Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Diamond Sky - A Short Excerpt

The following is a mid story excerpt from DIAMOND SKY. A team of scientists have been experimenting into astral travelling and unknown to them, their research has produced terrifying side effects. In this scene a local poacher, Ned, is about to discover what kind of effect the technology has had on the local wildlife population...

Ned turned off the main road onto a dirt trail that would take him out of sight or earshot of the town and observatory. There was a sweet spot he knew of down by the billabong, which was perfect hunting ground for red kangaroos. It had already yielded a fertile bounty for him over the previous weeks. Kangaroo steak was his biggest seller and because of this, his trips to the billabong were becoming more frequent.

Apart from his bull terrier, Jake, nobody knew that he came here or how he sourced his produce. Lucas may have had his suspicions, but Ned knew that the policeman could not actually prove a thing.

He pulled his ute in behind some bushes a good thirty or so metres from the water’s edge, turned off the engine and exited his vehicle. He then waited for Jake to follow him out before removing his .30 calibre hunting rifle.

The gun was not fitted with night vision technology, but starlight was all the illumination Ned needed. He was a crack marksman and had been hunting since he was old enough to pick up a rifle. His uncle Donnie had taught him everything he needed to know.

Before leaving, he always cleaned and checked his firearm to ensure nothing could go wrong. This night was no exception. The weapon was in pristine condition and he knew it was going to bag him an impressive trophy; maybe even one of the large, six foot males.

With Jake at his side, he crouched down behind a bush and waited. Ten minutes had not passed when the first animal arrived. It was a female; much smaller than the male of the species and with the head of a young Joey poking out from its pouch, he decided to let it go. Not through sentimentality, but because it made good business sense to safeguard his future stocks. A slaughtered Joey was no use to anybody.

During the following quarter of an hour, more females came. Some carried young and others did not, but all were much too small for Ned’s needs. It would take two or three of these to provide as much meat as from a male of the species.

He decided to change tactics and altered his position in order to view the billabong from a different angle. He carefully crept around until he was much closer and could see the full group of animals more clearly. There were seven females in total, with four young between them. The dominant male was lying down next to the base of a gum tree. Even curled up, he could tell that it was a big one.

Ned had never been presented with an easier and more tempting target. He braced the stock of his rifle against his shoulder and put an eye to the sights. The crosshairs centred directly between the animals eyes. The kill would be quick and painless, but most importantly, it would be clean. If an animal is under stress when killed, it reflects in the taste of the meat. Relaxed meat is good meat.

He rested his finger on the trigger and just as he was about to squeeze it, the animal vanished. It was as if a shroud had been cast over his sights. He looked up and saw that one of the females had gotten in the way. Rather than move, it seemed to settle in this spot and was joined by two of its sister animals.

He glanced around to see if he could move to another position. The billabong blocked him to his left and to the right would have left him exposed and easy to spot by the animals. He could always have just shot the female to get it out of the way, but that would only alert the male leaving him with a substandard catch for the night. What he needed was a fresh strategy.

He whistled for Jake. The animal quickly joined him and having shared many a hunt together, they had an almost telepathic understanding between them. The dog would creep around the back of the animals and drive one out from behind in order to give Ned his shot. It was a manoeuvre that had served him well in the past. In fact, it never failed. Ned once more braced the rifle to prepare for the recoil whilst Jake got into position.

He could still see the legs of the male kangaroo and he could also see that Jake was closing in fast. It would only be a few moments until he got his shot. The night had been still, but a gentle breeze began to blow. As the huntsman felt the wind on his face he realised that it was coming in from the East, which put the prey downwind of the canine. The females confirmed this when they rose up, alert and nervous. They began to part cautiously, leaving Ned once again with a clear view of the male. It too must have smelled the dog, but it remained relaxed and off guard.

The females were now extremely agitated and had all moved away from the clearing. Even if the male was somehow ignorant of the dog’s smell it should have reacted to the rest of the mob, yet it remained perfectly calm. Ned got back behind the sight, but quickly pulled away again. Something was wrong. Looking back across to Jake, he soon figured out what that something was. He leapt to his feet and ran into the clearing, firing warning shots into the air as he did so.

‘Jake! Jake!’ he screamed. ‘Get out of there, boy. Jake!’

The dog jerked its head up in recognition of its master’s voice. Had it done wrong or was the master in trouble? Before the dog could make sense of the calls, it was already too late. The second male was much too fast. It had ambushed the ambushers. In one bold movement it leapt from where it had been hiding and pounced upon the dog with bone crunching ferocity. As it bounced back up from its attack, the momentum of the strike sent Jake tumbling forward through the dirt. When the dog eventually came to rest, it had two broken legs and its ribs were in pieces. Death would now be a mercy.

