Monday, 30 December 2013

Stop licking the TV

So many stories, so little ability to tell them.

Yorkshire Steampunk is on hold - that's not a bad thing as I was struggling to visualise the setting and I might have to spend a day in the library looking at old photos and stuff to move that forwards.

War Crime is on hold - I think I was over thinking that one. The early chapters were plotted out on mind mapping software and I was spending a lot of time trying to perfect how each little bit fit in, so it could be taken out, dusted off and waved about later. If you read this blog there's a good chance you like Dr Who and Sherlock. Both series that scatter little clues throughout the episodes that only make sense later. I was trying to do that, but I'm not really that good at it.

Echo 3, however, is progressing nicely. I've just this minute finished chapter three, a thousand rounds of ammo have been fired and first contact with an alien species hasn't gone that well. Somebody probably isn't going to make it to chapter 6 and there's a good chance that everybody is going to die.

Ok, I lied about that bit. The trick is to make it seem like everybody COULD die. Which is why somebody is for the chop shortly. Like spooks. Don't get complacent, your favourite spy is going to die. Nobody is safe.

I'm working on E3 rather than the other books, partly for the reasons stated above but partly because I enjoy writing them so much. I've got into my stride with Echo's voice - she does chapters 1 and 3 and I'm going to pay a bit more attention to York in chapter 4 as I've always found him a bit boring. If I could start again, he would get all the exposition and technical stuff, and Echo would get all the action, rather than it being mixed up. But we are where we are.

At the risk of a spoiler, I'm going to let slip that the Bad Girls make it through dangerous situations because I need the muscle. At the moment, all eight are part of a landing party and York's got a crisis and a ship full of people who never did a hard day's work in their lives. Bit of a mistake so I might need to bring Madeline Butler out of cold sleep. She's a lot of fun to write and will introduce the uncertainty of whether she will betray them again. But going back to the point I was going to make, some of the Bad Girls will not make it to the last page. Some will, but some won't.

This is definitely a trilogy. As much as I've missed Echo and York in the hiatus that followed the completion of Outcast (buy it on amazon), their story arc is coming to an end as I think I'm running out of things to say about them as a couple. E3 is less about them, more of an ensemble piece and tries to explore (but not answer) some difficult concepts, one of which is, what makes us human.

To make sure that I don't go down the Hitchhiker trilogy of four route, either Echo, or York is not going to survive. I haven't decided who and there are strong arguments for either. You  might be going 'yeah, yeah, you've just said York is boring, therefore....' Don't bet on that. I'll discuss this in future posts.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Break out the sat nav

Outcast is out there and selling reasonably well considering I'm not promoting it.

In the mean time, if I'm not promoting, presumably I'm writing E3.


For some reason, Echo's muse just isn't visiting me at the moment. I have a vague idea of where it might go, but I don't know how to get there. Outcast was a bit like that, so I just wrote some stuff and, in the end, it was OK. Actually I quite like Outcast and think it might be a better book than Echo. There are certainly less typos.

So, here's a big announcement. For the one or two of you that are looking forward to the close of the trilogy, I'm sorry but you're going to have to wait longer than expected. Instead of writing E3, I'm writing something else.

The provisional title is War Crime. It's a story about a team of war crime investigators who are called in when a mass grave containing the bodies of an entire village is discovered. It's on a planet where the soil is reddish and gritty, the grass a sort of blue green.

One or two of you might now be thinking - hang on - isn't that...? On the off chance you're firing up your kindle or equivalent, somewhere around chapter 16 is where you need to look.

A new set of characters to get to know. I don't have much of a feel for them yet, but I suspect I'm going to be unduly influenced by Scandinavian  police procedurals having just read the novel version of The Killing, and possibly with a touch of Criminal Minds. In space.

I might do more with aliens this time. They hardly appeared in Echo. But then they might be too hard.

