The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 23

19 December 2014

Chapter 23: The Metapath

Length: 4,577 words

POV character: Stuart

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

For Stuart, it is a time for hard decisions.

Though he has saved the Captain’s life, and rescued the whole ship from certain destruction, now he needs to save his own hide. The strange woman visits him while he is recovering from his near-death experience. This time she is determined to get some answers about who Stuart really is and what he plans to do now he has unlocked the secret to his power.

Notes:

You know, I’ve been working on this book for a very long time. A really long time. In fact, by this point it’s getting on for half my life time.

With that said, you might be surprised to hear that as little as two years ago I had no idea where this book was going. Oh, sure, I told myself that I knew. I had outlines and plans and whole spreadsheets full of character arks. I’d written and rewritten well over 40 chapters worth of material, most of which will never see the light of day (though I am tempted to release some of it here after the book is finished as a kind of bonus for anyone who’s been patient enough to stick around all this time).

Two years ago, I cobbled together something that looked like an ending, ran the whole thing through a spell checker and then declared, “yep that’s finished”. But it was a lie. I was in pain at the time, mourning the loss of a year’s worth of work and desperate to get some closure on that part of my life.

Looking back now, I see that the book wasn’t finished. Not even close. It’s still not finished now.

The truth is, the book was simply too complicated to get my head around easily. You ever hear that analogy about woods and trees? Well, this right here was a veritable jungle and I’d stupidly walked into it with only the most rudimentary of maps. I had characters clashing into each other all over the place, each of which needed to be set up, given a character arc and believable closure all whilst also building the story as a whole towards some sort of cohesive end. I had an upper word limit I was desperately struggling to keep away from (I still am), and all in all it was just a constant logistical battle to keep all the balls in the air and make it look interesting while doing it.

And that’s the right word for it, I think: a battle. With myself. With my imagination. With my motivation. With the chapters I had already written which would sometimes need to be mercilessly cut and with the tenuous deadlines I kept setting myself which would then fly merrily by unmet.

And the worst thing was, it was a battle I was losing.

So I came up with a Strategy. Part of this strategy involved walking away from the novel for a year and allowing myself to get some distance from it. But the other part was more complicated and it involved trying to combat two specific hurdles I kept running into while writing the book:

  1. I didn’t know where the overall plot was going (though I did know some of the individual character arcs)
  2. Writing in a linear fashion meant that I was constantly switching POV and, consequently, voice. This would lead to an inconsistent writing style at times as characters started sounding very samey to one another

To combat both of these issues I tried delineating the story telling. I figured that by stripping out each of the characters and dealing with them one by one, the main plot would somehow materialize before my eyes. At the very least, I could write around that huge snarl of plot threads, allowing me to make some sort of progress on the novel while I tried to think up a long term solution to the thornier plot issues.

The first character to go through this delineated writing process was Michael. It was easy to work on his chapters since they have always served more as bookends to each part than chapters in their own right.

The next character to be looked at was Estavan, which was also pretty straightforward since he only had four chapters and only two of them impacted on the rest of the story.

Now that the easy characters were out of the way, I next turned my attention to Stuart who had seven chapters to his name at the time (I believe he has more now).

However, once I’d finished writing through Stuart’s section, my grand Strategy came screeching to a halt.

You see, I’d written too much.

When I pasted all the then completed chapters together to see how the book was looking, I discovered a huge pacing issue in the way Stuart’s chapters were laid out. In the middle section of the book he seemed to disapear for huge chunks of the narative at a time. Then at the end of the book, you suddenly couldn’t get rid of the guy. I think I had something like four chapters in a row focused on Stuart. And when you only have seven chapters to play with in total, you know something’s going wrong.

All this was compounded by the issue that I simply couldn’t move any of his chapters earlier in the book since some of the events in those chapters impacted on some of the other characters’ chapters. It was precisely the sort of situation I’d been trying to avoid all along and, I’ll be honest, it bummed me out for a while.

So my Strategy was a failure. The next day I went back to the beginning of the novel and started writing it out in a more typical, chronological order. It made more sense that way and the chapters ended up more sensibly spread out throughout the novel as a result.

I’m sure at this stage you’re probably asking yourself why I told you all of this. Well, it’s because this chapter right here is that bottom-heavy section of the novel I just talked about. In essence it’s something like three chapters’ worth of material from that earlier draft, all condensed down and flattened into just one chapter (plus an epilogue that’s coming later).

