David sent this over the American Thanksgiving holiday, when I was holed up visiting relatives with no internet or computer, so my apologies for the last post. Full text after the break.
“Past, Present And Future”
A blog in three parts
By David Wingrove – Saturday 30th November 2013
One – And The Evening Sings In A Voice Of Amber…
I was just nineteen years and one month old when Al Stewart, the English singer-songwriter, put out his classic album, Past, Present and Future. I was captivated, at first, by the long, (nine minutes fifty seconds) track, “Nostradamus”, which ends the album. But as the years passed, there was one single track that I kept returning to time and again, “Roads To Moscow”, itself a lengthy song, at eight minutes, its subject matter ‘Operation Barbarossa’, Hitler’s invasion of Russia in June 1941. It’s a great song, wonderfully lyrical, a poem set to music. And some while later, while listening to the song, I launched out on a lengthy short story, called “When The Snows Come”, about Hitler and the campaign, and a time traveller who tries to change things and help the Nazis win the war.
We’re talking about the early eighties here. I was sharing a flat with my darling Susan in Islington, and though I was perceived by most people to be only a critic/editor/reviewer of the genre, I had been writing science fiction – SF stories, that is – for the best part of eleven years. As an unpublished writer, I was very much one of the lesser members of our writing group, which we called WRITER’S BLOC. The other writers were all published, and one – Rob Holdstock, had even won the World Fantasy award for his novel, Mythago Wood. The others? Garry Kilworth, Lisa Tuttle, Chris Evans, Simon Ings, Bobby Lamming, Dave Garnett and Geoff Ryman. It was Geoff who, when I presented my far from short 65-pager to the group, suggested that I develop a larger framework to my story and turn it into a novel.
It was a good idea, only I was working on this wee little Chinese-oriented project, and so I left it as it was, a big, sprawling second draft which, in a much rewritten form, now forms Part 2 of the first volume of the trilogy, “In The Footsteps Of Napoleon”.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Between 1984 and 1996, I not only bought (with Sue) a big house in Hackney and did it up, but also had four delightful girls (two of whom I house-husbanded) and wrote all of the Chung Kuo sequence (as it then existed). Towards the end, even as I was finishing (unsatisfactorily) my Chinese work, I was also jetting back and forth between London and Spokane in Washington State, where I was busy writing the Myst trilogy. That’s another whole story, but suffice to say that, as far as I know, I have the only copy of the fourth novel, my first draft version, that is, one that is lacking any input from the Miller brothers, who collaborated with me intensely on the first three.
1996 was a tough year. Sue and I had, in the last few weeks of ’95, bought a massive but derelict Victorian house on a square. Five floors and seventeen rooms (with seven bedrooms). We moved in, camping in the ruins, so to speak, and got the builders in. That was the year I wrote Marriage Of The Living Dark, the (then) last book in the Chung Kuo sequence, and also Myst, The Book Of D’Ni, the (then) final book in that trilogy. I also began a brand new project, a novel called Imagine A Man, which was much influenced by Pete Townshend’s Who track. It was a big 800-pager of a book, which I finally finished in the Spring of ’97, a stand-alone novel about a writer who discovers he has a brain tumor, and his researches into memory. It was what you might term a slipstream novel, set in the here and now, and I felt it was good. Only my agent didn’t like it and we amicably parted ways. I showed it to another agent, who loved it… but wanted changes. The next three months – even as the building work on the house progressed – were spent doing just that. The resultant second version was more upbeat, less dark, and had an element of redemption to it. I handed it in, excited by what lay ahead. And, after a long delay, got it back.
By which time I was halfway through my next novel, The Beast With Two Backs, the tale of two telepathic and psychopathic twins.
It was around about this stage that Diana Tyler became my agent. Diana loved Imagine and circulated it to a dozen or more publishers. Over the next few weeks/months the letters came back from them. They all loved it. The writing was great. It was hugely readable, only… it was slipstream, and the sales departments universally felt this was a problem. If it had been straightforward science fiction, or fantasy or… Well, it wasn’t. So we sent out The Beast. And lo and behold, another set of rejections came back. Again they loved the book, only where on the shelves of the bookshops was this one going to go? It was just so… weird.
I put both novels in a drawer and got on with the next project on the list. A wee time travel story about a German time agent, Otto, who falls in love with a Russian woman in 13th century Novgorod… and this time war between the Germans and the Russians that had been going on for three thousand years…
And spent the next three years writing and researching it, buying a wall of books on Russian and German history. At the end of which period – in early 2002 – I’d written close on 400,000 words. Roads To Moscow, I called it, in homage to Al Stewart.
I decided to present Diana with the first two volumes of the trilogy it had developed into, together with the incredibly detailed synopsis for book three – forty thousand words in itself.
Diana sent it out, with a rave introductory letter. And again the editors loved it. And the sales people? They hated it, it seemed. The way I’d set it in Europe and not North America was apparently a problem.
