One of the things they don’t tell you as a first time novelist is the joy and excitement when you finally see your book in print. The first proof of Space Taxis, soon to be published sci-fi novel, has finally arrived. Have a look at our reaction in the video. There’s even a cameo performance of our dog!
For anyone who enjoyed the Space Opera, Battlestar Galactica, then The Expanse is aimed directly at them. But does it live up to the glory of its predecessor?
Battlestar Galactica had me riveted from start to finish. The quest was clear and the stakes for humanity were high. The characterisations were developed at an early stage, and the director had clear visions as to how the characters would play out. I look back on them fondly. Edward James Olmos’ William Adama was a refreshing new type of captain – quietly intelligent, battle-hardened and reflective and comparatively older than his counterparts in previous space operas. His mature reflections and deep loyalty to humanity’s sole survivors rank him as my all-time favourite science fiction ship’s captain.
I have so far watched three episodes of The Expanse and therefore, you may argue, I’m not yet in a position to make a reasonable comparison between the series. However, the first three episodes are make-or-break for any viewers and is the most defining time as to whether the viewers will choose to invest hours of their free time watching it.
The Expanse is without a doubt ambitious. The effects are stunning. The premise is strong. We have an understanding of unrest between Earth and Mars, and there’s a space station on the asteroid belt where the nations of each planet derive their resources. The people who live there are called Belters and we develop an understanding that they are treated scornfully by the planet dwellers. A fedora-wearing detective is investigating the disappearance of a daughter from a wealthy family on Earth and at the same time seems to be involved in the space station politics, even, whilst in a bad mood, threatening a political demonstrator. I have had my hearing checked and it’s thankfully normal, but I’m finding the mumbling of this detective hard to follow.
In another arc, a space mission replete with crew with stereotypical space ship, high testosterone persona on a mission to retrieve ice from Saturn responds to a distress signal. They find a dead ship and send five crew in a shuttle to investigate it. Their mother ship is attacked leaving just the five crew on the shuttle as survivors.
In another arc, a terrorist is being investigated by the administration on Earth.
Without a doubt, the story is going to unfold and delight its fans with plot twists and great effects. Where I’m struggling with it, is in its failure to present the stakes in its early episodes, instead relying on world-building as the initial hook. The intense and macho acting of the male actors is a put off for me, but I’m sure there are many who appreciate it. I imagine if I knew The Expanse characters personally, I’d become exhausted in their presence within minutes. I know many soldiers, truly hardened from seeing action, who don’t exhibit such in-the-face personas. In my experience of many years of studying martial arts, the most deadly of its exponents are often humble people.
“….mumbling dialogue seems to be on the rise…”
Maybe it’s a modern phenomenon from Hollywood, but mumbling dialogue seems to be on the rise. It was never present on Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek or great space opera movies such as Star Wars or Alien. Maybe I’m just behind the times.
In essence, I’m finding The Expanse a struggle to watch, which is a great shame because I’m told it will unfold into something excellent.
Can somebody persuade me to carry on watching it?
One of the most common questions I’m asked about my writing is, “How do you find the time?”
A busy job
My day job as an Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon comes with considerable physical and mental responsibilities, and most of my waking hours are dedicated to my work. When I’m not working, I either need to do something constructive, but very different from work, or recharge with something that requires virtually no brain power.
Could I even write?
They say everyone has a book in them, we just need to find it, commit to it, and pen it. I have to admit, I never thought that the book I’d write would end up being a sci-fi novel. I never thought I was capable. I don’t think my “O Level” English teacher, Mr Faucet, would have thought so either! But then English Language was taught in such a mechanical way in those days. I don’t think we ever had a class that focussed on the techniques of creative writing – we were simply asked to write stories that were given a mark and returned to us with red pen comments correcting our grammar and spelling. Top of the list of instructional tuition was the formal etiquette of letter writing, and the correct position of the apostrophe…
Space Taxis was originally meant to be a comic book, but in the end I decided it was better in novel form. The story Harriet and I had developed was so strong, that it was probably best told as a novel or screenplay. By this time, Harriet had taken her English exams, and that had included quite a bit about what makes great writing. It seemed attainable. I therefore went against my long-held notions of self-doubt and decided to put words to the story.
Get your Ti-Mandi Window in shape
According to time management theory (see the Ti-Mandi window), we are in danger of wasting half, or even more than half of our time on so-called ‘urgent’ tasks that actually aren’t that important, and not making enough time for the “neglected essentials”, which in this case is writing your novel. I find this diagram useful when trying to find time for doing important things that tend to be “left till tomorrow”. Having said that, for many of us, the lockdown period has been an ideal time to address these things.
Goofing off – don’t feel guilty
We feel guilty when we think we are wasting time (goofing off) and having fun. You might think this is the time to cut out. Well, I certainly can’t. Actually, if we don’t have some down time, then we never have time to recharge, to actually allow a bit of subconscious processing of our thoughts.
On some of my weekdays, I hold evening clinics. When I return late, there’s almost no chance of writing anything useful, so I don’t even try. My pac-man, battlezone and phoenix arcade game days are in the distant past and I don’t regret any of the time I spent getting good at them (although my mum will have never agreed). Nowadays, my wife forces me to watch EastEnders (did I just admit to something?), which I find is both therapeutic and instructional from a storytelling point of view. Say what you like about the plots, the characterisations and the acting is of extremely high quality. I also enjoy a great action thriller like the Israeli series, Fauda, and I’m a sucker for a great Kung Fu movie. And of course, Sci-Fi will always have a special place in my heart. I’m certain my mind relaxes most when I feel stimulated. Does that sound counter-intuitive?
The advantage of age, and coffee
One good thing about getting a bit older is that a lot of us, myself included, lose that power so many teenagers have to sleep in at the weekends. A coffee and breakfast cereal would adorn the desk next to my computer screen and I would write my next instalment and not stop writing until lunchtime. By the time the rest of the household was awake, I’d already written another chapter.
“I find the period between 5 and 7pm is ‘dead time'”
I find the period between 5 and 7pm is “dead time”. I’m sure we each experience dead time throughout the day, where it’s a tween state between finishing work and having an evening to yourself. My advice to you is that writing can fill that time perfectly.
I do a lot of evening clinics, but on the days I finish work at a reasonable time, I take the opportunity to write for 1-2 hours before I relax into the evening. Just carve out the time, shut the door. Young parents might find the time after “bed-time” the best – find the best time for you, reserve it, and commit to it. Each 1 hour slot adds up.
5 minutes to spare?
We all have busy lives and multiple responsibilities. Whether it be work, household chores, children, relatives or friends in need of help, or simply looking after our pets. Not everyone will be able to find those magical few hours spare. In this scenario, think short stories, or start with notes about your story idea. Use your mobile phone notes app to write ideas down as you think of them during your busy schedule. There are various apps that can help in this regard to build your story. I’ll cover story generation in another blog, so stay tuned.
When the time is ready for you to tell your story, work out your best way of finding time for it. If you’ve got that story in you, then it’s not about why you should write, but why you shouldn’t.
I’d be interested in hearing how you have found time to write – or do something interesting or extraordinary, whilst being busy with work or other commitments. Please use the comments box for your hints and tips, or to tell me about what you have managed to find time to do.
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A big hello to everyone who enjoys sci-fi, historical and dark fiction! In the next few days and weeks I will be blogging about all sorts of things. So stay tuned…..