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Friday, 30 May 2014

Interlude 004

Unicorn Western – Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant

Published 2012

4 stars

Cast out from the magical kingdom of The Realm and into the dying desert of the Sands beyond, Marshal Clint Gulliver and his unicorn Edward have finally found peace in the small and dusty town of Solace. For the first time since leaving The Realm, Clint has dared to be happy, getting hitched to his bride to be, Mai. But when the town faces a deadly approaching enemy, the gunslinger feels compelled unholster his seven-shooters to face it... and the dark magic it brings with it.

It started as a joke. David Wright challenged his SPP and writing colleagues Sean and Johnny saying that they could never write a western because massive amounts of research would be needed.

The guys said they would just put a unicorn in it and explain any historical inaccuracies through magic.

It’s genius.

I’ll admit straight off that it’s not for everyone. However I live in a world where I love Stephen King's DARK TOWER books so magic and cowboys work fine with me. But let me be clear, this book isn’t stupid. The guys haven’t written something immature just to make a point. It’s a really good story with quite a dark plot that only promises to get bigger (this became part one of a nine part saga).

Throughout the tale little snippets of the world’s history are dropped with not a single info dump in sight. It’s great writing and makes you want to follow these characters where ever they go just so you can learn more about the places and people of the Realm and the Sands.

Clint and Edward the unicorn are a great double act. Edward, in particular was inspired. I won’t give anything away but he was nothing like I expected him to be.

In fact I can’t think of anything bad to say about this book. The lack of a fifth star is only representative of the fact that this is a small part to a bigger work and I’m giving it the allowance to get better. As the first part it obviously leaves a few threads open at the end and so it’s hard to be satisfied with what is, essentially, just the opening salvo.

But that’s fine. If you’re like me, the second you finish the last page you’ll be back at the (digital) bookstore happy to buy the rest of the collection

Looking forward to more adventures with Clint and Edward.


A few months ago Craig Anderson drew my attention to FLASH! FRIDAY, a challenge to write a 150 word story using just a word prompt and a picture selected by those that run the site.
I’ve been following it for several weeks now, waiting for the time when inspiration struck me and today I found that story. 
I like it because it only takes my Friday lunch time to complete and it will keep me challenged and creative while I carry on working through Uncanny Tales.
This week the prompt was ‘Freedom’ with the following picture. Enjoy.

The Lady of the Woods

I’d been watching her for hours before she finally spoke to me. “You can come out.”
Glad that the waiting was over I stepped from the shadows of the tree line and walked over to the pool in the centre of the clearing.
“Why are you watching me,” she sighed.
“I wanted to see you for myself,” I replied.
“You are indeed beautiful.” And she was. The lady of the woods, a creature of nature; skin of grass, hair of ivy and eyes like lily pads.
She dipped her hand into the water. “Why are you here?”
“I want to help you.”
Her emerald eyes widened. “You can lift my curse?”
“More than that,” I said. “I’ll give you vengeance against those that trapped you here.”
The ground trembled as she stood, the earth becoming her body. She was majestic.
I grinned. “But I need you to do something for me first.”

 More next week.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 16: “Feeling the author blues”

I’m worried that I might be setting my goals a little too high. It’s a fine line between motivational goals to keep on target and being unrealistic which leads to stress and bad writing.

The problem is I’m quite an impatient person. I think that, because of all the years I’ve wasted, I’m now counting every second that I’m not working on my project and my word count isn’t going through the roof as nothing less than pure failure.


WIFE: “I’m going to bed”

ME: “Okay. I’m going to stay up and try and get this draft finished.”

WIFE: “Don’t stay up too late. You’ve got work in the morning.”

ME: “I know. But I’ve got to get this done. It’s important.”

WIFE: “I know it’s important but you’ve still got to sleep”

Can you guess what happened next? The wife went to bed and got a good nights sleep while I stayed up until 1:30am. The next day at work I was shattered. Zombie Brian.

I am so determined to avoid the ‘Demons of Distraction’ and get this done by Christmas that it’s causing me to lose sleep. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I’d lit that firework under my ass and was now smashing through the brick wall of procrastination.

But it’s been tougher than I thought it would be when I started this back in February. That was almost four months ago; a third of the way to my self-picked deadline and I feel like I’m miles away.

The biggest problem I have is that there is always something to do. Move house, keep an eye on my son (he’s walking now so it’s very hard to sit at the computer if he’s off exploring), have dinner, wash up after dinner, watch Game of Thrones (I know but have you seen it? Amazing!), sell belongings at car boot sale (it rained).

