Swords Versus Tanks — what “10 years in the making” means

SvT THUMB

Ten years in the making?

I wrote the first lines of Swords Versus Tanks in 2003, just before Kurtzhau was born. He’s now 11 going on 12.

So it seems I’m either Tolkien — a genius slaving away over his magnum opus — or actually a complete loser. The truth is less sound-bighty….

With fatherhood pending, my mate Hugh Hancock  (animator, among other things)  pointed out that it was do or die time. That led to meeting Charlie and joining a crit group. The snag was, I’d joined the crit group without having anything for them to crit! That’s, I imagine, like turning up to a certain sort of club without your rubber maid’s outfit. A bit of an issue.

So I sat down to Mind Map.

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What did I care about? What did I like?

What did I care about? What did I like?

Swords, apparently, and tanks.

It was more than that. I’m fascinated by the medieval mentality, and by — at the other end of history — the emergence of modernity in the 1900s-1930s.

Why not, I thought, bang the rocks together? Great idea!

Well it was a great idea. I set out to pen a Baen-style military yarn with time travelling communists clashing with magic-enabled knights.

However, it was also ambitious for a first novel. I did not know where I was going nor how to get there. Meanwhile there was Life.

So it was that I drafted my debut novel one hour a day at lunch while learning to write, while learning to father, while trying to sort out my health, while trying for a new job. It took two years.

Kurtzhau and Sutton Hoo

At a conservative guess, each child cost me 2 years professionally, but it was damned worth it.

The end result was too short and the story had grown in the telling — shifting from Military to Heroic Fantasy (or was it, Heroic Steampunk?) while exploring themes about Medievalism versus Modernism. It needed rewrites and expansion in order to make any kind of sense.

Writing one hour a day at lunchtime in a biker bar, I waded in, learning my craft on the fly. At one point, I found two characters had incompatible climaxes and spent weeks going in circles. Argh.

Another four years went by.

I changed to a much better job — in the interview, my future boss and I discovered a mutual interest in tanks — and had to commute by train for 6 months. Morgenstern appeared. Though we had levelled up as parents, two children turned out to be twice as hard. (At a conservative guess, each child cost me 2 years professionally, but it was damned worth it.)

At last, in 2009 I finally wheeled my magnum opus up to the start line, blew the whistle, and watched as it trundled out into Noman’s Land.

Six years sounds like a long time, but what I’d done was the equivalent of completing a part-time PhD. I didn’t just have a novel to sell , I also now knew how to write novels.

Alas, I’d turned up in 1914 France armed with the perfect cavalry sabre.

Swords Versus Tanks Episode 1

“An ungodly brew!” – Agent Bob

The publishing world had changed. My poor book didn’t quite fit the right categories, wasn’t lyrical or grimdark enough, possibly had too many tanks, or two many swords. It was most certainly too fast-paced for modern tastes.

I should probably have taken a long break. Instead I bogged down in a Fantasy Steampunk Space Opera set in the SVT universe’s future, then — frustrated by the books available to Kurtzhau — skipped to YA Historical and wrote Shieldwall: Barbarians!

In 2011, I landed Agent Bob, who represents quite a few authors I know. He called the book “an ungodly brew” and I knew we’d get on fine.

Now, Agent Bob is an industry veteran, but even he couldn’t sell Swords Versus Tanks, despite several rounds of revisions. However, having an agent led to franchise gigs and a very busy time writing for Paradox Interactive among others.

So there I was between gigs in 2015, twelve (12!) years after typing the first words of Swords Versus Tanks, and it was still a good idea.

I revisited the text and realised that the editors were right: it was too fast paced by modern standards. What I’d written was not really a modern 100 thousand word Fantasy novel. Instead, it was three or four 1970s-style short novels making up a series like the old Michael Morcock yarns I grew up on.

Now, I could have taken each novella and expanded it into a Big Fat Fantasy. However, it worked rather well as an old school series. Doorstop tomes were an artefact of the practicalities of publishing back in the 1980s anyway. There was no literary reason to expand.  Why the hell not just chop it up and release it in its natural form.

And that, dear reader, is what I did. The first episode, “Armoured heroes battle across the centuries” went out yesterday. The rest are to follow as I complete editing them…

Ten years in the making? Sort of.


If you haven’t already, go ahead and download Swords Versus Tanks 1: Armoured heroes clash across the centuries!

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Posted in Swords Versus Tanks, Writing Life
2 comments on “Swords Versus Tanks — what “10 years in the making” means
  1. Geoff Hart says:

    Sounds very similar to my journey writing “Chords” (http://www.geoff-hart.com/fiction/novels/chords/index.htm), except that my novel is more conventionally paced. Also, I’d quibble over one point: in my experience, two children are four (not two) times as hard as one child. Standard parenting advice is that you need to outnumber your children. *G*

    Seems like the steampunk tanks would be a fascinating long short story or novella, independent of SVT. The kind of thing de Camp and Pratt would have written.

    I’m at the point in my career where I’m trying to shed paying work so I can work more on my fiction. One priority will be to take what I left implicit in “Chords” (a classic “buddy film” with two unreliable narrators) and introduce intermediate chapters by a key supporting character that will make the unreliability of the narrators explicit. Then there’s the third book in the series, which follows up on the events in “Jester” (http://www.geoff-hart.com/fiction/novels/jester/index.htm) and makes a whole bunch of things from the previous books clear.

    Sigh. So many books, so little time. I have hope of some day emulating you and becoming a full-time writer once the kids are finally out of the nest. Matt is now living on his own, but not yet gainfully employed; Allie is midway through undergraduate. So there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully it’s not a charging tank.

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