Cover Art Reveal

I am thrilled to present the cover art for my latest novel, Wolf Unleashed.

Cover art for Wolf Unleashed

Wolf Unleashed is a story of injustice and anger, of love and compassion, of rebellion and hope. It explores themes of oppression and prejudice that echo the real world. This is a book I’m really proud of that I’ve poured a lot of emotion into and I can’t wait to share it with the world. I hope it means as much to you as it does to me.

The official book launch is going to be at Follycon, this year’s Eastercon, in Harrogate. I hope to see some of you there. If not, I will be making announcements soon when the book is available for purchase.

 

Eastercon

I have been preparing for Eastercon recently. This year’s Eastercon, Follycon, is in Harrogate, so I’m hoping some of the old York University creative writing group might be there so we can catch up. If any of my blog followers are going to be there, here’s a heads up about what I’m going to be up to.

So far, I’ve been talking with the organisers of the schedule about three different items on the agenda. The agenda hasn’t been completely confirmed yet, so this is subject to change and I don’t have times for any of these items yet.

The first item I will be a part of is the book launch for Wolf Unleashed. Guardbridge Books will be launching two books at Eastercon, my werewolf urban fantasy, and Warrior Errant by Harry Elliot, a futuristic sci-fi adventure. Come along for book readings, discussion, and Q&A from myself and Harry.

I’m going to be presenting a talk on Atheism and the Representation of Gods in Science Fiction. This will look at some tropes and themes around how gods are often portrayed in sci-fi, from an atheist perspective. With examples ranging from Red Dwarf to Stargate SG-1, and from The Chrysalids to Dune, we will look at some common concepts and how these ideas can be used to address real world issues. Some of the examples will be obvious ones, but I’ve been digging around for a few older and less well known ones so hopefully there’ll be something in the presentation that’s new for everyone in the audience.

I’ve also been asked about being on a panel about Transgressive Sexualities and how sci-fi and fantasy can be used to provide representation, raise questions, and open up new routes for discussion around gender and sexuality. I don’t have much detail about this panel yet, but it seems like a good subject for generating some interesting discussions.

I will post the schedule information once I know it. Hopefully I’ll see some of you there.

There was a blog post

It’s interesting what you don’t notice about your own writing until you have an editor go through it and point things out. I’m currently going through edits for the upcoming Wolf Unleashed and I’ve discovered that I have a serious problem with “there was.” A rather embarrassingly high number of sentences start with “there was” or “there were”. This is weak phrasing because it merely tells the reader that something exists, but doesn’t tell the reader anything about how that thing is.

“There was a man on the couch,” doesn’t tell us anything about the man except that he is there, but “A man lounged on the couch,” gives us some indications of his posture, which could be compared to, “A man perched on the couch.” Even “sat” would give us more information because it rules out the possibility he’s lying on it. By making the sentence more active, we can get more information across without really having to add anything by way of descriptions, just simply changing a generic “to be” verb for something more precise.

Sometimes the information is there in a different way, but getting rid of this phrasing makes the sentence more efficient. “There was a man lounging on the couch” and “A man lounged on the couch” get exactly the same information across, but the second sentence saves you two words. Two words might not sound like a great deal, but if you’re trying to get your word count down, especially if you write short stories, these can add up.

I hadn’t realised how guilty I was about using this phrasing until I got the edits back for Wolf Unleashed, but now I hope I will notice as my fingers type out “there were” or “there was” at the start of a new sentence.

I’ve been writing books for about a decade now, but I’m still making mistakes and slipping into bad habits. Learning how to be a writer never really stops.

Book updates

Hidden in the Signal coverI realised recently that I hadn’t added Hidden in the Signal, the third book in the Codename Omega series to the My Books page on this blog. I’ve remedied that mistake now. The information on the third instalment of Jenny’s adventures is now up.

Hidden in the Signal continues the story of Jenny’s fight to uncover the truth of Grey’s Tower and to fight against the alien threat hiding on Earth.