I’ve recalled the advice that says even 30 minutes of writing a day, just 1000 words, and it all adds up. But I can’t stop telling myself that it’s not enough.

I read the blogs I’m following and I see rookie authors talk about all their projects in the past tense and I’m envious. I wish I had my own back catalogue of work to show off, to put up for sale. I wish people had read my stories whether they loved them or hated them. I wish people were messaging me every day asking when the third [Project Death] book is coming out or that they just posted fan-fiction based on something of mine (this is one of my three author dreams).

I want it all now.

If I had a time machine I would go back to ‘College Brian’, punch him in the face and scream at him to drop Art and Math, stop wasting his time and mine with the girlfriend (spoiler: she was a big distraction and it doesn’t work out!) and just get words on pages.

But I can’t. Hind sight is a wonderful thing but it ain’t no time machine.

At least I have been consistent with the blog, of that I’m proud. I really didn’t think I would make it past the first month but its sixteen posts later and I’m still going. I know you could say that I should use that time to write Uncanny Tales instead but it’s becoming a little therapeutic writing these articles. I’m able to admit things much more honestly to myself by writing it down, just like this post.

I’m also trying to get out there and meet fellow writers online but I’m not brilliant at it. I’ve built up a nice little list of blogs by indie authors and I’ve started mingling a little on comments sections. It’s all well and good reading other peoples articles and books for guidance but it would be nice to have a friendship with someone that has a clue what I’m going through. My world is empty of anyone who writes. Friends and family are as supportive as they can be but there will always be that limit.

And now I sound desperate and needy. Apologies.

I guess I’ll just have to keep going and see what happens come December. I hope I’ve managed to get out of this rut. I hope I got a book out there for people to read and enjoy. 

I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 15: “The Sounds of Writing”

When I took part in NaNoWriMo 2007 one of the things that helped me through the novel that I ended up with was listening to movie soundtracks as I typed.

I hadn’t long been buying soundtracks and only had a small collection. Whilst it was all really good music, none of it fit with my style of writing.

Then one day I heard a piece of music from the movie Transformers called ‘Arrival on Earth’. Thirty minutes of sampling the rest of the tracks on that album and I went ahead and downloaded the whole damn thing.

I started to get a real liking for the atmosphere created by listening to this and similar soundtracks. It helped me block out distractions like people in other rooms or noises from the outside world. And with no lyrics it meant I couldn’t be distracted by humming along or singing to the good bits (which I never do, honest).

I found myself drawn to a lot of Hans Zimmer as well as some of his contemporaries. At first I was worried that listening to the music from movies I loved would just cause me to subconsciously repeat too much of the movies themselves. I worried that all I’d end up with was pure plagiarism.

But it didn’t happen like that. Instead I found that it just brought out more drama in my scenes and my ideas. Chase scenes felt more like chase scenes. Fight scenes felt more like fight scenes.

And so it continued.

What happened next was more important though. I found that I could listen to soundtracks at times when I wasn’t writing, like going for a walk with my son or doing the washing up. During these times I would picture certain scenes from various projects or create my own movie trailers for my novels.

Certain beats in the tracks I listened to would cause me to suddenly introduce a character into a scene because the music had changed to a slightly different theme. Other times the music would slow right down and maybe drop everything except violins. This would make me ponder if the character in the scene would stop and prepare themselves or realise something important at a critical moment.

I’ve always been aware of the power that music plays in movies as well as movie trailers. Personally I’m a sucker for music that starts soft before building up, bringing in more instruments and heading towards a crescendo of raw power. You know the trailers, the ones that have a lot of slow fades during the first half but switch to jump cut after jump cut as the action ramps up.

I recently used the music of Two Steps From Hell (like Immediate and ES Posthumus they create music to be used in movie trailers – you’d be surprised by how many you might recognise) to re plan books two and three from my [Project Death] trilogy.

It was pure chance that I was thinking about these novels at the same time as the three pieces of music played in the order they did. It’s hard to explain but after playing the music over and over for about half an hour I had three ‘trailers’ in my head and a lot of key moments to the stories than I had written down in my notes.

I now treat these like little audio notes and am able to remember it all again in really good detail just by listening to the required tracks. It was fluke but I guess we won’t see if it worked until I release the trilogy.

And so I plan to continue. Whenever I sit down to write or to plan I always go straight to soundtracks in my i-pod playlists and then let the music guide me to where I need the story to go.

