Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More Sci-Fi from my writing buddy Mark Iles

I have neglected my blog for a while as I have been busy writing for The Shetland Times and Shetland Life magazine, as well as trying to finish my fourth novel - more about that another time. And all this is in addition to the fact that by day I am the mild mannered secretary at Arch Henderson LLP. There are never enough hours in the day; but we all know that.

Anyway, Mark has just finished the second novel in his trilogy which has been doing well on Amazon etc. Here is what he has to say about it:

Selena Dillon and her team return to Loreen after their attack on Mantis, only to find the myriad worlds of Mankind once again plunged into war. As the Penal Regiments are betrayed by the Federation of Man, and fighting spills throughout the galaxy, the dreaded Manta raise their heads once again.
Selena soon finds herself trying to track down her friends’ daughter, Hope, from the rabbit holes of Loreen and then fights to free her home planet from alien invaders.
While a general amnesty means previous sins are forgiven, the Queen has not forgotten Selena’s attempt on her life. Selena soon finds herself torn between obeying orders to protect the monarch, and her ravening thirst for revenge. But strange forces are stirring amidst the stars and Mankind finds itself with surprising new allies, while a terrifying enemy that’s manipulated events from behind the scenes finally reveals itself for the very first time.

Braxis came to a halt besides her. “Holy shit!” he gasped, staring in disbelief at the scenery.
“Been studying poetry, have we?” Singh asked the barrel-chested trooper.
“How can we walk down a tunnel and end up in a different world?” Braxis asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“There are a lot of things here that don’t make sense,” Selena replied, walking into the clearing towards the base camp, while checking her weapon.
Like the Citadel back on Loreen, the camp in front of them increased in size and now clearly housed several hundred people, yet the tent-city pitched in the forest clearing had an ordered look about it. Skimmers zipped back and forth between the thick tree trunks, carrying stores and scores of uniformed and plain-clothed people on myriad tasks. The sheer hustle and bustle of it all spoke of the enormous resources being committed and used here in an attempt to discover more about the ForeRunners and Eden itself.
A soldier clad in black combats approached them and saluted Selena. He looked older than the average trooper. “Captain Dillon?” he asked.
“That’s right.”
“Can you come with me please, Ma’am? I have transport waiting.”
The man quickly led them to a skimmer and, once they were aboard, the craft rose swiftly to several hundred feet and then tilted, before swooping to one side and shooting forward. The small stubby craft accelerated rapidly, until the forest below became a blur. In no time at all it was slowing again and they stopped in mid-air, turned and settled on the ground between huge trees towering far overhead. Braxis’s mouth fell open at the sight of the hundreds of tunnels coming out of those massive trunks.
“Ye Gods,” he gasped. “You’re not going to tell me each of those leads to another world? That’s amazing…what are those things?” He pointed towards the hundreds of shiny, knee-high silver machines marching back and forth from the tunnels on six thin legs that bent without seeming to have joints. On their backs they wore woven-grass baskets, which were filled with fruit and a multitude of other produce when they went into the tunnels. When they came back out again they were empty.
“We call them the Caretakers,” Singh replied. They’re a sort of robot, collecting food and so forth, and then taking it down those tunnels to God knows where.”

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

At Last! It is Launch Day - Learning to Dance Again

The first time I published a novel on Kindle, it was a very quiet affair. I uploaded Dancing with the Ferryman onto the Amazon site in March 2011. It happened silently, with no fanfare and no real sense of celebration. Hardly anyone I knew owned a Kindle, so not even friends or family could take advantage of my self-publishing project.

Fast-forward to 2013 and it feels very different publishing my third full-length novel. Learning to Dance Again was scheduled to hit the virtual bookshelves sometime on the afternoon of 20th September and it was a much scarier prospect; and made rather more stressful due to Amazon's failure to stick to my carefully worked out timetable, which delayed it by 24 hours.

Almost everyone I know has a Kindle, an iPad or some other gadget for reading books. The relative success of Dancing with the Ferryman and Chasing an Irish Dream means I now interact on a daily basis with people who have read those novels and have asked for more. It has been the best thing about my fledgling writing career. I never sought fame or fortune when I started writing. I did it for the same reason other people watch soap operas or play bridge or collect porcelain pigs. It was a hobby that turned into a little bit of an obsession. If I put half as much effort into getting fit as I do writing, I would be able to compete against Paula Radcliffe in the next London marathon.

