Let the Dinosaurs Roar

I put Mesozoic up for audition with a view to it being turned into an audiobook. A narrator called Noah gave it a go and I have to admit that he submitted one of the best auditions that I have heard in a long time. The standard procedure is to give three pieces from the book that contrast, so as to give the narrator a chance to show their versatility. To be honest, most applicants use exactly the same voice no matter what the scene, which can be disappointing. I suppose it depends on the story as well, but I like to hear a little suggestion in the narrator’s voice that they are reacting to what they are reading.

Mesozoic is a thriller. It starts off relatively slowly, as most do in this genre, but builds in pace and tension as the story develops. The last few chapters race through at a breathless pace. Clearly, a voice that fails to capture this movement in the plot is going to seem underwhelming. Noah read all three pieces as if he was fully entranced by the story. That is exactly what I wanted. Mesozoic is fun. It is an adventure in the age of the dinosaurs. It does discuss what a future civilisation might be like after a near extinction event destroys the one that we know but this puts the presence of the scientists in the Triassic Period into context. Once they are forced to trek across the prehistoric landscape the action really begins. There is also some humour involved. I think humour is important. That does not mean that I wrote a comedy, I did not, but humour is frequently present in my life, so it seeps into my writing as well.

In preparation for agreeing the contract with Noah I have been busy reviewing the manuscript and correcting the several mistakes that I discovered in the process. I have also put together a phonetic guide for the pronunciation of dinosaur names and other technical jargon, there is some science in this book as well. Finally, I have drafted a brief guide to the characters. I thought that this might be useful so that the narrator has an idea when to change tone between a man of fifty and a man in his early twenties.

I have used text to speech to listen to the book previously, and I have always thought that it would make for a very entertaining audiobook. Now that I have someone to read it who seems capable of capturing the excitement and the energy that I tried to instil into my writing then I am looking even more eagerly to the final outcome.

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As Experiments Go…

Me, concocting another experiment

This one is incomplete. To be honest I am not sure if it will ever conclude, but like most things if you never try then you will never know.

The experiment was very simple, offer my book ‘Mesozoic’ for free for 5 days. I promoted the offer using multiple social media accounts. I did not have any money to spend on advertising. 20 people downloaded the book. I was quite happy with that result. The final test will be in how many of them actually read the book and then, how many will post a review?

Yes, the whole exercise is dedicated to getting more reviews. Pathetic really! Well, no, not really. The fact is that I have 20 new readers. To be honest, that is an achievement in itself. The customer review, however, has become quite important in a writer getting their work noticed. In fact, it applies to most areas of creativity, music, art, theatre, and cinema. Perhaps that is the problem, too much demand for too many things? I mean, if you buy something on eBay they ask for a review. Because I also would like more reviews I do try to leave one, but I do not always remember. I suppose that is true of book readers too.

I will not be sat twiddling my thumbs awaiting the results of the experiment though. I am still working on ‘Queen of the Mountain Kingdom’, which keeps trying to delay being finished by giving me new ideas to work on. It has been good fun though. Also, I am revising the manuscript for ‘Eugenica’. I also need to check on the progress of ‘For Rapture of Ravens’ as it is currently in production to become an audiobook. It might be hot in England, but it is even hotter in my workshop…study…parlour…kitchen…well, anywhere I can set my laptop down really.

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Do You Fancy a Free eBook for the Summer Holidays?

Seeing as the summer holidays have arrived, even though it does not look like it here in England, I thought that I might offer you a free book to take with you on your vacation, whether that be to somewhere exotic or just in the comfort of your own home.

Mesozoic

‘Mesozoic’ is a technological thriller about a group of scientists who use time travel to go back to the Mesozoic Era in the hope of understanding how life survives mass extinction events. The human world has just gone through one such an occurrence. Civilisation as we know it has all but collapsed, but a new form of society has emerged. Founded on reason and a resource based economy the emergent civilisation is looking to avoid the mistakes of the past. Dr Eva Keisler is set to become the new leader of this new human world. She makes one fatal wish before taking office; to see a dinosaur for real!

