On Writing The Missing Barbegazi

The initial idea for the book came to me while skiing, a couple of years before I began writing the story. At the time, I was rewriting (for the nth time) an MG fantasy novel set in the afterlife, so I wrote my thoughts on the skiing story in my notebook and later copied them into my ideas collection—a Scrivener file with notes about potential future projects—and then I forgot all about it.

After a “First Pages session” at AFCC (Asian Festival of Children’s Content) in 2015, my dream editor, Sarah Odedina, read my “afterlife” manuscript. She liked the opening chapters and my writing style, but not how the plot unfolded, and she encouraged me to write something else and keep her posted. Even though we were living in Singapore by then, I immediately knew that the skiing story was my best bet.

Over the next six months, I wrote the first draft. As soon as I decided to include a fictional non-fiction book and a barbegazi viewpoint, the story flowed. I didn’t plot in detail before writing that first draft, but I had a clear idea of the ending and some plot points in the middle.

Details about the barbegazi sparked my imagination in curious ways. For example, the fact that barbegazi myths are from the high alps in France and Switzerland, meant that I had to make up a reason for my barbegazi’s presence in Austria, where the story takes place. And, as the name barbegazi comes from the French barbe glacée (frozen beard), I knew their beards were important, so I decided female and young barbegazi needed beards too, and I bestowed barbegazi beards with magical properties. 

Consolidating folklore and invented barbegazi “facts”, I wrote part of a fictional non-fiction book, called: Habits and Habitats: A Historic Account of Alpine Elves, to use in my story about Tessa. But it still wasn’t enough. The barbegazi, Gawion, wasn’t satisfied with a minor role; he wanted to speak for himself and tell part of the story from his point of view.

After finishing the first draft and letting it rest for a while, I spent a month analysing individual scenes and the overall structure of the manuscript. And then I made a detailed plan for the second draft, deciding what to cut, what to enhance, how to solve plot problems and how to raise the emotional stakes. At AFCC in 2016, before I’d begun writing the second draft, I pitched the story to Sarah Odedina, and she was keen to read the finished manuscript.

The second draft took me another four months, even though most of the structure remained unchanged. When I was happy with the overall story and each of the scenes, I wrote a third draft where I focused on paragraphs and sentences. That took a couple of months of working on one chapter a day, going through the following key steps: I printed the chapters out and used highlighters to mark dialogue, exposition, internal thoughts and conflict in different colours, getting a visual overview to check the balance of these elements. I also read everything aloud (again) to check flow and rhythm and make sure there was a good mix of long and short sentences. Sometimes, I copied the chapter into ProWritingAid’s web tool, to e.g. check if I repeated certain words or word combinations. And I tinkered a lot, moving words around in sentences and sentences inside paragraphs.

When I felt it was ready, I sent the manuscript to Sarah and waited impatiently until she responded a few endless months later with an offer. Through two further drafts, we worked together, discussing in emails and over Skype to resolve the issues Sarah had highlighted in her editorial letter. Finally, I worked with Tilda Johnson, another brilliant editor, on line- and copyedits. Tilda’s line-editing questions forced me to clarify descriptions and add some lovely details, so the creative work continued all the way up to this point. Afterwards, grammar and punctuation received a final polish in the copyediting round, and, later, the page proofs were checked by me and a proofreader. In August 2018, more than two and a half years after I began writing the first draft, I received finished copies of The Missing Barbegazi—my little skiing story had become a real book.

Check out these posts to read more about how I researched for this book and wrote from a barbegazi perspective.

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