Sunday, 26 February 2012

Would you buy a book from this man?

The book is just waiting for a final edit, so i'm working it up for Kindle. Need a blurb: the stuff that goes on the back of the book or the on the sales page at Amazon. Might post a few here and welcome comments.

Starter for ten

For the last eight years, Echo had murdered her way across the galaxy in the service of the Emperor. She had lost count of the number of bodies and they didn't haunt her sleep any more.

York was a hero who had walked away at the end of the war, sickened by the number of people he had lost who, even now, haunt him. Now he commands a ship with far too much weaponry just to be a cargo carrier.

Their paths crossed once before, the night she killed for the first time.

Eight years on, she turns out to be the latest cargo on his ship. He's surrounded by his own killers, who all think she is there to kill him.

They may be right.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Why he walks with a limp 3/4

"Captain. Captain! God's on bicycles, York, get up!" A voice was shouting abuse from a long way away, but it had to compete with the ringing in my ears and the buzz of static. Eventually i recognised the voice. Cavendish.
"I'm OK." i muttered, although i knew that i wasn't. "Let me up." 
I reached out a hand and started to climb to my feet. A moment later i was back on the floor. I think i screamed, but the pain drowned everything out. It went on forever, blinding stabbing light in my head. Suddenly it stopped and all i could feel was a slight irritation in my leg and cool blood running through my veins. I lifted my head. The overhead lights were out and all i could see where the beams from the Bad Girls' lamps. I could just see one of the Bad Girls withdrawing a small syringe. 
My breath was loud, trapped in the vacuum hood. I should have been able to hear the crew. I tapped the side of the hood with my finger. The marine gave me a sign to show she understood that my comms was down.She held out her hand, fingers splayed; stay put, then got to her feet and trotted out of my field of view. A few seconds later she was back. Hall. The markings on her armour showed it was Hall. Nonaka was behind her. As i tried to sit up they both leaned forward and held me down. The comms crackled.
"...out of here."
 Livingston, get over here!" Livingston was the team's main medic.She slid to a halt beside me. Like all the others her face plate was dark and i couldn't tell what she was looking at.
"He can't hear you. Comms are out."
"OK. Keep him still while i have a look." I felt a tugging on my leg, but the powerful analgesic was doing its job well. I think she was using a canister of coagulant and tissue filler.
"Gods in a row." whispered Livingston. "Cavendish."
"In a minute."
"Cavendish. Now."
"This better be good." Even under stress Cavendish didn't usually sound so irritable.
"We need to get York out of here."
"Him and the rest. What do you think we're trying to do?" 
Livingston turned away. "Cavendish! York's going to die if we don't get him out of this vacuum."
Cavendish appeared. Now there were three of my bodyguards  crowding round me. Over the comms net i could hear Nonaka organising the other survivors.
"Can i pick him up ?." Asked Cavendish.
"No.both femurs are shattered and  i think his hip is fractured. We need to get him in to an EVAC bag."
"There aren't any. We've used them all."
"Get somebody out of one and put York in."
Up to now i'd been hearing the words but they hadn't really made any sense. Suddenly something clicked into place.
"No! Nobody gets sacrificed for me." I managed to raise myself up on my elbows. "Are you clear about that?"
I looked around. There were several bodies scattered around the chamber. The remaining Bad Girls were with Nonaka at the far end. Between us the floor plates and bulkhead had buckled in several places. The ship had taken a bad hit. "Are we still under fire?"
"Yes, Sir."
The bridge was armoured and situated in the core of the ship. As we got closer to the escape ships, we were more vulnerable to enemy fire. I'd surrendered and ejected the power cores. According to the conventions of war they should have ceased fire. Bastards.
"Why is nobody moving on?"
"Because the hatches are jammed." Snapped Cavendish. "If they could get through, they wouldn't be hanging about. The reactor won't last much longer." She turned and stomped away. Something was bothering her, but it would have to wait. We were trapped in this compartment and it looked like we didn't have anything to get us out. I wasn't prepared to give up yet.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Editing with Stelios

I'd wanted to publish before i went on holiday, but i was still working on the final draft. I took a copy with me but was too busy (!) catching rays and making vitamin D to look at it. However, there's no in-flight movie with Easyjet so i had four hours on my hands coming back. It was really useful to be able to shut out the world and focus.
I got through the entire second half of the book. I've read and changed and re-read and changed again the first half, but there were big chunks of the second half that i'd forgotten about. i not only sorted out a load of grammatical errors and double spaces i also found a couple of mistakes.
That's the problem with taking so long to write a story, and the fact that it covers 179 pages. You forget what you said in the first part and unless you're constantly flicking backwards and forwards it's easy to introduce continuity errors. Hopefully i've found them all, but i'll get E to read it through and check.
Whilst i was at it i also discovered an error that didn't exist. At the start of the book there are eight soldiers but, towards the end there were only six. I knew where one of them had gone but, as far as i could tell, i'd accidently lost somebody along the way. I scribbled notes and slotted in the missing character in several places, then got to a point nine chapters earlier and found out that they'd purposefully been written out.


