Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Cracked

A wonder, a wander, journey adjourned,
A question, answered, questioned, adjourned,
A malted sorrow, a sour and bitter adjourned,
A path, of stone, of gravel, of mud adjourned.

Adjourned.

Bluest skies bloodied red at mourning dusk,
A boulder ground by words of wind to dust,
Lightest sunlit white-washed walls of rusting
laughter, lusting plaster, damp and cracking.

Cracked.


Monday, 27 May 2019

Review: NOS4A2

NOS4A2 NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's an odd thing that recently I have given more 5 star ratings to indies than professionally published works; do I expect more of the Joe Hills of this world, or less of my own ilk?

I've now read The Fireman and NOS4R2 (English version?) and by far preferred this. The world of the inscape was brilliantly realised, and though Manx's 'roads' were a little cloudy, Vic McQueen's (a little too on the nose for a name) bridge was a great narrative construct to play with. The idea of all these hidden doorways was reminiscent of The Dark Tower and the world's created by Stephen King, so to touch upon these made the book feel a part of THAT world. There were inconsistencies and glossed over points, such as Vic's eye trauma whenever she used the bridge (in her childhood, it had the impression that she would lose her left-eye sight if she stayed on the other side of the bridge for too long, but by the end of the book she was happily skipping from one place to the next. I guess this was solved by her 'disappearing' the bridge, though felt a little 'forgotten').

The horror set-pieces were also nicely done, particularly the first encounter at Sleigh House, and the intro too. Kids with random weapons and rows of sharp teeth - what's not to run away from? As for Manx, perhaps spending half the book comatose was a bit too much. I never felt an urgent sense of peril from him, maybe because he had others, like Bing and the kids, do his dirty work (mostly). Much more though, and it would have perhaps gone against his character, as he was more nuanced then a straight-up evil guy.

The ending, for all the build-up, could have been more nuanced and longer, though the final chapter actually made up for that - and the final, final couple paragraphs added a nice, bloody veneer.

Where does the book fail, for me? I never really connected strongly to any of the characters. Maybe that was my fault because it was a sporadic reading over a couple months (or maybe that says enough about them itself). It felt more plotted than pantsed; a series of moments that the characters experienced rather than actively worked for. Vic showed too much maternal strength towards the end to make her earlier failings realistic (though I concede things like this are redemptive arcs etc etc). I think mostly it came down to the writing, and I have to say, Hill's writing in the two I've read just feels a bit plain, flairless. His father's work has more 'grit', more of an edge, and whenever I saw instances here it felt a little forced, playing at 'King'. The story was great, but the writing just lacked something that I can't put my finger on.

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Monday, 20 May 2019

Neon City RELEASED

So, it's been a couple weeks now since the release of my cyberpunk novel Neon City and the first reviews in are two 4-stars and a 5-star! And to quote one of them:
This was a good enjoyable read.
We have twists, turns, some action all rolled into this one.
Well written story with good characters.
Recommend reading.
This is book 4 in the Neon series, but the first of a Neon City trilogy. And the blurb:

For some, the streets aren't wild enough.
Xi Chen can see beyond the surface level of the work-sleep cycle, and the shackles imposed on its population by the city of Neon. He's joined a group of like-minded individuals seeking to force change from the ground up. Only when change comes, it's not exactly what they had in mind.

It's far from what Detectives Deke Allinson and Catherine Slay had in mind too. With so many deaths on their hands, the pressure from above and their need to 'do what is right' stretches them to breaking point. How far are they willing to go to test their loyalty?

Book one in a cyberpunk, crime and mystery trilogy, Neon City follows on from the Neon Sands trilogy, with characters old and new fighting to break the chains of slavery.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I enjoyed writing this one, especially the last third, which had a lot more action than some earlier novels, making the scenes fly by. I gave up writing the blog for the process behind it (it's just not as fun!), suffice to say the characters started running the show. One character even shoe-horned himself in unexpectedly at the end, with dire consequences. Events that were not in my pre-written notes. It's a thin line between plotting and pantsing, but I believe plotting is important to achieve a satisfying ending.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So what's next? A Neon Sands revision, to be exact. This book gets the most eyes, but is currently the lowest ranked of all my books, so before moving on to Tides of Hysteria, it feels right to give this one a little more love. A little more plot and world-building. I even have a map all good to go. As useful as that is out in the empty void of dunes and dust.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Review: Contact

Contact Contact by Carl Sagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Listening to an audiobook version of this, it felt a little proselytising at times where there were whole sections of religious and moral arguments - it really took you out of the story. Having read a lot of atheist material over the last two decades since this was published, I also didn't believe that someone like Arroway would invest so much time in contemplating these matters, and give the fundamentalists time and space.

