“You want to become a writer? Are you drunk?”
That was one of the many reactions I received after I made the conscious decision to take writing seriously. I can’t blame anyone for reacting like that – prior to September 2017, I had never once openly expressed an interest in writing. It was always something I’d considered doing when I had more time. When my children are more settled in school, when things get quieter in work, when the latest season of Game of Thrones is over. The list of reasons not to write grew longer and longer.
Then, in September 2017 something happened. For years I juggled parenthood, working and building my app development side-project. After one particular project went south, a moment of clarity struck me when I asked myself what I wanted to do. Did I want to spend every spare hour continuing to build and develop apps? I thought about that question over and over until I came to a realisation.
Deep down, app development was nothing more than a means to an end. I wanted to grow my app portfolio for no other reason than to increase my income. That would then allow me to quit my job and focus on what I really wanted to do – write. From that moment, an idea crystallised. Rather than spending what little free time I had doing something that I may have been good at but realistically, had no interest in, I decided to start writing.
The transition wasn’t easy, but I did have a head start. Prior to forming my first app development company two years previously, I had written roughly thirty pages of a story based on a vivid dream I had. I dusted this story off, re-read and edited it and then I wrote a single sentence. From that sentence a paragraph was born, followed by an entire chapter.
I became possessed, spending every (extremely rare) moment of peace and quiet dragging a story out of me. It was something I had been thinking about for years, something that I had torn apart and put back together so many times, that it felt more realistic than the real world.
Determined not to rest until I had this story completed, I worked furiously around the clock, eventually finishing it two hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve 2017. The sense of satisfaction from drafting a 100,000-word story struck me like a hammer. It almost felt like an out-of-body experience as I read through it. Through sheer force of will, I had ignored every desire to relax, laze about and waste my time and instead, had built an entire world from scratch.
It isn’t easy and there are times when the last thing in the world I want to do is write. I sometimes think back to September 2017 and wonder what things would have been like if I didn’t have that epiphany. There would have been no self-publishing journey, no countless hours of bashing away at a keyboard, no publishing deal and certainly no Big Red.
I could easily have kept on developing apps and who knows where I’d be with that now. The most important thing is that I’m happy. I’m glad I made that decision. I’m glad I spent months sacrificing my free time to write Big Red. I’m glad I have the opportunity to be a writer.
And no, I’m not drunk. (Well… Not that drunk…)
Like most of my writing projects, Big Red started as a dream. I’ve always had an overactive imagination, which is something that’s followed me into sleep. It’s rare that I don’t have vivid dreams (or nightmares) that I can easily recount the following morning.
When I woke up, I wrote roughly two pages describing what I had dreamt about. It wasn’t much and I didn’t know it at the time, but that became the basis for the first two chapters of Big Red. I can still remember seeing rows upon rows of fold-out beds with soldiers laid out on them, screaming and howling out in pain and agony. Dressed in an army uniform myself, I walked past them before looking up and seeing a swirling, crisp image of the planet Mars. To say this dream impacted me would be an understatement.
I played around with the idea for months, trying to figure out the context. What were those soldiers screaming about? Why Mars?
While doing day-to-day errands the idea played on my mind. I created characters and their backgrounds. I read up on interstellar colonisation and exploration and kept track of the growing attempts to put a manned crew on Mars. I considered setting Big Red in the future, at a time when we had the mainstream technology to do the things that so many people dream of. But that didn’t feel right.
I thought back to my years in primary school. One of my teachers once quipped his belief that our current level of technology is far more advanced than most people realise. In a two-minute ramble, he told us that, in his opinion, technology is released to the masses decades after being developed behind the scenes by various shadowy government organisations.
Was he wrong? I have no idea. I enjoy reading conspiracy theories with an open mind, but I never bought into the idea that some international cabal was trying to control us. Still, I took his idea and looked at Big Red through his lens. What if (in 2018/2019) humanity already had the ability to travel between the stars and establish colonies? What if those colonies have been there for decades? What would that be like?
And with that thought, the background story for Big Red was born. It took further research to develop and flesh it out. I wanted the history of the colonies to be based (as much as possible) on real life events and fears, even if that history wasn’t directly dealt with in Big Red.
Being a bit of a history buff, I remembered reading about the Nazis V1 and V2 rocket programs during WW2 and the fear and terror this newfound technology brought. I studied up on it and read about how the Russians and Americans both rounded up these Nazi scientists post war and quietly put them to work.
Using that and the still ongoing fascination with the theory that Hitler escaped as jump-off points, I created a background where the last remnants of the third Reich used their advanced technology and escaped to Mars.
Stories like that have been done before, but the events in Big Red don’t deal with this. Instead, it takes place decades after the Allies victoriously crush the Nazi threat (following the historically documented “1952 Washington UFO phenomena”) with their 1954 invasion of Mars.
The characters in Big Red learn all this, shortly after realising they’ve been abducted. As fascinating as it is to them to learn about this alternate history, these events don’t impact them directly. The aftermath does.
The simmering racial tensions between descendants of the Nazis, Mars-born Allied colonists and the Earth-born soldiers that protect and police them is a vital aspect to the overall story and one that brings dire consequences.
To think, all of that started with a dream.
2018 has been a rollercoaster!
Just a little over a year ago, I sat where I’m sitting now having penned my first novel. It still needed a lot of work, but after an exhausting few months, I had done the impossible. The story that bubbled and boiled for so long was finally here and I had no plans on resting until I shared it with the world.
I submitted it to various publishers and literary agents, but after three months and dozens of template rejection emails, I decided to self-publish. I read every blog and article I could find and after putting together a marketing plan, I unleashed my story into the world. It did surprisingly well for the first few weeks, before ultimately crashing and burning.