Welcome back to my trip through the NaNo projects of the past.
This time, I’m looking at 2016. I didn’t attempt NaNo in 2015, I was otherwise engaged in adjusting to life after work, as I mentioned last week, my shoulder required an operation in the end, an 8mm bone spur was removed. After six months off work. I decided to take early retirement, rather than have to retrain and re-certify for a job that I had been doing for forty years. Don’t you just love the system?
Ribbonworld, the subject of last weeks post, was actually published in November 2015. And I did write a novel in 2015, just not in one concentrated spell or as part of the challenge. A change of genre for me, it was a Steampunk adventure called The Rocks of Aserol. I also wrote several short stories. Among them was one that I wrote as a bet. My wife had challenged me to write a female character, and to do a ‘woman-runs-away-from-it-all-and-starts-again-in-a-new-place’ type story, only set in space. I thought about it and had an idea for a jilted woman, who reluctantly turns amateur detective when she is forced to by circumstances beyond her control.
I named her Andorra Pett and based her on a combination of the character traits of my wife and my three daughters.
Several people saw the story, Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Café, it was published in my collection Flash Fiction and you can read it by clicking on the title above. It went down quite well, my editor agreed with me and others that there was the basis of a full novel in what I had written. So, for NaNo that year, I expanded it. I didn’t really have any idea where it would go, but the voices in my head were on top form and between us we produced what was one of the easiest books I’ve ever written. The ideas flowed and in the end, it actually turned into a cosy-crime, murder mystery.
Here’s the blurb.
Someone rather flatteringly called the story a mixture of Agatha Raisin and Miss Marple, in space. It made me feel proud to be compared to those two, who are favourites of mine. I also thought that was a rather catchy compliment, and now use it in my advertising. The story has been my most successful novel to date, which is great as I really enjoy writing about Andorra. She has turned out to be everything that my wife and daughters are; a fantastic person, unpredictable and enormous fun to be around.
A sequel, Andorra Pett on Mars, followed. In fact, it came from a piece of Andorra’s backstory and I just carried on writing it as soon as I had finished the first story.
There is a third story, Andorra Pett and her Sister, which is half written, and I have an idea for a fourth, which at the moment is called Andorra Pett takes a Break.
I usually just share the short story with people, but as it’s a special occasion, I’ll give you an extract from a little further in. Andorra is exploring the space station that is now her home, with her new friend, astrophysicist and twin Terri.
We went past the main lifts, into a small alley like the approach to the café, only this one was better lit. There was a small lift tucked away in a corner and Terri used a plastic card to open the door.
“This is the secure lift; you need a card to open it. It’s the only way to get to some of the working areas. Stay close to me.” She pressed a button and we rose quickly, my knees sagged and my ears popped. The numbers rolled back to zero. “This is the observatory. There’s a lot of expensive gear up here; please don’t touch anything.”
The trouble was, I knew from past experience that the harder that I tried to keep away the more I would somehow be dragged closer. It was like a magnet of embarrassing clumsiness. Telling me not to touch something was like asking me to break it in the most improbable and non-repairable way that I could.
We arrived and stepped out; there was a flight of steps leading up. It got darker as we climbed in a spiral and I stumbled in the dark, grabbing the handrail for support.
“Why is it getting darker,” I asked. “It helps your vision adjust,” Terri whispered. As I reached the top and looked around, I almost forgot to breathe.
The ceiling of the observatory was transparent. Everything above desk height was see-through. There were banks of computers on low desks but otherwise the view was uninterrupted. And what a view! I felt like I was perched at the centre of the universe. Were there really that many stars? Saturn was over to one side and our sun, no more than a bright tennis ball, was away in the other direction. I could see the planet, the rings and several moons, all floating in front of a backdrop of scattered diamonds.
