by Colin Galbraith
The idea for Stella first came to me way back in 1985. Yello, who were a Swiss electronic pop duo, released an album of the same name, which contained an international smash hit in the form of the track, Oh Yeah. It was used in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to name but one.
But it wasn’t the hit song that made the album tick for me, it was the less obvious tracks that made up the rest of the album. From the moment I first heard the evocative tunes of Stella, my head became filled with a myriad of wonderfully dark and mysterious images; images of gothic Eastern Europe, of moonlit, smoke-filled train stations with men in long coats and high collars, and ladies with red lipstick and lashings of glamour. It brought to mind demons and the paranormal, of the unknown, and of secret underground lairs.
So there I was, a kid going to sleep at night with a head full of all these weird scenes and characters but not having a clue what to do with them. To me, Stella sounded like the soundtrack for something, I just wasn’t sure what. Every November, I used to listen to the album like crazy, because in Scotland that’s when the evening moon is at its clearest and brightest, and it seemed to go well with the music. Little did I know it was all inspiration.
Eventually, after several years writing with serious goals of publication, I finally sat down to create a story that befitted my original idea, something I always promised myself I would do. The original concept was for each chapter to match each song, but as I got into it, the story soon grew out of all proportion to the album.
Normally the amount of planning I put into a longer piece of fiction will depend greatly on how clear the original ideas are. With Stella, I had several years thinking about it before I eventually sat down and put pen to paper, so when it came time to join up the dots it was relatively easy to go with the flow. With that being said, Stella and Randolph still found it in themselves to throw up several surprises along the way, which looking back now, only served to enrich the plot.
And that’s the way I like it; a modicum of planning — A to L to Z clearly marked — the rest in between is up to the characters and the mood of the piece; drive by night but with a road mark for the major points along the way.
The first draft of Stella was a shadow of what it is now. It really was quite poor, but most of that is down to two things. First, when I began writing it, I was nowhere near as experienced a writer as I was when I came to write the final draft. And they weren’t my usual kind of drafts either, there was a lot of re-writing and major surgery that went into the story to achieve the balance and mood I was aiming for. I don’t think I’ve ever written so may re-writes to that extent before!
With my intention never being to try and get Stella published — I never thought the idea of a chapter to song book would ever work anyway — once I opened it up and it grew into a more solid piece of work, I began to think it might just have a chance.
With it being novella length, I knew it would never stand a chance of being published traditionally — there’s just no market for it any more — but with a rapidly growing e-Book market, and in particular paranormal market, the idea began to appeal more and more that it might just be able make it in the real world.
I don’t think Stella being an e-Book affects the structure or style in any way, in fact, I think both go well together and Stella is well-suited as an e-Book. It’s not too long, has lots of twists to keep the reader’s interest, and it has enough chapters of just the right length.
Secondly, the original manuscript was more or less along the lines of what I imagined the album to be. Once I realised I could break away from the rigidity of what had been resting in my mind all those years, it blossomed into something much more exciting.
Mostly, all of the writing I had done up until Stella was crime or crime related, so writing a paranormal mystery, although I never set out planning to write one, was a blessed change for me. I had been wanting to try something new and unwittingly when I undertook this private project I had on the go for so many years, little did I know what I was doing for myself.
The “problem” I have now is that I can’t let go of it. All the while the manuscript was being moulded and shaped into what you read now, in the back of my mind I could hear myself asking more questions like: “what happens next” and “that would be a great link to a sequel”.
And so it’s proved. I’m currently writing the sequel to Stella, which is called Baccara Burning, and with it being totally free of the age-old images I had in my head for the first story, this one is really living up to the phrase, “letting the characters do all the work”.
Of course, writing long fiction means one can’t be doing other things. I take my writing very seriously — I used to get wound up by people saying my writing was a hobby — but I’ve grown used to that and changed their view of me.
Getting published has helped change people’s attitudes, as has the way I now talk about my writing when I’m around other people. It was a slow process, but most people now think of me as a writer who earns his keep by working in IT, as opposed to an IT worker who writes in his spare time.
I’m lucky, too, in that my wife works in the arts — she’s a semi-professional photographer — and we can relate to each other in many ways within that sphere. She’s been a great source of support, as has my daughter, but it can be all too easy to fall into the complacency trap. You have to make time for your family (and yourself) and yes, it can lead to friction, but in the end you can’t write constantly, you have to be with your family sometime.
About the author
COLIN GALBRAITH’S popularity as a contemporary Scottish writer has grown rapidly over the past few years. He is a prolific writer of fiction, poetry, non-fiction articles and reviews, and has been earmarked by the Scottish local Press as one to watch. His latest book, STELLA, is available for purchase from Eternal Press and you can find his website here.