Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dare He?


I don't know about you, but I've been seeing a lot of these straight-to-DVD movies in my local supermarket in recent months. Movies that nobody even tried to get into a cinema, because they were that rubbish. Just the titles make me laugh, like Rutger Hauer´s 'Hobo With A Shotgun'. The covers and packaging may be getting more professional, but there's no doubting what you're going to get inside. Recently there have been a string of gung-ho war movies out, with actors you've never heard of and plots that make The Simpsons look like serious intellectual property. My current favourite is the second movie in the 'He Who Dares' series, called 'Downing Street Siege'. Presumably, 'He Who Dares' refers to the sheer gall it took to make a second movie. I haven't seen the movie, and I don't plan to, but the blurb on the back of the case made me giggle. SAS hard men in a race against time to save the life of the kidnapped Prime Minister. We've seen plenty of these kinds of movies from the States, where some hero has to save the President from assorted terrorists, and for Americans, the post of president may well be sacred. But the idea that anyone would want to save the Prime Minister seems too far fetched, even for Hollywood. Given the view that most Brits have of their Prime Minister, it really should be turned into a comedy.

SAS Trooper 1: "Put down your weapon, or we shoot!"


Random Terrorist: "You come any closer and, by Allah, I will shoot your Prim Ministing"


SAS Trooper 1 turns to his companion: "What do you think, Nobby?"


SAS Trooper 2: "Sounds like a good deal to me, Smudger."


SAS Trooper 1 to the terrorist. "Okay, mate. You shoot him, then we shoot you. Deal?"


BANG! RAT A TAT TAT!


SAS Trooper 1: "Job's a good 'un. Now, who else in the Cabinet can we let them have?"


It would be the only time someone rooted for the terrorists, really. Be even better if they can make the actor who plays the Prime Minister look like Blair/Cameron/Milliband/Clegg. They all look the same, so any spiv in a suit will do.


I'd pay good money to see that.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I'm Back!




Did you miss me?

What do you mean, you didn't know I was gone? Are you serious? You did not have occasion to wonder at the absence of the witty one liners, the acerbic reviews, the bold and perceptive reportage on the world of indie publishing?

Okay, okay, but you could have at least noticed the cobwebs...

Anyway, I'm back in the saddle, and I come bearing gifts. First is the news that work has resumed on the X-Troop series and, two weeks into the New Year, the fifth book is going well. We begin the new novel with Alex stranded in the far north. How? Why? Well, you'll have to see, but winter is drawing in, the lakes are freezing over, the snow will soon fall, and Alex finds himself on his toughest assignment yet, looking for an enemy who's disappeared, and struggling to find the clues he needs to prevent a global disaster. The clock is ticking, and once again X-Troop are involved in a race against time. But they always are, aren't they? And why change things, eh?

So that's where the latest sequel is at. Still no title, I'm afraid, and I can't give away any more clues (yet), but so far it's looking good.

The second piece of news is that, if you haven't already done so, you can grab hold of the second novel in the series, X-Troop, which will be available for free (yes, FREE) at the end of this week, from the 16th to the 20th of January. So if you don't have it, get it then. And if you do have it, tell a friend to try it out. I mean, seriously, what's the worst they could do?

You can always leave town if it's that bad. And you never liked them that much, did you? Did you? Okay, my bad.

But it's there, it's free, and that's gotta be good. Grab a copy at:

Amazon and Amazon UK

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Taking a Break




I'm going through a period of reorganisation right now, a kind of reorganisation of my life. There's a lot of stuff going on of a very personal nature, so I'm taking a break from writing the X-Troop series until January next year.

I hope you don't mind. But of course you don't, you're a patient reader.

You are, aren't you?

No? Well, give it a go.

As well as normal life, other projects have been vying for my attention (and they have been so hard to resist). In the middle of that, I have made contact with my Spanish relatives for the first time since I was a baby. I have never known them and, as you can imagine, this is a pretty big deal. I shall be flying to Spain soon for an emotional reunion. It will be my first journey there as an adult.

So yeah, big stuff going on.

So wish me well, and I'll pick up this blog again in January as I resume my normal duties. Alex Harvey and the boys (and Dolores) remain on task. Unlike me, they don't hang about, so I'll tell you the rest of their story next year, with Book 5 of the series (as yet untitled) looking to come out around Easter 2015.

