Starfighter, Dragons, and the Writing Process

As I write this, I'm just finished my fourth day on Starfighter, and I'm looking forward to writing Chapter 1 tomorrow. No, I'm not restarting this book, not this time, anyway, but I decided I need to write what is essentially a prequel, as a better way of introducing most of the characters, as well as to bring some of the backstory to the fore. It's important to remember that a book must stand-alone, even if it is the first in a five-part series, and I decided after writing what is now Chapter 5 that the arc of one of the two leads needed to start in a more explicit place.

I'm getting a little surprised by how dark a hole the two lead characters are in, actually. It's one of those things that you only know when you write it, but I'm happy with how things are going so far, and it's all fitting together very well. This is the first time I've seriously started a new series of novels in years, and it's great to put everything I've learned over twenty novels to use in launching a new set of characters on their journey. Already they're talking to me, so to speak, pushing themselves deeper into the narrative, and I think that's a good sign. (Either that, or I've gone a bit mad, but I guess we'll find out that soon enough!)

It's time to talk about what happens next, and a decision I've been pushed to over the last few days. In the past, when I've attempted to get something new going, it's always been a bit of a struggle, but this time it's fitting together like a glove. I want to do it again, and there will be a third series coming very soon, certainly within the next three months. Don't worry, Alamo won't be neglected, and Operation Damocles will still be on sale by the end of July; I think the cover is one of the best I've ever had!

With this book, I'm adopting a new working pattern, and it seems to be working surprisingly well. (No, I'm not off-topic – bear with me for a moment.) Previously, I've written in manic pulses of output, and for the last two Alamo books, I was averaging more than eight thousand words a day. Let me make something clear right now – I would never recommend that to anyone. After each of them (and I wrote the preceding one at a rate almost as rapid) my hands and wrists hurt like hell, and that was definitely not a good sign. Things have had to change...and I needed to try and increase my sustainable rate, anyway.

A paradox? Not really. Instead of writing in bursts of ten days, followed by two or three weeks off, I'm writing every day, but for less time. One chapter a day instead of two, or even three. Three hours in the morning is sufficient for three to four thousand words. Write a chapter, edit a chapter, prepare for future books. Which means, essentially, a book in twenty days rather than eight to ten, but writing every single day. And that's how to increase the output, and frankly, I'm enjoying this new method more. I won't say that I'll never write faster again, but I think this is the way forward – and to anyone out there doing this or interested in taking up writing, I'd strongly advice adopting a method like this.

Anyway, back to something vaguely resembling the point. I've made no secret of my intention to move into historical fiction as an extra series, but that remains something for next year, not this year. In fact, I've signed myself up to a course on Ancient Egypt starting in September, and am planning to take a similar one on Ancient Mesopotamia in January, to help properly prepare me for it. I want to do the very best job I can. For the present, though...

Well, there remains fantasy, and a couple of recent epiphanies. The first is that one of the worst things you can do is write a book specifically designed to target a market. That is not to say that you shouldn't do research in the genre, and get a feel on what works, it simply means that you need to write the story that is inside you, though you might want to make a few changes and tweaks along the way. I'm writing Starfighter because I've had this idea in my head for years, and some of the elements that have found their way into them have been rattling around in my notebooks for ages. A few earlier attempts at this failed, but this one is sticking, and I think that's why.

A look at the fantasy genre, coldly and dispassionately, should send any prospective writer running to the hills. The lists are stuffed, full beyond belief with novels, and the odds of making any headway are far slighter. While I know that, I also know that it doesn't matter. I'm going to try it anyway. Because I'm getting to the second point, and that is an old axiom. To quote William Goldman, 'nobody knows anything'. Look too deeply at the analysis of fantasy fiction, and you'll be put off. You need to break through that, and damn it, just write the story that is in your head. For better or for worse.

Which is a very long-winded way of saying that I'm projecting 'Curse of the Dragon' for an August release. I'm taking a long look through the genre at the moment, and have a Kindle full of recent indie fantasy to read, and I'm putting a lot of my old notes together. I'm not planning monolithic epics – these will be at the usual Alamo/Starfighter length, anywhere between sixty and eighty thousand words. I have no intention of attempting to reinvent the entire genre. My ambitions are far smaller than that; I just want to tell a good story. At the end of the day, I think that's what readers really want.


  1. I find the sustained pace, with a few days off to edit between books, definitely works best for me.
    I'm trying some new timing methods and a bit more focus on word-count with the next book, so we'll see how that works out!

    I know you've posted this in the past, but what was the online site you were getting your courses from? I'm mostly trawling Amazon for non-fiction books (with a... very broad focus. That's what we call grabbing anything that looks interesting, right?) for education purposes.

  2. It's something I've been wanting to move to for a while, but it isn't until now that I've managed to battle myself ahead of the curve enough to do it.

    The site I used was called 'The Great Courses'. I had to buy the DVDs, but oddly they're a lot cheaper in the UK than in the US, and they were having some huge sales around the start of the year - £15 instead of £90, that sort of thing! However - they have a subscription service that I believe is $15 a month with the option of a free month's trial. I can really recommend their history ones, anyway. The Ancient Egypt one worked on me so well that not only am I planning a few novels set in the period, but I signed up for an actual online university course to follow up!