But for the Awkward End

Oh well, so much for smooth going. Having read Act IV now, my first draft feels a lot more like first draft. The preceding acts went so well that I had higher expectations going into the final. But those first three had an advantage the fourth did not: look at the dates, I got down and wrote them fast. My work on the ending stretched out intermittent, over several months, and it shows in every respect.

This is the one I really have to rewrite.

To be fair, I read it sometime last week, and have dawdled writing back. So my sense of just what in particular is wrong about Act IV is just as blunted as the work itself. I should heed the lesson. Write fast, and rewrite fast, too. Not something I’m used to doing, especially day in day out, but something this scale of work demands.

Can’t you tell I’m a first timer?

As I complained while writing it, the ending’s biggest problem is the order of events. I had much to say about Madala, the story’s original focus and instigator, which I wasn’t getting around to, until I broke continuity and had her lying on her childhood bed with Alexander. There’s still much to be done with Katerina. My doubts, so present when writing, are all the worse for having read what dissatisfaction I have done. No, I’ve much to do to make the ending work. This will take some effort yet.

The part that bothers me most is how hard I found my qualms to round up into expressible thoughts. This is so much more the experience I feared from the start! Such a strange thing to consider, creativity, when some vital part of it’s not working. Complex results. Informative ones, I do suspect, if only I could understand their instinctive shortfall.

Anyway, what I plan to do is have a second read, making notes along the way. I started off jotting a few down this time, but soon abandoned it as I wanted to read like a reader, and have a clear mind for the flow. But writing is another beast, and so to it I will return, in stages.

I took a fair few notes while writing in the first place, and bear in mind this whole site is made of much the more of quite the same. Notes do not a work make, however. Although, I’ll grant, they give the kind illusion of progress and enhanced understanding that I seek, while girding for the onslaught of second draft.

Shall I share my notes as I go? Why ever not! That’s what’s coming next, and a few things growing in my mind since the reading’s end, if they care to bloom as anything I can convey. I wouldn’t bother if not for archetypes. Some big thoughts seem to be at work, stirred by the strange event of reading my own book.

A taste of the future. Aye. The deed I’ve so long meant done.

So Too The Third

You know, I hate to sound a one-note piano, but I read Act III today and it’s another pleasant find. Much like Act II, the third one is one hell of a ride. One I dreaded before and during its creation. And yet it reads very nicely, if I may say so myself. Kinetic. I’m impressed. Apparently I more or less knew what I was doing.

As always, there’s still work to do. Less so than for Act II, though, I think. One striking oddity is Operation Isis. I titled it for the goddess, but since then her archetypal name has come to mean something else indeed. To be fair, I wrote a few months before the proclamation of the caliphate, and since more or less forgot. Name collisions are just the kind of thing to catch my eye, and I’ve deliberated over them before. Should I just do my usual and ignore? I might. Who knows how long it will be apparent. Or how much more potent it may prove to be. Albeit led by a Chinese general, and taken over at his demise by an Iraqi named for Voltaire’s Babylonian philosopher, and an enlightened Sumerian king.

History, eh!

Alpha’s climax happens in Act III. It is the peak, and the cataclysm, of this strange, glowing little space story of mine. I ask quite a lot from readers with this one. Too much, I’ve long considered. And yet, I couldn’t find flaw in it as I read for myself today. Yes, I know what happens already, my mind doesn’t need guided so much as literally anyone else. Bearing that in mind though, it did feel good. Better, in fact. It felt right.

The sheer immensity of the aner at work in this act is a challenge. Not just to my style, but to my ability to visually convey. I suspect I’ll be working more on this one than I felt, at first glance. But the essence of it is more than there. So too is the body. I’m glad.

Act IV, the finalé, has always been a bit of an afterthought. Odd, given its place right in my original idea, all the way back in 2001. But it does draw a wider world I’ve only half conceived, and it is the link to the rest of them, that wider story I do so mean to tell. I wrote it more fragmentary, in my own time, as well. Let’s just say I expect a rougher road to come. But goodness me if we’re not most the way there. Intact.

And the Second

Another day, another act. A few hours shot past as I read this one outside in the autumn sun, not taking any notes. The second act is quite different to the first. It’s entirely linear. (Well, almost.) It’s all about a battle, watched and fought first hand. I didn’t give a single break from it, and I worried at the time.

So, how did it go?

Honestly, I’m impressed again. It’s not perfect, it’s surely got some bumps and problems, but I did like what I read indeed. The battle doesn’t make perfect sense at every moment, but there’s something monumental there. And, in stark distinction to my fears just yesterday, the way I wrote all that damned aner seemed to work quite well this time. Good thing too, given it’s just chock full of that.

Speaking of catchphrases of mine, they are popping up a fair old bit in first draft. Nothing a little therapeutic use of the delete key can’t fix. Indeed, I’m minded to trim an excessive phrase here and there as I see it. But overall, I’ve been less tempted than I thought. The prose is already fair slender.

