That Disability Thing!

I had a reader ask me why there seemed to be a disabled person in every one of my books to date? My answer was, if not me who else was going to do it?

One of the tenets of writing is to write about what you know and having been born disabled I know a lot about disability. I do not have a chip on my shoulder about it. The disabled characters in my books are not out to right wrongs suffered by disabled people. They are not outraged protestors on a quest to make everything right. My aim is very simple, I want to portray disabled people as people.

In The Sorrow Song Trilogy, I invented the character of Half-foot, a Saxon who proved his worth by his learning rather than the traditional method of the sword, spear, and axe. He serves King Harold in the capacity of a secretary and is looked upon favourably. For Mesozoic, there is Charles Marsh, a man who overcomes his physical disability by means of medication and the use of an exoskeleton. As a result of this, he gets to pursue his passion of studying dinosaurs and even travels back in time to the Mesozoic Era to do it.

Without a doubt, Eugenica is my most determined effort to present disabled people in a positive light. The whole theme of the book is society’s attitude and treatment of the disabled. It makes for a harrowing read in parts but then it is based on some of my own personal experiences. It is also an adventure story, a type of story that I have always enjoyed, and getting four disabled young people into that setting proved very satisfying.

I suppose the point is that society, in general, has been very good at ignoring disabled people. It has not always been an active thing. In many respects, it has just been apathetic. In literature and other media I have often found the disabled to be presented as very shallow characters, usually designed to inspire pity, Charles Dickens’ Smike for example, or loathing, Richard III always springs to mind with that one. Very seldom do I find worthy characters like Long John Silver. Okay, he was a pirate but he was also a man of courage and ambition. I preferred him to Squire Trelawney anyway.

At the moment I have two books in writing. One is an epic fantasy, but without wizards, orcs, or elves, and the other is a whodunit mystery. Both have disabled people in them. I think my books are always going to feature disabled characters. It is not always a conscious effort on my part as the writer, they seem to enter my stories quite naturally. I suspect that if I was not disabled myself then this probably would not be the case, but I am and I do.

 

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A Advertising We Will Go

Advertising

When I published my first novel through Amazon I actually made a nice little sum in royalties. It was not a fortune but it was rewarding all the same. By the time I published my fifth novel, earlier this year, those royalties have effectively disappeared. I do not think that the reason for this is that I am writing stories that people do not want to read. I base this opinion on the feedback that I have gotten from readers who have taken the trouble to contact me. Having looked at the market recently I think part of the problem is that the eBook revolution has become so vast.

The problem for me today is not writing books but finding readers. There are so many people now writing, all to varying degrees of quality, that it is much harder to get your book noticed than it was when I first started. I have written previously about how I do not want to become a marketing wizard and that remains true. It is not a subject or undertaking that interests me. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to pay someone else to do it for me either. I decided to use an Amazon advertising campaign instead. I decided on a budget of $100 but one of the good things about the Amazon advert is that you only pay when someone clicks on it. The campaign started on 02 February and to date, the metrics state that it has been displayed 2,026 times resulting in 2 clicks at $0.22 in charges and 0 sales. Not very impressive!

Despite this ‘Mesozoic’ has been doing quite well with regards to Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners Lending Library. I get a reduced royalty from each of these. Actual sales have not been anything to sing about, however. To be honest, though, I already accept that I am not likely to make a lot of money out selling books through Amazon. What I do like is the idea that someone I do not know is reading my work. I also really enjoy reading honest reviews of that work, but they appear to be as difficult to come by as actual sales.

I would love to be a professional writer, which would be dependent on a lot more sales obviously, but it seems that I need to be discovered first. That is certainly not an original position to be in. I understand the problem as well, I think that I have illustrated that above. I do not want to go into marketing seriously but my efforts to use established means really I have not given me a great return. I joined AwesomeGang, a book promotion website, to try and attract more readers for my novel ‘Eugenica’ but after paying my subscription I have to report that a year later not a single copy has been sold. A bit sad really because it is a good book and not just in my opinion, those readers who have read it and expressed an opinion have told me so as well.

