Mesozoic: My New Novel

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The PFTU badge. Copyright Peter C Whitaker (2018)

I meant to write another post much earlier than this but I have been pleasantly distracted by working on my new book. In fact, everything has been going really well with it. I have finished the first draft and I am now working in the second. This is the phase where I do all the editing and flesh out the story with detail and character development. As with all my previous books, it also involves a certain amount of research, even more so because this book is a step into the genre of Science Fiction. I have written before about how many of the Science Fiction books that I have read recently really are not ‘science fiction’. This is because in many cases the story rests on very little science. Most of them have been futurists books, by which I mean that they are set in the future and the writer just assumes that their readers are going to accept spaceships, robots, alien life, and all the other popular motifs of ‘science fiction’ without any explanation or reference to an underpinning science. Some people can indeed do just that but as a reader, I expect a little more from a writer.

When it comes to Science Fiction I really do not mind if a writer offers a hypothesis and then runs with it, to speak, as long as there is some logic to the said idea and the story rests upon it. I certainly do not take exception to leaps in their logic if they are based on intuition and add something to the story as well. Michael Crichton did that with more than one of his books and they were still enjoyable reads. In many respects what I call futurism could also be referred to as lazy science fiction simply because, for whatever reason, the author has not bothered to do the research to support their ideas; even the ones that they have borrowed from other writers, spaceships traveling faster than the speed of light for example.

There are no spaceships in my new book but there is a time machine. Now, according to current thinking in physics travel back in time is not possible. There are several reasons for this and they are not limited to the classic time travel paradox of someone going back in time and being killed before they were born. It just appears that our universe functions in such a way as to make traveling back in time impossible, at least at the moment. This did not deter me from developing an idea of time travel and then setting it out in the story. It includes one glaring stretch of logic involving an elementary particle, a gluon, being able to remain stable for much longer than they actually can. That is my intuitive leap in logic, I admit it, however, as this book relies on people from the future being able to visit the past then I had to come up with something. In fact, I wanted to come up with a tenable theory of time travel even if it was not, to all intents and purposes, currently possible to do it.

One of the reasons for this is because the characters in the book come from a future some time beyond our present day. Their society is not ours. It has developed from what we currently know but it has also gone a traumatic transition into a civilisation that utilises a resource-based economy. It exists in a human world where nations, party politics, and state institutionalised religions no longer have a role to play. Science and reason are the cornerstones of their civilisation. People do not work for an abstract concept such as money, they work to achieve life-long personal development and the benefit of their city, the polis. This is not the Western World projected as a galaxy-wide civilisation then.

Of course, there has to be a reason why people from the future would want to expend so much time and energy to visit the past. My time travelers are not interested in human history but rather in discovering how life survives and thrives after a mass extinction event. Such a thing has occurred in their time and they are trying to help the flora and fauna in their world not only recover but be able to live harmoniously alongside the new human civilisation. It is understood that the fate of the planet is very closely linked to the fate of humanity and these people want to ensure that they do not push the natural world, and themselves, into another mass extinction event.

Of course, this new world is not a paradise, the book might prove a rather boring read if the human condition did not still harbour some of the more objectionable qualities that make for a good technical thriller. No, there are still some people who hunger after money or rather the illusion of power that it brings. There are also people who still denigrate women, unfortunately. And there is also someone from a vestige of the old world who wants to see their city thrive at the cost of the new civilisation. This gives rise to murder, a manhunt through time, and encounters with one of my favourite groups of animals, the dinosaurs.

I cannot help but think that it was the inclusion of the dinosaurs in this book that made it so much fun to write! On my fifth birthday, or so I remember it, I received my first book on dinosaurs and I have been captivated by them ever since. When the idea of writing a novel about them was suggested by a friend I leapt at the opportunity. I had wanted to write a book about dinosaurs for a long time but I also wanted to do something new. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the first lost world version with his book ‘The Lost World’, which is quite apt, and it has been copied many times over. Michael Crichton managed to be original with ‘Jurassic Park’. I hope that people will find this version of the idea of humans meeting dinosaurs equally original. I have spent a lot of time refreshing my knowledge of dinosaurs, I am very much an amateur Palaeontologist so that I can present them as accurately as our current knowledge allows. Psychopathic human obsessed dinosaurs might be good for the movies but they are a long way from what the real things probably were like. Dinosaurs were animals and not monsters after all and that is how I have depicted them. This does not mean that there are not a few exciting encounters between the two, there most definitely is, just that most of these incidents occur more by chance than by the pursuit of a bloodlust.