In the meantime, behave yourselves, and don't do anything I wouldn't do. Or anything I would do.

But if you do, remember the maxim: Don't get caught. 

Have a great new year (and the rest of this year of course), and I'll see you all in 2015.

Ciao.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bunker 51



The next book is out, and the badness just got badder! And I don't mean the book is bad, no. I mean... ah hell, you know what I mean.

You do, don't you?

Look, it's the situation the characters are in that's bad, not the book, alright? Sheesh.

So what can fans of the series expect? Well, tons of action. In fact, I think the action quotient for this book is the highest in the series so far. That's a lot of cap-banging, alien-slotting (oh yes - and no, that's not what you think it is), knife slashing and knuckle bashing. The alien plot to take over the world is in full flow, and X-Troop are fighting hard to save the day. But it's not all violence and uncouth behaviour (though most of it is). Alex gets to meet a living icon (of sorts), Dolores finds she has an admirer and Sergei displays his maternal instincts.

Bunker 51 is a top secret facility deep in the Nevada Desert and X-Troop is approached by the US government to check it out, as they appear to have lost control of it, but they're not too sure what they've lost control of it to. Is it an escaped alien? A bio-engineered virus? As they venture deep underground, X-Troop are about to find out what the authorities have been hiding in there - and it really, really isn't good. I mean, really.

Familiar at all with the Resident Evil games and movies? Well, my lawyer informs me that this book bears no resemblance whatsoever to those works. None at all. I mean, really.

But don't take his word for it (psst! He's lying through his goddamn teeth! It's almost exactly like... what? Oh... right. Shhhh... ). Get it from Amazon or Amazon UK for just 99 cents (or 75p) until September 14th, 'cos the price is going up then.

So why are you still reading this? Get clicking now!

And didn't they have zombies in Resident Evil? Completely different genre altogether, right? Right?

Racoon City? *pfft*

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Influences

After reading William Vitka's blog post I thought I'd copy it take inspiration from it and display my own influences. What follows is a list of the things that have had some sort of effect on my imagination, and therefore my writing. It's a weird and eclectic mix of war, fantasy, sci-fi and new age romance (uhh, yes) - novels, movies, games and music. I can't promise it'll please everyone, or anyone, and I've had to whittle down the list to only include the important stuff, else I'll be writing it forever. It's still too long for just one post, so I'll be splitting it up over the coming weeks/months/whatever.

But if you've ever been curious to know why I write what I do, or why I write how I do, then this post may leave you as baffled as ever enlighten you or entertain you, whichever works best.

It's also a journey through my writing career, from daydreamer to writer, so to speak. So let's go back to the beginning to when I was a wee lad... (cue fade out and harp music).


633 Squadron

I read a lot of war novels as a teenager, but the ones that stand out in my memory were the 633 Squadron series by Frederick E Smith. I don't know what attracted me to them - maybe it was the stirring theme music from the movie - but I shelled out serious pocket money on gathering the series. Which was a big deal for me in those days, as I really didn't get much, and books were expensive.

Each book covered a different operation as the mixed nationality squadron flew out in their Mosquito fighter-bombers to hit Jerry where it hurt, culminating in a near-suicide mission at the end. It was stirring stuff, packed with detail and great characters. I don't own the books now and haven't read them for years, so I have no idea how well the novels have aged. Were they well written, or slightly cheesy? Your guess is as good as mine, but I enjoyed them and if some part of them hasn't sneaked into my writing style, I'd be very surprised.


Goodbye Mickey Mouse

Len Deighton was famous for his Cold War spy thrillers, including the Harry Palmer series, some of which were made into movies, starring Michael Caine as the laconic spy anti-hero who was supposed to be the antidote to the more fantasy-based James Bond. Harry Palmer is history now, while James Bond and his special effects stunt team remains. Draw your own conclusions.

But Len Deighton was also a fine historian and he wrote several historically accurate WWII novels, one of which was Goodbye Mickey Mouse.

I read Goodbye Mickey Mouse just as I was getting to the end of my war book phase, and it marked an interesting watershed for me. Unlike previous books I'd read, Goodbye Mickey Mouse is more about the characters than the action, and it was probably my first introduction into serious character development. The novel charts a brief spell in the lives of US pilots (and the women who loved them) in 1944. It covers airbase culture, combat operations, life in wartime England and the thoughts and feelings of young Americans, plucked from mid-west farms and east coast cities, strapped into the cockpit of powerful Mustangs and sent to fight over the turbulent skies of Europe, where a single missed dot in the distance could be the aircraft that kills you.