Eva joins the Palaeontological Field Time Unit (PFTU) for a trip to the Triassic Period, but her presence triggers a murder. It began as a field trip for a VIP; it turns into a chase to catch a killer that takes Eva and the PFTU across the whole Mesozoic Era. Aided by Tanya, a survivalist expert, and using the individual expertise of the team members to avoid deadly encounters with dangerous dinosaurs. The killer is destroying the time stations, attempting to strand Eva and the PFTU millions of years in the past. To add to the danger there is a traitor in their midst, just waiting for the right opportunity to strike.

‘Mesozoic’ was a fun book to write. I am an avid science fan and I went out of my way to represent the prehistoric animals as accurately as possible. They are not the psychotic, over engineered monsters of Jurassic Park. I also used the story to suggest a better way of living in an advanced technology based society. Moving at a fast pace, one which reflects the pressing danger that the characters are in, and passing through the Triassic, the Jurassic, and the Cretaceous Periods that constitute the Mesozoic Era, the plot twists and turns as human deceit and bravery both create and resolves various conflicts.

Available from Sunday, 21 July at 12am PDT (GMT -8 hours), to Thursday, 25 July 1159pm PDT. Visit your preferred Amazon store to download a FREE eBook copy and let dinosaurs heat up your summer!

Mesozoic at Amazon.co.uk

Mesozoic at Amazon.com

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Good Guys and Bad Guys

When I first started reading I had a very simple and concise view of the world, there were the good guys and there the bad guys and the story was inspired by their conflict. This was certainly true of the books aimed at the young in which heroes like the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, and Doc Savage would battle evil doers and good would always (eventually) win. All very simplistic stuff repeated in the television programmes of the day. The truth is, however, that such characters are actually very shallow and uninteresting.

I remember reading ‘Treasure Island’ for the first time and discovering that Long John Silver, technically a bad guy, was actually the most interesting character in the book. It was my first conscious experience of an author subverting expectations. Having a taste for adventure stories I inevitably read ‘The Three Musketeers’ and was pleasantly surprised to find that it lacked any real villains. Although Cardinal Richelieu is often cast in that role in film and television adaptations of the book the fact is that he is just a statesman following an agenda that he believes to be correct. The fact that it brings him into conflict with the book’s protagonist is a result of d’Artagnan’s loyalty to the king, not because Richelieu is evil. So, is being a good guy or a bad guy really just about a point of view?

In my ‘Sorrow Song Trilogy’ I introduced the villain Wulfhere. I always intended him to be a villain. He was there to upset Mildryth’s life and create tension and drama for her. It is difficult to write a strong character if all that person has to do is sit at home and wait for the hero to return. Mildryth, as a character, needed conflict in order to have the opportunity to demonstrate her strength. The curious thing is, I grew to like Wulfhere. Well, not so much like him as enjoy writing about him. I think that he is a real villain; a genuine bad guy. Very early on I established that he was a thief and a murderer. He was also weak in that he only targeted those he believed to be even weaker than himself. Wulfhere was very cynical and cared for no one but himself. Now that is a bad guy.

Duke Guillaume of Normandy might appear to be a bad guy also. Afterall, he did invade England and steal a crown. Very often, in such stories, the invader is cast in that mould. When I was researching ‘The War Wolf’ I came to a better understand his motivations, however. Normandy appears to have been in a constant state of war with its neighbours. Guillaume needed to establish his power on a more solid footing than a duchy if Normandy was to survive. He saw the invasion of England as an opportunity, a gamble really, but one worth the risk. From his supporters’ point of view, he was fully justified in what he did. The Saxons point of view was entirely the opposite of course. However, Guillaume did not want to destroy them or kill all of them, as a typical evil villain might. He wanted to make himself a king so as to become at least as strong as his enemies. Once the battle was won a return to normality, or at least a Norman understanding of such, was the priority.

