I know exactly what it was that inspired me to write Adrift on the Sea of Rains. It was the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing back in July 2009. I’d decided to celebrate the event on my Space Books blog by reading and reviewing the (auto)biographies of the three crew-members – First Man (Neil Armstrong) by James Hansen, Return to Earth by Buzz Aldrin, and Carrying the Fire by Michael Collins. I also wanted to write a short story about the Apollo missions, which I’d also post on my blog. In June of that year, I came up with an idea and a title, ‘The Old Man of the Sea of Dreams’, for my story.
In the event, I didn’t finish the story in time. In September, the writing group I was in decided we all had to write a flash fiction piece. It occurred to me I could use my unfinished Apollo story. So I chopped it down to 1,000 words – and it worked much better. I then posted it on my blog in October 2009. (I posted the same story on this blog last month).
Around the same time, I’d decided to write something longer, also based around the Apollo lunar missions. I don’t recall if the title, Adrift on the Sea of Rains, or the location, Apollo 15’s landing-site on Mare Imbrium (ie, the Sea of Rains), came first. I suspect the title came first. One thing I did know, however, was that I wanted a Cormac McCarthy-esque style of prose, with a strong focus on the desolate lunar landscape. There’d also be flashback sequences in a longer, more discursive style, probably prompted by a recent read of WG Sebald’s Austerlitz. I also had the ending clear in my head.
By December of 2009, I’d decided that Adrift on the Sea of Rains was actually the first of a quartet. An idea for a standalone sf novella, titled Wave Fronts, had been sitting in my “ideas book” for over a year, and I could use that for the second book. The third and fourth books of the now-titled Apollo Quartet I’d think about once I had the first one done.
Throughout 2010, I worked on Adrift on the Sea of Rains, researching, and then writing and rewriting, various parts of it. But I stalled about three-quarters of the way through, when I realised I wanted a lot more technical detail in the scenes where the astronauts decide on how to send one of their number to the Earth. But it was definitely coming together.
I remember mentioning the story to a number of people at the Eastercon that year in Birmingham. The response was positive, and one or two people seemed quite excited by what I described. I was sort of hoping one or two small press editors might ask to see it once it was finished, but none did.
In early 2011, I foolishly agreed to edit Rocket Science. Adrift on the Sea of Rains sat in a bottom-drawer, waiting for me to wrangle that one scene into shape. After the Rocket Science submissions window ended in mid-October, I finally got that scene how I wanted it. I finished off the novella, and sent it to some beta readers. They liked it – but the final scene, they told me, felt too abrupt. So I completely rewrote it.
Adrift on the Sea of Rains was finally completed just before Christmas 2011. I sent it off to Jim Steel for editing. In mid-January, I sent him an updated draft. He came back with his notes shortly afterwards. I made the requested changes.
I’d realised before Christmas that I had something which, to be honest, I didn’t think any magazines or small presses would take seriously. Two pages of abbreviations. A twelve-page glossary. And I didn’t want to “streamline” the information in the glossary into the narrative. That wasn’t why I’d written it. I had Adrift on the Sea of Rains the way I wanted it, and I didn’t want to change its structure, no matter how “uncommercial” that might be.
There was also the upcoming launch for Rocket Science at the 2012 Eastercon in London. If I could get my novella ready for then, I could launch it – appropriately enough – on the back of the anthology. Certainly no existing small press could turn the book around so fast – in fact, several had told me they were backed up for at least two years. So that was why I created Whippleshield Books and chose to publish Adrift on the Sea of Rain myself. Happily, to date I’ve not had to justify my decision to include that glossary, and the reviews so far have realised it’s a feature of the story.
February and March were mildly panic-stricken as I put the final book together. I’d played around with a few cover designs, mostly using photographs taken on the Apollo missions. But I was watching Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert one evening (a great film), when one of the characters picked up a paperback book. That was what I wanted: a cover that harkened back to those old Penguin paperbacks of the 1960s, but one that said something about the plot. I had several dozen old Penguin paperbacks on my book-shelves to use as inspiration. They had been my father’s – he’d purchased them back in the 1960s and 1970s – and I’d picked out the ones I wanted to read, and bought them home.
I put together Adrift on the Sea of Rain‘s cover one weekend, then emailed copies of the finished book to people for back-cover quotes. That was a little scary. I knew what I’d written was the sort of very technical, detail-heavy and literary sf that I wanted to read, but would others see it the same way? I mean, it had that huge glossary. Only bad space operas did that. The first response was from Adam Roberts, and he was very complimentary. This was going to work. More comments came back, and they too were positive. Everyone I sent it to ended up quoted on the back-cover.
I uploaded the print-ready PDF files to the printer’s website in late February, and they promised to have it ready in time. The first proofs had mistakes on them, but it was their screw-up so they redid them free-of-charge. The second set were correct. I sat and waited. Then half a dozen boxes of the finished product arrived at the end of March – see here.
That was it. I had gone and published myself. Properly, with an ISBN and everything. Now I just had to hope that people bought it and like it…