I hope you’re all managing in these strangest of times. After the first two weeks of lockdown and homeschooling, my brain’s starting to come alive again, little by little, by which I mean I’m writing again.
I’ll have updates about my next novel, Hope Island, very soon – but for now here’s a turning-back of the clocks by almost a year, to my last novel, Snakeskins. The article below was originally intended to feature in BSFA Focus, but after a mix-up it’s now without a home, so I thought I’d put it up here. It’s an overview of the writing and route to publication, which may be of most interest to upcoming writers.
Beginnings and false starts
In July 2015 I noted the following idea in a Word document:
Instead of the body’s cells gradually being replaced every 7–10 years, it all happens in an instant. This produces a ‘snakeskin’ version of yourself that is able to live independently, for a time. Somebody living a full life might produce eight Snakeskins, each of which continue to live for a short period after being ‘discarded’.
It sounded a rich idea, and even had a title built in. I began writing a story about a teenage girl experiencing her first ‘shedding’, roughly coinciding with her entry to adulthood. The result was… all right. I liked the depiction of the shedding ceremony well enough, but the aftermath felt too brief, constrained by the short story format. I had concentrated on this aspect: Perhaps Snakeskins tend not to be inhibited because they know they have limited time to live. Are they therefore more effective people? But this seemed only one possible repercussion, and more occurred to me over the following days. I wrote this list – the first item no doubt informed by the fact that I was considering quitting my job at the time:
Pros of Snakeskins:
- You might be able to convince your Snakeskin to do your day job for you
- Someone to confide in, who understands you entirely
- Sheddings represent important milestones in life, especially the first one
- Can’t necessarily control or even relate to your Snakeskin
- Unwanted responsibility for someone else
- Interruption to normal life
- Desperately sad – like caring for someone with terminal illness
The short story had been vague about the world in which the characters existed. I began to wonder about aspects that might affect wider society. Had people always produced Snakeskins? Did everyone produce them? Did the process have some scientific basis, or was it essentially magic? How would Snakeskins expire – an ordinary death, or something stranger?
Continue reading The journey of a novel: Snakeskins