Friday, 8 December 2017

Hamster Wheel


The feeling of running around in circles as I work my way through all the tasks I need to complete to publish my first novel next year. On paper, virtual you understand, it all looks pretty straightforward. Do this, then do that, and then move on to the next task.

The catch?

If one has never done said task before then there's a learning curve. A steep one, but that's good in a way, because once you're learning your competence rises in leaps and bounds.  The opposite of the writing learning curve that rises, then plateaus, and there can be a considerable time between levels.

Different learning curves require different strategies.

With my publishing head on I need to learn a bunch of stuff. Copyright and surviving as a free-lance writer being two of those things.  So I bought these books. They're both quick thick, and I haven't yet started, but the clock is ticking.  There's a story right there.

Talking about stories, Bad Dog is waiting for me to finalize the cover, which requires me to finish the course I'm on so I can do this.

Strike Dog has been sent off for copy editing, which caused us a certain amount of angst, because of the cost.  In the bigger scheme of things I'm getting a great deal on the job, but money is tight, hence the purchase of the free-lancer survival guide.  I already know I've started out from the worst possible position, namely I'm under capitalized.

It sucks to be me and mine, but we will just have to suck it up.  Anyone got a straw?

Finally, got feedback on Ghost Dog from my most trusted Beta reader, which is very positive.  Not that there are not things I need to address, which is why I'm busy doing edits to cut words out and restructuring the order of the chapters.  I may be tied up for some time ahead.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Terror Tree Now Available



War is the father of us all, king of all. Some it makes gods, some it makes men, some it makes slaves, some free.
Heraclitis

Plot Summary
Imagine a future where humans face Artificial Intelligence systems controlling the machines of war.
This is a science fiction short story that asks the question: What if this goes on?

Includes chapter one of the forthcoming novel Bad Dog.

More about the author.

Buy this book

Amazon US

Amazon UK 

Amazon CA

Amazon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon AU

Monday, 27 November 2017

Terror Tree

One of four different covers done for the book cover course I'm on. I'm now awaiting feedback.

I've been learning InDesign, which I need for my book cover design course, and cursing it profusely because or despite having watched several tutorials.  Its all a bit overwhelming.

And I say that as someone who likes learning new things.  And ironically, as someone who used to do magazine design back in the day with QuarkXpress and Adobe Pagemaker.  Gosh that probably ages me.

These last few weeks have been spent compiling a list of things I have to do to get my book out.  Beside the cover design, there's also the interior layout, which I'm using Vellum to do.  Then there's learning about copyright, another book to read.  In addition, to all that there's the marketing plan, which is just about the most uncomfortable thing I'm having to get to grips with.

All of this has gotten in the way of doing much of anything else.  Hence the lack of updates.  Still, if you want to read the piece I wrote about Gerry Anderson's Fireball XL5 you can go here.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Her Brother's Keeper


Over the last few weeks I've read Larry Correia's Monster Hunter Siege, which I bought in hardback in a fit of enthusiasm, not realizing my contract would be coming to end soon.  But that's life.  Great read, and I then went back and re-read Monster Hunter Alpha, because I wanted to check out how Larry had handled his third person POV.

I then re-read Cosmic Engineers by Clifford D Simak, which was a favourite of mine from my teenage years.  And gosh that was a long time ago, but I really enjoyed the book, despite its limitations of being serialized in 1939, the story had more ideas per page than most modern novels have period.  Stephen King describes Cosmic Engineers as a terrific read, and who am I to argue with Stephen King?

After finishing those, I read Dead Beat by Jim Butcher, which was also a whole heap of fun too.  A great series that I'm glad I found, because it's outside what I would normally choose to read, but it has been real fun to get into.

So, the point of this preamble to my review of Mike Kupari's Her Brother's Keeper is that it still made a big impression on me despite me having just read a bunch of excellent books by really good authors.

What made it was when I got page 380, where he describes the unknown extraterrestrial antecedent species that has been found during an archaeological dig *cough looting of a historical repository cough*, which the brother in the title of the book is involved with.  This was so well played that I had to send Mike a message, through FaceBook, because I was so excited.

Loved this book, and can't wait for the sequel.  And I'm trying to coax Mike into doing a piece for me to tell us more about the universe this story is set in, and the upcoming sequel.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Bad Dog Finished Art


Here is the completed artwork by Elartwyne Estole.  Wow, it's exciting to see this finished.  Obviously I'm biased, but the art is stunning.

So now I've enrolled on a cover design workshop run by Dean Wesley Smith, and my first assignment was to show them what little I know about cover design.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Bureau: It's Alive!

H. P. Lovecraft creator of the Cthulhu Mythos.

If you have scrolled down the page lately, you will have seen my new progress statement about my first novel, The Bureau.  It had been relegated to my metaphorical bottom draw.  Reviewing my files and blog entries, I see that the last time I did any significant amount of work on it was back in January 2015.  The project has, up to now, been well and truly stuck.

My excuse is that the story was in the grip of Eldritch forces, but now the stars have moved it has escaped.

The truth is a little bit more complicated than that.  I first started writing The Bureau back circa 1986 and it was my attempt to write a six issue comic that would be turned into a graphic novel.  My inspiration came from watching a highly acclaimed series on the BBC called the Edge of Darkness.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I was playing a lot of Call of Cthulhu games at the time.  They were a lot of fun, and I have many fond memories of my friend Kevin running campaigns, where invariably we all went mad.

Anyway, inspired by these two things, I had an idea to write a Lovecraftian comic book story that rifted on Edge of Darkness.  I managed to complete three episodes of my story.  My friend Alex Stewart read the first them and commented that The Bureau felt like Lovecraft meets The Professionals, which is a great pitchline.  Unfortunately, the artist, who I was thinking of working with, told me he couldn't draw what I was writing.

