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Review: The End of Time by Trudie Skies

Review: The End of Time by Trudie Skies

I’ve been waiting excitedly for the release of this final part of the Cruel Gods series by Trudie Skies – and I have not been disappointed. It has met all my expectations – and then some! Trying to justify that statement is difficult. There are so many plus factors it’s difficult to pick out one as the prime mover. I’ve chosen the plot. As a writer I know how difficult it is to bring together the threads of a story that connects three books. It’s like weaving a carpet, lots of separate threads that, only when woven together, do you see the whole pattern. What astounded me in this third novel, is how the tension and excitement never lets up for a moment. It is relentless. It’s a complex story, it has to be with so many worlds, so many gods, so many people to bring together to a satisfying conclusion. To recap, like a clockface, there have been twelve different worlds, all accessed through a gateway located in the city of Chime. Each world is ruled by a god who, as the series title suggests, are not the sort of god you want ruling you. Kayl and her allies set out to bring about their downfall. OK, so tying it all together is tough. Trudie Skies has not made is easy for herself because she has the entire universe to address. And time, let’s not forget that time can be stalled and rewritten. People die and can be brought back to life, repeatedly. However, when worlds end, that’s it, they’ve gone. Well, sort of. My point is that this is a story where you need to pay attention. So much happens, so fast, blink and you’ll miss a key plot point. Writing a story with that amount of events happening in it, that requires an imagination as epic as the universe and Trudie Skies appears to possess one. Honestly, I do not know how she came up with it all. In selecting the point that truly make this a brilliant book, my second factor is the humour. With so much happening in the story, it takes a back seat compared to the first two books. Even so, the wry humour, the sexual antics that are defined in glorious detail that leaves nothing unsaid, the wonderful turn of phrases that leave you smiling. They are all there and they give the author’s voice its own distinct identity. There is no one who writes like Trudie Skies. I recommend it very, (very!) highly.

Literary agents for speculative writers

Literary agents for speculative writers

(Updated February 2024) It takes a lot of time to trawl literary agencies to find agents who are willing to represent speculative fiction writers, I've done of the work for you with a list here. Plus, where possible, any relevant authors who they represent. Remember when contacting them to adhere to their submission policies rigorously. If you receive a rejection, don't forget it may not be because your work isn't good enough, it may be decided by their List . Agents handle a combination of authors, people with commercial potential combined with commercial income . Agents make their salaries from what their authors earn. Therefore, they take on only a handful of debut writers because the income they generate is not guaranteed, they are a risk . Your work might be brilliant but if their list has a lot of debut writers, they won't want to take on any more because it would affect what they earn. They are entrepreneurs! With that in mind, here are some agents you might want to approach: Curtis Brown - not only a literary agency but Curtis Brown Creative is an agent-led writing school. Their courses are in London and online. Courses range from tutor-led write-your-novel to how to edit and pitch your finished work to an agent. Courses always include contact with their agents. Stephanie Thwaites is open to children's and YA speculative fiction as well as a story with a 'kick-ass' heroine like Villanelle or Arya Stark. Email: isobel.gahan@curtisbrown.co.uk Felicity Blunt is open to 'outstanding speculative fiction, or that which imagines alternative histories' but we warned, she maintains her tastes are reflected by her best two clients, Daphne du Maurier and Jilly Cooper!! Email: bluntoffice@curtisbrown.co.uk Ciara Finan mentioned fantasy and "romantasy" in a bunch of other genres and also is on the lookout for 'under represented communities. Email: ciara.finan@curtisbrown.co.uk Alice Lutyens is closed to submission until Sept 2024 but is looking for 'a fantastically written novel with a twist of the magical or supernatural, but based in reality'. Email: alice@curtisbrown.co.uk Conville and Walsh - they are commercially linked to Curtis Brown. Alexander Cochran is agent to Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, Tade Thompson and Gareth Powell. He wants 'sci-fi and fantasy that push boundaries or cross genres, but are rooted in the believable.' Email: alexander.cochran@cwagency.co.uk Blake Friedmann - Kate Burke did cover speculative fiction but this has vanished from her profile. Others in the agency specify no interest in it! Two of their senior staff are closed to submissions. Ki Agency - there is now only Meg Davis at Ki now but she is an advocate for genre fiction. She is friendly and helpful, I've found her to offer helpful insights even while rejecting my work! Email: