Thursday, 26 April 2012

My Precious

So far Echo has only existed virtually. On Amazon and on my laptop and on some of your Kindles / iPads  /iPhones. The other day i decided it would be really nice to actually have a copy. A real copy. A real book. (Would that make me a real author?)

I love books. Kindles are great - half of my luggage for the last holiday was books - but there's just something about an actual book.

I looked at a couple of sites and they looked a bit complex. eventually i picked, although that was a bit complicated and i had to have several goes before they'd approve what i uploaded. I'm still a bit concerned that the formating template didn't work out properly and the first letters of every right hand page will be too far down the crack to read. It'll be a bit like trying to play some of the music that somebody in the band has photocopied badly and missed off the key and time signatures and the first note.

Anyway, i've sent for a discounted author's copy. It's still relatively expensive compared to the price that ASDA sell older Lee Child and Andy MacNab paperbacks for but who cares. It'll be mine! The advantage of print on demand is that, if the formatting isn't right, i can upload a new version and there's only one copy that is wrong. I knew somebody who wrote a novel and had a couple of hundred copies printed. At the top of almost every page there was the title of the book - The White Sleeve. Apart from page 1, which had, in the header, The White Sleve

So, in a few days i should have my hands on my own book. It's very exciting. Although not exactly career changing, being a writer continues to be very rewarding, even after the writing is finished.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

My favourite dress

Blood had soaked through the front of my dress, turning green silk to black. The shawl covered part of the stain, but I kept to the shadows and the narrow streets, avoiding anybody who might remember seeing me. I could faintly hear the music, echoing between the stone facades of the trading quarter, but nothing to suggest the alarm had been raised.

The last time I had worn the ball gown was on the eve of the war when I danced with Gabriel York and, with his assistance, murdered Admiral Morton. Since then it had spent five years stuffed in a travel case and dragged from one posting to another, but the chance to wear it again never arose. Despite that, it looked pristine as I waited in the market square, watching a small group of musicians set out their instruments. The sun was setting over the castle hill and lanterns were being lit by the owners of the bars and restaurants that had re-opened, now that the war was almost over.
  He strode across the market square, radiating authority and purpose. His greatcoat displayed medals that weren’t there when we last met, and each one of a row of silver stars along the left sleeve signified an enemy ship destroyed. As I moved to cross his path, I hoped he would remember me. My hair was longer, and a different colour. He had shaved his head and grown a goatee beard. It made him look dangerous; it suited him.
  “Admiral York.”
  “My lady.” If he was surprised he didn’t show it. Once again he bowed and kissed my hand. “You look different, but as beautiful as I remember. I have thought of you so often.”
  This surprised me. We had been together for only one night and so many terrible things had happened since then.
  “I would have expected a warrior to think of nothing but war. You have been most successful.”
  He didn’t reply, but led me to a table outside one of the bars. We sat and he gestured an order to the waiter.
  “Success? Yes, we have almost won. But the cost has been so high. I have lost many ships and thousands of men. And the war has taken a toll here too. Before the war, we prized art, music, poetry. We were civilised. Now, all that matters is protecting the state. And we have done many terrible things to achieve it. I have done terrible things. Everything is different now. Everybody is different, and something important has been lost.”
  He fell silent as the waiter brought glasses and a dusty bottle. He showed the label to York, who nodded his approval. As the waiter poured the first glass, a clarinet began to play, an argument against York’s words drifting across the square.
  “In times like these, everything needs someone to keep fighting for. I don’t know why, but all these years I thought of you. Wondered where you were. If you were still alive.”
  “Me? But you have family. Your brother?”
  “We were never close when we were young and, once we grew up, our paths were decided for us, just like the children of all the old aristocratic families. The first son goes into public service, the second into the military. I hear it said that he will be the next Prime Minister. I’m pleased for him, but we’re almost strangers.” He took a sip of the wine and looked me in the eye. “Five years and every day it’s you I’ve thought about.”
  I understood. I didn’t want to, but I felt the same. We had only been together a few hours but, in that time, we had shared an experience that bonded us intimately and inextricably.
  The band was playing melancholy tunes and few couples were dancing. York was right; before the war the square would have been packed, the crowd swirling to fast and exciting melodies. York put his glass on the table and stood. He laid his greatcoat over the chair and held out his hand towards me.
  “My lady, will you dance with me?”
  “Admiral, I’d be honoured.”
  We held each other like shipwrecked survivors cling to wreckage, like we were the only two people left. I lay my head on his shoulder and his jacket absorb my tears. I hardly heard the music; just let myself follow where he led. As one piece finish, he muttered “Enough of this.” and called an instruction to the musicians. They conferred briefly and then struck an opening note. Naval officers, all drawn from the elite families, were schooled in etiquette and the full range of social skills. His tango was impeccable; aggressive and arrogant, but not aloof. Every time we faced each other, his eyes locked on mine. I saw no fear, no regrets, and even the question I feared most wasn’t asked. But he already knew why I was here, and I could see he understood, even if I did not.
  The music came to a close and I took his hand and led him into a narrow alleyway, pushing his back against the wall. As I pressed my lips to his it would have been so easy to succumb to the passion I felt rising. To abandon everything I was and beg him to take me with him. Then there was a knife in my hand and I thrust it upwards with all my strength.

