Mums, I think most artists would agree, are the unsung heroes of the creative world. I happen to have a particularly great one, and she was instrumental in helping me move from aspiring to published author.
I wrote the first draft of my sci-fi thriller, Edge of Heaven, when I was fifteen. I’d been writing stories for most of my life, but Edge was my first attempt at both science fiction (an interest I inherited from my father, who put my first spec-fic novel in my hand) and at a proper, grown-up text with swearing and sex and violence. It was not, objectively speaking, very good. Nor was it in any way mum-friendly, but my mother was my original beta-reader and, in a massive departure from her usual reading material, she took it and read it and commented politely that it was certainly very daring and imaginative and she enjoyed it enormously, but I could, perhaps, use the f-word more sparingly.
Twenty-two years later, a very different version of that novel has just been published with Liberties Press. The path to publication has been longer than most, and I’ve lost count of the revisions I’ve made to that original manuscript, but, though I’ve written (and rewritten, and discarded, and picked up again, and revised) several other novels in that time, I’ve always felt that Edge of Heaven would be the first I’d publish. From the first, sudden flash of inspiration, when, sitting in the back of my parents’ car, I had a vivid vision of a city built in two layers, this has been a story that just wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it. And wrote it. And wrote it some more.
Looking back on it now, I can trace the many influences that shaped it into its final form. Growing up in Belfast in the eighties, violence and bloodshed were, to a large extent, normalised, and so, as the world of Edge of Heaven began to come together, Creo Basse — the city in which the action takes place — began to take on some of the qualities of the city I remembered from my childhood. Danger lurks constantly just beneath the surface, but it’s not a city under siege, just like Belfast wasn’t a city under siege: it’s a place where people get on with their lives and tut and make pitch-black jokes and just generally consign the danger to the background, because that’s how you live with it. It’s something I find quite beautiful: the indomitability of the human spirit in the face of adversity, and I’m not surprised it made its way into my novel, though I didn’t realise it had until I’d finished the final draft. Other sources of inspiration were more easily discernable. As a teenager in the early nineties, when talk of man-made climate change was just beginning to creep out of the margins and into the mainstream consciousness, I wanted to explore that possible future: where population growth and careless land-use gradually overwhelm this planet’s limited resources. The first adult science fiction novel I read was Ben Elton’s This Other Eden, in which he explored those very issues, and it was a major influence on the sorts of stories that I wanted to tell. And, finally, as our society has gradually become more and more dependent on ever-evolving artificial intelligence, I’ve become increasingly interested in identity and humanity and where one leaves off and the other begins. We’re fast approaching the AI singularity — the point at which all bets are off and it’s no longer possible to predict how our interactions with technology will unfold — and that fascinates me.
By late 2012, Edge of Heaven was a very different novel to its twenty-year-old ancestor. For one thing, as a thirty-something adult free to use the f-word as and when I felt like it, I no longer felt the need to impress my readers with my liberal use of expletives. The MS had also had the benefit of a thorough edit from a couple of incredibly generous friends, but I’d hit a brick wall. I’d been querying agents for over a year and thought I’d struck gold when one requested a full, but it had been eight months since I’d sent it and she wasn’t responding to my emails. I’d recently been awarded my PhD, but I was completely failing to get my academic career started and I was beginning to worry that my temporary middle-management job was going to become a more permanent state of affairs. That wasn’t part of the plan. I’d always wanted to write for a living, and a career in academia seemed like a backdoor route: there was lots of writing to be done in academia. Except that I couldn’t persuade anyone to hire me.
“So,” said my mother one evening, “why don’t you just become a writer, then?”
Because there were bills to pay? Because academia might not be the most financially rewarding of careers, but I was pretty sure it was even harder to make ends meet by writing fiction?
“Good point,” she agreed. “So… move back in with me. I’ll pay the bills. You write.”
When I say that my mother was instrumental in helping me move from aspiring to published author, I’m not kidding. For two years, I scraped by what little I could from occasional arts jobs and worked on making Edge of Heaven sellable. In early 2014, it won the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair Award, and that was because I had time to sit with my friends’ edits and suggestions and turn a draft that nearly snagged an agent’s attention into an agented novel that publishers wanted to read. Two years later, I’ve moved back out of Mum’s house, made myself a living as a freelance writing teacher, and I’m sitting with a copy of my novel in my hand. All because my mother wouldn’t let me give up.
Every writer’s path to publication is different. I’d advise all aspiring authors to take whatever help and support they can get: no author is an island, and every book is the result of a whole lot of work and plenty of cheerleading. I’d especially recommend having my mum in your corner, but I think I’ve just been really, really lucky there.
(c) RB Kelly
About Edge of Heaven
April 2119: in the Réserve Naturelle de l’Auvergne, a dog walker makes a gruesome discovery – a badly decomposed body, half buried under a landslide. In that moment of horror, she sets in motion a chain of events that will bring catastrophe in their wake. Three hundred miles away, a bi-level city towers above the wastelands of Provence. This is Creo, a permanent relocation centre for the dispossessed of a planet where liveable space is at a premium. In the dark, honeycomb districts of the lower city, Creo Basse, Danae Grant nurses the sort of secret that can get a person killed, while Boston Turrow lives a little life and plans for a better future – maybe even a job where nobody punches him. Creo Basse is not the land of happy-ever-afters, so, when they find themselves unexpectedly thrown together, neither one of them is prepared for the strength of their connection.
But a critical mass is simmering in the streets of the lower city. It started with the closing of the city gates and the gradual, insidious build-up of CDC operatives. In a city of almost 100 million people, shut off from the sunlight and fed air through ancient filters, they’ve seen this sort of thing before – but this is different. The night that Boston and Danae fall in love, martial law is declared. The city is dying, and no one knows how to stop it. Except… Danae thinks she might have an idea. The secret she has been holding onto for so long may well be the key to ending the new plague, a pestilence that nothing else can stop. But stepping forward is tantamount to suicide. And then Boston begins to cough. Danae is going to have to make a choice: what will she give up to save the one glorious thing in an inglorious life?
Edge of Heaven is in bookshops now, or pick up your copy online here!
A native of Belfast, R.B Kelly has a PhD in Film Theory and published her doctoral thesis ‘Mark Antony and Popular Culture’ with publishing house IB Tauris in 2014. Her short fiction and non-fiction articles have appeared in magazines and journals across the world, and her short story Blumelena was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2012. Edge of Heaven is her debut novel.