The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 14

21 July 2014

Chapter 14:  The Black Sea

Length: 4,292 words

POV character: Stuart

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

After the ordeals of the last few chapters, Stuart is in a bad way. Battered and exhausted, he awakes in a strange room to find himself at the mercy of a complete stranger who shouldn’t even exist. It’s clear that this woman doesn’t trust Stuart and only saved his life so she could get answers out of him and even clearer that she doesn’t like the answers Stuart gives. Now Stuart is living on borrowed time. He needs to find a way to get this mysterious woman onto his side as soon as possible and find this room he’s been searching for once and for all. The voice in his head is becoming unstable and Stuart worries what will happen if it’s left unchecked for too long. 

Notes:

One of the most interesting things when writing something of this size is the relationship that you, the writer, start to form with your own creation. Of course you grow attached to your characters — that much is a given — but it’s actually the connection you start to form with the individual plot points of your story that resonates with you more strongly.

It’s a strange feeling to describe.

I mean, the goal when writing any book is that the chapters will eventually flow into each other with no discernible break in style. As a reader you often find you can gloss over whole chapters of the book at a time without really missing much, skipping some POVs that maybe you’re not so interested in and only becoming truly invested in the story during those pivotal climactic moments. As a writer, however, it’s a very different experience. Sometimes it’s the climactic chapters that interest you the least and its the quieter ones that take up most of your time.

I think I’ve already explained how some of the chapters in this book were the equivalent of pulling teeth. Those chapters were painful experiences in which I’d find myself going over them again and again, tweaking and rewriting things to try to fix a certain problem only to discover that two new problems had somehow appeared for every one I fixed.

Then you get chapters like this one: a joy to write from beginning to end. I honestly couldn’t tell you where this difference comes from.

I will, however, say that this meeting between Stuart and this mystery woman was one of the first things I ever conceived when writing this story. From the beginning, something about it just chimed a chord with me and it was always one of the moments I was most looking forward to writing.

As a reader, you might be a bit confused by that reaction. I mean, on the surface of things, this chapter is nothing special — man wakes up in a strange place and there’s a strange women with him — but there’s a lot going on below the surface that makes the chapter so interesting to me. Character things. Thematic things. Things which resonate with me on a personal level. Some of these things will be revealed over the coming chapters, while other will have to remain in the book’s subtext but either way, I honestly can’t wait to explore this relationship further.

After all, for Stuart, the immediate danger might be over but a whole bigger mystery is about to unfold…


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 13

9 July 2014

Chapter 13 – Life on the Outside

Length: 8,986 words

POV: Brent / Abi

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

Down in the bunks, Dawn is still reeling from Abi’s betrayal. Furious, she goes to Abi’s brother for help only to find that he too is plotting a breakout of his own – except that his comes in the form of a bloody rebellion that will soon see the unspoken rioting en masse and wrecking havoc across the ship.

Meanwhile, Abi is adapting to life outside the bunks. It’s much harder than she imagined. Not only is she wracked by guilt over what she needed to do in order to escape the bunks but she finds herself hated by everyone she meets, talked down to even by the girl whose life she saved and physically abused by the men in uniform who will only ever see her unspoken. Fortunately Father Estavan is on hand to provide a shoulder to cry on.

Notes:

OK so first thing’s first: yes this chapter is rather on the long side and yes it’s very talky. My plan when writing this was that it would serve as a way for us to step back after the chaos of the last few chapters and take a moment to consider how all these events are affecting our main characters.

Like all things, however, it kind of grew in the telling.

For example, the opening section from Brent’s POV is all new. As in, completely brand new. It didn’t exist just two days ago – not even in note form and I only finished writing it about an hour ago. If the writing in this part seems a little rougher than the rest then… well, that’s because it is. I spent a lot of time going back and forth on the idea of whether adding it was even necessary or not and if adding another POV to the mix was a good idea, but eventually I decided that it should be included. Abi left the bunks during an Estavan chapter, so we never really got the chance to see how her abandoning Dawn played out. It was important to show the aftermath. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out and this way there’s a nice thematic contrast between Dawn inside the bunks and Abi outside.

On a more negative note, I did have some issues with characterisation in this chapter. Once again, the culprit here was the need to change characters. You see, the plan originally was that Dawn did indeed leave the bunks along with Abi and that consequently it was she who Abi is talking with in the opening scene instead of Kara. However, not only did this mean that I then had to find something for Dawn to do after she’d escaped but that something kept getting in the way of Abi’s story. It also meant that the relationship between Abi and Dawn was kind of overshadowing Kara, who, less we forget, is the girl that’s about to marry the Captain. A far more important plot point to focus on.

