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The Development of The Unconquered Sun

The Unconquered Sun - Noel Coughlan The Parting Gift - Noel Coughlan

When I started back on The Unconquered Sun, I already had a fully written draft. I thought it would be easy to knock it into shape. I simply had to apply the lessons learned from A Bright Power Rising. It did turn out to be a bit easier but it wasn’t easy. It certainly took longer than I expected.

As I reread the draft, my heart sank the way it does when you reach the top of a ridge on a mountain only to find another, steeper one ahead. I had gotten used to the lovely edited prose in A Bright Power Rising. The Unconquered Sun seemed a mess in comparison. But I had already finished a book once and I could do it again. I plowed on.

The most urgent issue was the start. I had to pick up the threads from the first book, but in a way that The Unconquered Sun felt like a complete book, not merely the second part of a serial. I had to summarize the key information from the first book without (a) an actual summary or (b) long indigestible paragraphs of explanation stuffed into the story.

Complicating this further was the re-introduction of NoName (AscendantSun’s twin) into the book. When we last saw him he was going on his not-exactly-merry way to Sunset. There were a few nervous days when excluding his thread from the first book felt like a mistake but in the end it clicked into place. It took a great deal of effort to balance his thread with AscendantSun’s, given the latter also contained the POV’s of Grael and Garscap.

A second ‘hangover’ from the first book was a secret about AscendantSun’s past. It’s hinted at in a couple of places in A Bright Power Rising, but as far as I know nobody has yet put the clues together. After some deliberation. I dealt with it in the first chapter, knowing there were of plenty of twists to come later in the novel.

The book turned out longer than A Bright Power Rising by about ten thousand words. But there was a lot of winnowing of POV’s both before and during the editing process. Excluding the prologue, there were ten POV’s in A Bright Power Rising, several of whom were only used for specific scenes where the three main characters weren’t present. Quite a few didn’t didn’t survive the first book. In The Unconquered Sun, there are only six POV’s. They all don’t survive either.

By the time The Unconquered Sun had finished editing, I had about fifty-seven thousand words of cut material. Most of it was fairly well written but no longer fitted. Separate to this chunk was a flashback chapter I chopped early on. This became the basis of The Parting Gift, a short story providing a little of the history of the eponymous object that plays a vital role in The Unconquered Sun. The story is set in the early days after the Light War when the Ors were the Sables’ slaves. Originally the first Auctor played a significant role in it, but I chose a different Or, Certamen to be the main character. I did this to inject uncertainty into the main character’s fate (A Bright Power Rising confirms Auctors are still around an Or millennium later) and to avoid Shrinking Universe Syndrome (where the same characters play a significant role in every major event till their imaginary world feels tiny). I think the story will surprise readers of A Bright Power Rising, as it shows a new facet to the Ors’ history.

One contentious issue was raised about The Unconquered Sun. I had always intended that The Golden Rule duology would be just that–two books. I outlined my reasons in a previous post. It was suggested that I should break The Unconquered Sun into two books. I gave the matter a lot of consideration, but in the end I decided to stick to the original plan. I worried I would end up adding unnecessary filler material and the story would lose the momentum. The ends of my stories are often set up in the beginnings so they become (a least in my mind) a ring. I wanted to keep that wholeness. Was it the right decision? I’ll only know for sure after The Unconquered Sun is released on 11th February 2016.