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Available Now - The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis

It's here at last. Currently available on Amazon through its Kindle and CreateSpate platforms, The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis is a ...

Sunday, 8 July 2018

A Song of Ice and....Ribos?

Basic setting. A world which has extreme summer and winter seasons, with the story set during one of its prolonged winters. The world is home to a Medieval civilisation that has yet to discover many of the higher sciences modern humanity takes for granted, and whose people are influenced by prophetic shamans and believe in icy monsters that take unsuspecting intruders. During one particular winter, one of the northern capitals is the setting for political machinations, a little slight of hand, and great tragedy as people begin to die according to the shaman's foretelling.

Now you may think I've just described a very basic version of the universe of A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of books by George R. R. Martin which began their creation in 1993. But you'd be wrong. What I just described is the basic scenario of The Ribos Operation, a serial from the 1978-79 series of Doctor Who written by Robert Holmes, starring Tom Baker as the titular alien time traveller and Mary Tamm as his new Time Lord companion Romana. When I first saw The Ribos Operation on DVD, I had heard nothing of A Song of Ice and Fire, and thought it was a nice and fairly novel setting for a somewhat bland narrative It wasn't until many years after I'd heard of both that the similarities struck me.

Of course one could look and see any amount of minor details that don't match up, the largest being the world itself and its context. The explanation of Ribos's status is given in some detail due to outsiders appearing from off world; its seasons are caused by the planet's highly elliptical orbit, and is classed by outsiders as a Grade 3 planet with a protected low-technology society that could not reach the more advanced Grade 2 - and consequently be open to alien contact - for "many thousands of years". The main narrative for The Ribos Operation revolves around the character of Graff Vynda-K, an exile alien tyrant whose goal is to reclaim his lost provinces. This makes him easy prey for a pair of human con artists to sell him a fictional mine of a powerful space age fuel. In the middle of all this, the Doctor and Romana are trying to find one sixth of an important cosmic artefact, and naturally can't help getting tangled up in the schemes of both the Graff and the con artists.

There are far too many plots to count in the current run of A Song of Ice and Fire, but the basic gist revolves around dynastic and international politics between multiple nations spread across several large and small landmasses. It's also incredibly violent in places, with main characters dropping like flies when compared to similar fantasy sagas.

In many ways, the two are as dissimilar as chalk and cheese, but the similar setting and tone suddenly clicked. It just goes to prove, nothing's new when it comes to fiction.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Flash! 2018 Progress Report.

Hi! I haven't had the time or the energy to write anything like my usual posts, so I thought I'd do something different. As I continue to push forward with my dream, and fight of submission-based or just plain anxiety (more on that here and here) attacks that come in monthly cycles, I'd like to give those who actually read this blog a little update on what I've managed to do this year.

One book self-published, with its sequel to follow later this year!

Getting on for or perhaps over 30 submissions sent out between February and June of this year, for multiple projects that I felt had the potential to be accepted.

Between 4 and 6 short stories written.

One sample of flash fiction written.

And alongside all this...

Helping my family cope with a sudden and very personal upheaval which I won't describe here for obvious reasons.

Continuing to do occasional battle with my self-esteem issues.

And that's it! Today I feel great, and if you too feel great, then please browse through my (approaching) two years' worth of posts. Who knows, you may find something you like. Have a great Sunday!

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Thoughts on Cronunpiation - er, I mean "Pronunciation"

Cronunpiation. I mean, pronunciation. It's the bane of anyone trying to listen to something, someone saying their line, and other such instances of verbal trickery. But the irony is that it only stands out so starkly for someone whose got a smattering of how it should be pronounced.

