deserted house. With a captive audience, Ellie tells of her childhood in Kent near the Oakenwood. At this time she was known as Aelfthryth of Westweald, the daughter of a manor, betrothed since babyhood to Hereweald, the heir to the next manor. Now both their fathers have been killed in the Battle of Hastings and so Harry (as she calls him) and Aelfthryth face an uncertain future. Aelfthryth's cousin, her guardian, has plans and they're not good ones. Aelfthryth is locked in her chamber but she escapes to Harry's manor and the pair go to Aelfthryth's old nursemaid for help. Old Nan comes up with a dangerous plan; a Romeo and Juliet scheme that will see them married, and will then free them or leave them dead. Something goes amiss, and the next thing Aelfthryth knows it's 1192 and she's somehow become a girl named Alys. Charged with caring for her employer's new and sickly baby, Alys/Aelfthryth is bemused to find she knows him and loves him; he's her Harry! 

Down the centuries they go, surfacing every few decades under new names and in new places. They never quite know the rules, except that they always recognise one another when they meet, they always communicate through their thoughts, their consciousness never lasts beyond their original ages of fourteen and sixteen, and they are never in sync. In one century Aelfthryth is a parrot, while Harry is a young scholar, in another Harry is a lay brother while Aelfthryth is a shepherdess, and in yet another their families are on opposite sides of a civil war. And so it goes on, until they reach their 21st Century Replay (as they call these periods of awareness) in which Aelfthryth is a schoolgirl and Harry a schnauzer. And now Aelfthryth has been kidnapped, and Harry needs to find her.

So Ellie tells Saranna this story, but she doesn't know Saranna is hiding a secret as well.

As you might guess, I had a wonderful time researching the periods on which I hung episodes of Aelfthryth's story. I always found an anchor for the time and place, (guild riots, Black Death, Wars of the Roses,) even though the young couple weren't necessarily directly involved. I also had a ball finding names and personae for my characters to occupy, and titles for the chapters. These all have musical names, and each chapter is designated as a track. Finding synonyms for the words song and tune took quite a while. The ones I found included lay, melody, calypso, overture, polka, and lullaby.

Working out the intricate timelines, and how Saranna's secret fitted with the main narrative took nearly as long as the writing. So did pondering on what would happen if Harry, in dog form, died of old age while Aelfthryth was still young, and also what happened to their physical forms when their consciousness went into each Replay.

When I finished researching, pondering and writing, I offered the manuscript to a couple of publishers. One never replied, and another liked the story but wanted me to make Harry and Aelfthryth siblings instead of a couple. I considered that and I can see the editor's point of view, but I decided not to make that change because it was such a radical one. Siblings may well share a bond, but a blood bond is permanent and unchosen. I wanted two people who chose to be together and who loved one another on such a level that their current physical shape, status or even species could not destroy the bond.

As 2007 was passing, I didn't want to spoil my timeline by moving all the dates about, so I decided to self-publish Replay before it began to date. This I did, in paperback and PDF. I discovered the title was a problem, because doing a google-search turned up lots of books with this title or a variation of it, but it fits the story so perfectly I left it be. 

This year, 2017, marks the tenth anniversary of my much loved and complicated story-child. While trawling a pre-made cover site I spotted a cover that seemed to capture Harry and Aelfthryth. The period costume isn't really right, as they weren't those ages and forms at that time, and the hair colour isn't right, but the tone and feel is... and so I bought the cover, wrote a new interim chapter set in the 2020s and re-released the book in new paperback and epub editions. If you want to check these out, click on the links.

Sally is Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. This preamble will be pasted to the top of each post, so feel free to skip it in future.

The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. 

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