The drafts of the two books are finished (apart from a couple of sentences about mathematics which I wrote but still don’t understand and which I’ll need to check with a friendly mathematician). That means that I can get back to writing some fiction, which in turn means devising a framework which will hold together my collection of sci-fi/fantasy stories to re-submit to an interested publisher. The stories are stand-alone, mostly intended to be funny but also exploiting the strange modern world where real and virtual co-exist, sometimes in ways which make them almost interchangeable. I don’t play computer or online games but I’ve read enough about them to know that they draw you in and offer experiences often more intense than those of the humdrum everyday. If a timid, unfulfilled minor official – let’s call him Percy Briggle (that's him in the picture)– goes home, microwaves his ready meal, logs on and becomes Zarg, Lord of Destruction in the Province of Malefaction, anything’s possible.
My own stories stem from a period when I joined Second Life ™ to add to some research I’d done for a story on BDSM. It’s a fascinating, addictive place (for a while at least) which offers opportunities for anonymity, experiment, all sorts of role-playing and a weird form of release. It can also result in genuine contacts with real people which transcend the game’s limits and, in the end, remind you of its artificiality. Anyway, that’s the world of these stories but, since they all play on the incongruities and absurdities of that real-virtual interface, I need to create a unifying central narrative that will allow me to digress into the stories while still persuading the reader that they form a coherent whole. It’ll be an interesting process – whether it’ll work or not I’ve no idea but I know I’ll lose myself in it pretty quickly.
Beyond that, waiting, lurking, lies the sequel to The Figurehead. I know I’ve written about it before and I’ve done plenty of research on the themes I want to look at in it, but when I think about starting it, I realise that I’ve no idea how to. It’s a new feeling which I don’t remember having with any of the previous books because I can’t remember how I started them. And yet there they are, so I must have. I know what the opening scene will be as well as the three or four which follow it in which I need to set up the people involved and the places where it’ll all happen. But until those people are born, I’ve no idea who they are or what they’ll do (other than those who survive from The Figurehead). It’s an old refrain of mine but I really do need the characters to lead me through the narrative. So, even though the prospect of writing 80,000 words or so seems daunting, I’m confident that, once I’ve given them a few sentences, put them with one another and they’ve started to breathe and react, they’ll know where they want to go and I won't want to do anything else until they get there.
One thing which surprises me is that, whereas with The Figurehead the central (crime-solving) character was the figurehead carver, I suspect that, in the follow-up, he’ll have to give at least equal footing to Helen Anderson. In the various rewrites of the first book, she changed from being a relatively naïve (although feisty) young woman to a powerful, self-contained person frustrated by and refusing to accept the restrictions society imposed on her. So she, for one, won’t let me get away with anything. Fiction doesn’t pay the bills but it’s great fun writing it.
PS. Despite my recent absence, I still haven’t forgotten the challenge to Diane to write a guest blog on the same basis as the Dinsdale postings, so we need more random words, themes, dares, whatever to test her to the limit. We have a good start with Anneke’s desire to hear about ‘a man in small close fitting swimming pants carrying a pair of skis’ (really, Anneke!) so please add a few more degrees of difficulty.
And PPS, according to the stats, this is the 99th blog, so the next one ought to be milestone-ish somehow. Any suggestions as to what it might be about?