(Or, how the goonybird ever got off the ground.)
I remember that I was thinking of quantum mechanics, and had just read a book on quantum field theory, which is a different modeling of the same mathematics. I have no illusions that I, myself, am a physicist, but being a physicist and creating one in one’s mind are two different things.
My writing computer is in a room that also contains a world globe, and with the idea of settling my physicist character somewhere, I took a push pin in one hand and spun the globe with the other. I closed my eyes and stuck the pin down. I thought, once I’d opened my eyes, that I’d set my character somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, and would have to try again, but then I noticed a tiny bit of island under the pin. I needed a magnifying glass to look up what the island was called.
It turned out to be a place called South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, which lie to the west of Scotland. I Googled the place thoroughly – rocks, seabirds, a few communities of people who live by tourism. And it turned out to have a very interesting history. It was the most unlikely place to set a physicist who is about to make a breakthrough in his field.
Unlikely is good in a book.
It had to be set in the future, or it wouldn’t be Science Fiction, but just the story of a scientist. Too far into the future and the book would require real world-building, which would have been difficult when I was trying for a character study more than an epic. I settled on the very near future.
(In retrospect, thinking about the delays in publishing and world politics, maybe I shouldn’t have spun the globe at all.)
Next I needed a name for my character. I typed in some gibberish that sounded vaguely Scottish and Word responded by asking me ‘Do you mean MacAulay?’ It really did. The word processor decided the name of the man.
I was floundering around a lot with the plot, since the near-future is a deadly place in which to be writing: always changing under one’s feet, as it were. I was corresponding with Nancy Palmer about the whole thing and she came on board with many ideas for the character and for the events that should surround him and make him real. We created a second protagonist. The book slid very early into a collaboration. Nancy has a wild imagination and a different sense of plot development, so Albatross isn’t what I thought it would be in the beginning.
But then, books rarely are what a writer expects.
I’m writing this in the middle of April and the Wordfire Press edition won’t come out until June, but that’s not so long a time. And it’s already got a great cover, although they have misspelled my name.
Ps: We ought to mention, for anyone who reads the book, that it was not really talking about Britain. That island was a METAPHOR. We were talking about a place closer to home. And we started before Brexit was even a word.
Pps: The publication date has been set back until September. To anyone who reads this, I’m sorry. (You can’t have any idea HOW sorry.)