Keep an eye on that page because I will soon be adding details of my upcoming book, Wolf Unleashed. I just sent the last chapter of edits back to the line editor today. I think there’s just one more round of checks before the text of the book is ready to go. We will be launching the book at this years Eastercon, Follycon, in Harragote over the Easter weekend. I will also be giving a presentation on the representation of gods in science fiction at the convention. The agenda is still being finalised so I don’t know if I will be on any panels, but I will let you know if I am.

If you’re going to be attending Follycon, come along to the book launch and say hi.

Playing with Mood

I was recently advised to watch the show Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency on Netflix. I hadn’t bothered with this show for a long time because I had never been particularly keen on the book of the same name by Douglas Adams. A friend of mine was very enthusiastic about this show, so I decided to give it a try and loved it.

The story is based around a group of characters, mainly the eponymous Dirk Gently, who solve bizarre cases through a series of strange and seemingly random coincidences. I won’t say much to spoil the plot but I will say that while I enjoyed the first season, I absolutely loved the second season, partly because of a couple of amazing new characters, but also because the story wove in a high fantasy parody. It should be no surprise to anyone reading this blog that I love fantasy, and so I thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy parody world dreamt up in this story.

It is a world that takes itself very seriously indeed, but has knights fighting with giant pairs of scissors, burgers growing on trees, and a series of ridiculous names that I think warrant some of the actors deserving awards for just getting their lines out with a straight face. I had a notion to take clips from this silly parody plotline and try to piece them together in a way that made the story seem like a serious, fantasy epic. This was not an easy task, especially since all the shots of the armies with their weapons looked ridiculously silly, and the wide shots feature a man in the moon, but I had fun with it. Here is the result: The Epic of Wendimoor.

It goes without saying that I’ve been very selective in my use of clips but I’ve somehow managed to make it so that the title character isn’t actually in any of them. So don’t be surprised when you watch the real show and it’s nothing like I’ve made it seem here.

Wolf Unleashed – progress update

I’m spending a good chunk of time this weekend going through line edits for Wolf Unleashed, my upcoming book. Line editing is one of the last stages of the editing process, once any big issues with the story, structure, pacing, and so on have been fixed. At this stage, an editor goes through the book line by line and makes tweaks, fixing a typo here, or adjusting the word order there to make a sentence flow better.

Through this process, I am still the author. There have been points in this manuscript where the line editor has proposed a change and I’ve left a little comment saying, “Actually the point I was trying to get across was this and I think the original way does that better.”

There have been other moments when the line editor has suggested cutting a few words because they don’t really add to the story, but I’ve insisted on keeping them because they hint at something about the character that won’t be revealed until later. One on occasion, the editor got confused by a mention of two characters’ mums, and left a comment wondering which mum I was referring to, and the answer to that was both of them because they’re a couple, which is going to be explained properly in a couple of chapter’s time.

Going through an editing process, the author still has control, but it’s important to note that there are a lot of changes I haven’t argued with. A lot of the time, the editor is doing things like changing “that” to “the”, or putting in a synonym to avoid a repeated word, and I read the suggested sentence, agree, and move on. Line editors are an important part of the book writing process. They add a layer of polish to a story to prepare it for publication.

There’s still a little bit more editing to be done on Wolf Unleashed, but I’m looking forward to a launch for it at Eastercon this year. The convention, Follycon, is going to be in Harrogate over the Easter weekend. If you’re attending, you can come talk to me about the book, hear me read some extracts, or get your hands on one of the first copies.

A Case Study in Complex Characters

I want to take an example of a work of fiction and use it as a demonstration of how to write complex characters. The work of fiction I’m using here is the anime show Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and I will be including some spoilers for the character development of some of the major characters (though I’ll try to avoid spoiling the main plot of the series as a whole).

