Former SFX Pulp Idol runner-up wins extreme novel writing challenge - his book is out now from HarperCollins' Authonomy
Last week saw the publication of Christopher Brosnahan 's first novella, POV. It's a book with an interesting genesis that will serve as inspiration to those SFX readers who aspire to publish their own fiction too. You may have already read one of Christopher Brosnahan's short stories because we published "The Warning" as a runner up in 2006's Pulp Idol writing competition. Since then he's been busy refining his craft and this year he entered The Kernel's 30-hour writing challenge. He told us how that turned into POV...
Christopher Brosnahan: The Kernel came up with the idea as a kind of extreme-novel-writing challenge . Publishers HarperCollins heard about it, and it all got more exciting when they offered to publish the winner via their Authonomy brand. Hundreds of people registered to take part and The Kernel opened their offices up to anyone that wanted to come and write there, so the weekend really felt like an event. The idea was to do 15 hours a day over two days.
I found out about it on Twitter, and it appealed immediately in the same way as sky-diving or mountain climbing might appeal to some other people. I didn't want to just write something - I wanted to try to do it well, and write something complete and fun in that amount of time. So I aimed to put together as fun a novella as possible.
SFX : How hard was it to complete the 30-hour writing challenge? How did you plan your time - and was a lot of coffee involved?
Brosnahan: It was pretty exhausting. My approach was to try and get as much done in the first day as possible so I could have editing time at the end of the second day. I spent the first hour planning a rough structure and coming up with character names, and working out roughly where I had to get to by various points in the day, so I always knew what I was aiming for.
Once I started writing, I made little deals with myself that I could, say, go out and get some fresh air after I'd hit another 500 words, or I could check Twitter if I hit another thousand words - little bargains to keep myself going. An enormous amount of coffee was involved. Ibuprofen was also involved, as my hands were genuinely quite painful, because I get mild arthritis.
I got fairly ahead on Day One, so I let myself get more sleep and start later on Day Two. Once I finished, I spent a couple of hours editing; I don't think I'd have won without doing that.
SFX : Can you describe the feeling when you found out that you'd won?
Brosnahan: I was actually ill on the day, laid up with the 'flu. I knew I'd been shortlisted to the final ten or so, so I spent most of the day pretending not to constantly refresh the page until they made the announcement. I'd gone to get some food and was checking on my phone.
It honestly took a few times reading it until it sank in. I know it's a cliché to say that it didn't seem real, but I kept thinking I must have misread it. I was honestly expecting not to win, as some of the other entries were so high quality, and I just wanted to get the disappointment over with. So I went back and reloaded the page a couple of times just in case I'd misread it or there was some utterly bizarre loading error and it had accidentally loaded the wrong names in there. I then told my girlfriend and family, had a celebratory Lemsip and went back to bed.
SFX : The blurb makes it sound like POV has strong elements of medical/body horror in it as well as science fiction. Did you have an idea of what to write before you started? What were your inspirations for this story?
Brosnahan: I came up with the basic idea a few days beforehand. I'd been reading about Google Glass and that led me to wonder where augmented reality could go in, say, 50 years. I've always liked the idea of nanotechnology, so I came up with the idea of IDRoPS, which is liquid technology injected straight into the eyeball.
As soon as I came up with that idea, I realised that the process of having that done could be rather unpleasant, even if it was a straightforward procedure... a bit like going to the dentists. So, dentists and eyeballs...that sounded like a fun place to start. With a title like POV (as in Point Of View), I also wanted to play around a little with narrators and identity. But I wanted to go with the spirit of the competition, so didn't start properly plotting or anything until I sat down to start writing.
SFX : What are you particularly proud of in POV - and what would you change with hindsight?
Brosnahan: I had a complete crisis in confidence halfway through. There's a big storyline point that happens there, and I started writing it and I suddenly thought "this doesn't work". And I had no idea what to do. And it actually works fine, but I completely lost confidence in it. But the only thing I could do was to keep going with it - I didn't have time to come up with something else. So it took a lot to suck that up and believe in the me from the day before who thought it was a good idea at the time. Once I got a few chapters on, I realised it did actually work after all, so I'm proud I kept going there, even if timing forced me into it.
In terms of changing anything, I don't know - I kind of did what I set out to do. If I was extending it, I'd love to flesh out some of the supporting characters more and explore the future it's set in a bit more. Just get the chance to spend a bit more time on it, perhaps.
SFX : The book is out now. Have you had much response and feedback?
Brosnahan: Early word has been really encouraging, and people seem to be enjoying it. It's basically a pulp sci-fi novella with some fun elements in there, and it moves fast enough that hopefully, the reader won't have time to get bored - and it's only 99p to start with, so we're hoping that it justifies any impulse buys. There are a couple of short stories and a small non-fiction piece in there about the 30-hour challenge as well, so there's some bonus material too.
SFX : What continues to attract you to the SF, fantasy and horror genres?
Brosnahan: They're just so much fun. I've been a fan since I started to read, and I doubt I'll ever stop. I like all kinds of storytelling, but it probably says a lot that I'm currently dividing my attention between the Game Of Thrones books and Doctor Sleep , the new Stephen King book.
Take the saying "the sky's the limit" - with SF, fantasy and horror, the sky is just the beginning. The entire universe, past and present are only barely the limits. There are so many good and exciting new writers out there at the moment as well, like Lauren Beukes, Danie Ware, Snorri Kristjannson, Den Patrick, Lou Morgan, Tom Pollock, Laure Eve... There's so much happening that it feels like a really exciting time.
SFX : Any plans for novellas and short stories in the future? What are you working on now?
Brosnahan: I've written two full-length novels which are with my agent at the moment. One of them is a dark and twisted psychological thriller called I Am Legion and the other is a conspiracy thriller called The Last Update , which I've just finished the first draft of. I'm currently writing something new involving vampires, which is hopefully going to be a little different from anything else out there.
I'm regularly putting up new instalments of a serial I've been writing on my blog called "Magic Falls", which features fairies, demons, mythology, time travel and the end of the world. I'm writing it as I'm going, so it's all brand new. I've been enjoying it a lot. I put short stories up there sometimes as well.
SFX : What advice would you give to any budding writers out there, looking to take on the challenge next year?
Brosnahan: Join a writing group or set one up. I run one in North London and I wrote a guide to setting one up on my blog a little while ago. It keeps you motivated as well.
Also, keep going. The biggest mistake I see budding writers make is finishing their first chapter and then revising it and revising it and revising it, trying to make it perfect before they move on to the second chapter. Months or years later, they have a really good first chapter and nothing else.
That's what the 30-hour challenge was about, and it's what the upcoming NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is about. Putting your inner editor aside while you get to work. Write it, get it down and move on. Get that first draft done and then go back. We're a month off NaNoWriMo, which can be a great motivator, and I’d recommend to anyone. The challenge is to write a novel in a month, and thousands and thousands of people take part in this every year. It’s a good starting point if nothing else.
SFX : Thanks Christopher!