A lost child, the family who try to protect him and the secret that refuses to stay hidden . . .
Molly and Gene Myers were happy, until tragedy blighted their hopes of children. During the years of darkness and despair, they each put their marriage in jeopardy, but now they are starting to rebuild their fragile bond.
This is the year of Woodstock and the moon landings; war is raging in Vietnam and the superpowers are threatening each other with annihilation.
Then the Meteor crashes into Amber Grove, devastating the small New England town – and changing their lives for ever. Molly, a nurse, caught up in the thick of the disaster, is given care of a desperately ill patient rescued from the wreckage: a sick boy with a remarkable appearance, an orphan who needs a mother.
And soon the whole world will be looking for him.
Cory’s arrival has changed everything. And the Myers will do anything to keep him safe.
A remarkable story of warmth, tenacity and generosity of spirit, set against the backdrop of a fast-changing, terrifying decade.
That night, out in the family boat, when he was ten years old. Sea-mist came from nowhere. He was careless, and fell into chill April water, breathing its knife pain into his lungs. Panic. The current was strong, and the life-jacket could not protect him from cold. The water wanted to hold his head under, a force, a something that wanted to drag him down.
I’m due to get my latest set of edits soon. When I signed with Jo my editor for Our Child in the Stars, I knew from day one that she would want three broad things.
A developmental edit, which suggests changes to the structure and tone of the book at a para, line, scene, page, chapter level – character, setting, stylistic choices all up for comment – phew;
When that’s done, a copy or line edit, which literally goes through the book line by line saying delete this, unnecessary repetition – phew;
and finally, proof-reading, which a fresh set of eyes takes on, checking again eg grammar and consistency about italics etc.
[Added: of course these phases are not rigidly separate. Things occur to editor and author in the discussions.]
No surprise that people have said things like, ‘Won’t this ruin the book?’ ‘Will it still be your book?’
The core thing is that my editor and I share a vision for the book. What Jo is doing is helping make it happen. Following untold years in the book mines, her experience helps shape delivering the story well (pace and structure), dialling things up where needed, bringing things out. If we did not share a vision, then the discussions would be short.
So, ‘There is too much warm family stuff’ is not a line I could work with. ‘This bit could be faster’, I could.
Imagine you write and direct an amateur play. You plan to put it on, at your own expense in the local Scout Hut. Local rehearsals go well, your friends are impressed. Then an impresario is given a copy, and they want to pay you to put it on. Bigger theatre, bigger budget, paying the actors, the stamp of success. How exciting!
That impresario likes it, they really do, they read hundreds of plays before picking this one. But they have put on the odd play or thirty before, and they know what works. They will come back with a string of points. All that comic stuff in Act Two slows the pace and reduces the drama. Do you need both the heroine’s brothers? They seem very samey, and it’s boring when they talk to each other. You need to work on the final speech, which seems to cut across the theme. The set design is very bland. Is there a reason the period is so vague?
Some of this is so obviously right you nod. Some of this might be very challenging. You had some clear ideas right back at the beginning you might need to give up on. Some comments you vow you will agree to only over your dead body. Some involves looking up the first draft again and getting out bits you’d abandoned.
Your initial response might be to Google ‘How much assassinate theatre person London?’ Or that it would take a year to do all that, so the play is doomed. But you remember that Shakespeare probably had the same thing, and less time to do it in.
So, you muse on it all. Somewhere, some of the more critical points start to strike you as having the ring of truth. The editor’s suggested cuts in Act Two miss the mark, but you realise a much better way of addressing her concerns. You find you don’t care that much about one brother or two, and just roll over on that. The finale speech is really important, you will need to discuss what she means further. If she didn’t understand… that means you need to flag the theme up even stronger and earlier in the play. And she’s just factually wrong on Norfolk sheep farming.
You see the point. Of course, in a play, the actors are important co-creators, as is the director, the designer and a host of other people. A book comes down to you and the editor.