One of the characters of this show:

  • Is a war criminal who slaughtered innocent people, including children
  • Wants to take over his country and leads a military coup
  • Joins forces with a mass murderer
  • Compares one of his followers to a pawn
  • Can be ruthless in achieving his ambitions

There is also a character in this show:

  • Who is fiercely loyal to the people who follow him
  • Cares deeply about getting justice for a murdered man
  • Wants more than anything to protect the people he loves and would sacrifice his life to save them
  • Wants to improve his country
  • Would risk his life to protect the innocent.

Screenshot of Mustang with chess setThe first character sounds like a villain, the second like a hero. The thing is, they’re both the same person. The character of Colonel Mustang is one of the main characters of the series through its entire run and he is interesting for his depth. He is a very powerful alchemist, capable of causing enormous damage with his power. It’s revealed that during a war that took place prior to the main events of the series, he was a soldier sent in to commit genocide. He and several others of the characters were involved in this fight almost wiping out an entire people. When the fighting was over, he was the first to admit that he and his associates were war criminals.

Filled with guilt over the blood he had shed, he decided to change his country for the better and bring an end to the military rule and constant warfare that was a huge feature of his country. He decided that he was going to work his way up the ranks until he has enough power to make significant changes.

Over the course of the show, he is shown to be highly ambitious, but that ambition doesn’t stop him from protecting the people who serve under him and in fact one of the main drivers behind his desire for power is to have more power to protect people. When one of his people is murdered, he is the most determined figure in tracking the killer. When another is framed for a crime, he helps her fake her death and escape from those following her. His people are fiercely loyal to him, but he is just as loyal to them. When going into battle, he orders his followers not to die and later tells people to leave him and run if things go badly.

The comment about treating his people as pawns came from a single moment in an episode. When his enemies have out maneuvered him and scattered his people, he has a scene where he is looking at a chess set and thinking of those he’s lost: “They’ve taken my knight. They’ve taken my rook.” All of the pieces – pawn, knight, rook, bishop, and queen – are mentioned in this context. So while one of his men does get describe as his pawn, it’s not in the sense that might be expected.

Screenshot of the Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood thumbnail on NetflixAs for the military coup and teaming up with a mass murderer, both of these are done to take out a threat, a villain who plans on causing a massive loss of life, and through the coup he avoids killing and has his followers do the same. His actions in this case are heroic. I find it interesting that one of the images Netflix uses on thumbnails of this show is an image of Mustang looking thoroughly evil. He is a character who has many of the character traits and goals associated with a villain, and who occasionally starts down a villainous path, but who remains ultimately one of the good guys.

The mass murderer in question is another interesting character. Scar is introduced in the early episodes as a villain. He is a murderer who goes around killing alchemists, and even tries to take out the protagonist of the show. He is shown repeatedly to be a ruthless killer. Yet, even in these early episodes, he is shown to have more to his character. When he is faced with a girl who has been the subject of a cruel, alchemical experiment, he feels pity for her. Her death at his hands is portrayed as an act of mercy because there’s no way for her to be saved. These events also show, even though his actions are vile, he might have a point about how some alchemists use their powers to commit atrocious acts.

At a later stage, Scar protects another girl, saving and defending her even though he has nothing to gain. Despite his clear position as a villain in the story, he shows humanity. As the audience, we gradually learn more about his background and it’s revealed that he was from the nation that was wiped out in the genocidal war. Despite his horrific actions, as an audience we can feel some measure of sympathy for him because he has very good reason to hate the alchemists. In the war of extermination, the alchemists were very much the bad guys and he feels his murders of them are justified. As each piece of information is revealed, we are able to understand what drives Scar to act as he does.

Later on, when he learns who orchestrated the war, he changes his tactics. Instead of going after the alchemists, he decides to go after those who gave them their orders and triggered the war in the first place. He stops wanting to destroy the country that destroyed his and ends up being one of those who saves it.

