Moodboard for Hell Ship


Regular readers of this blog will know that occasionally I produce ‘moodboards’ of my various novels. Here’s Debatable Space.  Here’s Red Claw.  And here’s Version 43.

A moodboard is used in the film business to evoke the, er, mood of a film that is in development or pre-production but hasn’t yet been made. It’s used by directors and producers to help create a shared vision. It can include photos of locations and pictures of actors; but also stock images of other films which evoke some particular aspect of the story.  My director for Inferno made the COOLEST moodboard for that movie which he shows us in a meeting once.  That was done on cardboard, with incredible care; and he had moodboards for each of the main characters as well as for the film itself.

Anyway, being a visually minded type, I find it really useful to have images when I’m writing a book. I made entire slideshows of images to help create a world in my head.  And these are the images I used for Hell Ship.

(And please do bear in mind that this is a not-for-profit website and all images I use are freely available on the internet, and are quoted from here according to principle of ‘fair use’ , for educational/informative purposes only.)

Moving swiftly on from that:

To make sense of what follows, you need to know that the Hell Ship is a spaceship which travels between universes with a crew who are very very evil.

Sai-ias is one of the main characters; she’s an alien with tentacles.  And she’s genuinely nice; possibly the only nice character I have ever written. (!)

Jak is another main character, a humanoid alien from a culture which reveres trading; and he commands an Explorer craft tasked with travelling through space to find new civilisations, and then to get the better of them in sly negotiations.

And Sharrock is a humanoid (though with red and ridged skin) warrior from a culture where sword fighting is regarded as noble and war is an art form.

Here are my moodboard images for the Hell Ship itself:

These are plates by Gustav Dore illustrating Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  I’ve always loved the relentless rhythms – more  a chant than a poem –  and the haunting imagery of that piece. Now my story doesn’t have an albatross, nor does it have sailing ships; but it was that FEELING I wanted to evoke somehow.  The Hell Ship travels betwen the multiverses; cursedly.  That’s the starting point for the whole story.

Here’s an image that was lurking in the back of my head when I created Sai-ias, a highly cultured, civilised and (if you happen to be of the same species) lusciously beautiful dame:

That’s an illustration by Bryan Baugh of Nemo fighting the Giant Squid in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Sai-ias is firmly in the long standing SF tradition of ‘talking squids in space’. But this is not a tongue in cheek creation; Sai-ias is a character you can hate, or love, but there’s nothing comical about her.

Jak is an Explorer who is firmly in the tradition of James T. Kirk and the Starship Enterprise.

Oops – that last image was a bit saucy!

And in creating this character, I was also influenced by the other great explorer ship of SF, Moya in Farscape; a ship of aliens boldly going to no end of planets-that-look-exactly-like-Earth.

And the final element in the mix – the third of the three protagonists – is Sharrock. A highly sophisticated alien whose species can travel to the stars, BUT have very big arms.

Those images of Conan the Cimmerian, created by Robert E. Howard, are of course painted by the astounding Frank Frazetta.

Hell Ship is of course is its own beast - it’s not a mash-up in the Anna Karenina: Flesh-Eating Zombie tradition.  But by immersing myself in these images I felt able to enter a radically different world (or indeed, many worlds) with greater confidence. This moodboard technique is a  way of encouraging myself to write with my eyes. (As Philip Pullman says, the art of writing is about putting images into the reader’s head.)

But the images you find in Hell Ship won’t be THESE images, the ones I’ve got above.  These are just the ladder my brain has to climb up; when I get to the top of wherever I get to, the ladder has to be kicked away.

Soon, I’ll share with you my ‘soundboard’ for Hell Ship – readings from the book by three brilliant actors, each taking one of the lead roles. Watch – or rather listen to – this space.

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If you enjoyed this post, you might find these others interesting:

  1. Red Claw: The Moodboard
  2. Debatable Space: The Moodboard
  3. Version 43: The Moodboard
  4. Hell Ship cover launched, with a splash
  5. Further Conflicts