There were long sections of being told what was happening, and then whole chapters which were primarily speech. It just felt disjointed as a story narrative. By far the best bit was the ending when they actually used the machine. In audiobook form, listening in the car, the visuals here were great. It really felt like you were being transported to a mysterious otherworld.

Anyway, 4 stars and enjoyable enough!

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Thursday, 11 April 2019

Every book 99c/p!

Hi subscribers, loiterers, casual passersby and accidental clickers. Who knew writing a novel would take so much out of me I had nothing left to contribute in the Writing a Novel series? Maybe there'll be another update shortly! Certainly when it's passed my final checks. In the meantime, there's a deal on. All my books are 99 pence or 99 cents, or some other lowest denominator in whatever country you reside in! Additionally, the Neon Sands boxset is 1.99. For now, this deal is ongoing. So check them out if you haven't already, or were waiting for one of the titles to come down in price. Neon City is still on preorder for 0.99 too. Happy reading!

https://getbook.at/amazon-neon-sands
http://getbook.at/plains-of-ion-amazon
http://getbook.at/apathy-amazon

Sunday, 24 March 2019

COMPETITION: Neon Sands Trilogy SIGNED

https://mailchi.mp/e744b9f96a95/strangerwritings



https://getbook.at/amazon-neon-sands
The stars brought life to the planet, and the stars destroyed it.

Siblings Calix and Annora have spent their entire lives within Sanctum, the domed town that protects them from the dangerous sands that storm against the curved wall. But they are orphans, with questions about their heritage. With a childhood that prepares them to become scavengers. With a father figure in Kirillion who has an agenda all of his own - just what are they searching for when the scavenger crews depart?

All grown up, they join Walker's crew, scouring the sand in giant Crawlers, ready to dig. When an accident unlocks childhood memories and murder, questions arise within the crew about where their allegiances lie, and what their true purpose is. And then their search hits the big time.

A sci-fi dystopian adventure in an inhospitable landscape, Neon Sands is the opening book in an epic series that will explore Man’s technological and innate potential, and the search for hope when all looks bleak.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Writing a Novel: Day Fourteen

Day One 

It's day fourteen and I'm sitting at around 15k words. This is usually the point where I wrap up act one of my previous novels; perhaps I've built a hook into the narrative and I've either presented it to the reader, temptingly close, or I've caught them. Neon City is playing a little differently - it's more of a character driven plot with little authoritarian interference. The reader currently has all the information they need. Hopefully, it will engaging enough to stick with.

“No Yu this morning?”
“She probably caught the early car,” answered Xi.
“She was complaining again last night.”
“What’s new?” He faced the window and the faint outline of their reflections like underwater creatures in a tank. No air. He watched Fei’s fish-like lips move, at once gasping and speaking.
“If you’d turn up she wouldn’t have anything to complain about.”
There was no intonation of malice, or emotion in general, as they spoke. Brothers passing yet another morning, talking through the mirror.
“She says the same thing when you don’t turn up.”
“Well she’s twigged that we’re never there at the same time.”
“What are we going to do about it?”
“Nothing. It won’t be forever.”
“Do you ever feel bad?”
 I previously mentioned my plotting Excel sheet. There's various digital tools out there like Writers' Cafe and Scrivener, allowing you to move pixel-cards about on a virtual cork board, but it's all just ways to manipulate information. It comes down to how you want it presented to you. How you want to input the data. For me, opening Excel and jotting down the plot points I want to aim for, and being able to move them up and down as necessary, does the job. Making a line GREEN is more satisfying than it should be. When it's ALL GREEN - amazing!



https://getbook.at/amazon-neon-city



Sunday, 17 March 2019

Writing a novel: Day ten

Day One 

Part of my own critical analysis is trying to judge how predictable my story is. I'm constantly asking myself this question, and equally I constantly remind myself that just because I may know where my story is going, and that it may seem obvious to me, a reader likely has no idea.

