Wednesday, 30 March 2011


My last post said I was finished. I'm not. I think I have three more days' work to do. How do I know this when the novel is now safely locked away in a drawer, unread, I hear you cry?

Because I didn't manage to put the novel away in a drawer for a week. I was flipping through it barely twelve hours later. Thank goodness I did, as I discovered three tiny problems with it:

1. Everything between pages 58 and 82 reads like a three year old wrote it.
2. The ending still makes no sense becuase I haven't set it up properly (see 1.)
3. All the characters speak with the same vocab, same tone of voice, no matter they're present day teenagers, a mad Victorian inventor, a megalomaniac and a woman from a civilization so strange normal physics doesn't apply.


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Monday, 28 March 2011


The novel is finished!

I'm not going to look at it again for a week. I'm hoping I closed up all the major plot holes, logical inconsistencies and miscellaneous things that made no sense at all. So next time when I read it, there won't be much to do.

The best way I can explain how I feel now is 'good'. But also like someone squeezed out the inside of my brain.

More on Life as a Writer...

Friday, 25 March 2011


Out of Time is a thriller. It has long action sequences and the characters' situation goes from bad to worse. Just when I think I can't think up any ways to make it any worse, something else occurs to me.

For instance, the main characters discover their father is trying to kill one of them. They escape using a time travel device into a desolate ancient landscape and are captured by cannibals. More cannibals attack the first cannibals. Then the main characters discover they aren't in the past, they're in the future. Civilization collapsed. Then they lose the time-travel device. Then cannibals attack and kill one of them. (it gets worse...)

Is this exciting? Or does the horror get monotonous after a while? I thought I might read it over and see if I couldn't inject a bit of fun into it. The trouble is, getting chased and killed by cannibals doesn't offer too many opportunities for fun.

More on Plot Structure...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011


Can't remember who it was who said - if there's a gun on the mantelpiece in act one, by act five, someone has to get shot. I'm dealing with this at the moment. Except I'm doing it backwards.

In the new ending of the novel, I decided to 'shoot' one of my characters. It was a last minute decision. Then I realised I hadn't put the gun on the mantelpiece. So I went back to the beginning of the novel and planted the gun. Then I realised the character who shoots the other character has no good reason to do it. So I went back again and gave them a reason. I ended up writing it backwards.

Obviously I don't really shoot my character at the end of the novel - it's more of a metaphor. Though I do in shoot one of them earlier, literally, with an arrow. In the arrow-shooting scene, the bows and arrows came first. Then it occurred to me that if the characters were being shot at, one of them would get shot. In this case it happened in the right order.

Sometimes I write in the right order. Other times I do it back to front. The right order is better. But sometimes you really, really want to shoot someone.

Or maybe that's just me...

More on Plot Structure...

Monday, 21 March 2011


If you don't want to know how it ends, look away now!

I'm currently editing the ending of the novel. I say editing. What I really mean is 'writing'.

The major problem my editor picked up with Out of Time was with the  end. It didn't have one.

I sprained my brain thinking about it, and came up with something that works logically. The thing is, it isn't enough for it to make sense. It's supposed to make the reader go

OH MY GOD!!! AAARGH!!!! OH MY GOD!!! repeatedly.

The problem was my ending comes in two 'chunks'. One in a white space place, the other in the real world. It worked, but seemed a bit anticlimactic. When I thought of a way to make it more exciting, I ran into another problem - how to make it not like The Matrix (this has been a nightmare the whole way through).

Right now, I'm supposed to be writing this earth shattering finale. Instead I'm blogging about how I'm going to write it.

I read somewhere that Flaubert vomited repeatedly when he wrote the ending of Madam Bovary. I know how he felt.

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Friday, 18 March 2011


In the course of researching Out of Time, I thought I ought to improve my philosophy knowledge, so I picked up A History of Western Philosophy. I'm still part way through. It reads well, makes sense of a lot that I kind of knew but didn't really understand and is an easy way into a big, and frequently mind-boggling subject.