I was inspired by write this post during a cutscene of the recent video game release Vampyr. It was a mispronunciation that negated one of the key parts of how vampire lore was interpreted. Basically, the main protagonists is helped/teased by a mysterious voice that remains nameless for most of the game. Eventually, his name is spoken and shown in text. It's spoken as "Merdin", but written as "Myrddin". If I'd only heard it, I might have been completely lost. But seeing it written, I understood that Vampyr was blending vampire lore with a combination of Welsh/Celtic folklore and some of the oldest versions of Arthurian myth. I was just so used to "Myrddin" being pronounced something like "Mir-th-in" (that's only a rough approximation so don't take it as gospel) that the "Merdin" version threw me off completely. Trust me, that's just one of several butchered names present in Vampyr (a second example is the name "Aloysius" being pronounced "Aloysus")

That got me thinking about how words and phrases were pronounced, and how pronunciation changed over time. It's something that can be quite fascinating, or deadly boring depending on your preferences. There are several linguistic laws which have sprung up around how language changes (the Grimm's consonant shift springs to mind), but the best way to understand how that can happen is to hear it for yourself.

There's the words that have a stark contrast between how they are written and how they are spoken. Such as the town of Happisburgh in Britain, which is pronounced more like "Hayesborough". One of the most famous, or perhaps infamous, examples of this in a language is French. While in centuries past French words were pronounced more like English words, French today has an abundance of silent syllables and letters compared to English. For instance, the name Phillipe. Now pronounced without much of an "e" sound at the end, it was once pronounced with more emphasis on that "e". There's also the word "Montmartre." Nowadays there's barely any stress on the first "T", but back in older French it would have been pronounced like the other letters.

Japanese and Chinese words are notorious in this regard, mainly because it wasn't until comparatively recently that us poor Westerners had any notion of Far Eastern diction. An easy example is Japan's situation use of "I" and "Y". Depending on the situation, they can sound like what they sound like, but often they are used to represent an "e" sound. This means people could end up mispronouncing "Ryu" or "Raiden" as "R-I-u" or "Raydan". Nowadays such mistakes are quite rare. But it's still amusing to hear anime dub bloopers where the actors struggle with Japanese names. Kill La Kill is an excellent example of this. There is also the pronunciation of the "X" sound from Chinese culture. It has been alternately rendered as "zh" and "ch", A similar situation exists with "Q" being rendered as "chi". This means that some names sound different depending on whose saying them. Who have you heard of more times; Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty or Emperor Xin Shi Huang of the Chin Dynasty. A further dimension is added with Chinese-to-Japanese translations, something clearly seen in the 1970s series The Water Margin. Based on the Chinese novel of the same name, its main antagonist is called Kau Chu in the series. This is in fact a Japanese rendering of the main antagonist's Chinese name Gao Qiu.

Right, and that's all folks. This blog post is so meagre, but it's been a hectic week and this just struck me as something to write about. Hope to have something a little better next week.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Crazy Idea; Flamenco Fighter

Hi there! Here's the first in a new sporadic series. It's called "Crazy Idea", and it's where I put out a few of the random titular concepts into the open so I don't forget them, and you can share in their craziness. The idea came to me on Friday morning when my father was playing a CD of concert performances by renowned guitarist and composer Paco Peña.

During a conversation about the flamenco dance, I heard that the moves were influenced by very old European styles of martial arts, primarily defensive moves against blade attacks such as knives or rapiers, plus a few moves related to breaking noses and crushing feet with arm and foot movements. Plus the rhythm of a dancer would lull the attacker into giving themselves an opening for a counterattack. Even if it turns out not to be documented or fully accurate, it makes for a cool idea. This gave rise to my own crazy idea.

A potential character who goes through something akin to the premise of the 2008 movie Wanted (average person trained as assassin, ect.). But rather than the impossible feat of curving the flight path of bullets, this character is trained to use realistic martial arts to the highest possible degree of skill. And the way they are trained to focus and improve their skills is to learn a flawless flamenco. This initially seems nonsensical to both the reader/audience and the character, but later during their training when they are attacked, they are forced to use the only skills they know to any degree; flamenco. The attacker is successfully fended off and defeated.

To myself, and to anyone who looks at this, the idea of flamenco being a realistic means of self-defense might seem nonsensical. But then again, flamenco is about coordination and movement. What better way to prepare someone for real martial arts?

And that's it, my first public crazy idea!

Sunday, 10 June 2018

The Trouble with Continuation: ...may sicken and so die.

If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it that in sickening, the appetite my sicken and so die. - Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 1.

