The year so far

We’re over half way through 2017, so I thought I’d do a small run through of what’s been going on publishing-wise for me so far.

supernatural tales 34

The year began well with the inclusion of my short story, Castle Ruins, in Supernatural Tales 34 (30 January 2017)

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Then, on 1st March, and after it was held for over a year by a publisher before they finally decided to reject it, I self published the fast moving space opera, The Frihet Rebellion (1 March 2017).

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Staying with self publishing, I released The Risen Dead (13 April 2017), the first in The Givers Of Life series of linked novellas, and my first foray into the world of zombies.

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In June, The Society Of Misfit Stories published my lengthy short story, Emily In The Wall (7 June 2017), as a standalone publication. I knew this would be a difficult story to place, but The Society Of Misfit Stories is the perfect home for it.

Best of British Science Fiction 2016 cover

This month, my short story, The Lightship, is included in the anthology Best of British Science Fiction 2016 (10 July 2017), something of which I am very proud. It’s a fantastic collection of science fiction short stories and I highly recommend it to any sci fi fan.

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Not yet published, although available for pre-order on Amazon, is my novel, Eyes of the Raven (21 August 2017), published by World Castle Publishing. This is a story of murder and witchcraft, and introduces my current favourite character, Detective Chief Inspector Emily Sanders. I think there’s a very good chance you will hear more of Emily Sanders in the future.

Wonder why I’ve used the name “Emily” twice already this year? I think I just like it!

Also accepted for publication, but with no release date yet, are a horror novel, The Demon Guardian, and a science fiction short story, Signal. I’ll let you know more the moment I’m able to.

In terms of published work, it’s been a good year for me so far (we’ll ignore everything else going on in my life and in the world for the moment). But now, with only two short stories out looking for a home, I need to write more… a lot more… got to keep the dream going!

Thank you for reading.

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The story behind The Frihet Rebellion

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The Frihet Rebellion is my first book release of 2017 (and the first for over a year!). The story behind it, however, starts a long time ago, but still in this galaxy (sorry).

Way back in 1975 (when I was just 16) I wrote a short book called Space Revolution. A simple story of a nasty Earth government, a heroic alien and human aboard a superior alien craft, and a distant, rebellious princess. This was two years before the release of Star Wars, so stop pointing those fingers. Its real influence was comic books, the Martian and Venus tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs, pulp sci fi in general and the imagination of a 16 year old boy (Sexy teenage princess? Sure, why not?).

Paper was cut down to size and I typed the story out (on a ribbon rapidly losing ink). My older brother Colin (who had more experience of this and was – and is – much more of a perfectionist than me) agreed to glue the book together, trim the pages to a neat edge AND produce an amazing wrap-around cover, created with pen and poster paints. Here’s the result (I still have it, and it still holds together perfectly).

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In 2015 I decided to resurrect Space Revolution and rewrite it, start to finish. The basic story elements remained, but characters and incidents were fleshed out and changes made to fit with my older and, possibly, more mature outlook. The result was The Frihet Rebellion which, I hope, retains the excitement, fast movement and pulp nature of the original.

When it came to the cover design, I knew I had to have that ship from the original cover. It just conjured the flavour of the story so well. So, with a little photoshopping, I added a fresh new star field to the background, the new title and there it was – I think, the perfect cover for The Frihet Rebellion.

As with everything I write, I am less concerned with being seen as a “good writer” and more with being a “good storyteller”. This story has been with me a long time. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing, and rewriting, it.

The ebook is currently available for pre-order and will be released on 1st March 2017. The paperback is currently going through review and will also be available then, if not before.

You can pre-order on Amazon now.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

A Literary Question

I have spoken of this before, but it continues to worry me. Should my fiction contain meaningful insights into the human condition? Or should it just tell a good story?

There may well be times when I have highlighted something of the suffering so many go through, or have even used metaphor to tell a greater truth, but if I have it has always been secondary to the plot in my mind.

I admit it! When I write, I don’t set out to edify anyone, or raise questions of morality or justice, or challenge the prevailing views of society. What I am hoping to do is tell a good story without my writing getting in the way of it. It’s true there is an underlying comment on racism and immigration in A World Of Assassins, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about a series of murders and the detective sent to another world to catch the killer. There are comments and views on depression throughout much of Hard Winter, but it’s not the driving force of the novel. I try to write believable characters that readers will invest in, and stories they can get involved in. If anything else hitches a ride at the same time, it’s a minor issue compared to the narrative whole.