In conclusion, I am convinced that further advertising is necessary for success. How I go about this I do not know. Based on how my Amazon advertising campaign has gone so far I stand to recoup most of the $100 I budgeted for it so I suppose I could invest that in something. The question is, what?

 

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2018, My Writing Year

Grace Flag 01.42018 has proven to be a very busy year so far and I am not complaining. Not only have I managed to get ‘Mesozoic’ published but I have also completed a review of my earlier book, ‘Eugneica’, all 160,000 words of it! There were some grammar and spelling mistakes in the manuscript that were annoying me simply because I knew that they were there. A reader sent me some observations that they had made while reading the book, which I thought was very considerate of them. Some people like to include observations of spelling mistakes for their reviews so that all future prospective readers can read about them too. Most writers like me don’t have editors and cannot always afford to spend the money to hire a professional to do the job. Of course, if you have a publishing contract this comes as part of the deal. Perhaps one day then. I am planning on doing a re-launch of ‘Eugneica’, which was another reason for the review. I still have faith in this book. I still enjoy reading it myself. I hope that I am not tempting fate but I have not yet had a bad review, but then again I have not had many people actually pick it up to read either. That is something that I am hoping to change.

Next, I am going to finish my fantasy novel, ‘The Queen of the Mountain’. It is about 70% there already but I was unhappy with the main character, one Risdun Hak. He had no clear definition in my opinion. He also lacked a motivational force. I took some time out to consider how to put this right and ended up completing ‘Mesozoic’ instead. However, putting the fantasy novel on the back-burner, so to speak, seems to have worked. Risdun Hak now has more depth to him and I have a better understanding of his character. He has developed a more sympathetic side. I hope to begin work on rewriting his character in the extant manuscript almost immediately.

On another tack, a reader asked me if I would ever be interested in writing a murder mystery? The answer was yes. I like watching these kinds of programmes on television and I have read quite a few books on the subject as well. I have a proviso though. I like the stories where the reader gets all of the facts so that they can solve the mystery at the same time as the detective. I really do not like stories where the investigator is privy to information that is not revealed to the reader until the moment of unveiling the killer, Sherlock Holmes springs to mind. Because of this I have waited until I either had a particular mystery in mind or the time to devise one.

Inspiration is a funny thing. I had this character knocking about my jotter. He’s kind of aBook Cover 01 fish out of water in that he is not comfortable in the 21st century. I did not know really what to do with him but when I was looking through my jotter for ideas of what to write after the fantasy novel I had a wonderful creative moment. In an hour of frenetic activity I devised a murder, a motive, a prime suspect, and a detective to investigate the case. It all came together very quickly, like most good ideas do. I am not going to rush into this one, however. I want the plot to be airtight. I want the mystery to be revealed layer by layer and I am going to insist of my writing alter-ego that the reader will get access to all the clues that the detective does at the same time as he does. There will be no white rabbits being pulled out of hats like Agatha Christie so often does. This means that I will have to write a very detailed plan of the book, which will take time in itself. My wife loves reading murder mysteries and she is going to be my proof-reader in respect of the mystery itself. I don’t have a title for the book as yet but the main character, the detective, is the guy from my jotter and he’s beginning to develop in my head already!

So, that’s my writing year mapped out then!

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Eugenica Revisited

Book Cover 01Mesozoic is now published and that particular project has finished. There is, of course, a very satisfying feeling of accomplishment when a book is completed and put out there for the reading public to enjoy, but what does an author do immediately after that? I do not know about other writers but I like to go back and revisit one of my earlier books. There can be various reasons for doing this, such as having a reader point out an error or a spelling mistake or just a feeling that a particular scene could be improved with a bit of a revision.

Eugenica is probably the most personal book that I have written to date. Although a work of fiction and set in an alternate 1930’s much of the inspiration for it came from my own personal experiences. In fact, one of the characters in the book is actually me. He uses my middle name and he has one of the medical problems that I suffer from. Short of writing something autobiographical I do not think that I could get more personal. Perhaps because this book contains so much of me as a person I find its lack of attention even more keenly. The fact is that the book has not done as well as I had originally hoped. In retrospect, I cannot help thinking that part of the reason for this is that the central characters, Grace, Tom, Mary, and Hector are all disabled in one way or another. People generally do not find the disabled attractive. Indeed, there remains an undercurrent of prejudice against the disabled even today.

