When I was writing up my article on Joy, I knew I wasn’t telling the complete and utter truth. When I wrote about getting a response from Interzone editor and publisher Gareth Jelley, I didn’t actually tell you about the Question. The Question was a simple one, and the strict and honest answer was “no”. It was also a question I hadn’t been asked before, and one I didn’t consider I might be asked about Joy. But it was an exciting Question, a big Question. A Question with potential.
Faced with an editor who had all but directly asked if I had a sequel to Joy in my head, I knew it would not be the most career-minded move to tell the truth: the truth being that I did not, and indeed I hadn’t even had a vague inkling of what Joy and her drone were doing thirty-seconds after the story had ended. Some writers talk about characters that live and breathe in their heads, won’t leave them alone until they continue writing their adventures. Joy and her drone had done the equivalent of clapping me on the back, thanking me for a lovely time and disappearing over the horizon.
If I hadn’t liked the two of them - if writing Joy had been a grind and a struggle that only just paid off - then Gareth would’ve got the honest answer. But I had liked them; they had a nice relationship, and their world had been painted with broad enough strokes that it felt like it could stand some of it coming into closer focus. But I didn’t have another story for them, not even an idea: I had other stories I considered reworking to fit them in, but none of them really suited Joy or her world. Could I really be sure enough that I could come up with another story about them to risk the consequences of disappointing a magazine as historic and important as Interzone?
Well, the simple answer is yes, yes I could.
Most of my writing has been done with other people’s characters. Which means that most of my stories have been thought up knowing who the main characters are and having to find something that fits them and their world. I’ve spent the majority of my career in training for the day I got asked this Question; this time I would be doing it for characters I’d created, so surely that would give me an advantage. And I already had an inkling for what I wanted to do with them, an idea about whether Joy’s drone is “broken” because he’s missing a rotor.
Getting the Story
The original story was written very much from Joy’s point-of-view, showing what she had been through and was capable of doing to survive. It was the story of her finding her drone and letting it in. I didn’t want to go over the same ground with Arthur, so it made sense to think about the story from the drone’s point-of-view this time. If Joy had been about Joy making space in her life for the drone, then Arthur would be about the drone making space for itself there, making sure she knew who it was and what it wanted.
I wanted the story to feel like it had a connection to Joy, but also be accessible to the people who hadn’t read the original. My first decision was that I would use the same structure for the story, the Seven Point Structure: I hoped that by building the story in the same way, it would feel like they were similar even though in terms of plot, setting and point of view they would both be very different. I also knew that I would need to restate some of the key events from Joy, treading the fine line of making them feel like backstory to those who hadn’t read the original and callbacks to those that had. Again, years of sneaking continuity references in Doctor Who stories started to pay off.
My main worry was that I didn’t quite know what it was about Joy that had made Gareth hungry for more: there were lots of different things in there and any one of them might be the thing he wanted to see more of. But what if I left the key element out of Arthur?
At this point, I knew where my characters were starting, I knew where I wanted them to end up and I knew the shape of the bits in between. There really was nothing else to do but write it.
The story came remarkably easily, and gave me enough time to put it aside to fallow for a while before I had to think about sending it to Gareth. When he got in touch to confirm a publication date for Joy and give me his editorial input, I gave Arthur another look-over, tweaked a few things here and there, and took a breath. Joy had been the result of several attempts to get it published, reworked over months after input from different editors telling me why it wasn’t quite there. By comparison, Arthur was almost dashed out in a few days and had been seen by nobody. I was on the cusp of a relationship with Interzone, and Arthur was the story that would either cement it or bring the whole thing crashing down. What if it wasn’t good enough?
But I was never going to find out if I didn’t send it out. When I emailed Gareth back with my alterations to Joy in April 2023, I also sent him Arthur.
I kept in touch with Gareth in the meantime, finalising bits and bobs about Joy and studiously not asking if he’d read Arthur yet: with one story by me forthcoming, and two magazines that weren’t dedicated to Dale Smith stories I knew it might be a while before I heard anything. So it was a very pleasant surprise at the end of June when Gareth emailed me a contract: he had indeed read Arthur, and he had indeed liked it. He didn’t know when, but he knew that he wanted to publish it in IZDigital. I breathed a sigh of relief. With Joy, I had written something with no connections to anyone else’s franchises that nobody had asked for; with Arthur, I had written a sequel. I was starting to feel like a real writer.
After Joy was published (and even received a review), Gareth got in touch again with some preliminary sketches of an illustration for Arthur, again by the amazing Martin Hanford. I liked them all, but picked the one that most foregrounded the drone: Arthur was, after all, going to be its story. Gareth let me know that he’d be in touch to discuss any further edits and give me a date for publication.
Those edits turned out to be relatively minor: a few typos, and a section that didn’t quite work out exactly as I intended that needed a little tweak for clarity. Gareth was happy, I was happy, and that was that.
What Happened Next
I’m not quite sure what will happen next after Arthur: an unconnected story has been submitted and rejected by Interzone, so I still can’t claim to have cracked the secret formula of writing things they’ll like. At the end of the year, it will have been six months since Joy was published and it will be mine again to see if anybody else wants to republish it. I have other things I’d like Joy and her drone to do, but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll ever see the light of day. I have other stories I’d like to tell, and as yet no-one who would like to publish them.
This is the life of a jobbing writer: there are writers out there who get everything they write published, but there aren’t as many as you probably think. As i write this, there is a story of a writer who just got a six figure advance for their fantasy story going around: I haven’t paid it much attention, so it may actually turn out to be a scam, or it may be true, but that isn’t the point. Success like that is like winning the lottery: you can’t plan for it, and if it’s what you live your life trying to do you’re just going to cause yourself more problems. All you can do is write, and hope, and try to ride any waves of luck you get until they fall away.
So I will write more stories about Joy and her drone, and I will see if Interzone want them. But only while I have things I want to write about them, and without any guarantee that they’ll actually see the light of day. Like a proper writer.