So, what about the good guys; are they any different? Harold Godwinson was an eorl who also wanted to be a king. In political terms he was best placed to take the crown of King Edward when he died. Perhaps, most importantly, he had a popular backing to do so. Not everyone liked him or even supported him, but a majority of Saxons did, not least because there was no other suitable candidate in their opinion. Harold worked hard to safeguard the kingdom in the first nine months of his reign and, by extension, his people. That was what Saxons lords were supposed to do. Of course, there was an element of self-interest in what he did. We, as humans, are governed by our self-interest, but we also have the capacity to put others first. That is what the good guys do.

Coenred is most definitely a good guy. He has all the typical hero qualities being brave, loyal, dependable, and good in a fight, but I could not let him remain shallow, he had to develop. I think he does. When ‘The War Wolf’ opens Coenred is thinking of hanging up his sword after many years of service to the family of Edwin and Morcar. He has a sense of honour, however. It is his moral compass. He is the opposite of Wulfhere. Coenred is strong and dangerous but also disciplined. A good fighter understands the need for self-discipline. He has been selfless in his career as a Huscarl, giving most of his wealth to his mother and brother who run the family estate. When Mildryth asks for his protection he cannot refuse her. A Huscarl existed to defend his lord and his lord’s people. This has become Coenred’s nature and it is what brings him into a personal conflict when enemies appear. The warrior wants to take up the sword again, but the man who has begun to fall in love with Mildryth knows that that is the last thing that she wants, especially after having lost her first husband to violence. That is Coenred’s personal agenda, to protect the people he cares about. He is not in search of glory, nor even riches, but when forced to act he is formidable, relentless, and very dangerous.

Could Coenred ever be seen as a bad guy? I think only by someone who did not know him. On the battlefield he is as fierce as any other warrior. He kills without hesitation. He does not torture those he defeats, unlike Wulfhere, however. He dispatches them quickly and professionally, not least because he knows that there are more of the same to be fought. Away from the battlefield he might be seen as intimidating, dangerous, and someone to fear, but only in ignorance. Of course, if he had killed someone you knew and liked then that would certainly colour your opinion of him but put into a larger context then his actions acquire a reasoning that becomes understandable. To some his acts of violence might be reprehensible, and understandably so, but in 1066 that violence was a way of life, or death, depending on the outcome to the individual.

In writing characters for stories, it seems to be that the delineation between being either the good guy or the bad guy depends on other considerations. One has to be motivation. The more self-centred the motivation then the more of the bad guy they are. The other has to be their context within the greater story. To the Normans, Guillaume is a hero, to the Saxons he is the villain. Wulfhere never rises above being a villain because he has no understanding, and therefore no interest, in what it takes to do so. Even in the larger context of the events of 1066 his motivation is always one of self, first in everything. It is a fact, however, that the one thing that Wulfhere has in common with Coenred and Guillaume and Harold, is that they are human. They are complex people and none of them, not even Wulfhere, can really be reduced to the simplicity of being just a hero or just a villain. They all have their positive and negative aspects, although for some it might be difficult to complete a full audit of every such facet of character.

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Considering Putting Down the Pen

I was wondering lately if it was all worth it? The writing I mean. It takes up a lot of my time. When I am not writing I am thinking about writing. I meditate on plots, characters, themes, stories. What I do not seem to spend a lot of time on is the one thing that every other writer seems to: promotion.

It is rather disappointing that my sales figures have slumped and that my books have earned only a pitiful number of reviews. Okay, the majority of reviews are 4 to 5 stars and very positive. That does give me a lot of satisfaction. Also, the sales figure was never the reason why I decided to write a book in the first place. The story has always been my main motivation. I think that I write good stories. Almost everyone who has expressed an opinion has said as much. I know that there are grammatical and spelling errors in my manuscripts, and that really annoys me. During the years I have reviewed every written word, approximately half a million of them, in a vain attempt to produce the perfect manuscript. I say vain because I am a solo enterprise. There is just me. I do everything, including the proof reading and the editing. This is not best situation, I know, but it is a matter of cost. I do not make enough as a writer to employ other people to do these tasks and I do not have enough spare cash to invest in my writing as much as I would like.