meg@ki-agency.co.uk Johnson and Alcock This is a rather staid agency, its senior personnel are highly respected but "traditional" let's say. Need I say more? Ed Wilson is their speculative fiction agent and represents writers like RJ Barker and Cameron Johnston. On Twitter he's active on his @literarywhore account. Email: ed@johnsonandalcock.co.uk DHH Literary agency - David Headley is the boss here and is looking for ' expansive space operas and  epic fantasy', like everyone he wants a strong narrative voice and an emotional journey for the protagonist, in other words, what every book needs! Email to submission@dhhliteraryagency.com Harry Illingworth is currently closed to submissions with no indication of when he will reopen. He wants 'high concept speculative fiction and science fiction and fantasy of all kinds, especially gritty and epic'. He's the grimdark author, Anna Stephens' agent. Email: hi.submission@dhhliteraryagency.com Emily Glenister mentions magic realism in passing but she is also closed to submissions. DarleyAnderson - Camilla Bolton is MD of the agency now, she claims to be 'a huge fan of anything that embodies the natural world, speculative and epic high-concept stories.' Email to: camilla@darleyanderson.com It's a small agency so don't expect a lot of contact. David Higham - has Lizzy Kremer who is an interesting agent and MD of the agency. She's written a fascinating blog post here which discusses the need for genre writers to innovate whilst being aware of market forces. She talks sense and clearly knows her stuff. Email to: lizzymanuscripts@davidhigham.co.uk . AM Heath - is a large agency though (in my opinion) their profiles suggest they prefer the traditional approach, speculative fiction is rarely mentioned. Oli Munson is the exception. He says, "I do love speculative fiction with high concept plots in the vein of Lauren Beukes , Sarah Lotz  and Kate Mascarenhas  but I’m not looking for the type of science fiction or fantasy that would solely be found on the SFF table of a bookshop." Make of that what you will. The Bent Agency - (don't be put off by the name!). Molly Ker Hawn says, "Fantasy was my first love: Ruth Chew, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Anne McCaffrey, and Sylvia Engdahl made me the reader I am today. But those influences mean my standards are high. I need solid worldbuilding, intelligent dialogue and real emotion in fantasy." She lists things she wants very clearly, well worth checking, she knows what she wants. Email to: hawnqueries@thebentagency.com Peters, Fraser and Dunlop - is a large agency, newly arrived Sarah Hornsley (email - shornsley@pfd.co.uk ) mentions interest in n uplifting novel with a speculative edge. Something grounded in reality but sprinkled with a light magical touch. My author Becky Hunter does this brilliantly with her debut ONE MOMENT. (One debut author in this genre might be enough??) and Lucy Irvine deals with their SFF authors, "I am drawn to narratives driven by world building; quick-paced, addictive, and adventurous, with returnable series potential. I love stories set in worlds that pull you in and stay with you long after you’ve finished reading." Email: lirvine@pfd.co.uk John Jarrold - the ultimate speculative fiction agent, John specialises in this area and his list includes authors like Kareem Mahfouz, Ben Galley, Harry Turtledove and Richard Webb. Email: j.jarrold@btinternet.com Julie Crisp is closed to submissions until March 2024 and sounds like her editing work is taking up more and more of her time, she quotes support from lots of big genre names in this regard. She is a specialist speculative fiction agent. She represents authors such as Devin Madsen, John Gwynne and Sam Hawke. You can contact her on her site here Juliet Mushens has recently set up her own agency. Liza DeBlock says, 'When it comes to fantasy, she loves urban and grounded fantasy (no sci-fi please!), and is always happy to look at anything with a vampire, werewolf, witches, warlocks, fairies, and perhaps a sinister selkie or two. She is also very much looking for romantasy and is the best person at the agency to submit that too.' Email: submissions@mushens-entertainment.com Janklow & Nesbit - Will Francis is now MD of the agency but says, "he has a particular interest in literary fiction and genre writers with a literary edge." Also in the agency is Hayley Steed who is looking for "an uplifting novel with a speculative edge, something along the lines of The Time Traveller’s Wife, The House on the Cerulean Sea or Before The Coffee Gets Cold, where the magic is part of the plot, but set in a real, or grounded, world. I’m keen to explore light fantasy that fits this description, including romantasy. Email to: submissions@janklow.co.uk When you read enough agent profiles you realise they all want similar things. A good hook, a strong narrative voice, engaging characters and emotional resonance. Women's fiction is a popular request and the search goes on for under represented voices. That said, you may also notice how the vast majority of agents went to elite universities! Privileged? I'll let you decide. If you know of other literary agents who are open to speculative fiction or have constructive experiences you'd like to share, please get in touch and I can add them to this post.

