I started the former WIP (work in progress) when I was about half way through secondary school. Until then, I'd written what I suppose could loosely be termed thrillers. My friend and I were also working on something that was (if we'd only know the word, which we didn't) a sort of pastiche of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. But then I read The Lord of the Rings and everything changed. I began work on a fantasy trilogy set in an alternate world where magic works. The trilogy was, of course, about a war against an evil invader from the East. And the guys from our world, who naturally get sucked into this other world (called Baradel), end up fighting with the good guys against the evil invader. And the good guys win and it all ends happily. Apart from the brief flirtation with the tragic version, in which the evil invader from the East is defeated, but only by the noble self sacrifice of the good guys from our world. (A spell of teenage angst spawned this version, I suspect, with the benefit of hindsight.) I was happily conflating favourite ideas from Tolkien and C.S. Lewis/Alan Garner here. NB: You have to remember that in these far off distant days I'm referring to here, there was very little fantasy available. Difficult to believe, but there you are.
At some point (probably lack of time due to A-levels), the novel got abandoned. I briefly resurrected it at university, started at the beginning with a total re-vamp and got about a third of the way through before lack of time due to exams and first serious romance caused it to be abandoned again.
Later, many years later...
I had finally completed two novels, though not sold either of them. I'd even sold a couple of short stories, when I decided that there was a decent story in that abandoned novel about the war, if only I could re-write it with the benefit of more experience.
I call it my Grandfather's Axe of a novel. You know the old joke about, this is my grandfather's axe, it's had two new heads and three new handles, but otherwise, it's the very axe he always used to use. The former WIP is somehow the same novel, yet at the same time is utterly different. I found some of my old notebooks recently, while tidying out some boxes of odds and ends. It's fascinating to see how much of the original is still there, even to the two villains, one of whom is actually a traitor (though no one realises it at the time) who are both trying to double-cross the other. I did get rid of the soppy girl from our world, so my hero now transfers to the other world alone, thus leaving him free to have a romance with a woman from Baradel. But the hero riding a white horse is still in there (though rather than being given it as a gift by the king, he buys it cheap because white horses are unlucky), and he still nearly dies from a poisoned bite (though the circumstances of getting bitten are now completely different). I also have a new point of view character from Baradel, who is one of the main characters of book two, which was written first.
So, until recently I was writing a fantasy in which a guy from our world gets magically shifted to another world where he takes part in a war, helps defeat the invading sorcerer and subsequently decides that the king is making a right bollocks of sorting out the peace, so he stages a military coup and takes over the country, only to be deposed in his turn by one of the lords who remained loyal to the king.
I was a bit concerned that the "happy" ending is that our heroes are not dead at the end. They obtain a partial reprieve, so are not executed as traitors (which they clearly are) and survive to go on to book 2.
I'm still sure that old novel is worth writing. The latest version is infinitely better than that first version I started at school and I've come to realise that the main difference between a good story and a bad story isn't actually the ideas or plot, but in the execution. papersky used a phrase once, something like realistic magicism. If magical realism is where the setting is the "real" world, yet strange, bizarre and downright magical things happen, realistic magicism is set in a fantasy world and yet is written in such a way as to make it as "realistic" as possible. "Gritty" is a word that springs to mind. The detail makes the fantasy world and the magic feel as real as getting into a car and driving to the shops.
However... I then went to a writer's workshop at Eastercon run by Juliet McKenna. It was very helpful. She made me see several things wrong with the novel as it stood, a couple of them easily fixed, but the main problem was that it just wasn't going to stand out from the crowd, especially not in a query letter. Oh, dear, yet another fantasy novel about an evil invader trying to take over the country and a guy from our world stops him. Yawn...
So, enter the new WIP. It's another fantasy, hopefully funny, about a young couple who move into a small village in the middle of nowhere to take over the establishment that I think of as The Hostel of Doom. It's set in a post war (humans v orcs) world where all the races are now supposed to be living peacefully together. Major themes: the oddest collection of people can work together effectively when their livelihood is threatened; old enmities die hard; defeating a threat from outside while trying to keep some semblance of normal life going. This one is scarily autobiographical in places. I don't know yet whether it's going to work. I'm only on Chapter 2, but at least it's different...