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Secrets of the Original Viroverse: Part Three

The original ideas for Death is Golden were quite different from the finished version. In fact, I scrapped the first attempt with about two thirds written, and a second attempt was scrapped after a few chapters. I will not deal with those abandoned versions, since I may use some of the ideas and writing in later books. Here, I will reveal the changes that the final version went through. Of course, you should read the book before reading this:


Although John Down is ‘retired’ in Death is Golden, the original idea was for him to take the role of team leader for the mission to Reynold’s Gardens. I thought his Victorian character would suit Reynold’s Gardens like a glove. However, in the end, I decided not to have such a reasonable, moral minded person take the lead. I wanted a swift breakdown of order and I did not want John Down being part of it.

One of the sub-plots in Death is Golden was a wager between Adam and Stern. The bet was simply about who could remain celibate the longest – although any reader would immediately realise that this is not so simple for the lustful Stern. The sub-plot allowed for some colourful banter and constant innuendo, but I felt it distracted from the main flow of the story. Since one of my aims was to avoid the twisty plot complications of Outside Eternity, I dropped the whole idea.

One of the scenes where the bet is mentioned can be found on the Cutting Room Floor section of this website, where Adam reveals the wager to John Down.

The choice of using conquistadores as the enemy in the halls was taken from my original idea for the second book, Outside Eternity. Instead of the threat of jellymen, rogue conquistadores roamed around looking for victims. I scrapped them from the second book, but the presence of Cortes in Death is Golden made them my number one choice for the third.

I needed a worthy and interesting enemy to fight the conquistadores. For a long time I intended to have them fight the gallowglass – elite mercenaries who hailed from Scotland in the 13th-16th centuries. I loved the name plus the fact they wielded battle axes (I often used them when playing Total War Medieval 2 as the Irish faction).

In the end, the Khevsurs from Georgia were chosen instead because they were sword and buckler warriors, and I felt they were more of an even match for the similarly equipped conquistador rodeleros.

The chapter called ‘Revealing Liaisons’ was originally just the encounter between Adam and Boudicca Chang, and was at the end of the previous chapter. I expanded Adam’s day in the Terminal and created a new chapter. This was for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted add some character development, mainly for Adam. Secondly, I wanted to slow the pace a little before embarking on the Reynold’s Gardens half of the book (a little breather for the reader).

Having Reynold’s Gardens as a Victorian themed environment was a relatively late change. Originally, I imagined the place as a city-sized, glitzy Las Vegas hotel complex. I liked this idea because I could play up how tacky and low rent the place was behind the ‘classy’ façade. However, I felt the place sounded a little too like Sonador in the second book and so scrapped the idea.

When Reynold’s Gardens was still Las Vegas themed, I wanted the first famous person they meet to be Elvis. Way before I introduced the Victorian theme, I had changed my mind. Having Elvis appear anywhere in the book seemed very clichéd and also could have legal repercussions (his rights are very well protected even all these years after his death). I decided to have a less well known person, Henrik Wergeland, as the first contact – I liked the idea that Henrik gets a bit annoyed at never being recognised.

When chasing Blitz through one of the apartment blocks, Adam comes across the dying Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer was my third choice for the role of ‘dying person near the top of the stairs’. My original choice was Emily Dickenson, the famous American poet. Dying in Adam’s arms, I wanted her to utter the line from one of her poems:

“I must go in, the fog is rising.”

Although I really liked this idea, I already had Poe and Longfellow in the story and thought another American poet would be too much.

My second choice was Oscar Wilde. He tells Adam how Blitz recognised him, stabbed him, and then ‘regaled him with crude homophobic and paedophilic insults’. Deciding to drop poets completely, I decided not to use Oscar Wilde and went for Robert Oppenheimer instead.

One major change to the book was that Adam and Blitz were to have a violent showdown. The fight was to take place on the sky-bridge after Adam finds Chen Shi. Not wanting to undermine the fight between Adam and Flamma, which was only a few chapters away, I decided to have Adam trick Blitz instead. I agonised about this for quite a while, but reading the book through when it was finished, I realised it was the right decision.

Often, when writing a novel, you come across a roadblock that you never anticipated. For me, one of the most time consuming roadblocks was choosing the location for the fight between Adam and Flamma. In my mind, I had always imagined the arena as a simple village square surrounded by ‘olde’ houses (all black beams and white render). As I neared the chapter, I thought that the village seemed a little out of place and needed to be something more impressive.

My second idea for the fight location was a recreation of ‘The Circus’ – a circle of stately regency terraces in the English city of Bath. The terraces encircle a large cobbled open space. I imagined the fight in the centre, with people watching from the terrace windows. Only one chapter away, I decided that this location also wasn’t quite right.

Finally, I decided on Gordon’s Hall, which is based on the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was obvious that an upmarket environment like Reynold’s Gardens would have such a venue. I had to go back and change a few earlier references to The Circus – one of which I only noticed a few hours before I uploaded the book to Amazon.

A scene that I was looking forward to writing was Cartimandua saving Adam from the mob after he kills Flamma. In the final version, she turns up with Constable Hanzō – Hattori Hanzō, the 16th century ninja/samurai – and Blitz’s head bag.

The original idea for this scene was far more action packed. Cartimandua turns up with a team of historical female warriors who take on the mob in a pitched battle. Though never finalised, the team may have included people such as Joan of Arc, Chen Shi, Poonan Devi, Emilia Plater, and many others … but definitely NOT Boudicca, who Cartimandua despises.

I gave up on this idea because it would put the fight with Flamma in the shade and did not fit in with the way Cartimandua had acted thus far – at most she would have turned up with a few trusted constables, and not an OTT female super-hero team. Still, I was looking forward to writing it.

When Adam and Stardust finally encounter Hernan Cortes, they find the man polite, friendly, but with a restrained ruthlessness and strength. Originally, my Cortes was very threatening and abrupt. I decided to tone this down, since he was almost a cartoon villain and I began to wonder why such a person would help Adam escape. Thus, I kept him calm and built up a previous relationship with Cartimandua. Cracking the walnut in his fist is a remnant of the old version of Cortes.

One really, really stupid idea was to have Sid Vicious in charge ‘upstairs’ instead of Tesla. I believe there was no reason for this other than he holds punk pogoing contests in the hanger. After the Root Juice kicks in, punk music starts playing and everybody pogos. The aim is jump so high that you knock your head on the ceiling. Nobody has achieved this until Stardust tries (his pneumatic platform heels give him a secret advantage). The scene where Adam leaps into the air is a nod to this stupid idea, as is Stardust’s resolute refusal to take part.

Another sub-plot removed from the book was the recurring appearance of Gordon Reynolds as a hologram in Reynold’s Gardens. I intended that the hologram would give advice and cheery welcomes to Adam and his team, and gradually give clues as to …. I cannot say more about this because it might spoil the fourth book.

Stephen Ayres © 2017