Writing Ultra

“sick sick sick”  (MM)


Ultra first started life as a short story, a really sick one about a girl in a mental institution who, I seem to recall, wandered about in pyjamas with daisies on them.  I’ve forgotten the title but I’m sure it had rabbits in it.  She imagined/dreamed that another girl, her twin (a real one?  I don’t remember…) was attacking her and the attacks were brutal.  I described them quite graphically, even sexual attacks.  What the hell was that about?  But there must have been an alien abduction thing going too because in her dreams, she would see the other girl in a pod, captured, like she was, her spiritual essence being sucked out of her in order to create a gateway between parallel universes.  Each girl, natch, came from different universes but was identical in every way, hence the energy created when they were connected via the pods.

Written down like this, it seems REALLY bizarre!

In my first attempt at writing a screenplay, I adapted the short story into something that was about as far removed from the original idea as possible.  In fact, I’m starting to wonder whether the abduction scenario even existed in the short story.  (I wonder what the hell happened to it…my stuff just gets lost.)  The screenplay was very X-Files derivative and utterly impossible for me, because I can’t write in that form.  I like to get inside a character’s head, whereas in a screenplay you have to describe their exterior in order to understand the interior.  I really wanted to call it The Collector as the abductee working for the aliens, abducting children from both parallel worlds was a collector [of children] but the name had already been taken.  I think I ended up calling it The Collected.  Doesn’t have quite the same ring.

In 2010, shattered with exhaustion after the huge, emotional rewrite of Commences, I decided to write a novel that would have a broader appeal (at least, I thought it might.)  Something a tad more….commercial.  Though of course, with me, that’s just impossible.  I hunted high and low for a title, even spending hours in Waterstone’s perusing the new titles table in an attempt to find a catchy title.  I worked out that titles basically have nothing to do with the content so after much thought came up with The Pink Tulip Tree.  It doesn’t exactly sound like a tale of alien abduction, does it.  Early that spring, I had seen the magnolia trees blossoming in Kew (or was it the previous spring?  Why is my timeline just so fucked?) and recalled one of them was a pink tulip tree, a name which I rather liked.

It was an easy novel write compared to the blood-from-stone that was Commences.  All the preparation had been done when I had worked it as a screenplay.  I stipulated that every chapter could only be five pages long, which for me is really short.  This meant I could get a lot of punch into every chapter.  It also meant I wouldn’t get bored…remember that I was running on empty after Commences.  I had nothing left.  I was burnt out.  I thought I’d never have a good idea for writing again.  I turned into a metal fan overnight (weird personality twist half way through my life…)

And when I was done, I decided the title was stupid and that I was kidding myself if it wasn’t a sci fi novel.  So I picked one word out of it and ULTRA was born.

Nice big fat-lettered word on a cover one day, all shiny and gloss and creepy Collector.  This book so works.  Why haven’t I sold it yet?


About susannahjbell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works. I mostly write novels and the occasional novelette. My published works include A Doorway into Ultra, the Fleet Quintet and the Exodus Sequence. I live in London in an attic flat but really want to live in a tree. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but would settle for an alien abduction. I write because I don’t know what to read.
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