Condensing chapters means cutting text. Huge chunks of text. Some of my favourite parts of the novel in fact ended up deleted from this chapter. You need callouses on your heart if you’re going to be a writer.

It’s frustrating too because this is one part of the book I thought I’d finished years ago and now suddenly I found myself forced to wade through it once again. I think part of the issue (other than the chapter’s extreme length) is the sudden tonal shift that I was only just noticing between the breakneck action of the last few chapters followed by this more thoughtful, measured section of narrative. That’s yet another side effect of writing a book out of its correct order. I’ve learned my lesson for the future.

Anyway, hopefully it’s all fixed now and is ready for consumption. I hope you enjoy it.


Lost Worlds of Power: the launch!

7 December 2014

Exciting news to share with you all today.

Hop over to this link right here and you’ll be able to get your hands on a free – yes, that’s right, FREE – copy of The Lost Worlds of Power, a brand new selection of short stories based around popular (and sometimes not so popular) video games from the NES-era. Some of the stories are funny, some of them are moving, some of them are short and others are epically sized.

All of them are great.

Oh, and I have a story in there too. This story, to be precise. So that’s nice.

LOST_COVER_WEB_DISPLAY

A lot of love and attention to detail went into making this e-book as good as it could possible be

This new short story collection is the follow up to the Lost Worlds of Power Volume 0 which launched earlier this year. While that volume (which also included one of my stories), was not free and was designed to serve more as a taster for what was to come, this new volume is the real deal, packed full of 12 great stories from aspiring writings covering.

And, once again, it’s free.

So why not support some up-and-coming writers today and download a copy to your electronic device of choice? It’ll take just a few minutes and – who knows – you might even like what you see.

Here’s some concept art for my story.

Shhh – it's a secret. This game was terrible. The story based on it, however, is amazing

Pretty cool stuff right there. And here’s a write-up of the launch on Nintendolife.com.

Hope you enjoy.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 22

3 December 2014

Chapter 22: A time to stand

Length: 5,713 words

POV character: Michael, Stuart, Abi

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

The lower classes are rebelling, the ship is in danger and the Captain’s life hangs in the balance. The only two people who can save the ship are a crippled genius imprisoned in a room that shouldn’t exist, and an outcast from society, running for her life with a stolen uniform on her back and security hot on her trail.

It seems like saving the ship is an impossible task for both of them but it’s something they have to try. Even if it kills them in the process. Even if the ship isn’t worth saving.

Notes:

The French call it the denouement: literally the unraveling. It’s that time in any story when everything comes together. The plot threads are all neatly tied off, the characters complete their arcs and the events come to a head, perhaps teasing a potential sequel with a money-hungry wink at the audience.

In many ways it’s the most important point in the story. Get it right and you end the book on a high. The reader steps away from the novel feeling invigorated and enriched by his experience. Maybe you make him start dreaming of being on similar adventures. Maybe you get him thinking about what he would do in the same situation. Either way, he is captivated and he is going to want more.

Get it wrong on the other hand and boredom, confusion and downright book-hurling anger await.

No one wants that.

The problem is, I honestly don’t know which of those categories the ending of this book falls into. I’m way to close to this thing at the moment, the writing still too rough around the edges to objectively judge. In all honesty the only thing I can say with any certainty right now is that yes, this is an ending. And yes, it ties off all the plot points in a climactic scene that hints at a sequel.

But more importantly than any of that… I just know I’m so bloody happy to have finally finished it.

Just two more chapters await me now and both of those are already in a good second-draft quality state. I’m looking forward to revisiting those chapters once more. I’m looking forward to putting this story, which has lived in my mind for half my life, finally to bed.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 21

25 November 2014

Chapter 21: Breakout

Length: 5,342 words

POV characters: Dawn and Stuart

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Summary:

Chaos has engulfed the ship. The unspoken – long the down trodden slave race of the Arkship Ulysses – have risen up as one and are reaping havoc among the God-fearing civilian population for the first time in centuries. The only person who has any hope of stopping them is Stuart Leighton who, thanks to his connection with the ship and the Metapath gene that dwells inside him, has a unique insight into the crisis unfolding below. However, he finds himself frustrated at every turn, unable to work without the support of the woman who is holding him captive who is still suspicious of his motives.

With no tools at his disposal or help on his side, Stuart can only watch as the unspoken sweep through the lower decks. But things are about to get a whole lot worse when the ship’s Master-At-Arms, the arrogant Commander Nathan Hathaway, finally springs a trap he’s been building for months: a trap which involves the Captain and the Captain’s new bride-to-be, and an assassination attempt that will shake the ship’s hierarchy to its very core…

Notes:

Not much to say about this one except to say that I wrote it from scratch over the last couple of weeks so the writing might be a bit rougher round the edges than some of my more polished efforts.

