I’ve added a new category today to my blog. It’s called Inspirational Books, and it will be an occasional item in which I blog about books which have inspired my work. To kick it off I’ve got a week’s worth of photos of some of the books in my collection, all of which have inspired me in some way. So, here goes with the genre books! Tomorrow, consciousness…
So… having finished Beautiful Intelligence some time ago, I realised there was more. Not much more, but more…
Some time later in the autumn, Infinity Plus Books will be e-publishing No Grave For A Fox, a novella (technically a very short novel – 46k) whose events happen 18 years after BI.
Yesterday I completed the first draft, so this feels like the right time to mention it.
Famed and popular author Tony Ballantyne has a section on his blog called How Writers Write, and a couple of months ago I completed a lengthy piece for him. The piece has now gone live on his blog, and has drawn some very positive comments. I even had some photos taken of me at home (a very rare thing…).
Occasionally I’ll feature a guest blog from established or up & coming authors, and today I have something a little unusual – an extract from the work of a new author. Alex Davis is published, via the energetic Tickety Boo Press, with his first novel recently appearing. Alex is active in Derby and the Midlands generally, and has established himself as a much admired, energetic and wide-ranging man. He runs Edge-Lit (which I visited a couple of weeks ago, and much enjoyed), the upcoming Sledge-Lit, plus his own Boo Books imprint. Very active in the Derby publishing and literary scene, he is without doubt a name to watch… and here he is!
So, with the days counting down on my July Blogswap Trail, I’m offering up a few extracts from my debut novel The Last War. And while today might be the third extract, this probably would have made sense to put first really – here’s the prologue, in which we see life created where there was none before…
A Birth in the Stars
Sejurus had grown used to many things about space. He was accustomed to the faint and endless sensation of movement around him, the limited chance to converse with his fellows, the hours of scientific analysis and research required of him.
The one thing he had never grown used to was the darkness.
Broken only be the intermittent light of distant stars, the shadows enveloped everything beyond the harsh glare of the ship. On the whole, he preferred not to look beyond the viewscreen, being much more comfortable in the small confines of his quarters or studying within his laboratory. But this was a momentous occasion, and one that he was determined not to miss.
The sound had become familiar, but he had never cared about the cargo like this before. Creeping into view, sending blazing contrails into the infinite dark, went the phalanx of seeding pods. He tried to count them, but quickly lost track as they made their way towards the surface of the virgin planet.
Within their metallic flesh lay the core of new life, the beginnings of a race previously unseen to the universe. Sejurus had been involved from the very earliest days of this burgeoning experiment, and now he would finally see his efforts bear fruit. By now the seeding pods had disappeared so far into the distance that they must be breaking the atmosphere, preparing for descent and landing.
‘Sad to see them go, Sejurus?’
The voice from behind him is bold and clear. The voice of a leader, and one who had earned that title many times over.
‘Sad is the wrong word, Canturus. It is a… mixture of emotions.’
‘I hope that none of them are negative, Sejurus. You should be most proud of your work.’
‘It is too soon to start swelling with pride. There is no knowing yet if this experiment will be a success.’
‘The measure of success is to create life, Sejurus. What that life decides to do once we have seeded it… well, that is beyond our control.’
‘Perhaps. The pressure here is…’
‘Greater than anywhere else? Of course it is. That is precisely why you were chosen. You are one of the most intelligent among us, an intellectual titan among mental giants.’
‘I appreciate your words, Canturus. They mean much coming from you.’
‘Do not speak to placate me. I would like to know what troubles you.’
Sejurus turns to face Canturus for the first time. His superior is dressed simply, a marker of both modesty and confidence. To look at them, you could consider them equals, but nothing could be further from the truth. Canturus’s authority does not come from trinkets or garments, but emerges from within him.
‘What troubles me is how much lies at stake on this new race. What goes on here will determine much of not only our own future, but perhaps what lies ahead for all Ensium.’
‘What if… what if I have made some fatal miscalculation? An error in my workings?’
‘I have the greatest of belief in you, my friend. I doubt that any such thing has happened.’
‘Even if it has not, even if all the equations were perfect, what of it? The seeding pods will already have landed on the surface. As we speak, the simplest forms of life will be vented from the pods. The evolution will be starting shortly, and ending soon enough. That is when the imponderables begin!’
‘Why do you worry about things beyond your control? Your role is complete – you have given them every chance to take the right path, to be the greatest of the races that we have birthed.’
‘But what if they do not, Canturus? So much will be lost!’
‘Nothing will be lost. All that we can do in this venture is gain. We may have to begin again, and we are not afraid to do so. If that time comes – and I hope it does not – you will once again be the man to lead the efforts.’
‘After such a failure?’
‘Failure is much of what enables us to learn. We have learned many lessons in our time, and no doubt there will be many more to come. The wise seek to avoid repeating these errors again. To fail does not make you a failure.’
Sejurus turns away from his ally, his disagreement tacit. Canturus steps alongside him, his eyes seeing the same darkness. The Animex have always sought to bring light to these shadowy wastes.
‘Would you stay, Sejurus? Would you watch over them as a custodian, a guardian?’
‘Given the choice? Yes, I would.’
‘They are not your children, old friend. Admittedly you are their creator, but they are no part of you.’
‘I do not seek to care for them. I feel… I feel like my work is not complete until they have settled, until I have seen them grow. What I have done so far is worth no acclaim.’
‘If I could give you the chance to stay?’
‘Down there? On Noukaria?’
‘Ha! I have told you already you are not their father. They do not need you there. It is imperative we let them develop their own way. But… perhaps I could spare you a vessel?’
‘You can do such a thing?’
‘I can do much, Sejurus. Admittedly, it is an unusual request. But there may be value in it. There is much yet to discuss, of course. Such a decision cannot be made lightly. It would mean the loss of a great mind, but of course you would not remain here permanently.’
‘No, I merely wish to see them on the right path.’
‘Very well. I shall take it to the Council. Until then, you are welcome to remain here. The first days of the Noukari, eh, my friend?’
‘Thank you, Canturus. I shall not forget what you have done for me.’
‘It is not done yet. Take a moment here before getting back to your duties – there is much recording yet to be done.’
Sejurus nods, looking once more down at the sphere of Noukaria, wondering what the life he has placed there will bring.
Last Saturday I revisited one of my old haunts in Surrey, Virginia Water & Windsor Great Park. In the 1980s I’d go for lots of walks around Virginia Water – sometimes heading off into the park – and on those walks I’d think about the novels I was writing, or planning to write. One day in 1988, a couple of years after I’d written my first attempt at a novel, I was inspired by the greenery to think about a scenario where a coastal town was surrounded by, and then invaded by rampant vegetation. I had two mental images: one of a series of moss-covered roofs leading down to the sea, the other of a swish bordello that was a cover for some other operation. Later I imagined characters who might inhabit this city, which, after the supercomputer, I named Kray (for some reason I imagined a supercomputer at the heart of the place).
The first draft wasn’t great, but four years later I was inspired to return to the scenario – the first time I’d ever done that. Something in Kray called me back. So I wrote a better draft, that, two years later, got noticed by Tim Holman at Orbit Books. Still later, the third draft of the novel became my debut Memory Seed.
I took the photos you see below last Saturday. The park is much the same; a few new paths, and the obelisk area has been converted into a family area. But it was great to see the place again. The totem pole you see in the montage inspired the totem pole of varnished heads that the Revellers use. The rampant greenery inspired the fiendish Kray vegetation, while the more manicured areas maybe inspired Kray’s urban gardens…
Location and setting are very important in my novels. Virginia Water and Windsor Great Park inspired one of my favourites.