How a book I wrote as a kid turned into the Sentinel Trilogy
I still have an early version of Sentinel hidden away in a box under my bed, like some sort of gremlin. I wrote it when I was 15. It was called Crystals Of Destiny (I can’t remember why) and it’s an adorable mess with a hand-drawn front cover, pencil illustrations, and a second half set in an alternate dimension.
Looking back at it now, it amazes me that something so very not-good eventually turned into this YA saga I’m so proud of. Writing the Sentinel Trilogy has been one of the toughest, most rewarding and exciting things I’ve ever done. It has allowed me to find my voice as a writer, and I’ve had great fun playing around with the things I love – talking cats, maniacal villains, queer heroes.
When book one, Sentinel, was published in 2014, I had worked for Total Film for six years, so I wasn’t new to writing – but I was new to the world of YA. I had no real idea what I was doing trying to write a book, other than having a burning need to tell this story about an underground society of demon hunters. I took a ‘suck it and see’ approach to writing, learning through trial and error. I felt my way through the dark, one chapter at a time, cutting and adding and moving around. And – yes – at times even throwing my writing toys out of the pram.
What’s funny is that some of the elements that really work in Sentinel were also in Crystals Of Destiny. The Crystals prologue involved a séance, and chapter one revolved around a train crash. Malika was also present, albeit in a less scary form.
Not that I’m saying 15-year-old me was a genius, particularly when it came to Sam Wilkins, the lovable rifle-brandishing pensioner. He was originally meant to die around chapter nine (having safely delivered Nicholas to Jessica, he would be confronted and killed by the demon Diltraa). It’s a scene I never wrote, though, because the more I wrote Sam, the more I loved him. I imagined him as a sort of creaky Indiana Jones (hence the fedora) and I realised that killing him would destroy a really important part of the story. Sam is very much the heart of the Sentinel Trilogy.
In the end, it took me four years to complete the trilogy. Writing a book series is a Big Deal, and there were times I wondered what mad path I had stumbled down. Writers like Robin Jarvis, Jen Williams and Trudi Canavan deserve serious kudos for consistently delivering trilogies and making it look 1,000 times easier than it actually is.
Looking back over my trilogy now, I can see its strengths and weakness. For the most part I’m hugely proud of it. In particular, I’m glad it’s made up of three very distinct stories, each with their own unique texture. Sentinel is a body horror about grief; Ruins is a blockbuster about secrets; and Splinter is a post-apocalyptic drama about choice. Hopefully that makes for an fun ride.
Sometimes, I go through the box under my bed and take another look at Crystals Of Destiny, remembering the joy of writing as a kid. Now that I’m working on my sixth book(!), I try to picture young me in my bedroom, scribbling down the images in my head and excitedly figuring out the next plot twist.
I’m reminded to write from a place of joy rather than frustration, and whenever I have a silly idea like throwing a talking cat into the mix, I do it. You never know what might come of it.
– Joshua Winning