When I first read Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books, they were a trilogy about a hero in his prime. In A Wizard Of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs Of Atuan (1971) and The Farthest Shore (1972), she told the story of Ged, also known as Sparrowhawk, as he grew from Gontish goat-herd to world-saving wizard: a classic children's book narrative.
That seemed to be the end of it. But then she found new stories to tell. In Tehanu (1990), she showed Ged living a life without magic, learning to take satisfaction in the pleasures and pains of an ordinary existence with Tenar, the priestess who shared his greatest adventure. The book follows her story as much as Ged's.
Then in The Other Wind (2001), Le Guin showed Ged near the end of his days: still wise, but almost an absence now, reconciled to his irrelevance. The story was about other characters finding their way without him.
Le Guin wrote a new story whenever she had something new to say. That seems to me exactly right. I've never wanted to give my own characters new adventures in which nothing changes. Repetition seems to me a much bigger risk than letting them grow.
So in my first book, Varjak Paw (2003), Varjak is a kitten: a very young character who learns a secret martial art from very ancient cats. In The Outlaw Varjak Paw (2005), he is a grown-up cat, and the questions he faces are grown-up questions about law and justice, politics and morality.
I stopped there, because I didn't have another story to tell about him. And I had other things on my mind, such as my space epic, Phoenix (2013), and my current work in progress, Tyger, both of which are about young characters finding their way. But the one question I've heard more than any other since 2005 is: "Will there ever be a third Varjak Paw book?"
To my surprise, now a decade has gone by, I find myself thinking more and more about Varjak. He seems to be ageing with me. I now feel sure there will be a third book, in which the story comes full circle. Varjak will now be an old cat himself, teaching the secret martial art to much younger kittens: passing it on. That makes sense to me as the shape of a trilogy, and the shape of a life.
But to write a story about an old character, perhaps you should be old yourself, to know what it feels like. I'm getting there faster than I thought possible, but I'm not quite ready yet. I am keeping notes, though, making plans, gathering material for that time.
It's comforting to know that far greater writers have made this journey. I look at Le Guin's example. As she recently said of Earthsea: "Authors and wizards learn to be patient while the magic works." I just hope readers can be patient too.