That as they say put a damper on things.

A little later my life became very difficult, and everything got put aside, because I had to go off and work to make money to have somewhere to live.  This meant I dropped out of writing thirteen years, and it wasn't until 2004 that I found my hand written first draft, and I decided to copy type my manuscript onto the computer, with the intent to turn it into a novel.

And again, life got in the way, in the shape of going off to train to become a cognitive behavioral therapist.

So another eight years passed until I dug The Bureau out to start working on it again.  But then I got side-tracked by Bad Dog, and being so inspired by the setting that I had to write two sequels to it.  Since then I've tried restarting The Bureau on two occasions, and managed to add scenes to the story, but basically I was stuck.

The reasons for this weren't immediately obvious, but with hindsight they clearly are.

This insight came from following various blogs around the web that talk about publishing.  Dean Wesley Smith and Kristin Rusch have both talked about writing and publishing.  What they write may upset you, but it's better to be upset and knowledgeable than ignorant, and end up being disappointed.

Anyway, they made me rethink my assumptions about what I was doing.

I realized that The Bureau was my first novel.  It had become my preciousness, and I was trapped by expectations I could never realistically meet.  Those were rooted in beliefs from the past about writing the best first novel that one could.  But the harsh truth is that failing to finish writing a novel is more of a problem than failing to write the breakout novel that in one's imagination will sweep the world off its feet, and show people how brilliant your are.

For one very simple reason, no one can judge my writing if I haven't written anything.  Besides, if my first novel is so wonderful, how on Earth would I ever be able to write something that was better?

And that was the trap I was caught in.

Realizing that, all my assumptions fell away, and I was able to sit down and revise the structure of the story and just like that everything fell into place.  All my clever tricks I had wheeled out when writing The Bureau I could now see were getting in the way of finishing the story.

To finish my piece today, I had one other insight, courtesy of Kristin Rusch, from her post here:
The book is giving me fits, because I can’t seem to nail down the structure.  I write books out of order, as those of you who followed me through The Freelancer’s Survival Guide know.  I wish I could change this process, but my mind sees books as a mosaic instead of as something linear.  When I finish, I have to construct the book, rather like a quilter with scraps of fabric.  If I put the scraps together one way, I have one kind of book.  If I put them together in another, I have a completely different book.
Until I read this, I though I was the only person doing this.  I made an assumption that other writers either outlined or wrote a story instinctively discovering the story as they wrote it.  I thought I was the only person who shuffled scenes around to fit the story.

Again, as they say, live and learn.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Economics of Self-Publishing


As readers know I went on a Self-Publishing Masterclass.  It was interesting, which is a politic way of saying I learnt a lot, but disagreed with parts of the day.  In fact I would go so far as to say with a major part of the theme.

The theme was that if you want to be taken professionally then you will need to hire professionals to make sure your work looks professional.  When written like that it seems so obvious and even self-evidently true.

And at one level it is.

But, here's my problem with it.  The cost.  The cost to have a developmental editor to make sure your story is all it can be.  The cost of a copy editor, which is essential for consistency.  And the cost of a proof reader, because it's a mystical art to be able to be a proof reader.  Add to the cost a book cover designer, and if like me you're working in a genre where the readers expects a type of cover, then you need an artist too.

A quick back of the envelope calculation produces a figure of about £4000 pounds or $5,500 dollars.

And that's before any sales.

Over on Kristine Kathryn Rusch's site she breaks down the publishing industry, and I was staggered to read that in traditional publishing the cost to bring a book to market is around $200,000 dollars.  From this one can see how traditional publishers don't make any money on the books they sell, and how this leaves the authors where they are.

So while Print On Demand, POD, does away with the inventory costs, the hidden production cost remain, and are something that needs managing so that they don't grow out of control.

Monday, 9 October 2017

On Self Publishing

Awesome sketch by Elartwyne Estole.
Looking at the traditional publishing market what I see an industry that won't provide me with what I want in the time that I want it.  In the five years since I started writing fiction the changes have been enormous, and I'm old enough to realize that I've made a load of mistakes and can't waste any more time.

But now I want to use that learning and turn things around.

My first novel Bad Dog is a fully edited, and my plan now is to self-publish, because what do I have to lose?  By self-publishing my novel I hope I will learn more by its reception than waiting for a traditional publisher to buy my novel and the waiting for them to publish it.  Small and agile seems to me to be the way to go.

As you can see I've commissioned an artist, Elartwyne Estole, to do a cover for me, and the picture above is his concept sketch.  Isn't it awesome.  Wow, so excited.

Target date for being published January 2018.

My second novel, Strike Dog, is full of typos, homonyms, poor punctuation etc, etc, but I need to find out if the story is understandable.  So a friend, who is a journalist, is reading it now to check it out.  Afterwards I will send it for copy-editing so I can publish it.

Planned publishing date April 2018.

My third novel, Ghost Dog, having been through a round with Beta readers has been revised.  But, I'm having to reappraise how I work because using Beta readers takes time. Time I can't afford if I want to kick-start my writing career, and get out of the rut I've found myself in over the last few years.

Planned publishing date July 2018. 

So, I'm living through an interesting time of my life.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Dreaming

A dead old white man badly explaining economics to the world.

The other night, as in some time ago before I started writing this piece, I woke after a having a very vivid dream.

Dreams are not something I focus on because dreams are just what happens during sleep.  The function of sleep is the bodies way of recuperating from the day, which given all animals sleep, must be essential.  Studies suggest that dream allow us to process of memories and emotions, and that sleep is instrumental in maintaining the plasticity of the brain.  Which in this case means one's ability to process experiential learning, rather than say, for example, the more common sense view that learning is being able to recite a poem.

Anyway, my dream involved a confrontation with a publisher, not the one I submitted my novel to, but another one who I know the editors of, telling me that my story was rubbish.