Anyway, I'm not lost, I'm just going somewhere different.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Get your filthy hands off my desert

Lots of the indie writer blogs and pages go on, at some length, about the need for an editor. Get an editor, get an editor, GET AN EDITOR!!

OK. But there are two sorts of editing. The first is the grammar police, the deep blue detail freak who makes sure that the apostrophes are appropriate, the commas in the right place, the spelling correct.
I hold up my hand and admit that Echo is full of typos. At some point I'll go back and republish a less embarrassing version. I'm hopeful that there are far fewer in Outcast.

Ian Rankin was on the radio a couple of weeks ago. He mentioned that, after submitting his latest book to the publisher, an editor came back and asked for changes. One of them involved a character being completely erased. He says that the editor makes his book better.

That might be true. It's well known that the original cut of Star Wars was a complete disaster at the screenings and it took some serious editing to make it the version that we know and love (or, at least I do). A film is always a team effort but a book is, usually, solo work. I would argue that, once an editor makes major changes, it stops being the author's work.

Would Echo and Outcast have been better books if I had got an editor (type 2). Possibly. Those of you that have read previous posts will know that I'm not creating the best book that I can. I'm writing the book I want to read. If you like my stuff, that's really great, but it's not about you, it's about me.

Would I sell more copies if it was a "better" book? Who cares? The income from Echo covered the costs of the cover art and paid for a couple of nice meals out for us both. I'm hopeful that Outcast will do the same.

It's just as well that I enjoy the day job.

Saturday, 24 August 2013


I'm writing the blurb to go on the amazon page. A description that will sell Outcast to the millions that didn't read Echo. These are the two versions I've got so far

The transition back into normal space was the most hazardous part of space travel; the drives were offline and the sensor suit was blinded by the electromagnetic turbulence for several minutes. York had destroyed three enemy battleships by being in the right place whilst they were helpless.

The mission was long and dangerous. Any early damage could see the ship limping home, so York had decided to cross the border into hostile space in a remote and unpopulated system.

The disturbance faded and the sensor returns cleared.

“Three contacts on intercept course.” called Pearce. “Probable missile attack.”


Before the war York had identified with the Sleeper Empire, the Imperial Navy, House York, the citizens of Asimov, probably in that order. Since assassinating the Emperor and seeing the power plays of the Judges, hidden behind the throne, his universe had steadily shrunk. He still wore the Iron ring, but it meant nothing. Now he cared about his ship, his crew and, in particular, his lover.

Echo had burned her bridges when she disobeyed orders and refused to kill York. The Imperial Commission had created and used her for its own purpose, without a thought for her as an individual. She felt no ties or obligation and had decided her destiny lay with York and his crew.

Now York is risking the lives of Echo and his crew in a search for a ship that was lost five thousand years ago. A ship that may hold the secrets to the origins of humanity.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Thunderbirds are nearly go

Having announced on Facebook that I was going to publish Outcast on the 26th, I have to make that happen. I've got the annotated manuscripts back from all three of my First Readers and I've nearly finished working through all the mistakes and some of the changes.

I say Some of the changes. FR2 thought the opening battle scene was too long and technical, but FR3 liked it. FR1 had some fantastic ideas for the plot - she's seriously twisted - but I couldn't think how to get them in without a complete rewrite. Many of them will be appearing in Echo 3' though.

I've been very lucky to have three people who will give their time to read through my stuff and come up with three very different views. FR2 is well widely read in all sorts of genres and can see what doesn't work. FR1 sees lots of things that could be done differently and often better. And FR3 reads for pleasure and can suspend belief and ignore the clunks if she's enjoying it.

Some of these views clash and, ultimately, I'm writing to please myself. I'm thrilled if other people like what I've written and even more thrilled if I recoup my costs (the inner Yorkshireman is never that far away). I wasn't too sure about the first twelve chapters of Outcast (over a third of the entire book) but the feedback has been positive, so I've got away with it.