What you end up with, you both hope, is a work which delivers in the real world the characters, story and themes of your play/book, but more effectively. So, during the edit, there will be cursing, but you are working with a professional who after all, is investing time and money your book’s success. To stretch another metaphor, it’s like a marriage. If you ask ‘who is winning’ the relationship is in trouble. The book ought to be winning, and the readers.
An agent tweeted recently that editing was ‘enjoyable’. I’d say it’s more like doing a run for charity. Some of the training, some of the post training, the run itself, the aftermath – some of this is enjoyable. Some bits aren’t, some bits involve sweating and swearing, but you know you need to see those through to do what you want to achieve.
Nothing says Christmas like moaning about old TV. I am watching Star Trek The Original Series – I used to love this when I was ten or so. It lit up my world with wonder. Now, rewatching, please send help, because it’s terrible.
I’m not particularly fussed about the terrible clunky sets, the lack of common sense like seat belts, and the fact that it was thirty years behind written SF in addressing either bold speculative ideas, or social issues. In the Christmas Spirit of putting the boot in, I call in evidence:
The teeth-gritting sexism. Female characters as one episode love interest, professional women constantly characterised as flighty idiots incapable of driving a shopping trolley, women getting no lines except screaming and screwing things up. The uniform with incredibly short skirts. Women who get married leave Starfleet. Everyone wanting to shag Kirk (ewwwww).
The balls-aching line of command. No-one ever has any independent authority. Kirk has to tell Spock to tell someone to do the bloody obvious thing. In a real warship, they’d be blown out of the sky waiting for permission to wipe their own arses.
The teeth-gritting sexism can’t be entirely excused by the times. The pilot famously had a cool, competent, strong First Officer who was a woman, and they dropped the character because test screenings didn’t like it. In the pilot, all the Starfleet women wore trousers and weren’t stupid. So, don’t tell me the team were prisoners of their time – they backed down under pressure.
Even as a kid I noticed that they sent exactly the wrong people down to the surface, and let’s all face front so the monsters can jump them from behind. Although some nerd has shown wearing a red shirt is not an indicator you are going to die. Endless terrible decisions.
Broadly racist, white Americans tend to hold all the positions of power. My ten-year-old-me’s crush, Nichelle Nichols, was urged to stay by Martin Luther King; she inspired other black women into TV; I know she’s an icon, but she’s never given that much to do. Sigh of relief when Uhura’s shown with a soldering iron doing something. Soldering, not just smouldering.
The science. I don’t mind ‘handwavium’ – I don’t think the point of science fiction is to explain exactly how your faster than light works. It is the GCSE level science that everyone watching ought to know. Like, if you bombard a planet with incredibly bright ultraviolet light, aliens hiding in the dark still won’t be touched by it. Light doesn’t bend round corners. Humans looking up would be burned or blinded. Also, antimatter isn’t ‘evil’.
The world seems inconsistent from episode to episode. For example, if you don’t have enough energy to run the warp engines, can you still have enough energy to have shields and full impulse power? This stuff really matters to the story, different episodes give different answers. What happens when a nut locks themselves in Engineering, which happens every Wednesday? Different solutions in different episodes.
Primitive people enslaved by a god/god like computer – three times in the last eight episodes I watched. Women choosing flightily. Immortal chasing immortal for all time (twice).
Spock is not that credible a character, Vulcan an unbelievable society, Amok Time might be the worst episode of any science fiction programme ever. Not least because of the teeth-gritting and illogical sexism. (The modern take – Vulcans have emotions but suppress them, is far more logical, believable, and dramatic.)
Jim, Bones and Spock ‘joshing’ humourlessly may cause cancer and should be banned.
Characters give speeches which are plot points, not consistent with their character.
The story telling is sometimes ponderous, the acting hammier than a pork sausage, but AT LEAST THE MUSIC SUBTLY TELLS YOU WHAT TO THINK. Oh, the Woman is Being Seductive
Bonus point, Chekov is impressively annoying as a character. The Wussians probably agreed to a nuclear arms treaty on the promise Chekov would be frozen in ice for two billion years.
