Updated: Feb 9, 2020
The concept of Layla’s Song came when I was going through the process of feeling out a new story to write. Something that had substance and where there was a story to tell instead of just a dull sequence of events that some stories often tend to be. Kidnap stories had always stuck out to me as they always had raised stakes from the beginning and more and more as the years have gone by, the traditional “good guy always wins” concept is not always the case. There are genuine reasons to believe that things may not be OK, the hero might not save the victim which really interested me as a storyteller. Going into writing any book, if my readers can figure out the ending or give a good guess before the midway point, I would consider it a bit of a failure on my part. My aim is to keep them guessing, to have genuine fear for the characters and for what's to come. Unpredictability has, and continues to be one of the key traits I aim for when writing.
Part of the reason Layla’s Song is called Layla’s Song is because when I came up with the story, I was listening to one song in-particular, ironically, “Layla” by Derek and the dominoes. I then decided to name the title character of the daughter to be kidnapped Layla.
The premise of the kidnapper providing proof of life dawned on me. I was heavily influenced by a scene from the film Man On Fire starring Denzel Washington (brilliant film and I would highly recommend it. Directed by the late Tony Scott who also directed Black Hawk Down and was brother to the famous Ridley Scott).
The scene in-particular was towards the end of the film where we find out that the young girl, thought to have been killed early in the film following her kidnap, was actually alive. So Denzel’s character asked for proof or more specially “proof of life”. He then asked the kidnapper to ask the girl the name of her teddy bear which then proved she was still alive.
In Layla’s Song I used the same idea, only in my story, the protagonist asks for the name of her favorite song. Which is never specifically mentioned, not in name or lyrics, but if anyone ever asks me, it is Layla by Derek and the dominoes as I feel it was the catalyst to writing this story.
What drew me to the story
I’ve always been a fan of these types of story and had always wanted to pen one that didn’t feel like a copy of anything else but also kept people gripped and interested to the characters and plot. I am also a big fan of realism.
The idea of a large scale gunfight where the hero dodges twenty bullets to fire back and hit a hundred percent of his own shots is ridiculous and something I always avoid. If there ever is that kind of situation, I provide a take on it that seems plausible and not out of the question.
For myself, I love stories that draw me into their world and keep me guessing.
When the stakes feel real, every decision and every moment count towards the final outcome that is always up for questioning. It also helps if the goal isn’t entirely straight forward, not just a matter of A-B, maybe there is a C to consider in-between those two points of the story.
As with all of my novels to date, this is a Belfast based novel. Despite the obvious views and opinions of Belfast and its history, I’m proud to be from Belfast and it has also provided me with so much material to work with story wise. I believe it can compete on the world stage as a backdrop for large scale story-telling that does not focus on its troubled past. I see a lot of writers cash in on the troubles in their stories both fiction and non-fiction. For me, I want to showcase not just Belfast, but the whole of Northern Ireland as a gritty, modern and realistic setting for my stories and hopefully when people read my books they will feel a sense of pride in discovering local landmarks, places and settings.
For this novel, places of interest included; Belfast, Holywood, Newcastle, Drogheda and Dublin.
One of the things I struggled with during this book was the ending. I was not sure what way to properly end it. Was it going to be happy, sad or bittersweet? Ever since I began writing, I have always wanted to avoid the cliches, the Hollywood endings that we always see a mile off, kind of like what I’ve already mentioned above.
I then, in a way, had two endings. Without spoiling the book to those who have not read it, one key plot issue becomes resolved but in it’s midst, another arrives to meet our protagonist. It felt realistic for the plot to me and it also answered any unanswered questions if I were to wrap the story up too quickly.
I received some great advice following my first novel from a more experienced writer who saw within my writing that I seemed to skip massive amounts of time between chapters. There were a lot of time gaps and instead of the story spanning over the course of maybe a few days or weeks, it appeared to be months. Having took this on board and given it a lot of serious thought, it was the main catalyst behind how I laid out the chapters and time frame of this story. I wanted to follow the characters along every beat, every key hour of their days during the course of the story. In the end, I think it gave it a more grounded feel and it also helped to raise the stakes as we are fully aware of the deadline approaching on a particular day.
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