In my dream I raged against them, and did everything one is told not to do when a publisher rejects your work, namely arguing with them.  I remember telling them that they were wrong, and that they would regret their decision.  I told them I would self-publish my work and they would regret their decision, as I was sure my novel would take off and sell thousands of copies.

Then I woke up.

And it that moment between being fully awake and the dreaming I had an off the wall insight.  I realized that self-publishing was the author taking the means of production into their own hands.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Childhood's End


Having recently watched the mini-series of Childhood's End I went back and re-read the book.  It's one of my favourite SF novels, as in when I had to downsize my collection it was one that I kept because I felt I would want to re-read it.

I've also been reading Jack Bickham's Scene & Structure book, the person who Deborah Chester was taught by, and there's definitely a fashion to to provide a structure for the reader to understand the story.

Clearly the reader demographic has changed over the last 60 plus years since Childhood's End was written, which is a thing, because to maximize sales (readers) one has to appeal to a wide an audience as possible, and classic SF really doesn't do this. This may be a factor in why written SF is a small market.

For example, Childhood's End.  Who is the protagonist?  Who is the antagonist?  Where is the character development?  It's arguably one of the classic novels, yet today it would be a hard sell.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Making Life Multiplanetary


Made me emotional to watch this.  Call me a starry eyed dreamer, but this was what Heinlein wrote about when I was a kid.  I've waited all my life to see mankind go back to visiting other planets.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Polishing Work



I caught a nice blog post about Beta readers by Sarah Hoyt.  One bit in particular I want to quote:
It brought home to me again that writers talking about writing, and lay people talking about writing mean completely different things.
I would add to this that reviewers and critics, often treated as one and the same, but their roles are different.  Also, they don't talk about books the way writers or lay readers do too.  It's complicated, and if you're interested in the writing process I would recommend going off and reading the article.

My stance is that editing a story that doesn't work is a waste of time, because all you end up with is a polished turd, which is a thing as can be seen in the YouTube link above.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Autumn Time and the Writing is Easy


Besides reading a shed ton of books over the course of this summer's months, amount exaggerated for comic effect, I've also been taking time to think about my novels as well.

The last eighteen months of writing has been a bit struggle.  There were points when I was pretty sick and tired of working on my Bad Dog trilogy, which given how much time I've spent on them is to be expected.  But it has also felt very disheartening because writing had become a bit of a slog.  This is mostly around realizing what needs to be done to lick my novels into shape.

Over on Dean Wesley Smith's website I read an interesting piece called, A Matter of Perspective (here's a snippet with my comments in italics):
  • Author spent years wanting to be a writer.  Me, so me.
  • Author rewrote that “special snowflake novel,” following all guidelines, to agent’s and editor’s requests, taking years of time.  Mostly me too.
  • Author ignores all warnings because they want to be taken care of by an editor and their cherished agent.  Not me.
  • Author has no belief in their own work.  Sadly true for me.
  • Author signed an all-rights contract for the life of the copyright, selling everything to do with the book with no chance of getting it back. The author celebrated the signing as if it was a good thing.  More complicated than this makes it look.
  • Author a year or more later is excited that the book is coming out. Does launch parties or other such foolishness, all for the ego of showing friends and family it was worth it.  Not applicable.
  • A year later, since the sales were flat as all are in this new world, author can’t sell another book. Agent will no longer answer author’s phone calls. Author gets bitter and goes and does something else with their life.  Seen this happen to author friends of mine.
Some of these observations about writing fit me like a glove, especially the not believing in my own work, but fortunately not the rest.  Unfortunately, I can see authors whose writing careers are perfectly described by Dean Wesley Smith.  But, there are no easy answers.

Currently, I'm in the process of revising my third book, getting it ready to go out to Beta readers.  My second novel has been revised to reflect my Beta readers feedback, and It's currently going through a second round of being read by a friend who is a journalist.

So I have found myself thinking about the next book to write.

It will probably be another in the series, because I've been having ideas about the next stories.  The cybertank novel that I also want to write is proving difficult to formulate.  The problem being how to write about an AI becoming intelligent from fighting a war, whilst making an it sympathetic to the reader from the start.

Also, I'm still digesting the lessons from the Self-Publishing Masterclass, which I shall no doubt write about too.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Self-Publishing Masterclass


This is only the second writing conference I've been too.  The other was way was back here, at the beginning of this blog.

The first speaker of the day was Roz Morris, whose books on writing I reviewed here and here.  I've nearly finished reading her third one, so it was nice to meet her in the flesh and hear her talk.  It was reassuring to know that I knew what I needed to know to be able to write.


The second speaker was Jessica Bell on book cover design, which covered other stuff like typesetting, which reminded me of the days when I used to be in desk top publishing; back in the day when it was still called that.


Next up was Ben Cameron, who talked about publicity.  He discussed the reality that authors have always had to do their own publicity, and how that is only way one is going to be able to sell books in the future.  Harsh, but fair.


The last talker of the day was Robin Cutler, who made the day for me.  She did a sparklingly honest and refreshing talk on publish on demand printing, POD, which due to technological advances has been transformed from the early days of being not quite as good as traditional printing, to being as good as traditional publishers can print.


Finally, there was a panel question and answer sessions, where there was a lively discussion on the future of the publishing business.


And I mustn't forget to mention my friend Henry Hyde who tweeted throughout the day and put a running thread on FaceBook.

So all in all a good day.  Though it has left me feeling a bit down, because it seems to me that the economics of the business means that the only way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one; as in the costs to produce a book are such that realistically it will be hard to make back a return on your investment.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Summer Reading Fun: Part 6

 

The last of my summer fun reading posts.

I bought this book by Sarah A. Hoyt, who was new to me on the strength of her blogging, called A Few Good Men.  However, this ended up as one of those books I bought and didn't get around to reading for a while.  But in all fairness, to both her and myself, I have quite a few of these; though not as many as some people I know.