The original male rose to its feet. This was the largest kangaroo Ned had ever seen. He lowered his rifle and pulled the trigger only for an impotent click to signal that he had depleted his ammo.


He reached into his shirt pocket for the spare bullets. As he feverishly reloaded, the larger kangaroo, which he took to be the dominant male, was standing over Jake. Being a hunting dog, his friend would not go down without a fight. Jake’s body may have been shattered beyond healing, but he still had one formidable weapon in his arsenal. His bite was more than capable of tearing a chunk of flesh from the larger animal.

Jake bore his teeth and emitted the most desperate, sickening growl Ned had ever heard. Avoiding the danger of the dog’s jaws, the kangaroo grasped the badly beaten canine with its feet before leaping into the billabong where it held the dog firmly until it drowned.


Ned knew the dominant male would not stay in the water for long. His gun was now reloaded and he did not intend to miss. Jake would be avenged, even if it killed him. Once the target was in his sights, he squeezed the trigger.

The blow that knocked his shot off target caught him completely by surprise. The force of it brought him to his knees and dislodged the rifle from his hands. As he landed, he instinctively rolled in order to put some distance between him and his assailant.

When he re-orientated himself, he saw that it was one of the females that struck him. It was soon accompanied by the rest of the mob and they were all rounding on the now defenceless huntsman.

Ned was wise enough to know that if one of the beasts timed its strike correctly, it could disembowel him as easily as he could fillet a steak. He looked for his rifle, but it was a good five metres from his reach. By this time, the males had returned from the billabong and the larger of these bounced over to where the firearm lay. It extended one of its feet and placed it over the weapon, in the process displaying a seven inch, curved, razor sharp claw. Ned had encountered this weaponry before, but only when butchering the animals. He had never seen a claw so large and deadly. The animal placed its toes over the trigger of the rifle and as it retracted its claw a shot was fired into the night. The dominant male then looked directly into Ned’s eyes; letting him know in no uncertain terms that it was now the hunter.

Diamond Sky is currently available for 2.99 at Amazon (kindle edition)

Lucy Skye travels into the Australian outback to scatter her father’s ashes, unaware that at a nearby observatory a team of scientists is on the cusp of a major breakthrough that will change her life forever.

Dr Emmy Rayne’s work was designed to open up the universe for exploration like never before, but the brilliant young scientist has an altogether different agenda in mind. Orphaned at a tender age, she has spent her life searching for a way to connect with her dead parents and she is about to discover that the recent loss of a new arrival may just hold the key...

Diamond Sky is the first part of an epic three book series that travels from a remote outback town, through the mountains of Tibet, to the far reaches of space and beyond. It can also be enjoyed as a standalone thriller.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Excerpt From The Outback

The following is a scene from my debut novel The Outback. It takes place early in the story, shortly after the backpackers have arrived in Birribandi. Matt and Colin are hoping to impress sisters, Rose and Jenny, whilst also plotting to make their stay in the outback pass a little more easily, when they run into unexpected trouble...

By noon everybody was awake and out of their beds. Rose and Jenny took the lead in organising Paul’s party and were both keen on getting everything planned down to the smallest detail. They drew up a list of everything that would be needed and then coerced Colin and Matt into accompanying them to the shops to help carry it all back to camp.

The budding couples played it coyly as they followed the dusty trail into town with the girls walking side by side several paces ahead of the boys. The distance was just enough that each pair was out of earshot of the other.

‘They’re talking about us, you know,’ said Colin.

The sisters were giggling amongst themselves and every so often Rose would glance furtively over her shoulder.

‘It’s more likely that they’re talking about you,’ replied Matt.

‘They probably think that we’re talking about them too, but I wouldn’t give them that pleasure.’

‘You could have fooled me. So what are we talking about?’

Colin lit a cigarette.

‘The party, obviously. Tonight is a chance for you and I to really let go tonight. It’s all too easy to grow accustomed to the lifestyle when you’re travelling, but here we have to savour every chance that we get to have some fun.’

‘I’ve had a lot of good nights since leaving home. Somehow, I think tonight will suffer in comparison.’

Colin shook his head.

‘That’s precisely the attitude we need to change. You do realise that if all goes well tonight, it could set us up for some very good times to come.’

Matt did not follow. He began to wonder if Colin had added some of his herbal flavour to the cigarette he was smoking.

‘You’ve lost me. What’s so great about tonight aside from it being the birthday of someone that we hardly even know?’

‘Have you met Pierro yet?’

Matt had only caught brief glimpses of the man in question, but having worked alongside Celeste, he had heard more than he would like about the enigmatic chef.

‘We’ve never been formally introduced, but I have heard a lot about him. He’s supposed to be Italian, but Niall reckons he’s a local. I’m not too sure how that works though.’

‘Everyone here is descended from immigrants; except the Aboriginals, obviously. Some must cling on to their heritage more than others.’

