Tuesday, 10 July 2012

My Novels: Fatescape

Title: Fatescape

(No, me neither. I think I was going for something along the lines of it showing the great sprawling, metaphorical landscape of the fates of the various characters. Either that or I just thought it sounded good).

Word count: 83,245

(I can remember being terribly pleased that it clocked in at over eighty thousand words, as I’d read somewhere that this was the standard length for a novel; so I felt as if I had written an actual, proper novel, the right length and everything!)

Written: October 1998 to September 1999

Story: In the far-flung future, a bunch of Baddies, the Urkan Empire, go to war with a bunch of Goodies, the Galactic Republic, for... er... reasons which aren’t entirely clear. After much of the Republic’s space is invaded in a lightning attack and their military forces are in disarray, it falls to Commodore Haile Tripps and the crew of the heavy cruiser Redemption to save the Republic from certain destruction.

Opening: “The Menrax system was usually a quiet, tranquil area of space. Its two uninhabited planets spiralled distantly around their sun in a lumbering, lazy orbit. It was far from the established space lanes and borderlines of the Galaxy. It was not particularly close to anybody’s territory, and the two planets had hardly any natural resources that were worth anything, at least, none that couldn’t be obtained much more easily and cheaply somewhere else. In fact, most people, even highly experienced spacefarers, hardly even knew that the place existed, and those that did would hardly have any intention of going there.

But today was different...”

Background: Fatescape actually began life around Christmas 1995, when I was in Canada and had just been given my first PC. It had a word processing programme on it, WordPerfect for DOS, and of course I excitedly wanted to use this to do some writing, and ended up bashing out something that later resembled the prologue to Fatescape, and already had that title straight away.

I think that got forgotten about for a little while after we got back to England in the New Year, but later on in 1996 I had progressed up the word processing food chain to Microsoft Word 6.0, courtesy of a friend of the family, and this inspired me to take up Fatescape again. Over the summer holidays of 1996 I finished a 20,000-word version of the story, which felt epically long to me as a twelve-year-old and which I had enormous fun writing!

I’m not sure why, but a couple of years later I decided to go back to Fatescape and attempt to do it “properly”. A fourteen-year-old’s grasp of characterisation, plotting and descriptive prose are not typically great, but they are sufficiently better than a twelve-year-old’s to enable me to end up, over the course of the following year, writing something that at least resembled a “proper” novel in structure, shape and – yes! – length.

I don’t think I worked on it solidly, but in fits and starts with typical teenager’s procrastination, and I finished it in early September 1999, now aged fifteen. I remember printing it out on the old dot matrix printer I had (complete with that paper with the tear-off strips of holes down the side), which you had to be very careful to keep adjusting and only printing off  a few pages at a time as the paper size wasn’t in sync with the page size on the computer... Anyway, I was very proud to take it into school in a big plastic folder full of paper at the start of the new term, and excitedly showing it off to my friends and teachers – “Look, I’ve written a novel!”

Looking back: Well, it’s crap, obviously, but on the other hand... It does have a rather charming innocence to it. There is nothing at all pretentious or pseudo-intellectual about Fatescape – it is space opera pure and simple, unashamed storytelling and entertainment. For the writer, anyway – not sure about the reader!

I remember reading Dave Owen’s Doctor Who Magazine review of Lords of the Storm by David A. McIntee, where Owen made the point that great big science-fiction space battles are, in novels, “heaven to create for the author, but hell for the reader,” and I think he’s probably right. I was having a whale of a time writing Fatescape, and probably to this day it remains the novel I enjoyed writing the most.

As it was the first novel I ever completed, I think I’ll always have an affection for it, and I remember the storyline and characters far more clearly than I do some of my later ones! I even still pick it over from time to time – there’s a 4000 word document sitting on my computer that’s an entire biography of one minor character from Fatescape, written purely for my own amusement... last year!

Submissions: I think I did actually send off submissions for Fatescape to a few publishers as a rather hopelessly naive teenager, although of course it never got anywhere. Who knows, though? Maybe I’ll go back to it again someday, and “do it properly...”

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