From ocean city to dystopian world: writing The Osiris Project by E.J. Swift

CBP - EJS Jan 15

With the concluding part of The Osiris Project trilogy just published, author E.J. Swift talks of her writing process and tells us how the series and individual books came together…


When it comes to the process of writing a novel, there are as many different methods as there are books. To take two extreme examples which have stuck with me: one writer described their starting point as a series of disconnected images, ideas or scenes (a storm, an airfield), which they would later piece together into the framework for a novel. At the other end of the spectrum was a writer who ran through every sentence thirty times in their head before writing it down.

I identify more with the random ideas methodology. I’ve always shied away from plotting too intensively in advance, and I don’t like to write in order. I work on scenes as they come, often not knowing where or how they will fit until much later, and when there’s enough material, the book starts to pull together as a cohesive piece.

What kickstarts the process varies from book to book, and with The Osiris Project trilogy, it was slightly different each time.

CBP - EJ Swift For Osiris, the starting point was the city itself: the environment and concept. Built in the open ocean, miles from land, Osiris is very cold, very hostile, very claustrophobic. It’s a failed utopia. The city was intended to be a technological flagship and a link between north and south, but an influx of climate refugees has resulted in division and social inequality. Once the setting was established, the characters in Osiris were intrinsically shaped by their environment.
It was a different process with Cataveiro. Early on I had a clear idea about the two central characters: Ramona Callejas, pilot and cartographer, whose sense of justice is as strong as her desire for adventure, and Taeo Ybanez, an Antarctican exiled from his country, desperately missing his family, and addicted to the opium which is Patagonia’s number one export. By the time Mig and the Alaskan came along – the former a resilient street kid in love with the singer he longs to save, the latter his employer, a Machiavellian former resident of the feared Boreal States – the themes and feel of the book began to crystallise in my mind. CBP - Cataveiro

Tamaruq was the book where I had to do the most preparatory work in terms of plotting. I needed to know the endgame even if I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there. By this point, the city of Osiris has become trapped between the ambitions of the northern and southern hemispheres, providing an easy excuse for war, and the challenge was in bringing together the characters and storylines in a way that was truthful to their own individual missions. One thing I’d always had an idea of was the last scene of the trilogy: it was very clear in my mind, and I knew exactly what it looked like. But as it turned out, the end wasn’t quite what I’d expected.


Read more on the titles in The Osiris Project trilogy on our profile page of E.J.Swift

See Tamaruq on our Del Rey Jan-Jun 15 Titles page

See Tamaruq in our January 15 Picks of the Month article 


E. J. Swift is the author of The Osiris Project trilogy (Del Rey UK, Penguin Random House), a speculative fiction series set in a world radically altered by climate change, comprising Osiris, Cataveiro and the just-published Tamaruq. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Salt Publishing, NewCon Press and Jurassic London, including The Best British Fantasy (Salt Publishing, 2013 and 2014). She was shortlisted for a 2013 BSFA Award in the Short Fiction category for her story “Saga’s Children” (The Lowest Heaven, Jurassic).
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