The Birth of the Fleet Quintet

The Fleet Quintet began originally with Commences, at that time a novella.  My intention was to write something about the beginning of the universe – but not the physical universe:  the universe of beings or entities or spirits, people who looked like people but didn’t have bodies of flesh.  Non-corporeal entities have always intrigued me more than any other.

I wanted to fill Commences with impossible magic, most of which proved to be so impossible that I couldn’t find the words to describe it.  The result was a gloriously incomprehensible mess.

I followed this with a short story, Access Denied, about a mindwalker called Gomenzi.  Once I discovered that this ultra-cool spy turned out to be an ex-Fleet being and that Fleet space was called space alternate – or alter-space – the first whisper of the Fleet novels was born.  A very short story called Baby Doll wrapped up Gomenzi – permanently, it seemed.

Another novella followed, Flesh for Sale, and suddenly the entire Fleet Quintet appeared in front of my eyes:  I had the titles for all five novels, though not necessarily the stories.  At that time, I had no idea what the fifth one was to be about, only the terrible depravity it was to contain.

The Fleet Quintet became my Great Work:  it was something I was going to write one day when I was a real writer.  One day when I had enough confidence as a writer to pull it off.  One day when I was more mature.  I had no idea when that day was going to be or what it would entail for me to get there, but when the day finally arrived, I wasn’t expecting it.

By that time, I had dropped writing altogether, started a degree, had a baby, followed by my Eureka moment, then started writing screenplays.  I developed Access Denied into a screenplay that absolutely didn’t work – the story was enormous.  The characters had vast back stories.  And the story was sucking me in to a vast black space called alter-space and there was no escaping.  The time had come.  It was time to turn novellas and short stories into a five-novel series.  My Quintet was ready to be born –

… something of a stillbirth, it transpired, as my first attempt at turning Commences into a novel was a dismal failure.  But with Access Denied already developed, it proved to be wonderfully easy to get going with Gomenzi and Nigel and the far-off distant Fleet.  I worked on Flesh for Sale in the same way:  I developed it as a screenplay and turned it into a novel that proved to be my best ever.  I was on my way.  The Fleet Quintet was in full throttle.

Without taking breath, I continued with the fourth, V. Gomenzi.  An intensely dense novel that covered the impossible time frame of the first three, this novel took me twice as long as the others and by the time I was done, I was running on empty.

Realising by that time the weakness of Commences, it got a full rewrite.  The writing came from the bottom of a bottomless pit.  I was half-dead with exhaustion from V. Gomenzi and with my mother dying in the middle of it, it became the most gruelling task I have ever undertaken.  I also managed to have a veritable personality change just before the editing process – resulting in a novel more brutal than I could ever have hoped for.

But it was still too weird and after much consideration, I decided to make it the fourth Fleet novel as its tone followed more aptly that of V. Gomenzi.

The last Fleet novel remains – to date – unwritten but the story has become clear.  I know exactly what it’s about, which is a lot more than I knew in the late nineties when it all began.

Uncovering the complex plot of the Fleet Quintet has been like having tiny sections of a vast painting revealed to me because to see it all, all at once, would have been terrifying.  And it’s as if the painting was already done when I first began to uncover it.  The story was already told:  I just had to find a way to release it from the darkness into novels that people could actually read.


About Susannah J. Bell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works.
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