I also got hold of A.N. Wilson's coffee table book, The Victorians. As I was writing about an alternative Victorian, 'Clockwork Empire', I thought I'd better find out a bit more about what the real one was like. It's easy to read and has a distinctive take on the period.

The book I enjoyed the most was probably The Birth of the Modern 1815-1830. At 1,000 pages it's a hefty tome. It covers a fifteen year time period in incredible detail, taking in all of Europe, Russia, America, South America, China, the pacific rim, art, music, literature, politics, science and just about anything else you can think of. This covers the time period the Professor begins his machinations.

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Thursday, 17 March 2011


I thought maybe I ought to explain the reason for the weird, tattoo-like markings on my characters...

Take a deep breath.

The Dreaming writes it into their DNA when they're incubating in the Invisible City. The markings can be read. They tell the past and future history of the Invisible City.

No one in the Invisible City put the markings there, so it's not really like a tattoo. Past and future history is coded in the Citizens' DNA, so they never forget. This is done by the Dreaming itself, which is coming alive!

Needless to say, past and future history is BAD!

If you want to know what any of these things are, or what these words mean, go read the book!

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Wednesday, 16 March 2011


I knew I wanted to have weird tattoo like markings on a lot of my characters. Why? Because it would be cool. Apparently this is not a good enough reason.

The editor asked about these markings. I thought about writing back, 'because it's cool', but decided against it. I put 'thinking about why the characters have these markings' on my To Do List. It stayed on my List for about seven weeks.

Then I was in the car and my husband asked the same question. There's something about being put on the spot that adds a sense of urgency. I thought hard. My face contorted. Cogs crunched and clunked. I think I started speaking. I'm not sure what I said.

'You're making this up, aren't you?' my husband said. This is almost his favourite phrase where I'm concerned, writing or not.

I surprised myself. The reason came to me as I was thinking about it. Even my husband was forced to admit that my explanation made sense. (Or at least, this is my recollection of what happened. Find the reason for the markings here)

I like to think this is the work of my unconscious brain, chugging away when I'm wandering about the place, looking confused with a blank expression on my face.

Monday, 14 March 2011


It's so obvious I wonder that it didn't occur to me earlier. Or, it did occur to me, but I thought it wasn't important. It is.

Characters need  reasons for doing what they do (apparently). Especially if they've decided to do something that might unravel reality. Or destroy civilization. It took me a lot of time and pain to come to this realisation. Insufficient motivation is a huge problem for plot, and I had it in spades.

In life, people start with the reason that impels them to do what they do. When I was writing it ended up the other way round. I thought - what would be really cool here is a city made of flesh and characters getting shot at and one of them gets killed (in a children's novel!!!!) and they should phase through furniture in slow motion!!!! And the apocalypse should happen backwards!!!!

I had about a hundred four-exclamation-mark ideas for this novel, and barely one reason why. Putting the motivation into the novel meant smashing up every polished four-exclamation-mark scene I had, and a lot of four letter words.

Friday, 11 March 2011


Editing the novel
For the last seven weeks, I've been heroically trudging through (i.e. editing) the bog (aka 'the novel').

At first it was quite fun. I read through the editor's notes. Then I spent the next week thinking about them. It's worth watching when I'm thinking because it doesn't happen very often.

I walk about, with a blank expression on my face. Occassionally I say sentences that don't seem to make sense. Or, less sense than usual.

After a week of this, I had a plan. I carefully picked over the first five chapters. This was quick, but meticulous - improving description but completely omitting - I realised later - to solve the massive gaping plot problem of The Cellar. I'm going to do that the week after next.

As I waded deeper into the bog, the plot totally unravelled. I had to delete characters, transform peaceful village dwellers into cannibals, make reality unravel more noticeably. These were seismic shifts. I ripped out huge chunks of text and killed characters. I deleted a thousand words for every thousand I wrote - hacked at some sections and picked over others with a needle.

As I waded deeper into the bog, the slower and stickier it got. The end was nowhere in sight. Without warning, I picked up speed. I crossed the chasm of gaping plot holes and motivationless actions and suddenly I reached the other side. I don't have any words left over to describe how good this feeling is.