What follows are my three favourite tracks and the key scenes that they have helped shape.

‘Fides en lucius dei’ -Immediate
 (from the album Trailerhead)
[Project Death] NaNoWriMo 2007

This story’s climax revolves around the hero finally facing off against the villain in the centre of his home town. The only thing that divides them is a vicious sea of monsters out for blood. As the music slowly builds the hero begins to realise what he has to do and that he can still use his new found abilities to win this fight.

With rage building inside him he uses his weapon and cuts a swathe through the monsters before leaping into the air and straight at his enemy. In the original version of this scene the main character just walked down the empty high street while carrying out a verbal slanging match with the villain. It was boring.

The music builds in steps becoming louder and more intense. Key moments in the scene play out to key moments in the music; the sudden certainty, the run, the leap and finally the start of the final battle.

‘Molossus’ - Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard 
(from the soundtrack Batman Begins)
[Project Hero] NaNoWriMo 2009

With the heroes regrouped and ready to attack the villain’s base of operation I struggled to get a real scale of a small team of super powered beings attacking an island.

With ‘Molossus’ I was able to build up a picture of each member of the team being to sneak further inland until, one by one, they came up against resistance and were forced to fight. At the time this was the only piece I had downloaded from the Batman Begins soundtrack but, putting it on repeat and rewriting the scene in one evening I was able to build it up into an epic attack where no one held back.

I especially like the break about three and a half minutes in when things die down for a couple of seconds which pushed me into putting a breather into the fight, a moment when the heroes think they’ve beaten back the enemy forces only to discover the real threat waiting for them once they reach the base.

‘Shard’ - Steve Jablonsky 
(from the soundtrack Transformer: Revenge of the Fallen)
[Project Mind] NaNoWriMo 2010

This piece of music helped me plan a critical scene during the climax of the second act of [Project Mind]. The hero has been captured and his three comrades have just worked out the villain’s true plan. There is a specific point within the city they must get to quickly if they have any hope of stopping the bad guy.

The first version had all three of them travelling across the rooftops together. Occasionally they spoke as they got closer, building their plan of attack. But the route was a straight line and description got boring.

After listening to ‘Shard’ at work one day I thought up a new way to present it. The track shifts dramatically in style and it felt to me like three different ‘themes’ were racing each other to the finishing line. I decided that the three characters were not near each other at the beginning of the scene and that each had a different way of traveling.

One drove through the rush hour streets, horn beeping as they shouted at people to get out of the way. Another used his brute strength to run across the windows of skyscrapers, leading between buildings where necessary. The last kept his route across the rooftops but I put obstacles in his way.

Their paths crossed at times as the music changed and I used that to switch the POV. It makes for a much more dramatic and jaw dropping scene than three guys going for a rooftop jog.

And that’s how I’ve used music while writing. It might not work for everyone but then again it might be what you’re missing. Give it a go and find composers you like. Think about your novels while you’re out and about and having the music on your MP3 player. See if a soundtrack makes you rethink a scene or even an entire novel.

See you in seven

Recommended soundtracks:

Batman Begins                          Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard
Bourne Supremacy, The          John Powell
Fellowship of the Ring             Howard Shore
Inception                                    Hans Zimmer
Man of Steel                              Hans Zimmer
Pirates of the Caribbean          Klaus Badelt
Requiem for a Dream               Clint Mansell
Star Wars: Episode III             John Williams
Transformers                            Steve Jablonsky
Unbreakable                             James Newton Howard           

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Interlude 003

The BurningDark – Adam Christopher

Published 2014

3 stars

Back in the day, Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland had led the Fleet into battle against an implacable machine intelligence capable of devouring entire worlds. But after saving a planet, and getting a bum robot knee in the process, he finds himself relegated to one of the most remote backwaters in Fleetspace to oversee the decommissioning of a semi-deserted space station well past its use-by date.

But all is not well aboard the U-Star 
Coast City. The station’s reclusive Commandant is nowhere to be seen, leaving Cleveland to deal with a hostile crew on his own. Persistent malfunctions plague the station’s systems while interference from a toxic purple star makes even ordinary communications problematic. Alien shadows and whispers seem to haunt the lonely corridors and airlocks, fraying the nerves of everyone aboard.

Isolated and friendless, Cleveland reaches out to the universe via an old-fashioned space radio, only to tune in to a strange, enigmatic signal: a woman’s voice that seems to echo across a thousand light-years of space. But is the transmission just a random bit of static from the past—or a warning of an undying menace beyond mortal comprehension?

