It was about ten years ago when I first started to crystallize the plan…
I’d always wanted to write Science Fiction novels for kids. When I was a kid there was a lot of a terrific books to explore if monsters and robots and other planets were your thing. One of the longest, most ‘grown-up’ books I read when I was seven was the official tie-in novel for ‘Star Wars.’ The following year this was superceded by ‘Battlestar Galactica’, which was even better. And both were far better than the movies.
Before I ever read HG Wells and John Wyndham and Ray Bradbury I read Puffin SF books by Nicholas Fisk and John Christopher. These were books that put kids – kids like me! – right in the middle of SF stories. It was everyday kids who lived on estates who were realizing Granny had been replaced by an alien replicant. It was kids like those at our school who were taken off in UFOs to join a Galactic Federation against a common foe.
When I graduated from the Children’s to the Adult section of our town library, it was the SF bookcase that acted as my ladder. James Blish, Philip K Dick, Anne McCaffrey gave me the leg-up I needed into adult fiction. But I found that, to me, adult SF wasn’t as exciting as I had been expecting. Where had all the fun gone..? Sometimes it seemed that the dull, jaded, disappointed grown-ups from any old grown-up novel lived in the future, and other planets and other dimensions, too.
So, amongst the many other ambitions I’ve ever had for books I want to write, jostling away for years was this idea of a science fiction trilogy for kids, with kids at the heart of it. In my head it was colourful and melodramatic and exotic. It would be about a family and kids who had to take the lead when their parents couldn’t look after everyone anymore. It was about kids being at the heart of an adventure that could span across an entire alien world…
It took some doing to figure it all out. I didn’t really sit down and start to make notes and draw up plans till about eight years ago… I let things gestate for a long time before writing anything at all.
I knew that I wanted them to be recognizable kids in any age, any era, any town or city. The slightly tomboyish, bookish yet practical girl who narrates the whole thing. Lora was the cornerstone of the whole trilogy and once I could hear her voice in my head, I knew I could start. She’s sometimes snappish and peevish, but she’s alert and amazed and full of the capacity for wonder as she embarks on these adventures. She’s both excited by the challenge, but sometimes exasperated by her companions.
I just knew she had to have an irksome, but ultimately loyal, little brother. And a much younger sister that she adores.
And a family robot who has looked after them all for many years. Toaster is a sun bed with pretentions to be an intellectual and a gallant knight of olden days. Together with Lora’s grandmother and her grandmother’s family and friends, he was one of the first settlers on the planet Mars, some sixty years ago.
Or so they thought…
Because they weren’t the first to come here. Almost two hundred years before the Prairie settlers, the British came to Mars. The came secretly, only a few at a time, and they came by bus…
By Celestial Omnibuses launched from the secret dockyard on Tyneside. Victorians came to Mars and built a city of green glass, which still stands, and which Lora and her family discover a little way into their adventures. It’s a city filled with wonderful and terrifying secrets. A city ruled by the cruel authorities and haunted by Martian Ghosts…
This was the backstory and the kind of detail I was accumulating and building up…
With each new day that I sat down to think and plan, my history of Mars was falling into place, bit by bit.
Then, come autumn 2012 I was ready to write the first volume: ‘Lost on Mars.’ I wrote it in pencil, in notebooks given to me by friends, at our kitchen table. (The gift books seemed important. It was a superstitious thing – I was going to fill every page of every notebook I’d been given in the past two years. It felt as if I was repaying my friends’ faith in my writing.)
It took a year for that book to be finished and, when it went out to be read by editors it was frustrating because some wanted it to be just about the quiet life on the Martian prairie. They wanted domestic detail in outer space and smaller, everyday excitements. They didn’t want the Martian Ghosts and jelly beasts and the odyssey across the desert. And then, at the same time, other editors wanted it to be less detailed and more of a rompy adventure.
Neither option was any good to me, really, because what I was set on writing was a literary adventure story, with real, unique characters having strange and complicated, thrilling adventures. I wanted all the feels as well as all the thrills and I wanted to make readers think.
Luckily, at last, Firefly saw the point of it all.
Penny and Janet at Firefly press were about a year into starting their new children’s list, and I’ll be forever grateful that they picked up my Lora trilogy – just when more mainstream publishers had had me thinking it was too ambiguously odd and idiosyncratic to work.
It’s been a battle to get it out there, and to get the books noticed. Small press stuff doesn’t get the breaks or the table displays that other books do. You have to grasp every opportunity you can to read or talk or go on about your book. You don’t take anything for granted. We were very lucky in that Amanda Craig was an immediate champion of Lora – best kids’ SF since Patrick Ness, she said, straight away. And SF Said gave us a fabulous, serious-minded review in the Guardian. He saw ‘Lost on Mars’ as part of a wave of new SF for kids. I love the idea of that. SF for kids that reads as excitingly to them as the stories in ‘The Armada Sci-Fi Series’ did to me. That reads as astoundingly weird as Michael Moorcock did to me when I started branching out from my Dr Who novelizations…
So – it’s 2018 – and the final volume in my trilogy is published this week. ‘The Heart of Mars’ completes the full story of how Lora comes to reunite her family. She learns all the buried secrets of the various settlers on Mars and the Ancients in their hidden labyrinth, and she’s built up a new family of unusual and surprising friends, too.
It feels strange to be standing at the very furthest edge of this saga now, waving them all off.
But it means it’s all complete now.
It means that you can finish the whole thing, too.
I remember what it was like as a kid – reading a series that I was mad keen to finish. I remember looking at the time when I finished a book – seeing it was ten past five, and calculating that if I ran to the town precinct I should just about be able to catch the newsagent before it closed, and ransack their paperback carousel for the next volume in the set…
So… I’m hoping that now this trilogy is done, and is whole and complete, people will come to discover Lora and her friends – human, robotic and Martian – on the surface of my mysterious Mars.
Here and now is a good time for you to start off on this adventure, and I hope you’ll all enjoy it.