I used them all to stuff up the plot holes.

More on editing Plot Structure...

Thursday, 10 March 2011


(some poems I thought of using in the Preface...)

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
          from Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
         from Auguries of Innocence, William Blake

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
Oh, no! it is an ever-fixéd mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken
         from Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare

What nudity as beautiful as this
Obedient monster purring at its toil;
These naked iron muscles dripping oil
And the sure-fingered rods that never miss.
This long and shining flank of metal is
Magic that greasy labour cannot spoil;
While this vast engine that could rend the soil
Conceals its fury with a gentle hiss.
      from Portrait of a Machine, Louise Untermeyer

Anyone got any more ideas? (Alice, you know I'm thinking of you!)

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Wednesday, 9 March 2011


Before I started writing sci fi, my knowledge of science fiction books was limited to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty Four - the last two of which are barely sci-fi at all (they're dystopic fantasies).
I haven't even read The Time Machine. I did start reading it recently, as I thought that I should, but got bored and abandoned it after the first ten pages.

I often ask myself what I was thinking when I decided to write science fiction. I've started reading in the genre since I decided to write it. With each new book, I have a mini-nervous-breakdown as I come across ideas I've used, which I thought I invented, but obviously didn't.

Imagine my horror when I came across Stars My Destination, goggled at the incredible plotting, the sheer brutal force of the main character and realised that Alfred Bester came up with the tattoo idea in 1956 and the only way I could claim credit for it would be to build a time machine.

Sometimes inventing and building a time machine seems like it would be easier.

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Monday, 7 March 2011


The best answer for why I write Sci-Fi is this:

I've watched so many science fiction TV shows over the years, the ideas all got mashed up in my brain. I took up writing as a hobby and one day all this sci-fi spewed out as the plotline for a seven book series.

About 99% of my science fiction knowledge comes from television. I won't say I was forced to watch these programmes, but I will say I wouldn't have watched them if I hadn't been married. I have watched:
99% of all episodes of Doctor Who ever made since 1963 (on DVD, not by travelling in time back to 1963), all of Battlestar Galactica including some of the 1970s version (again, DVD not time machine) and some very bad disco robots (see right), every episode of every series of Star Trek including the films and the cartoon series, all of Star Wars (obviously) and the Clone Wars, every episode of Babylon Five and all of Red Dwarf including the bizarre 2008 comeback.

I think it warped my brain.

More on Writing Sci-Fi...

Friday, 4 March 2011


I learned to write. I made mistakes, corrected them, made some more, but generally felt as if I was starting to get the hang of it. Then I decided to write a science-fiction novel for children. I'm not sure why. Normally I write women's romance. It's a bit of a mental leap from one to the other and I do try not to get them confused.

Romance has its own rules. Science fiction has even more rules - on top of the usual writing rules - and they're completely different. It's daunting. Science fiction readers read more, are better educated and more critical than the average reader. They can choose from a vast array of hyper-intelligent, cleverly plotted novels. Even trying to explain what happens in these novels can turn a person's brain inside out.

Sometimes I wonder what possessed me. I don't read science fiction for fun. I only started reading it once I started writing. Basically, what happened was this: the idea for a seven-book series dropped into my brain almost fully formed and it was science fiction. I liked the idea and didn't think too much about the fact I was in no way qualified to write it. For why I tend to think this way, see When Confidence Tips into Madness.

More on Writing Sci-Fi...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


Sometimes I think it would be worth renaming my files. Then when I sort them into 'date created', I'd know what's in them. In theory, it's great (I think). But I must have over a hundred files and always seem to have something more interesting to do.

So I came up with a brilliant, quick solution. I put each 'type' of document in a separate folder. The only problem was it wasn't exactly clear from the names of the files what was in them. Not to worry, I thought and I did it anyway.

I couldn't find anything. Worse, it took forever to put it all back.

A cow could have done better.

Yet More Chaos and Confusion.