Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Like buses

Martin Hayes is no stranger to Futures, and his latest story is Like buses, which appears this month in Nature Physics. The tale is a thought-provoking look at how the Mars One mission might unfold. Martin’s earlier stories for Futures include the apocalyptic romance Howard loves Polly, career guidance to youngsters who are thinking about joining the space corps, a creature called Spamface and Me am Petri, which found its way into the Futures 2 anthology. You can find out more about Martin’s various activities on his website or by keeping an eye on him on Twitter. Here, Martin reveals the role of luck and W. B. Yeats in the production of his latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

 Writing Like buses

Like buses, my fifth story for Futures, was conceived of and written in about 45 minutes on a dull and dreary Wednesday morning back in mid-February. I rose early, showered, and while I was cooking breakfast (scrambled eggs and streaky bacon with a properly massive pot of strong-drawn tea, if you must know) I caught the end of a radio segment about an Irish guy who’d made the shortlist of candidates for the Mars One project.

I had only the vaguest notions of what Mars One was about so, after breakfast, when I’d plonked myself down at the desk to try and maybe, perhaps, possibly write something, I googled it and opened a few tabs.

The web pages were still open when I e-mailed the editor of The Green Book, a journal on Irish gothic literature, to propose that I write an essay for him on the occult interests of W. B. Yeats and his involvement with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The editor e-mailed me back straight away to say that this was a great idea, that he’d love to do it, but he’d just commissioned an almost identical article from someone else. I chuckled to myself and replied, stating that essays about W. B. Yeats and the occult are like buses, you wait ages for one and then two show up at once.

I went back to reading about Mars One (anything, anything to avoid actually having to sit and think and write something) and as I stared at an artist’s depiction of a sparse Martian outpost, the phrase ‘like buses’ flashed in my mind. The story landed, unbidden, in my brain pan at that moment. I fired up my twelve-year-old word processing software and bashed the story out in about three-quarters of an hour.

I wish they all came that easily. I really do.

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