In the early stages I like to set the scene for what could be, offering the reader a myriad of possibilities. Hopefully these may form into small hooks, and in turn barbs, from which I've caught the reader. In reeling 'him' in I have to ensure that I keep teasing, not revealing my hand too soon.

Because at some point, the land becomes visible. The reader will know the landscape. By that time the reader needs to be invested and interested in my characters. Our characters. I've done something perhaps a little differently this time, inspired by recent readings of King and Hill, which is to inflect my characters with more of the mundane. Perhaps off-script remarks that give back story to item purchases, or reminiscences to past events - never too long or distracting, but something that adds flesh. It's not necessarily important to the story, but it makes the character more real.

Adds context to the landscape.

Brightens the darker areas.

I've become conscious of being too wordy - just that. Over-complicated description. Too dense sentences. Saying too much. For fear of losing track or focus, of there being too many pages for the reader. Then I'm reminded (thanks Twitter) that readers want to get lost in a story. They want a good book to be long. The important bit of 'long' though must be story, and contextual characterisation. Not dense and complicated language for the sake of that, for it pulls a reader out.

Story, story, story.

10 days: 9k words. I need to pick up the pace.


https://getbook.at/amazon-neon-city

Day fourteen

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Review: London

London London by Frank Tayell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very detailed exposition of the end of the world from the journal of a witness. Set in London, the zombie apocalypse erupts - unfortunately for Bill, or perhaps fortunately, he has a broken leg and has to watch from the safety of his top floor apartment as everything around falls apart.

We are fortunate that Bill is a political adviser, and as the story unfolds, so does more and more backstory, showing how Bill perhaps knows more than he lets on at the beginning. Befriending a hack that sends him underground videos and information is also helpful for us; the reader. Rather than being an anonymous survivor, and completely clueless about the realities of this infection, as the story unfolds we garner more info, making for a rounded story.

These snippets are fed us between the grounded reality of life in the apocalypse: stabbing zombies in the head and searching for loot - mostly food and water. There's some good research here, indicating what would happen - and when - to the various utilities, and the difficulty of attaining water. Clean water, at least. I'm not sure about boiling pasta in orange juice any time soon.

It's very much foundational in its setup and premise, being book one, but it's a solid base. Unless you forward planned on reading the rest I perhaps wouldn't read this one, unless you just love zombies. Enjoyed the London setting!


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Monday, 11 March 2019

Writing a novel: Day six

Day One 

Is it six days already? I'm a bit behind schedule, as pacemaker shows:



It was a weekend, and they tend to be slower as I want to unwind and there's constant maitenance and other things going on. I'm quite pleased with what I've written so far. It's genre writing so will never win awards for prose, but so long as I keep engaged with it myself, then it should be engaging for readers too. At least that's the idea. The refinement can come in the edit.
A thousand hands pressing down kept him from rising. He couldn’t even reach the glass of water on the bedside. Nails dug into his brain and thankfully, eventually, the little death drew him back into its dark embrace. 





Do other writers struggle with the early stages? In exposition? For me, the earliest stages are the easiest to write, as I probably have many walls and doors to the floorplan. And where there are gaps, these can be explored with a creative freedom, all while the character becomes fleshed out with back story and tics. The middle section (and these novels are written with a traditional three act style) is the toughest; I've found that the prose becomes more 'plodding' as it tries to hit more and more story beats, with so much of location and character already set up.

One trick, I suppose, would be to add more characters later on - at least side characters - or move the story to new locations. Or perhaps just looking at something from a different perspective. Hmm, something for me to ponder there. It's good, if you're a writer, to acknowledge where you may have flaws, and if you can see them yourself, with a critical eye, than all the better. I've seen flaws which no-one has picked up on in my own work; someone else perhaps didn't think they were flaws, but they were to me, and something to consider refining or fixing. After all, it will guide me - or you if you write - to a more rounded, accomplished, consistent writing style.

