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Rural Sources of Inspiration

Well, here I am, nicely settled into our new home in Wiltshire. It's a lovely area of the country, and after spending a couple of months getting the house and garden straight, we're just starting to venture out to explore the region a bit more now. After gatecrashing the filming of the Downton Abbey movie at Lacock Abbey recently, we're hoping to walk to the top of our local white horse this week. So much to do and see, all helped by some really friendly neighbours. Definitely a great move, really enjoying life again!

The other significant news is that I've now completed the re-edit of my new novel, definitively called Long Division. It's been more than a year in gestation, evolving from The Journey into Perspective, and then unexpectedly into Long Division when I belatedly decided to have one final polish. I'm really pleased with the changes, the motivations and personality of my main character, Jemma, are now much better described, and I've improved a few supporting character arcs and the locations of a few key scenes. It's taught me a lot, which I hope to also apply to my next novel.

The next step is to see if I can find any agents interested in taking it on - I have my submission package ready to go, just whittling my shortlist down to the best fits, and then will start spreading the love next week. If nothing comes of this (a long shot, obviously, but definitely worth a try), then I'll look to self-publish Long Division around the end of next month.

The things that inspire and shape a novel are sometimes unpredictable and not always conscious. As I've mentioned before, it's the rise of the far right across western society that has always been the underlying theme of this novel. I had my main protagonist, antagonist and their relationship in mind from the start, along with the event that triggered their personal journeys. The theme was considerably fleshed out by reading Robert Paxton's Anatomy of Fascism, and the right setting finally clicked into place by reading Kim Stanley Robertson's Aurora.

One inspiration I wasn't consciously influenced by was Christopher Priest's Inverted World, but I did start to question my own sanity this weekend. It's probably more than 30 years since I read that excellent novel, but I started listening to the audiobook of it when driving to visit my son on Saturday and realised there were major resonances with its city — a somewhat insular, authoritarian society whose true nature is hidden from its population; a guild-based system with creches very similar to that of the divisions in my novel; leaving the city for the first time is a significant moment etc. Luckily the characters and story itself is significantly different, but it did take me aback at first. I was more aware of similarities to standard rite-of-passage fantasy novels for the opening section, which was intentional, but who can tell how the unconscious works?

Ironically, in my first draft, I did have an explicit homage to the classic opening line of Inverted World — "I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles" — but that didn't survive the cut, as it felt like it was more for me than the reader. If I had to choose one author who made me want to be an author myself, it would be Christopher Priest. I'm definitely not comparing my writing to his, there's no similarity to his prose and stories, but the way he writes has consistently inspired me over the years. Arthur C Clarke was possibly most influential in shaping my world-view from the age of 10, but reading Priest's work was the most transformative. I think The Space Machine was the first book of his that I read, but it was The Affirmation that transfixed me. It's the only book I've ever finished, and then immediately gone back to the start and read through again — and had a differently rewarding experience. It's the novel I've re-read most often since my days at university, and it feels fresh every time, viewed through the lens of my intervening life experiences. If you haven't read it…then go do so! Really looking forward to reading his new novel, An American Story, which is sat teasing me on my coffee table, waiting for me to have ample time to do it justice.

I've also been progressing and evolving the planning work for my next novel. It's turning out to be a different beast than I originally envisioned, but hopefully a much better one. It started off, briefly, as The Plexus, before quickly evolving into The Skein which would have two separate main protagonists. Well, that's now undergone an even further transformation to become After The Flood. It's actually more of a companion piece to my first novel, The Stream, but you definitely won't need to have read that to understand it. It still has two main protagonists, but they won't be contemporaneous. This will definitely be a much bigger challenge for me as a writer, which is one of the reasons for the changes — not only will it be a better story, I'll need to improve to be able to do it justice. Lots of planning and research before I can even contemplate the first sentence. I have a strong idea of how it will start, and how it will end, but the middle right now is a jigsaw puzzle of ideas that need refining.

But first…let's get Long Division out into the wild!

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