I usually spend months developing ideas before they are ready to write, so getting this one from first spark to complete draft in under 24 hours was something of an anomaly. Like most writers, I carry an idea swirl around with me wherever I go but when I got bored on a bus from Blantyre to Lilongwe in Malawi, I couldn’t find anything in it ready to be written. I had a copy of New Scientist with me, so I skimmed it and noted down each article with story potential. A feature article on asteroid mining begged to be included, and an article on the downstream effects of dam construction in China placed the story on the banks of the Mekong River. I spent some time in Thailand a few years ago, which finalised the choice of setting.
I didn’t expect New Scientist to help with characterisation until I found an article on ‘Generation Me’: the phenomenon that high school and college students are supposedly more egotistical and self-confident than previous generations. Most discussions I’ve seen on the subject are quite happy to jump on the bandwagon of bashing the young. This article was an exception as it pointed out that the studies that identified ‘Generation Me’ compared the current cohort of students with previous cohorts, not with other age groups in current society. It’s quite possible that all age groups have become more egotistical, or at least feel pressure to present themselves in self-confident terms, but that only the oft-reviled young have come under scrutiny. Leaving aside the question of whether ‘Generation Me’ is a real phenomenon, it gave me the basis of one of my characters.
So now I had an egoist involved in asteroid mining, finding themselves in the drought-ridden wasteland downstream of a Chinese dam. The rest followed from there, and was ready to go by the time I checked into the Korea Garden hotel. I spent the afternoon and the following morning writing it by the pool, and had it finished by the time my pick-up arrived and I went to Zambia.
The story then went through the usual multiple rounds of edits and critiques from helpful fellow writers. One of the critiquers was 2011 James White Award winner Colum Paget. Colum said I should enter it as it would probably win. To my amazement, he turned out to be absolutely right.
Many thanks to Colum and everyone else who critiqued it, and to the organisers of the James White Award.
Beside the Dammed River was published in Interzone 253, July 2014 and was translated into Italian as Nei Pressi del Fiume Prosciugato dalla Diga in La Maledizione anthology, January 2015. It will be republished in The Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology in July 2015.