As a reader, it's inconsistency that grates me. It almost doesn't matter how the book is written (if legible) so long as it's consistent throughout. A non-genre piece of fiction may try to bend this rule, but it's probably best not to stray too far for story driven narratives.




https://getbook.at/amazon-neon-city

Day ten


Friday, 8 March 2019

Writing a Novel: Day three

Day One 

By day three the fingers are flying, and hopefully the ideas too. There's a quiet magic in conjuring worlds bit by bit - does anyone know where the little puzzle pieces appear from? The best feeling is when the brick walls don't appear and every sentence leads into the next, into the next, and so on, and you begin seeing a few sentences ahead. I guess this is called the zone. A curious state of solitude and focus.
The dome cracks may have been metaphorical, but the splintering society; the graffiti-daubed concrete fascias and crumbling brick walls, smashed glass and crime-darkened alleys, were the real deal. A man will do anything for money. A boy will lash out if there’s no future and no food in his belly. A mother will bleed for her children. It was a thousand stories played out in exactly the same way by actors who didn’t realise that just a generation or two earlier, this wouldn’t have mattered to them.

Just where and how do I reach this mythical 'zone'? Well, practically speaking, I am able to work flexibly in the office, doing my weekly hours however I want, taking whatever breaks I want. So I tend to take an hour every day and use that either to read or write. At the moment, I'm writing, and can squeeze in 750-1000 words in that time. Drink of choice: tea.

In the evening, after the children are in bed, I'll generally write another 1000 words or so before retiring to relaxation: Netflix or the PS4. Drink of choice: still tea. I used to procrastinate over my writing space, and when I think back about all the time I've wasted because I didn't think it would work - that the 'space' was somehow 'wrong'. Using that as an excuse to not write that novel I'd always wanted to write - it's annoying. Now here I am: a desk in the children's playroom, surrounded by toys, and a desk piled with books and god knows what. Either that or a canteen table at work. Both work, because it's what's inside the head that matters. Like Stephen King notes in his On Writing, he wrote better beneath the stairs staring at a wall.

No distractions.

There's something to be said for public spaces though. I wrote almost the entirety of The Risen in the library, on the third floor overlooking a traintrack, a main road, and a river in the distance. That white noise of clicking keyboards and quiet murmuring, and using a computer that isn't yours and has none of your distractions on it, perhaps with headphones in listening to music, can be a lullaby to the imagination.

https://getbook.at/amazon-neon-city

Day six

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Writing a novel: Day two

Day One

It's day two! I won't be blogging each and every day, FYI - there's writing to get done! However, it was a solid start today - a nice round 1,000 words. For those of you interested, pacemaker is a nice little online app that you can use to keep track of writing goals.

https://www.pacemaker.press/



I'll take some screenshots as I go. I use it with a pinch of salt - I may want 60,000 words, but it could easily be more or less depending on where the story goes. This is not set in stone. At the moment pacemaker tells me 1200 words a day are needed. Well we'll see about that!

In the last post I mentioned my starting notes, well here they are:


Don't read too closely if you want to avoid spoilers! I'm sure many will be horrified at the scarcity, especially considering the second page is the entire trilogy. This to me is just the skeleton - the meat of the planning gets added beneath all my text as I go along. I make notes of character traits and points I want to hit, which will get translated into the spreadsheet if they are major moments.

For fun, here's a paragraph from the opening section, raw:


Overpopulated and overstretched, Neon’s dome was splintering; district after district within bearing the brunt of an over-stimulated citizenry too eager and too bored to do anything other than reproduce. It was in their genes. It wasn’t their fault. There was space – the authority evicted whole families from top-side districts and relocated them to empty apartments beneath, to the sub-districts of pale lights and ever-night. It was a lottery. One day Joe and Jane Citizen were happily raising their family in the relative sunshine filtering through the dome’s skin, administering insurance accounts for the rich or wealthy or famous, or all three – and the next it was goodbye sun, goodbye rooftop barbecues, goodbye friends and family – unless they chose to move south too – and hello Negative Zero’s immigration barrier. Hello new home. Sure, the apartment might be twice the size as topside, but damn; the air was dank and sweaty and breathing it in made you feel as though you were filling your lungs with soup, all while looking out of tall, wide windows into blinking darkness and neon-punctuated misery.

A lot will likely change. The challenge is getting it all down to begin with. The fun part is the editing. (I'm serious!)

