Early Riser began life in 2013, born of a meeting with my UK publishers and a new three book deal. The selling concept for this was 'Absurdist Lite', and was an attempt to achieve four things: Appease existing readers, gain new readers, sell more books and try and move myself into a slightly mature type of author - one not a million miles from me when I was doing Thursday Next, and certainly recognisable as such, but to bring the thoughtful concepts of Shades of Grey into a broader and more accessible type of novel. As I said: Absurdist Lite.
What could possibly go wrong?
Actually, quite a lot. In fact, aside from the indisputable fact that Early Riser was eventually finished and is now published, almost everything along the line. In an attempt to write differently I found I couldn't write at all, and while that particularly joyless experience was going on, everything else started to tumble away, leaving me confused and lost.
So how can a book that I thought would be finished 'by early 2015' be going through innumerable rewrites and only emerge in 2017, a ghost of the original concept, and a book that instead of taking the usual 100 days to write, ended up taking six times that amount? To be sure, it is certainly not six times as good, and has more deleted chapters, concepts, characters, ideas and blind alleys than you can shake a stick at. How did it all go so horribly wrong, and is there actually any way of finding out, diagnosing the problem, and actually use the experience to be useful to myself or other writers in the future?
The truth is this: Lots, but I think I won through by adopting a set of blinkers to keep me focussed and dispensing with the notion that I could be a proper writer - you know, a vaguely serious one. I dispensed with the pretensions of maturity and just do what I do. Absurdist stuff, packed with ideas, silly jokes, wild concepts and weirdness - yet with a core of seriousness.
Lesson Number One: Don't try and be the writer you patently aren't. If what you do naturally is oranges, don't think that with a little tweak you can write apples, unless you are a writer of considerable intellect and skill.
This wordamentary might jump around a little as ideas come to me, but we'll try and pull it in to some sort of order. It's long, too, so you might want to find a sleeping bag and make up a thermos of coffee.
From the Initial concepts:
The central core of the book was actually based on three entirely separate ideas that I had kicking around in my head for a while, sort of like orphaned notions in need of a story.
1: The notion of Humans hibernating. I had no real ideas surrounding this other than it could be kind of cool, and as far as I am aware, no-one has ever tried the idea before and it needed exploring.
2: The odd phenomenon of stones heaped around the trunks of trees, something that it is quite prevalent around me. I'd been a huge fan of the movie 'Tremors' when it came out (don't see the sequels; not worth it) but the concept of being stuck on a rock, unable to put your feet on the soil has a lot going for it, sort of if you were trying to make a horro film based on the game of 'off ground it'.
I didn't want a beast lurking below, I wanted to have hands sticking out of the soil, and in one iteration of this proto-story, my protagonist was marooned here and had to work out a way to get away and befriended one of the hands who is able to do sign language. That idea didn't go anywhere.
3: A short story idea of an insane inventor who has spent a a lifetime attempting to record dreams on wax cylinder for his own interest, and does this from a hill above a village, where the subjects of his experiments find themselves increasingly at odds with themselves as the Dreamcatcher not only records and steals their dreams, but also their aspirations, leaving them languid, uninspired, and eventually, devoid of all reason.
The three concepts coming together was the 'ah-ha' moment, and within the framework of a 'Sleep Marshall' as they were then, spending time during a dark and freezing winter. That the recurring dream could be about the rocks and the tree, the recording the reason they are always identical, and my protagonist doesn't know this and, and, and .... and I could then 'take it from there' and run with it, wherever it goes, using the 'no plan plan' I've utilised in all my books, to figure out the plot by the nature of what new and exciting dramatic possibilities the uniqueness of the would could afford.
So far so good. A character was soon chosen, and with them, a name: John Worthing, fresh to the winter, finds out that much is weird and inexplicable. The fact that he was named John Worthing instantly put me on the trail of the first serious blind alley: That his name was to be mistaken for that of the character in 'The Importance of being Ernest', and that the recurring dream had him called 'Ernest' by the mysterious love interest. There was a huge amount about how being called Jack Worthing since his adoption was a matter of great annoyance, and that he is coerced into working with Toccata in Sector Twelve by being involved in their WamDram (Winter Amateur Dramnatics) production. The whole book then became predicated on this: Who was also going to act in the play, what did it mean, and how being Ernest might actually turn out to be his real name, and the last line of the book the last line of the play.