I'm reluctant to try reading a new author, which when I was young would never have crossed my mind, but not it has become a thing.  Probably a sign of my impending old age and countless disappointments in the past.

Initially I was umh and aahs as I started this book as it reminded me of The Count of Monte Cristo––in space!  Except its not, as it's set on Earth, in the future where a few good men have taken over and rule the Earth.  So, not really such good men after all.  But, once I settled into the tale of over-throwing the good men I was charmed by the story, which is different enough from the novel that clearly inspired it to be engaging.

The only reason I haven't picked up any other of her books is that finding the first book in the Darkship series, to which A Few Good Men is a side novel, has proven to be difficult.  However, I have a little list, and I shall hunt down copies in due course.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Summer Reading Fun: Part 5


Last weeks failure to post means that this week I get to put two up.  The next book I dived into from my to be read pile was Glen Cook's masterpiece The Dragon Never Sleeps.

I commented on Passage at Arms here, as it is one of the great military SF novels of the genre, but I'd never gotten around to reading his other military SF novel.  This is partly down to how difficult it has been to get hold of a copy,.  And remember I don't do E-Readers or enjoy reading fiction on a monitor; and you can call me an old fuddy-duddy if you like.

Let me start by saying they don't write books like this anymore, as in this drops you in the deep end, and just expects you to keep up.  It also expects the reader to be acquainted with the tropes and able to keep up with concepts that are mentioned in passing.  This is hard SF, where the characters are not more important than the plot and the ideas, which is opposite to what I see today where characters are considered to be the most important factor in a story.

It was every bit as good as its reputation would make it sound.  Can't say more than that.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Summer Reading Fun: Part 4

 

I had meant to put this up last week, but work demands meant I was tied up with more pressing matters.  The result was too much to do in the time available.  However, this has meant I will be able to implement some decisions I've been putting off due to a lack of time over the last 18 months.

Enough of the business side of being an aspiring novelist, because writers like to read too.  After finishing the Andromeda series by Dietz,  I jumped into reading the sequel to Dead Six by Larry Correia and Mike Kupari called Swords of the Exodus.

This is not in any shape or form SF.

There's some mild fantasy flavour, but not enough to remove it from the real world.  Rather it treats some real world conspiracy theories and gives them a twist that could be explained by either being supernatural or alien artifacts.  We shall see how it pans out in the third book.  I enjoyed it, and the gun stuff is excellent.  From reading around the web, I understand that this places the book in the male dominated action and adventure genre.

I may have misunderstood.

Regardless, this second book also clearly shows both author's development as writer's.  The characterization is superior to the first book: as in both Valentine and Lorenzo are more clearly defined as people in their own right.  In the first book, it was sometimes unclear from the voice of the character, who-was-who, except by referring to the chapter headings.  This time I was never in any doubt about which character I was seeing the narrative through.

So again, recommended, and I can't wait for the third book to come out in paperback so I can find out what happens next.  As a further recommendation I went and bought Mike Kupari's first novel, Her Brother's Keeper, on the strength of reading this.

Damn, another book added to the to be read pile: current running total 31.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Summer Reading Fun: Part 3

 

My sudden spurt of reading has been driven by seeing the size of my unread book pile.  My original count was 38 novels sitting around, gathering dust, and generally sniggering at me while lowering property values.

That's a joke for those with no sense of humour.

This motivated me to dive into my unread pile, but I have to confess that I have recently bought some new books.  The new arrivals include the William C. Deitz's novel Into the Guns, which is the first in a new series; Tanya Huff's new Confederation novel A Piece Divided; and Larry Correia's Monster Hunter Siege, which I bought in hardback because I couldn't wait despite knowing I won't read it immediately I had to have it.

Colour me a fan of the Monster Hunter series.

So my unread novels currently stands at 30 books: made up of 16 new books, and 14 old books to be re-read.

I've known about William C. Dietz's work for a while, but like all things, it can take me a while to get around to reading an author.  He's known for his Legion of the Damned series, but I didn't start there, but rather with his prequels series that begins with Andromeda Falls.

I found this an enjoyable read.  The heroine, who starts from a place of comfort,  has to escape assassination when the new Empress takes to the throne and decides it is a necessary thing to kill all the supporters and relatives of the old emperor.  It's a reversal of the rags-to-riches plot with added murder, death, and intrigue set against the French Foreign Legion in space!  And by this I mean Dietz uses the heritage of French Foreign Legion as the framework for a future version as the setting of his story.

It works for me, it may not work for people who are not interested in or who abhor military history being seen as something other than a blot upon humanities record as a species.  I breezed through the series, made easier by the fact that each book starts where the other finishes.  So, this is truly a trilogy, and not a series of three books set in the same universe.  The ending is clearly delineated, and though I've not read the main series, it serves the purpose of being a prequel for the Legion of the Damned, and is a good introduction to Dietz's Legion setting.

The fact that I bought a copy of the first book of his new series tells you all you need to know.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Brian Aldiss RIP

 

My long-term followers who read this blog will remember that I first mentioned Brian Aldiss during the London SF Worldcon, LonCon 3, here.  Where a  bunch of enthusiastic fans sang happy birthday to him.  A happy memory.

A moments reflection reminds me that this was five years ago to today.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Brian back in 2015 at the British Science Fiction Association and Science Fiction Foundation jointly run day long event, imaginatively called the Mini-Convention, which you can read about here.  What I wrote there, where I said, "...given that he's not getting any younger (none of us are) it seemed like an opportunity we should take."