‘I suppose that makes sense. Do you think he has ever even been to Europe?’

‘I wouldn’t have a clue about that, but Celeste seems impressed. Then again, I suppose she’s probably never been to Europe either.’

Matt often forgot that the girl was from Canada and not France. Her accent and mannerisms were so exaggeratedly Gallic that it was hard to think of her as anything else.

‘So what has all of this got to do with the party?’ asked Matt.

Colin glanced towards the girls to make sure that they were still out of earshot.

‘Your man, Pierro, has the keys to the camp’s stockroom. From what I gather, it is not only kitchen supplies that are in there, but everything for the bar too.’

‘And you think that if we can get him onside, he may siphon off a few freebies for us, is that it?’

‘Not exactly. His bird’s challenged me and the other Irish lads to a drinking contest on his behalf. I say that we get him half cut and take the keys.’

‘And what then? If you clean the place out, the theft is going to be obvious and if you don’t, it won’t be long before Pierro realises his keys are missing and has the locks changed.’

‘Don’t worry, I have it covered. Niall has found a place in town that cuts keys and it is open on Sundays. Pierro will find his “lost” keys long before he recuperates from his hangover.’

‘Sounds like you have it all planned out. You’re turning into quite the criminal kingpin in these parts.’

Colin appeared offended by the suggestion.

‘What do you mean?’

‘First you flood the market with free weed and now you’re turning to bootlegging. You’ve only been here for a week and already you have a résumé that would make Al Capone envious.’

‘I’m not profiting from any of this.’

‘Robin Hood was still an outlaw.’

A broad smile appeared on the Irishman’s face.

‘Robin Hood; I like that.’

As Colin began to view himself in a more glamorous light, the four backpackers entered the outskirts of the town. Although small, there was still a section of suburban housing that had to be traversed in order to reach the commercial main street. The area was clearly impoverished, with overgrown gardens and several boarded windows. If they had stumbled across this place at night time they would not have felt safe. A group of five Aboriginal youths were gathered on a street corner.

Matt thought that he recognised one of them as the boy whom he had seen shoplifting the previous week. He was not certain though. The group could not have been aged more than sixteen or seventeen years old. They were chatting amongst themselves and paid little attention to the passing girls. Then when Matt and Colin approached they began to disperse with only two of them remaining behind. One of these had an unlit cigarette in his hand.

‘Could you spare a fella a light?’ the youth asked.

Colin reached into his pocket and pulled out his lighter. He flicked the flame on with his thumb and extended it towards the youth, who lent forward with the cigarette in his mouth and took a deep inhalation to allow the flames to take hold.

‘Thanks,’ the youth said. ‘You fellas are not from around here, are you?’

‘Is it that obvious?’ replied Colin. ‘What gave it away?’

‘Your shoes. They don’t sell clobber like that in ‘Bandi.’

Colin smiled to humour the boy.

‘My shoes, eh? You’re a funny guy. You know, I’d love to stay and chat, but we don’t want to keep our lady friends waiting.’

He glanced back at Matt and nodded for him to start walking again.

‘Not so fast,’ said the Aboriginal youth, placing his free hand on Colin’s chest. ‘I said that I like your shoes.’
This time his tone had changed. It became more demanding, more aggressive.

‘You want me to give you my shoes – is that what you’re saying?’ asked Colin.

‘I’m not saying man, I’m telling.’ The youth spoke with a rhythm that seemed to be trying to mimic American street speak, which he had no doubt picked up from a movie or rap video.

‘Well, I’m telling you to fuck off,’ said Colin.

The Irishman grabbed hold of the boy’s wrist and pulled it from his chest. He then turned to say something to Matt, briefly taking his eyes off the youth. The young would-be gangster took full advantage by removing the cigarette from his mouth and pressing the lit end firmly into the back of Colin’s forearm.

The Irishman shrieked in pain and before he or Matt could react the youths had already started running away. Instinctively, they both wanted to follow, but a far more pressing concern was developing further up the path. Rose and Jenny were coming under attack from the other three gang members.

‘Shit!’ Matt cried out.

The Englishman was so angered by the surprise attack that he unconsciously shoved Colin out of the way in order to run at the remainder of the gang. He sprinted as fast as he could, but a few seconds was all the youths needed.

Rose, being the elder of the two sisters, naturally tried to protect her younger sibling. She did this by placing herself in between Jenny and the muggers. This left her dangerously exposed herself. One of the gang grabbed onto the base of her handbag and tugged violently. When she did not let go, another of the kids slapped her hard across her cheek with the back of his hand. This time she had no choice but to let go and her attackers ran off having successfully acquired what they wanted.

For Rose, the pain was supplanted by pure and unadulterated shock. She began to feel nauseous and faint. As Matt caught up with her, she fell into his arms, preventing him from giving chase.