I must say that the idea had a lot going for it, and although a subplot, the main plot would surely soon arrive, and given the added amusement and intrigue of the dreams, all of it would sure come together in the end?
Actually, it didn't. The denouement in a book about dreams that weren't yours probably should take place in the dreamspace, and the more I tried to force the parts of the jigsaw together, the more they resolutely refused to be joined.
There was a subplot too, of the Logan character being missing when he went to investigate the source of the viral dreams, and the main setting for the story was in Brecon, with the journey to Talgarth, a distance of about fifteen miles, painstakingly documented in a shunter with a snowplough, and the HiberTech goons (of which there were many, originally) either trying to stop Worthing or discourage him. I also had an initial issue with Worthing sleeping until 'Midway', the half way point, and waking there, which allowed him to have the dream several times. This didn't work out either, and when the towns of Talgarth and Brecon were brought together, the 'oversleeping' idea was introduced.
And so on, and so forth. Write, change, repeat, delete, rewrite. Much of what you see in the book now are scraps of what was once there - having a museum in Talgarth is only there because there is a museum in Brecon, and I was going to use that. Some of the exhibits, in fact, such as the 'old dug out canoe' actually are in the Brecon museum.
With a change of locale, however, ideas were also born: The Dormitoria concept of a conical hatted tower came about purely because of the 12th Century round tower currently in Talgarth, and the look of Castell Goch added to a much fatter and high elongated version - sort of like the round towers in Ireland, of which I am a huge fan.
What eventually came out of it all in March 2017 was an 170,000 word mass/mess of ideas that seemed to have little coherence, very little good writing, a woeful lack of plot and too many characters with either wrong or worrying motivations. That I submitted this draft at all was pretty much down to two things: That I had to show my publishers something, no matter how bad, simply to show that I hadn't gone all 'Jack Torrance' on them, that after three years of waiting that there was, in fact, nothing at all - just endless pages of 'All work and no play makes Jasp a dull boy'.
That it was a woeful draft was probably not helpful. The team over at Penguin in the US had changed staff so much since the Last Thursday book that the team who had brought my last publication to print were no longer there, and the new team were presented with a draft that I think it might be generous to say they were probably a little concerned with, and the conversations I had about rewrites were fairly confusing, as they didn't really know what the book was about, other than the vague notion of a 'proxy love story' - and if that's what it was about, why does it have to be set in a world in which humans have always hibernated?
In the UK where they knew me a little better, there was still some head scratching, but perhaps of a more hopeful nature. My editor Carolyn, hugely to her credit, saw only what was positive in the book and as she usually does, gave me broad brush strokes to deal with: Book too long, bleak ending, more obvious where we are meant to be going, funnier, more absurd, more traditional Jasper.
What I learned from this terrible first draft was pretty much distilled down to this: 'D minus, must try harder' and I needed to get back to the drawing board, strip almost 40,000 words out of the story and make it, more, well, jaspery. I had tried to write a more serious book, a book about people's characters and interactions, a book set in a world in which little happens, and most disturbingly, aside from the general absurdity of the world, nothing much was funny. This wasn't so much 'Absurdist Lite' but 'Absurdist dull'.
But since no-one, least of all Carolyn, the Penguin team or my agent Will knew where to offer me advice as I can often be surprising in the new directions I take during rewrites, they just told me to go away and do my thing.
So I went away, and did my thing, still trying to figure out where everything was going wrong. I had the dreams and I had Jonesy, I had Toccata and Aurora and HiberTech. I also had Laura Strowger, Fodder and Treacle, but not much else. Worthing, the main character, was worrying. His relationship with Birgitta was worrying, and the problem about the love interest in the book being little more than a zombie also worrying.