Two weeks to go before I foist it on the people who are kind enough to be waiting for it. The fourth edit (bits I don't like) is underway and should be finished in the next couple of days. I'm then going to work through some of the dialogue and try and separate out some of the voices (several of them sound too much like me). Then I have to try and remember how to format and upload to Kindle. It's been a long time since I did that for Echo.

Later this week I will be trying out some of the sales pitch for the Amazon page. If you're around, I'd love your feedback. Hope to see you then.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Shake it like a Polaroid picture

Two of the three First Readers have finished E2 and the reports are positive. I've got some really good feedback about parts that need to be expanded and parts that need to be cut down.

Slash and burn is really difficult. When I look back at what I've written, I can't really see what is wrong with it, which is the whole point of having First Readers who aren't emotionally entwined with the work. I started off well, taking out whole paragraphs with a sweep of the biro. And then I got to the end of chapter 1 and fell in to the trap of reading and liking the story.

That's why people have editors. Ruthless and dispassionate. All authors should have one.

No, you're right, I'm not going to.

The main reason is economic. I made a profit on Echo but, after tax, probably enough for a decent night out rather than a career change. I've just paid Cathy Helms for the cover - I'll post that shortly - so I'm afraid that I need to start earning. Most of my readers have been incredibly forgiving of the typos and grammatical errors in Echo, although editing is so much more than proof reading. It's about pointing out where the story doesn't work, or where an opportunity has been missed, or where a line, a paragraph, a chapter (hopefully no more) doesn't make sense.

The flip side is that what you get (when I say you, I'm presuming you buy my stuff) is Echo by Pete Johnstone, not Echo by me and some dispassionate serial word killers. This was never meant to be anything other than an interesting hobby and I'm hugely grateful to the First Readers for their input but what you're getting, errors and omissions included, is the story what I wrote.

I hope you liked Echo and I hope you buy, enjoy, tell others about and leave positive feedback on Amazon (please) OUTCAST

Launch date - 26th of August

Saturday, 27 April 2013


Of course it's not really finished.

I've completed the first draft. 31 chapters, 110,000 words (slightly longer than Echo)

So now:
Correct all the continuity errors - I've spelt one of the characters' names in two different ways
Change all the points where I put XXX because I couldn't be bothered to go and look up the name of a place I'd mentioned previously, or to make up the name of something

Making up names is really difficult. All the starships have to have names, all the planets and systems and races. And they all look really naff on the page.

To continue:
Proof read for glaring errors - didn't make a particularly good job of that last time. It was only when I got hold of the actual book and went through it with a pencil did I realise how may errors and typos were left in. At some point I'll go through Echo, make the changes and then upload the new version to Amazon for free, for anybody who cares enough about it.
Hand over the book to the alpha readers. This is the really frightening part. This is where I'll find out if it's any good, or if it's just me that likes it.
Rewrite chapter 16 - I must have accidentally deleted it when transferring the individual chapters to a single document. I still had a version on the iPod and I turned off the wireless and renamed it but, when I turned everything back on again, it disappeared too. Slightly miffed. A least chapter 16 is quite short. It's Echo's dreams when she's in a coma with three bullets in her.
Rewrite the bits the alpha readers didn't like
Proof read and last edit
Get the cover art done
Decide on the title (the working title is Clarke, although that's not particularly interesting). This bit should come before the cover art,minutes I can't be bothered to cut and paste the two sentences
Format for Amazon and feed areas

So, I haven't really finished. The beginning of the end? The end of the beginning?

Thursday, 28 March 2013

In space, no one can hear the music

I've written before about how I'm just writing down the film playing in my head.

Every morning I know I have to drag myself out of bed because Chris Evans is playing the Big Screen Belter; a song from a movie. Today's was some generic 80s crap that wanted to be in Top Gun, but wasn't. And then, later, he played Matt Monroe's song that will forever be linked to a Lamborghini Miura driving through the alps (until it crashes).