Okay, this is beginning to sound like a moan, so let me change tack. I considered putting down my pen, word processor actually, I have not used a pen for creative writing in years but decided to continue instead. So, let us get to the positive part of this blog entry. The fact is that I love writing! I started when I was a child. I wrote stories for my own entertainment first and then for family and friends. I have always lived in my imagination. There have been many other subjects that have attracted my attention, art, literature, science, and travelling amongst them and I still make time to fit them in. Writing, in one form or another, has always been a part of my life since I learnt to read, however.

As I approach the completion of my latest novel, The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom, I find myself struggling to decide what to write next. It is not a question of finding something to write about, in fact that is the problem; I have too many ideas! There are three stories that I have already started work on. One is another Science Fiction book, then there is a detective story, and the last and most recent is a kind of urban thriller with a character who I am finding more and more interesting. I also maintain a jotter, a kind of scrapbook of ideas, in which there are several promising beginnings that just need a middle and an end. Oh, and I have started a review of my ‘Eugenica’ manuscript as I recently played it on a ‘text to speech’ app and discovered too many mistakes.

I do not know if other writers do this, but I also read my own books. Then I re-read them. I know, you would think that I had done enough of this when I was writing the things! Perhaps I am being a bit self-obsessed in my own writing? My only justification is that I still like the stories that I have written. Honestly! I enjoy those books over and over again, but then I can say the same for all my favourite novels that I regularly re-read in-between whatever I am reading at the moment. A genuinely good book never gets stale no matter how often you read it.

If I was driven by sales figures, self-promotion, success over everything, then my career so far has been an abject failure. My lack of interest in marketing is a critical flaw. As a modern-day author, I appear to be woefully lacking in the necessary skills to make it big. Only, I do not care. I do care about what I write. I also try to ensure that it is to the highest standard possible. I have my own method of writing, my own style, and my own ideas. I am not interested in following trends or identifying audiences or limiting myself in anyway, being genre specific for example. The process driven approach to being an author does not attract me, the art of being a writer does.

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The Magic of Magick

Magick

In my last blog post I suggested that I would consider the subject of magick in my up and coming fantasy book ‘The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom’. For those who might not be aware of it Magick is ‘the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will’. Magic, on the other hand, is the kind of thing that entertainers do. Is there really a difference? Well, it depends on your view of authenticity I suppose. I believe that the best examples of speculative fiction, that is anything that goes beyond the norm of everyday life, is actually rooted in that same everyday life. Fantastical things may occur, fabulous creatures may exist, but there is also a logic to the fantasy world that they occupy that underpins their validity within the bounds of the story. It is my experience that some authors really do not work too hard on establishing that necessary logic.

‘The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom’ is a fantasy book. It takes place in a world that does not exist but closely mirrors our own. Many of the characters are preoccupied with the kind of things that most ‘normal’ people in our world are; living their lives as well as they can. Of course, if I left it at that then it would make for a mundane story. There has to be something different about this tale doesn’t there? Of course there does. It has a kind of magick that disrupts the mundane and places the people in danger. Who needs heroes if the world is not in some kind of danger?

The book does not rely upon the threat of magick to increase the tension alone, but it is a significant part the story. Although I dismissed most common features of traditional fantasy as a genre, elves, trolls, wizards and such, the element of magick was there from day one. I wanted it to be a motivating force in the development of both the plot and certain characters. I also wanted it to be rooted in some semblance of rationality. Looking at the paraphernalia of typical magick users I decided to dispense with wands, books of spells, amulets, rings, potions, and any other symbolic representation of magic through use of an artefact. Influenced by Aleister Crowley’s quote above, I contemplated a system of magick that is based on energy. The universe is full of energy. Matter is energy vibrating at a certain frequency. Magick is the manipulation of energy by a knowledgeable person exercising their will.

