In 1989 when I was 12, I started developing ideas for a science fiction story. I was growing out of telling stories with toys, but not storytelling. Writing stories down seemed like a far more satisfying way to do it than mucking about with Star Wars or Lego sets – these stories were permanent! I could revisit them and edit them! I could add more detail and set them anywhere; my imagination wasn’t limited by what I could physically make.
The first draft, Starship Quasar (hey! I was twelve years old!) took about two years to complete. I then spent another year typing it all up and editing it so I could send it to a publisher. The whole thing must’ve been less than 50,000 words, but it was a start. It was a weird mashup inspired by the things I enjoyed at the time: Star Wars, Star Trek, Red Dwarf, Aliens and HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It was also utterly awful.
I think it was the seventh rejection slip I got back that included a note from a publisher who kindly explained that just because I was 14, it didn’t mean I could get published. I first had to -you know- write something good. I spent the next few years writing a third version of the story, writing myself into a corner and putting the project on hold whilst writing trashy Star Trek fanfic (don’t worry; I grew out of that).
I revised the story ideas again at university, mostly tinkering with worldbuilding (inspired by the steadily-improving Babylon 5). But the setting and storyline were all I really thought about. If I thought about characters at all, it was only to figure out how they could make certain plot points happen, and whether I could fit in some trite, cliched (or, in my head, ‘epic’) moments for them.
I went travelling, and undistracted by TV, videos or computer games, I started thinking more about the people. By this point, the story had grown to fit an intended five trilogies and numerous stand-alone stories. I wrote a few drafts of a standalone story to introduce the universe, as well as several drafts of first two parts of trilogy one. I think I just burnt out interest in it. Or rather, some part of me recognised that the thing just wasn’t working. There was nothing ‘fresh’ or distinctive about it. I had grown tired of reading epic science fiction series, so why the hell would I want to write one?
I took a break and wrote other things. Somewhere along the way, I realised that instead of writing a separate story for every idea I had, I should merge them. So Starship Quasar merged with an alternate-history idea I had (in which the Roman Empire never existed), and it became about a Carthaginian spacecraft with squabbling Greeks and Celts aboard it, and fleshed out the characters (by this stage, I had no worries about the actual story).
This project became Starship Nasar; and it’s nearly twenty five years I’ve been playing with the damn thing. I’ve shrunk it down to five books instead of over fifteen, so the storytelling should be taught and interesting. The characters are more interesting to me. The setting is unique.
All I have to do is sit down and write it…