‘Jesus Christ – what happened?’ he asked. ‘Did they have a knife?’

‘I don’t think so,’ Jenny replied, through her sobbing. ‘She hasn’t been stabbed, they just hit her. Is she going to be okay?’

‘She’ll be fine,’ Matt told her. ‘I think we should get her checked out just in case, though.’

Jenny nodded frantically, terror still controlling her every thought.

‘What the fuck just happened?’ Colin demanded, as he caught up with the rest of them.

Matt noticed his friend had a slight limp and assumed the youth with the cigarette must have kicked his shin before running away.

‘Rose has been hit,’ Matt told him. ‘One of those cowards smacked her in the face. Obviously, the plan was for that little shit to distract us whilst his friends made off with the girls’ bags. They played us for fools.’

‘Those bastards!’ Colin shouted, unable to contain his anger. ‘I’ll rip their fuckin’ heads off!’

He turned around, scanning the area for signs of where they might have ran, but was unable to pick up a trail.

‘COWARDS!’ he screamed, unsure of where even to direct his rage.

‘That’s not helping,’ said Jenny. ‘We have to help Rose.’

Matt had managed to place the elder sister down on the ground in a sitting position and she was starting to come to. As her shock subsided, the pain increased, as if some sort of equilibrium needed to be maintained. She rubbed urgently at her face, trying to soothe away the agony. Colin crouched down and delicately pulled aside her hand so that he could inspect the damage. There was already a considerable bruise forming on her cheek. Fortunately, the thug had missed her eye and though painful, there would be no lasting effects. This did little to alleviate the Irishman’s rage.

‘This is a tiny town,’ he said. ‘I say that we leave no stone unturned until we find those scumbags and beat the living shite out of them.’

‘What will that achieve?’ asked a still tearful Jenny. ‘All I care about is making sure my sister is going to be okay.’

Matt recalled seeing a police station on his previous visit to the town. This seemed to him like the best place to start. They would be sure to have medical supplies there and could also help with catching the muggers. It was a small town and chances were that there would not be too many kids matching the description that they could provide.

‘The police station is only about a five minute walk from here,’ he said. ‘We should take her there.’

The others agreed and they all helped Rose back up onto her feet. She could have walked unaided, but Colin in particular did not wish to take any chances. He placed an arm around her and supported her weight as they made the brief walk to the station. Matt led the way, all the time keeping a keen eye out should any of the youths return. Any thoughts of the planned celebration were now long forgotten.

The Outback is currently on sale for 2.99 for Kindle. A further sample can be read on the book's Amazon page here

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Writing Update (AKA - Why I Have Too Little Time For Social Media at the Moment)

I am now well into the first draft of part 3 of the Diamond Sky Trilogy and have begun to think about design concepts for the covers. This is my first mock-up for Book 2 (the current working titles are Emerald Sea or Emerald Sky). As always, I used a photograph I took myself.

Spoiler free blurb to follow once I figure one out. Bloody sequels cause so many problems. More trouble than they are worth. Will definitely be returning to standalones once this trilogy is done with.

The cover is my first attempt and subject to change. Partly because I do not want smart arses pointing out that Mt Cook is in New Zealand and, therefore, has absolutely sod all to do with the novel's Himalayan location. The thing is, I want to keep the personal touch I have used on all of my books and use cover art based around my own photography. The chances of me making it to the far east before the books release (or ever, for that matter) is virtually none existent.

The book itself has now undergone two drafts and is shaping up excellently. Easily my best action sequences and it also sees the return of Esteban Cruz, which is no bad thing. Therefore, technically, it is a sequel to both Diamond Sky and Stealing Asia, which are two completely unrelated novels.

I could release it sooner than next year, but due to the much greater plot hole potentiality of trilogies, I have decided to write and release the sequels back to back a-la Back to the Future and The Matrix in order to ensure consistency.

In the meantime, I humbly urge anyone who has not already done so to read the novel's predecessor, Diamond Sky, currently available in paperback and for Kindle at Amazon. Being the first, I made sure that it also works perfectly well as a standalone rather than simply as a means to set up an ongoing series.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my three published novels The OutbackStealing Asia and Diamond Sky. All three are available as ebooks and paperbacks at Amazon.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Style Before Grammar

Sometimes, when editing or redrafting my work I come across writing that makes me cringe. This blog post is really nothing but a rant at my own shoddiness when trying to get my thoughts down on paper before I lose them. Any sentence removed from its context will feel a little odd, but sometimes they are just plain awful.

“She heard the sound of a car engine as it pulled into the driveway.”

Terrible sentence. Grammatically, it is not committing too big a crime. The meaning is clear and unambiguous. So what is wrong with it? Put simply, it contains unnecessary words and one of the few rules of writing you will hear that actually holds true is “eliminate unnecessary words”.

