How Lost Solace Came About

I was finishing a literary collection of relationship stories in NaNoWriMo 2016 and had written all my planned stories, but was still a bit short of my 50,000 word goal. So I started a new story just for fun, as a reward for my hard work.

I'd always wanted to write an overtly sci-fi story. For that it helps to have a good background in some area of science, since there's more potential for making mistakes. Luckily I have some background in astronomy, geology, natural science, information science and computing, so that helped shape my story.

I decided to set a haunted house story in space, then throw in horrifying monsters, body horror, and psychological horror, aiming at a fast-paced action story like Harvest Festival. I had originally thought it would be a few thousand words - another month on and it was the draft of a finished full-length novel! I've never had such fun writing before, or been so excited by a project.

Genre Issues

I ended up with Lost Solace: a kind of Alien crossed with Event Horizon. It is exactly the kind of story I like to read, combining the familiar with the unexpected. It is technically sci-fi (spaceships and neutron stars and artificial intelligences), but it turned out that in tone it isn’t a hundred miles away from my horror thrillers, since I wanted a plot with some twists and turns, action and tension, mystery, and a driving pace to it. So some readers might see the sci-fi elements as just backdrop, and feel that it is really a horror story, or an action adventure. But it is also a character piece that has elements of the literary, including structurally (I mess around with structure and perspective a few times). Some might see it as feminist sci-fi since it is very much about women standing up against a patriarchal situation. And yet, in writing it, I wanted an escalation of ever-changing events and surprises, which led to one of my editors asking me to give the protagonist (Opal) a break! So I see the genre as a mix of sci-fi, suspense, horror and action.

I suppose I had a similar issue with Cold Fusion 2000. I call it literary/contemporary, but the terms aren't always a help to readers. If I called it a romance I'd get into all sorts of trouble, even though romantic love is a big theme in Alex's various love relationships with women (along with family love). If I called it a growing-up story I'd get complaints when people realised Alex wasn't a teenager. And although it makes me laugh, it isn't a comedy as such. Sometimes labels are too restrictive and it's just the story that counts.

Lost Solace is ideal for readers who enjoyed my previous dark books, because it has the same focus on suspense and page-turning intensity, but also for fans of my contemporary novels who want to try something new and different, out of their comfort zone; and also for people who like books with strong female protagonists. [Buy links.]

The Kindle Scout Campaign Questions

(Yeah, that went well!)

Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A. The amazing thing is that it wasn't hard. It flew onto the page as fast as I could write it. I was so excited by this project that I couldn't wait to get down to writing each day and see what dangers and horrors I could throw in Opal's way, and what she'd do to overcome them.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A. The original premise was a kind of Indiana Jones in space; a hi-tech explorer invading strange and derelict spaceships. But as I wrote things changed, and the male protagonist became female, and grew, so that the tough hero's quest gained depth and provided a real emotional heart to the story.

Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A. The interplay between Opal and her AI (artificial intelligence) companion gave life to some of the ideas I wanted to explore. What is strength and humanity? Can a machine feel things like a human? How does a woman make her way in a man's world? And how far will someone go to keep a promise?

Some Influences And Easter Eggs

  • The opening and ending of the book are a nod to the films Alien and Aliens, which begin and end in cryosleep.
  • “Opal, I feel like I know you. Your past. What you went through in basic. The events on Hellestrom. What you endured on Citadel.” Citadel is a reference to the System Shock game.
  • The tagline "They’re called the Lost Ships … but sometimes they come back" is an echo of "Sometimes They Come Back", a Stephen King story in his excellent Night Shift collection (which I wrote about here).
  • There are lots of others. :-)

The Original Idea

I just found this old document, one of the earlier ones I made, many years ago:

Idea: space hulks like deadnauts. Legendary. Powers in there. He has searched all life, oracle said to float in space, tracked down. Dangerous, all sorts of things. But if can find future then can maybe find a way to make it pay, e.g. Gamble Syndicates. Clear debts, start life anew.

Place feels like power, even in vestiges of death.

Finds oracle.

"You will burn to death. You will be fully conscious." Oracle fades out, finally dies.

How bulk it out as story? Theme? Twists?
That's the kind of skeleton seed from which many a bony story grows.

I also had recurring ideas since my childhood for a fictional character called the Eternal Warrior, and made various attempts at telling his story. In some they involved a hero being able to travel through time and space in an armoured suit, fighting for justice; other stories involved a man who survived an apocalypse in stasis in a hi-tech bunker, and awakened to a horrible new world, but one in which the technology he possessed gave him an advantage in trying to restore some kind of order. Most of them remained as tales in my head, ideas I played with when I couldn't sleep. I think a bit of that influenced Lost Solace.

It's worth noting that when I started Lost Solace it was originally a kind of Indiana Jones in space, raiding an ancient spaceship. During the writing I decided I didn't like the guy. He became a woman. And suddenly she developed a more believable toughness, yet also an emotional core that ended up powering the novel. And what was originally a sort of kick-arse romp, that led me to a certain hashtag I'll discuss below, became something much deeper.

The Structure

Not everyone noticed that the chapter numbers are in reverse order - a countdown (thematically relevant to the time pressures in various aspects of the story).

When we reach chapter 1 = "One" = Opal is whole again, herself, alive, at "oneness". This also applies to the AI, whose multiple identities are united as one (default AI/Clarissa/Athene). And then Opal and the AI have also gone from mistrust to unity and oneness - literally, at one point. It is the oneness of sisterhood. And since Athene thinks of Opal as her adopted sister, so Clarissa is too. They'll all aim to reunite and become a family again. One family. Yet in other ways Opal has circled back to the beginning, like a letter O (or a zero), since she has not found her sister yet - and that's why the end of the novel mirrors the opening words.

(Yes, authors do think like this. That's why we should be running Governments.)

Oh, and if you pay attention to the chapter numbers, you might find that something is missing.

The Title

On Twitter I sometimes use the hashtag #GirlOnAMotherfuckingSpaceship when talking about Lost Solace (though one fan of the book suggested it should be #GIRLONAMOTHERFUCKINGSPACESHIP - I quite like the shoutiness of that version). At one point I toyed with using it as a title, partly because I was tired of books with "girl" in the title (and I wasn't the only one). If I was going to have a girl on something, then I wanted it to be something exciting. And yes, it is still possible to sell books with a name like that on Amazon! As with this brill-sounding book:

And these slightly less-brilliant-sounding books:

But my wonderful editor was right when she said:

As for the title? I think Lost Solace is actually the best title. It encompasses the quest, and Opal’s own journey, which is the emotional core of the story. ‘Girl on a MF Spaceship’ is awesome but this has so much more than just ass-kicking in it.
That's the thing - the characters of Opal and Clarissa can't be reduced in that way if you want to capture all the tones of the novel. Yes, there's action. Yes, there's righteous arse-kicking. But there's also sadness and longing and fear and loyalty and love and protection. I didn't want to short-change those. And anyway, Opal isn't a girl, she's a woman.

Doesn't mean I won't be looking to some creative person to do an awesome marketing campaign with that hashtag at some point ...

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions that I haven't answered, feel free to launch them in the comments.