21 Independent Digital Publishers

21 Independent Digital Publishers

(This post was updated February 2024). For far too long, The Big Five publishing houses (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster) have maintained a strangehold over what appears on bookshelves, both real and virtual. If you're not already well established, famous (or infamous) then you stand little hope of swelling their numbers. Even if you do, their speed of getting your book to market is glacially slow, we're talking worse than continental drift. As explained here , from the point where an agent offers representation and takes your book to a publisher - to the point where it finishes up on a bookshelf can take two years. Two years! Of course this can vary, but it is frustratingly slow. For this reason alone, a number of publishing businesses have used modern technology to establish a smarter, more agile, process to get books published. True, many focus on e-books. But, regardless of your preferences, these are environmentally more friendly than hardbacks and paperbacks. I've listed a bunch of these independent, digital publishers so readers (and potential authors) can identify which ones may be worth approaching. Links are in the company titles. I've given a brief profile taken from their site. Where possible, I've avoided those companies which demand payment from the author, I consider these vanity publishers (though some renounce that term). Here we go, I hope you find this resource helpful. 404 Ink They say, "404 Ink was founded by Heather McDaid & Laura Jones in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2016 with the view that publishing could be a little louder and a little more fun. We still feel that way today. Our goal is to support new and emerging writers’ careers and we believe in quality over quantity. That is, not publishing to fill a schedule but publishing because that book truly needs to be read. We strive to provide better-than-average royalty rates and to always punch above our weight in all areas to get our authors in front of as many people as possible." Their authors are all young (make of that what you will). You can submit whole books or ideas for "Inklings" - a brand new non-fiction series of books that capture big ideas in a compact way. You submit your pitch of an idea, not the the book. Birlinn They say, "The team at Birlinn are proud of the company’s reputation and prominence in Scottish publishing. We constantly challenge and nurture the talent of our authors and we push the boundaries of the imagination.  We never rest in our search for what comes next. " They are made up of several imprints: Polygon (literary fiction, poetry, music journalism), BC Books (for kids), Arena Sport (sporting non-fiction), John Donald (academic), Birlinn (generic non-fiction). Boldwood They say, " Boldwood Books is an award-winning independent, global fiction publishing house.​ Over the past 12 months the company has published 59 titles, signed 42 authors and sold over one million books across the world. Based on the principles of a true partnership with authors, consumers and team members Boldwood is seeking out the best stories from around the world, from both new and established writers, and bringing them, in all formats, to readers everywhere. Founded by a team with over 50 years success in fiction publishing it promises to be innovative but experienced, fearless but responsible, and lots of fun!" A cursory check of their authors suggest preferences for romantic and historical fiction, crime and psychological thrillers. Bookouture They say, "We believe that the best publishing happens with great  care, creativity and attention to detail . That means a clear vision for an author supported by the best editing, cover design, marketing and publicity. We publish a small number of very talented authors so that we can focus on the detail and create brilliant books that sell. We aim to add value  every step of the way." In 5 years they've gone from selling 2.5 million to 9 million books per year. Their author profile is entirely crime/psychological thriller, romance/chick lit with one SFF author! Burning Chair They say, "We founded Burning Chair because we want to get great books out to the world, and make sure authors get the rewards they deserve. From first class editing to cutting edge marketing and promotion, we provide authors with the support they need to make sure their book fulfils its potential. We’re bringing together a community of authors who support each other, because as writers ourselves we know how valuable that can be." Their author profile reflects a diverse range of genres, including speculative! Elsewhen They say, "We are a small independent publisher specialising in Speculative Fiction. Our Earth-based operations are headquartered in the UK, in the South East of England, whence we publish titles in English in print and electronic editions ." My good friend Simon Kewin is published by these guys so that speaks to their quality as far as I'm concerned. (You can read my reviews of Simon's books here .) Embla Books A digital imprint of Bonnier Books, is family owned and based in Sweden but with a UK division. They say, "The imprint is named after the first woman in Norse mythology, who was carved from a tree trunk by the gods – an image of the kind of crafting that writers do, and a symbol of how stories continue to shape our lives." They have an exciting commitment to the environment too. Epoque They say, "E poque Press is an independent publisher based between Brighton, Dublin and New York. Established to promote and represent the very best in new literary talent." Their focus appears to be mainly on literary fiction but they also publish in their regular ezine as well (which gets your name out there at the very least!). The ezine has a different theme for each issue. Fairlight Books They say, "Our mission is to promote contemporary literary fiction and quality writing. We aim to bring together a community with a shared passion – a love of beautiful books and great writing." They thoughtfully define what they mean by 'literary fiction' too - "For us, it’s about the quality of the writing.  