I began writing Dustless in October 2001. It was intended to be a ‘commercial’ fantasy novel, part of a longer series, Metallic.

I was earning my living as a freelance, and when my main client elected to close down the department in which I worked, making several of the employees redundant and depriving me of a considerable part of my income, I suddenly had some time on my hands. Up until 2001, my literary output had all been poetry – not a particularly lucrative field of literature, or at least not for me. I decided that it would be good to be able to earn some money from my writing, and Dustless was what I decided to write.

Nine years later, in July 2010, I came to write the final words of the first draft of Dustless. The novel was about 8,500 pp. Needless to say, it hadn’t quite turned out how I’d intended.

From the writer’s side of the book, as it were, it was an extraordinary moment when I came to ‘complete’ the work. I had sometimes wondered if I would ever write that final sentence. (I’d known for a long time, a matter of years, what the last words would be.) You have to bear in mind that I wasn’t publishing the books as I went along: I had to get to the end of the whole thing before I could see what it was. So, for nine years, I lived more or less alone with this material, with no real idea of its quality, worth or viability*.

During the composition of Dustless, when talking to friends, I began to compare myself to those World War II Japanese soldiers who were ‘lost’ – who remained in the field, long after peace had been declared, and who continued to live as soldiers, loyal to the Emperor, in remote jungle locations. The world of Dustless became my ‘jungle’ – and the time of the novel, the rhythm of the composition, formed a significant part of my reality. There were certainly periods when, involved in prolonged sessions of composition, it could be said that I lived far more within the imaginative world of Dustless than I did in the ‘actual’ world.

Recently, in preparing to publish Dustless electronically, I began to look at the work, and to try and understand it, to come to terms with it. What exactly is Dustless? It seemed to me that the work resists conventional categorisation. In this post, I have called it a ‘book’ and a ‘novel’, but at 8,500 pp., it seems, in some ways, to transcend or evade those terms. The sheer scale of it renders Dustless difficult to manipulate generically. It isn’t a saga. It isn’t really a series of novels. And other terms – ‘epic’, or ‘roman-fleuve’ – similarly wouldn’t quite stick as convincing descriptions. Eventually, in seeking to arrive at some sort of overview, I remembered the years of composition, of being lost in the ‘jungle’ of the work, and I began to entertain ideas of ‘ambient literature’.

I’d like to explore these ideas in more detail in subsequent posts.

*In fact, in 2005, a friend, Simon Fenwick, heroically agreed to start reading the novel and to draw up a map of the world of Dustless for me, and to make a timeline of the novel’s events. Simon’s involvement had a crucial influence on the way the novel developed, and I think it’s probably true to say that without his help, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the book. I owe him an immense debt of gratitude. I’d like to discuss Simon’s involvement, and the interaction between the map and the book, in subsequent posts.