But instead of collecting gold medals and hamstring injuries, I collect feedback on twitter, messages on Facebook, random comments from people in Tesco and Amazon book reviews. All of these things have propelled me forward and kept me going in the wee small hours of the night when I do most of my writing and daydreaming. So, today as I launch my new novel, I know there are people waiting for it and there has been a kind of virtual launch party where some of my friends and family joined me in celebrating its eventual publication. It is fabulous to have such support, and a little nerve-wracking too. It does not necessarily follow that because someone likes my first two novels, they will like the third – but I hope so!

I cannot let this moment pass without mentioning three people who have been particularly supportive. First is my good friend Melanie Hudson who wrote The Wedding Cake Tree – as ever Mel is my go-to gal for discussing plot development and characters. Basically we talk a lot of nonsense about who we would pick for our leading men if our books ever became films. Top of our daydreaming list is Daniel Craig and Ewen McGregor – but I digress! And secondly, my sister Stephanie who also suffered through long conversations about the novel as it progressed.

The third person I have to thank is Becky Sherry. Becky really ought to be a “personal trainer” for writers. Although I have never met her yet, she effectively strong-armed me into finishing Learning to Dance Again way ahead of my intended schedule. Basically, she made me think that if she could kick cancer’s butt then I could put a bit more effort into giving her something to read while she was having chemotherapy. Becky read the very earliest drafts of the novel, that hadn’t had any kind of editing, and still she encouraged me to carry on. And yet the way she comments on Facebook/twitter you would think that I had done her a favour. I don’t think so – I think I got far more out of the deal than she did. And I am so glad that she has recovered and is back to do her mad long distance running thing. I should really hire her as my fitness coach too!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

And now for something different

I have never hosted a blog tour before, but there's a first time for everything. So here I am introducing Mark Iles, a friend and former fellow student of University College Falmouth. Mark writes science fiction so we don't have much in common with our writing styles. But that's good, because I would hate to be in direct competition with him. I think I might lose! Mark works for Southampton University, and also as a freelance writer. His short stories have been published in Back Brain Recluse, Dream, New Moon, Auguries, Haunts, Kalkion, Screaming Dreams, and the anthologies Right To Fight, Escape Velocity and Monk Punk. With an 8th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo he’s also written non-fiction for Combat, Taekwondo & Korean Martial Arts, Fighters, Junk, Martial Arts Illustrated, profwritingacademy.com and calmzone.net. His first full length work was ‘Kwak’s Competition Taekwondo’, and he also has a short story collection entitled ‘Distant Shores’. ‘A Pride of Lions’ is the first in ‘The Darkening Stars’ series. Having written features and fiction for over 30 years Mark applied to do an MA in Professional Writing. ‘Pride’ had been bouncing around in his head for some time, and he seized the opportunity of the MA to produce this first novel as part of the course. Mark says it’s without doubt the best choice he’s ever made, as it really focused him, and that getting this novel accepted is the perfect conclusion to a wonderful experience. He’s now focusing on the second book in this series, ‘The Cull of Lions’.
Here's what Mark has to say about his new novel - A Pride of Lions: A Pride of Lions When Selena Dillon is caught in an assassination attempt on her planets ruler, she finds herself sentenced to 25 years servitude in mankind’s most feared military force, the Penal Regiments. Much to her surprise she enjoys the harsh military life and is quickly selected for officer training. But something’s wrong, worlds are falling silent. There’s no cry for help and no warning, just a sudden eerie silence. When a flotilla of ships is despatched to investigate they exit hyperspace to find themselves facing a massive alien armada. Outnumbered and outgunned the flotilla fight a rearguard action, allowing one of their number to slip away and warn mankind. As worlds fall in battle, and man’s fleets are decimated, Selena is selected to lead a team of the Penal Regiments most battle-hardened veterans, in a last ditch attempt to destroy the aliens’ home world. If she fails then mankind is doomed. But little does Selena know what fate has in store for her, that one of her crew is a psychopathic killer and a second the husband of one of his victims. Can she hold her team together, get them to their target and succeed in the attack? Selena knows that if she fails then there will be nothing at all left to go home to.
Mark said, "I’ve always found it odd how we can take an immediate dislike to some people. We may only have to look at them to feel the hackles rising on the back of our necks and, more often than not, the feeling is reciprocated: yet, others may find them the nicest people they know. Conversely we may get on with someone from the word ‘go’, only to discover they’re bad with a capital ‘B’. On rare occasions we may brush hands with someone we’ve known for a long time, only to feel an electric-like shock – a rush of untold desire that leads to an affair which burns like a flame and consumes everything in its path, even eventually including that very love itself; until we’re left alone, abandoned, forgotten." In the following excerpt from the novel Bryn confronts Selena’s over her evident dislike of him. In the early hours of the next morning, Selena started them on hard physical training, to ensure that they were at the peak of their condition. It was just like being back in basic training, but with her doing all the shouting. This was followed by updates and familiarisations with the equipment and controls they’d be using on the Dutch Lady. Despite the latest FTL drives, they’d still be in suspended animation for some time. Selena drove them savagely all week, for they all knew that their survival would depend on physical fitness, as it wasn’t uncommon to hear of deaths of the unfit or ill during hibernation. Veterans had their own cabins on modern ships whenever possible, but the designers of their new vessel had either not taken this into account or had completely ignored it. Consequently they’d be crammed into one large dormitory, but Selena preferred it that way. She knew they didn’t have much time and was trying hard to form them into a team. In her book, familiarity didn’t breed contempt; it created a bond in a body of people who needed to be able to rely on each other, through intimate knowledge of their comrade’s strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the first week, Selena found herself alone in the cafe, waiting for the others to finish their showers and join her, when Bryn walked in. She sipped her coffee and watched as he acknowledged her with a nod and got himself a drink, before walking over to join her. “Mind if I sit down, Ma’am?” “Help yourself, Lieutenant.” “You don’t like me very much, do you. That’s been apparent over the past week.” Selena put down her cup and fixed him with a stare, her blue eyes boring into his. “It’s not that I dislike you, Bryn. But I’ll be honest, I think you’re a loose cannon. If it was my choice, I’d have both you and Lacey replaced immediately. I know that after the battle for Theta you two broke into a compound, injured six guards and killed the alien prisoners being held there; depriving us of valuable intelligence. Luckily for you, the Commodore says you two are the best we have, so it looks like I’m stuck with you – at least for the time being.” “For the time being,” Bryn repeated slowly, as if savouring the words. Taking a sip of his coffee, he stared into her eyes, undaunted. “It sounds to me as if you’re determined to get rid of us.” “I fully understand that you lost your family, and for that you have my condolences. But I need people I can trust, who’ll stand with me through thick and thin — not someone who’ll go off on some half-witted act of revenge when mankind’s very survival depends on our success. So yes, Lieutenant Clayton, if I can talk the Commodore around into getting you replaced, then I will. Until then, however, I’m stuck with you. So make the best of it, while you can.”
Links www.markiles.co.uk www.twitter.com/welcometoearth http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/mark-iles/33/67a/822 https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mark-Iles/279162705557698 Books: Distant Shores: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Distant-Shores-ebook/dp/B008SD4KOS/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347182066&sr=1-1 Kwaks Competition Taekwondo: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kwak%60s-Competition-Taekwondo-Mark-Iles/dp/B000FTHGFI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325614714&sr=1-1