It went in the drawer, on top of Imagine and The Beast, gathering dust, the third volume unwritten. And I got to work on a 60,000-worder called The Wounded, and this hugely ambitious mainstream thing called An English Boy.
But let me dwell a minute or two on that massive manuscript of Roads. Because I’d plotted it and re-plotted it, written it and rewritten it, until it really, really worked as a work of fiction. It was, and I make no apologies for the boast, the best damn time travel novel anyone had ever written, and by some degrees the best thing I’d ever written. But it clearly wasn’t its time.
That was to come, ten years later. But let’s look at Roads. Let’s give you a little taster.
The whole three-part work is still called Roads To Moscow, but Book One – In The Footsteps Of Napoleon – is now entitled The Empire Of Time, and is divided up as follows –
Part 1 – The Tree Of Worlds
Part 2 – In The Footsteps Of Napoleon
Part 3 – Berlin, 1759
Part 4 – Katerina
Part 5 – To Asgard
Part 6 – Rassenkampf
Book Two, once called The Language Of The Blood, is now “The Ocean Of Time” and is divided as follows –
Part 7 – Up River
Part 8 – A Stitch In Time
Part 9 – The Gift Of An Owl
Part 10 – The Language Of The Blood
Book Three retains its title, as The Master Of Time, and divides up as follows –
Part 11 – And Master Of None
Part 12 – Perpetual Change
Part 13 – Pretzel Logic
Part 14 – Loose Ends
Part 15 – The World Tree
Appendix – A Short Note On Time Travel
There, that’s it… just over half a million words in all. Short by my standards. And in case you’re wondering, I’m working on Book Three right now, and am halfway through Part 12, with Part 11 fully written and rewritten, following the tightest of time lines.
I’m also waiting on the final copy-edit of the first volume, which should be with me any hour now – after which Book One is ready to roll. Michael Rowley, my editor, has promised to get started on the edit of Book Two on the week of the eighth of December, so it’s quite likely that we’ll have the whole thing written, polished and edited by this time next year. Book One is out April next, and maybe – just maybe – Book Two will follow it before the year is out, with Book Three appearing in the Spring of 2015.
Michael, incidentally, has already put a lot of hard work into getting this out. He used to buy all of the science fiction for our biggest UK chain, Waterstones, so his support and enthusiasm is like having your own sales team okaying everything. He knows whereof he speaks, and with the resources of Random House behind him, we’re hoping for big things with Roads.
Now, if any of you have any questions about the above, just fire away. But look up the Al Stewart track and play it and see where this new tale comes from.
Two – Workshopping
I don’t do them so often now, what with the work to be done on Roads and Chung Kuo, but every now and then we hold a workshop, with anything from four to ten people attending. It’s a day’s course, which, aside from giving novice writers an insight into the business of creative writing, also involves them – one might say immerses them – in a debate on what makes the science fiction genre so appealing. We start at ten in the morning (always on a weekend) and work through to six at night. By the end of which I’m normally quite hoarse and my tutees are the very best of friends. The last one, last weekend, was attended by John, John, Tariq and Phil, a small and intimate gathering, with four -distinct personalities emerging throughout the day. We do writing exercises, each of them developing a single given idea, and very quickly each of them had stamped their mark on the stories, which grew and grew as the hours passed, until we had the makings of four very different, but quite excellent novels. Which is the part I love. Seeing all of that imaginative stuff bubbling up like magma. We give it structure and feed it with twists and turns and new ideas and… well, I hope they go home both satisfied and encouraged.
The next one? I don’t think – with Book Three of Roads begging to be written – will be until March/April time next year. But I’ll keep you all posted.
Three – And The Bad News?
The bad news is that Corvus are seriously considering winding down Chung Kuo after book eight. They’ve the right to, according to the contract, and their view on it is that it isn’t performing well enough for them to support it any longer, but then whose fault is that? Not since Son Of Heaven have there been adequate stocks of the books in the stores over here, and even in these days of Amazon and e-books, a series just can’t live and breathe unless it can be discovered on the shelves of your local bookshop. At some later stage I’ll set down the history of all this, but for now let me assure you that we’re going to finish this. Sue and I have sat down and worked out our strategy, and I guarantee that not only will you get to see Volumes 9-16, which have already been thoroughly rewritten and polished and (up to 10) copy-edited, but you will be able to buy (maybe three years on from here) copies of the new ending, which is the last four books of the sequence.
Are we going to self publish? I don’t know. But we certainly have enough friends with enough skills to consider that, including one of the finest cover artists SF has ever had. But this is just to forewarn you. What I’ve currently in mind is forming a “Friends Of Chung Kuo” society, with matching t-shirts and access to the short stories I’ll still be producing.
But as they say – Nil desperandum.
Oh, and just to say that – even as this is going on with the publishers – there’s serious interest by a major production company. They want to make Chung Kuo as one big blockbuster movie and then a number of follow-up TV series. And they’ve got this very well known film director who wants in, and…
Watch This Space
Okay. That’s it for now. More in a day or two.
David – 30th November 2013