Day Three

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Writing a novel: Day one

So, I thought it might be interesting to document my writing process for Neon City. I'm not sure how this will go, but it may highlight the highs and lows and triumphs and failures that pretty much every writer, I'm sure, will go through. Perhaps you're a reader, interested to see how an author plans and sets about achieving that mountain of a goal: writing circa 60,000 words (or more). Or maybe you're a fellow writer, looking for ways to avoid slipping up, giving up or otherwise WRITE!

I know I do that a lot.

Yet when I knuckle down, it does flow. I've now written - pinch skin - four novels. Would I give any of them 5 stars? No. But I'm hoping I would to the next one: Neon City. And if not that one, then the one after that.

All that is to say: I've been here before and just want each book to be better than the previous one. What I like about that is the formatted document is already done - sitting here with a title and spaces for copyright and chapter listings, and the oh-so-friendly About the Author at the end. I just need to fill the massive gap between.

I'm an indie author doing rapid release, so this book needs to be written in just a few weeks. I've given myself six. Other indies write more quickly, and slowly, have editors, don't have editors - whatever works for them. I write to this scale and have done since Nanowrimo a couple years ago, because it worked for me. I was inside the story every day. I believe that helped continuity of character.

I also write and copyedit in my full-time job, so I'm skilled at editing on the go. An editor colleague also reads and offers a proof. It would be great to afford a third edit on my novels in the future!

So that's 60,000 words in ~6 weeks, give or take. 10,000 words a week. My best day is 5,500 words - so it's easily achievable. I have a vague outline in place of where I want the plot to be, and 3 main characters pencilled out, and that's enough for me. So far, for each of the Neon series, I've set the first act up as an intro to location, mixed with mystery and a sense of foreboding. It will be no different here.

Time to get to know Xi Chen - my MC #1! I use an excel spreadsheet to outline the plot, but I rely on my characters to tell me where to go. As I get to know them, I often find myself cutting and pasting sections out or in, moving them around, or just shutting it down and letting the plot flow. Something I'm taking from the first three Neon books is complexity of character. Complexity of morality. Nothing, and no one, is black-and-white. And that's sci-fi at its core. I'm looking forward to mixing in a bit of cyberpunk.

Day Two

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Review: The Game

The Game The Game by Terry Schott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did, as it had a nice, communal development story (uploaded to Facebook in parts for friends) and had themes I like exploring. In the end, I finished it just to squeeze out the ideas that the author had, as there were so many it ended up incoherent with little focus.

The Game is a pre-adult virtual reality life system designed to educate the children of Tygon. The Game is E. A. R. T. H. The idea is that the children come out of this system having lived full lives, and can then take that experience into their real life.

Sounds good. Except that you have to earn credits to be a part of the game (from having a ‘good game’), after your initial free runs. (Children play multiple times during their ‘childhood’). Logical inconsistency #1: the Tygon rulers therefore don’t actually care that much about maxing out a child’s potential. Logical inconsistency #2: kids that fail end up in labour camps. Where are the parents? Who are the parents? The Game has been around for 30 years – where is the supposed societal enlightenment that would come about from the communal wisdom of a generation?

These aren’t answered. They are compounded by the idea that The Game is viewed for pleasure by the adults – the very same adults who have been through the process themselves in order to become ‘better adults’. It’s masochistic, and given the dwindling popularity of Big Brother type shows in our reality: unrealistic. There’s also no explanation as to how The Game is viewed, as an entire lifetime inside The Game can take around 7 weeks in real-time (assuming someone ‘lives’ to be 70). It’s stated that recording and rewatching an event in The Game is impossible. There are ‘big’ events that happen in-game that in reality, for someone watching, would flash by in an instant. It makes no sense.

It also makes no sense that so much time and dedication is placed by ‘Patrons’ – people on Tygon who ‘sponsor’ single individuals (out of millions/billions) with the goal of trying to influence the outcome of in-game activities, when they cannot communicate directly in-game, and events would happen so fast that it would be impossible, in reality, to react quick enough even if they could.

Despite massive holes such as these, there were some good ideas, such as the explanations for Angels and Demons, and religion as a whole. The idea that the Pyramids and other ancient structures were BETA testers. It had some innovation, but all this was just not enough to paper the cracks. Add to this one-dimensional characters and an unrealistic, narcissistic MC; and a writing style that lacks variety, ‘style’, ambition – that does nothing but ‘tell’ instead of ‘show’ – and you get your two-stars.


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