I think it was at this time, staring as I was at the mass of disjointed text on the page, two years past a deadline and with really very little to show for it, that I really began to feel that I was done. That the 13 books I'd written were actually all I had in me, that I had reached the end, and that this was it.
So what kept me going? Will (agent) and Carolyn (editor) really. They were supportive of what I was doing, and thought that all I needed to do was to keep going and something would emerge from the stygian gloom. There was also a sense within me that I had to keep going, not least as the breadwinner in the family, and that if I didn't get my career back on track then the house would have to go, and to be honest, I'm not sure what I would have done with myself - perhaps return to the film industry and try to rebuild that career? After an absence of twenty years, I'd be starting again from the very bottom. I didn't fancy that, and at 56 years of age, I'm not sure what I would do. I'm less than a decade from retirement age.
Lesson Number Two: Find what excites you in writing, and even if its off-topic and not what you're trying to do, have a go. In the middle of this I had an idea about anthropomorphised rabbits, and did 10,000 of that as a winter break in 2016.
So I went back to the beginning of the manuscript and started to pare away at the prose, removing subplots, unnecessary digressions, and rejigging John's (now Charlie's) character. I also spent a lot of time condensing characters. Three into two, then two into one. Lucy Knapp was originally two characters. Lucy at the front of the book that when we see again is Goodnight's assistant who is originally only in the middle of the book. Making them the same person made more sense, and once the two characters who make up Hooke were written into one, there was room to have Lucy turn up right at the end and get her comeuppance in place of the Henchmen double act.
deleting, plastering, reassigning, rejigging, redetailing, inventing anew, deleting. I have probably deleted about nine characters from the original MS, and for good reason. Once they are introduced and have a small job to do the are never seen again, and this was a waste of imaginative processing power, and was also confusing to readers as to where they should be paying attention.
Crucially about this time my relationship with the book was changing. This is also an odd feeling, because in general I actually like my books. I'm not sure they are of much literary merit, but I think for the most part they are engaging, full of ideas, and at least quite fun. I didn't feel any warmth at all towards Early Riser. During the long slog to draft one and the shorter slog to draft two, my concentration was not on making the book to be either likeable or good - I simply wanted it finished. And needless to say this is not the mindset one should have when writing a novel, so I had a new problem to contend with.
I hated the f***ing thing.
So panic, fear, loathing, a sense of dread, terror. I think as I struggled to make sense of it all, I strayed into the bright lights of metaphor, which always helps me think more clearly about things: Not as they are or as they appear to be, but obliquely, and in a new way. Namely, that I was losing sight of what I was trying to do. Could I think up a phrase that would explain all this and at least give me a starting point to somehow turn the corner?
Lesson Number Three: Trying to see the Goalposts through the fog will just wear you down. It's pointless to try and kick a ball better and faster when really what you need to do is disperse the fog.
'Trying to see the goalposts through the fog' is sort of self explanatory, whether you're trying to do is finish a book, figure out a strategy for life and career or even hold it together until next Tuesday, it's always the fog that holds you back. And that fog can be generated in millions of ways, but, I figured, mostly one of four:
1: You can generate it yourself. Lack of concentration, displacement activity, a sense of approaching the problem wrongly, a lack of clarity on what you are doing, ignorance of what you can do and how you can do it, over-reaching on what is either possible or even desirable, and a dislike for what you are doing - and often, simple boredom; a lack of application.
2: Other people can generate it for you: External factors, usually personal or private things that are nibbling away at your concentration, and delivering you from the headspace in which you need to create. Personal factors are top of this list, and work or financial issues will certainly not help.
3: It can be generated by chance factors which while you can't help, will certainly at least give you an idea about what's going on.
4: It can be generated by itself, which is the most insidious in a downward spiralling way. Fog generates more fog as one's confidence starts to slide, and before you know it, the goalposts have vanished, and if things get too bad, you've forgotten where they were, why you're aiming for them - or even if it's worth trying to find the goal at all.
