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!

Assessments, Writing

Writing in the Library

The three most important things in writing fiction are arguably plot, characterisation and setting.

Today’s blogpost will be discussing setting, but not in the context of a fictional universe, but where I the writer craft such fictional universes.

Sutton Library, Feb 2013

This is a view I am becoming quite familiar with; it’s the view from the work area in my local main library, where I find myself decamping, laptop in hand, for a Sunday afternoon spent crafting fictional worlds.

When I’m trying to get down to work at home, I find myself impossibly distracted quite a lot of the time. Sometimes the atmosphere just isn’t quite right for a session with my up-and-coming work… but coming to this place, relaxing in the quiet with no distractions bar my own thoughts and perhaps music through headphones easily and quickly gets me in the mental psyche needed to write fiction. I love it.

I started going to my local main library – in Sutton, south London – for Nanowrimo 2012 last November with my friend Jamie; over the course of about three afternoons, I got just over 11,000 words done – over 20% of the actual novel. At home, I’d have been hard-pressed to have that kind of productivity.

What I think is most appealing for writing in the library isn’t just the peace and quiet of the surrounds but the feeling of being in a strange, intellectual and literary bubble where everyone else is there for the same reasons you are. They’ve all got projects to work on, and books to enjoy. Subconsciously, I think, I’m also finding it easier to work on stuff with the glint of hope that my own work may find its way to the heady shelves that surround me.

Even nicer, I’ve found, is bringing a couple of like-minded friends here who also have projects to work on. Somehow, being busy but also in the presence of friends with the same objective is a catalyst for new productivity.

Working on "The World Eaters", Sutton Library (Nov 2012)It’s great that places like this exist, really. It’s a warm, comfortable haven, open to all – with free power to boot, and limited connectivity to the endless distractions of the outside world, it really does empower me to get to be one with my chosen hobby.

As an easily-distracted perfectionist, I do accept that I need a subconscious kick up the backside to knuckle down and get to work. Being in a different location, funny as it sounds, is just what I need to get focused and I look forward to at the very least spending my Sunday afternoons sitting as my fictional creations come to life in front of me.

Yesterday I made great progress in the editing process for Colonisation, but maybe challenges – say, write a short in an afternoon? – could be great catalysts for creativity? I’m certainly game!

Announcements, Assessments

First Month Review

My new blog has been active a whole month now, and I’m really glad I bit the bullet and started afresh. It’s been a lovely chance to regroup and reorganise my efforts online.

Brief thoughts:

  • I am absolutely loving Wordpress; it’s just so much more powerful, capable and easier to manage than Blogger! It’s also nice to not have a backdrop of old, irrelevant legacy content to deal with, and I can really keep organised.
  • For the first time in a long while, I find myself eager to have something to add here, so it spurs me on to write more so I can have more stuff to talk about. I’m looking forward very soon to having some new work to show you all, and then I can stop telling you all what I plan to do and show what I’ve done.
  • Had a ton of ideas to flesh out the blog and add new, original content that I’m sure you’re going to love!

Stay tuned! :-)