Screenshot of ScarHis actions are not forgiven. When he is confronted by the child of two of the people he murdered, he doesn’t deny that what he did to them was a crime. He doesn’t try and excuse it, even though there were excuses he could make. In this instance, he’d been caught up in an attack and just seen his family slaughtered. When he woke up in a hospital, he was disorientated and confused, and saw two people who were of the same race that had been waging war on his land. His instinctive reaction was that they were the enemy. But even though he had this excuse, he accepted that those deaths were wrong. His actions were unforgivable, but he as a person can earn forgiveness and changes. He is accepted by those he hurt and they are all able to move beyond their past.

His redemption arc works so well because even as a villain he was understandable. He had good reason for his hatred. Without ever condoning his actions, his motivations made sense.

This complexity of characterisation isn’t reserved for these two. So many of the characters in the series are shown to be interesting people with many facets to their personalities. One thing I found interesting was that even those characters which are framed absolutely as the villains of the series can have moments of humanity. One villain speaks fondly of his wife as being the one aspect of his life where he was able to choose what he wanted. One character has a death scene, after many episodes of him being shown as monstrous, in which he is a sad, pitiful thing, crying and alone. The audience can still feel a moment of sympathy for a character who is otherwise vile.

I found that really interesting, that even the most evil characters have motivations that can be understood – even if their actions were beyond awful. At one end of the spectrum, there are characters who are evil but who occasionally show rare moments of compassion or humanity. At the other end, you get the heroes, who are definitely good people but who have their flaws (like Ed’s short temper any time anyone calls him short). In the middle, there are a range of characters who aren’t quite good or evil, like the character of Greed who is extremely selfish but not really evil. Then there are characters like Mustang and Scar who fall at different points of this spectrum at different points in their character arcs, in a way that feels completely natural.

This show provides a great example of how a story can have characters with depth and layers, and the world of the show is filled with people who are flawed but understandable individuals. It’s a great case study if you want to learn how to build more complexity into your characters and write excellent redemption arcs.

Libraries vs Piracy

I remember once reading an article by another author who was talking about how piracy of her books had massively damaged her career as a writer – including leading to a publisher cancelling an edition of a book because they weren’t seeing enough sales. In the comments, someone had remarked that they didn’t feel bad about pirating books because they were just going to borrow them from the library for free anyway.

I wanted to take a  minute to explain why borrowing a book from a library is not the same as piracy.

If you want to borrow a book from a library, then the library or one nearby must have a copy of the book. This means there has been at least one sale for the author. If lots of people are requesting the same book, then the chances are that two or three libraries in the area will get a copy of the book. There are over four thousand libraries in the UK. Not every library will have every book in the catalogue because libraries allow for people at one library to request a book from another nearby library, but if we imagine that 1 in 10 libraries need a book to cover that area, that still means 400 purchases, and that would be a significant chunk of sales for most authors. This is obvious at the upper end, but if across the country people requested a book at a library instead of pirating it, that author would notice the difference.

Then there’s what happens when the author’s next book comes out. If a book is being requested and checked out a lot, the library are vastly more likely to buy the next book the author publishes. You don’t have to pay a penny, but the author is still getting some income from sales.

Libraries are often supportive of local authors. At my local libraries, I’ve done talks and coffee mornings to promote my books, which usually leads to a couple of sales. There are local author days where writers are invited in to give presentations. All of this helps an author get their name known and library staff are more likely to want to work with an author if their books are being requested and read by members of the public.

Then there are public lending rights fees. In the UK, every time someone borrows a book from a public library, the author gets paid a few pence. At the moment it’s 7.82 pence, but they’re looking to increase that from February to 8.2 pence per loan. That may not sound like much, but that’s why every borrow counts. There are some authors (particularly in the romance genre) who rely on this for a significant percentage of their income. If you pirate a book, the author gets nothing. If you borrow it from a UK library, the author gets a few pence. Those few pence can add up over time.

So the next time you’re tempted to pirate a book, consider borrowing it from your local library instead.

