Friday 27 February 2009

The Pike's Peak Eclipse

I made substantial progress on The Miracle of Santa Maria this week when I realized this was a golden opportunity to at long last work the Pike's Peak eclipse of 1878 into a story. I've always been interested in trying to use an eclipse in a story while avoiding the traditional cliché of having the sudden darkening of the sky in the final chapter be a way for the hero to escape his fate.

Of all eclipses the Pike's Peak one is probably the best to work into a western as the time period is perfect. It also came at a time when travel had become easier so that many scientists made an especial effort to observe it. So some years ago I kicked off a story and wrote:

On August 7, 1869, Professor C. A. Young traveled from Princeton to Iowa to study a total eclipse of the sun. When he observed a green line crossing the corona's spectrum, he theorized that he had discovered a new form of gas, which he named coronium, although scientists later identified the line as being iron that had lost thirteen electrons.

So the professor was keen to further his studies by observing the total solar eclipse of July 29, 1878, which cut across North America from Texas to Montana and which was commonly referred to as the Pike's Peak eclipse.

The following fictional tale does not concern itself with what he discovered.

At the time I'd been all geared up to attempt a fairly serious historical novel looking at astronomers travelling West to observe the eclipse and then finding themselves caught up in a shoot-em-up story, but that final sentence bemused me. It was meant as a joke: boring the reader with tedious scientific details before the relief of finding the story won't be about how iron lost all those electrons. But having cracked a weak joke that probably only I understood I lost my way and the story never got warmed up.

But now, I've got warmed up again about the eclipse. So I now have around 12,000 words, Santa Maria has become a place and not a person. The nun still hasn’t got a gun, but I'm fairly sure the miracle that will happen will now involve the eclipse. Although I doubt those lost electrons will feature!

Wednesday 25 February 2009

Saturday 21 February 2009

Who's Who?

I discovered yesterday that one of my fellow writers from the BHW stable (Jack Martin), who runs the tainted archive blog, has starred in the British tv series Dr Who, curiously appearing in an episode that was shown last night on the BBC. I'm not a rabid Who fan, but this rounded off an odd coincidence.

I've just finished reading a novel called Scar Night by Alan Campbell, and I can recommend it to anyone who likes a fun action-packed fantasy novel that avoids being yet another Tolkien or Potter clone. But as I read one thing kept bemusing me: Dr Who. I’d read it on the strength of a review that said it was Gormenghast with action, thereby pressing all the right buttons for me, but while reading I never once thought of Gormenghast. Instead I kept thinking that this book was where Russell T. Davies was getting all his good ideas from for the revived Dr Who.

The bad guys in Scar Night are angels, a recurring Davies theme. There were demons who only got into your mind if you closed your eyes, an innovative plot idea that has been lauded by Who fans in what has turned out to be the generally accepted best new episode Blink. Then there's the fact that Scar Night is set on the edge of a bottomless pit, a setting somewhat similar to the episode Abyss. And a main character, who can regenerate if killed gets his hand cut off and the hand lives on to presumably help with plots in future volumes. This is a bit similar to the way the Doctor also loses a hand that lives on…

So I searched the Net for answers, found that the author had a blog, in which he admitted to being a Who fan. Thinking I was on the verge of uncovering something interesting I asked him whether he was being used as inspiration for modern Who. As it turned out the author hadn't noticed the similarities, but found the connections I'd made entertaining. So it must just have been me!

Thinking back, readers reading too much into my stories hasn't happened to me much before. Although I remember someone contacting me about a book and being impressed by how I'd subtly implied that a brother and sister were having an incestuous relationship, which was a surprise to me as I thought they hated each other. But I did find the idea entertaining!

Wednesday 18 February 2009


Made some progress in the last week on the Fergal O'Brien tale. Last week I just had a working title of the Miracle of Santa Maria and a nun with a gun. The nun has yet to appear but I've now got an opening chapter.

All the Fergal stories have started the same way (although the first bit I write often ends up being in the middle of the book or gets edited out) with a scene in which Fergal tries to sell his tonic. Fergal is a snake-oil seller who makes wild claims about his product, his potential customers don't believe him, and so with it looking as if he won't sell anything he recruits his sidekick Randolph. So Randolph poses as a customer and claims to be ill, he drinks Fergal's tonic, and is miraculously cured.

In previous books Randolph has had his bad leg cured, his deafness, and his amnesia, so this time Fergal 'cured' him of his blindness. Just writing this opening scene usually gets me in the mood to live with these people again and this time was no exception. Even better a heckler appeared out of nowhere and accidentally mentioned a hint of where the story might go. I now have around 2,500 words, three weak jokes, and a possible story, which is fine.

Thursday 12 February 2009

The first step

Well, I didn't want a blog, but when I signed up here so I could write comments on other people's blogs I automatically got one. So perhaps I ought to say something. I'm not going to tell anyone this place exists so it doesn't matter what I post. Perhaps I'll start by keeping progress on my various writing projects.

After Avalon accepted The Treasure of Saint Woody, the fifth book in the Fergal O'Brien series, I've realized I need to write a sixth book, but so far no story has suggested itself. But luckily a title came to mind a couple of weeks back - The Miracle of Santa Maria. Not sure why I like that title but it's a good start. Also the phrase gun-toting nun has come to mind. So that's progress on that project so far, a title and a nun with a gun.

I've also been working on a Cassidy Yates tale. I have around 8,000 words so far. The only trouble is I'm about a quarter of the way through and Cassidy has yet to appear. I'll check in soon and report on further 'progress'