Training had taken over and I ran, putting as much distance between myself and the market square as possible. Twice I stopped and almost went back, but there was nothing I could do for him now and no help that I could bring to save him. York was dead; my knife had pierced his heart and his blood marked me for the crime.
  I would have given everything to spend the night with York, but it was not to be. I did not choose my profession; indeed, I was never given a choice although I had never been ashamed to embrace it. I had done many terrible things to protect the state, but surely none worse than this. Morton had to die to make way for a far superior man and there was honour in that; but I killed York and never knew why it was necessary.
  I had to press on, not through fear of imprisonment, but because I served the state and it would have need of me again before the war was over. By daybreak I would be back in the capital and deep within the corridors and chambers of the Department of War. I would inform Minister York of the death of his brother, and he would give me my next set of orders.

Friday, 13 April 2012

The wisdom of Gary Player

I've been struggling a bit with E2. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, but getting something worthwhile down wasn't going too well. Because of the arm (and a house full of in-laws), i was only writing in short spells and it wasn't very satisfying. Partly there's the pressure to make sure that Clarke satisfies my legion of fans (that would be you, Paul) and partly i hadn't figured out the underlying theme - is Clarke still about the relationship between Echo and York and, if so, where can i take it? Is it about the clash between a secular culture and one with a strong belief system. Is it about discovering your past.

And then i discovered the wise words of Gary Player (or at least the wise words of a golfer and the majority of the net thinks it was Gary Player).

He said - The more i practice, the luckier i get.

Translating this to writing - the more i write, the easier it is to write.

I was in fracture clinic yesterday and had a couple of hours to kill and a laptop. By the end of it i had 1500 new words for chapter 3. But, better than that, i'd figured out how i was going to end the current scenario and move on, the cause of the relationship twist between Echo and York, where i'm going to insert the prequel stuff that i posted on here a few weeks ago. I now have so much stuff in my head that i'm struggling to get it down before i forget them. It doesn't help that some of you kind people keep adding more exciting ideas. So many i'm drowning in them. It's great.

We have lift off.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

A man with a plan

I'm 10,000 words in and i'm feeling much more positive about Clarke (Echo 2). Feedback from E1 was that the relationship between York and Echo was an important part of the content. I've figured out where this is going to go and why (it's going to get a bit rocky). i've also got a sub plot - part of one of the ongoing/ unresolved threads and a few scenes that add a bit of colour and are going to be fun to write, even if they don't move the story on.

I'm not sure how Clarke is going to finish although i've got a few scenes from the climax in my head. i have decided that not all the crew of the citadel will make it. I lost Bruekner in E1 but he was really just a cardboard cut out. This time it's going to be somebody that we've got to know.

Here's a question. I'm going to continue the alternate York  /Echo view point, but i'm wondering if some of the others should get a chapter every now and again. I'd be interested in whether you think that  would work. All comment welcome.

Right, back to chapter three

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Echo 2, chapter 1, part 2. Catchy, eh?