So, another icon of my youth has died, the by all accounts peacefully in his bed on the 18 of August.  At the age of ninety-two he's had a good run.  It feels a little bit sad to realize that I've not read any of his books in years or reviewed any of them on my blog.  I can see a re-read at some point in the future.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Summer Reading Fun: Part 2


After finishing the Grimnoir Chronicles I started reading Michael Z. Williamson's A Long Time Until Now.

Some of my friend's don't like American libertarian science fiction.  I've often expressed the opinion that I don't like science fiction which espouse communism.  So I understand that certain ideologies can put readers off.  However, on reflection, after an email exchange with a different friend, I would recognize that both are in essence science fictional utopias.  One based on individual freedom, the other based on communal sharing.

In my professional capacity as a cognitive behavioural therapist I think neither can be implemented, because it would require an evolutionary change in homo sapiens sapiens genome to effect either.

Having skated around politics, lets move back to the text.

Williamson's latest book is in my mind not as good as his Contact with Chaos story.  However, A Long Time Until Now shares a lot of the things that made his other book very interesting.  The description of paleolithic life and arising social structures within a science fictional framework displays a stunning knowledge of history from extensive research.

What let it down, for me, was its length, and the ending.

A Long Time Until Now is a long book, and while I didn't feel it was too long or poorly paced, the story does take it time to unfold.  The bigger disappointment was that the ending didn't quite nail it, because I was left wanting to know more, but its pretty clear there won't be a sequel.

Saying that, I would recommend getting it anyway and reading it for the masterful research.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Summer Reading Fun: Part 1


I met Larry Correia back when he came over to Blighty to sign a  few books and go to book fairs, and you can read my piece I wrote then here.  I'm a big fan of his Monster Hunter series, and contrary to any impression you may have of him, he is actually very nice and his wife Bridget is easy to talk to too.  So, I've had copies of his Grimnoir Chronicles sitting on my to be read pile, which has been irritating me for a while–I hate having too many unread books sitting around lowering property values, I mean collecting dust in my flat.

The problem was I had heard Hard Magic being read on the Baen Free Radio Hour podcast, and quite frankly I found it only mildly interesting to listen to.  But it had been a while so I felt beholden to read the first book before reading the sequels, and I'm glad I did.  The reading experience was far superior than the listening one, and I delved into the sequel, Spellbound, and then Warbound, the third book of the trilogy, consuming them with gusto.

On reflection I think it has to do with pace.

Spoken word speed is between 110 to 160 word per minute.  I read at around 350 to 450 words per minute, which is not meant to be a boast, it's just my average reading speed of a minute per page.  So, the experience of listening to Hard Magic had made it feel slow and dull, even though the narrator was good––it wasn't his fault––it's the format that I don't like.  When I read a book, I'm carried along by the pace I read at.  An interesting book grabs me and drives me to finish reading it.

It is amazing what a difference that makes.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Story Ideas


The other week I spent one of my writing days blogging, taking pictures and letting thoughts noodle around in my head.

I also sorted through my projects, I have several folders full, and did what was effectively a spring clean.

Decided to open a new Scrivener file for a novel set around Saturn. Working title: The Conflict, and then I realized that's a tad meta.  Noodling ideas for a proper title, and brainstorming plot ideas, which looks a lot like staring into space.  I have an idea for the opening scene set around Saturn, but the middle and end of the story or to be technical what's it all about still eludes me.

Or, as I write this I realize what I have may actually be the end of the story, leading to the final confrontation and conclusion.  Such is the way of ideas, they happen.

In amongst all this noodling I ended up writing an extra 517 words, got to catch them all, on my finished fifth draft of Strike Dog, which was telling me it wasn't quite as finished as I thought it was.  Running total for the finished draft is 103,660 words, which has now gone back to my Alpha reader for her to peruse.

Now I'm starting on the next draft of Ghost Dog, where I already know I have to write ten new scenes–two lots of story arcs, one to add back a missing plot element, the other to give a bigger picture of what's happening for the reader.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Science For Fiction 2017


This is the third year in a row that I've attended the conference, come workshop, come convention that is Imperial College London's Science in Science Fiction.  It is run by the energetic Dr. David Clements, who can call on world class experts to present on a diverse range of topics of interest to any science geek who wants to write stories with up to the minute science in them.

Wednesday afternoon we all met up for the first talk, which was about the Square Kilometre Array and the Epoch of Reionization by Emma Chapman.  A fascinating look at how science is pushing our knowledge of the beginnings of the universe further back in time through advances in technology, and how we are getting to the stage where the amount of information that can be amassed will exceed our ability to record it.


Next up was a talk on Titan and Cassini by Ingo Mueller-Wodarg that explained the importance of what has been found, and what the mission hopes to get from the final end run that bring the mission to a close with the spacecrafts destruction in Saturn's atmosphere.



Thursday began with the presentation Ending the Universe by Arttu Rajante, who clearly is enjoying his research.  He presented an interesting talk on the Higgs Boson and what finding it means under the current Standard Model.  Basically the end of the universe will be driven by the Higgs Boson forming an expanding singularity that will eat the universe at near light speed; in about 10 ^ 160 years from now.


After  that the next talk brought us back to the present with a talk on Visiting Mars, with a VR Demonstration & discussion by Sanjeev Gupta who is a geologist who works with the Curiosity programme.  Fascinating stuff that discussed the historical development of Mars and future plans to explore the Red planet.


Extremophiles and Synthetic Biology by Robert Weinzierl was next.  Unfortunately my picture of Dr. Weinzierl has too much motion blur to use, which I didn't notice when I took it.  He discussed how life adapts to extremes and this fed back into the problems with sterilizing spacecraft that we want to send to other planets that may have life.

Forming Stars & Planets by Tom Haworth was the final talk.  He covered what we think we know, what we actually know, and what we need to know about how stars, planets and star systems form.


By the end of the final talk I was feeling pretty exhausted from the heat, which was not surprising given the temperatures in London.

