The first three books I wrote were set in the same world – a pseudo-Victorian era Europe, where humans lived and worked alongside anthropomorphic rabbits, dogs, cats, bears, mice, and other animals. The first book, The Chimney Rabbit, was set in The Great City, which was basically London with the serial numbers filed off. The second book was a direct sequel, set once again in pseudo-London, incorporating the development of my version of the London Underground. Both books had plots that were tied inextricably to the layered society I’d created, where humans were in charge, larger animals like wolves and bears owned the businesses, cats and dogs ran the streets, and rabbits were stuffed up chimneys and treated like dirt. The second book, The Chimney Rabbit and the Underground Mice, introduced the dirty sooty mice from the Underground, who were considered beneath even chimney rabbits.
The third book, Tales of the Ancient Rabbits, was slightly different. It was a prequel set in The City of Flowers (Florence) which was being attacked by the forces of Lagoon City (Venice). Our heroes made their way to Tower Port (Pisa) then The City of Light (Paris) before finally arriving in London, or The Great City as it was known in my world. The hero was a rabbit, and there were dogs and cats and badgers and wolves, but the species of the characters wasn’t important to the story.
So when The Chimney Rabbit came to the end of its lifecycle of submissions to agents, and I shelved it indefinitely, I took another look at Tales of the Ancient Rabbits. The whole idea was that it would serve either as a prequel or as a standalone adventure – with The Chimney Rabbit now out of the picture, Tales just had to serve as a story in its own right. In that case, did it have to be set in The City of Flowers – why not just set it in Florence? Did Roberto have to be a rabbit, or could he just be a boy?
Anthropomorphic animal stories are out of fashion these days. After Tales failed to find much favour with agents or competition judges, I wondered what would happen if I removed the anthropomorphic element.
So began the de-furrification of Tales of the Ancient Rabbits. I gave everyone surnames rather than “Signor Rabbit”, changed all the reference to “paws” to “hands”, and named all of the locations back to what they’d all secretly been anyway. But there was one more thing – I needed a new title, one that didn’t mention rabbits. Fortunately I’d included a MacGuffin.
Alfred Hitchcock said a MacGuffin was:
…the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers.
In the book I have a secret organisation called The Panopticon, and they’re trying to keep some papers from falling into enemy hands. And so Tales of the Ancient Rabbits became The Panopticon Papers.
I’m going to run through another edit, then send The Panopticon Papers out to a few agents to see if I get any nibbles. To be honest, I don’t expect anyone to bite – Tales already had its chance, but it will be interesting to see if Panopticon fares any better.
I’ve already polished the first 5000 words for a competition entry. The only problem is, it’s the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing, which is sponsored by luxury pen company Montegrappa. Who are based in Venice. Who are now the villains in my book.
Somehow I don’t think that’ll go down well with the judges, who won’t realise that I actually really like Venice (we went there on holiday a few years back, and it was amazing) and that Venice are only the aggressors by sheer chance!
I might have got away it if I’d left it as Lagoon City.