It’s also worth noting why I haven’t updated you for a while on my progress and despite what you might think, for once it’s not due to any sort of writer’s block but rather the exact opposite. I’ve actually been writing like a mad man over the last couple of weeks, getting well ahead of myself and even forging on right to the end of the novel, which is something I’m thrilled to be able to report.

After this chapter only three more remain and they all exist in at least first draft form. A quick read-through, another week of redrafts for them and hopefully this novel will finally be put to bed.

I’m very excited about it.


The Arkship Ulysses – Part 3

3 November 2014

Part 3: Unspoken

Words: 6,595

POV character: Michael

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

Through back story we find out about the Captain’s first fiance, a noble woman he was due to marry years ago but whom he publicly shamed in order to call off the wedding. We learn about how perfect everyone said his bride-to-be was and how terrified Michael was of the prospect of marrying her. For he has eyes only for Susan, the enigmatic woman who’s identity he has spent his entire life keeping secret. He sees how the proposal is driving her away from him and he is determined to call the wedding off at any cost in order to salvage their relationship. Even if it means ruining his reputation and leaving a bunch of scheming enemies in his wake, for Susan he will do anything.

Notes:
Hey would you look at that! My second chapter in less than a week. That must mean my writer’s block is gone, right?

Well… not exactly. Don’t get me wrong: I’m absolutely thrilled to be posting this right now but the sad truth is it’s a chapter I wrote a very long time ago. In fact, these Michael chapters were pretty much the first things I wrote for this book way back when it was about 10 times more complicated than it is now and had a cast of thousands. These chapters were designed from the beginning to serve as mile stones in the story that would bookend each section of the story while welcoming in the next.

The chapters were designed to do two things:

  1. to give the reader new information on back story they otherwise wouldn’t get to see, and
  2. set the tone for the part ahead.

You might think it’s pretentious, but I’ve always liked it when books are broken down into several parts like this. To my mind it gives the reader a natural stopping point in the story. It’s a chance for the reader to cleanse their palate so to speak. To put the book down and reflect on what they’ve read in a way that a simple chapter break can never manage.

The idea was that this book would be written in several parts (originally planned to be five back when I didn’t realise just how long this thing was going to be) with each part serving as a prologue for the next section written from the point of view of Michael, the ship’s lame duck of a captain.

These chapters would be special too. While most of the chapters in this book are written from the closed first-person perspective (meaning they are written from inside a character’s head with each moment recounted to the reader in a blow-by-blow fashion), these prologue chapters have a wider scope in mind. The action here is less linear and more free form. It’s actually a style I really enjoy writing in and it’s one I’m definitely going to use more of in the future.

So, in the first part we had the back-story of how the Earth was lost and the Arkships were launched. We found out about Michael’s family and how this society has devolved into a feudal one over the years. We also got a glimpse of the mysterious Susan who wouldn’t appear again for some time. It was a teaser chapter designed to set the scene. I’ve always liked it.

In the second part, we got the back-story of the bunks. Although the reader had already got the chance to see the bunks and meet the unspoken who lived in them during the first part, it wasn’t until here that the reason for their existence is explained. I show how close the Captain is to Father Estavan and how suspicious he is of his Second, High Commander Hathaway. I talk about the food crisis and how, although the Captain knows it is happening, he is powerless to do anything about it.

Now it’s the third part and in some ways it’s the most crucial part of all because it’s here that we get the back-story of Michael himself. We find out what he’s been doing as Captain all these years since taking command. We find out about his history with marriage and the perilous lengths he has gone to over the years to keep his beloved Susan safe from harm.

It’s only after getting all this information that a discerning reader should be able to work out everything that’s happening in this book. Why is Nathan Hathaway staging an elaborate coup designed to overthrow the Captain and instigate a riot among the unspoken? Why is the Captain finally allowing himself to get married after all these years of saying no? Why is it the disgraced Father Estavan that Michael has gone to to organise the whole betrothal? What, really, is the deal with Susan? And so on. All these questions (and more) are answered in this chapter.


The Arkship Ulysses – Chapter 20

28 October 2014

Chapter 20: Gambits

Length: 5,851 words

POV character: Abi

Read: Click here to read (PDF)

Synopsis:

Abi is determined to find out the truth about what’s really going on on the ship. Resorting to desperate measures, she steals an ident card from one of the most powerful men on the ship and then takes a uniform hostage. Using these two sources, Abi starts to piece together the truth but it’s a truth that’s unlike anything she was expecting to hear.

