Year of the Psychonaut

A happy New Year to all Connoisseurs of Chaos,

I hope you all had a great Xmas and a restful time in whatever guise the festive season came to you. For me, looking back on the year 2015 provided both a nadir and a pinnacle. Family health was not good and children and parents had to cope with some long term illnesses that stretched our resources to the limit. On the plus side, I published my first book, the collection of stories entitled ‘Defiled Earth’ – a copy of which I hope you all enjoyed. In addition, I established an author platform, this website being the centre-piece; But the big news at the close of the year is that I have finished the first draft of my novel, ‘The Psychonaut.’ It was done at the eleventh hour – literally, on New year’s eve. Here’s me brandishing a printed version.

Psychonaut portrait true

I eventually downed a cool Glenlivet in the early hours to celebrate the end of a marathon run.

My next task was to compile a WORD version from good old ‘Scrivener’ and print out a hard copy. First problem: I didn’t realise that, with double-spacing, it would occupy 481 pages in total. My printer ran out of paper before the job was complete. One trip to Staples this morning remedied that. The lead picture above shows what the draft looks like in a lever-arch binder – all 123,954 words of it!

Yes, it’s a bit long. My task now is to whittle it down, trim the fat and  incorporate the critiques from beta readers. I had planned it to be 85K to 90K long, but then it morphed from a pure horror story to dark fantasy.

Anyhow, I’m laying it to rest now, and will start editing in earnest towards the end of January. In the meantime, I’ve got the finishing touches to add to the second proofs of my non-fiction publications that Harper-Collins are publishing later this year. They’re part of a series of revision guides and workbooks for GCSE science.

 

Rev guide

In addition, I’m writing an A level Biology question book as well, and possibly writing the script for an audio book. Life is busy!

As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve outlined my next novella, tentatively titled ‘Coffin-dodgers’ and have already written the first chapter. More about that at a later date. I’m employing the Brandon Sanderson tactic of outlining, writing and editing in a continual turn-over of content – this means that I’ll be starting to outline ‘Psychonaut II’ soon. Yes, there’s going to be a trilogy in the offing, and I’ve already got some juicy ideas I can’t wait to lay down.

So, with Psychonaut  being my first novel, what have I learned from the process? I’ve distilled the lessons into the following seven tenets I have learned from writing my first novel:

  1. Finishing your first full-length book really is exhilarating.

I’d read numerous authors’ experience of finishing their last page and was quite prepared for an anti-climax. But I have to say it was immensely satisfying. There was a sense of ‘I’ve done it’ even though I knew there was a lot of editing work ahead of me.

  1. The characters really do write the story

I was lucky enough to happen upon Jim Shooter’s guide to plot development early on and spent a long time developing the scenes for the book. These ultimately turned out to be signposts however, and the characters I created developed a habit of ignoring some of them! I don’t know whether it’s lucid dreaming or just the way the mind works, but I began to have a glimpse of what Stephen King spoke about when he said  ‘your characters … come to life and start doing stuff on their own . . .’

  1. It’s harder to write fewer words than more

The first twenty chapters of Psychonaut have had some heavy input already, through the online community, Scribophile. As a result I’ve begun to grasp the importance of the ‘skinny sentence’ where less is more. It takes patience and perseverance, but at the end of it you get a finely sculpted statue rather than a roughly hewn hunk of stone.

  1. You never stop learning the craft

When I started writing my novel, I didn’t even know what the passive voice was – along with a host of other pitfalls I fell into. At times, I used the project to experiment with ideas put forward by Chuck Palahniuk, Craig Clevenger, Chuck Wendig and Ray Bradbury – to name but a few. Just as I think I’ve mastered a certain skill, I find another gem to take hold of and apply to the writing.

  1. Endings aren’t your enemy

Writing the ending was the scariest part of the whole project. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to achieve even a barely satisfactory denouement. I kept reading advice about how Ernest Hemingway wrote thirty eight or so different endings to one of his books, or how the finale that you fashion should be the only acceptable ending there could be. In the end, I just plunged in with a few outline pointers and let the characters write it themselves. I’m not saying it’s perfect; there’s probably a few plot loopholes in the first draft skulking away, only to be revealed in the edit. But I can honestly say that the threads, character arcs and foreshadowings seemed to come together quite naturally.

  1. Churchill was right

Winston Churchill has a famous quote:

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

I’ve gone through all those phases except the last – no doubt it will happen after numerous edits have taken their toll.

  1. There is no seventh tenet. I just thought seven was a cooler number than six!

So, what’s the book about?  Here’s the short pitch: The Psychonaut is a dark fantasy novel about a sceptical atheist who is in denial about the supernatural ability he possesses.

How does that sound? Intriguing, or middle of the road? Do let me know.

And here’s a brief synopsis:

What would you do if you knew what the other person in the room was thinking? More than this, what if you knew why they were thinking it? Merrick Whyte has just such a talent. He puts it down to psychology, the study of body language and good background research. His services are highly sought after in the world of high finance and business mergers. If you want the opposition sized up and every angle covered, then Merrick’s your man. His friends think he has everything going for him. They also know he’s a smug, arrogant prick. Still, you can’t have everything.

            But his world is about to change. Someone is seeking his skills for an altogether different purpose. One which leads Merrick into the clandestine world of the occult. His dealings with warring parties seeking control of the worlds beyond the ‘gateways’ leads him to Central Asia, and embroil him in a conflict where the stakes are higher than he ever imagined.

            In a world where it is hard to divine between friend and foe, he must fight to keep the enigmatic Lotus from being sucked into the firestorm.

            As the story reaches it’s climax, Merrick must reassess the dividing line between seen and unseen, good and evil and, ultimately, to question what he holds to be true.

 

To whet your appetite a little more, I thought I’d introduce one of the characters:

Celestia Barone

This is Celestia Barone. She’s a useful pair of hands to have in a scuffle, but her main talent is far-sight. She senses friendly and hostile presences up to half a mile away, so you could call her an early warning system. Not much is known about her past save that she comes from the South of France and is enlisted in an occult group called ‘The Syncretic order of Hierophants.’ Oh – and she does tend to turn a few heads in a crowd.

 

As I said before, my characters have a life of their own, so if you’d like to ask her any questions, then feel free to post them in the comments. I can’t guarantee she’ll answer them in the way you expect, but then, that’s part of her charm.

 

More about the Psychonaut next post.

 

Excelsior,

 

Tom

1 Comment

  1. Julie says:

    Some tough times but some good ones too, eh? All the best for 2016!

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