It's a powerful novel and the ending is a real kick in the guts. For me, it was an introduction to a different kind of story telling, and a lesson in brilliant, multi-layered plotting. I do still own this book and yes, it's still a good book.

I consider it to be one of Len Deighton's best.


The Sunset Warrior

The Sunset Warrior, by Eric Van Lustbader, was my first solo venture into fantasy books. I'd had The Hobbit read to me at school, and I have a vague recollection of someone reading a Narnia novel to the class at some point, but fantasy stories didn't grip me the way war stories did - not at that age anyway. As a teenager I attempted to read The Lord of the Rings, but the pace and complexity defeated my immature mind. I wanted action, not Hobbit birthday parties. I didn't appreciate that kind of writing until much, much later.

When I tired of reading war novels, but unwilling as yet to tackle Tolkien again, I ventured into my local library in Leicester and saw The Sunset Warrior on display. I liked the cover so I took it home to my bedroom to read.

I'd just bought the album Pyromania by Def Leppard (1983) and I was keen to listen to that too, so I put it on the record player (remember them?) and flopped down onto my bed to read.

To this day, Pyromania remains synonymous with The Sunset Warrior in my mind. I played the record over and over, and it became the soundtrack to the movie in my mind.

What kind of novel was The Sunset Warrior? Well, I remember lending it a few years later to a real fantasy buff, and he scoffed at it, saying it was cliched and derivative. He recommended another, more well known fantasy series to me.

I read his recommendation, but it turned out to be a right load of cheesy bollocks that looked as if it had been written by a five year old, so I don't know what that was all about.

But I liked Eric Van Lustbader's immediate writing style. It was quite stylised, almost literary, with flashbacks thrown in without warning, the drama accented by abrupt, punchy prose. I have a copy with me now - found recently second hand - and I'm still impressed.

The story was first published in 1977 and is set in a deep underground settlement that was built after some sort of apocalypse. I don't know how derivative that was for the time, but considering that Hugh Howey has recently hit the bestseller charts with Wool, which also features an underground post-apocalyptic society, I don't know how derivative it could have been. It certainly hasn't done Hugh Howey any harm.

Eric Van Lustbader is also known for his injection of Japanese culture into his novels, combining East with West, and the Sunset Warrior trilogy is packed full of samurai influences and eastern mythology. I'm not sure how common this was in 70s fantasy, but I can't imagine it was much.

It's not a particularly complex story, and the characters aren't that well developed, but it's cohesive, dramatic and features attractive fantasy settings (the sense-of-wonder factor).

The highlight, for me, was the journey into the old abandoned City of Ten Thousand Paths, with its dark mysteries and nameless, hidden horrors, while listening to the song Die Hard The Hunter.

Darkness is falling, danger is closing in and it doesn't look as if they're going to make it out of the city in time...

It still sends a chill down my spine to hear that song. Honestly, I don't know how you can ask for more.

But in time, I did.


The Lord of the Rings

Everyone's familiar with this book, so I don't need to describe its appeal, but I will say one thing about it. The Lord of the Rings has been described as a conservative book, but this is nonsense. The Lord of the Rings is steeped in liberalism - which is why it appealed so much to 60's hippies. Frodo is the archetypal liberal.

The book is about individual choices in a time of war. It's centred on the four hobbits, whose psychological journey mirrors that of Tolkien and his friends in WWI. The experience of that terrible conflict is what flows through the heart of The Lord of the Rings. As the world falls apart around them, the hobbits journey from innocence to hard choice. Each of them will, at some point, find themselves alone, taken from the safety of the group, separated from their friends and stripped of their culture. The choices they make are existential choices and, at the end, each comes back changed. Nothing is ever the same again. Frodo especially comes back traumatised. Being back in his community offers him no solace - neither tradition nor familiarity can bring him back to where he came from - and in the end he has to leave. Even Sam, the most grounded of the four, returns - in the last sentence - alone. He's home, he's with his family, but in his head, he's existentially very much alone - as many war veterans are.

It's a rich book, it's a heartbreaking book, it's funny and profound and there's something in it for everyone. But for me, the final part, The Scouring of the Shire, touched me at a time when I myself was alone.

