Guest post by Iain Martin
Winterhill is the story of Rebecca Winterhill, a thirty-something, wise-cracking, fiercely smart woman who finds herself aboard a space-liner in the year 2513 with her personality and knowledge intact but no actual memories of her own life up to that point. All she has are a few clothes and a limitless credit card. So begins a quest which will take her across the Twelve Galaxies of human space, and will involve meeting a variety of friends and foes along the way. She is joined by the outrageously flirty Madagascar Talifero - a cyber-criminal on the run from her own family - and by a young pilot called Tareku who is excellent in a crisis and looks magnificent in a tux. Winterhill wants what anybody would - to discover who she really is, and how she ended up aboard the space-liner in the first place. From the very beginning the reader is given clues about this - and in this first book in the series we visit a wide variety of planets and societies which give us an inkling as to how the universe works. Humanity is expanding its territory and terraforming worlds, so we visit established planets and new settlements, ancient civilisations, and big, crime-riddled cyberpunk cities.
The idea for the book came when I uncovered several old Doctor Who novel submission ideas on an old hard drive, and began wondering how best to re-use them in some new serial format. I hit upon the idea of writing each Winterhill adventure as an 8,000 word “episode” and since then the project has been very televisual. I believe that nowadays ongoing TV dramas are where the most satisfying work in story-telling is taking place so, oddly for a life-long lover of books, all the key influences behind Winterhill are televisual. In the fabric of my series you’ll find the DNA of Doctor Who, Orphan Black, The Sopranos, House of Cards, The X-Files, The West Wing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twin Peaks and Firefly so if you like any of those, the chances are that you’ll love Winterhill. Each book allows me to tell a short series of adventures, and each book brings us closer to solving the mystery with new clues and discoveries.
The format is what particularly excites me. Each Winterhill book is designed to be like a TV box-set, with (initially) six separate episodes featuring Rebecca Winterhill and her friends, and each episode is cut to the same length and each series has a dramatic story-arc so the reader gets a very TV-like experience. This then puts the question in the reader’s hands; “to binge or not to binge”? Each story alone is the perfect length to read on a commute, or during a lie-in, or during your Sunday afternoon bath, but if you want to lock all the doors and plow through the whole lot in one sitting, then you absolutely can and some of my readers do…
Another area where Winterhill is innovative is that while it’s set in the future and involves spacecraft and science, it’s not complex, impenetrable SF. Like any story, when you boil it down to its key ingredients it is about people (and monsters) interacting, and I take so much care with the dialogue because this is the most fun aspect to the writing. Winterhill is somewhere between Space Opera and Fantasy, and I’ll always value a good idea or concept over a wordy explanation of the physics underpinning it, any day.
Writing the first book in the series, The Wreath of Dreams, was a series of very satisfying moments for me. Rebecca Winterhill and Maddy both immediately leapt from the page and I knew I’d found two marvellous characters to drive the story. At the end of the first adventure Death on the Demeter I knew that, somehow, I’d hit upon exactly the right length and format for each episode. In the second story I created a really good (i.e. really HORRIBLE) monster, and then each subsequent story was an exercise in ticking off my objectives - trying a comedy episode, then introducing a cyberpunk mafia storyline. Episode five was a particular treat to write as I got to introduce a major ongoing foe for Winterhill while bringing back an earlier monster and depicting a tiny, nascent settlement not unlike Deadwood. And most satisfying of all was episode six which managed to tell a complex story (originally plotted out to fill a novel) in just 8000 words with a massive twist which closed out that first run of stories. Then actually publishing it on Kindle felt pretty good. And once the reviews started coming…they have all been just amazing and kind and encouraging.
I started the first run of Winterhill adventures (The Wreath of Dreams) back in 2013, and I’m currently working on the fourth book. This series is now my whole creative focus, and I plan to get to the end of Winterhill’s story before developing anything new. It’s not often that a project both inspires and rewards you enough to see it through to the very end, so when that lightning does strike a writer would be a fool not to take notice. Book one, I would hope, is enough of a fun ride to hook the readers and bring them along on this journey I’m creating, and it’s not going to take me twenty years to complete, I can see the end-point on the horizon and I have a reliable road-map. The Wreath of Dreams sets up the series in a fairly gentle and subtle way - in subsequent books I’ve had to focus more directly upon particular themes and elements - while the first series is all about exploring the limits of what we can do in a series of stories about women travelling through space fighting monsters and madmen.