This is where I found myself. Sort of lost in the fog, but now realising that the fog wasn't there by chance - and if that was the case it could be dealt with. With me it was probably a lot of Number Two, exacerbated by Number Four which then kicked in Number One - a sort of 'perfect fog'.
Luckily - and past writing endeavours might back this up - I'm not really one to give in, and I attempted to follow the causal fog roots back to where the fog generators were pumping this crap out. Needless to say, there were several, and some easier to deal with than others. Sadly, fog-generators often can't be addressed directly as they might generate even more fog, so the skill lies in trying to find a way to deal with what is happening, and train your mind and sensibilities to be able to soldier on, because ignoring fog or dealing with fog allows you, strangely, to be able to see through it.
So that's pretty much what I did. I moved from hideous Draft Two to rubbish Draft Three, re-engaging with a book that I did not like one bit. And that was hard, like refriending someone with whom one has fallen out badly. Making daft jokes helped, and adding wilder concepts, like the coal fires ablaze beneath Wales, and the train journey from Cardiff to Talgarth, the Nuclear HotPots in the basements and the megafauna.
Draft 2 was delivered in September 2017, 40,000 words shorter and a lot tighter. The ending, however, was again very different, and had Charlie die and live on as a sort of spirit. I felt that this was workable albeit a little unusual. My editors, who while generally approving of the novel, still felt that there was more work to be done. My 'D minus' had been upgraded to a 'C+', so I was feeling at least a little more chipper about the whole thing and I could finally go back to the book and do what I was meant to do: dispense with any notions of making this 'absurdist Lite' and concede that actually 'Jasper doing his thing' is about the only writing I could do, so I started to Jasperise the book, adding odd asides and generally boosting the absurdity and silly jokes. I started to relike the book around about this time, but still had an issue with the ending.
Ending any book is problematical. Since I don't plan and instead let the unique dramatic possibilities occasioned by the world offer up possibilities of new plotting ideas, much of the plot arrives when I am writing. Endings of books are obviously a direct requirement of the plotting, and sewing up the threads neatly at the end. While Draft 1 was more of a textual splurdge than a finished or coherent novel and with a dark and unsatisfactory ending, the ending of D2 was while not totally uplifting then certainly improved, even if Charlie Worthing died.
And I was still cutting back. Huge sections at the front where the opening chapter with the journey on the train had been in and out a dozen times, alternating with a very long sequence at Fat Thursday where lots of explaining was done while meeting a myriad of characters who ended up doing very little except explain the back story. Infodumping was removed, and the concepts of the world feathered in over a hundred pages rather than confronting reading, bulldozerlike, at the start.
Charlie's motivation needed to be different, too, and Charlie needed to be well, different in a fundamental way. Their relationship with the comatose Birgitta was still troublesome, but made less troublesome once Charlie's reasons for acting themselves became blurred and somewhat less well-defined. Charlie's sense of finding themselves and what they wanted from life, a sense of belonging in a world in which they could not be equivocally seen to belong, was suddenly what I was after. Like Charlie, I have always been an outsider socially - at school, very much on the periphery of those who I thought were the confident and popular and successful children. This filtered through to my adult life, and while I can generally get through a conversation these days without blurting out something dumb as I overcapitalise on my newfound social skills, it does still happen. I think it's why I was attracted so much to the film industry. That one's social life is had at work, and later, as an author, you can find a way forward in the confusing morass of society by defining your own terms and finding some sort of internalised self-validation by the work that you've done. I'm sort of okay now in that I was good at what did in the film biz and now at least have robust enough sales to not have to rely on eternal external validation, and if you're someone like me, that's like having the baby elephant on your chest lifted off. I'm not saying that Charlie and me are in any way similar - Charlie is way braver than I will ever be - but Charlie is at sea in an undefined role, trying to make sense of where they want to go and who they want to be in a world in which they like their own company but want to be well thought of. Charlie finds that they are happy with the respect of the few rather than the diluted acceptance of the masses, and that's where we leave them. Not happy, but content - and in an open-ended way, sort of complete.