The name of my new book is ‘Mesozoic’ after the geological era in which dinosaurs first appeared and then became extinct. The story is spread across the whole of it thanks to the time travel machine that I invented, even if it only exists within the pages of the book. I hope to have the book finished and ready for publishing by spring. Until then here is the cover that I have recently finished. It is simple, dramatic, and expresses a lot about the story contained in the book that it will front.

Book Cover 01

Copyright Peter C Whitaker (2018)

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Writing about Dinosaurs as Animals Rather than Psychopaths

Lost_World_1925_Still_01Back in August I hinted that I was writing a science fiction book and I thought that I might spend this blog discussing it. I have had a series of interruptions to my writing recently but before that happened I did manage to get a first draft of this new novel written. As with all my other projects the first draft is where I bash out the main ideas, create some of the main characters, and see if the ideas has the legs to run the distance to completion. I am glad to say that this one appears to tick all the boxes.

I have wanted to write about dinosaurs for some time but I lacked the proper context to put them in. A friend suggested an idea that I originally interpreted as a kind of series of field trips to study dinosaurs in their natural habitat. It would have probably been very interesting to me as a project but, I fear, that it would not have appealed to a mass audience. I thought about it some more and slowly several ideas came together. I seemed to have found a logical and exciting reason for why dinosaurs and humans might mix in a kind of technological adventure.

As someone with wide interest in many subjects I found it very easy to look at themes concerning the continuing degradation of the ecology and how this might lead to a mass extinction event that would impact humanity despite our collective arrogance. Climate change is real phenomenon although it is not reliant purely upon human activity as some would represent it. The Earth has been in a state of constant change since it was formed some 5 billion years ago. The environment of the three geological periods that constitute the Mesozoic Era, the Triassic, the Jurassic, and the Cretaceous, were all different to each other and each were characterized with an extinction event. Tectonic plate activity had a massive impact on the changing environment during this period as the land mass changed from the super-continent Pangea at the beginning of the Triassic into something close to what we see today at the end of the Cretaceous.

One aspect of the book that I have been pretty rigid about is depicting the dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals as realistically as possible. Although I enjoy Jurassic Park I always have this nagging voice in my head repeating ‘that’s not right’ every time I read the book or watch the movies. Michael Crichton was quite honest about his use of artistic licence when it came to cutting scientific corners of course. He even acknowledged that it led him into making some pretty big mistakes, the visual acuity of the T-Rex for example. I do not want to make any of those errors. The dinosaurs in my book are animals not monsters. They do not have a psychopathic obsession with feasting on the skinny bodies of puny humans. They do kill off some my characters, that is true but they do it within the boundaries of their natural behaviour and not due to some Frankenstein’s Monster complex. As so often happens in the real world it is people making mistakes that leads to them getting killed by animals.

I have mentioned previously that time is my most precious resource and I seem to have so little of it when it comes to writing. Of all the books I have written so far this one seems to be the most commercial so maybe, if it is successful, I might find that I can afford to spend more time writing in the future. Well, what is life without a dream or two?

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About that Review You Posted!

As an author I am not unique in valuing feedback from actual readers and for the most part I have to admit that it has proven a rather positive experience. Every now and again, however, you come across something that is now so encouraging. The review, and I use that term very loosely here, reproduced below was posted just prior to Christmas on Amazon UK:

Customer Review

3.0 out of 5 stars FRUMBYRDLING

By Hondo on 21 December 2017

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

Methinks, mayhap, that thee may find yon book reads a little like a 1950s Arthurian or Robin Hood film. Thou mayest feel that olde fashioned language adds to the atmosphere … I didn’t, I found it grating, especially “mayhap” which was unknown before 1531 .. yes I had did look it up it annoyed me that much!

I found the points of view shifts between characters didn’t always take the story forward or help with character development.

The premise had promise but proved predictable. I was a little disappointed.

 

I felt it necessary to respond and replied with this:

Hondo, I am sorry that you did not enjoy reading my book. Since I first read your review, I have taken the time to consider your points and I would like to respond to them now.

It is not unusual for writers to create a particular idiom for historical novels to present a more distinct feel to their work. Using modern language would be incorrect in the world of 1066 but using Old English would have been very difficult and probably limited the appeal of the book to a very small audience. Of the words you used in your review, the following appeared in my novel as follows: ‘methinks’ once, ‘mayhap’ ninety-eight times, ‘thee’ fifty-five times, and ‘yon’, ‘thou’, ‘mayest’, and ‘olde’ did not appear at all. In a work of approximately 100,000 words ‘mayhap’ makes up less than 0.1%, which hardly suggests that it renders the prose ‘olde fashioned’. To state that the word was unknown prior to 1531 is also incorrect. As with many words, we can only guess at when they first came into usage based on the earliest surviving written example. Like the fossil record, the literary record is incomplete and not wholly reliable, especially in respect of oral cultures. In the case of ‘mayhap’ I claim artistic licence as an author; I simply felt that it sounded better than ‘perhaps’.

