The Image of Man did not really get written in the most obvious or logical way. I was working on a young adult fantasy fiction novel and it had been going well but I got stuck; I don’t recall what had been the sticking point and the project was abandoned years ago. To get unstuck, I decided to try a free writing exercise. If you are unfamiliar with those, the idea is simple. You write down any old nonsense and see if anything stands out. After several lines of unpromising fragments, I typed “Bob was a God” and then edited it to “Bob is a God”. I sat there staring at the line and thought “That has to go somewhere. I can’t leave it there.” That was about twelve years ago.
I wrote a few chapters of the book which had the less than inspiring working title “Bob” and was making fair progress when I was asked to contribute a short story for an audiobook called “Sonic fiction”. I made a few changes to the first chapter and it became one of the stories.
The book progressed in a more or less orderly fashion until I found myself stuck. I needed a central threat that Bob could act against. I was caught up there for ages and I went through several ideas. There were many antagonists in the story, all well-intentioned but badly misguided for excellent reasons. It needed to be something big but not malicious. It is a light-hearted book and a terrorist plot or something like that just wouldn’t work. Nothing seemed to fit.
I was stuck at that point for long enough that I wrote and published “Z-day UK” in the gap while I was making no progress at all with Bob. That was a non-fiction book, fully planned out in advance and utterly different to work on.
It was only when I was expressing my frustration at being unable to solve this book-breaking plot failure that I realised that there needed to be a separate story developing through the book about an asteroid about to collide with the earth. It wasn’t malicious, it simply was. It fitted perfectly with the feel of the book. After that, the words just flowed and the pacing came out just about how I wanted it.
That said, I did face a challenge from one of my characters. There was a walk on part for a lovable but rather reprehensible Scotsman called Ranting John. He only had one scene and he was only really there for a bit of colour. However, a couple of chapters later, I found him back on the scene and making a rather mundane scene into one of my favorites in the book. The chapter after found him leading the action. I felt that I should have objected but I found that I had a soft spot for the old rogue and he improved the story a great deal.
My editor, Sami Stone, helped me to file some of the edges off. One of the characters, Anne Charles, was perhaps a little less sympathetic than she might be in early versions of the story. She wasn’t a bad person but I had been unkind. By taking a little of the venom out, she became a much more rounded character. I was delighted when one of my test readers identified Anne as being the character that she most associated with.
There was a fair bit of research needed for the book as I was not an expert on, for example, the internal structure of the Catholic Church or just how things really work at NASA but that was quite fun to do. Because it is set in almost the modern day, there was a wealth of real-world detail that I could tie into.
As for the book being the first in a trilogy, that happened as the result of a conversation with one of my beta readers. Beta readers are kind souls that will read early versions and point out what works and doesn’t work. They are worth their weight in gold. One question that I had avoided answering was about the possibility of an afterlife; a rather central point in a religious satire. When I was asked how this fitted in, I started explaining and suddenly I was looking at the plot of the second book in the series… and that lead naturally to the third.
I think that it would be fair to say that I wrote In the image of Man to a plan but it was painted in broad strokes that allowed me to alter things as I found better ways. I had the main character arcs worked out before the main plot arcs. I think that it is fair to say that it is a character-led story.
There was one other significant challenge that the book faced and that was a learning experience for me. I paid an established author to review it. Now, I want to be clear that seeking professional help and professional services is, in general, a good thing. For example, I would have been lost without my editor and Annette Young the driving force behind Book Backstories and Creative1 Publishing has helped me hugely with the book release.
However, the critique that I purchased nearly killed the book. The author was one that I knew of and I was initially pleased when the agency connected me with him. He is well known for high concept, high-tension SF books and they have sold well. He hated the book. He hated the idea, he hated the characters and the setting. He didn’t like my writing style which he described as being like Douglas Adams, an author that he disliked. He gave me detailed advice on how to make it into a high-tension SF book very much like the ones that he is known for. I almost binned the book at that point. The critique was crushing. However, I kept on and I made a few changes to fix perfectly legitimate points that he made about the pacing. I rejected most of his ideas for one very simple reason. The book that I wanted to write was very different to the books that he wrote. I have nothing at all against high-tension, big concept SF and ended up writing Misjump which is very much in that genre (out in 2019) but In the image of Man was not that sort of book and I didn’t want it to be. I am sure that I made the right decision.