How much planning is enough?

Front view of Celtic Conveyor - Interplanetary FreighterI’ve always been keen on doing a sensible amount of planning for each new novel I write, but over time I’ve found myself doing increasing amounts of preparation work.  As usual I still find that I only use a minor proportion of the planning material in the resultant novel. Character backstories are usually far more detailed than crops up in dialogue, more locations are planned than end up being used and often some conversations get edited out completely to enhance the flow and pace of the novel. Sometimes I end up not using characters I’ve designed, or combining two characters into one to simplify things for both me and the reader.


Rear view of Celtic Conveyor Interplanetary FreighterRecently, in what little spare time I get, I’ve been building a 3D model of a vessel which incorporates most of the locations in my next Astronomicon novel. As I’ve said before in other posts, it’s doubly worth doing as the next but one novel will be set in the sister vessel and will therefore share most of the same layout.


This is a very time consuming process but proved to be a massive asset in Astronomicon: Icarus. It allowed me to create scenes, most notably the armed boarding of the vessel, with a fantastic level of clarity, and provided inspiration for several scenes which I would not have otherwise imagined. The Icarus was a small vessel and relatively simple to construct. In contrast, the Celtic Conveyor (pictured above) is a much larger freighter with an additional capacity for almost 100 passengers. It’s not practical to construct the entire vessel in full detail, so I’m having to concentrate my efforts on the areas most likely to feature in the book.


This goes against my perfectionist nature, the idea of leaving parts of the vessel incomplete feels so wrong, and means I may miss out on some inspiration. In most cases more planning means a better novel, but where’s the cut off point? When does the extra planning work stop being worthwhile?

I’ve been tagged…my turn to be ‘It’.


Last week Ken Magee tagged me in a post on his author blog. I heartily recommend it, it’s well worth a read, especially if you are an aspiring author.

What does being tagged mean? Well, put simply, I answer the same questions he did, but mine are about my latest book. I also tag three more authors and they’ll post their answers in a week’s time. Here are the authors I’m tagging, they’re all worth checking out.


Barry James

(To be announced)

(To be announced)


I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Ken for choosing to tag me.


What is the title of your latest book?


My new book is named “Astronomicon: Those Left Behind”. I’ve already written three books in the Astronomicon series, but this one is not only better, but also quite different. It’s set around a century prior to the other books in the series, covering a key event that ultimately leads to exciting happenings in the first three books. It very much forms a prequel for the entire storyline of the rest of the series.


Where did the idea come from for the book?

I have had an overall storyline for ten books worth of Astronomicon planned out for over a year. The previous book I wrote, third in the series, Astronomicon: Distant Relatives, briefly described historical events which led to a vast exodus of a population. I had looked at the writing a story about that exodus, but it seemed such a depressing and negative storyline that I truly believed that it could not work as a novel. Once I turned that around in my head and realised that the exodus itself was positive outcome from a situation of total despair, I began to build a storyline that covered the actions and events which made the exodus possible. The resistance activity, acts of bravery and sacrifice which led to millions of people escaping total genocide, was an incredible story which just had to be written.


What genre does your book fall under?


Science fiction. It has all the prerequisites of aliens, spaceships, high-technology etc., but is ultimately an extremely human story of war, love and resistance.


Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?


Ooh, now that’s a very tricky question. I’ve  been thinking about that one for a few days now and I have no firm opinions on this one. I’d probably go for someone like Martin Freeman or Benedict Cumberbatch to play Than (lead male). Christian Bale might make a good Rahtek (Supreme Rules of the Eridani) and Norman Lovett would possibly be good for Amun.


What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?


In the face of  alien invasion, one man’s quest to save his children from the impending annihilation.


Is your book self-published?


Not yet, but probably soon. It’s currently in the hands of Harper Voyager, so I’ll have to wait until they reject it!


How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?


Just 23 days. To explain that, I took three weeks off work to concentrate full time on the writing and the story was so enthralling (for me!) that it almost wrote itself.


What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?


I don’t believe I’ve read anything quite like it. That mostly likely more due to my lack of reading variety, rather that a high level of originality.


Who or What inspired you to write this book?


This is the first book I’ve ever written to a deadline. Harper Voyage announced that, for the first time in years, they would accept unsolicited manuscripts, for a brief two week window. I would be a fool to pass up an opportunity like that, but at the time of finding out about it, I didn’t have a suitable manuscript to submit to them (they did not what a book in a series unless it was the 1st book) so I took it as a challenge to write, check, edit and polish and 70,000 word manuscript in the  27 days I had left before the deadline. “Those Left Behind” was the very best story I had planned but unwritten.


To my amazement my wife and family totally supported my aim to dedicating three weeks to the project. It was a great experience and I am deeply proud of the results.


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Now that’s a tricky question. What sets this novel apart from my previous ones is that the main character is not a hero, not brave or confident, but has to survive during an invasion of his homeworld and work to ensure the survival of his childen. He has to overcome his all too evident fear and achieve things he would never normally have dreamt of.