So I anchored Mrs Tiffen at the front of the book, slashed 2000 words from the Fat Thursday chapter that came afterwards, and made Charlie more of someone who was just trying to get away from the Sisterhood in any way they can, even if it means joining the Consul service. Logan, already a character by now, was diminished slightly in which there was less of him performing his own adventures in a thespian way, and the training of Charlie prior to the trip to Sector Twelve shortened to a series of vignettes separated by line breaks as it was just all too long.
The 3rd Draft was submitted in December 2017, complete with the new ending, the one you read now. This was an acceptable draft, and I then did a major tightening and added a few bits and bobs until acceptance in March 2018. The huge effort was finally over, the feelings of uselessness finally buried. I didn't love it - I'm not sure I ever will - but I like it, and that's something I guess. Sequel? The book would have to be a runaway bestseller before I'd consider that, and so far, it's not. Make a good TV miniseries, though.
Lesson Number Four: Never assume copyright issues will be straightforward
The final manuscript was tweaked a little by my editors, and then tweaked again during the copyediting stage as a few glaring continuity errors were ironed out, and we published the galley proofs for press and reviewers to read. This was not the end of the changes, however, as there were a few copyright releases to be secured, most notably the use of various lyrics from Rogers and Hammerstein, and the appearance of Rick Astley as a zombie, and the lyrics of 'Never gonna give you up' as that was, as originally drafted, Rick's vestigial skill. No such luck from any approaches, and as is so often with emails and online requests, silence means no. R&H got back in touch asking for more specific details, but then all was quiet. I couldn't use the lyrics which was annoying as the final line of the book WAS a R&H lyric:
"...Gretl visits me quite often in my dreams, despite there being no more nightwalkers to retrieve. We meet on Rhosilli beach in my dreams, and she plays with her beachball and laughs and tells me who is next in line for what she calls 'the treatment', although as the years go by, she does less and less of it: Word has got about, and those of a unworthy disposition now give Sector Twelve a wide berth. Other times we talk about Rodgers and Hammerstein, and all my washing is mysteriously folded every night when I get back from work.
"What are your favourite things?" she asked me one dream-evening, as we watched the sun set over the wreck of the Argentinian Queen. I thought carefully.
"Whiskers on kittens are pretty cool," I said, "and bright copper kettles. But my favourite has to be-"
"Yeah, " she said, knowing, as she always did, what I was thinking: "Silver-white winters that melt into spring."
I loved it but it had to go. Curiously, referring to R&H's work and featuring the titles of the musicals and songs is most certainly allowed, but nothing else. Couldn't use 'Never gone give you up' either, so the textual Rickrolling had to be withdrawn and Rick Astley replaced by Carmen Miranda. As an aside, the legal department at Hodder said I could use Rick Astley so long as the inclusion was not defamatory, which it was't, but I kind of thought that if he couldn't sing (or nothing past the title of the song) then it wasn't worth it, and I didn't want to piss Rick Astley off, even if I kind of think he might have liked it.
Okay, that's a very rough idea of the painful birth, but let's have a look at some other things in more detail, and how they changed the narrative as they developed.
1: Charlie Worthing was originally male, a fly-in-amber nod to the Oscar Wilde plot device that was originally the most important aspect of the book, but is now almost gone. The more I wrote about him, the less gendered he seemed to be. I had been playing with the concept of revealing pertinent plot points later on to have the reader reevaluate the book (the fact that everyone is speaking Welsh was one, the fact that everyone is hairy is another) and I just grew to like the idea that it wasn't obvious whether Charlie was a Charles or a Charlotte, or in fact, neither. And the more I wrote about them, the more the concept seemed to work. I didn't know whether it would work, but writing without risk is barely writing at all, and perhaps, at a pinch, the book could actually be read in three entirely separate ways - or even that it wasn't important what Charlie was, and maybe that was actually the point.