Review: Acheiropoieta by UT Mosney

Achieropoieta coverBack in November, I wrote a review of Riptide by BC Matthews. Recently, I came across a mention of Acheiropoieta by UT Mosney (UK link, US link), described as a companion book to Riptide. Since I really enjoyed Riptide, I decided give this one a try. The two books are by different authors but set in the same universe and there are a few mentions in this book of “the British incident”, essentially referring to the events that kicked off the plot of Riptide.

Of the two books, I preferred Riptide, but given how dark that book was, I can see why some readers might prefer Acheiropoieta. Both stories deal with a relationship between a siren, sea creatures capable of bewitching humans with their voices and with a desire to eat human hearts, and a human. While Riptide explores an abusive and manipulative relationship, Acheiropoieta’s relationship is a lot more consensual, exploring the relationship between Niko and Jesse.

Niko is an artist, known for his gruesome religious work, including paintings of saints being martyred. For his work, he has earned the hatred of a local priest, and due to a copyright lawsuit he’s earned the hatred of a group of death metal fans, so angry letters, bricks through his windows, and death threats are a common occurrence. He takes this in stride, the prices of his paintings shooting up the more people complain about them.

For a painting of the death of Saint Sebastian, he needs to hire a model and this brings Jesse into his life. Jesse is an athletic, attractive young man interested in kinky sex, who wants a fun, no-strings-attached relationship with Niko. But the more time they spend together, the more Niko comes to care about Jesse, and to worry about him, because there’s something definitely wrong with him. Something that might come to light as Niko’s hate mail grows more gruesome.

I liked the idea behind this book and Niko was an interesting character. We get to see a lot of his background over the course of the book, but I didn’t really get inside the relationship the way I did with Riptide. The focus is on Niko’s past more than the relationship between the two of them, but even there it skimmed over a few areas. This was a very short book and I found myself wishing it was a bit longer, wishing we could have seen more of the interactions between Niko and Jesse to really get a feel for their relationship, as well as wishing for more background about certain areas. The hatred of the local priest for Niko is important to the story, but the book doesn’t really go into how that started (except that Niko has tattoos and doesn’t look the part of a religious man). There’s a friendship with Niko’s copyright lawyer that gets a single scene without being developed further. I would have enjoyed a longer book that took the time to explore these areas more, but especially to show us more of the interactions between Niko and Jesse.

There were also a couple of points where I thought the book needed another once-over by an editor. There were a handful of typos that crept into the finished manuscript, but there were also a couple of moments where the phrasing of the text left me confused as to what was going on and I had to reread those sections to try and puzzle it out, which through me out of the story. The worst of these was when a third character intrudes on Jesse and Niko and there was a reference to “the man” that I didn’t realise right away was another person and thought was referring to Jesse. Thankfully though, these moments were rare.

Overall my reaction to this book was a bit lukewarm – enjoyable enough but not going to make it onto my favourites list. I will look out for other books by this author, especially other books in this universe because, as I said, my main complaint with this book was that I wanted more out of it.

Blog Tour

Is anyone interested in participating in a blog tour?

My next novel, Wolf Unleashed, will be launching around Easter this year, published by Guardbridge Books. When the time comes, I plan to do a blog tour to get the word out – author interviews, guest posts, that sort of thing. If you write science fiction or fantasy books of the sort I discuss on this blog, I’m happy to talk about doing an exchange if you want to do something on this blog to promote your work.

Wolf Unleashed is set in a world like our own, but with werewolves existing as an abused and enslaved underclass. Crystal’s step-brother was bitten by a werewolf and in trying to find out what happened to him, she teams up with the rebellious werewolf Thomas to challenge the established order. With a black, bisexual protagonist and a diverse mix of characters, it explores both real and allegorical themes of prejudice, while still telling a fantasy adventure.

If you’re interested in participating in this blog tour, leave a comment below or contact me via one of the methods on the Contact Me page above.