We don’t mind if that story contains an alien, or a ghost or two, if it is a mystery, if someone is murdered and someone else has to figure out who dun’ it, so long as your writing is of a good standard, the plot makes sense, your characters have some depth and are not two dimensional." Their author profiles show a diverse range of genres and types. Galley Beggar Press They say, "We are an independent publisher committed to publishing daring, innovative fiction and narrative non-fiction. Founded in 2012, we are particularly keen to support writers of great literary talent writing outside the norm, who push the boundaries of form and language. We have been called a “small-but-mighty institution” (The Desmond Elliott Prize), a “tiny publisher… with a cartload of guts” (The Guardian), and “revolutionary” (The Telegraph)." Apart from publishing, they run a short story competition and a school offering classes, reading groups and mentorships. They sound like an ambitious outfit. A quick profile check of authors suggest a preference for writers with prior experience in writing and a high level of education. But don't me put you off. I could be wrong. Headline They say, "Our nimble attitude towards the social reading era has allowed us to be playful with format as never before and create digital bestsellers. Our spirit of entertainment thrives in a world where direct communication means we can talk to readers, booksellers and reviewers to show and spread our love for books, at the touch of a button. Headline will always represent a modern mindset and an energetic outlook. And always stand for best-in-class publishing." They are a huge business with several imprints focusing on different genres and non-fiction. They have celebrity names in their catalogue. Just sayin'! Head of Zeus They say, "Head of Zeus is an award-winning independent publisher of genre fiction, narrative nonfiction and children’s books. In 2017 we won Independent Publisher of the Year. We specialise in subjects and categories where we know we can excel and earn recognition as a market leader -- whether medieval history or historical adventure, saga or SF, children's fiction or nature writing." They proclaim having helped 4 authors reach one million readers and sold 25 million books. They launched a SFF imprint - Ad Astra in August 2020, you can read more about it in this article here . I shall be approaching them!! Hera Books They say, "Hera is a brand new, female-led, independent digital publisher, founded in 2018. We’re on a mission to publish the very best in commercial fiction. We're looking for crime and thriller, romance, saga and general fiction." They are unashamedly about commercial fiction, the two women who lead the company having been named Bookseller Rising Stars. HQ They say, "We have one thing on our minds at HQ… to seek out and bring you brilliant books. We have something for everyone – from women’s fiction to crime, thrillers to memoirs, cookbooks to poetry, from paperback to audiobooks, from debut authors to household names, we’ve got them all." Their digital division has a wide range of genres (not SFF!), a writer friend of mine has a book published with them and had a positive experience. Joffe Books They say, "Founded in 2014 by Jasper Joffe, we at Joffe Books pride ourselves on our history of innovative publishing. We are deeply invested in creating and maintaining our authors’ careers as writers. We have signed debut novelists and well-established authors, launching them into the book-reading world with genuine enthusiasm for seeing them succeed. As a result, our authors have become some of the most read in the UK, consistently topping the Amazon Kindle and Audible charts for weeks at a time with every new release." They consider most genres and recent expansions have led to new imprints which focus on specific genres (like ChocLit). Submission details here . A quick check of their authors and you find a higher than average number of older authors, if that is relevant to you. Orion Dash They say, "Dash is a boutique imprint that aims to create bestsellers by giving every one of our titles the focus and carefully crafted strategy they need. Moreover, we believe in building author brands, rather than one-off wins, an ambition we express with our multi-book contracts. We want to see all our authors succeed, and we do this with passion, digital know-how and unbeatable market knowledge. The beauty of being digital-first is that it allows us to give readers exactly what they want when they want it. The advantage of being part of Orion is the agility with which we can move into other formats should there be demand, with the very best in the business working across all of our teams." Financially they offer a flat 40% net receipts eBook royalty  in lieu of an advance. They do not consider non-fiction, novellas, poetry, children’s, YA, essays, or short stories. They are looking for women’s fiction, romance, saga, historical, crime and thrillers. A useful and recent (May 2023) review of Hachette from a self publishing perspective can be found here . PS Publishing A digital publishing house focused only on speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror). They say, "We put out our first four books in 1999 and we have published over 400 titles since. In between, we've had novels, collections, non-fiction - including a collaboration with Tartarus Press - a brand new short fiction magazine ( Postscripts ), an innovative new grandstand