Taman Negara in Peninsular Malaysia is one of the oldest rainforests in the world, spanning 4343 square kilometers across 3 states: Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan. Famous for its river cruises and canopy walks, Taman Negara offers visitors and nature-lovers an opportunity to explore the dense tropical flora that is home to an abundance of wildlife: tigers, leopards, rhinos, elephants, snakes, monkeys, bats and flying squirrels as well as 360 species of colourful birds and thousands of unusual insects. But what else lurks within the hidden depths of the mysterious jungle? This was the question that inspired British author Nick Fuller, to write his debut novel, Wild Things.
Feeling disillusioned with life in the UK, Nick and his wife decided to up sticks in search of a new beginning in sunnier climes. The couple arrived in Malaysia in 2011, and within weeks found new jobs. They enjoyed many fascinating discoveries while embracing their new lifestyle; one such discovery was Taman Negara, where a jungle trekking expedition sparked an idea for a great story!
Nick had wanted to write a book for some time, but struggled to come up with a plot; now he had a starting point it was time to get cracking. But juggling writing with work and family life proved challenging. With encouragement and support from his wife, he made the courageous decision to quit his job and become a full-time writer, while looking after their young child.
However, as Nick was soon to discover, time restraints was but one obstacle in becoming a published author. The process of getting idea to book shelf was a long and arduous journey—a journey that he kindly shared with a curious and interested audience. At the heart of every great novel, of course, is characterization. Nick explained that although he had only a vague outline with regards to the plot, he had a clear idea about the characters because they’re based upon the people he’d met during his trekking experience. Their names were changed at the outset, but interestingly, as the narrative progressed, the characters developed a personality of their own.
Reading from the fourth chapter, Nick introduces us to the tourists as they arrive at the jungle. Greeted by tour-guide Rahim, we meet a diverse group of characters: Henk and Marta, with their teenage son Stefan and daughter Danielle; Jasper, Danielle’s boyfriend, who’s struggling with depression and reluctantly tagging along; backpackers Michael and Roxanne; and Sandra and her shady boyfriend Patrick, who, as it turns out, has a hidden agenda. Nick skips a few chapters and reads a captivating scene in which Patrick leaves camp in the middle of the night to search the interior of an aircraft wreckage. What is he hoping to find?
Beautifully descriptive, the book oozes with atmosphere and imagery, drawing the reader into the mystical rainforest and the complex entanglement between characters. Like all good murder mysteries, it is filled with suspense and anticipation—the essential component of an intriguing whodunit. But how did Nick do it?
Nick explained that he’d approached several agents in the UK, but like most new authors, he had to deal with a disappointing number of rejections. Finally, while attending an event at the KL Writers Association, he met a publisher who asked to read the first three chapters, and subsequently agreed to publish the book. However, the manuscript needed some work, and it was at this point that Nick became aware of the value of a good editor.
Engaged in the writing process, Nick was uncertain where the story was headed, or even the identity of the killer; like many creative writers, he went with the flow. Initially, he’d been writing in the third person but, following a landmark event in the narrative, switched to writing in the first person in the voice of three characters; an innovative approach, but one which the editor felt might confuse the reader. He was therefore asked to rework several chapters to keep the writing consistent. Crafting dialogue can be challenging at the best of times, but when some characters are foreigners who speak with accents or broken English, it can become a tricky task to perfect; and having two proofreaders can add even more confusion into the mix.
The sequence of chapters was another area that the editor felt needed revising, and it was interesting to hear how the intended first chapter now appears later in the narrative. Probably the most surprising change was the switch in protagonist; Nick told us that Jasper was meant to be the hero, but the publisher felt Patrick’s back-story was far more captivating. The book title was another area that was re-worked: first off, it was Secrets Beneath the Canopy, then Canopy Secrets and finally, the day before going to print, the publisher suggested Wild Things.
Nick was open and forthcoming in answering our many questions about both writing technique and the publishing process. Speaking passionately about his transition to become a writer, he generously shared many fascinating insights and tips he’d learnt along the way. With two further books in the pipeline, we wait in anticipation for the next Nick Fuller novel. This was an engaging lecture that was as informative as it was entertaining; an inspiration to all hopeful writers!
Wild Things is available at MPH, Kinokuniya, Boarders and Amazon.com