It was a journey, and that too taught me what a story could be.


Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock was a huge influence on me, but I can't actually remember any of his books. I mean, I remember a scene from one of his Elric books (don't recall the title). I remember a couple of vague details from his Count Brass books. And I remember a single scene from The Ice Schooner. But other than that, his books haven't imprinted themselves in my mind at all. I remember better the two songs he co-wrote with Blue Oyster Cult, including my favourite: Veteran of the Psychic Wars.

And I enjoyed Diamond Head's nod in his direction too.

But his actual stories slip from my brain like water off a well oiled sword.

He was never a deep writer. He dashed off trilogies in three days when he was desperate for money. He dabbled in fantasy, sci-fi and magazine editing, and he went bankrupt twice. He worked hard, never stood still, and is understandably a bit pissed that no one really remembers him (compared to Tolkien). But that's just the way it goes. He never wrote anything as deep and enduring as The Lord of the Rings, and his books were never made into movies like those of Philip K Dick. And nobody these days cares about 70s Heavy Metal.

So how did he influence me?

I wasn't influenced by his stories, but I was influenced by his writing. Let me explain.

One winter I found myself stranded in the seaside town of Morecambe. Some people may be charmed by Morecambe's bucket-and-spade postcard qualities, but I remember it as a cold, miserable shithole - deader than a dead thing in a very dead place. Out of season, places like that just crawl into a grave during winter, waiting for next spring to resurrect. I was unemployed, living in a bedsit, and I had hardly any money for food and none at all for heating.

The only warm place to be was the public library, so that's where I spent my days.

It was during that time that I decided to be a writer, and the library seemed the perfect place to write. So I wrote.

And that's when I discovered I couldn't write. I hadn't paid attention in school. I didn't know how to use a comma, didn't know when to start a new paragraph, had never heard of section breaks and had no real idea how to use quotation marks. Primary nouns? Inserted clauses? No clue at all.

I can remember the view out of the classroom window quite well because I spent a lot of time gazing at it. But that was about the extent of my education.

Still, I did read a lot (and that's the weird thing) and there I was, in Morecambe, in a library and surrounded by books. If I wanted to write like an author, I just needed to check out their stuff and emulate their writing style. Simple, right?

Morecambe Library back then (this is 1988, I think) had a lot of Michael Moorcock books. I mean, a lot. And the good thing about Mr Moorcock is that he's very readable. He may not be very deep, but he's got a natural talent that just makes his stories flow. Bear in mind that some of his stuff was just first draft - with no rewrites - and you can see he's got a gift for story telling. So I took his books, examined his writing forensically and filled in the blanks in my knowledge:

...Oh that's how you use paragraph breaks for dramatic effect, gee that's clever...

I might have been hungry and freezing my butt off, but I did learn something that winter, and Michael Moorcock was my tutor. Which is why I write exactly like him.

Well, actually, I don't. My self-taught journey took a few more years, by which time I'd moved to other places and done other things. My own writing style took a while to mature, and I'm not done learning yet, but Michael Moorcock put me on the right road and, to be honest, it was a pretty good place to start.


More to follow...

That's enough of my influences for today. I'll reveal more in further posts - and I know you're just dying to find out about the new age romance, aren't you? - and just leave you with the news that Bunker 51 is in its final editing stages and should be out in a couple of weeks time. Subscribe to my New Releases blog if you want an email notification the minute it's released, and don't forget to subscribe to this Author blog too if you don't want to miss the next blog post. Until then, have fun.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Not Dead Yet

"Take him off my hands and we'll say nothing about it, how's that?"

Haven't posted for a while and the reason is that I'm such a lazy arse that I couldn't be bothered.

But that's a terrible reason and you don't want to hear that, do you? No, no, no, the real reason is that I've been too busy to post. Yes, that's it.

Damn, I almost convinced myself then. Okay, it's a bit of both (an easier sell, surely?). So what have I been up to? Well, I've been working on some completely new covers for the entire series and just finished the third one yesterday. I'll slap them onto the old books when I release book four in the series. For which I don't have a cover yet - but it does have a title. It'll be called Bunker 51, and you can play around with all the possible reasons why, but I'm not giving away any of the plot yet. So feel free to guess. It's looking on target for a summer release, and I've also been working on the plot for the fifth in the series, for continuity reasons. All I'll say is that Bunker 51 is set in the US, with X-Troop facing their toughest challenge yet - and it doesn't involve learning to drive on the right side of the road or saying tomayto instead of tomato. Or fries instead of chips.