for up-and-coming talents (PS Showcase) and lots more novellas. We've also won six British Fantasy Awards for the Best Small Press and have received similar recognition from the Horror Writers Association and have won the World Fantasy Award and the International Horror Guild Award." They're based in Hornsea, East Yorkshire. However, they are not accepting submissions until the end of 2024 . Salt They say, "Salt is one of UK’s foremost independent publishers, committed to the discovery and publication of contemporary British literature. We are advocates for writers at all stages of their careers and ensure that diverse voices can be heard in an abundant, global marketplace." They have hundreds of authors (24 with A surnames!) so this is a big organisation. They cover the major fiction categories (not SFF that I could find) along with poetry, kids books and non-fiction. Serpentine Books They say, "Serpentine Books are a new and innovative publishing house building our first list. We are unashamedly selective on the books we publish. We want unique fiction, full of great characters, action, and a flawless plot." Their website is quite basic but they do state that they're interested in all the things the industry can be stuffy and judgemental about and focus on crime, cross-genre, speculative fiction, thrillers, sci-fi, horror and mash-ups of all these things. They're currently pushing their SF authors. You definitely get the impression they are a new publisher. Tangent Books They say, "Tangent is a purposefully radical publisher: both in the content we publish but also in the authors and writers we choose to publish. We publish books whose stories, thoughts, images and writing will not be published elsewhere; whether because of location, economy or content. Radical, witty and irreverent by nature, we hope you find something to enjoy, and make you think a little too." They're based in Bristol and if you know the profile of that city, their eccentric nature fits in there. As illustrated by their refusal to 'work with Tories' or anyone supporting Bristol City FC. Their books are a weird collection but certainly worth checking out. Wavesback Press They say, "Wavesback aims to combine what have become the hallmarks of quality modern digital publishing by working with the best editors and on bespoke marketing campaigns. Wavesback's ambition is to innovate in all aspects of the publishing process and, in particular, to discover new audiences for the authors they work with. We’ll bring experience and structure combined with innovation and agility.” says founder, Nick Bates. “But more than anything, we want to deliver on the ambition of our authors to reach lots of readers and make every engagement we have, with readers, authors and everyone who interacts with Wavesback an open and positive one.” Their first book was the first in the Mal & Jackie series by RJ Dark (non de plume of the fantasy writer RJ Barker. These stories are brilliant, exciting and funny!) Here is a helpful article, written by author Louise Mangos, about why you might want to go down the digital imprint route with your book. Here you can find advice about self publishing versus vanity press publishing plus a helpful list of those publishers to avoid. I've tried to screen out those who look dodgy but if you've had bad experiences, let me know. I hope you find this post helpful. If so, please share it on social media, making sure to reference The Speculative Faction in the process. Thanks.

Review of Kraken Rider Z

Review of Kraken Rider Z

Kraken Rider Z by Dyrk Ashton and David Estes establishes new territory in the fantasy genre. It is unlike anything I'd read before - and that's a really good thing! To define what I mean by this new territory, I've had to create a new sub-genre. Where 'grimdark' defines stories of nihilism, dark anti-heroes and worlds ruled by misery, Kraken Rider Z is its antithesis. This is a story full of goodness. People strive to do the right thing. The tone of the story is light, gentle, it's full of hope. I've labelled it 'joy-light' for these reasons. So much of this positivity arises out of characters supporting one another. So many minor characters are ready to encourage and support Zee and Jessop, our two protagonists. And why not? They're both friendly, eager for a challenge, ready to defend those in need of their help. Attitudes which arise out of the bond they share. The villains of the story are often distant, their threat is very real but we don't encounter it first hand, instead we're eye witnesses. The reader has little contact with them, quite often all we get are the occasional insults, slurs or surprised reactions. Their negativity doesn't enter the world in the way it might normally. A quarter of the way through the story, I said to Dyrk that I had engaged with the story's two protagonists so eagerly, I couldn't stand for anything horrible to happen to them. I think it's a reflection of how dark fantasy has led us to expect betrayal, suffering, violence that is visceral and unwarranted. What excited me, as the story developed, was how Zee and Jessop dealt with every threat and challenge in such positive ways. It helped them to develop. This is a story about growth. Zee is a hullscrubber, he's no one. We meet him as a little kid who finds a strange creature in a rockpool and looks after it. His family are poor but Zee yearns to become a Knight and to ride a dragon like the best of them. His growth comes from two aspects of his character. He is curious-minded. Eager to learn, he readily absorbs everything, no matter how difficult it might be. Secondly, he's courageous. For that first quality to truly exist, he needs to be brave. Some learning can be risky, even dangerous. These two qualities are replicated in Jessop, the strange creature he finds. It's partly why