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fifty Rocks!

I started 2012 with a sense of trepidation. I was about to turn 50 - yikes - and was really hoping that 50 would turn out to be the new 40. And in some ways it has already proven to be true. The expression life begins at 40 applies to 50 too! The first three months of this year have been incredible - life changing even.

First off - 50 wasn't as traumatic as I thought it would be. Surrounded by good friends and family, it was rather nice in fact. Then a few weeks later I went down to London and the South Coast to see more friends and family. But just before I went away I had set my novel up on Amazon's special promotion for a few days. It meant that book was essentially free for 60 hours on all Amazon sites. I expected there to be a few more downloads - after all who can resist a free book. However, I was not prepared for the shock of seeing it shoot up to #1 in the free charts, ahead of such brilliant books such as Pride and Prejudice. At the end of the promotion nearly 12,000 people had downloaded it. I had expected no more than about 1000.

But I imagined that after the promotion ended the book would drop back into relative obscurity. Except that it didn't. It carried on selling - fast. So much so that it briefly reached #2 in the Amazon sales chart. And since that time, although sales have naturally slowed down, it continues to sell far more than it did before the promotion.

Increased sales also led to more reviews - mostly good I'm pleased to see. And finally just when I thought life was going so well, I got the results of my MA - a Distinction, no less. I was stunned. I decided to do something special to celebrate the success of the book and my MA - so I booked a holiday in Sicily for later this year. I'm already day dreaming about the potential for a Sicilian novella.

It just goes to show how much difference a year can make. This time last year we were making plans to leave Ireland. I felt like a failure for not getting a job. I was also considering dropping out of the MA course because I felt guilty at the expense of it. My novel had just been launched on Amazon and a grand total of about 30 people had bought it in the first month, and I probably knew most of them. A year later over 17,000 have downloaded it or bought the paperback.