Stating such a thing is not a revelation. One of the points of inspiration for the book was my own experience of actual verbal assault and insult during a time when the British government was using a complicit media to demonise the disabled prior to removing their benefit payments. Effectively, the government was robbing them of their sympathy first before then robbing them of their monies that disability rights campaigners had fought for decades to win. In some respects, Eugenica was an attempt on my part to achieve some kind of balance, that is why there are four disabled young people at the heart of the story. They are not superhuman and they are not objects of pity. They are people with additional problems to contend with as well as those that I, as the author, task them with.

I really wanted to show that the human spirit can rise above most of the troubles that beset us. Although the story of a Britain under eugenic rule appears quite a harrowing prospect, and all the evidence that exists suggest that it would indeed have been, Eugenica is, in my opinion, an uplifting tale. The conclusion is open-ended and full of promise. Everyone who has read this book and communicated with me has said as much. One reader who had a severely disabled step-daughter told me that they thought everyone should read Eugenica so as to get a more realistic impression of the disabled as people.

In revisiting Eugenica my intent is not to try and discover why people who look at it doGrace Flag 01.4 not become readers. I am merely looking over the manuscript to spot errors that crept into the 160,000 plus words that make it the longest book that I have ever written. Some might see this as a chore, and I can understand that, but revisiting Eugenica in this fashion has proven to be a lot of fun. I still like the story and all four of the main characters. I enjoy the nostalgia of the 1930’s setting, the flashy cars, and elegant clothes, as well as the Art Deco architecture and decoration even if it exists mostly in my mind. Rereading the book confirms my faith in it again. Eugenica might not prove to be the most commercially successful book that I have written but in many respects, it remains one of the most satisfying. I still believe that its day will come, that someone will discover it and talk about it and the word will get out there. I am not interested in vast royalty payments, as nice as that would be, but rather in the fact that I might, through writing such a book, do my bit to help disabled people come closer to being seen as just people.

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Seven Months

I was looking back at my archive and realised that on the 28th June 2017 I began work on my present novel, ‘Mesozoic’. This week I finished the second draft and moved the book into the editing phase. Without doubt seven months is the shortest amount of time that I have spent on writing a book!

All of my previous novels took at least eighteen months to two years to complete. The Sorrow Song Trilogy volumes all involved a lot of research, although that got easier with each instalment as I was constantly adding to what I had learnt. Eugenica also required a lot of research into the pseudo-science of eugenics and life in the 1930’s. That book also had some personal challenges that I had to meet because some of the ordeals that the characters when through, especially in the medical induction scenes, had actually happened to me.

Of course I should consider that Mesozoic will be my fifth novel and it is to be expected that I have learnt something about the art of writing by now. It might also be that as I changed my style for this story, less indulgence in descriptive writing and more in dialogue, that this has helped. Well, that might be the case except that Mesozoic is well over 75,000 words long, which is still a lot of words to write.

Another factor that I should consider is that although I did have to do some research in respect of the prehistoric life that appears in the book I am already a dinosaur fan to begin with. Much of the research I did was merely confirming what I already knew to be true about these animals. There was some work to do on the mechanics of time travel but that also involved using a little artistic licence. I did read several articles to get as much right in terms of today’s physics as I could but at the end, as travel back in time appears to be impossible in this universe as we currently understand it, I had to take a leap of imagination.

Ultimately, I think that real reason why this book was been written so quickly is that it was tremendous fun! I really enjoyed the whole experience. There were times when writing the War Wolf that I felt like I was getting bogged down in the minutia of historical detail. There were also times when writing Eugenica when I found the personal cost just a little too much to take. Mesozoic never presented any of those problems to me. It is an adventure story. It has the inevitable journey that is such a staple of this type of book. There is the bad guy and the chase to catch him. There are the heroes and there are the challenges that they face to resolves their predicament. There is also a message that we can become better than what we, as a species perhaps, currently are. On the whole it is all pretty positive stuff. I am hoping that readers will find it very entertaining as well.

Book Cover 01

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Mesozoic: My New Novel

Badge Template Finished Blakc Bakcground 01

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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