So which words are unnecessary?

Well, the fact that she can hear the car engine means that it is producing a sound. That is what hearing is. If you can hear it – it is a sound. Trust me on this. You will not hear anything else in your entire life apart from sounds. Therefore, since a sound is the only thing that can be heard, we do not really need to be told that it is a sound that is being heard.

“She heard a car engine as it pulled into the driveway.”

Better, but it can still be cut down. Do we really need to know that it is the engine producing the noise? Sure, cars produce many sounds, but one is hardly like to come skidding into the driveway or have the horn blaring as it parks up. No, I think that it is safe to assume that if we are talking about people hearing the sound of cars, they are referring to the noise of the engine.

“She heard a car as it pulled into the driveway.”

Still awkward. How about:

“She heard a car pull into the driveway.”

Should we go on? Do we need to know about the driveway or can that also be assumed? Given that the whole point of the line was that the character is interrupted by an unexpected arrival at her home, the driveway part is necessary. Cars pass by the house all of the time. We do not need to know every time that happens. It is also worth bearing in mind that this is only the second draft I am working on. A few more passes down the line and this could well become “a car parked up outside” so probably best not dwell on it too much. Within context - it works (for now).

The above example is just one of far too many to list. Some prominent instances of unnecessary words to look out for are:

“She shrugged her shoulders”

What else would she shrug? A shrug is basically just an upward movement of the shoulders used to indicate that one does not have the answer. It is always best to simply write “she shrugged”. It carries EXACTLY the same meaning, but with half the word count leaving the reader with more time to do other things. Trust me; they will thank you for it.

“He shouted loudly”

How else would he shout – in a whisper? I cannot shout loudly enough about how a character should never ‘shout loudly’! Did you see what I did there? It is all about the context and not arbitrary rules. All you need in this instance is “he shouted”

“The audience clapped their hands”

Well, I am glad we cleared up it was the hands being used. I thought it was the feet. Seriously, if this was in a print book and the publisher ran off 50,000 copies, they would be wasting enough ink to fill an entire novel. Just write “the audience clapped” or “the audience applauded”, either is fine so long as you do not bring anatomy into it.

There are more. Many more, but I think you get the gist. To list them all would just be unnecessary and that is something we could all do without.
The lesson to be learned is not to get too hung up on what is ‘grammatically correct’. Approaching writing (or worse still – editing) from a purely grammatical viewpoint will only lead to clunky, stiff prose. When it comes to writing fiction - style and context are the key to writing stories that flow and leave the reader in no doubt as to what is going on. Efficiency is just as important as accuracy. Everything that can be cut, shuld be cut. If writers were trapeze artists, grammar would be their safety net – not their act.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

South Wales and Taking a Break From Writing - Part 2 (gypsies, spiders and hungry man-eating pianos)

An isolated cottage in the middle of nowhere is ideal for a writer. Not just for providing a calm and secluded hideaway to put down words on paper, but also as a source of creativity in itself. After spending a week in such a place, I can see why writers such as Stephen King are partial to the 'cabin in the woods' style of narrative. Isolation can be truly terrifying.

The cottage was attractive and benign looking from the outside. The garden was well maintained and two old fashioned gypsy caravans book-ended either side, adding to the buildings rustic charm. Inside was no different. All on one floor, the very long interior was aesthetic as well as functional. There was even a piano in the lounge (although not much use as neither my wife, Katie, nor I, can play). The only downside was the narrow, overgrown lanes with infrequent passing places that we had to drive down to reach it.

All was well until dusk on the first night when we discovered that we did not have the cottage to ourselves after all. It was home to some VERY big spiders. Normally, it is frowned upon for writers to use the "V" word, but in this case it is apt. No adjective can do these little monsters justice. Nor do they deserve any kind of literary dressing up. They were simply VERY big spiders.

Our unwanted housemates seemed to be strategically positioned throughout the cottage in order to induce maximum fear. There was one patrolling the patio, another guarding the bedroom (thankfully, from the outside) and worst of all, the largest of them all had set up shop right next to the toilet. If it had been just the one arachnid, I may have considered trapping it and moving it as far away from the cottage as possible, but with so many, I thought it best not to provoke any kind of territory dispute. The best for all concerned was to simply give them as wide a berth as possible and pray they would extend the same courtesy to us.

Suffice to say, both Katie and I were always a little on edge when in the cottage after dark. So much so that neither of us could resist playing the old game of pretending to spot something truly horrifying behind the other person and making them have to constantly check over their shoulder. I actually had to move seat several times in one night due to Katie's refusal to give up on this game. At one point she even went all surreal and claimed that "the piano was going to eat [me]". Absurd as this sounds, her words did resonate and during my following night in bed, my thoughts returned to the ravenous piano often.