The key word in that last sentence is knowledgeable. The Mountain Kingdom of Oroson is ancient. It was originally occupied by a people who called themselves Panteans. Within Mt. Oroson they discovered something that they call the Localis, a node through which passes the knowledge of the universe. The Panteans begin to acquire this knowledge and it allows them to do things that other peoples would call sorcery. The Panteans build gates to control access not only onto their mountain but also through or over its many ridges, or spurs as they are called in the book, that divide up the continent. This is done with the power of transmutation. With their understanding of the material world consisting of elementary particles and energy the Panteans can change matter into any shape or consistency that they can imagine. Three thousand years later the Panteans have become a race in decline. They have become obsessed with the studying of the Localis. They no longer need to eat or sleep, everything that their physical bodies require is provided for by their magick. Longevity becomes their norm. When a new people arrive on Mt. Oroson the Panteans, or Old People as they become known, cede their kingdom to them quite peacefully. All they ask for in return is dominion over the cave in which the Localis resides. They leave their city and move into the cave. The more knowledge that the Panteans acquire concerning the nature of the universe the more removed from the mundane human world they become.

Inevitably, members of the New People become interested in the knowledge of the Old People, but learning it is a daunting task. They do not have access to the Localis itself and the Old People never wrote their discoveries down. Human words cannot express the totality of the knowledge that they have accrued. The New People are aware of the magick of the Old People, but it is spoken about as if it were a mythology. Two hundred or so years later the book opens with the New People more concerned with the matter of succession as their king lies on his deathbed without a male heir to continue his dynasty. In a similar way the magick of the Panteans appears to be passing away as they, as a people, are consciously evolving to become a part of the universe as beings of energy only. For those New People who wish to learn the secrets of the Old People the task seems impossible. Without reference to a written lore they can only guess at how the Old People built the city of Cirrius on the side of a mountain or erected the invulnerable gates that protect the kingdom from invasion.

I really like the idea of a system of magick in which an understanding of the nature of the universe is key. It appeals to my Pantheistic beliefs. Also, the use of imagination to achieve results. This is not a source of power that can be used by anyone who picks up a wand and mutters a few arcane words. Knowledge and understanding are at the heart of it. Ignorance is a barrier that must be crossed. This magick is not for parlour tricks, it can transform the physical world. It can be used to reshape solid materials into anything imaginable. Its ability to unleash destructive energy gives the user a power that equates to a nuclear weapon. Exposure to this magick inevitably changes the individual. Access to the power also brings a greater knowledge of the reality of existence. What was once important recedes to be replaced by a desire to achieve a greater understanding of everything. At least for most people who experience it. For some their resistance to the corruption offered by power, any kind of power, is not so strong. A faction within the Old People cannot move on from the point that they have reached. Indeed, they do not want to. They have been corrupted by the power that they can wield.

The real test of these ideas is in the writing. Does this theory of magic add anything to the story? Do the characters who come into contact with it risk anything in its practice? Will tension and excitement be added to the story? Well, I suppose the proof will be in the pudding. I look forward to hearing what readers think when the book is published, hopefully this summer.

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Writing the Big Battle Scenes

One of the things that really annoys me as both a writer and a reader is poorly executed battle scenes. So often I find them to be disappointing. Many authors seem to adopt a vague approach to writing these scenes, as if vagueness on their part some how conveys the confusion of battle to the reader. It does not. A lack of clarity just suggests a lack of research or, even worse, a lack of understanding. Some writers take the approach of adopting an eye in the sky perspective. They describe the conflict as if they are looking down on the battlefield from a great height. Although that approach can be useful for describing troop movements it also leads to the reader being removed from the action. Putting distance between the reader and the characters that they are supposed to care about is never a good idea.

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Cirrius, the City in the Clouds. Home to the Queen of the Mountain Kingdom.

When I started writing the ‘Sorrow Song Trilogy’ I realised quite early on the importance of giving an accurate description of the three major battles that each book concentrates on. I go a long way to explaining why they occurred, where they happened, the influence of the local geography, and the decisions made by the commanders that ultimately led to the outcomes. I did not adopt an eye in the sky approach but instead have chief characters describe events as they happened from their point of view. I used the same method to explain to the reader the arms, armour, and tactics that the warriors would use. All of this was the product of countless hours of research. In one review a reader mentioned that my battle scenes took them into the heart of the conflict and proved very immersive. I think that is exactly what such scenes should be like. Every reader has an imagination; an author should exploit it to the full. Lazy writing just frustrates it.