So, real film has a massive advantage over a book in that, for the foreseeable future, books come without a sound track. Often we don't notice the music in a film, but it sets the landscape and the tone. I particularly love In the House, In a Heartbeat, used in 28 Weeks Later, building up into an almost unbearably long crescendo. Often you can predict what's coming, especially scary bits, from the music. Danny Boyle (must have a film out as he's on everything at the moment) said the other day that, in his new film (I was right), he leads up to a particularly shocking moment by making the music much quieter so that the jump is much greater.

If Echo was a film, what would the opening theme be like? The themes to the films I like seem to fit perfectly - the growling menace of Alien, the opening fanfare in Star Wars. I think I might go for a counter tenor piece, something off the beaten track rather than being upbeat and uptempo. Echo isn't really an upbeat book.

Bill, write me something will you?

Monday, 25 March 2013

Nobody wanted to travel on the Philip K

In Echo, I introduced the concept of the Visionary Ship - colony ships that carried hundreds of thousands of people in suspended animation across the galaxy to found a new civilisation. The Ships were the Bradbury, the Wells, the Heinlein and the Asimov. All named after authors who could, arguably, be called visionaries. Book two revolves around the search for the lost Visionary ship, the Clarke.

There wasn't a ship named after George Lucas. Although he was the saviour of science fiction, there are not many people who would think of him as a visionary. However, there appears to be a fine line between making stuff up in a subject that you clearly know nothing about - the Kessel run in 12 parsecs makes plenty of people shout "No!" - and being a visionary.

Something that's mentioned in passing in the films (although it's developed more in the written cannon), is moisture farming. On a planet with two suns, water is obviously going to be critical. Most rational people would dig boreholes, but no. Lucas decided it's extracted from the air. Yeah, right.

There's a place in Peru where it hardly rains and water is a real issue. They've built an advertising billboard and installed equipment that will condense water vapour from the air. It produces 96 litres of pure water a day.

Perhaps we could forgive the Kessel run. But we can never forgive the other crappy changes. Don't forget. Han shot first

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Too much information

Looking at a few of the blogs I follow, the last couple of months seems to have been a bit of a desert, so I don't feel so bad that I haven't written anything online for quite some time either.

The excuses are mostly around work - the current NHS reorganisation is coming to an end and, this time, the blood on the carpet isn't mine but there are less people and more work. And then there's the fact we weren't able to do anything to the house last year so we've started at the top and we're working our way down.

But you don't want to hear about any of that, so I'll talk about the real reason I've not been blogging. I've been writing! E2 didn't get finished while we were in Lanzarote but it moved on a long way and the end is very much in sight. I've struggled a lot with how E2 is going to end and how it would lead into E3. And then, today, it came to me, in a flash (actually in the shower, but that's probably too much information). I know the rest of E2 and what E3 is about.

I'm not far from needing Cathy Helms at Avalon Graphic to do me a cover, which is very exciting, and from handing over the draft to my first readers, which is less so. Echo was very well received and I'm a bit nervous that E2 will be a disappointment. I don't really know what it was in Echo that people liked and whether I've managed to keep it. No pressure.

On a completely unrelated note, Ashley McCook suggested a book to me. If you liked Echo, you'll like Shadow of the Wraith by Ross Harrison. Check it out.

Yanking my chain

I've just finished a Clive Cussler novel. In it, one of the characters is standing next to Lambeth Palace looking across the river at Buckingham Palace.

Is anybody else screaming, right now?

I've commented before that one of the benefits of writing science fiction is that I can make stuff up. It appears that, in normal fiction, you can do that as well.

I've stood outside Lambeth Palace. If you've never been, it's on the South Bank of the Thames and the view is dominated by The big square tower (Victoria Tower, if you're interested) and the clock tower that houses Big Ben. Both part of THE PALACE OF WESTMINSTER.