Obviously, a piano is not going to eat me. What if, however, it simply started playing in the night? Creaks and bangs can be written off easily. Such noises are commonplace and to be expected. Pipes creak, the wind blows, all can be explained without reverting to the supernatural...or worse (we arrived at the cottage to find it unlocked with the keys inside. An intruder could easily have been lying in wait.) But a piano playing? Suddenly the quaint gypsy caravans did not seem quite so quaint after all. Gypsies curse people don't they?

At regular intervals throughout the night, I found myself awake and searching the darkness for any unnatural or unwanted sounds. In the back of my mind I could always hear the plink plonk of piano keys just waiting to be made real.

When dawn's light shone through the curtain, I soon realised that I had let my imagination get the better of me. Nobody attacked in the night, the spiders kept to their own territory (they had little choice - I blocked the gap under the bedroom door with a towel) and the piano remained unplayed. And then the peaceful serenity of the morning was interrupted by the sound of music. Katie and I turned to one another in absolute dread as we tried to figure out the source of the melody.

"Perhaps it is the neighbours," she suggested.

"We don't have any neighbours,' I replied.

Besides, the music was clearly coming from within the cottage. I got out of bed and gingerly followed it down the hallway (careful not to tread on the spiders) and into the lounge. Once inside, I was immediately drawn to the corner of the room where the sound had originated. Directly in front of me was the piano. And resting on top of it was Katie's phone, playing the alarm she had accidently set the night before.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my three published novels The OutbackStealing Asia and Diamond Sky. All three are available as ebooks and paperbacks at Amazon.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

South Wales and Taking a Break From Writing - Part 1

I have just returned from a week spent at a cosy cottage in Pembrokeshire, Wales. To many authors this would be the ideal writer's retreat. However, at the beginning of the holiday I promised my wife, Katie, that I would not be working whilst we were away and I kept to my word.

Outside of cottage, complete with gypsy caravan

Last year we visited North Wales, which was full of imposing mountain peaks and winding, forest valleys. The South could not have contrasted more. Here we had rugged, rocky coastlines overlooking small islands. The North was about the scenery, the South was all about the wildlife. Nowhere was this encapsulated more than on Skomer Island.

The island itself had many accessible tracks that had to be adhered to strictly to protect the countless seabird burrows, which completely covered the ground. With only 150 people allowed on the island per day and the boats bringing them at staggered intervals throughout the morning, it was easy to feel like you had to island to yourself. Of course, this could not be farther from the truth. Skomer is home to hundreds of thousands of seabirds.

Getting up close with the puffin colony at 'The Wick' was on a par with seeing fairy penguins marching up the beach at Philip Island, Australia. These birds are beautiful, bizarre, often comical and completely unlike any other species in the British Isles. Their look, movement and personality is much more evocative of their flightless cousins and at times, it did feel like these were penguins rather than birds. Even in flight, their lack of tail feathers gave them an odd, unnatural disposition. Their wings buzzed frantically like a hummingbird's as they "swam" through the air.

Although the puffins were the star attraction, they were far from the only wildlife on the island. We saw oyster catchers (very noisy), guillemots, razor-bills, pippets, jackdaws (silver headed crows) and even a colony of seals. Though sadly, the little owls eluded us. The only downside was that with so many birds living in close proximity, it was impossible to walk for more than a minute without encountering the dead in various stages of decomposition wherever one looked.

Despite its isolation, Skomer did have a small human settlement. This was made up of rangers, volunteers and researchers. As I walked the windswept trails, my writer's brain kicked in and I could not help but try to imagine what it would be like to live in a place such as this. A place where by sheer weight of numbers, humans were not the dominant species. If the boats were to stop coming, what would become of this settlement? Would it be a paradise or a prison? Would the people band together for mutual benefit or would they turn on one another? Would it be the Swiss Family Robinson or Lord of the Flies? How would I cope in such a situation? The possibilities are endless. By the time we were ready to catch our return boat, I was feeling truly inspired.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my three published novels The OutbackStealing Asia and Diamond Sky. All three are available as ebooks and paperbacks at Amazon.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Finding Inspiration For a Book Cover

In this blog, I have often talked about my desire to maintain a personal connection between my cover art and my stories. For my first 2 novels, The Outback and Stealing Asia, it was not difficult to find suitable pictures from my travels to use in the cover art as both novels were inspired by events from my backpacking days. For my third novel, Diamond Sky, finding a suitable image was a little more challenging.

In Diamond Sky, the setting and events are entirely fictional. The plot, which centres on astral projection and an exploration as to the existence of life beyond death, is purely abstract. When dealing with metaphysics, it is almost impossible to find a suitable image from the physical world that accurately depicts the story, least of all finding an image from my own collection. Whilst writing the novel, I thought I would have no choice other than to commission an illustrator or search through stock images linked to the sci-fi genre for my cover.