‘The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom’, still a working title by the way, concludes with a large-scale battle. As I have moved away from the usual medieval setting for this fantasy book I have had to do more research. The aim of the battle remains exactly the same as that pursued by the protagonists at Fulford Gate, Stamford Bridge, and Sentlache Ridge near Hastings of course; to overcome the enemy. The detail is in how they go about it. I have read up on the appropriate strategy and tactics, weapons, and unit formations. I have placed various characters in the action so that I can describe it up close and personal. Events develop from their point of view. I must admit that I have really enjoyed writing this part of the book. When I was a child I used to play wargames with model soldiers. I think that I just got lost in a world of my own imagination during those battles. It might also be that this childhood experience has given me an insight into writing these conflicts with both detail and energy. I certainly hope that prospective readers think so.

There is one aspect of the battle in ‘The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom’ that is different to the three others fought by my Saxon heroes, however; two powerful sorcerers are involved as well. ‘The Sorrow Song’ is historical fiction, ‘The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom’ is fantasy. You get to play a lot more with fantasy. That said, I have been at pains to keep realism in the conflict as much as possible. The battle is being fought on two levels. First, there is that on which the soldiers fight. It is very logical and full of the madness of war. Second, there is that on which two individuals bring enormous amounts of magical power to bear as they try to destroy each other and give their respective side an edge over their opponents. I have never written anything like this before, so it was a challenge. To begin with I wrote the conventional battle in what is for me an equally conventional manner. It is not complete yet, but all the major points are there; the battle begins, the key moment of decision is reached, the battle ends. A lot of polishing is required, and I need to flesh out the role of several characters, but it is a working model. Next, I wrote the magical battle that overlays the conventional engagement. This is a little more intense because it only really involves two characters, who are at different ends of the battlefield, at least to begin with.

Remember my comment about vague writing? Well, I often find that descriptions of magic in fantasy novels are guilty of being vague. Few authors seem to really think about how magic could possibly work. J. K. Rowling is guilty of this in her ‘Harry Potter’ books. In fact, her use of magic appears to be contradictory. Some spells have to be said with a particular inflection to work properly, others just require a flick of the wrist and the use of a wand. I decided to try something different. My magical characters do not use wands or spells. In fact, they do not use ‘magic’ but rather ‘magick’. What is the difference? I decided to employ the definition attributed to Aleister Crowley, which is, ‘the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will’. The word magick is also used by some to differentiate their practice from that of entertainers. The magick that appears in ‘The Queen of the Mountain’ is not used for trivial purposes. Okay, it is to begin with. That is, the character Heren has to learn about the magick that she discovers inside herself so, obviously, she indulges in a few parlour tricks. In her defence I will say that she is consumed by a desire for revenge, which is why she ends up fighting a magical battle trying to assist her countrymen as they fight the conventional battle. I think that I will save the subject of my theory of magick for my next blog post and just finish the writing of battle scenes for now.

Creating two layers of a story is nothing new. Writers have used this technique many times in many books. I find the trick to be, especially when reserving this approach to a particularly exciting and dramatic event, that the two layers must compliment each other and add to the storytelling. The flow from one area of combat to another has to be smooth to be believable. Any jarring must be for effect only and should be reserved for key moments if it is going to be used. I use a series of rewrites to iron out the wrinkles. A lot of rewrites in fact. Smooth transitions between the two layers adds to the flow of the action, rather than diverting from it. I can see a possible area of conflict, however; both must be equally believable. I have no doubt that I can make the conventional battle credible. My pen is loaded with all that research after all, but what about the magical struggle? Well, hopefully, I will have already convinced the reader of the logic inherent in my system of magick to the point where they can suspend their disbelief and just go with the flow long before they reach the battle.

At the conclusion of the battle the two layers should merge together so as to achieve a seamless end to the encounter. I do not mean that all the ends must be neatly tided away, that is a plot concern. I mean that in the writing of this powerful event the reader should be able to move onto the next part of the story believing that a logical and rational end to the engagement has been reached. Its impact on the characters present will already be apparent in most instances. Certainly, for those that survive. They will have passed through the maelstrom and come out the other side just a little bit different. If my writing is any good then, perhaps, so will the reader.

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