The Story of Cloudgazer

This has been a big week for me.

Back in something like 2003, I was laying on my back, looking up at an angled skylight and seeing only lightly clouded sky. I found myself wondering: what if that was down? What would it be like to live in a world where the sky was like an endless ocean, above and around you? Where you travelled in airships between floating cities, like islands in the vast blue void?

Some Beginnings

Over the years, I would start to add to this concept, inspired by a succession of games and films. Azimuth took on many influences and evolved gradually, snowballing in complexity and cutting a slalom of style back and forth as I changed and grew. I began to write a novel about an Azrunite airship clumsily named the Wandering Cloud. It initially involved links with an Earth person, in that goofy early 90s Super Mario Bros Movie sort of way. I soon scrapped that angle because, dammit, I don’t need someone from Brooklyn for my audience to get a clue, or I’m looking at the wrong people. Still, it’s funny to look back on what could have been. Will someone from Earth ever reach Azimuth? I digress.

Despite finishing only a couple of chapters, the eponymous ship would eventually go on to become the Akron; named in honour of the famous US carrier airship*. In 2005, I used the setting of Azimuth, as it had now become known, for my final year project at the University of Bolton: Iron Skies. Despite being an early incarnation of the world, most of the ingredients were already there by this point: Azrune, Ganzabar, the Gold Age… but it was far from being a commercial game. Played by maybe a few dozen, it was then shelved. It was around this time I came up with the sling; a multitool that could double as a weapon; as well as the term for those that used them: “cloudgazers”.


In November 2009, I decided I wanted to tackle NaNoWriMo. If you’ve not heard of it before, it’s a kind of worldwide self-challenge to write 50 thousand words in 30 days. I already had about a dozen half-finished novels I’d been trying to write, so I didn’t want to start a new concept. I wanted to take the concept I felt was most important to me, the one I needed to get out the most. I chose the Azimuth project. By now, the working title had become ‘Cloudgazer’. I threw myself into NaNoWriMo and, much to my surprise, came out at the end of November with a 50,805 word novel. Awesome, I thought. It’s pretty good, so maybe I’ll publish it in a month or two.

Fast forward over five years. Because, to be honest, I can’t really remember what I was doing over that time. I’d got caught in a loop of editing, making changes, deciding it was all wrong, going back and changing whole fundamental plot points; then rinse and repeat. It was everything you shouldn’t do when editing. That is, it was not structured or orderly and thus wasted huge amounts of time. I was also working in a job that was creatively very draining, so I just didn’t have the energy to pursue it. I was trying to nail down details of the next book so that I didn’t have to be so constrained by published material; I could just change it! This only had the effect of shelving everything in perpetuity.

Self Publishing is the Future

By 2015, though, I’d had enough. Inspired by Hugh Howey’s Wool, I began to read up on his blog posts about self-publishing and how the world of ebooks was changing things. No longer considered a “vanity project”, self publishing was becoming an avenue for the niche and the unheard to have a shot at finding their audience, much as a similar democratisation was changing the gaming scene. I reached out to him for some advice and he kindly obliged: if I could do just one thing as a self-published author, it would be to get a good editor.

So I did. After a year, for some reason**. And I decided to wait another 6 months for him to be free. Hell, it’s been this long, what’s another 6 months before Azimuth sees the light of day? David Gatewood is, it turns out, a great editor. By the end of 2016, Cloudgazer was, for all intents, a completed book. It was also a much slicker, consistent, concise and easier-to-read story than it had been only a few months before. And thanks to his feedback, my writing thereafter has been, as well.

Cover Me, I’m Going In

But of course, the book still wasn’t Ready was it?

No, because when you work on every detail of a fictional universe for over a decade, built a wiki for it, and you’re a writer, artist and game designer, you sort of have a vision of how it should all look. A vision that, you decide, means you have to make the cover art yourself. After all, how long can that possibly take? Spoiler alert: a long frigging time. Especially when you keep changing your mind about composition, colours, styling, 3D / 2D, metaphors, references and programs.

Finally, that was done and it went off to the formatters, the lovely people at Polgarus Studio, who go through the document and convert it for viewing as an ebook. Ebooks essentially view things using html, so the guts of this were not unfamiliar to me. But, much like making a website, I just prefer that someone else deal with it. I feel much the same way about html files as I do about cats: I’m fine with them being a thing, I just don’t want them to be a thing near me.

Once it was all bound up into an ebook file, I had what was essentially the finished book ready to upload to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service. But, this being hopefully the final version, the least I could do was read over it one more time to be sure; what a pilot might call a gross error check. Lucy did the same; which between us meant that was another month or so of the book sitting around ready to go.

Is It Over, Yuri?

Finally, the last hiccup or two was straightened out and I had the final completed ebook file. There was a day or so of setting things up with KDP, then Cloudgazer was submitted on July 10th, 2017. It published the day after. And y’know what? It’s still not quite sunk in.

But, I hope people out there will enjoy reading about Azimuth as much as I have enjoyed hogging it to myself for the last 14-15 years.

You can get the book from that link right here if you like! Or, you can grab it on Kobo here.




(*) - Which, in turn, was named after Akron, Ohio. Hi, Akron!

(**) - No, I don't know how it took me this long, either. Sling happened in this time, but that was only a games jam, so I'm as stumped as anyone.

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