Utilising various different points of view seemed necessary in order to explain the motivations of the principal historical characters and how their choices impacted upon the people, represented within the book by the fictional characters that I created. I am aware that this style of writing does not please everyone but the nature of the project, recounting the three major battles of 1066, seemed best served by this approach.

As to the premise proving predictable, well it is a work of historical fiction. I mentioned in my author’s notes at the end of the book that I had tried to represent the events truthfully, to that end I invested a lot of time in researching them. As a work of historical fiction ‘The War Wolf’ is inevitably constrained by those same historical events. I wished to maintain a significant degree of integrity in the book and I chose to write a truthful account accordingly. The only way I could have produced a different ending to the Battle of Fulford Gate would be by opting to write an alternative history novel, but that is an entirely different genre.

For anyone who is unsure the title of Hondo’s review, ‘Frumbyrdling’, refers to a boy growing his first beard. Personally, I failed to see the relevance.

I have to admit to being a little disappointed by Hondo’s comments. Amazon Customer Reviews are public and do have an impact on prospective readers choosing to by your book but there is very little compliance with regard to the customer producing a balanced account. I do not believe that Hondo did this. In fact their review suggests that I used a lot of archaic language, which was not the case and I was able to prove this. The observation that the premise was predictable suggests that they do not understand the historical fiction genre. In my experience readers are often most critical when an author veers away from established fact, not when they adhere to it.

Clearly, customer reviews are two-edged swords. This is only the second one that I have received that has proven less than useful, so I suppose that I am rather lucky in that respect. Nevertheless, after having spent so long working on the book it does grate somewhat when someone comes along and disparages it with just a few lines of ill-considered and unsubstantiated negativity in barely five minutes!

War Wolf

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In-between places

After the rather sudden death of a very good friend I took an hiatus from blogging. This was extended with a departure for America on a planned holiday. I hate taking breaks, especially if I do not get chance to explain them in advance, but in the midst of grief so little does go to plan.

My friend would never have wanted me to skulk about feeling sorry for myself, however. He enjoyed my work. He was, in fact, one of my first readers and always gave great encouragement. I will miss that but it seems that it will be more disrespectful to his memory if I don’t get over the sadness part and get back to work again. With that in mind I will soon be posting about my American Adventure. I took lots of photographs and some of them turned out to be rather good, not sure if that is my fault or not but I am going to use them all the same.

Life goes on even after death and I got to see quite a bit of it on my first trip across the Atlantic. I am going to try and capture some of that adventure in my next post, so until then, just give me time to recover from jet-lag and jot some words down; hopefully no one will be disappointed.

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After Death

This was supposed to be an exciting week, the run up to the publishing of my fourth novel, The Blade’s Fell Blow, but real life suddenly took an unexpected turn; a very good friend died!

I say that it was unexpected but perhaps more truthfully it was simply unlooked for. My friend had cancer but was receiving treatment for it. His decline was rapid, however, so when the news broke it really did take me by surprise. We had been clinging onto a frail hope, perhaps too tightly because it broke. Losing someone whom you have known for so long really changes your perspective of life and the presumed reality.

Writing has not been at the forefront of my thoughts recently, which is hardly surprising. Grief strangles creativity. That said, my friend was one of my first readers. He read ‘The War Wolf’ when it was still in first draft and gave me some great pointers as to how to move the action on. He raved about ‘Eugenica’, in fact he said that it was a book that everyone should read so as to challenge their opinions on disabled people. He is never going to get the chance to read my latest novel. I ordered a paperback copy for him but it still has not been delivered. Way too late now.

In the fullness of time I expect to return with my usual energy and commitment to writing, but not right now. I hope that I will write some stories that my friend would have enjoyed reading. He was a great reader, voracious even, and probably one of my inspirations. He’s gone now and so has my inclination to write properly. When the pain subsides I expect to find it still there, however, unlike him.

Until then…

 

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I Write Because I Enjoy Telling Stories

So, ‘The Blade’s Fell Blow’ has gone to be published and will be delivered to any pre-Blades Fell Blowrelease purchasers on the 951st anniversary of the Battle of Hastings! Of course I am very pleased about this as it is the culmination of a lot of work. I was very impressed when Amazon linked all three of my books together in one advertisement. I am hoping that the existence of a complete trilogy will encourage more readers of historical fiction to enjoy the adventure that I created.