Let’s turn the tables. What about me as a reader? Do I choose the fiction I read to be educated, to grow as a person? Do I f… no, I don’t. I read non-fiction books for that kind of thing. I read fiction to be entertained, to escape, to bury myself in a good story well told. A quick look at some of my favourite writers will show that. Wonderful writers and story tellers like Richard Laymon, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H Rider Haggard, Steve Gerlach, Brian Keene, Guy N Smith, William Meikle, Arthur C Clarke. It’s true that within the full (and growing) list of my favourites there are some “deeper” writers, people like H G Wells, Frank Herbert, Douglas Clegg, who often have some very serious thought and meaning behind stories (and the previous list are not above the occasional foray into more “serious” passages in their fiction) but the one thing they all have in common is the ability to tell a good story and not let the message get in the way. Ok, so maybe H G Wells was guilty of it occasionally, but not generally when it came to his science fiction, which is what I enjoy the most.

Where does this leave me? Well, if many of the authors above are considered “pulp” writers (as they are) then I hope I am worthy to be included, at some time in the future, in their ranks. Pulp is not an insult. Pulp is a history of writing where the story is the most important thing, not some hidden (or not so hidden) message, and not some attempt to be “literary” by focussing on the minutest detail with a plethora of long words that send most of us rushing to Google to find out what the hell they mean.

What set all this off? We’re beginning to see the lists of “best *** books of 2015 so far” (fill in the genre of your choice) and, as is so often the case, the books that tend to be chosen are the most “literary” of the genre – the ones with deep meanings or, alternatively, worlds so weird that the reviewer feels they must be deep and they are just missing the point (which they will never admit to of course). Where are the lists that are the great stories, the exciting tales? Believe me, this is not bitterness at never being on any such lists (I have a long way to go before I can even think of such a thing) but rather just the disappointment I feel when I read another list and find no books on there (or at least very few) that I would even read, let alone enjoy. The lists make me feel inadequate, then they make me angry for feeling inadequate.

In the end, of course, it’s all down to personal taste, and there is more than enough room for all types of storytelling in the world. But don’t look down on “pulp”. It takes a lot of skill and hard work to be a good “pulp” writer. It’s not easy telling a really good story and making sure your use of language assists, rather than hinders, the telling. I know. I’m still trying to get it just right.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already, find and read some books by all the authors mentioned above. Every one of them is worth your time and effort (and your money). Good reading 🙂

Too Straight-Forward?

Is there a place for the straight-forward in genre fiction any more?

It’s a serious question with implications for me at least. You see, I’m under no illusions – I don’t write literature, never wanted to, never have done and never will. What I set out to do, and what I hope I succeed in doing at least sometimes, is to write good straight-forward stories that are easy to read, exciting and fun with believable characters that you feel something for, whether it be love or hate or just interest. Problem is, I’m beginning to wonder whether there’s a market for that any more?

This is where the problem comes from. I look at the books in horror and science fiction (the two genres I tend to write in) that are getting the rave reviews or being shortlisted in various awards (Stoker, Hugo, BFS etc.) and they seem to be almost universally clever or unusual books, or all too often the self-consciously off-the-wall book. I am not criticising those books, indeed I have read several and really enjoyed them, but they are not straight-forward, or what some people might call pulp.

I know the moment I use that dreaded word pulp there will be readers and writers (and particularly critics) who will immediately sniff and turn away as if they’ve just smelt something awful. It’s one of those strange things, pulp writers and readers seldom criticise the more literary among the genre, but the more literary often criticise the pulp. Why? In my opinion it takes every bit as much skill to write good pulp fiction as it does to write good literary fiction, it’s just a different skill. But I don’t think the critics or the people behind awards will ever realise or acknowledge that.

So, my question is whether there is still a market for good straight-forward storytelling when all the attention seems to be on the clever, more literary books? If there isn’t, my writing career is screwed before it’s even really got started.

I’m lucky as a reader that I like a fairly broad range of genre fiction. In horror I can go from the quiet, soft approach of Charles L Grant and T M Wright to the more in-your-face approach of Richard Laymon, Brian Keene, Guy N Smith and others. In science fiction I enjoy equally the books of Stephen Baxter, Arthur C Clarke, Jack Vance, Elizabeth Moon and so on. Surely there’s a place for all approaches to the genres?

Perhaps my greatest hope lies in the success of a writer like William Meikle, an excellent author at the height of his powers who writes exceptional pulp fiction (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that). His popularity gives me hope that there are other readers out there like me who enjoy great story telling without the literary side-salad. And, of course, the grand master of pulp, Guy N Smith, is still writing, and authors like Steve Gerlach continue the work begun by Richard Laymon, so maybe, just maybe there might be an audience for my books out there – if my books are good enough of course. But that’s a question (and a worry) for another time.

So, to answer my own original question, yes, I think so and I hope so. To the pulp writers, keep writing the great stories and don’t be seduced by the temptation to be literary. To the readers, please keep buying and reading the books you love, doesn’t matter whether they’re literary or pulp as long as you enjoy them.

One thing’s for sure – I’m not going to be winning any of those literary prizes! 🙂