So… I changed it. Dawn’s dialogue moved to Kara and in turn, of course, it had to be heavily rewritten due to how different Dawn and Kara are as people. I think I managed to make it work but in all honesty, Kara is a very difficult character to pin down at the best of times so I’m still not 100% happy with my efforts. She’s one of those characters who is both quiet and innocent but at the same time harbours a real bitchy side. It’s hard to get a balance between those two halves especially when she’s filling in the part left by another character.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 12

5 July 2014

Chapter 12: Sweet Release

POV character: Stuart

Length: 4,748 words

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

Stuart is in a bad way. On the run from the law with a broken leg and a body weak with exhaustion, his only hope lies in following the strange voice in his head. What that voice is and where its taking him, Stuart has no idea, but now there are armed guards on his trail and Stuart is in no condition to second guess his situation. It’s going to take all his energy and guile just to face them and get out alive…

Notes:

A fun chapter to write.

Not only is it full of action and suspense but once again we get to see Stuart’s slow decent into whatever madness it is that’s taken hold of him.

There’s a big mystery going on at the centre of the chapter that I’m sure will raise a few questions in the reader’s mind but at the same time I was careful when writing it not to let that mystery overshadow the basic events that were going on. The important thing that’s happening here is that Stuart is struggling to escape captivity. Thinking up ways for him to convincingly do this while he’s trapped inside a maintenance shaft with a broken leg was pretty hard but overall satisfying.

One thing I should add about the writing process is that I actually wrote all of Stuart’s chapters back to back. Of course I’m editing the book in order but when I first sat down to write the chapters, I wrote all of Stuart’s plot first before turning my attention to the others.

My reason for doing this is simple. On the one hand Stuart’s plotline is the one that impacts least on the other three protagonists in the book so it was easy to write it separately without worrying about matters of continuity. More important than this, however, was the matter of consistency. In short, we’re seeing Stuart descend into madness right now and I really wanted to get it done right.

We’ve already seen one chapter in which Stuart feels disconnected from reality and then another in which he starts having hallucinations. Here, for the first time, we really see Stuart full on embracing the madness. He’s talking with the voice in his head even though he has no idea who or what it is and by the end of the chapter he’s completely relying on it for support.

Doing that while at the same time making it seem believable was a challenge to say the least. I felt I needed to write Stuart’s chapters back to back just so I could make this transition more organic and less jarring. After all, Stuart is still Stuart. Just because he seems mad now doesn’t make him any less the same character he’s always been.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 11

2 July 2014

Chapter 11: Where Angels Fear to Tread

POV character: Father Estavan

Length: 9,092

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

In an event unprecedented in the history of the ship, the Captain – the holiest man in the universe – has agreed to marry an unspoken – one of the lowest forms of life. All Father Estavan needs to do is find her first.

With permission from the Captain in hand, Father Estavan enters the bunks determined to recover the girl and bring her to his side. It’s supposed to be a simple job but he’s about to get a big surprise.

The girl has gone missing and her bunk has been torched. She’s probably still alive but by now she could be anywhere and anything could have happened to her. With no other option available to him, Estavan is forced to head ever deeper into the bunks in search of the girl, knowing as he does so that almost no one ever returns from this place alive.

Notes:

You know what I really like in big books like this one? When you have a multi-protagonist story in which the heroes slowly meet up over the course of the novel.

I like it because you’ve had all this time to get to know these characters individually. You’ve learned all about the world through their POV. You’ve developed your own thoughts and feelings about them and their situation. You think you’ve got them pretty solidly in your mind. But then there’s that one chapter where your protagonists start meeting up and suddenly you find yourself seeing these same characters through the eyes of a different character who maybe has very different feelings about their situation than you do and everything is suddenly turned on its head.

When this is done well it helps to shine a light on a certain character, perhaps revealing deeper layers to their situation than you’d previous seen. Even when it’s done badly it’s still cool to see different characters meet up because then you know that the plots are starting to converge as they head towards the final climax and that’s always going to be a good thing.

In this chapter (and to a lesser extent the previous one) we’re starting to see my own version of that. Two of my characters, Estavan and Abi, get to meet for the first time. What will happen from here? Where will this go? As a reader it’s fun to find out.

Anyway, I never intended for this chapter to end up as long as it did. The synopsis itself is pretty simple — Estavan enters the bunks to find the girl who’s going to marry the Captain — but it was one of those chapters which kind of grew in the telling. There’s a lot going on here, not least because it’s a chapter which affects not only our POV Estavan but several other key characters as well, such as Abi, Dawn and Nathan.

I hope you enjoy it.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 10

30 June 2014

Chapter 10: A Man Besieged

Length: 7,210

POV character: Estavan

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

Father Estavan finally gets his change to meet with the Captain and explain his plan to save the ship from the food crisis it’s suffering from. It’s a very controversial plan to say the least but Father Estavan is certain it will work. The only hard part will be first convincing the Captain that it’s the right thing to do.

Notes:

This was a very difficult chapter to redraft. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve decided to completely remove one of my story’s main protagonists for this redraft in order to help slim the novel down and simplify its overall plot.

The ‘death’ of that character, Brian, was a painful one, but in hindsight I still think it was the right thing to do. Removing Brian from the novel meant that the story was able to unfold much more quickly whilst also keeping tonally consistent throughout. For the most part, I’ve been able to simply cut his chapters out completely, transferring any vitally important exposition from them to other chapters.