“Engineering. All systems operational.”
“Medical. Ready to receive casualties.”
“Bad Girls. Bulkheads sealed. Passenger status nominal.” In the cargo bay twenty cold sleep cells held a mix of starship engineers, naval architects, historians and various miscellaneous scientists. Skills that we may need to explore the Clarke and understand the stories it would tell us. Presuming we could find it before we got blown to debris and frozen organic matter. The cold sleep equipment was robust and had a good chance of surviving anything other than a catastrophic explosion, but I’d rather be on the bridge, master of my own destiny.
“Firing range in twenty seconds.” Called Hemingray. We were now closing with the interceptor at high speed and both ships were still accelerating.
“Mr Ash, stand by on the vulcan cannons.” I’d seen small ships in this position before, neither commander willing to give way until it was too late to avoid a collision. The Vulcan cannons would put a wall of high velocity metal in front of the ship that would show up on the opposition’s screens and encourage them to change course and turn their flank towards us.
“Fifteen seconds.”
“Drives to zero, fire vulcan cannons, hold on laser batteries.” It wouldn’t take the interceptor’s fire control system long to recalibrate to our new velocity, but I had to cut the drives otherwise we would run into our own cloud of tungsten alloy rods. Ash let loose a two second burst from the four forward cannons, releasing eight hundred projectiles. The enemy captain would be preparing to fire his laser batteries but would now be faced with something unexpected. I didn’t like to rely on luck but, the interceptor was on the back foot and, with a little of it, they would be forced into a mistake.
“Ten seconds. Target manoeuvring.” And there it was
Timing was everything. At this velocity I could afford four or five seconds of acceleration without colliding with the tungsten rods. The enemy commander would have a firing solution and waiting for us to enter effective combat range. Dryden was watching me, his fingers over the drive controls.
“Five seconds.”
“Drives on…drives off
A few more seconds passed. “Target firing.” By the time Pearce had said it, it was over. The enemy commander had fired too soon. We were on the limit of effective range but several hundred metres further away than anticipated.
“How many turrets?”
“Three.” Everything they had. The fourth turret couldn’t be brought to bear.
“Damage report.”
“No damage.” The enemy’s manoeuvre in response to the cloud of tungsten alloy had increased the angle of approach slightly and, combined with our stuttering velocity changes, it was enough to mis-direct their fire control systems and they had missed. It would take several minutes for their weapons to recharge. Before they could fire again we would be close enough for Ash to target their critical systems.
The next few minutes were uneventful. The command crew worked their instruments but I had little to do; our course was set and we were committed to exchanging fire with the interceptor. Hemingray was monitoring the target ship, Pearce was analysing signals from the other ships she had detected and Ash was refining his firing solutions. I glanced at the repeater screen and could see that he was intending to use five of the laser batteries, focussing on the target’s own weapons and sensor arrays. That would substantially reduce the threat to us without endangering the crew. Although non of the ships in the area had identified themselves and weren’t acting like Navy units, I didn’t want to fire indiscriminately on what could turn out to be Imperial forces.
I looked at the combat situation display which was on the main screen. “Where are the other ships?” I enquired of Pearce. She zoomed out and new icons appeared. If we had turned, as we were expected to do, we would have run straight in to them. At first glance it did look like a Curtis trap, but now the predictive tracks of the other ships suggested they hadn’t set intercept courses, but were fanning out behind us, almost herding us towards the gas giant. Something was wrong.
“Miss Pearce, I need to know if there are more ships between us and the gas giant.”
“Sir.” The tactical position remained on the main screen but her panel displays changed as she activated long range sensors. At this distance we would be lucky to pick up much, but I wanted as much notice as possible of any further opponents.
“What’s wrong?” Asked Echo. She entered into the ring of command stations and stood next to me, touching shoulder to shoulder.
“Everything. The Naval Index says that there should only be a couple of small gunboats.” I picked this system because of the big gap between here and the systems on the other side of the border; too far for almost all starships to cross so there’s not going to be any smuggling activity and thin pickings for pirates. I expected we’d slip across the border unnoticed, not attract the attention of a colonial cruiser and four other ships. If they were escorts and interceptors we would hold our own. If they were all colonial cruisers, we were in trouble.
“We checked all the intelligence reports and indexes.” She said.
“We missed something. These ships weren’t waiting for us. If they’re firing on everybody, there should have been something in the reports.”