Could it be that I’m mostly done? What a thought!

I wouldn’t bolt to that conclusion quite yet. Act II has the small matter to fix of the identity of its enemy horde, not least. Clones? Please. I know quite why I chose them. (Speed, simplicity.) And I know they are an immediately powerful and unnerving image, when seen at night, against your window. But they are a hack, and I’m not convinced I can’t do better. They weren’t my original idea. I had a genuine, individual, organic army out there. And perhaps I still shall yet.

Another matter I’m perplexing is quite why the jinn are stuck outside the little household ship. All but one of them, of course. Enemies who fail to seize the chance to win when they see it, agh, there are too many of them in lore and film. “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” What’s holding them back? It better not be narrative necessity alone. I shan’t stand that.

There’s little intrigues in here too, that I’d quite forgotten. Katerina plucks the MacGuffins from the jinn’s heads and gives them to Alexander? “Interesting”, I thought and stroked my beard. I had my reasons. The undertone of this battle is human interference, good and proper. Certainly, I could have Alex and Katty make good of their investigation later, beyond this book. But I might call back to them later in Alpha, if I come up with a good excuse. You know quite how tight I like these things to be.

Overall then, I think I achieved something all right with this first draft. Some of it works so well indeed. I enjoyed my few hours out in the sun scrolling through it with my iPad in that way I’d rather hoped, before I was ever a writer who had done. Act II reads damn fine. I’m happy. There’s more than just the basis of something good here, there is the soul of my long dreamed work itself.

Midway. Could all go to hell in a handbasket yet. But I wonder, how I wonder.


A warm old summer’s tail, and certain other events, have kept me out and about, away from my writing. Which is but a bare excuse for what really held me back from it. None other than my own trepidation.

My plan was to work on Proteus. Bad idea. That little “tale within the tale” had already grown well beyond me back when I still wrote it. Marie’s odyssey seems more like a distant echo from the past, to me now. Much as it would to the characters in my central story, which is apt. I’ve truly no idea how I’ll finish it, or when. And yet I can’t shake off the sense that it is vital, nor do I want to. Wherever it goes.

But enough of wandering sidelines. As some dude once said:

If you can do anything, you will do nothing.

And so I have.

Sometimes nothing is not so bad. Because, as summer went, the vital distance between me and my first draft of Alpha grew as silently as the night. I have something now I didn’t a month or two ago. Sweet oblivion! I won’t trigger as many rich memories while I read, of what I meant to write. I can read what I actually did.

I’m about to start the great edit. Which means I’m about to start the great read, first of all. I’ll settle down, the unluckiest reader in the world, to experience Alpha in its roughest, creaky, ill-considered glory. And I’ll dwell with the awful realisation that it is just as I describe! I’ll take notes, and I’ll hack away, but first I think the best tack is to simply read. Let my grand battle with myself take place on a field I first bothered to behold. No doubt this will be a torturous kind of fun!

Here’s a yardstick, before I go in. My guess is the less I like what I’m about to find, the better it will be. The worst is to still be in love with your darlings, while you slash the knife.

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition

Isn’t every story a conflict of sorts?

And, come to think, isn’t every mind?

I happened to be listening to a little something about Star Trek, while making a bit of a mess in a fair old project of mine besides writing for a change. Someone mentioned one of my favourite characters in all its lengthy canon: McCoy, and they put his purpose very well: to oppose everyone else’s initiative, to question and to annoy. No surprise that I like him! He’s just the kind of character that’s the most fun to write.

But I wonder who’s playing his rôle in Alpha, or Proteus. This will be one to look out for when I give them their much needed read. It’s a flat kind of story that has no argument, not least the kind who is personified, smiling back at you.

However, I thought something deeper. In a pretty big sense, Madala is her own opponent. And so too is her brother. We all have a bit of our opposite inside us, a psychological conceit as old as eastern philosophy and I dare say many a western tale as well. But some of us suffer it harder than the rest. Some people are born to struggle on the inside. Some of the more compelling people I’ve met, no less. I think we all have it to a degree, but that fire doesn’t always blaze as bright. It can truly drive a mind to the edge of the world, for better and, alas, for worse.

I don’t know quite how well I’ve written that side of Alpha’s leading brother and sister. In all honesty, it’s make or break. They tease it out of each other so very badly that I’ll have failed if I can’t get this working. The heat of the contest they fight between themselves for their lives is Alpha’s urgent heart. And yet that’s not the layer I mean the most. Rather, I want to see Madala’s doubt. I want to understand Katerina, her human alter ego, that brief while she’s on the page.

Alpha’s time is coming. I know that. Reading through its predecessor Proteus lately, finding a name for every piece, I could still well remember what I meant as I wrote it. But for the first time, I sensed a little altitude. A better vantage over my faulty words. A place to be, when their brutal rain must come. To write is to cut. To tell is to hear yourself as your self again. To speak, I’m afraid, is to sing.