This chapter, however, was a problem.

You see, unlike other chapters originally written from Brian’s POV, I couldn’t simply cut this one out of the book. It’s probably one of the most important chapters in terms of setting things up for the novel’s end game and there was no way I could simply write around that.

As a result, I was forced to rewrite the chapter completely from the POV of a different protagonist and the logical choice for who was Father Estavan. This is his plan we’re looking at here, after all, so it made sense.

So far, so logical you think. What’s the problem?

Well, the problem is that Father Estavan and Brian are two very different characters. So different, in fact, that it turned out to be almost impossible to have the chapter play out the way I’d originally planned it with all the elements slotting into place as they needed to be and (most importantly) the characters also remaining consistent throughout.

I think I’ve managed to work my way around it but the end result is… well, not as good as it used to be if I’m brutally honest. The chapter is very long and very talky. In fact, I think this is now the most dialogue-heavy chapter in the book, which isn’t something to be proud of.

Oh well, sometimes you have to wade through the dull in order to better appreciate the good and ‘A Man Besieged’ is certainly a very important chapter, falling as it does at the halfway point of the book and reveling many important details that will play out over the rest of the novel.

With this chapter, all the cards are now on the table. A discerning reader should be able to work out what’s really going on here, and from that knowledge… well, now we can get to the really good stuff.


Match report: Costa Rica vs. England

26 June 2014

Costa Rica 0-0 England

So confession time: I actually missed England’s game with Costa Rica when it first played due to me getting the times mixed up. That’s right, I’m an idiot.

I didn’t see England’s last game in the World Cup. I didn’t see my country grind out a dull 0-0 draw against a team that on paper we should have been beating with ease. I didn’t see us once again dominate a game in terms of possession and shots only to fail because our attack lacks finishing power.

Luckily, by the sounds of things I didn’t miss very much.

Brazil Soccer WCup Costa Rica England

I missed this… but I definitely won’t miss it.

So yeah, a dull 0-0 draw pretty much sums up England’s campaign in Brazil this summer. But hey, at least we’re not going home with zero points, which really would have been embarrassing. And true, we were in a tough group with a young, inexperienced squad who are really in a stage of transition. And true, we were the only team in our group not to lose against surprise package Costa Rica. So, you know, every cloud…

source BBC

Although to be fair there’s not much of a silver lining here. Source: BBC.com

These things are cold comforts, however. The truth is England are out of the World Cup in the group stages for the first time since 1958. True, we’re not the only ‘big team’ to have been knocked out already. Defending champions Spain and fellow group members Italy also share that dubious honour of failing to impress on the world stage. But it doesn’t make the reality any easier to take.

Luckily, this is fast turning into one of the best World Cups I’ve ever seen. There are goals being scored all over the place and stand out performances and surprises springing up all over the place. This tournament is definitely one for the neutrals and a refreshing reminder as to why I like football.

But still… sigh. It’s not going to be the same now that England’s gone.

England-fan

A (very rich) England fan sums the situation up nicely


The Arkship Ulysses – Part 2

24 June 2014

POV character: Michael

Length: 6,132 words

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

The captain hasn’t been idle during all of these events. Through back story, we find out that he has been aware of the pending food crisis for a long time but, due to a combination of bullying from the Priesthood and bold-faced deceit from his own crew, he has had his hands tied about how much he can do to prevent it. The Captain is little more than a puppet waiting for the right person to come along to pull his strings and it turns out he always has been.

Notes:

I love back story.

Making things richer and deeper is my raison d’être as a writer. Nothing brings a smile to my face more than being able to get away with writing page after page of expositionary world building.

You have to work for such moments, of course. Not everyone likes wading through infodump, especially when it comes right at the beginning of a novel. Telling the reader too much, too soon without giving them some sort of emotional anchor is one of the best ways of getting someone to stop reading your book.

You have to earn the right to indulge.

Fortunately, this chapter comes right on the back of three pretty intense action-filled chapters so I felt more than justified in putting it here to serve as a kind of prologue to part two. I hope that by keeping the focus on the Captain and his central dilemma I’ve managed to keep the exposition interesting even for those readers who normally don’t like it. At the very least, I hope that adding this back story here helps to add some important layers of complexity to what might otherwise seem like a very simple issue. The unspoken are explained in full in this chapter as is the role of the Captain: two very important details that will pay out in dividends further down the road.

That’s one of the reasons why I love George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire so much. No matter how many times you read it, and no matter how much time you spend looking through online forums or reading fan theories, there’s always something new to discover in his books. His writing is deep and complex. His world – for all its logical inconsistencies with scale and practicality – feels like a real living and breathing world. It feels like a place you could genuinely go to visit. His writing rewards a patient reader.

I have always wanted to be able to say the same about my own writing. This chapter is my own meagre contribution to that goal.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 85 other followers