The Spiral Arm by Peter Boland
Publication date: May 21st 2013
Genre: YA Dystopia
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Wren Harper lives on an overcrowded Earth on the brink of apocalypse. There are just too many people. The answer lies 600 light-years away on Kepler; a planet more than double the size of Earth. For decades humans have been fighting another race for its control. Earth’s armies are depleted. So now 15-year-old cadets are sent to fight, trained along the way in vast combat ships. But why has Wren been chosen? She's small and geeky and not a fighter. Will she survive Kepler? Or will the training kill her first? This is a debut novella-length episode in a series full of cliffhanger endings.
After studying to be an architect, Pete realised he wasn’t very good at it. He liked designing buildings he just couldn’t make them stand up, which is a bit of a handicap in an industry that likes to keep things upright. So he switched to advertising, writing ads for everything from cruise lines to zombie video games. After meeting his wife Shalini and having two boys, he was amazed when she sat and actually wrote a book. Then another and another. They were good too. Really good. So he thought, I’ll have a go at that. He soon realised there’s no magic formula. You just have to put one word in front of the other (and keep doing that for about a year). It also helps if you can resist the lure of surfing, Taekwondo, playing Lego with the boys and drinking beer in front of the TV.
The power of ideas.
Where do ideas come from? The question has always intrigued me. How can something you hear or see or even smell, pass through the filter of your brain and come out the other side as a drop of distilled inspiration? Okay, I know there’s a rational scientific explanation for it. Chemicals and neural pathways and the right hand side of the brain etc. But that’s not what I’m getting at. It’s what leads up to the formation of an idea that I find truly amazing. That miniature universe of collected experiences and knowledge that we have floating in our heads combines and puts thoughts together. Sometimes they’re logical. Other times they’re completely random. Either way, an idea is born – what a wonderful thing us humans are able to do.
Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials series, said that ideas are the easy part, it’s the writing that takes the effort. I know what he means, but I think that’s doing ideas a disservice. I think ideas are precious things that should be nurtured and looked after. Even the bad ones, because sometimes they lead to good ones. Often an idea will set the tone for a book, and ultimately decide what direction it goes. Sometimes it can even determine whether a book is a success or not, regardless of how slick the writing is.
The idea for The Spiral Arm started off life as a TV script. I’ve always had a thing for escape pods in sci-fi, weird right? We see them all over the place. The humble escape pod is usually a handy plot device for getting someone out of trouble. Before you know it, they’re being fired out of an exploding space ship safely to the nearest M-class planet. But what if a group of people were stuck in an escape pod for years. Like a kind of big brother in space. Thing is, the chances of getting a TV show made are pretty slim, and the idea wouldn’t really work in a book.
I slowly worked backwards and thought about the events leading up to the escape pod. I wanted to write about life on board the ship they had come from. Where was the ship going and why had it been attacked? It must’ve been a military ship. That had been done before, so I thought what if it were a training ship full of teenagers. A bit like Hogwarts in space. Perhaps it would take them several years to travel across the galaxy. In that time they would be learning how to fight, so by the end of the journey they would be ready for combat. Strange thing is the idea of the escape pod had completely disappeared but it led to a new idea. One that had light years of possibility.
(1) ebook copy of The Spiral Arm. Open internationally.