But the one constant thing I had both last year and this year - my friends and family - who encouraged me to carry on with my dreams.

Thanks everyone XXX

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Busy - so busy!

The new cover of the novel!

As the year, and my MA course draws to an end, I am busier than ever. I am in a frenzy of finishing my screenplay, writing an essay, tinkering with my novel and trying to get Dancing with the Ferryman published in paperback - all in time for Christmas.

The screenplay has been a really interesting and worthwhile exercise in learning how to tell a story in a different way. Just this relatively short experience of writing the script has changed the way I think about my plot when I am writing or editing a novel. As someone pointed out at a recent writers' group meeting, scriptwriting really brings home the "show not tell" element of writing.

I have designed a new cover for Dancing with the Ferryman and must give grateful thanks to Dave Wheeler from Fair Isle for allowing me to use his wonderful photograph of the Northern Lights. OK, so anyone from Shetland will know that this photo was taken on Fair Isle and not Whalsay, but I still thought it was the perfect picture to use on my new cover. I had to redesign the whole cover when I decided to launch the novel in paperback, as I needed something that would work for the back and spine of the book.

I am just waiting for Createspace to load up the novel and send me a proof copy. And then once that has been approved it will be available on Amazon. I cannot wait to see a real paperback book with my name on it. This will be the best Christmas ever!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Summer in Shetland

The Russian Tall Ship "The Mir" that visited Lerwick for the Tall Ships recently.

It is more than a grey day outside my window. Even the freshly painted bright red of the Malakoff Boat Shed seems dull in the midst of the mid-summer deluge of rain. It has not been the best of summers yet. The Tall Ships Race which was to be one of the highlights of the summer was marred by the type of weather we would normally grumble about in mid-winter. Although thankfully the event still proved to be a great success.

I was invited to a private party aboard the very impressive ship The Mir which was crewed by some very smartly dressed young Russians. One of the best things about the Tall Ships event was the huge numbers of people it attracted from around the world, some from as far away as Colombia. The streets of Lerwick almost resembled Notting Hill Gate on carnival day with all the dancing, singing and live music. It was a great place to be, regardless of the poor weather.

Russian Sailors on Parade outside my office

The weather has not worried the wildlife here though and many visitors have enjoyed the spectacle of Killer Whales, Dolphins, Pilot Whales, Basking Sharks and Sperm Whales from the shores of Shetland in the last few weeks. Sadly the only place I have seen them is on Facebook, thanks to the Shetland Wildlife group putting up regular pictures and videos.

I took a walk along the beach at St Ninian's Isle yesterday evening. It has to be the most incredibly beautiful beach in the UK, if not the world. Totally unspoilt by commercial development and crowds.

A few weeks ago I was invited to BBC Radio Shetland to talk about my novel which has been doing its own little bit in marketing Shetland as a place to visit. My novel has now been acquired by nearly 900 people, a huge majority of them from overseas, mostly USA. I only hope that if people do visit Shetland on the strength of this novel that they will experience marginally better weather than todays. Because when the sun shines (and it does more often than you might think) then Shetland really is the most amazing place to be.

The Colombians

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Writing Buddies

In my last post I mentioned that one of the most valuable things to have is a great writing buddy. Well that works both ways. I have been priviledged to read some of the first drafts of a novel that one of my friends is writing. I use the word "friend" and yet we have never met, yet. However, it is amazing how well you can get to know someone just through writing. Can't wait to actally meet up in a few weeks.

Mel is writing a contemporary romantic novel and it is shaping up to be a fabulous read. It has all the essentials, a female lead who has a great character and a fabulously heroic Royal Marine as the leading man. The plot is great, intricately woven family history, drama and comedy, as well as the growing romance. But what is interesting for me is to see how other people work. Usually we only see a novel once it is fully formed. So seeing one develop, that is not your own, is quite amazing.

In some ways Mel works in the same way as me; that is, she knows where the story is going, and all the different elements that will be included along the way. But even so, it is amusing to see how a well planned work can change because of the characters. As they develop it becomes necessary to tweak the plot to accommodate their behaviour. It is also amusing to see how other people make the same typos, and I can see how they happen. The high speed typing that takes place when you are on a roll, and you simply cannot type quickly enough to get the words out onto the screen, and there just isn't time enough to spell check.

I am so glad I'm not the only one like that.

So all you budding writers, get yourself a writing buddy, you will learn a lot about your own writing style simply by seeing how others work too.