Assessments, Writing

The Story of “The Steamers”

Today I’d like to comprehensively and openly talk about my first – and currently shelved – novel The Last of the Steamers.

As with all stories, I’ll start at the beginning with the genesis of the book idea. I’d been toying around for a while, considering what I wanted to do, and one evening in December 2009 a flash of inspiration fluttered across my mind and immediately I reached for my notebook and jotted down the very beginnings of Chapter 1, creating characters and settings, but not quite nailing the plot for the book. The events of Chapter 1 were pretty much set in stone early on but the rest of the story… it didn’t quite gel. Not knowing quite what to do with this, my notebook was put down on a table.

Fast forward a year to winter 2010 and in about mid-October I remembered the existence of National Novel Writing Month and decided to throw caution to the wind and write up this novel (as yet untitled) as a debut attempt. I did so and with a feeling of exhilaration and utter euphoria, I crossed the 50,000 word mark and had a completed draft. However, I’d pretty much made up the plot as I went along, but I’d actually achieved what I thought impossible and written a freaking novel, despite a bit of bemusement from friends and family.

Anyway, I let it sit for a month until after Christmas and then went about editing it; and thus disaster struck. Not really knowing what needed to be done, I tried to proofread and rewrite the book in one fell swoop; as one can imagine, I got bogged down pretty swiftly as I didn’t have a concrete plan for a plot, just a miasma of scenes, themes and ideas that I was trying to build up to and join together. Plus, I’d omitted in the original draft to add chapters, and this was a big error: I had a 50,000 word blob of text that I was attacking from too many fronts, and eventually it became such a confused slog that about 6 months into the edit (and way, way over my deadline) I stopped working on the book, by which point had been named The Last of the Steamers.

With the help of a couple of friends, I managed to salvage near the end of 2011 the first three chapters and turned them into an audiobook preview – a project we all really enjoyed doing. However, it still left me with an unfinished novel that I was actually “scared” to work on. Honestly, I felt that my writing abilities were not sufficient to do the story that I wanted to tell justice in that book, so I’ve left the aborted edited manuscript alone for months.

All is not lost, though; I learned three key lessons in this saga:

  • Chapterise. Breaking work down in the initial phases makes life a lot more manageable later on.
  • Outline. I don’t really like to outline, per-se; however, having even a vague idea of the journey you want the plot to take, even if the ending eludes you until you literally have to edit it, will take the strain off. Outlining is a subject I want to approach again in a later post.
  • Be methodical. You don’t have to edit everything in one go with a book like this. I learned with Colonisation to not be afraid to do editing passes; with each pass over the book requiring less and less work as the refinements are ground in. Also, before you take any red pens to the work, read it in its entirety first and re-familiarise yourself with it.

What next for Steamers though, I hear you ask! Well, it’s something I do want to approach again, but I can’t quite find the time to do it. With big projects like this, I find that multi-tasking is not going to be a possibility, and splitting my energies will be detrimental to both projects on the cooker. However, I will be taking time between Colonisation and editing The World Eaters to at least import the manuscript into Scrivener; I’ll keep the first three chapters that have been edited (I would maybe re-approach them but they’re “locked” in audio form) as they stand but the rest of the book is going to be rewritten from scratch, though I will almost certainly incorporate ideas from the original draft but all the writing will be new.

Again, finding the time for this is something I’m going to have to work on – a project maybe for 2014. I feel a little exhausted at the moment so maybe once Colonisation, The World Eaters and eventually The Last of the Steamers is completed I’ll take a break from novels and stick to short stories for a while.

Well, that’s that I guess; it was good to get it out there about this project and my inner thoughts and feelings about it. Steamers, as my first ever novel attempt, is very close to my heart, and I really do hope, patient reader, you can enjoy it too.

Project page for The Last of the Steamers – with audiobook – is online now!

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