On the morning of her 250th wedding anniversary, Joanne woke up alone in bed. She stretched, yawned, and sighed. Although a busy day awaited them, it would have been nice to begin with a snuggle and a lie-in. But Kelly undoubtedly had her own plans and surprises. Surely she hadn't disappeared into her studio already... no, it would be a special breakfast of some kind.
One day in February 2010, I was skimming through a newspaper's colour magazine supplement. Glossy magazines tend to be full of advertisements, and full of editorial features aligned with the consumerist lifestyle that advertisers target: "Twenty Great Gift Ideas", and so on. On this particular day, I saw an article with the headline "Ten Unusual Gifts for Valentine's Day". My hand immediately descended to turn the page, and my thumb landed on the bottom-right of the spread, where the article's final suggestion said: "Name a star for your beloved".
I'm somewhat vague on the exact wording of the article, because at the time my only reaction was to turn the page with increased annoyance. Not only am I opposed to consumer culture, but "name a star" schemes are basically a scam anyway. They have no official standing: you're just buying a fancy certificate. And since there are multiple vendors selling these certificates, the same star can be given different names by different buyers. It's meaningless. I threw the magazine in the recycling bin, and thought no more of it — until a few days later, when I was hiking across Ilkley Moor.
I get a lot of my story ideas when I'm out walking. It's not a conscious process, whereby I apply some sort of procedure that mechanically converts inputs x into story idea y. It's more a case of random thoughts drifting through my mind, and occasionally sparking something off.
In this instance, I remembered the "Name a star for your beloved" newspaper item, and I thought to myself, "What if a couple had a relationship that lasted long enough for interstellar travel to be invented, and they actually travelled to the star that they'd named so long ago?"
Instantly, I knew that this was a story I wanted to write. Interstellar travel is exciting enough: there could be anything at the destination star. But more importantly, "a relationship that lasted long enough for interstellar travel to be invented" implied a vast scope — a huge sweep of time. Star travel could be centuries away. What kind of relationship would last so long? What challenges might be encountered, and how could they be overcome?
My stories are rarely based on romantic relationships. One reason for this is that the territory is well-trodden, and I see little reason to go where so many other writers have already gone. Yet when fiction deals with romance, it's often in the context of new relationships. There are plenty of stories about courtship; there are rather fewer stories about the challenge of keeping a marriage alive after the 250th wedding anniversary. This felt like fresh ground.
The idea also offered me the opportunity to stretch myself by writing about an era several centuries ahead. Many of my science-fiction stories are set on Earth in the near future. The rationale is that short fiction generally focuses on a specific premise, and lacks the room to describe a radically different milieu. But that's not an iron rule. Sometimes it's fun to try something different.
Finally, since this was already going to be an ambitious story, I decided to shake up the narrative by inserting a few impressionistic fragments, thereby illuminating the sweep of time that the story covers. Some of the fragments are conventional flashbacks, but others are a little more quirky.
When I combined all these elements, the result was a story that moved from the domestic to the galactic, and back again.