But it does involve fried chicken. I'll say no more, but if you haven't read the second book X-Troop and you want to get it for free, I'll be doing a giveaway all next week, from 23rd June to the 27th, so get your grubby mitts on it while you can and I'll get back to arsing around working hard on the next exciting installment.

Freebies will be on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Photography



I've added a new tab to the top of the blog, marked Photography. This is a direct link to my Flickr page, where I showcase my art. Not that I produce a lot of pictures - it's just a hobby, and I'm still very much an amateur - but it's something I've taken to in the past few years and, when I have the time, it's something that brings me great pleasure. As I mentioned earlier in the blog, I'm a visual person and I find art stimulating.

But I'm not an art aficionado. Nor am I a great artist.

I used to draw a lot in school, but both my parents were factory workers and there was no history or knowledge of art in the family, so there was nothing to teach or influence me at home. Art lessons in school seemed fairly rudimentary - you were told what to draw or paint and then left to your own devices, with maybe a word from the teacher at the end. It might not really have been like that, but that's how I remember it. I don't recall being taught any particular technique or craft in any great detail, and I didn't enjoy school much anyway, so I spent most of my time blending into the background and trying to stay invisible. I had the desire to draw, and I had a little talent, but my basic knowledge was poor and my ability to improvise was abysmal. I had zero desire to experiment, and I had no idea how to handle colour, so anything that didn't involve a pencil was a struggle, and I never even mastered using a paintbrush. People who couldn't draw said I was good at it. People who really could draw knew I wasn't.

There was someone at school, however, who influenced me a lot and taught me a great deal, and his name was Nigel Heffernan. He wasn't a staff member, though, but a friend in my year. He didn't teach me directly, of course. I just kind of artistically stalked him for about five years, copying whatever he did. Unlike me, he had real talent, with a quick and creative mind, and he wasn't afraid to experiment. He would sketch cartoons and designs on whatever scrap of paper he could find, and he'd conjure up fantastic science fiction art using just coloured pencils or felt tip pens. I aped everything he did, staying forever in his shadow until the end of school. He wasn't in my art class, so I don't know what his work in other mediums was like, but I would be surprised if it wasn't equally amazing. For my part, I muddled through, just scraping a C grade in the end of school exams, and it was as an average artist that I ended my education.

I left school to work in a factory and didn't seriously pursue any kind of art for years after. I did draw a few cartoons at my gaffer's expense, sketching them on pieces of packing cardboard and hanging them up in the little room where we had our sandwiches. He was an alcoholic and perennially drunk, so I don't think he ever got the joke, which was probably a good job. After leaving factory life and bumming round the country for a bit, I briefly developed my cartoon skills and produced stuff that I was fairly pleased with, but I lost the drawings on my travels and I have no idea whether they were any good or not. Chances are they probably weren't.

A billion jobs and many years later I got the itch to try something artistic again and, for reasons that escape me, decided to try photography. Maturity made me smarter, so this time I actually did some research, reading books and following other photographers online to actually learn proper photography techniques. I scraped some money together to purchase a very old Minolta digital SLR (one of the first digital SLRs to be produced) and a couple of even older lenses. It's a heavy old thing but I love it, and I'm hoping it'll outlive me to be used by my boys. Mastering Photoshop has been a challenge, but my early scribblings were not in vain and my initial grounding in art has been a great help in picking up the necessary technique. It's also helped when it's come to doing my own book covers, which is a good job as I can't afford the services of a professional artist. They're worth every penny, I'm sure, but the satisfaction of doing my own covers has been a big part of my self-publishing odyssey, even if I've still got a lot to learn. Like growing your own food or customising your own car, there's a massive feeling of achievement that brings its own rewards. It might be a lot of hassle, and it might not make economic sense from a business point of view, but there are some things in life that can't be bought.

And if I was driven by economics, I probably wouldn't have bothered becoming a writer, never mind anything else. I've earned more being a cleaner.

So feel free to peruse my ham fisted efforts and, if you're an amateur photographer with a Flickr account of your own, follow me and I'll follow you back. Because there's nothing better than learning in company.

But I promise I won't stalk you. Not in a creepy way, anyway. And if you're still out there Nigel, I'd just like to say: I never forgot.