The Quiet War came out at more or less 170,000 words, a tad over the estimate of 150,000 made before I wrote the first word. I cut something like 50,000 words along the way, so I think they are the right 170,000 words, more or less. It would be easy (and fantastically lazy and indulgent) to make it twice the length, with no change in plot or incident. But it wouldn’t do the book much good. I like to write long and cut back, which isn’t the most efficient way of writing perhaps, but lets me see what works, and what is necessary.
It’s loosely based on the background and back story a sequence of stories I wrote over the past ten years, although I’ve made some pretty drastic changes; necessary changes, as the sequence emerged piecemeal rather than being thoroughly planned. So it’s a second draft of a future history, about the way in which history works through human lives, and how human lives and human ideas work on history. It follows five main characters through a tight tangle of storylines that all resolve in a conflict that slowly and inevitably develops into war, through design and circumstance. A collision between stasis and evolution, between a conservative elite that’s consolidated power after catastrophe, and a new generation hungry for change, even though it can’t quite define to itself what that change is going to be. There are spaceships and space battles, chases and alarms, vacuum organisms, floating gardens in Saturn, gene wizards, spies, and extraordinary ordinary people, cities and oases scattered across the very real icescapes of half a dozen moons of Jupiter and Saturn (I owe a vast debt to the robot probes Galileo and Cassini, not to mention the Huygens lander)... In short, it’s a kind of space opera.
I should of course be pressing on with the next novel, and I am beginning to make notes on the notes I wrote at various intervals in the past year or so, but having worked with furious concentration for about eight months, with just a couple of weeks off here and there, I’m unwinding a little. Stepping back, to make the next great leap. Maybe I’ll scratch the itch of this short story that’s been bugging me. And in any case, I’m hardly finished with The Quiet War; there’ll be an edit to deal with, by and by, and a concentrated spot of polishing, the copy edit... I definitely need a rest.
Celeb spot: Gilbert & George piss-elegant in camelhair coats, Commercial Street, Spitalfields. Not entirely unexpected as they live around the corner, but it still evoked a tiny frisson.
Current listening: Songs of Defiance, Music of Chechnya and the North Caucasus, compiled by Michael Church, and Oddities and Marvels of the Human Voice, compiled by Jack Womack. Current reading: E.L. Doctorow’s Welcome To Hard Times.