I have now moved on and I am primarily working on my fantasy novel, to which I have given the working title of ‘The Queen of the Mountain’. However, I always seem to need to have the next book underway as well and so I have started preliminary work on a science fiction novel. The first draft is underway but what I have found to be really interesting is that my style of writing has changed. For the Sorrow Song Trilogy I used a very descriptive style and I did this consciously. I wanted to recreate the world of the Saxons in as much depth as possible to help give the books a significant degree of credibility. This produced a very lyrical style that I enjoyed working with.

For ‘The Queen of the Mountain’ I did not consciously set out to change my style of writing but I found that during the first draft it became less descriptive and more immediate. I think that this was necessitated by the tone of the book in that there are more exciting events happening. In the ‘Sorrow Song’ each novel worked towards a significant battle with a lot of scene setting and character development going on. There were the occasional skirmishes of course but the books each traversed a set path. With ‘Queen of the Mountain’ there is a lot more going on. Even though it is a fantasy with a whole new world to explore my writing uses more brevity so as not to slow the pace.

To be honest I had not realised this change until I started work on the science fiction book, which has the working title of ‘Pangea’.This is also something of technological thriller in which there is a lot of action and it is even more immediate than ‘The Queen of the Mountain’. With ‘Pangea’ I have stopped writing long descriptive paragraphs and instead the characters are describing what they see in the same way that people do in real life. I have quickly found that this allows me to develop the characters through their dialogue. Another advantage is that it has stopped me from writing a Palaeontological field book, which might have been fun in itself but only to dinosaur nuts like myself. By restricting the descriptive passages to only what is absolutely necessary I found that the story moved faster. Fast is good. The main motivation of the book is a chase across prehistoric landscapes and slow chases are boring.

Clearly, writing different kinds of books encourages me to develop different writing styles and that in turn, I hope, improves my skill as a writer. Of course, if I had decided to write only historical fiction, which I was encouraged to do, then this would not have happened, or it certainly would be less likely. The moment I stepped out of the genre to write ‘Eugenica’ was the moment that I confirmed my decision to write what I wanted to write. To be true to myself as an author, hopefully that does not sound pompous? When I started writing I read several articles that were concerned with a writer writing for a specific audience, getting to know the reader, identifying what they wanted, and then directing your efforts down that narrow path. I do not criticise this approach as it has worked for some and as much as I would enjoy commercial success it is not the reason why I write.

I write because I enjoy telling stories.

This is the reason why I am not a genre writer. My imagination is not confined to any one particular genre of literature or cinema or theatre or art school or science. In fact I actively choose not to have any favourites. I believe that having favourites is limiting, that it closes you to new experiences whereas I want a broad horizon. There are things that I like and there are things that I do not like but there are also things that I have yet to experience and I am eager for that. I hope that my opting not to write for any specific genre will not put people off my work but rather reflect my own philosophy of being open to trying something new.

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The Sorrow Song Trilogy is Complete!

I have submitted The Blade’s Fell Blow to Kindle Direct Publishing and it has been accepted for pre-order publishing. It is now live on Amazon for release on 14 October 2017, which happens to be the 951st anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

I have to admit that I felt a moment of pride when I saw my author’s bookshelf at KDP as it now contains four novels. A lot of work has gone into creating that collection of stories and I do not regret a moment of it.

Finishing the Sorrow Song Trilogy actually felt like quite an accomplishment. I do not, at the moment at least, feel any inclination to return to this world that I created. Unlike Sir Arthur Conan Doyle this is not because I have grown to dislike my protagonist, Coenred, but rather because I just feel that there is nothing more that I can add to the tale. In fact I very much like all the characters from this series. When I set out to write these books the whole point was to create a character who could logically find himself at each of the three major battles of 1066 and a warrior was an obvious choice. Once those battles were fought and concluded, however, then I think it is best if the surviving character’s stories continue in the imagination of my readers.

It may well be that I will return to them at some point in the future but only if I am inspired by a new and original story to tell. Until then I will be archiving all of my research, notes, back-stories, and manuscripts. I do have one project left, however, and that is to produce a complete collection of all three books in one volume but that will be something to do in the future.

Right now I feel like I have really accomplished something. I have told the story of 1066 from the point of view of the Anglo-Saxons and with a concentration upon historical accuracy. Balancing the facts with the fiction was a great exercise and I think that I largely achieved it. Although I had a latent sympathy for the Saxons I tried not to judge the Vikings and the Normans. They had their own motivations for what they did, something that I tried to express through principal characters. I could not change the history but I think that the Anglo-Saxons are represented as a people who were full of life and energy with a rich culture and a society far more liberal than the one that was to be imposed upon it.

If you have read The War Wolf and For Rapture of Ravens then I hope you will complete the experience by also reading The Blade’s Fell Blow and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

All 3 Books

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