L ...is for Letting Sarah McIntyre Read The Early Versions
Railhead was written in very much the same way as I wrote Mortal Engines. It came together slowly, over a number of years, using and re-using bits from many abandoned experimental versions. That’s pretty much how I always work, but in recent years, with publishing deadlines to meet, I’ve had to compress the process, and limit the number of early drafts. I didn’t have a contract for Railhead, so I was able to take as long as I liked. I ended up writing two or three whole novels before I finally hit on the idea of the trains, which ties the finished book together.
Sarah interjects: This photo I took of Philip appeared in the back of the book, and I got a little photo credit!
In the past, I’ve always been very secretive about what I’m writing. I hear about authors who sit down at the end of each day and read the latest chapter to their partner, but I don’t even like talking about mine. Things changed, however, when I wrote Oliver and the Seawigs: that was a joint effort, with a story and characters which I created with Sarah McIntyre, so of course I had to show it to Sarah as I was going along, so that she could chip in ideas and suggestions. That was fun - it was such fun, in fact, that it made me want to write another full-length book of my own. And I’d learned to trust the Judgement of McIntyre, I started showing her bits of Railhead as I was writing that.
It wasn’t called Railhead then, of course - it was called Untitled Space Epic. It didn’t have Zen as its hero, although I guess the heroes it did have were all forerunners of Zen. It had all sorts of stuff that never made it anywhere near the finished book, although a few names and settings appeared early on and stuck. (The water-moon Tristesse was in there from the start, but it was called Saudade until I realised that M John Harrison had used that name).
I tried out all kinds of different plots, putting rich characters and poor through wild adventures, gradually finding out how this future society worked, the Corporate Families, the Guardians… And McIntyre read them all, or most of them, and she was always complimentary, and ready with helpful observations. I think knowing that someone was waiting to read the latest instalment kept me going long after I would otherwise have given up.
Railhead tribute artwork by concept artist Ian McQue
Sometimes I made more of a character because Sarah liked them - the android called Nova, for instance, but I didn’t always let her influence me. There was a subplot about a girl who had become addicted to a virtual world, and then banished from it. Sarah really liked that part, especially the tragic ending, so I polished up a bit, working out along the way a few details about the Datasea, which is the internet of my future world. But in the end it didn’t fit into the story, so Sarah is the only person who will ever read it. All that survives of it in the final book is the girl’s name, Threnody, which has been given to a different character.
And then I decided that trains, not spaceships, should be what the book revolved around - Sarah was the first person I told about that - and fairly quickly a final(ish) version emerged, which I felt able to show to my agent, who showed it to OUP… and here we are. But we wouldn’t have got here without McIntyre. And while I was preparing the final final version, I Skyped her every day for about a week Sarah interjects: When I was ill with the flu! It was so cheering! and read her the whole thing (it’s very good practise to read your writing aloud, but you feel a bit silly doing it to yourself).
So the first thing most people probably knew about Railhead was Sarah’s picture of the Unshaven Author reading away on her Skype screen. It isn’t a Reeve and McIntyre book, but it wouldn’t be the same book without McIntyre, and it might not be a book at all. Thank you, Sarah!
You're very welcome, Reeve!
You can buy Railhead right here and you can follow Philip on Twitter - @philipreeve1 - and his Facebook page and our joint Reeve & McIntyre Facebook page.