their bond forms in the first place, they are kindred spirits. It's Old Yeller but without the tragic ending, or Kestral for a Knave, (also without the tragic ending!) Or perhaps, more accurately, it's Babe - a farmer and his sheep-pig. Growth also involves developing with the help of others. This is where the 'joy-light' quality is seen early on. After being separated for ten years, the pair find each other again. Their continued growth relies on the support, encouragement and friendship of lother characters. Some of them are people of consequence, others who are simply 'good people'. (Yeah, even though they may be dragons and the like!) One of the things I love about this book is its magic system. I've deliberately not defined Zee and Jessop so as not to spoil the storytelling. The magic system is partly drived from who and what they are but is also too complex to define in this review. Magic is unlike anything you'll find in any other story. Again, it's magic with a 'joy-light' dimension that is derived from a form of personal energy, reflective of the kind of person they were. It is a magical system with a lot of rules, it needs training and discipline. Much of the story is about how Zee and Jessop progress through these stages. During their development, they encounter people who thwart them, bully them too. But we're never left in any doubt that these experiences will only ever strengthen them. The most heart-warming part of the story is the relationship between Zee and Jessop. Their's is the kind of friendship we all search for and probably seldom find. There is love. Again, an element so infrequently found in stories. We experience it in their private, shared dialogue, a result of their special bond. I've chosen to say little about the story because of how it is tied so closely to the development of Zee and Jessop - and their bond. What we see is almost their biography, to highlight an incident is to spoil that event and its significance to the narrative. Part of the joy of this story is being a witness to the development of its two protagonists. Suffice to say, the pace never lets up. It's relentless in leading Zee, Jessup and all the others (plus the reader) to a climax which is breathtaking in its scale and heart-rending in its emotional impact. I've long been a fan of Dyrk Ashton. His Paternus series remains in my all-time Top Three (alongside Richard Morgan and Raymond Feist). If I'm honest, I really wondered if he could match it. How do you better perfection? The answer sounds simple, it isn't. You write a very different story with a new and original style. One that is like nothing like anyone has done before. That takes real talent and imagination. This is the first story in a longer tale. I have my ideas about where things will go next and I can't wait to find out. I cannot recommend this story highly enough. Kraken Rider Z is feel-good fantasy at its best. It's exciting, heart-warming and original. Beyond that, it leaves you wishing this world could be just as positive, that people could be as kind, nurturing and supportive as those in this book. Read it, savour it. A new fantasy sub-genre has arrived and it's Joy-Light.

Damien Larkin: The Interview

Damien Larkin: The Interview

Blood Red Sand, the latest novel from military science fiction author Damien Larkin, hits the shelves on October 3rd. In my opinion, Damien is at the forefront of this genre. His stories possess a realism that comes from his own military experience, you can hear it in the dialogue, feel it in the life/death situations faced by his characters. Action is rooted in reality, these are not stories with the Hollywood version of warfare, it’s bloody, visceral and violent. His characters are also the types you’d expect to find in any military unit, the good, the bad and the ugly, in terms of their motivations. For these reasons, I’ve called him a modern-day Robert Heinlein, there can be no better compliment in my opinion. Blood Red Sand takes us back to Mars to fight the rogue Nazi regime that escaped from the Allies in the 1940s. In this third book, events have become way more complex. There are new factions, each with their own agenda. Enemies have become friends and vice versa. It’s a story filled with twists and turns, capturing the chaos of war in all its horrific beauty. The blurb for the book reads as follows: After World War Two, Sergeant McCabe knew the British army could send him anywhere. He never imagined facing down another Nazi threat on Mars. In New Berlin colony, rivalry between Generalfeldmarschall Seidel's Wehrmacht and Reichsführer Wagner's SS threatens bloodshed. The Reichsführer will sacrifice everything to initiate the secretive Hollow Programme and realise his nightmarish future for humanity. McCabe, Private Jenkins, and the Mars Expeditionary Force must overcome bullet, bomb, and bayonet to destroy the Third Reich. While Jenkins fights to stay alive, McCabe forms an uneasy alliance with MAJESTIC-12 operatives known as the Black Visors. Will this be the final battle of World War Two or the first confrontation in an interstellar war? I interviewed the man himself, to find out more about him and the Big Red series. 