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Notes on The Killing Saga 

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The origins of The Killing Complex

The Killing Complex sprouted from two core ideas.

The first came about from listening to a Jeremy Vine phone-in on BBC Radio 2, about a wayward ram attacking ramblers. At first I found it hilarious – a sheep attacking people, such a farcical concept - but as it transpired, people had been seriously hurt and callers shared their stories of being mauled by other forms of livestock. One expert gave tips on how to fight off a horned animal and I began to imagine how frightening it might be to have to fight a creature like this. Naturally, your first instinct would be escape. But what if you couldn’t? What if you had to?

The second idea was a random thought that has probably lived in my head for most of my life. As I’m sure most people do, whenever I am in a small toilet cubicle, I gaze at the cramped walls all around and wonder “what if this was the size of your prison cell?” I’d never progressed this idea into a story, it was just one of those things that floats through my head when my body is busy doing inane human activities - I’m sure everybody does this… right?

So as I pondered what circumstance would entail a person forced to fight livestock, the two ideas naturally combined. And that was enough to prick my brain with the opening chapter of the Killing Complex: a woman waking in a cage, being marched to some sort of arena, and having to fight the ram that had attacked all those ramblers.

At this point, I hadn’t written anything for about a decade. My prolific teenage years and naïve early twenties were spent thinking I would become a highly successful writer, eventually interviewed by the Guardian for being a best-selling novelist under the age of thirty (years later, the exact interview appeared with some other writer, at which I bellowed into my hands in a fit of jealous self-loathing). I finished my first novel, I’m Thinking Pie, around the age of 22, and it was going to be my ticket to literary stardom. Of course, this did not transpire. I gave up quickly and took a different path; retrained in a medical profession, met a man who became my husband, and adult life began. For the rest of my twenties, I saw writing as a fool’s pastime. There was no point if it wasn’t going to go anywhere.

God, isn’t being an adult boring?

Anyway, by my early thirties I’d had a baby, was just about surviving, and couldn’t stop fantasising about a girl being trapped in very confined conditions and fighting a ram with her bare hands. So one day I decided to write the damn thing down. A little exercise just to get it off my chest. Something to do while my kiddo napped. I hadn’t written for so long, and damn I was rusty. Nothing flowed, sentences were stilted, but the joy of creation gave me a neat little hit. I wrote a few pages, the girl was disembowelled, then I felt better.

The trouble was, once this idea was written out, it cleared space in my brain to think of something else. Now this girl was grizzled and mute. The only way she could have survived this long was if they’d done something to her, made her strong and conveniently heal quickly. She was facing some terrified woman alongside a pack of dogs, and half-heartedly tried to save her, but failed. The scene played out endlessly in my head until I was forced to write that one down too.

And in the space that followed, now the girl was facing a lion…

This is how The Killing Complex began, a series of very poorly written scenes in which a nameless woman battled various animals. The more I wrote, the more ideas came, and after I spotted the wordcount was pushing 40,000 I realised I might have accidentally started a bigger project than I intended.

Fleshing it out, building the story, getting to know my characters – this took years. Improving my writing took even longer… and is certainly something I’m still working on to this day.

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