Charlie is an outsider, a square peg, someone who is trapped in a situation that they neither wanted nor were the agent of, and that escape - in any form - was preferable to a life of drudgery. That Charlie takes this decision, and then develops a strong sense of self worth was while a familiar trope, one in which I felt I was happy with. The 'wonky head' idea was originally there to make the Toccata/Aurora seeing either side of the head idea work better, something which made more sense when Charlie had a more physical relationship with Aurora (yes indeed, there was once something between them) but still made sense now. I also chose this external motif to make Charlie more of an outsider, and a figure of rejection. It should be noted that the decent characters in the book do not notice Charlie's head at all, while those of little value see it straight away. I too have one eye higher than the other - not to such an extent, obviously, and it's actually far more rare to have a symmetrical head than one that isn't.
I also liked the wonkiness as a rail against the well-worn trop of someone with a facial disfigurement as being inherently evil, and twisted - witness Blofeld, Twoface, the Tom Berenger character in Platoon, Von Stalhein, numerous Bond villains and many, many others. All in all, I liked the way Charlie turned out. Quiet, but with a sense of justice, something that does, on the occasion of Logan's death, go horribly wrong.
2: Jonesy was one of the least changing characters throughout all the multiple drafts. Jonesy, (named after Ripley's hibernating cat) was always the quintessential overwinterer: Eccentric, dour, but loyal and as it turns out, possessed of a fine mind and while initially someone that could be dismissed as just another heavy-handed administer of the winter law, actually has a clear sense of right and wrong. Jonesy was always the one to wake Charlie up, always the one to want to have a meaningful sense of past memories to make up for a past she never had, and she always died near the end, stoical and accepting of her inevitable fate - perhaps even welcoming it.
3: Fodder was also little changed from inception, but while he began life as a walk-on, slowly gained traction to become the powerhouse that he is, and one of my favourite secondary characters in the book. His name was inspired by a Marine I met while filming the Moroccan sections of 'Rules of Engagement' in 1996. We were there as, I don't know, the 4th or 5th camera, and because of the downtime got to chatting to the Marines, who had be loaned to the film presumably along with the usual conditions. His nickname was 'Meat' probably due to his size, but a more cheery and ebullient person it would be tricky to, well, meet. Aside from similar names he has nothing in common with the taciturn and war-weary Fodder. As regards the trans nature of Fodder, it seemed right and just and fair and proper to have him so. It sprung from the idea that there would be quite a few like Fodder, who either keep their gender secret, presumably based on the fact that the pressures to reproduce are so strong, or feel that they would prefer to be a man in what is essentially a female dominated society. The difference between a 'hider' and Fodder was never mentioned in the book, so as not to complicate matters, but it seems to me that Fodder feels considerably more happy as a bloke.
4: Shamanic Bob was threatened with deletion more than once, and only exists here at all because he took on the role of tavern keeper at the Wincarnis, and head Insomniac, making him one of my three-into-one character reductions. He is there to not only explain much of HiberTech's backstory, but also demonstrate the old-fashioned superstitious side of Hibernation, and is there also as a foil to Charlie's secular leanings. If this is world that is heading towards extinction, it is also a world that has moved from the religious to the pharmaceutical. Perhaps the removed dreaming has taken the need to venerate, and religiosity has waned. It is not stated but I have the idea that those who are not on Morphenox are the ones who secretly worship Morpheus, even if it is now considered hopelessly old-fashioned.
5: Lucy Knapp. Like Shamanic Bob, Lucy Knapp was originally three people. Herself, appearing right at the start, taking over the role of Goodnight's assistant, and right at the end taking over the duties from when Hooke was a double act. She is not as fully developed as I would have liked, but at least now shows continuity through the story, When she pops up it is not the rigmarole of introducing a new character, but merely the revisitation of an old one - which makes what she does and what she brings to the narrative that much easier.
6: Lloyd The Porter had been there from the outset, his eunuch status from first draft. Originally named Herman until I noticed that I had, unconsciously or not, given him a nominative determinist name (her-man) that I quickly changed. He went from neutral to good to bad to just someone who made a bad call and then had to make restitution. And while his presence is marginal to the plot, he is a part of the fabric and couldn't be deleted.