1. Tell us about Damien Larkin, especially your military background. How did it influence you as a writer? I come from a generation who lied about our ages to enlist in the Reserve Defence Forces (it’s a lot stricter nowadays). I joined at 16 and rank it as one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I learned so many practical skills that I still use today, made life-long friends, and got to share some fantastic experiences that will always stay with me. It was tough, exhausting, and at times boring, but I wouldn’t trade those seven years in the RDF for the world. On the writing front, I consider myself extremely disciplined, and make sure to carve out time for myself to write daily (whether that’s on my lunch break in work or right after I finish). I also draw on my experiences of taking part in section, platoon, and company battle drills to make the war scenes as realistic as possible. Something I find really interesting is how often people (mostly veterans) comment on a recurring theme in my books – how the soldiers most often don’t have the equipment they need to get the job done or are let down by logistical issues. It’s funny because it’s true as most veterans and serving members can attest to. 2. Give us your ‘Elevator Pitch’ for Blood Red Sand. British soldiers with PTSD kill Nazis on Mars while dreaming of home. 3. Tell us about your journey as an author. Deep down, I always wanted to be a writer, but I kept putting it off. It was one of those situations where I told myself I’d look into it when I’d done X or completed Y. The real catalyst for me was when I was working part-time to look after my young children and set up an app development business as a side project. Despite the exhaustion of looking after two children while my wife worked, I managed to land three significant contracts and thought that was my breakthrough moment. It wasn’t. I might as well have set fire to what little money I had. I built all three apps but for a variety of reasons, didn’t get anywhere close to a return on my investment. I distinctly remember having a ‘dark night of the soul’ where I questioned what I wanted to do with my life. I then realised that one of the core things driving me was to create a passive income so I could wind down my part-time job and focus that time on writing. It was like getting struck by a lightning bolt. I wound down my app development business the next day, opened a Word document and gave myself until the New Year (three months away) to have a first draft written. With hours to spare on New Years Eve I had a story just over one hundred thousand words long completed. I later went on to self-publish ‘Children of the Dying.’ It was terrible. Like, truly awful in every sense of the word. I made so many amateur mistakes but learned a lot from the experience. After unpublishing it, I started writing a book based on a horrible nightmare I once had. That novel was ‘Big Red’ and the rest is history! 4. Your books are published by Dancing Lemur, how did that relationship come about? All thanks to the power of ‘Twitter Pitch events.’ At the time, I’d never heard of a Twitter Pitch event and stumbled across it randomly. These events are set up by different organisations sometimes for a variety of genres and in a nutshell, writers pitch their books in Tweet form during a certain time frame and with relevant hash tags. Agents and publishers will them review these tweets looking for books that might fit their wish list. If they find something that captures their interest, they’ll ‘like’ the tweet, inviting the author to pitch to them directly. I took part in one run by the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) and ended up getting three likes from different publishers. I researched them, eliminated one and pitched Big Red. In the end, I opted for Dancing Lemur Press due to their professionalism and belief in my story. I rank that as an excellent decision. I learned more from L. Diane Wolfe about writing (and the business of writing) in the first month compared to twelve months of research I’d done myself. 5. The characters in your stories, men like McCabe and Jenkins especially, possess such a ring of truth, they sound like they might exist. Are they based on people you’ve known? They’re not exact copies of people I know, but I’d definitely draw on personality traits of different people to add realism to their personalities and actions. From my RDF days, every platoon had a Jenkins character. Someone who tends to be the butt of jokes or messes things up on a semi-regular basis, but who can surprisingly step up when needed or under pressure. Likewise, McCabe is a mixture of some fantastic NCOs I had the pleasure of serving alongside. A good NCO drives you hard and pushes you to your limits, but also looks out for the enlisted under their watch. 6. You have a day job and a family, I imagine the opportunities to write are not easy to find. How do you find time? Through sheer force of will! I’m grateful for being able to continue working from home so much in this post-Covid environment. Due to wanting to spend time with my family or doing a million other things that require my attention on a daily basis, I need to be strategic about my writing time. In my work, I get two fifteen minute breaks and a forty minute lunch a day. I combine my first break and lunch together and spend those fifty-five minutes pouring out the words. On a good day, I can break the 1k words marker during that time, sometimes more if I’m in the zone. If I’m low energy or exhausted, I’ll focus on editing one of the billions of projects I’m working on at the moment. No rest for the wicked! 