I stepped over to the glass or whatever it was. Looking down, the bulk of the station lay below me, dark and featureless. It was so much bigger than I had thought, stretching away in all directions, its disc hiding the stars. We were slightly offset from the middle and you couldn’t see over the edge of it. “It’s all painted to absorb light,” Terri explained. “And our telescope is over there.” She pointed to a shape on the edge of the station, articulated like a crane. “We can swing it around from here,” she explained, “and for the bits that the station masks, we have another on the bottom, on the opposite side.”
Lou was working on a large flat table, lit from inside, she had what looked like X-ray plates laid out and was peering at them through a large, brass framed magnifying glass on a stalk.
“Hi, Andi,” she said, standing up and rubbing her back. “Bloody table’s built for short people… Oops, sorry.”
Behind me Terri giggled and then stopped abruptly. We couldn’t all be tall and graceful like them. I was used to it. I pretended not to notice; anyway, there was no malice in her voice.
“Why do you look at the pictures with a magnifying glass,” I asked, “when you have all these computers to analyse things?” I stood as far as I could from everything, trying to keep my hands by my sides, fighting the urge to touch something, anything!
“They’re not as sensitive as an eye,” she said. “And there are so many things to programme in to make sure they do it properly. We don’t miss as much as they do, and we do it quicker.”
“They analyse the bits we spot,” added Terri. “Once we tell them where to look.” The two of them bent over a picture and started talking in a foreign language, all red-shifts and quasars or something.
As my vision adjusted I could make out quite a few other people in the room, working at computers or just looking out at the view. But I suspect they would say they were studying things. There was an air of studious calm that I couldn’t quite adjust to, hence my present occupation, important though it was. I’d never been academic, I was never able to shut up and concentrate for long enough to work out what the teacher was going on about. But here, I felt like I understood completely, I was a part of all that I could see. I almost wanted to step outside and just… belong. Fortunately there wasn’t a door; I’d have been opening it.
Seeing Lou and Terri work made me realise just what an act the whole twins thing was, here they were in their element, single minded and professional. They ignored me and carried on with their technical discussion, that was OK though, I could have stood here forever.
“Andi, sorry, we got lost there,” said Terri, after what might have been a few moments or may have been a lot longer. I had no idea and wasn’t bothered. You could see just how contrived time was here. “Let’s go down to the farm, there’s a lot more to see.”
“Can I come back up here again?” I asked in a whisper, like you did in church, somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to talk loudly. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“We don’t notice,” said Lou. “It’s all familiar, you can come up with one of us, just ask. But you’ll soon get bored with it.” I didn’t agree, after London and the enclosed spaces I’d been in, this was freedom. This was what I had run to find, I knew it then. The memory of Tina offering us a trip in a mining craft even interested me.
We got back into the lift and went down two floors. We got out of the lift and walked back down an alley to an open space similar to the one on our own deck.
“Every deck has the same basic layout,” Terri explained. “We’re back at the main lifts.”
Opposite the lift was an airlock. I knew that because there were big signs that said ‘Warning, Airlock!’.
“Where are we going now?” I asked as she typed in a code. The door opened and we walked in. Didn’t we need spacesuits or something if we were going out of an airlock? Maybe they were inside. The outer doors closed behind us with a clang. The space was empty, just a metal box. I was about to ask what was going on when there was a hiss and a flash of red light. I felt my face and body being sprayed with a sweet smelling chemical, like hairspray. I jumped, it was cold, and then it evaporated in a blast of warm air. “Don’t worry,” Terri reassured me. “It’s just disinfectant, you’ll see.”
“We’re not going outside are we?” I tried not to sound worried. “Of course not,” she said as the door opened and I stepped into a sight I never thought I’d see again.
Both Andorra Pett stories are available from Amazon, the links are in the titles. The third book will be out as soon as I can get to finish it.
Next week, I’ll move on to last year, 2017. The NaNo project for that year was based on a dream I had, a long time ago, it’s not published yet but will be out in March 2019, if it all goes to plan.
Meanwhile, the Showcase will return on Thursday.
If you’re attempting NaNo this year, I hope it’s going really well, just remember, you’re nearly halfway. Even if you don’t think you’ll finish, keep writing.