Since AdamChristopher appeared on the scene with the fantastic one-two of Empire State and Seven Wonders I’ve been dying to see where he would go next. I love comic books and you get a real sense from both these books that Adam does too.

I have yet to read Age Atomic (the follow up to Empire State) or Hang Wire as I decided to go past those and see what he could do with space horror (or ‘space suspense’) instead.

First off, don’t let the three stars I gave it suggest that I didn’t enjoy it. It was good. I have a feeling I will 
read anything that this man writes and I didn’t regret reading Burning Dark for a second. It’s just that I had a few tiny problems with it. And one really big one.

The opening scene set during a space battle blew me away and probably led to the challenge for the rest of the novel to live up to. Mighty battle ships facing off against a robotic spider the size of a moon, a planet caught in the middle. Epic stuff. Straight away I want to know more about this war.

Unfortunately it switches to a slower story and never really gets back to that epic scale again. I felt snatched away from the Human/Spider war that the intro teased. It didn’t help that before this novel I read the novella Cold War which is set in the same world as Burning Dark. This short story follows a team of marines sent to capture a baby spider and return it to the Fleet at any cost. It was good, tense stuff.

Still, once I’d shifted with the book and got into the slower story I started to enjoy myself again. The build-up of tension, the shadows, the noises and the voices from the far reaches of space coming through a hand built radio. Something I really liked was how future tech was used to enhance the fear. You would think that, with all that modern technology, it would be difficult to find scares on a functioning space station. But Adam utilises features specific to the genre to take things back to that haunted house feel. Because the station is being slowly deconstructed things that are at first thought to be technical glitches suddenly become spooky when systems check out normal. I particularly liked a scene involving the location (or not) of a marine through his locator chip.

But then we get to my main problem with the story. Cleveland is supposed to be smart; the best the fleet has to offer in terms of ship commanders. Yet something extremely obvious exists in the story that just makes him look dumb for not noticing. I wanted to scream at him regarding this ‘twist’ but I knew he wouldn’t hear me. Again and again it was too obviously sign posted to the reader while the main character takes three quarters of the book to figure it out.

This one thing irked me from the moment I spotted it right through to the end. It’s a shame really because I was really getting into the rest of the story and the characters. Without this character flaw the rest of the book was good. I wished for more of the Spider War and am looking forward to the second book in the series called The Machine Awakes.  

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 14: “Keep it short”

A couple of days ago I read a post on Anne Allen’s blog that put a smile on my face.

Though she might not know it, Anne helped me take the plunge into blogging when I was clueless to the whole thing. I’d read about blogging and social presence for the self-publishing author before I started this project but had decided it was too soon for me to jump in if I had nothing to put out there.

Of course I then had my epiphany and decided ‘screw it. I’ll blog about writing that first book instead’.

As soon as I decided I wanted ‘web-presence’ I scoured the internet in search of anything that could help my limited knowledge on the subject (I’ve said before that I’m learning this as I go). Late one night I stumbled upon Anne’s blog and found helpful Do’s and Don’ts for blogging authors. After looking at the rest of her site it seemed she might just know what she was talking about so I decided to listen.

Something she posts about often is how short fiction is making its come back over recent years. Most readers today are very busy and just don’t have time to take the risk on a new 700 page novel from a fledgling reader. So could shorter fiction be the easier way into these people’s crowded lives? I’m sure hoping so.

Anne has warned before that a writer shouldn’t just bundle up the first handful of shorts that they’ve written and chuck them out into the world. If people read some of my early work I would cringe. In fact, I’m including early versions of IMPRISONED and LOVE BITE alongside their expanded rewritten versions within the UNCANNY TALES: vol 1 collection to illustrate this exact point.

I’m hoping that the mix of styles across the stories from UNCANNY TALES: vol 1 will work for me in three different ways:

1)      People who enjoy more supernatural tales but might not normally read sci-fi can dip into their usually avoided genres and maybe see what they were missing without forcing themselves through a lengthy novel (hell, my own mother shocked me by not only reading my zombie story CONDOLENCE but actually liking it!).

2)      If I released one story and people didn’t like the way I wrote characters then I could end up disheartened. But what if I just write bad vampires because I’ve absorbed too much from television and cinema and my characters in those types of stories are just walking clich├ęs? What if my prison story characters and my zombie story characters are really good? Instead of writing bad characters it turns out that I might just write really bad vampire stories. So no more vampire stories. Lesson learned.