Then I came across the following picture. The image was captured when I travelled through the Kimberley region of North Western Australia, in a National Park known as the Bungle Bungles. It is one of the most unique, beautiful and isolated places in this incredibly diverse country.

It was not, however, the terrain that inspired me with this picture. It was the sun. If you look closely at the centre of the image, you can see a column of light that intersects diagonally with the bright spot in the middle. It does not so much look like the sun is setting as that it is being launched. Fired into the sky. This was the other-worldly image I had been looking for.

When designing my covers, I try to keep things as simple as possible. Diamond Sky is no different. The only manipulation I applied to the image was a colour tint and a slight darkening of the edges. I then overlayed the text onto this simple base, making sure to retain consistency with my previous novels in the way I presented my name. I then added a short tag line, "letting go is never easy..." that captures the motivation, which drives the actions of the main characters in the plot. What I like about this line is that, depending on the character, it can be taken either literally or figuratively. To say anymore would risk a spoiler.

Above is the final cover, complete with other-worldly source of light illuminating the night sky. With 2 sequels on the way and an increasingly fantastic plot, it is becoming unlikely that I will be able to continue using my own photographs on the covers, but I will certainly try. Selling books may be a business, but the product is still a form of art. In a world where corporate influence is de-personalising and lowering quality in all areas of commerce, rather than emulate that model, I will continue to fight it. To retain what makes me unique as an artist, because without that, I cannot rightfully call myself an artist anyway.

Finally, here are my 3 self made covers side by side as they would appear on a digital bookshelf. With each one incorporating the same amount and style of manipulation in design, they are clearly part of the same brand though not related in story. Most importantly to me, they are all uniquely mine.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Judging a Book By Its Cover

Artists can be stubborn and I am no different. When I decided to self publish my 3 fiction novels a year ago, I wanted to do so with my own covers. I wanted them to be personal. To have a genuine connection to the story. My first 2 novels were inspired by my days backpacking and as such, I was determined to use photographs from those travels as the basis for the covers.

Below are the images that I chose and I have stuck with them through all of my redesigns.

When I began,I had no experience of photo manipulation and no real vision for how the covers should look. Suffice to say, the results were not pretty. The first attempts were nothing short of hideous.

Would you see these on the shelves of the local Waterstone's or Barnes & Noble? Of course not. They would look just as out of place on the virtual shelves at Amazon. Pretty soon, I realised that a lot more work was necessary. So I got back to the drawing board.

An improvement. Particularly with Stealing Asia, but I was far from satisfied. Neither successfully conveys any sort of tone for the book. Again, they just do not look like the sort of covers that you get on published books. They look amateurish.

For my latest (and hopefully, final, designs) I tried to figure out exactly what a book cover should be. My conclusion surprised me, as I realsied that I had been approaching the task in completely the wrong way. When I started the designs, I had begun with photographs. I had mistakenly assumed that the cover art was the most important aspect. It is not (unless your target audience is children). The most important feature on a book cover is the text.

Many publishers dispense with the cover picture altogether when it comes to their big name authors. They simply state the author and title in as big and bold writing as possible and that is enough for readers. Obviously, I am not yet a big name author so I cannot rely on my name alone to sell the books. I need an image, but one that is firmly in the background. It is the text that overlays the image that makes a book cover. Without this, all you have is a pretty picture.

The cover text has 3 components: Title, author and subtext. The fonts you use depend on the genre. For thrillers/action/horror (I am a member of the trans-genre community - don't judge me) bold capitals are the way forward. Believe me, this is important. I have tried my name in lower case and it looks like I am selling chick-lit.

The title should be the biggest and boldest (remember, it has to be instantly legible as a thumbnail, which is how the readers will first see it on Amazon). For the author name, I think that consistency is the key. If you have multiple books, then always use the same font, size, colour and placing for your name. It is all about establishing a recognisable brand.

Lastly is the subtext. The subtext can come in many forms. An author can simply state their credentials (if the book/writer has won any awards or topped a bestseller list, this is where to put it). If you have had a prestigious review - quote it here. Alternatively, a teaser line can be used. This is where you need to hook the reader. A title alone does not reveal much about plot so this is your last chance to let the reader know what kind of story they will be reading. The teaser should contain keywords, which capture the tone of the book. As you will see in my final designs, for The Outback, the keywords are backpacking and murder. For Stealing Asia, it is paradise and not what it seems.

Below are my new designs. For the first time, I feel that they are actually book covers.

One year into my publishing journey and I have finally nailed all of the elements I discussed above. Sure, it would have been a lot easier to have simply hired a professional designer from the start, but where is the fun in that? There is also a great deal of confusion in the indie world over what constitutes professional. A real pro costs money. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are a lot of sharks out there who think that just because they own a pirated copy of Photoshop and know the basics that they have the right to call themselves professional designers and charge money. They do not. If you are going to pay somebody to add a bit of text to a stock image, you would do better to invest the cash into learning how to do so yourself.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Food For Thought (literally)

What if books were food?

