:: Origins ::
Thoughts On the Series
And On Writing Shades
Meanings :: Shades Terminology


Thoughts on the Series
The Shades grew from my desire to create a supernatural or SF series based on a 'new' mythology. At first I had no idea what sort of ethos I wanted to explore - though I knew where I didn't want to go.
Vampires had been done to death (if you'll pardon the expression) and were being handled particularly well in Joss Whedon's excellent TV show, 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. I've even read some of the novels that have grown out of it. But I had nothing to add to the history of that particular species, and had no intention of merely following the trend.
Zombies? I'm actually very fond of zombies, and have written various short stories (for adults) using the living dead. I've often considered writing a longer piece of zombie fiction, but I suspected that this wasn't the time to pursue that ambition. Somehow they weren't right.
Aliens? There were lots of those around too, in movies, TV shows and books. ANIMORPHS had rather saturated the YA market. The whole outer space thing could and would be mined for original story-telling into the future, yet somehow I didn't want to bring UFOs into it. Still, there was potential there.
Finally I was led to consider ghosts.
I've written a lot of ghost stories, some traditional, some a bit more left field. My last novel, 'Backstreets', though very personal and much more realistic than your average fantasy, had felt to me like a ghost story. Certainly it was a novel about death and the inability of the living to come to terms with it. Perhaps the ghosts are real, perhaps they are conjured up by the grief of the main character. Whatever their origin, the novel hints at a dark realm of restless spirits haunting the streets of the city, and depicts one person's struggle to find peace among those shadows.
I think I wasn't finished with that particular theme, though the series I was considering would be vastly different in tone and intention to 'Backstreets'. That book was darkly emotional and contemplative. I was after something more adventurous for my new series. Scary and dark perhaps, but having the qualities of a thriller rather than a drama.
What about making up a new type of ghost?
So the idea for the Shades was born. They would be teenagers who have come back from death and are now trying to cope with the changes that have turned them into alien creatures. Sensitivity to light, becoming transparent and spectral in its presence. Passing through walls. Blending into the darkness. Haunted by scarier and darker beings that dwell in the shadows.
I pitched the idea to Belinda Bolliger of Hodder Headline, emphasising its horror aspects. The teenage characters had returned from the Death Realm - and now it wanted them back. That sort of thing. She suggested strengthening the non-horror, science-fiction potential of the idea. Not the Death Realm then, but a realm of shadows -- a vast, dark inter-dimensional space, totally alien, yet all around us. Shadows are everywhere. What if they were all connected and opened into another world? That could be interestingly freaky. What if the teenagers are not exactly dead, but have been taken from this world on the point of death and changed, experimented on in the world of shadows? What if they have escaped back into our world and now must face the consequences of what they are?
The teenage years are a time of change and alienation. The Shades could provide a wonderful metaphor for the feelings of displacement and discontent that often characterise teenagers, I thought. Caught between childhood and adulthood feels a lot like being caught between one world and another, not knowing who you are, but sensing your difference. Where do you fit? Why does everything feel like a threat? I was suddenly very keen to explore this metaphor.
Luckily the people at Hodder Headline were also keen. Soon I had a contract and the real work began.


Thoughts On Writing Shades
The writing process was arduous if exciting. I agreed to a fairly tight deadline, knowing that the pressure would help drive my creative juices (there's nothing like desperation to get you going) and recognizing that sooner was better than later to get the books on the shelves. Work began in March 2000. The deadline for all four books was December 2000. I have a full-time job at the University of Wollongong, so I could only write at night and on weekends.
Argh! I feel tired just remembering it!
Luckily, however, I had a stack of long-service leave available and I used quite a bit of it in the process of writing the books. When things got impossible, I would take a few weeks off work to concentrate on the Shades fulltime. I wouldn't have made it otherwise.
As the books developed out of initial plot outlines - and the characters came alive and demanded their own say in things - the world of Albion Bay and Nimjala was formed in my head, along with a dark, scary realm that I called Tenebra. It was thrilling. I love writing, but these books were a particular pleasure to write, despite some very difficult patches, and despite the pressure. I grew to love Nathan, Cassandra, Melissa and Shine. Cassandra in particular appealed to me - so sassy, so self-confident. Yet underneath the surface lurked pain and deep need… But more about her later. Cassandra is the narrator of "Book 2 :: Night Beast", and I'll talk about her there.
Nathan, however, is very much the centre of this initial sequence of four books. You'll understand why as you read through them all. In Book 1 :: Shadow Dance, though, he is new to being a Shade and the learning process he goes through - his confusion and struggle to understand and to cope - is very much the reader's as well. Belinda Bolliger, my wonderful editor, particularly loves Nathan (it's a girl thing, I reckon), and urged me to put him in the books more and more as, in later books, his role seemed to become more marginal. This, of course, is an illusion.
Another interesting thing that happened in writing the books was the fact that I found myself doing more and more research. These books are SF-fantasy and much of the background is entirely made-up. Though Tenebra and the Shades have elements of other creations in them, in detail they are new, and spring from my imagination. I loved inventing (and then limiting) their nature and the implications of that nature - their powers, the monsters that harass them, the realities they must uncover. Yet, many other, real-world elements entered the story as it developed: the history of the Knights Templar, Matthew Hopkins (Witchfinder General), the nature of dark matter as it is understood in cosmological studies, the architecture of mining, musical styles, Egyptian mythology, the geography of Cairo and its surroundings… the list was endless, and endlessly fascinating. You will find information on many of these subjects within the Shades website. The internet itself was a major source of information for me - as it proves to be for Melissa in "Book 3 :: Ancient Light".
One element I particularly enjoyed was the language of Shine. Shine is an odd and oddly eccentric Shade, whose manner of speaking (and thinking) is quite peculiar. You'll find more on Shine in "Book 4 :: Black Sun Rising", which he narrates. I actually used a dictionary of historical slang (and in particular Australian criminal slang) as I wrote out his words and his thoughts. Shine, you see, has been around, an eternal teenager, since The Who released their greatest album, "Who's Next", in 1971. This is reflected in the way he talks. Though I had to avoid extreme usages (for obvious reasons of clarity), it was fun exploring this aspect of the character.



Shadow Dance
Night Beast
Ancient Light
Black Sun Rising