Acquired by Unsung Stories

I’m excited to announce that the first book in the Saskia Brandt series, Déjà Vu, has been acquired by George Sandison at Unsung Stories. This is a new imprint and I’m lucky to be one of the launch titles along­side m’colleague Aliya Whiteley.

I’m cur­rently work­ing on an updated edi­tion of Déjà Vu and, with any luck, I’ll be pub­lish­ing sequels Flashback and The Amber Rooms with Unsung too.

Exciting times.

Writing ‘Red Star Falling’: Part One

The term ‘lacuna’ means a couple of things. (Etymologically, it comes from the Latin for ‘lake’.) People use it gen­er­ally in the sense of ‘gap’. From this we get lacun­ar amne­sia, where the indi­vidu­al com­pletely for­gets an epis­ode in their life (though they may retain learn­ing from that peri­od). We get the lit­er­ary lacuna; in this sense, we mean a piece that is miss­ing from a manu­script. Beowulf con­tains lacunae. As do many full length nov­els.

I’ve been think­ing about an epis­ode in The Amber Rooms where (spoil­er alert) our own Saskia Brandt jumps into the body of a par­al­lel uni­verse Saskia Brandt. The par­al­lel is called Saskia Beta. This Saskia Beta is on a mis­sion with a mys­ter­i­ous agency (per­haps gov­ern­ment­al, per­haps private) that sends people back­wards in time for unknown reas­ons. The agency is called Meta. Our heroine, Saskia Brandt, left the body of this Saskia Beta with the mis­sion incom­plete. Our Saskia con­tin­ued her story as we read it in The Amber Rooms. Of Saskia Beta, we hear no more.

A couple of months ago, I decided that I wanted to find out more about the mis­sion of Saskia Beta. What was her goal? What is Meta, for her? I’m look­ing to fill in what you might call a lacuna from the manu­script of The Amber Rooms. So doing, I’m invest­ig­at­ing, along with Saskia Beta, her lacun­ar amne­sia of those days when her body was pos­sessed by the first Saskia.

Sounds com­plic­ated?

It is. But com­plex good (The Big Sleep; Fire Walk With Me), I hope.

Anyhoo, I’ve been keep­ing a private journ­al of the writ­ing pro­cess as part of a wider pro­ject to get at cre­at­ive pro­cesses in writ­ing (in my day job, I’m a psy­cho­lo­gist). The journ­al is private only because it con­tains spoil­ers for the new story.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be post­ing extracts from this journ­al. I’ll redact some of the spoil­ers. My aim is to give you some insight into how I put the story togeth­er. Without get­ting too meta (ooh, see what I did there?) I’ve included some com­ments about the com­ments.

Draft cov­er incom­ing.

Red Star Falling  4566790 c

March 28th, 2013

So, this is the first epis­ode of my journ­al. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. The main issue is the choice of what to include. These choices will prob­ably shape up over the course of the work; I shouldn’t think too much about them now.

Oh so mys­terioso.

Let’s start with what’s wor­ry­ing me. In order of import­ance, I sup­pose I could start with audi­ence recep­tion. It’s the case that, thus far, I’ve been lucky to have some read­ers who liked Déjà Vu (book one of the Saskia Brandt series) and Flashback (book two). However, reac­tion to book three (The Amber Rooms) has been mixed. The book moves away from the high-tech feel of the first book until we’re almost into lit­er­ary ter­rit­ory (shock; not to say hor­ror). I don’t feel bad about doing this on one level. After all, I con­sider The Amber Rooms to be a bet­ter book. But I’m saddened that some of the people who were look­ing for­ward to the work (for more than a year in some cases) found it dis­ap­point­ing.

I remem­ber one guy who wrote that The Amber Rooms was the biggest dis­ap­point­ment of the year. That was depress­ing to read.

So that is fore­most in my mind as I make the decisions behind Red Star Falling.

Cool title.

I’d like to have an impact not dis­sim­il­ar to Déjà Vu but with the qual­ity of The Amber Rooms. Hah! Like that will ever hap­pen.

Looking back, from a 90%-done per­spect­ive, I’d say I’m approach­ing some­thing like that. There are the ‘lit­er­ary’ things that I always struggle to keep a lid on (cer­tain repeat­ing meta­phors; visu­al images I return to) but the story should also be a kin­et­ic, third-act-type of story in the mold of Déjà Vu.

Time pres­sure is anoth­er issue. I nev­er have enough time to write. And because my day job involves using a com­puter, I often sit down to write with a cer­tain amount of fatigue. I’ve tried writ­ing using pen and paper but it’s not quite the same. Rather too manu­al, and not how I like to write.

What else? There’s a fin­an­cial aspect. The cov­er I plan to use involves a pic­ture that will be quite expens­ive to buy. Is it worth it for some­thing that will a short story alone?

Ultimately, I went for a much cheap­er option, which the image you see in this post.

Then there’s the wider busi­ness side of things. I’m try­ing to arrange an edit­or for Red Star Falling and there are plenty of mach­in­a­tions involved. They take away from the writ­ing time and are quite annoy­ing, but… I do know from exper­i­ence that it is bet­ter to be aware of all these pro­cesses than to cede con­trol to a third party who might very well fuck it up.

That’s quite enough for one day, Ian.

Yes, I believe it is. Such lan­guage! I hope Dad’s not read­ing this.

The next journ­al entry, which I’ll pub­lish in a few days, will look at some of the tech­nic­al aspects of the writ­ing the story.

So I signed up to a Russian evening class, Comrade

Like you do.

Or rather, like I did. I’ve stopped going now because I was excep­tion­ally poor at form­ing even the simplest sen­tences.

Aliya Whiteley is — apart from being a great comedo-tagi­co-Ilfracombo nov­elista — study­ing for an MSc in Library and Information Management. As part of this, she inter­viewed me about the resources I used to help me research the third Saskia Brandt nov­el. (For those who aren’t keep­ing up, which often includes me, that’s the third one; Flashback is the second; Déjà Vu is the first.)

Can I ask — in the case of your last nov­el, where did you look to find the inform­a­tion you needed? So where did you go to learn a bit of Russian, read oral his­tor­ies, etc? How did you decide that was what you’d need to know?

For the Russian, I signed up for a loc­al even­ing class. I stud­ied Russian for two years. I didn’t expect to learn it very well, but I felt ridicu­lous writ­ing a nov­el set in Russia without know­ing any­thing about the lan­guage. The oral his­tor­ies showed up on Amazon. The book was out of print — ‘Women Against the Tsar’, I believe it’s called — and described the lives of sev­er­al women anarcho-bolshev­iks in the lat­ter part of the nine­teenth cen­tury. Another source of inform­a­tion was the writer Roger Morris, who was in the pro­cess of writ­ing nov­els set in the same peri­od of his­tory (though a little earli­er). I spoke to him about oral his­tor­ies and sent him links to some websites…which reminds me, the web was a very use­ful sources of inform­a­tion. I popped into one or two for­ums related to Tsarist Russian mil­it­ary uni­forms to ask the experts ques­tions about mater­i­als, col­ours, etc. I also looked on mem­or­ab­il­ia sites for clothes that had been owned by people in the time peri­od of interest — these were very good qual­ity pic­tures with lav­ish descrip­tions includ­ing the cor­rect ter­min­o­logy (some­times in Russian as well as English), which is quite import­ant when writ­ing prose.

Is it ridicu­lous writ­ing about Russia without speak­ing the lan­guage? Try writ­ing about Russia without hav­ing set foot on Russian soil.

Feel free to check out the full inter­view. This is part one.