Almost ready to publish. I'm getting slightly nervous.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Normal service will be resumed shortly

Holiday !! Yay. Hope it's warm.
Back in a week, when i'll be blogging about the final stages of getting the book ready for kindle

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

It's dark in here

I don't really know why, but i love antiheroes. Flawed, troubled or just plain psychotic, they're just so much more interesting than good guys. Early on i knew i wanted to create and develop characters that were ... ethically challenged.

I've just watched the best piece of telly this year. It doesn't sound like it would be, but (stay with me on this) Bomber Boys, with Ewan McGregor and his brother was great. Ostensibly about Colin McGregor learning to fly a Lancaster bomber, it actually took the time to explore a number of challenging things.

1) We see old men, but forget that they've seen and done things that we just cannot imagine. Some of those things were terrible. Does that make them terrible people?
2) War is prosecuted until there is regime change. Really it's between a handful of people on either side, but involves and destroys thousands or millions of people in the process. The section of the film that looked at the deliberate targeting of the civilian population was quite tough.
3) Soldiers have to dehumanise their enemy and that makes it easier to kill them. i read that a large proportion of bullets in WW2 were deliberately fired to miss, so not everybody is capable to do it.
4) Many bomber crews were determined that, if the plane was badly damaged, they would stay with rather than abandon their mates. Infantry also report that they don't fight for their country, or a symbol, or a concept. When the shit hits the fan, they're fighting for their mates.

So, normal people do terrible things when their lives, or their mates lives are at stake. The characters in Echo have all served in the recent war, but now they're fighting because that's what they do.

Echo herself is an assassin. She was raised by the Empire and indoctrinated to obey. She has never considered whether she has a choice and has been a killer for the last eight years. The body count, by the end of the book is more than fifty, and quite a lot of them weren't actually necessary.

York commanded an Imperial warship. Tens of thousands of enemy combatants were killed by his ships, and he is conscious that scores of his own crew have died as a direct result of his orders. Until now, he has never actually killed anybody himself although this changes and i enjoyed exploring the impact of that on him.

The Bad Girls are a squad of Imperial Guards who have sworn allegiance to York. Echo describes one of them: I looked into her eyes. This woman killed, often. Not that unusual for a soldier, but something in her eyes said she did it without a hint of remorse and she was totally untouched by it. It was like looking into a mirror. I'm about to write a scene where the Bad Girls get into a fight in a bar. I suspect there will be deaths, but they didn't set out to cause them. They fight and kill because they are ordered to do so. Only obeying orders. We've heard that before from concentration camps guards. Despite all that, i like to think that my characters are reasonably likeable people and the feedback from the first readers suggests that i was successful.

So, a crew of people doing terrible things. Are they terrible people? Possibly. Are they good characters. I'd like to think so, but i'm probably the least qualified person to judge.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Snow White's Revenge

Snow White had no need of the knife, hidden in the folds of her dress. As soon as the Huntsman had stepped out of the tree line an arrow had whispered across the clearing, piercing his neck and severing the carotid artery.
“You let him get too close!” shouted Grumpy, from the doorway
“We had to be sure” answered Happy, slinging his bow across his shoulder. “He could have been hunting.”
“Unlikely! Are you sure he’s alone?”
“Sneezy and Doc are guarding the paths. There’s nobody else out there.”
“You know what this means” said Grumpy to Snow White, who was turning the body over with her foot. “The Queen has found you.”
“Perhaps he came across us by chance.”
Dopey was searching the body. He held up his findings. “I’m sorry, Snow White. He was carrying poison apples. This man worked for the Magic Mirror, and when he doesn’t report in, more will come. It’s time.”
“Well, I for one am glad.” Said Happy. “We’ve been hiding out here long enough.”

