My good friend and trusted colleague, Colin Galbraith, has a completely unique novella out with Eternal Press called STELLA. It starts out as a straight-up political thriller and takes some fascinating twists and turns along the way. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and highly recommend it.
I interviewed Colin, curious about the origins of some of the twists and turns.
CG:Hi Devon and hello to all your readers! Its great to be on BIBLIO PARADISE again.
DE: The story takes a really fascinating turn from a straight-up political thriller into a supernatural political thriller with strong religious themes. How did that shift occur?
CG: Through the music of the album that inspired it. The original idea came to me through the album of the same name by the pop band, Yello. It involved a pure straight up Cold War theme with spies, mysterious characters in long coats hiding in East European shadows under a full moon. Yet when I began writing, I came to a point where my original idea for a twist at the end of the book wasn’t going to work. Through one of the songs I had a better idea—a paranormal idea—and thus I was moving in another direction.
Of course, at that point it meant not really knowing how it was all going to end up so I just had to trust my muse and go with it.
DE: How much plotting did you do before you started writing? Was there a point where you had to stop and go back to re-shape material because of where the rest of the story headed?
CG: Because I had the bulk of the plot already ingrained in my mind after 20 years of listening to the album, I didn’t have much plotting to do. The process all started with me writing down the main scenes to see how they would fit the general story line. Then I flushed out the rest of the plot by linking them all up and forming the whole thing into something that was appropriate to my original idea, and that would make a half decent book. It was by far the easiest book I’ve written.
DE: Did you do any research within particular mythologies or cultures as backdrop? If so, which ones?
CG: One of the main themes in the story involved three roses but I didn’t just want any rose, it had to be dark and mysterious. I had no idea there was such a thing as the Baccara—the black rose—until I started researching it. Other than that I just stuck to what I already knew as far as mythology was concerned. I don’t think I’ve delved too far into it, and where I have I mostly made it up. I got the confidence to do that from an interview I read by Michael Crichton. He said, “everyone knows that dinosaurs can’t be cloned from fossilized DNA, but if they could…”
I did most of my research around the locations where the action takes place in the book. I know Amsterdam very well having been there several times. The church, coffee shop, sex shop and the lanes etc. all exist and were easy to write about. Fes was a little harder as was San Francisco and New York City, so I had to rely on the Internet, books and people I knew who had been there. I’m not totally comfortable writing about places I hadn’t been to, but the plot and the characters dictated a wide variety of locations would be needed so I ran with it. Hopefully it came off, though maybe not as well as I probably think!
DE: Did you set out to write a novella, or did content dictate form? Do you feel we’re entering into a Renaissance for the novella format?
CG: The content more or less dictated the form. The first draft of the book was too short for anything and I wasn’t happy with it at all. The first re-write was far too long and crossed over from being a novella to being a novel, but it was far too strung out and boring—it lost all the tension and drama. The third re-write saw me cutting it right back to make it a tighter story, while making sure not to rush through it, although looking back I still feel it’s rushed in places. I’ve learnt a lot from that experience, above all to let it go now it’s out there.
I’ve written three full length novel stories now—one published, two not—and I greatly enjoy the challenge and the satisfaction from the novel. But the novella offers something quite different but equally as gratifying.
Ideas for stories come to me all the time. Sometimes they make great foundations for a novel, other times a poem, sometimes a short piece of fiction. STELLA was perfect for a novella length story and I still think that.
The thing I like about novellas is that they’re long enough to tell a complicated story, but short enough to be able to hold the entire thing in one’s mind and see everything in one go. I can’t “view” any of my novels in my head from start to finish, but I can with a novella, and that makes writing them that little bit easier to cope with if they are complicated and have several arcs.
DE: Do you find that it’s different marketing a cross-genre novella from a single-genre novel and how, or how not?
CG: I’ve never thought about it like that, although when people ask what STELLA is about I tend to veer toward the “spy story with a twist” line. Part of the reason is that I think people might be put off if they think it’s paranormal and partly because I don’t want to spoil the surprise if they should read it.
I think paranormal and any other form of genre fiction, whether it be crime or sci-fi or fantasy, suffer from the same prejudice in that it’s not seen as mainstream or “proper fiction” by the establishment. Crime fiction, for example, is huge in Scotland but is looked down upon by institutions like the Booker Prize. And there are plenty of writers who do both. Take Iain Banks, who writes outstanding books of literary fiction and is generally accepted as one of the top UK writers, yet he also writes as Iain M Banks and is one of the top sci-fi writers the UK has produced. Go figure!
DE: How do you feel this unique piece influenced the writing you’re doing now?
CG: The obvious answer is that it spawned a sequel, which I’m working on just now. I would never have had the idea for BACCARA BURNING if it hadn’t been for STELLA.
But the main thing is that showed me I shouldn’t write to be published, that I should write for me. STELLA was never meant to be published, it was a private project I always promised I would do one day, and to see it published before the other work I’ve been pitching around the globe is quite something. I’m very proud of STELLA because it was 20 years in the making and thus very close to my heart.
Thanks for such great questions and for having me here—it’s been great fun!
Colin Galbraith has been publishing books, short stories, poems and non-fiction articles in print and online publications since 2004. He is a regular contributor to A-Listed, the News of the World’s Scottish music supplement, and is the Chief Editor of The Ranfurly Review.
Stella is his second book and was published by Eternal Press in June 2009.
His website can be found at: www.colingalbraith.co.uk