The Heretic is done, so here's the cover and some concept art...
Today, I finished the first draft of The Heretic. At 43,478 words, I feel it's a good length for a series opener. I started work on the Beyond the Wall setting about three years ago, one summer, but left it to drift for a couple of years, jotting down ideas and concepts from time to time. I returned to it as winter set in last year. I'd thought a lot about the setting – somewhere I could play with government, war, humanity, crime, disease, terraforming, the future of the human race – themes which toy with my emotions on a daily basis. I had characters in mind – a 14 year old desperate to protect the family he loves and come to terms with overwhelming feelings of loss and hatred; a smuggler beset by dreams about a childhood he doesn't remember and a past he'd rather forget and whose life revolves around a freighter with which he has an almost emotional bond; a preacher, hunted by a regime which has forbidden religion of any type. There are more, many more in fact and, by the time it all comes together at the finale of book 2, there will be several major players, which allows me to tell the story in several ways and from different points of view. It will give the setting more colour and depth to allow the reader to experience it from the perspective of some very different people.
I've thoroughly enjoyed writing it, but it's been an emotional experience. I have learned a great deal about my own writing and what I want to achieve from it and, in some ways, I have set the bar so high I am finding it hard to meet the standards I am setting. The pressure of this debut built on me. I knew I could write good sci-fi and I had a great story to tell, but the more I wrote, the worse I felt about producing something average and unmemorable. I wanted to produce something as smoothly-written as single malt scotch, like Hugh Howey; as insightful and thought-provoking as Philip K Dick; with the inventive creativity of China Miélville. To aim to be as good as those guys. With a debut? No way. But it drove my writing forward and I wanted to learn. I looked at it with a new, critical eye. Assessed it that much more rigorously. But it hurt because I knew what I was writing could easily fall short.
So finishing the first draft today was bitter-sweet. It left me elated, but confused and empty. Exhausted and excited. Ready to send it to my editor, David Gatewood, but reticent about hitting 'send'. Another run at it tomorrow, maybe? A read-through again to see what needs a little tinkering. Do the themes come through? Is Jordi innocent enough? Does what drives him come through strongly enough? Is Shepherd cyclical enough? Is the reader hooked and then kept on the tenterhooks of suspenseful anticipation throughout?
I told David he'd have it by mid-May. He's got my friend, and cover designer, Jason Gurley's amazing book (or should I say opus), ELEANOR to edit first. Then he'll turn his attention to mine. I hope he's not disappointed – Jason has been working on ELEANOR for 13 years. I've been working on The Heretic for less than 13 months. Another high-standard to reach.
I promised you a cover reveal, so I'd better get to it. Jason has turned up something special and I cannot begin to explain how much I love it. I hope you do too.
There were several styles we went though, but this one is perfect for what I intended from the book. The drama of what looks like a chase, the remote wilderness in a hostile winter, the grain on the image suggesting something dark and dirty. It all makes me want to pick up the book and read it. I hope it does you, too.
But the cover is not going to be the only artwork about this book. Soteria, the freighter Shepherd is so attached to, is a pivotal part of the series and it seemed only fitting that she be given the same treatment. I commissioned a Bulgarian artist, Nikolay Asparuhov, to draw Soteria and to sketch the scene showing Soteria approaching Hanjang, the planet where The Heretic is set. He sent me the early concept work for Soteria and some of the other ships in the Beyond the Wall series and I thought you'd enjoy seeing this sketches as much as I enjoyed receiving them.
I won't say yet which I chose for Soteria, but I am really thrilled with the work Nikolay is doing. Eventually, there will be a clean, fully rendered, multi-plane blueprint of Soteria, detailing what she looks like and what she's capable of which will be reproduced in both the Kindle version and the CreateSpace paperback.
The second book in the series, Defiance, is fully outlined now and ready to write once The Heretic is with David. It will be a full-length novel, something like 80,000 words, and Jason just emailed me to say he's about to start work on it. Exciting times!
My envisaged release date for The Heretic continues to be mid-to-late July. If you'd like to get the first chapter two weeks before the book goes live, and see the concept art before everyone else, as well as get special deals on The Heretic and the rest of the series, then please join my mailing list and subscribe to my newsletter, INSIDE. It helps support me, gets the book into the bestseller and popularity lists and helps me write more and more stories in the Beyond the Wall setting.