Okay, it is a strange question to ask, but bear with me on this one.

Starting at the top, literary fiction would belong in a Michelin starred restaurant. Here would be the prestigious prize winners and favourites of highbrow critics everywhere. Though with their complex flavours they are certainly an acquired taste and not suitable for all.

Next we have the wide ranging realm of popular publishing. Whether it be a gourmet pub, a roadside cafe or a good, mid-level restaurant, there is something to cater for all tastes and we expect a certain level of quality for our cash. The downside is that with quality control, comes standardisation. As a chef can only cook what is on the menu, it is the publishers and not the authors who have the final artistic say.

Supplemental to the restaurant trade is the fast food industry and this represents the tackier side of publishing. There are successful authors whose name has become nothing more than a brand - a franchise. They produce books at the rate of a dozen a year, using "co-authors" (or ghostwriters) to keep up with demand. It is trashy with no nutritional value whatsoever, yet also highly addictive and consumed by unfussy eaters and readers alike.

Then there is self publishing. Nothing beats a good home cooked meal. Unless, of course, a person cannot cook. This is the area with the most potential, but for disaster as well as success. When it is done well, it can rival or even surpass the food on offer in any restaurant. When it is done badly, it can be so bad that had this food been served in a restaurant, the place would be closed down.

So the next time you are looking for something to read, why not treat it like hunger. Do you want to try something new or stick to what has been tried and tested? Do you want something that is good for you, or just something that tastes good? And finally, is it fair trade - do you want to support the farmers or the supermarkets?

I hope you found this post interesting. If so, you can sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two lovingly home cooked novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are suitable for vegetarians*. Please click on the links for full nutritional information.

* May contain nuts.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Connecting With the Literary Past

In the UK, there is a scheme whereby places linked to famous/historical figures are marked with a commemorative blue plaque. The main criteria for inclusion is that the place has a strong link to the person (ie - they were born/lived there) and that the person has been dead for 20 years or passed the centenary of their birth.

There are several in my home city of Portsmouth and in each case, I came about them by chance, whilst on my travels around the city. Quite fittingly (for me, at least) these include some notable literary greats.

The first plaque that I found is located just a two minute walk from my front door and it marks the childhood home of Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book.

He and his sister lived at this address with a couple who took care of the children of British nationals serving in India. Though the house proudly wears the blue plaque as a badge of honour, Kipling himself did not look upon this place quite so fondly.

In the author's own words: "I have known a certain amount of bullying, but this was calculated torture—religious as well as scientific. Yet it made me give attention to the lies I soon found it necessary to tell: and this, I presume, is the foundation of literary effort" (Kipling, Rudyard (1935). "Something of myself". public domain.)

So for what are not-quite-the-right reasons, the place did leave an impression on the would be author. Though not a positive influence, it was an influence nonetheless.

The next notable residence I came to was the birthplace of actor and comedian, Peter Sellers (perhaps most famous for playing Inspector Clouseau, as well as being a part of The Goon Show).

Most people are born in a hospital or at home, in keeping with his surreal Goon Show persona, Mr Sellers was born in a Chinese Restaurant (although it may have been converted after the event - I have not checked).

Unlike with Kipling, this time there are no negative connotations associated with the childhood home, although again, it did shape their future career. Peter Sellers made his stage debut at the King's Theatre in Southsea when he was just 2 weeks old!

The next and most notable of the blue plaques in Portsmouth is dedicated to the early childhood home of a writer second only in fame, to Shakespeare and that is Charles Dickens.

Despite the fact that his family moved to London very soon after his birth and that the man himself failed to locate the house upon returning as an adult (I cannot think how he failed - it is extremely well signposted), the house has been converted into a museum and is a local tourist attraction.

And although Dickens had no memory of the place, the city itself does to this day suffer from many of the social problems that he highlighted and strove to change through his writing. Only recently, the naval dockyards closed, adding to what was already one of the UK's worst employment black spots.

He does at least add a certain amount of pride to the city and his literary legacy is often used to promote the arts within the city.

Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle (creator of television's Sherlock and US spin-off Elementary) also has strong ties to the city, but if he has a plaque - I could not find it. However, any article on famous former Portsmouth residents would not be complete without a reference to the most legendary of all. Sadly, there is no blue plaque this time. This is for several reasons; the person is still alive, they are not British and finally, it may just be a legend. I did, at least, find the following mural, painted on what I assume to be a disused public toilet block.

It is, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Terminator lived and trained in the city for a brief period in the seventies. Now THAT is a famous resident.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.