Friday, 30 June 2017

June Reflection

This writer's metaphorical coal face, where all the magic happens, as in putting one word after another.  Picture taken by me, processed by Susan because I used her fish-eye lens to get everything in.

It's June and over on the Mad Genius blog earlier this month I found an interesting post, which stimulated me to sit down and reflect on this years writing so far.

Reflecting on my own writing this year, which has felt laboured, as in not enough and what I've done has been a bit of a slog, I looked at what I've done.

For the Galactic Journey fan site I've written six articles:
January Freeze (The Great Explosion, by Eric Frank Russell)
February Thaw (tales from the British fan)
A convention of a different colour (Eastercon in the UK)
“To ride on the curl’d clouds” (ARIEL ONE)
Old And New (UK’s New Worlds Magazine)
A is for Armchair Theatre (Out of this World – UK’s new sff anthology)
These six pieces total up to 5,434 words.  My blog here totals 5,090 words (excluding this piece).  And my wargaming hobby blog totals 8.095 words.  For a total of 18,619 words.

Looking at the work I've done on Strike Dog, my second novel and sequel to Bad Dog, it's hard to come to a figure.  The fourth draft of Strike Dog ran to 91,552 words and the current fifth draft runs to 103,141 words; so roughly that comes to 12,089 new words.  But, I restructured the novel while editing it, and looking at my notes that came to 78,010 words, according to my running total I keep in my diary of each day's work.

So, at one level I've written 18,619 plus 12,089 words for a total of 30,708 words.

If editing is writing, and I would argue it is because–gotta catch them all–then in the last six months I've written 18,619 plus 78,010 words, which comes to a total of 96,629 words.

The latter is 3,716 words a week and that feels a lot more impressive than the former, which only comes to 1,181 words per week.  However, I can't help but wonder if I'm deluding myself by such an optimistic appraisal of the amount of work I've done this year?

Perhaps a better way of thinking about my writing is to see it as a process.  If, over time I produce novels, what does it matter whether it's a novel a year or a novel every other year?  It only matters if it's important that output has to generate income, and in that respect I'm currently secure.  This is not a state that is guaranteed, so being mindful of my goals and working towards them is probably my best option.

Still, Strike Dog is now going back to my Alpha reader for reappraisal.

Friday, 23 June 2017

The Vang: The Battlemaster


And now I've finished the third book in Christopher Rowley's The Vang series, the first being  Starhammer, and the middle book being The Military Form, and what a ride it has been.

This is not your usual series or even for that matter trilogy, the story being far looser than what one has come to expect when reading either.  Yet it has elements of both.

It's a series if one considers the first novel to be a prequel written to define the setting, which it is because it lays down a lot of world building stuff that underpins the sequels.  However, given the settings are separated by a thousand years they're not exactly sequels except for the theme that links them all together.

As for being a trilogy, then if the simple definition of a trilogy is three books that tell a single story then yes but, the single story is not about the humans.  It is instead a story about the Vang, and Rowley manages to generate in the second and third book quite a lot of sympathy for the plight of the Vang even as they do horrible things to the humans, which is quite an achievement.

All added up it makes for an interesting execution of what a story is, and how it can be told.

And it is very clear I've given nothing away about the plot of the story, and I'm not going to.  If eighties SF interests you, as in all that is old is not necessarily passe, then these books are well worth reading.  If one like military SF where the military side is mostly from the alien perspective, then this story will also be of interest.  If one thinks that the eighties is full of old fashioned stuff which has no value, then you probably want to skip these.

I loved it, and more importantly I want to read more by Christopher Rowley.  The biggest question is how is it that these novels aren't in print, it seems such a shame to me, as they have a lot to offer new readers coming into the genre.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Vang: The Military Form


I reviewed Starhammer here, The Vang: The Military Form is Christopher Rowley's sequel and middle part of what is loosely a trilogy: the first book is effectively a prequel to the second book, and the third is effectively a postscript.  As I said before, the story telling is compelling, and like before I found myself picking the book up in spare moments to read a few more pages.

The story takes place a thousand years after the events in the first book, and mankind has spread throughout the galaxy, free from the threat posed the Laowans who dominated the first novel.  But, the threat of the Vang remains, mostly in remnants of their technology.  This book starts with a crew who finds something interesting in space, the kind of something that could make them very, very rich or very, very dead.

It's not much of a spoiler to say that the later is closer to what actually happens, as in lots of people die as the consequence of waking a military form Vang, which then proceeds to do what it does best: conquer lesser forms by assimilating them.  There's several twists and a wry commentary on how rulers demands mean that the military is not allowed to do what is necessary; and that's just from the Vang perspective.

Had to go away and start reading the third when I finished this, which says everything you need to know really.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Starhammer


This book is the first part of a loosely connected trilogy by an author I've not read.  It came recommended to me from a friend of a friend, and I uhm'd and aah'd about getting copies because the prices on Amazon were at one point astronomical.  Fortunately, I kept an eye on them and they dropped back to more reasonable levels after about a year.  Also, reviews on Goodreads were a bit mixed, and after reading the book I can see why, but my usual comment applies–they're wrong because they miss the point.

Let's start with the pitchline:  Aliens meet the Thing...

At one level that tells you all you need to know about the theme and the tone of these books.  If you aren't able to manage visceral shock and horror then these books are not for you.  However, if like me you enjoyed the film Aliens, and loved John Carpenter's The Thing, then this book and its sequels may well rock your boat.

However, terms and conditions apply.  This is not Colonial Marines in space kicking ass, and the alien Vang are not exactly the Thing either, being a far more rational, and disturbing exo-parasite life form.  Also, the writing has elements that would get a lot of criticism in today's market, for example, the occasional use of mind hopping in chapters.

