my novel

One day, of course, I hope to have finished this story and given myself the space to move on to another one, at which point I guess I’ll have to turn this into a disambiguation page 🙂 For the time being, however, if you see me say “my novel” there’s a 99% chance I’m referring to this one.

It’s a work of speculative fiction, and could also fit into the new adult genre, I think. It’s set on another world, in an island nation which has been governed for 60 years by an intensely authoritarian state, inspired somewhat by the Stalinist regimes, and also by apartheid. The state came into existence as the result of a devastating civil war, which itself was the result of colonisation (the expression of a messy post-colonial struggle). The state began as a military regime – consisting mostly of the colonisers, but with enough representatives of the colonised group for perceived legitimacy – which imposed harsh restrictions on the population to restore order, and enable the beginning of a reconstruction process. The conflict never really ended though, it only transformed. There are still militants struggling against the regime, and carrying out hit-and-run attacks on civilian populations. As far as the state, and the privileged ethnic group (who constitute a slim majority in the country) are concerned, they’re engaged in an increasingly all-consuming struggle for survival.

My protagonist’s name is Sanya. She’s an eighteen-year-old girl, in her last year of school before she’ll have to complete military service. Her mother is extremely high-ranking in the government, which makes her a khaniz – part of the privileged class upon which the state showers every conceivable opportunity. But she’s always been uneasy about the coercive measures the state takes to maintain its control, and has been dreading military service. When she meets a new boy at school – Lenas, who conversely has grown up in the roughest part of the capital and can articulate some reasons for her unease – this sets her off on a journey of radicalisation, struggle and despair.

The initial kernel of what evolved into this story came to me during high school, in 2007. I wrote versions of it for Na­No­Wri­Mo in 2007 and 2008, as well as for “Jul­No­Wri­Mo” in 2010 (who remembers that?); that last one ended up being the closest thing I reached to a full draft of this version of the story (while it reached 130,000 words, there was still a missing chunk in the third quarter). While the setting and the major characters existed in these early drafts, the actual plot was substantially different. I put it on the backburner for a while (I had uni to worry about, it consumed a lot of time) and around 2015–16, I started writing some early and conceptual scenes for a version of the story that would much more closely reflect what I’m writing today. I wrote the first draft of that in 2017, taking advantage of Na­No­Wri­Mo that year to complete the final 55,000 words or so (except that, again, I elided over a lot of stuff I really shouldn’t have in the third quarter). Since then, I’ve been engaged in endless revisions, sometimes fearing that I will literally never finish this story 🙂

One internal debate I’ve had has been over the best form for this story. In 2017, I wrote a draft that skipped back and forth in time, interspersing the main sequence of events with the much darker sequence of events down the line, along with some exposition (I know you’re not “supposed” to include exposition but in a story that depends so heavily on the worldbuilding of its setting it’s hard not to, you know?). I still kind of like this approach: it meant the tone was more consistent throughout, and it meant that when the events of one time period were a bit slow I could swap to the other and include a bit more action (and then also when I came back, it would feel like more time had passed in the time period we’d left, so I could gloss over more boring stuff without things feeling rushed). But there were also problems: the beginning felt pretty disjointed since not all the moving parts had clicked together yet, and also, it resulted in one loooooong story that I’m not convinced anyone but myself would be willing to read. So, in 2019, I started experimenting with telling the story in chronological order instead, with an eye to splitting it into two or possibly three books. I had some stuff going on IRL that meant I didn’t make good progress for a couple of years, but now in 2022, I’ve been back at it again. I currently have a full draft of what would make “book 1” under this model, and for Na­No­Wri­Mo 2022 I’m writing “book 2”. I’m still not 100% convinced about splitting it, but I think I need to write it this way and see!

Ultimately, I plan to self-publish my story. When I do, it’ll probably be under a pen name, both because I feel like “Jessica Smith” is way too common a name to publish under, and because I want a little bit of separation between my “author persona” and my real self. I have previously participated in “writing Twitter”, as well as on the Na­No­Wri­Mo website, under the name of my intended pen name. So, on the off-chance that this all sounds eerily familiar, that’d be why 😆