7 and 8: Toccata and Aurora were always going to be halfers, and the notion of them seeing Charlie in a different manner due to the way they extrapolate their face given what they see of them was always there. The biggest problem with these two was firstly introducing one or the other early enough, and to not delay the reveal - both of which were quite tricky to do. It was also important to muddy the area of which one were good and which one evil, and to perhaps keep the reader guessing until the end. In the original draft of the book and the initial intent, the argument and deep loathing between Toccata and Auroroa extends to them both playing in the Winter Amateur Dramatics production of 'The Importance of Being ernest' in which Toccata was going to play Lady Bracknell and Aurora Miss Prism, and the denouement would all be centred around the Oscar Wilde play, which would become more exciting as the Aurora/Toccata character gets to the point in which they have to be both on stage at the same time - and a 'conjoining' might have occurred. How this would have worked - not sure. It made the Oscar Wilde play more important than anything else if that's where we were heading, and I didn't think it was.
9: Hooke was for a long time two people - Sullivan and Gilbert in the first few drafts, often described as 'one tall and thin, and the other with a complexion like a freshly oiled rugby ball' They remained as a sort of nasty double act until the last draft, a sort of dark cousin to Ant and Dec. It was only at the last major rewrite that I merged them into one, then hived off Sullivan's part to Lucy Knapp and, as it turned out, Aurora, who took over the role of 'dream inquisitor general' a role up until then taken by Sullivan. As it turned out, the sequence with Charlie and Aurora sparring inside the dreamspace was originally with Sullivan, but by giving it to Aurora, there suddenly appeared a way in which the Aurora/Toccata issue could be dealt with, and the ending, as now written, could finally make sense.
10: Lucky Ned Farnesworth. 'Lucky Ned' was a fusion between 'Lucky Ned Pepper' from 'True Grit' and Ned Ryerson from 'Groundhog Day', which originally had a more references but now really only has a 'bing!' explanation and a reference to the insurance job Charlie had been up for - the various insurance covers that Charlie lists are pretty much the same as the ones Ned Ryerson reels off. The name switched to Farnesworth when villains switched from being 'roughly spoken ignoramuses' to 'dispossessed English aristocracy', which is more fun and less dealing with lazy stereotypes. It also made sense of the stamp collecting, which had been in there since I borrowed a couple of ideas from Tove Jansson's 'Moominland Midwinter'. The Hemulen, you might recall in the Moomin world, wore skirts and collected stamps.
11: Logan came in quite late to the story and was always disposable. I wanted to set up the notion of a Jack Reacher type hero who takes on an assistant - then dies and the assistant has to carry on, utterly alone, and quite early in the book. Logan was never very nuanced because he never needed to be - he represented a trope rather than being a character in his own right. That he was so much more is not revealed until much later.
12: Notable Goodnight is the face of HiberTech and like Logan, never really emerged as a character because she was representing a political opinion within the ER world rather than herself, in the same way Mother Falopia represented Charlie's past and potentially empty future.
Technology and Other Stuff:
1: Pulse weapons/Vortex cannon. A 'vortex cannon' is a weapon that fires a torus of air. A real phenomenon, a torus of air that has an internal spin to keep it in one piece can be seen as smoke rings or air rings that can be blown by scuba divers. They can be generated and made quite powerful, but air has little mass so in the real world were never likely to do much damage. Current physics and engineering problems preclude the devices as working as anything but a novelty in a hand-held size, although large models have been known to knock down a poorly constructed shed at a hundred yards. I was more wanting something like the devices in Minority Report and District 9, and I make illusion to a series of concussive vortex rings that seem to work in harmony to accelerate the forces. They work on thermal batteries of which the technology does exist, most normally used in high amperage/short working life power supply, such as the electricity needed to power the doppler radar in artillery proximity fuzes.'Thermalite', although a trademark in the ER world, is a brand of insulated building block in ours. The notion that they could monetarily 'punch holes in a snowstorm' is an idea I like too - and just about feasible. And the Shock Suits. Great fun.
