A Lament for Tyre: The Novel

UpdatesPosted by C. John Sun, November 04, 2018 19:20:52

In my writing journal here I’ve written about the short story progress I’ve made and whilst I published my 3rd paid for short story at the end of last year, the process from writing to print took quite some time. Meanwhile, I’ve been beavering away at something at a much bigger scale: a book.

The reason I’m flagging it now is that it almost exists (in draft form) and I just recorded an interview with Andy Chamberlain (who runs the excellent Creative Writer’s Toolbox Podcast) about both it and the process of bringing it to life. So I can no longer hide its existence on this blog!

I had often thought of writing a novel, but in contrast to my short fiction, I expected this would wait until retirement. The pensionable age creeps ever upwards (now 67 in Sweden for a full pension and still many years in my future). My dream was receding out of my grasp and I was starting to get the ‘now or never’ feeling in my bones. My published fiction is very diverse in both time, place and sub-genre, so what could I draw on for a work of novel length? I wanted to set it in a future Stockholm and that directly related to two stories that occupied my head even before I returned to writing fiction. The outline of these stories is now crystallized in my novel’s Scrivener file and they form the back story of my book. Whilst SF is my main literary interest, on TV my main staple is detective shows and in both literature and TV I love a good mystery. The second of these unwritten stories introduced a detective and I latched on to him as my main viewpoint character.

Before ever putting pen to paper (or, in fact, a finger to a keyboard—my preferred writing technique) I wrote the back cover copy of the projected novel for a writing exercise. Here it is:

As Stockholm detective Inspector Dan Hallberg prepares for the increasingly outré performance art produced by the city’s graduating art students, he is confronted with a harrowing truth by a woman recently resuscitated from death. Until this encounter murder was the worst crime Hallberg had to contend with.

There is a human drama being played out in a secret wing of a private hospital where people are losing their identities--an attempt to cover an even greater conspiracy. To solve this mystery, Hallberg needs to find the victims and try to piece together their lives both in and out of the virtual worlds they have lived and died in. They, in turn, are relentlessly hunted by a very real assassin anxious to complete his mission: a task entrusted to him by employers whose nature remains hidden, even from him. He has never failed.

New SF writer C John Arthur—a dual British/Swedish citizen--takes us to a future Stockholm where he blends the underlying concerns of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium books with the virtual worlds of William Gibson to confront us with some unpalatable truths of our modern life and those that pay the highest price to maintain it.

Perhaps you immediately think of Scandi Noir? I suspect the agent I mention below probably did. Whilst the territory is necessarily dark, I felt I could bring a fresh take by setting it about 30 years in the future and bringing some hope into the mix and of course some other interesting elements.

I took this summary with me as I attended the writers’ workshop held at the London World Science Fiction convention 4 years ago. We were visited by an agent, and I pitched the novel. He seemed to like it and we had some correspondence following the convention. Once I had a few chapters under my belt he suggested sending them to him to look at. Since most agents these days won’t look at something before a full draft is completed, it was an enormous encouragement, and an incentive to start writing the book. This happy beginning was thwarted by two major obstacles. 1. The next stage in the agent process—if they like the first few chapters—is an outline of the whole book. I didn’t have one and I felt I really needed one, I couldn’t pants it—writers’ slang for making it up as you go along. So I felt there was no point getting the agent’s interest only to fall at the next stage. 2. I have always prioritized my day job and that suddenly swallowed both my time and more importantly my emotional wherewithal to write. If you listen to the podcast you’ll much more about the whole process of bring the novel to life.

It is dangerous to boldly declare a title when title choices are one of the more fluid aspects of publishing fiction—unless you are planning to self-publish. In this case, however, the whole novel springs out of this title, and it also part of the mystery. It is a metaphor, in the virtual worlds of the novel, for the future form of today’s internet, cyberspace. So it’s a lament for what the future internet may become. Interestingly, Tim Berners-Lee, the originator of the current World Wide Web has also lamented what has happened to his creation..

What we remember defines so much of our personalities, robbed of this gift our identities are distorted. The people robbed are on the margins of Swedish society and the story follows a red thread from pornography and sexual abuse to prostitution and sex trafficking. In the midst of this we meet a family broken by tragedy and yearning for answers.

This year marked the inaugural Stockholm Writers’ Festival. On the back of this they established a new, annual International literary competition for the first five pages of a long work of fiction or fact. To my surprise and encouragement, my novel’s first 5 pages made longlist. That is, I was in the last 30 of more than 250 entries from around the world. The judge, who had a strong literary fiction background, made the comment that he was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the writing coming from authors of genre fiction…

Of course, it needs to be finished and redrafted—with the help of my beta readers— but with the podcast soon to be released (links will follow shortly) I have nailed my colours to the mast as a novelist and not just short story writer. Watch this space.