The Castle was a wonderful place for a girl to grow up. Staff scattered as the fourteen year old heir apparent, ran through the chambers. Always there was one of her personal guards, fearsome warriors from under the mountains of the North, close by. Every chamber, except those in the Queen’s Tower. No-one entered the Queen’s Tower except the King. The Queen herself had not ventured out for several months. Snow White was not unhappy with this, as her relationship with her stepmother, difficult at the best of times, had become increasingly volatile, and her father often seemed troubled and distracted.
“Dozey, have you ever been in the Queen’s Tower?” asked Snow White.
“No, my Princess.”
“Do you think we could get in, could get to the top?”
“Nobody goes in the Queen’s Tower, snapped Grumpy. “The Queen has forbidden it.”
Disappointed, Snow White didn’t notice Happy approach but, suddenly, he was by her side, speaking quietly.
“I can get you in. Midnight.” Casually, he drifted away.
Snow White was ready, and followed Happy through long forgotten passageways filled with debris and thick with cobwebs. They rested at the top of a long staircase that spiralled between the inner and outer walls of the massive tower. When Snow White pressed her ear against the timbers of the door, she could hear raised voices. Producing a large key,

Happy unlocked the door without a sound and led the way through a series of narrow passageways, built into the tower walls. Small holes looked onto the Queen’s rooms. Most were empty but, looking into a dimly lit chamber on the far side of the tower, Snow White’s life was changed. The King lay on the floor, a pool of blood spreading slowly across the stones. The Queen was turned towards a large mirror on the wall, the simple wooden frame out of character with the ornate furnishings. Snow White could see no reflection in the mirror, only a shadow in the shape of a man. When she looked at the mirror, a sense of bitterness and hate almost overwhelmed her.
“It is done. Now, will I rule?”
“Not yet, my Queen.” The voice came from nowhere. “Send for the Princess. She stands between you and the crown.”
Snow White didn’t wait to hear more. Numb with fear and grief she fled the Tower. Happy had served many regimes and knew what had to be done. Before the Queen’s word had gone out, the Princess and her bodyguards were gone.

In the four years since the flight from the castle, the land had gone from a rich, fertile, welcoming place to one filled with suspicion and treachery. A wise monarchy had been replaced by despotism, the Queen falling further under the influence of the malevolent spirit that was trapped in the mirror. The seven warriors had taught Snow White many skills. She was proficient with the bow and could fight with every weapon they brought to her. She had also mastered the art of moving through a crowd unnoticed, of passing, almost invisibly through shadows. Of all the skills they had passed on, this would be the most important if they were to get back into the castle.

In the morning, before setting out for the castle, they burnt the cottage, resolute that there would be no turning back. The Mirror would be smashed and the Queen would die.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Edit, edit, edit

The book has been written and i've picked a date to put it on Kindle. Feedback from the first readers was that the first two chapters were really heavy, with too much background detail and exposition. So i rewrote them.

Every writer's blog has an entry (or several if they're obsessive) about editing. Most are Get An Editor. Get It Edited. Edit. Edit. Edit. and Anybody But You!

The first draft was edited. Mostly grammatical stuff, and the usual set of comments about the first couple of chapters. Since then i've rewritten several parts, added a new chapter at the end and now i'm going through, paragraph by paragraph doing the pre-edit edit.

It's really hard. Some of the early stuff i've read so many times that i know it verbatim, and can't see what's wrong with it any more. The later stuff is still fairly fresh, so i'm coming on bits i'd forgotten about, which means i end up reading for enjoyment (yes, i do like my own stuff and i also laugh at my own jokes) rather than looking at it critically. I've found a few continuity errors, and a bit where i've clearly intended to come back and replace XXXXXXX with something that makes sense, but major changes? Just not happening.

So, next week,  i'm going to hand over to an editor. I'm cheating slightly. She used to Edit professional publications rather than novels, but inaccurate grammar is inaccurate grammar and she shares my angst at inappropriate apostrophes. And she's not afraid to tell me if something's rubbish.

It's a learning process.

If everybody who has said they'll buy it actually does so, i'll make a "loss" of about £50. If people out there in Kindle land pick up on it, i'll invest any profit in having book 2 edited by a novel editor. I'd love to see what the difference actually is. You can help. Keep watching the blog and i'll let you know when you can BUY THE BOOK. 190 copies feeds an editor for a month.