Much - if not all - of media entertainment today is focused at least partially around business. Books need to sell, people need to go see movies, television series need viewers, video games need buyers and often help sell dedicated hardware on which to run. Most times a successful series grows out of a standalone beginning; a movie or TV series that works on its own, a book about a single event or series of events, a game that was designed to stand on its own within a particular genre. But not every cinematic universe takes off, not every game becomes a series or franchise, not every book creates a profitable fictional universe.

In this post, I'm looking at a few examples from various media of fictional worlds that ended before we wanted them to. They could have been created with the supposition that they would be successful and thus continue; but they didn't, leaving us poor people who enjoyed their stories unsatisfied at best and annoyed at worst. They could also have been cut short by something else, from the death of a key creative figure to disputes behind the scenes. These examples ended before the entire intended story was told, with the worst examples ending on unresolved cliffhangers.

Books are strange things. They can be utterly engrossing, completely capture everyone's attention, then plummet into the void of the forgotten and the purgatory of bargain bins and charity shop shelves. The vast majority of books you hear about are either standalone ones that developed into a series (with or without the author's intent) or were always planned as series and succeeded (Harry Potter is such a case, and perhaps its biggest success story). An interesting example is an authorised continuation of Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber. The project was a pentalogy centreing on the father of the first pentalogy's main character Conrad. Four out of the five planned books were written and published to dismal reviews and low sales, and the company managing the project went bankrupt before the fifth book was completed. There is also supposedly the aborted "The Fire Chronicles" from Jonathan Stroud of Bartimaeus fame, but I can find no quotes or source for this information, so take it with a pillar of salt.

Movies and television are more prone to this than books are. They have a lot riding on both popular and critical success, and many movies today seem to be focused more on making money than making anything original. This trend can be seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a now-gigantic cross-media canon spanning ten-plus movies and related media projects where just dipping into the middle is not an option; you'll be hopelessly confused. But others have tried at this approach, and failed spectacularly. The Amazing Spider Man and its sequel were intended as the opening chapters of a Spider Man-focused universe involving recurring villains like Green Goblin and anti-heroes such as Venom. But the sequel saw disappointing box office takings and wasn't well liked. The backlash resulted in the entire planned cinematic universe being cancelled, leaving many intended story threads unfinished. Universal's intended Monster-themed cinematic universe fared even worse. Its intended debut, The Mummy, sowed the seeds for several future titles, but met with critical and commercial failure, forcing Universal to cancel its cinematic universe plans in favour of self-contained remakes. This means those story threads from The Mummy, however poorly told, will never be resolved.

Two contrasting examples from television are Firefly and Primeval. Firefly was a blend of Western and sci-fi from the mind of Joss Whedon, but -- like a few of his other projects -- this didn't find success. Firefly is now considered a classic, but the responsible network didn't have as much confidence and due to a combination of mismanagement and consequent low viewing figures, the series was cancelled with just eleven of thirteen completed episodes aired. Whedon had planned to continue for at least two further seasons, but its cancellation killed those plans. It's a miracle that he got the funding and support to create Serenity, a movie which rounded off the series narrative using material planned for the cancelled series. Primeval is slightly different. A science fiction series involving time portals allowing prehistoric and futuristic animals into the present, its initial success saw three series air before it was abruptly cancelled by ITV amid falling ratings. The third series ended on a cliffhanger, leaving those invested in the story (including myself, I admit) a little sore. Two further series were funded for broadcast on Watch and later on ITV, but these too ended on a cliffhanger, and the Canada-set spin-off series -- yet another cliffhanger -- was cancelled after one season. Its somewhat nonsensical plot shall apparently never be resolved.

Video games are the worst in this regard, as the industry is not only highly capricious, but driven by corporate interests that make Hollywood studios seem mild. Several recent projects come to mind. Advent Rising and Too Human were both created to be strong franchises, but a combination of negative backlash and legal troubles caused both to stop at a single game. Mass Effect Andromeda was designed as the next trilogy in EA's Mass Effect franchise; its focus was Alex Ryder, the "Pathfinder" for the Andromeda Initiative, a multi-species push to colonise Andromeda. But it was pushed out before it was ready and subsequently saw a mixed reaction, culminating in its team being disbanded and the entire franchise put on hold; almost all of its remaining story was left untold. Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was meant to be the first step of a grand evolution of its lead character Lara Croft, but a chaotic development cycle and push to release caused around half the planned content to be cut, and the subsequent critical failure caused the rest of the project to be cancelled, leaving many of the narrative points unresolved.