But, this none of this detracts from the story that is compelling, driving forward from one crisis to another, that leads to the ultimate reveal of a dead alien races weapon, the eponymous Starhammer, created to fight the Vang.  Highly recommended, and I will add the Vang were the inspiration for the Flood in the Halo series.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Archery Update


Looking back at my post I see that it has been ten months since I last posted anything about my archery practice; or preparing for the oncoming zombie apocalypse, if you're so inclined and are thinking about narratives.  Anyway, it's that time of the year when the weather is nicer and we are getting out and shooting at competitions, which means I have had to eat my words about doing so as evidenced here.

Last year my scores looked like this:


And this year has seen me move forward and achieve my bowman rating:


We've entered a couple of competition already, and much to my surprise I've come away with a couple of medals and this stunning trophy.


Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Battle of Forever


I have a pile of books to be read.  I'm pretty sure lots of people who like to read do to.  After reading Grave I decided to re-read The Battle of Forever by A. E. van Vogt.  He is one of my favourite  authors, with his short story the Black Destroyer being the classic that arguably marked the beginning of SFs golden era, and also inspired the Alien film series.

My worry that the The Battle of Forever wouldn't stand up to a re-read was unfounded, and while I could criticize the way the story was told, doing so is not really my thing.  What I will say is that the story kept me engaged and wanting to continue reading, something that a lot of other books do not.

The plot is a combination of the heroes journey, a quest and rebirth, by using a naive character as the central protagonist who is a master of philosophy.

This device allows van Vogt to pit an intelligent but, gullible character against aliens who, if not exactly evil, clearly do not have the best interests of humans at heart.  This is in many way classic science fiction, in that the story is about big ideas and discussing a future where travel amongst the stars is possible.

I enjoyed it so much that I read it in one day, an event that is so rare nowadays as to call attention to itself, but also an indicator that the novel is short or as I prefer to think of it, tightly written with no flab.

With regard to my own writing, I'm still adapting to the demands of running a clinic three days week, which is considerably more tiring than just doing two days.  I've been progressing my second novel, but have realized that I really need to up my game when describing the aliens, because of stuff I've been watching and reading in the meantime.  However, progress remains slow, and realistically if I could do more I would, so I just have to be patient with myself.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Ghost in the Shell


I have now been to see Ghost in the Shell at the cinema, which is a thing for us as we so very rarely go to the cinema nowadays because it's too expensive, and full of people being loud, possibly as we were once from just being young and exuberant.

I shall start by saying the critics are wrong.

This film, while not a classic in the same way as The Matrix or Blade Runner were when they were first released, is despite that a solid piece of entertainment.  Probably the best live action cyberpunk outside of The Matrix and Blade Runner.

It tells a slightly different version of the Major's origin story, and for that matter Section 9 too, but this is no way detracts from the film.  If anything it's the best bits version of the various iterations of the Ghost in the Shell stories, as told over the years through the various mediums of manga and anime.  Scarlet Johansson is perfectly cast as the Major, and Pilou Asbæk nails Batou.

If you want a big screen treat go see it.

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Expanse


We've managed to watch season one of The Expanse, and enjoyed it very much.  Certain caveats: it starts slow with the TV equivalent of an info dump/world-building that shakes itself out by the end of the second episode.  After that it's pretty much high-octane story telling.  The news is that it has been renewed for season three, but that numbers the viewing numbers are not what the network hoped for.  Knowing my luck it will be cancelled, but you never know.

If you haven't checked it out I suggest you do.  It has certainly piqued my interest in writing a novel set in our solar system: I fancy doing a pretty hard SF take, which is problematical because it will affect what stories can be told and how one tells them.

Still, what's life without a challenge.  I may be some time.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Grave


Reading wise I finished the third book in the Queen of the Dead trilogy by Michelle Sagara called Grave.  I raved about the first book, called Silence, here.  I wrote about the second volume, called Touch, here.  Now I've finished the third book and have mixed feelings.  I struggled to read the book because it felt over long and drawn out, but the climax was heart rending, as in it made me cry for the characters.  If only I could write that well.

What I would observe is that book one was a tightly written novel of 289 pages, book two was 325 pages and the third volume was 450 pages.  Assuming a page is 350 words that's 101,150 words for the first book, rising to 113,750 in the second, and 157,500 words.

What I take away from this is two things.  Longer isn't better.  Trying to fill in all the characters back stories takes away from the plot's momentum.

But, I should add the caveat that I'm less inclined towards reading long books, which is why I won't be buying the novels The Expanse is based on if the show is cancelled, for pretty much the same reason I stopped reading George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones series after the first volume.  This probably marks me as out of touch with the current fashion, but it's not long novels per se, just series that are made of very long novels that drain my will to read.

Monday, 3 April 2017

April Progress

Me shooting at the itty-bitty target in the distance.

As I have mentioned before real life demands, as in my day job, have slowed my writing to a crawl.  I've been taking some time away from writing and reading and doing other things, but as people who follow my model-making and gaming blog know I've been writing up my hobby activity, and for those who follow me on FaceBook my archery.

It seems that the urge to write hasn't gone away, and if anything the urge to write more novels remains.

However, being the victim of my own success I've found myself increasing my day job from two to three days, which doesn't sound like much, but it is.  My job is quite demanding and leaves me drained, not helped by my rheumatoid arthritis.  My consultant may cheerfully write that I'm in remission, but remission is not the same thing as cured.

So my plan is to do less frequent updates here and on my other blog too I suspect.  Hopefully, I can maximize what spare time I have to working on my novels.

Talking of which, I managed to surprise myself by editing more words than I thought I would on Strike Dog.  More importantly I began rewriting a chapter from a different character's point of view that I really, really wasn't looking forward to doing, because it felt like drudge work.  Not only that but, I had some ideas come together for my third novel Ghost Dog and I'm currently working on two new point of views to weave into the plot.  One I had planned, as in my Alpha reader pointed out I'd left a plot strand hanging, and the other is different idea bouncing off the first.