“Franklin is dead.”
“Yes…but I suspect she would be able to predict where you’d cross the border. Or at least narrowed down the likely possibilities.”
“Franklin is dead.” I repeated. I didn’t doubt this for a moment. Not just because Echo had killed her, but Cavendish had been there to confirm it.
“The target has fired missile again.” Reported Ash. I nodded. He knew what to do.
“Humour me?” Asked Echo. “If you were in Franklin’s position and you’ve just had to do a deal with somebody because you’ve just failed to kill them.”
“Go on.”
“Would you, perhaps, send out a message to the blockade? Unless these orders are countermanded, destroy or detain any citadel class starships. And if there are gaps in the blockade where very few ships have the range to cross, station a couple of colonial cruisers to bolster the line?”
 “Missiles destroyed.” Called Ash. “Standing by to fire main weapons at the target. Firing solutions locked in.”
“Weapons released.” I replied. Ash counted down from five and there was a flurry of data crossed his screen as he assessed the results. After a few seconds he looked up.
“Three turrets destroyed.”
“She’s turning away.” Said Hemingray. The interceptor was out of the fight. I glanced at Pearce. She was frowning. The headphones indicated that she was listening to a transmission. I turned to look at her repeater screens, mounted on the bulkhead above head height where they could easily be seen. There was a lot of communications activity, all of it on standard naval frequencies.
“Captain! I’m picking up transmissions from six ships. The interceptor we’ve just trashed is making a lot of noise, the colonial cruiser behind us is the lead ship in the trap and is sending orders that the other ships have acknowledged.” That was five ships. The names and designation numbers appeared on the screen. Nothing I recognised but they appeared to be bona fide Imperial Navy vessels.
Pearce continued. “There’s a lag in transmissions from the sixth ship. It’s about four seconds. And I’m also picking up interference. I think it’s in orbit around the gas giant, but it’s not appearing on the scans so I’d guess it’s somewhere round the back at the moment.”
“Are the transmissions encrypted?” asked Echo. She was looking at the communications display.
“Standard basic encoding. It’s loaded into the computer so we know what they’re saying.” Pearce could probably interpret it without the need to run it through the computer.
“Naval frequencies, naval encoding. But nothing in the Index and they’re not transmitting identification or collision avoidance signals.” Echo looked at me. “This is just wrong. York, get us out of here!”
The Naval Index had been incorrect before. Admiral Franklin had manipulated it to hide the movements of the battle fleets as she prepared to go to war with the Realm of the Returning Son. There was every chance that this was some hangover from that. A small squadron that never received the recall order. This trap wasn’t specially for us, just some administrative oversight. We didn’t have the fuel to jump back out of the system. We needed to skim hydrogen from the atmosphere of the gas giant and that meant fighting our way in and out, or talking.
“Miss Pearce, hail the colonial cruiser.”
As I waited, I glanced at the display screens and caught a shift of pattern on the tactical board. Ash had just fired the aft Vulcan cannons.
“Mr Ash?”
“Just a short burst to dissuade them from turning to bring their remaining weapons turret to bear.”
“Very good.” In the navy, firing weapons without a direct order was a court martial offence. I had selected the best officers I could find for my crew and gave them the leeway to act as they saw  fit, but I was still uncomfortable about firing without an order or pre-defined combat plan. “Miss Pearce?”
“No response, Sir. “
In a situation like this the captain would be on the bridge with his command crew around him. I had no doubt they had received the transmission and made a deliberate decision not to answer.
“York, can we take all these ships at once?”
“I think we could probably handle two cruisers and a handful of interceptors if we can separate them.” Any more than that and we would probably suffer two much damage to the ship to continue the mission.
“They’ll be all over us if we try to refuel.”
I didn’t need the advice but, right now, I didn’t want an argument so I refrained from commenting. I glanced at the tactical screen and a plan formulated.
“Miss Hemingray, plot a course for the gas giant, close orbit, standard by four. Mr Ash, activate the rear Vulcan cannons and fire disruptive patterns at the chase ships; slow them down as much as possible.” We would accelerate down the gravity well and do as much damage to whatever was hiding in the shadow of the planet. Colonial cruisers were configured for atmospheric manoeuvring, but only at a low speed that would make it difficult for them to pursue us if we could swing all the way around and exit the atmosphere at a sharp angle.
“Sir?” Pearce. “I’ve identified the ship that we can’t pick up on the scanners from its transmission code. It’s the Mistral, a warden class frigate.”
What the hell was a frigate doing in a backwater like this? It was ten times the size of our ship, outgunned us by three to one and had almost the same acceleration. Head to head we were going to lose.