All of those I've mentioned caught my attention because of what they were; attempts at something grand that were never finished, for whatever reason. Have you any of your own to offer up?

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Shared Post- Erica Verrillo's "Self-Publishing: The Perils of Instant Gratification"

This is a shared post, obviously. This week's been quite hectic, so this post isn't going to be anything special. But I feel the need, as an author trying to carve out my little niche, to keep my online presence active rather than letting it sink into apathy and the deepest voids of internet purgatory. So I'm going to share something from a post I found interesting, if a little unnerving for someone who suffers regularly for anxiety.

One of the appeals of self-publishing is that there is no waiting time. In traditional publishing, there is a lag, sometimes of a year or more, between the publisher's receipt of a manuscript and its publication.

Historically, authors have railed against this lag for two reasons: 1) They are impatient to see their books on the shelf, and 2) They are worried that in some cases, the book may never be published at all.

The second of these reasons for objecting to a delay in publication is legitimate. If the publication date is not specified in the contract (e.g. manuscript will be published within one year of acceptance), there is always the chance that due to various unforeseen events affecting the publishing house, your book may never make it into print.

The first reason, impatience, is not a good reason to object to a delay, but it is the main reason many writers opt to self-publish. Once they finish a novel, they want to see it in print as soon as possible.

Basically, the whole thing is full of sound advice for anyone who wants to self-publish. But it's also full of advice that is liable to send someone into a fit of uncertainty and the kind of anxiety that makes rubble of the strongest fingernails. Yes, I admit it, I have the habit of nibbling my fingernails if I feel under pressure or stressed.

OH YES, SHAMELESS PLUG TIME. If you want to read the first three chapters of my upcoming self-published novel "The Leviathan Chronicle", you can find them here (1), here (2) and here (3). Available now through Kindle and CreateSpace.

Kindle links - (UKUSA)
Paperback links- (UKUSA)

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Author Trap

You've heard of traps in general? Maybe you've heard of fox traps, and man traps? But have you heard of author traps? You haven't? They're typically known by other names, including ""vanity publishers", "money sinks", and other more colourful terms that I won't sully your eyes with on this website.

I bring this up because I've had to be wary of such things. New writers are always susceptible to this. The "lure of the shortcut", as I remember a Dragon Age game referring to the concept of Blood Magic. But it's no fantasy. That lure is real, but while fantasy is able to paint such things with big and clear warning signs, real life isn't so forgiving. I think one of the best ways I've seen concerning agents it summed up in relatively polite language is on Erica Verrillo's blog;

And one more word - to the not-so-wise. There are a few unscrupulous people out there who claim to be agents, but who are really out to ensnare writers who are desperate to publish. Do NOT under any circumstances pay an "agent" to read your work, or to edit it. Do NOT get sucked into having your work crowdfunded, or placed before "beta readers." [...] You've worked hard on your book. It deserves good representation. (Source)
And another quote for publishers specifically.

Remember – legitimate publishers don’t need to advertise for authors, they already have a rich pile of pickings to go through, and the only time you should be asked for money is if you are self-publishing. And if your book really is that fantastic – someone will pick up the phone to talk to you. (Source)

I probably couldn't have put it better myself in either instance. Unfortunately, I've had reason to be wary of these kinds of operations. But fortunately, they haven't cost me anything yet. My first taste of this was a publisher who didn't say anything about cost on their website. They responded positively to my submission, and sent me a contract. As I read through it, I saw that they were asking upwards of £300 for their services. I politely rejected their offer, and kept my eyes open after that.

A different type of "scam" are marketing websites such as "Publishing Push", which for a "modest fee", would promote self-published works. A different yet similar thing was something posted in a comment on one of my posts, claiming to monitor which Amazon tags. Their lowest quote was something over $240. I investigated the whole thing fully, as they weren't that upfront about the costs.

This whole post can be summed up in this sentence: The waters navigated by fledgling writers are full of sharks, so take care.