3)      Any one of the stories included in the collection (and I’ve just switched to ‘optimistic mode’ for a second) could become a fan favourite and lead into more short stories and/or novels; like an American pilot TV season. I’ve already had interest expressed in Peter Grainger from IMPRISONED both for a prequel (my writing teacher) and a sequel (a friend).

Going forward I plan to use short stories for other purposes. Once I have UNCANNY TALES: vol 1 out in the world I plan to go back to a novel I’ve been working on/off for a few years. One idea I’ve had is to post short stories on this blog that link into the novels as a way of promoting the books as well as keeping readers interested between the bigger releases.

Next year I also have a novel split into ten parts that I’m looking at releasing on the first day of every month starting from September. Again, it’s shorter so that readers can find time to get into it.

But for now these brave few, these chosen seven will be shaping up and getting ready to show the world what I can do. I like them and I hope you will to.

As a side note, if you’re a writer struggling with your first novel and you’ve never thought about writing short stories then I implore you to try. It can help you learn things about your writing you might not find otherwise (I’ve used them to practice first person, third person and twist endings). It can also feel rewarding to have a nice stack of short stories to wave under peoples noses when they ask to see what it is you write.

And if you’re not a writer then how about trying to write a short story? Don’t be afraid. Just try something small to start, maybe 1500 words. And if you enjoy it when you get to the end you could write another. And another.

See where I’m going with this.

Anyway, I’m off to work on UNCANNY TALES: vol 1.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 13: “There’s a time and a place”

The heavy central column was slowly lowered down onto a block that sat at the centre of a large wooden disc. Holes were aligned before four thick metal bolts were inserted into place. The grunts of the worker echoed with each revolution of the nuts until the pieces were secure.

Next, four wooden fins, carved from the finest pine in all the land were held in position, one at a time, as the worker again pierced the column with more steel bolts. The fins curved up from the head of the column pointing north, east, south and west.

With the mighty wooden structure complete it was slowly lifted and flipped until the fins settled on the ground, supporting the weight of the thick pine column and the great wooden disc that sat atop it.

The dining room table was ready.

It sounds silly but I’ve been waiting a while now to get the back room cleared out and our dining room table put together (thanks mum). Now I finally have somewhere proper to write for the first time since before my son was born. 

At first I thought about putting the short story project on hold until I had this place to sit down with the lap top and get cracking but it would only have been more time wasted. If you’ve been following this blog you know about my past regrets in that respect.

Until now I’ve only really had two places to sit down and write my stories. Neither of them were ideal but they helped me get done all that I have so far. I guess I can’t knock them but I’m ready to ‘level up’ now.

The first place I’ve called my writing home, and where I’ve got most of it done in the last year, are the glass tables of my work canteen. It can be noisy with people chatting and Radio 1 is always on, spitting out its daily drivel. However, I’ve been lucky. A few of my colleagues know what I’m doing (and follow my blog – hi guys!) and so it’s not been too difficult to get left alone with just my i-pod and note pads. After I’ve had a quick snack and got set up I can get a good fifty minutes on one lunch break which equals about four pages of lined A4. It’s a shorter amount of time then I’d like (I HATE going back) but it allows me to be consistent; 5x50=250 so about 4 hours almost guaranteed a week.

The other place I’ve utilised is the living room. Until recently there wasn’t really anywhere else in the house to go and sit and write. I only had a foot stool (that came with a second hand sofa) for a chair and my sons feeding chair as a desk; not exactly comfortable. Worst of all it was right next to the television, one of the demons of distraction.

But now I have a nice table to sit at. I can type away whilst not being hunched over. I can have peace and quiet. I can have room to spread out my notebooks. And, most importantly, my wife can watch One Born Every Minute without having to put up with the clack, clack, clacking of the laptop keyboard.

Everyone’s a winner.

If you’re a writer you probably know what I’m on about and have your own special space in the world that brings out your best work (please let me know yours in the comments). It doesn’t have to be that massive mahogany desk in the study behind the locked door. It just needs to be somewhere you can get on with it and have everything you need and none of the things you don’t.

I won’t be giving up my lunch time writing anytime soon (those four hours a week helped me set a new personal best word count for NaNoWriMo last year so it must work) but now the lunch time writing will be just that; lunch. And then I come home and the evening in my writing space allows me to have a nice big three course meal of creativity; reading other writers blogs for the starter, working on my project for the main course and then putting together notes or planning future blog posts for dessert.

I’m optimistic now that my output will increase dramatically.

And all because of a dining room table.

See you in seven.