Twenty-five years ago this month I wrote the novel that, four years later, would become my debut for Orbit Books, Memory Seed. Having recently looked at three short stories set in the same world that I wrote in the 1990s, I was reminded of what a powerful pull the world of the city of Kray still exerts over me.
The first draft was written in 1988 and was my fifth attempt at writing a novel – the previous four being utter rubbish, though I was only dimly aware of that at the time. It was called Kray and took me about three weeks to write. It poured out of me, as novels sometimes do. The world of Kray was one which checked all the boxes for me: far future, botanic technology, mystery, rain and doom… a kind of science fantasy, as such works used to be called.
In 1988 I was living in Surrey, close to Virginia Water and Windsor Great Park, and I used to go for lots of walks, during which inspiration founded in nature came to mind. (A couple of years ago I returned with my camera, to see how things had changed and to reacquaint myself with the place.) Two mental images arrived during one of these walks: dozens of moss-covered roofs leading down to the sea in some far-future port, and an exotic bordello which was the cover for some other organisation. With these two images and a desire to write about green issues in a green environment it wasn’t long before I had the whole setting firm in my mind.
During the three following years I wrote more novels – all awful, though I was at least honing my craft. But in 1992 the world of Kray still haunted me, and I knew I had to return there to make a better novel from the wreckage of the 1988 draft. This was the first time I’d felt the desire to return. I’ve very rarely felt such an urge since, and only once acted upon it (Urbis Morpheos). Something about the rain, the doom-laden scenario and the botanic verdancy called me back to Earth’s final city.
The second draft was much better – four new characters, an improved political set-up, and better plots and sub-plots. I wrote it quickly, edited it, honed it, then began sending it around – three chapters and a synopsis printed out double-spaced, as writers did back in those days. I received a couple of replies, both ‘no’ but with individual comments implying the work had been seriously considered. This gave me hope.
But the novel was still not quite right. I’d been reading a lot about environmental issues such as oestrogen-mimicking chemicals, and I’d continued to read a lot of feminist books. In these circumstances a striking new version of the city of Kray struck me, one entirely female. So the third draft was born.
Early in 1993 I sent a package containing the first three chapters of the second draft out to Orbit Books, but I heard nothing. At the time, my then wife and I were desperate to move out of our house in Luton, having suffered from appalling neighbours, both of whom had mental problems. Towards the end of December, a few days before we were due to move away, I received a letter from Tim Holman, then second in command at Orbit, telling me he’d like to read the whole book. I was gobsmacked, and not just because he’d shown interest. Had the letter arrived a little later I probably would never have received it, since I had no intention of leaving a forwarding address with anybody in Luton. But there was also the issue of the new third draft, which I felt was the best one. So I explained my circumstances to Tim, then a couple of months later sent him the full third draft. He spent the best part of a year considering what to do (it transpired that Little,Brown were moving offices – another obstacle for all concerned), but late in 1994 I was told my novel was being considered for publication. In February 1995 I received my offer.
I wrote three short stories later in the 1990s (The Green Realm Below/Dr Vanchovy’s Final Case/Granny) all set in the Memory Seed world. Recently I had to check them for a possible anthology, and, reading them again, I was reminded of how powerful the pull of Kray is to me. I think this is because it speaks to my central interests and likes – enigma, green issues, far-future science fantasy, and perhaps that indefinable ‘British’ thing of imagining decaying worlds in post-apocalyptic settings. I felt this pull too when I had to OCR scan and re-set Memory Seed a few years ago for e-publication with Infinity Plus Books; and although there were changes to be made, I felt the novel as a whole still stood up pretty well.
It is of course very tempting for authors to return to their early scenarios. With Memory Seed I don’t have the option of sequels, partly because two were written – Glass and Flowercrash, which tie everything up – but also because I’d have to make any new work a prequel, which, given the decisive nature of the ending of Memory Seed, is going to have minimal interest for author and readers. But thinking back to those three short stories has made me realise that there is scope for further tales set in humanity’s final year, perhaps centred around one of the inns – the short stories were all subtitled Tales From The Spired Inn. So, while there will never be a prequel or a sequel, I don’t entirely rule out the possibility of writing something new set in that final year…