It warms my heart every time I see another person jumping on the boat of indie publishing. Chris Durston pressed the publish button and now his book, Each Little Universe is available for purchase. It’s incredibly hard to take that next step from finished story to a finished book. And most of it is guts. Chris was so kind to answer a few questions about his journey as a new author and he even lets me share an excerpt of his new book! Don’t forget to buy his book on Amazon.
How did this story come into existence? Where did the spark come from and how did you fill in the rest?
The very first scene of Each Little Universe started life as a piece for a creative writing class at uni, about six years ago now. It’s two oddballs talking to each other about an insistently indefinite contraption called the Octobike, and it makes very little sense! I’m not sure where that concept came from; I think there were a few really odd things that I just sort of had to come up with for that class, but for some reason this one stuck in my brain.
A little bit later – just after leaving uni, I think – I decided that there was more going on here, so I started fleshing out who these two people were and what their world was like. Somehow a couple more characters appeared, and from there I remember just sort of sitting and making all these connections between them, going ‘oh, yeah, that would be kinda cool’.
I didn’t have a complete picture when I wrote the first draft for NaNoWriMo 2015, but it was the first novel I’d written since I was a kid and I really wanted it to be… something, so the time since then has been spent just sort of on-and-off thinking about it and moving pieces around until the picture became a bit more coherent – if still a bit outlandish.
What pushed you from the first draft to publication?
I just thought I needed to do it. Ever since I was a kid I thought I would be a writer, but somehow I just never got around to writing a thing that I could put out into the world. Sounds really lame, but I think the main reason I’ve ended up publishing ELU is because I couldn’t help it. I had to do it at some point, otherwise I felt like I would never be able to feel like the person I thought I ought to be. I still don’t, of course, but this feels like a good first step!
Why did you choose the route of self-publishing?
I did consider looking for an agent and pursuing trad publishing, but… I think a combination of self-doubt and a real feeling that I just needed to get it out into the world somehow made me decide that I had to do it somehow, and self-publishing was the guaranteed way to do that.
Part of me feels like I’ve cheated, like I shouldn’t get to describe myself as an author because really anyone could just self-publish any old rubbish, but this is good enough for me to feel I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve.
What are challenges you didn’t foresee in the publishing process?
Oh, my gosh, there’s so much more to publishing a book than just writing a book. I thought that was the hard bit done, but no. (Actually, I find editing way more difficult than drafting, albeit simultaneously perhaps a bit more satisfying, so I already knew there was more than just writing, but still.)
Stuff like getting an artist to do the cover was really cool; Blythe Norton, who did my cover, was really good at taking some extremely vague directions and turning that into something awesome. She was also great at explaining the technicalities and logistics of what she would need and what I would need to do in order to make sure it was all the right size and whatnot.
Formatting for ebook and paperback editions was also… hard, although I made it a bit harder than it needed to be by making some revisions after doing the initial formatting. (Top tip: have a finalised manuscript before you do the formatting.) Amazon/KDP’s tools make it as easy as it can be, but it’s still surprisingly time-consuming just making sure the typesetting all looks OK on the page.
Do you have any writing plans for the future?
So many. I really don’t want my next book to take five more years, but I also know that I have a habit of getting enthusiastic about starting something and then finding it hard to finish, so I hope to be a bit more disciplined now that I’ve done it once.
Right now, novel number two is probably going to be a collaboration: an old friend and I are adapting a stage play we wrote together back in uni, and having someone else to hold me accountable is very good motivation!
Is there anything else you want people to know about you or Each Little Universe?
I’m weird, and so is ELU. It explores some really big, strange ideas like the nature of consciousness and what it means to exist, but it usually does it in the dumbest, nerdiest way it possibly can. I like to think that it’s both insightful and sort of joyfully stupid.
A couple of people who’ve read it and who know me quite well have said that it’s pretty much exactly the book they’d have expected me to write, so… I worry that it’s so idiosyncratically me that it won’t make sense to anyone else, but actually people do seem to be seeing the things that I hoped I’d put in there, which is awesome.
Each Little Universe
If Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett had written an earnestly nerdy story in a setting running on the ridiculous logic of Scott Pilgrim, it might have come out something like this.
For two oddball inventors, taking care of an unexpected new arrival – a girl from the stars – is hard enough. Dealing with the things that want her back may turn out to be harder.
A story about love in all its forms (but not a love story), Each Little Universe wonders with wit and insight about what it means to be human in a vast, peculiar cosmos. A celebration of all that is wonderful and strange about people, each member of its cast of twenty-first century weirdos is both larger than life and peculiarly familiar.
Fans of Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere, American Gods), Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim, Seconds), and Haruki Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Killing Commendatore) will love this story, set in a world very much like our own but a little more strange, and the unusual take it offers on life, the human experience, and cats.
‘So you… are literally an actual star who’s just dropped down to Earth? No BS? I mean, this –’ TM gestured at her appearance, which none could deny was significantly changed from what it had been only minutes before ‘- is weird, I’ll give you that. It’s convincing. I’m just not sure what it’s convincing me of. Can all stars change their face, is that a thing that’s always been a thing? ‘Cos I didn’t know that.’ He stopped talking and hiccupped.
Ziggy came to a stop and exhaled loudly through her nose, one hand on her hip and the other tapping a finger against her cheek. ‘What’s an electron?’ she asked abruptly.
‘Um,’ said TM.
‘It’s a tiny sub-atomic particle. Right? A probability density function, a negatively-charged electrical field generator, a fermion.’
‘Um,’ said TM, again.
‘But if I tried to talk to you about electrons a couple of centuries ago – well, not you specifically, obviously, I didn’t know you back then – what an electron was, even if I tried to explain it, you would think I was making it all up.’
‘Nowadays, it’s a theoretical term – which makes it, in some sense at least, a real entity. Right?’
TM felt that he ought to respond, but even ellipses began to evade him.
‘Language is meaningless unless it refers; even if the referent doesn’t actually exist, a thing of sorts is brought into reality when you talk about it, if only in your head. Point is –’
‘There’s a point?’
‘The point is,’ Ziggy repeated firmly, ‘what’s the actual difference between terminology and made-up? And besides, I could call anything an electron. Or I could claim that electrons do exist, but every theory about them so far has been completely wrong. Like, they’re necessarily something, not necessarily anything in particular, but necessarily not anything that anyone’s previously said they might be.’
‘I have absolutely no idea what you’re on about,’ said TM.
‘Good,’ said Ziggy. ‘Forgotten what your question was yet?’
‘Sweet,’ she said, and carried on.