You can not see Buckingham Palace from Lambeth. Don't know if Cussler's ghost writer is too lazy to spend five minutes on Google street view or is just ignorant. We have a view that people from other places (OK, America) misrepresent the UK as a place where everybody speaks like Dick Van Dyke and it's so small that you can walk from Dover to Nottingham, via Hadrian's Wall by nightfall to sup with your father.

But then, we also have a view that much of America is populated by gun-toting ignorant rednecks.

I would offer that our view of other peoples and places is shaped by what we see on the box and much of it is incorrect. In the same vein, as a pharmacist I hate the, infrequent, depictions of my profession and I suspect that policepersons and doctors shout "No!" at the telly even more often.

So, if the telly is blox, do we, as writers, have a duty to get stuff right?
Well, no, probably not. But I reserve the right to shout at lazy morons who don't do their homework.

That's why I write science fiction

Saturday, 5 January 2013

In a grave yard with a serial killer

Being a writer can be quite a solitary affair. After all, we're typing out the things that we're carrying about in our heads, often in a shed or somewhere that we can't be disturbed. If we're taking it seriously, of course.

But, if you go looking, you find that there's a whole community of writers out there, particularly since the advent of social media, and it's very welcoming and supportive. Sometimes I wonder if that's displacement therapy; anything to avoid staring at the blank page (because people know if you're playing games on Facebook, Ashley McCook!). But we comment on each others' blog posts, tweet (and not just pleas to buy our books) and help out both new and established writers where we can.

Personally I'm indebted to Richard Denning for advice in how to actually get Echo on to Amazon - - as it looks really complex but, with a guide alongside, it's actually not.

One of the ways to support other authors is the guest blog. This week, Tim Vicary an author of courtroom dramas and historical thrillers, published his latest interview in the Tim's Curious Questions series where authors and artists get to choose and answer four questions, hopefully in an interesting way. And the interviewee? Me.

I chose to talk about jumping off a building, wanting to steal a painting by Turner, life in a student house and the fact that my Dad was a gravedigger and worked with a serial killer - I'm slightly disappointed that, so far, nobody has asked who it was, which suggests nobody has read it yet.

All this is aimed at getting our names out there into the public domain and, ultimately, selling books. Will it work? I have no idea, although I did sell a book yesterday. Fortunately I have a real job and have just survived the latest round of NHS reorganisation (although I did have to compete for my own job) so being a writer and author is purely for fun. But, it's a fun and cool thing to be accepted as a real author and I got a kick out of seeing my interview on Tim's site.

I'd love to do something similar for other writers although I'm hesitant in inviting anybody to write a guest blog for me as i'm not sure that it's worth their time and effort when I only have 13 followers (no offence, dear followers, I'm very grateful) and maybe a hundred hits a month.

If you like legal or historical thrillers, please drop by Tim's page and maybe buy one or two of his books.

If you've not seen the interview, click on the link 

Thursday, 3 January 2013

If in doubt, make it up. Or copy it

As I've said recently, the joy of writing fiction, particularly science fiction, is that I get to make things up. In reality, I've made very little of Echo up myself. The spaceship she rides and the rules that describe the design and how it travels owe a lot to the role playing game Traveller. The armour worn by the Bad Girls does more than nod to the Space Marines from Warhammer 40,000. And Echo herself takes her genetic make up from various heroines that appear in novels by Robert Heinlein, but none more so than Friday.

Even the weapons. Echo's bolt thrower, for example:

I didn’t want any nervous guards opening fire because they could see the shape of the bolt thrower under my arm. It was, realistically, a most impractical weapon. The revolving chamber was bulky, the length and weight made the gun unbalanced and the lack of a proper barrel made it wildly inaccurate at distances of more than fifteen metres. But, in close-quarters combat, the 8 mil discarding sabot rounds would penetrate every type of armour I’d come across and the bang of the high explosive warhead scared the shit out of everybody.

Can't imagine where I got the idea from. You take your inspiration where you can find it.