2: Paternoster Lifts are just one of those things I wanted to use in my books but never got around to doing so. A paternoster lift is one that simply goes around continually and you just jump on and off when you want. Good for continuous use lifts, there is one shaft for up and one for down and at the top the elevators simply go up and over and continue. It made sense for them to run on water, too, as it fits into the low/no technology of the world. I've only been in one, the unit that used to run in the Royal Free. I don't know if they still have it.
3: Dormitoria and Nuclear heating 'Glowpits' versus 'Hotpots'. Dormitoria are large circular towers with a central heating core through which warm air is ducted to keep the residents at the optimal 'low ideal' temperature for Hibernation. A source of heat is required for this and while originally 'Glow pits' using layers of bitumen, hardwood, saltpetre and coke to create a smouldering mass that would burn all winter. Technology being what it is I supposed that these areas beneath the Dormitoria were at some point converted to low-technology uranium/graphite piles that generate heat for thirty years or more before being replaced. A simple 'rods in or out' process seems to control them, with safety procedures in place if things got bad, such as the Uranium rods suspended on rope that if burned drops them into a pit of water, and as an emergency SCRAM procedure, twenty tons of boron slurry, delivered by gravity. I had John Wooten, my technology consultant, look through the prose to make sure it was feasible or perhaps plausible, and he said it was - although you would need a a considerable level of shielding and long term leaks might be an issue. I initially started with smaller Plutonium Pellet heat generators but John pointed out that Plutonium can only be made in a nuclear reactor, and if those existed then the Dormitoria would almost certainly be run on electricity. Truth be told, they would probably be run off electricity - either by wind, water or PV. I just thought graphite piles would be more fun. Incidentally, the 'High Octane' group mentioned as the octogenarians tasked with dealing with leaks given their likelihood of dying soon anyway and the less time available to develop cancers, is actually the name of my mother's Wednesday lunchtime group, consisting of octogenarians. She has actually outgrown it being 92 now, but it's very popular, and people are queuing up to be 80 so they can get in.
4: Reinvigorating old pop culture references. As I've got older I've noticed that the pop culture references I enjoyed in my youth now have little resonance or none at all today - talking about Bonanza, the Waltons, Lost in Space, Valerie Singleton or Terrance Trent D'arby are often met by little more than a blank stare. So in order to reinvigorate faded pop culture references, I will often add them into the books to bring new significance, or, as often as not, to simply retrace the memory lines. This is why characters like George Formby, Paul Daniels, Richard Stilgoe, Bonzo Dog Band and many others are name checked. Replacing Rick Astley with Carmen Miranda, complete with fruit hat was for the same reason.
5: The French Connection. As is so often with my books, the final draft has the faint echoes of other ideas that were once very prominent, but have now been either diluted or deleted so very little remains. In the first draft the UK had ceded power to Paris and we were now learning to speak French as a prelude to more Paris-centric government. All the statues now attributed to the female bloodline of 'Llewelyn the Last' were various iterations of Bonapartes through the ages. The fact that everything is in euros is based on this, and there are a few tech-sounding words and phrases which are also remnants.
6: The Welsh connection. Once the French had been expelled, then the 'Independent Wales' subplot could be explored. Always a fact in the background rather than anything overt, there are quite a few references to Wales, not least the fact that everyone is actually speaking Welsh, an idea not brought in until quite late. The location for the opening was originally in Bristol, and there was a brief description of chugging over Brunel's suspension bridge into Wales, past old ships beached on the severn estuary to be scrapped, but that all went. Once I had decided everything was to happen in wales and consolidated the action to all take place in Talgarth, pretty much everything became lot easier. St Granata's was in Swansea, and the railway journey went by the old Merthyr and Brecon railways, one of the lines pulled up in the beeching closures - oddly, this is the third time I have reopened lines closed in 1964. The trip up the Wye is featured in Shades of Grey, the trip over the Torpantu in this book, and various journeys in the TN books are all possible only in print.
Okay, that's 7000 words. You must be done, yes? If not, drop me a line and ask me. I can add your question and my answer on here.
Thanks for reading!
Jasper Fforde January 2020
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