So that's all for this post.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The March of Time


Cue the music for the news and ask where has all the time gone?

Well, I can at least point you all to this months Galactic Journey piece I did on the 1962 British Eastercon.  When writing this I found it remarkable that a lot of the things that are going on in SF fandom now are very similar to what was going in in SF fandom then.  Especially, in my case, watching parts of fandom splitting apart over what I would observe as things that are not controllable.

Hence my link to The March of Time video, things may look old fashioned in the film newsreel, but it's the same stuff we are still doing today–living our lives as best we can in a world we can't control.

I've been taking some time out to do hobby stuff, which can be seen over on my other blog where I keep all the stuff about my addiction to toy soldiers and playing games.  I've been making up some 20 plus year old Heavy Gear game miniatures and having a blast while doing so.  I find working with my hands very relaxing, and it gives me space to let my mind wander.

And the wonder is that when the mind wanders thoughts appear.  Ideas stream in from the dark recesses of the mind, and some are even worth writing down, to be incorporated into my novels.   As I have said before, I have drafts of both the sequels to my first novel done, but while I have an idea of an outline of where the series goes, nothing is yet set down.  Some of my ideas are elusive things that I can't quite get to grips with or, I can see that I haven't quite gone far enough in working out all the ramifications of the idea.

So, one word after another, I will carry on with the next chapter of Strike Dog, my plan being to rewrite a scene from another character's perspective.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Progress Update


It has been a while since I've made a post about my writing.

I've been going through a slow period due to a combination of factors, some in my control, some not.  My day job demands have been rising, a victim of my own success, but my manager has got that under control, and I feel a lot let stressed: not just from the work, but from the pressure of having to commit to more work than I can manage.

It's also that time of the year where the weather is miserable, it's dark, damp and cold.  I've felt run down and even went off reading, which is a thing.  I've only just managed to finish reading a second novel this year.  The first was Eric Frank Russell's The Great Explosion, actually read so I could review it for Galactic Journey, see here.

After that I started Michael Z. Williamson's When Diplomacy Fails.  I've only mentioned his work in passing back here, and it took me longer to read the third book in the Ripple Creek series as I kept putting it down.  That says more about me than the book, but the author is better handling action than he is with interior dialogues of character beliefs: as in the action grips you by the seat of the pants that is hard to match when writing reflective thoughts that are well meaning, but ultimately don't really add anything i.e.: could be removed without detriment to the story.

Still, Williamson is one of those authors who I will buy his latest book when it's available in paperback because he delivers high octane action goodness.  Inspirational too.

So, looking at my diary this year I've only managed to work on my second novel a total of four days out of a possible 16: with some caveats I might say eight days because writing for my blogs and other people's blogs take time, as in they don't write themselves and the Galactic Journey pieces take a lot of research time to do too.  That's not a complaint, just an observation.  But, assuming that I'm now only going to realistically write one day a week it has consequences on how long it's going to take me to finish the edits on my second novel.

Currently I'm at chapter 16 of Strike Dog out of 62; OK some of those are very short chapters.  Words wise I've done 31,209 words out of 97,578 with 66,369 to go, which doesn't sound so bad: a third of the way through rather than just a quarter.  However, this doesn't take into account any extra writing I will do to add sub-plots etc.  There's a lot resting on this second novel, given that the first was rejected, because the publisher wants to see my second one.  I really want to nail it so they'll want to publish my story, because it would make my life so much easier than having to self-publish, given the demands of my day job.

Finally, rewatched Predator over the weekend.  Thirty years old and still eminently rewatchable.   As the old saw goes, they don't make them like that anymore.  And that's not sarcasm, this movie is a streamlined, pulse-pounding action flick that grabs one from the opening scene and keeps the roller-coaster ride going until the end.  Neither of the sequels are as good even though both have merits, the third being better than the second because the second hasn't dated well.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

NASA Trappist


And if you have the time you can listen to the full announcement on YouTube.


Isn't science wonderful?

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Picocon 34


Rounding out my birthday week was Picocon, run by the Imperial College Science Fiction & Fantasy Society: a student society.  A longstanding, usually one, occasionally two day event that has become the traditional start of science fiction conventions for this season.  As always there were authors invited to come and speak, and a small selection of dealers selling books and merchandise.

The first talk of the day was Jaine Fenn, on aliens set against her background of being brought up in a small village where she was the only one reading science fiction, and going to a school where she was the only girl who didn't have a pony.


After a short essential break the next speaker was Paul McAuley, who I've never had the pleasure of meeting or listening to before.


Again the theme was aliens, and this time the portrayal of aliens as a child: with mentions of the Mekon from Dan Dare, Zoonie the Lazoon from Fireball XL-5, and Daleks from Dr. Who contrasted against blond haired aliens from George Adamski's the Flying Saucers Have Landed.

Then it was time for the final talk of the morning with Al Robertson.  


Again aliens was the theme, but Al concentrated on corporate entities as artificial intelligences as being the aliens we've grown up with.  Then there was lunch, which this year was not in the Student Union bar, but slightly spoiled by the fact we waited 45 minutes for our order of beef burgers and chips, which was appalling.  Still, the burger were nice.

The the final talk was by the lovely Justina Robson, who I have had the pleasure of being on a panel with during the London Worldcon back in 2012.


Her talk was about artificial intelligence and thoughts and went through a number of iterative cycles of thinking about what that meant and how we as humans discuss god like agents who can control our destiny.  I found her talk fascinating.

The final event that we attended for the day was the four authors talking about artificial intelligence, robots and the future and taking questions from the audience.


You can hear the talks for yourself as Chad Dixon very generously gave his time and resources to putting everything up on the internet.  Thank you Chad.