Can you plan too much? #scifi

As most of my works are science fiction, I tend to end up with many scenes set on space craft. Some of these are brief, but in my more recent books space craft have featured more heavily.

View along top of Celtic Conveyor

JHF Celtic Conveyor

Sometimes I’ve sketched out deck plans on paper, detailing just the locations which crop up. This was how I designed the Elysian in Astronomicon: The Beginning and the USS Oppenheimer in Icarus. Other times I have put in some hours constructing detailed 3D models on my laptop. Examples of this are the Icarus from the book of the same name and the Akhena from Astronomicon: Distant Relatives.

The clear advantage of 3D models is that I can try out walking around the different locations, trying out new angles and coming up with ideas that a paper plan just wouldn’t inspire. It gives me a better idea of distances and lines-of-sight, occasionally causing me to use locations I would not have considered otherwise.

Eridani Flagship AkhenaThis doesn’t always go to plan. When I started designing the Eridani flagship, the Akhena, I quickly discovered that I had bitten off far more than I could chew.

The vessel was considerably larger that I could construct myself, so I was forced to limit myself to the important areas that would be used in the novel. The main hangar bay (near the rear of the vessel) was constructed in detail, as were the major corridors and some obvious architectural features such as the gardens. I may have to add to this model in future as the Akhena will be appearing again in a planned future novel.

JHF Celtic Conveyor

JHF Celtic Conveyor (overview)

My most recent work, Deadline, has led me to build my most detailed model yet. Most of the book is set on the Celtic Conveyor so it was necessary to model many of the locations on the ship. Especially as the crew spend much of their time chasing the mysterious alien intruder around the bowels of the ship. I’m also planning for the model to be re-used as the Celtic Conveyor’s sister ship, the Astral Empress. If I can use a model several times, it makes it worth investing a little more time in the construction.

JHF Celtic Conveyor

JHF Celtic Conveyor

With practice, I have got much faster at using the tools and a better judge of what details are important and which can be glossed over or ignored completely. It’s been a fascinating process and allowed me to maintain perfect consistency when characters move about within the vessel.

Now all I need to do is find someone who can render up the models so I can use them on my book covers too.

Icarus Front view 2 - In Space

Icarus – Gecko Class Asteroid Mining Vessel

Progress Report: Deadline – July 2014

Front cover design for Astronomicon DeadlineWell I’d like to start by apologising to all the readers who are waiting for this next Astronomicon novel to hit the electronic shelves.

Life has repeatedly got in the way this year and work has been crazy for the past few months. Sadly I’m not in a position to be a full-time writer yet, so my creative efforts have to fit in around everything else. Progress on Astronomicon: Deadline has been much slower than I’d hoped.

Even with everything else that’s going on, I have still made progress and am pleased to announce that the first draft is now safely past the halfway mark and early stage proof-reading (continuity, character names etc.) is underway too. I’m aiming to finish the first draft by the end of September.

On a more exciting level, I can now reveal the design for the front cover. Whilst the colour scheme and style remain consistent with previous Astronomicon novels, the font I’ve used has been completely replaced. I’m hoping you will all agree that the new font has much more impact that the previous one and is a marked improvement aesthetically.

The image, currently the Earth floating in space, is subject to change. I’m looking into placing a rendered 3D model of the Celtic Conveyor Freighter to the right of the Earth, approaching from the near right of the camera viewpoint. Currently the model of the highly complex vessel is not detailed enough to be used like that. I don’t want to put time into enhancing the model until I’ve completed the writing!

There’s lots of work to go and I’m particularly looking forward to writing some of the plot twists and turns that so many of you enjoy. I’ve also put a lot of work in to making the various characters in the story much deeper and more distinctive than previously. Most of the characters have been lots of fun to work with, particularly the bad guys. I hope that really shows through when you read it!

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?

New cover art for Astronomicon: Icarus

Astronomicon Icarus new cover artI’m really keen to hear what everyone thinks of this. Hopefully it’s the best Astronomicon front cover there has been to date, but I am worried it’s a little cheesy. Of course, cheesy is probably appropriate for a classic style science-fiction novel?


This time, instead of creating the artwork myself, I’ve actually bought commercial rights to use someone else’s fantastic artwork as the main image. The overlayed titles etc. still maintain the exact same style as the previous Astronomicon front covers, so the series continuity is preserved.


The image I’ve chosen perfectly suits one of the early scenes in the novel where the crew of the Icarus Deep Space Mining Vessel are attempting to mine large asteroid when disaster strikes and they are left jumping for their lives.


So, what do you think? Big improvement? Or too cheesy?









Click here to read more about Icarus.