What she finds out shocks Abi to her core. But is it too late to do anything about it? Ultimately, what can she – a single terrified woman trapped between two worlds – really do when the entire fate of the human race is at stake?

Notes:

Hard to believe it’s been over a month since I last posted a chapter on here. Dear God this chapter was hard to write.

True, I’ve been ill for the last two weeks. And true I was in England recently. It’s also true that my wife and I are starting to look for a new house, and that I’m currently in the middle of being promoted. But these are only excuses designed to salvage my pride.

The truth is, I took a long time writing this chapter because I got… writer’s block.

the-writers-block-photo

Not this type of writer’s block, either

It’s one of those strange things about writing that never fails to amaze me:

Sometimes writing just seems to flow. The ideas pop out of your mind, one behind the other. It happens too fast for you to keep up sometimes. You get lost in the act of creation. It’s fun. Chapter 16 was a good example of me during one of those times. If you read the notes I made for that chapter now, you get a real sense of the swagger and verve with which I was attacking my work.

Other chapters, however… The words won’t come. It’s like trying to push out the world’s most painful bowel movement. You find yourself actively trying to procrastinate. You’d rather do anything other than tackle that Godforsaken scene.

In this case, the problem was with my outline.

You see, long before writing this book, I sat down and created an outline for it. It was a simple document (as all outlines should be) of just a few pages. It was designed to do little more than help me keep track of my characters and set the overall tone for the book. Suffice to say I have digressed from that outline multiple times during the course of writing this book but the overall shape of the story remains the same. I like outlines. Usually I find they help keep the mind focused. Just a couple of sentences is enough sometimes to prod your creative mind off in the right direction.

It keeps me motivated.

Sometimes, however, this system breaks down. Take, for example, this chapter. The ‘notes’ I had written for it were ludicrously sparse things: “Abi sneaks into Hathaway’s quarters while he’s away and finds out the truth about what’s going on on the ship. Scene ends with her running for help.”

That’s pretty much it.

Laughable, right? I mean, how could anyone think that was enough to go on? But the sad truth was, I really thought it was. After all, hadn’t I set up the events for this chapter perfectly in the last one? Hadn’t I made sure to give Abi both the motivation and the opportunity to pull off this scheme? My outline for this chapter didn’t need to be detailed because at this stage, the chapters should be practically writing themselves!

Except that they don’t.

Time after time I would sit down with my notes in front of me and the fragments of story that my earlier drafts had left me and I would try to start putting it all together. And every time, no sooner had I started writing than some inner part of me would pipe up, “This is stupid.”

“Abi shouldn’t be snooping around in Hathaway’s office!” that inner critic cried. “Why would she do that? It’s the most dangerous place on the whole ship. She wouldn’t go there at the best of times, least of all when she’s on the run from the law!”

Then I would stop writing and I would turn to that inner critic, eyes rolling and excuses already spilling from my tongue. “Trust me,” I would say. “I know this girl. I know who she is. Abi has two motivations in life right now. 1) she wants to find out what’s going on on the ship and 2) she wants to get away from those who keep trying to control her life and reclaim control for herself. In Abi’s mind, she believes she can only accomplish point 2 by doing point 1 first and so finding out the truth is her central motivation!”

“By sneaking off?” the inner critic sneered. “By snooping around? That doesn’t sound like the Abi you’ve spent the last two years writing about. That sounds like something the old version of Abi would do. The flat, two dimensional version of Abi that only exists in that sorry excuse for an outline.”

“Hey!” said my outline, slightly offended, though it didn’t say anything else. As I’ve already mentioned, it is a very short document and never has much to say for itself.

“The Abi you’ve been writing about for the last few years is better than this. She would never be so stupid as to march right into the middle of the most heavily guarded area on the ship just to satisfy her curiosity!”

“True,” I said. And somehow a whole week flew by.

“Not only that but reading about someone snooping around in a filing cabinet gets boring very quickly,” the critic added. “Surely no one would want to read what essentially amounts to a list of documents?”

“True,” I reluctantly agreed and suddenly another fortnight had gone.

