As always, I’ve got a few creative projects on the go at the moment. Key, of course, has been the art style experimentation in the comic; I’m quite pleased with the results so far, and I hope you’re enjoying them, too! Parallel to this, I’m cleaning up the first Mei Wu for publication in print, am rewriting the synopsis for my script submission, and am (etrenally) reworking the opening and tone of my novel.

In addition even to that, however, I’ve been working on a little something else, more like written doodles than anything. It’s a mixture of short stories and ‘found footage’ style scraps, set in the early days of faster-than-light travel. I intend it to be a love letter to the novella, ‘Roadside Picnic’ by the Strugatsky brothers, and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R games it inspired, with characters exploring a devastated post-human colony ravaged by a mysterious alien waste-product.

I’ll tell you one thing I somewhat regret about the way I’ve written the beginning of the first short story; I probably shouldn’t have made the main character and his friend Ukrainian and Russian, respectively! The first few times I wrote down an opening, I could clearly visualise the setting, and how the characters looked and felt. Rather unfortunately, though, it was S.T.A.L.K.E.R’s Chernobyl that I saw in my mind’s eye, the rusting pipes of mutant-infested Pripyat ringing clear as a bell in this half-baked imitation. So, naturally, what I did was to try and move away from that familiarity, by tweaking the setting and characters to become less muddy, less gritty, more optimistic. That didn’t do at all, of course; by the point I had essentially recreated an optimistic Aasimov-esque pseudo-fantasy, I realised that I was accelerating rapidly away from the mild horror and mystery setting I had envisioned when I started.

They key, I found, was originality.There was, in essence, nothing fundamentally wrong with modelling my world and my characters after Roadside Picnic and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. What WAS wrong was trying to ape it exactly. Instead of the overgrown, long-abandoned industrial landscapes, I opted for a pre-fab urban Mary Celeste, with frontier-like suburbs. Where the Stalkers are desperate opportunists with mercenary tendencies, my Spacers (might change the name now that I see the similarity) are a mix of grizzled old frontiersmen and naive, fresh-faced university graduates. Where the novel and games’ themes are plot-driven, and revolve around human greed and the danger of playing with the laws of nature, I drive my story through my characters’ development, and examine the journey from vulnerable optimist to guarded, jaded survivor.

Once I’d clearly defined my direction in my head, suddenly the story path became┬áincredibly clear to me, and an explosion of ideas presented themselves to me. Everything is so much more believable now, and significantly more fun to write; I suspect this is to do with the realisation that I’m now writing in my own universe, rather than adhering to the rules of someone else’s. So, the next time you’re seeking inspiration, remember; you see further by standing on the shoulders of giants, not looking at the giant and constructing an identical replica!

M.