STTOS is optimistic. It espouses diversity and peaceful cooperation, even if it doesn’t deliver. It aspires to progress. Its penal system is based on rehabilitation, the culture aspires to be meritocratic. Not every episode is terrible. But sometimes when you go back to something, the river has flowed on. Nothing ages like the future.
Smartphones. The first novel I completed was a modern adventure with teen protagonists, and I was fed up with smartphones.
No, that’s not a problem, they’d Google. No, they’d message each other. No, they have time to text the Mayor that they’re in danger. No, you can’t use signal problems or running out of battery AGAIN.
I would’ve gotten away with it – if it wasn’t for those pesky smartphones…
In Our Child of the Stars, it’s true that law enforcement with modern tech would mess with the plot. But that’s fixable.
Stories come to me, and the setting and period is one of the things that come unbidden. Sometimes, I need take a step back and challenge my subconscious for being boring or obvious. This kept feeling like a period piece.
The original short story was written after reading Ray Bradbury, a writer who is nostalgic even when writing about the future.
We mythologise the past, and the Sixties in particular. It was another country, and they did things differently there. The novel is posed at that point of high idealism souring, at a time when the wave of change was reaching into further corners.
To write about the past is not to be backward looking. The book is first and foremost about family. It isn’t a preachy book, but I knew that it would touch on difference – sex, race and sexuality. It’s about the morality of violence – peace and war, and the dishonesty and power of the state. The Sixties was a time when all those issues were in ferment, even in out of the way places like Amber Grove. Arguments exploded and if you look at the news, the pieces haven’t landed yet. Our Child of the Stars does have a nostalgic streak, but also it might make people think, could we have done better? Can we now do better? It remembers what we gained as well as what we lost.
Why small town America? Biggest, it would be easier to hide Cory. And, I didn’t want to write about radicals in a big city, but peaceniks living in a small town. Inclusion mattered to me, which is why there are honest, decent people, friends of Gene and Molly, who support the Vietnam war, however reluctantly. That was part of the tragedy of that conflict.
A book needs a soundtrack. I write to music. I knew whose records Gene and Molly are listening to in the original story. The more I listened to the classics of the era, particularly the folk-protest tradition, the more music became important. It quickly became central to Gene’s character, and the framing of the tale.
There were so many good reasons to go with when I did. But, also, smartphones.
A few years back, I sat down and wrote, unprompted and off the top of my head, in five minutes, the books I wished I had written. Are these favourites? They are certainly not perfect, there are cogent criticisms of each of them. If I had written them, they would have had different faults. But these were the books that came to mind, without perusing lists of the canon.
Northern Lights – (Philip Pullman)
A Wizard of Earthsea, and The Left Hand of Darkness – (Ursula K Le Guin)
Player of Games – (Iain M Banks)
The Handmaid’s Tale – (Margaret Atwood)
The Persian Boy, and The King Must Die – (Mary Renault)
1984 and Animal Farm – (George Orwell)
Easter – (Michael Arditti)
The Sparrow – (Maria Doria Russell)
Revisiting this list recently I added
The Girl with all the Gifts – (M R Carey)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane – (Neil Gaiman)
The Name of the Rose – (Umberto Eco)
Binti – Nnedi Okorafor
Commentary on this
These immerse you in their world with complete authority
Nearly all have great characters you care about.
They do tend to address issues however obliquely
The only ‘contemporary novel’ is Easter, a satire. Well, an everything.
None of the thrillers, spy fiction, or detective stories make it in.
It is interesting that writers I really rate and recommend do not have a single work that leaps out.
To take some examples, Saki, Borges, Ray Bradbury, Angela Carter I think of as short story writers. No P G Woodhouse book or story is strikingly better than the next one.
Remember this list is books where I thought, I wish I had written this. That’s not ‘fave read’ (many are), or ‘most impressed by’.