“But what can I do instead?” I despaired. “This is one of those chapters which simply has to happen because it’s here that the entire central gambit is unveiled to the reader! I have to put something here! I can’t just cut it out or write around it. Abi needs to have her turning point. Her character needs to have its moment of glory. What should I do?” I asked my outline, who just shrugged at me and repeated the same short line it had been saying for the last two years. “What should I do?” I asked my inner critic.

“That’s for you to figure out,” my inner critic sniffed. In my mind’s eye I saw him sipping a glass of brandy. “I’m just here to criticize. You’re the one who’s supposed to write.”

Writer’s block is a horrible, debilitating thing. It makes you doubt yourself. It makes you doubt the story you’re trying to tell. It makes you feel like a failure.

Fortunately, there’s always a solution to any problem and in this particular case, the solution to clearing the writer’s block was to add another character. A uniform in fact – one of the people whom Abi hates the most on the whole ship. And if she is to reassert control over her life, then who better to do it with than McMullen, a character who had already briefly appeared in an earlier chapter and with whom Abi had a bone to pick. It would create a nice mini-character arc, a moment of closure and redemption in the eyes of the reader.

So instead of snooping around, I now have Abi taking the man hostage. Instead of having her looking through a filing cabinet pulling out documents, she now demands answers from him personally at gun point. It’s a much more human approach to problem solving and (most importantly) I feel it’s more interesting to read. My inner critic was satisfied. So was my outline. At least this way the plot has been salvaged.

The chapter’s done. I can finally put this whole episode behind me. Right now I feel like Zeus must have felt after giving birth to Athena via a migraine. Onwards to the future and the third act of the book…

I just hope it’s easier this time!


News and updates

4 October 2014

plane-taking-offI’m going on holiday today. Two weeks in the country of my birth to celebrate my 31st birthday.To say I’m looking forward to it would be a huge understatement. It’s been a loooong time since I was last in the UK.

But before I go, I promised you all some news last week. I was waiting until it became official before properly announcing this and now that it has I can finally reveal that…

I just got a promotion!

That’s right: six months into my new job and I’ve apparently done enough wheeling and dealing to impress the higher ups enough to trust me with the well-beings of 20 other people.

My new job title is Overnight Shift Leader and it’s nice because it’s the sort of job title that succinctly explains itself (unlike my current job title of Presentation Graphics Specialist for the Investment Banking Division which is such a mouthful people tend to forget it after about two seconds).

32a00d1722efa7a768265e00d0e1976e

Just like this guy

Anyway, I’m very happy. I’ve got a lot of great ideas for this role and I can’t wait to get started.

In fact, it turns out that the reason I was hired by Credit Suisse in the first place was because they were considering me for this shift lead position all along! Their nefarious plan apparently involved hiring me on as a regular grunt just to see how well I took to the job. If I did well, they would promote me. If not… oh well, at least they’ve still got a Presentation Graphics Specialist out of it so no real loss.

Those crafty…

Now I think about it, it was kind of obvious all along. I mean I’ve never had much in the way of graphical training. Never used Photoshop before starting this job. Never went to art college or to business school to study economics or finance.  On the surface I’ve always felt like a bit of an odd one out in the team. My colleagues are capable of doing some amazing things with a computer that I can barely even get my head around and pretty much the only skill I have in my personal arsenal is the ability to speak English.True, it’s a useful skill, but it isn’t exactly special.

However, I do have experience with managing people. Organising. Delegating. Communicating with diplomacy and tact. Leading by example. Working with integrity. These are all skills I developed over five years of teaching English and running my own company. Apparently they are also skills that Credit Suisse needs in its Overnight Shift Leader.

Either that or I just got really really lucky.

So yeah, go me. Lots of new responsibilities and a job where the stress level has just jumped through the roof. All day this week people have been coming up to me for advice or just to bitch about other people on the team and the role wasn’t even official at the time! God only knows the hell I’ll be walking into when I get back from my holiday.

Boring paperwork

I do know there will be lots and lots of paperwork though…

 

By the way, if you fancy listening to my dulcet voice whittling on about unimportant subjects for 20 minutes at a time, you can tune in to Wroclaw’s Radio Ram where I recently took part in a radio show as part of Radio Ram’s English Zone. Check out the link here (I’m in episode 7).

Me and the rest of the team recording an episode

The rest of the team and I recording an episode

And that’s not the only place you’ll be able to hear my voice. In a couple of months, the latest book by my old boss Terrance Clark-Ward will be released. This one is aimed at children and whad’ya know? I’ll be singing on it! More on that later when it’s finally made official.

Fun times. Maybe all of these things added together go some way to explaining my lack of progress on my book of late.

Probably not.


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