Tomorrow, a story about snow white

Saturday, 4 February 2012

This is not a drill 2/4

    I nodded. “Very well. You're right.”
    Cavendish activated the Marines comm net. “We're on the move. Get the Engineers out of there” She turned and led the way, Acre fell into step behind me and Ross brought up the rear. Hall was already waiting in the circulation space outside the open hatch.
    They all knew where to go. Every member of the crew was required to take part in evacuation drills although I, personally, had never done it on the Nemesis as I never expected to abandon her.
    We didn't run. I'd been taught that, if you run, it triggers hormones that interfere with your thought processes. There was no emergency that wasn't better dealt with a few seconds later but with a clear head. That advice had served me well through the years. I could walk pretty quickly though.
    The deck was still vibrating under my feet. I glanced at Cavendish.
    “We're still being fired upon.” She said
    I nodded. “The Vrgarr are probably pissed off that we trashed two of their battleships. If they're firing at us then they're not in pursuit of the decoy ships.” The two cruisers of the Church Militant would be a different matter. They were much more disciplined and would be manouvering to pursue our ships although, by now, it would be too late for them to catch them. “I hope they're not firing on the escape ships.”
We dropped down a deck, sliding down the ladders like midshipmen. This level was only lit by emergency lighting although the artificial gravity was still working. As I hit the floor I could see the stragglers from the bridge crew at the far end of the passageway. Passing through narrow hatches slowed down progress massively.
    “This way.” called Cavendish. We took a cross corridor and used the parallel route to a second hatch. At the bulkhead, Cavendish opened the hatch and I followed Acre into the next section where we joined the rest of the bridge crew. I did a quick head count. Six marines and twenty crew. Hiraku Nonaka was quietly marshalling the survivors into groups around the bulkheads, but nobody was actually going anywhere.
    Before I could ask what was causing the delay, Cavendish held up her hand for quiet. “Hall, check on the engineers. We can't continue till they get here.” Hall ducked back through the hatch, the bulky Ultima armour only just fitting through the opening. “There's vacuum and no power on the other side of this bulkhead. If we open the hatch the engineers won't be able to get through.” Vacuum in this section would trigger the hatches to shut and lock. Overriding the security systems would take too long. I wanted to know how we were going to get through the hatch on the other side of the compartment, but, although I commanded the ship, the Marines were in control of this situation and my getting involved wouldn't be helpful. Cavendish would keep me informed, where possible, as a matter of courtesy, but I was effectively a spectator.
    Hall came back through the hatch, carrying an injured crewman over her shoulder. She was followed by another dozen engineers and three more marines. Several of the engineers were injured and I was concerned how they were going to fare through the next section. Hall slammed the hatch shut and secured it.
    Livingston was by the next hatch. “Vacuum hoods on, stand clear!” she shouted. Everybody obeyed. I checked the collar section was secure then pulled my hood out and sealed it over my head. It inflated automatically as the oxygen supply activated. I breathed normally and tried to ignore the itch at the back of my head that always started as soon as I was wearing a helmet and couldn't get to it. I could see that a couple of hoods didn't seem to be properly inflated, possibly damaged by shrapnel or debris. I banged my fist against Acre's shoulder and pointed. She looked, then turned back to me. With her helmet sealed I couldn't see her expression though the dark visor. Before I had a chance to activate the hood's comms system Cavendish grabbed me round the waist. There was a sudden crack and a tremendous force pulling at me as the air was sucked from the compartment. Cavendish held on to me so I wouldn't fly across the room.        
   In a few moments it stopped and we were in vacuum. The crew that had damaged vacuum hoods were struggling desperately. A pair of marines headed towards them, picking them up and carrying them to the back of the compartment. I looked towards the next hatch. Nonaka was on his feet and shepherding people through. I waited where I was until Cavendish signalled and we took our turn. As I put my hand on the hatch surround I looked back. There were four bodies against the back wall and I could see blood on the floor. Vacuum asphyxiation was slow and painful. I knew that the marines had intervened and made it quick and I was grateful. Acre pushed me through the hatch.
    I never heard the explosion.

Friday, 3 February 2012

A change is as good as a rest

Sometimes it's difficult to write. You've been sat at the same desk, looking out of the same window all day. No wonder nothing's coming. Rather than doing some washing up or ironing as displacement activity, take the laptop / notebook / whatever you write in or on and go somewhere else.

One of my most productive writing days started with only fifty words in a couple of hours. So off i went. Two hours in the library resulted in a few hundred words. The same happened after a couple of hours in Starbucks. Nicely caffeined up i did more when i got back home.

Yesterday i wrote almost a thousand words in a hotel room. Different town, different view, different coffee :-) I often get lots done on the train (particularly in first class  - it's about having enough room rather than being a snob - so it's quite good that first class is cheaper than second glass - go figure) although that might be because i'm just avoiding something else. Like work.

If you're wanting to reproduce my 1000 words, i can recommend the MacDonald Hotel in Bath. Not just as a good place to work (any hotel would do really), but because it has a fantastic outdoor swimming pool - the air temperature was minus two but the water was 38 degrees. Aaaahhhh.

I didn't get work done anywhere else in  Bath as it was freezing and my fingers wouldn't work.