The seeds of OSIRIS were sown during my final year studying at Manchester, when I wrote a novella called THE LAST BALLOON FLIGHT. I’d almost completed the first draft of a contemporary novel about musicians, but something wasn’t working, and all my instincts were telling me I wasn’t going to be able to make it work. Instead, I wrote THE LAST BALLOON FLIGHT: a futuristic fairy tale about a journey from a frozen landscape, across an archipelago British Isles, to a flooded Paris (something like the illustration below: the painting is dubious, but there are some early intimations of oceanic towers going on). The return to a fantastical style of writing immediately felt more like me, and the musician novel was promptly abandoned.
Following my degree I lived in Montmartre for eighteen months, and the earliest notes I have on OSIRIS are set in a much-altered Paris. Montmartre being Montmartre, this period was more Bohemia than bohemian writing, and I was also chronicling the tales of the most malevolent cat who ever lived, Mystik, who I had the misfortune to look after for the best part of a year. MYSTIK: LETTERS survives as a record of my time in France, but this feline was also the source of the surname Adelaide chooses to use rather than her family name of Rechnov. Adelaide and Mystik shared many similar traits.
A little further on in the archives, my city has moved to a remote part of the globe, and its name has changed. The skyscrapers were a feature from the start, but the division between founding citizens and refugees was initially a vertical split (in terms of architecture) rather than the Berlin-style division that made the final cut. I was back in England and working seriously on OSIRIS at the point where I discovered Mark Lynas’ SIX DEGREES: OUR FUTURE ON A HOTTER PLANET. This book became my research bible in terms of climate change, and what the wider world beyond OSIRIS might look like. Although I wanted the novel to have a very closed and claustrophobic setting, with limited and probably controlled knowledge about the outside world, I needed to know what was out there for myself.
I’ve always been drawn to the sea and although in OSIRIS the ocean is a hostile environment, I wanted the novel to have an immersive feel, a sense that the sea is all-pervading – so for example in Osiris terms ‘dry’ is skint, ‘wet’ is dripping with cash. Tales of land are passed down through generations; those born in Osiris have never seen it, but their dreams are haunted by the ground they have never walked upon. The central characters for me are very much the products of their environments; not only in the relative wealth or poverty of their situations, but in the sense that this city in the middle of the ocean, cut off from the rest of the world, could drive you slowly insane. What happened to Adelaide’s twin brother Axel was a direct expression of this and something I would like to explore further at some stage, possibly through short fiction.
Balloons also came back to haunt the novel. I love authors whose works reference one another and narratives which contain stories within stories. The last balloon flight found its home as an Osiris myth: a story which is a symbol for those on the neglected side of the city, and for Adelaide’s twin brother.
So having left OSIRIS deliberately open-ended, I’m now working on Book Two. Without giving away too much, it’s fair to say some of that early research will come into play. I don’t think any of my characters will get as far as Paris, but you never know…
E J Swift is an English writer of science fiction and fantasy. Her short fiction has been published in Interzone magazine. Her debut novel OSIRIS is published by Night Shade Books, and is the first in a trilogy: THE OSIRIS PROJECT.