7. Tell us about the importance of research in these stories. Your description of a Martian colony sounds so well informed, you must have investigated how this would be achieved. The same is true for the attitudes, strategic complexities and personalities of the Nazis in the books. One of the things I enjoy about speculative fiction is how we can bend, or sometimes even break, the rules on storytelling, but something I’ve noticed is how readers do enjoy a certain sense of realism. For the universe of Big Red, I’ve put in countless hours researching time travel, potential plans for colonising Mars (and other planets), interstellar travel, UFOs, and conspiracy theories. If you put in the work to create that sense of realism (especially in an unrealistic scenario) I think readers will pick up on the confidence of your writing. I’ve always enjoyed history too (I know – surprise, surprise), so I take what I’ve read about, whether that’s certain attitudes or personality traits, and blend them into characters. For me, it’s about blurring the lines as much as possible and utilising misdirection to keep the reader engaged and unable to predict how it’s all going to end. 8. Action sequences are never easy to write. It’s a tough job, maintaining the right pace while making it clear to your reader what’s happening. Give us an example of one of the many set pieces in your story that proved a challenge to write (without spoilers!). Great question! What I call ‘the Battle of the Spire’ was, without a doubt, the most challenging of all the action scenes in Blood Red Steel. If you look at Blood Red Sand, most of the action takes place out in the open or within a sprawling city-sized domed colony. This gives plenty of room to manoeuvre, allowing multiple operations across different fronts and the use of artillery or mortars as support weapons. In Blood Red Steel, most of the action is confined to a claustrophobic Forward Base meaning there can’t be any huge set-piece battles. Instead, the action is in your face and very close quarters. With the limits I imposed on myself, I had to work out how these opposing groups could duke it out in a large-scale manner. My solution was to fight a 3-D style battle by blowing up the floors in the innards of Forward Base Zulu. Instead of having soldiers fighting each other across the different levels, have the battle raging up and down as well. I thoroughly enjoyed penning that mayhem! 9. Prejudice in its myriad forms, is played out in the story vividly. It’s a strong motivator to many of the characters. Was this a deliberate decision on your part? Yes, absolutely. I always enjoyed history as a subject and to this day read history books non-stop. One of the things I’ve never been able to wrap my head around is the drive to ‘whitewash’ history and gloss over subjects. History is history. It happened. Good things and bad. I believe it’s important for us to study and learn from the past, in the hopes that we can prevent history from repeating itself. One of the things I set out to do when writing the Blood Red books was to shatter the ‘Clean Wehrmacht’ myth. This was a school of thought that became very popular in post-WW2 Germany that stated the atrocities carried out by the Germans was primarily by the SS with little to no support from the Wehrmacht. Evidence proves otherwise, though and it’s something I wanted to hammer home in my books. 10. Having been a soldier yourself, I suppose you must have one character who is your favourite. The guy you relate to most easily. Who is it? Likewise, which character have you enjoyed writing because of their villainy? Without a doubt, that’d be ‘Captain’ Eddie Lockhart. In Big Red, and Blood Red Sand he’s a secondary character, so I was delighted to promote him to POV status in this one. He’s someone who’s clearly troubled and suffers with addiction yet is a skilled pilot and firmly loyal to his friends. There’s something about his rebellious streak I find so entertaining to write. For the villains, there’s one character I enjoyed writing and was utterly shocked by her actions (who sadly, didn’t make the final cut to Blood Red Sand). I wrote four chapters from the perspective of Martha Haas, the leader of a werewolf terrorist cell in New Berlin who wages a one-woman war against the MOF parallel to the events happening at Forward Base Zulu. In the end, I decided to cut her as I realised her scenes detracted from the overall story but getting into the headspace to write her utterly chilled me. This was a woman who left her own children to callously target off-duty MOF personal, even utilising child suicide bombers. I intend on self-publishing her stories as a companion piece to Blood Red Steel at some point in the future under the working title of ‘The She-wolf of New Berlin.’ 11. Situations faced by many of your characters involve them dealing with the real possibility of death. In my introduction, I mentioned the “death or glory” approach we often see in Hollywood films. That is not so in your stories. Because it’s not “one size fits all” is it? There will be different reasons for risking their lives. How do you go about creating characters who must face up to this reality? When people sign up to serve their countries they do so for a variety of reasons. For some it’s out of love of their country, others, it might be as a job, a steppingstone to college, or juts straight up adventure. In the end, it doesn’t matter. After experiencing gruelling training for days and weeks, with little sleep and pushed to your limits everything revolves around your buddies. You endure and suffer for them, the same way they do for you. I’ve never been in a combat situation, so I try and draw from the experiences of veterans who have as much as possible. In Blood Red Steel, the men of the MEF endured horror for two years and the survivors heavily lean on each other to get through the day. During the fighting, they don’t want to die, but they’d rather take a bullet than seeing one of their mates getting killed which leads to some personal acts of heroism. Not out of ideology or loyalty to the state but for their mates and the people they’re assigned to protect and lead. 12. What’s next for Damien Larkin, the author? So may projects, too little time! I’m aiming to get back to my self-publishing roots by releasing two books next year (hopefully). The first is ‘The Truceless War’ a sci-fi retelling of the First Punic War (between the Romans and Carthaginians). If the Roman Empire in space sounds like your thing, let me know! The second project is ‘Lizard Skin and Sharpened Steel’ which is a fantasy swords-and-shields novel following the exploits of a mercenary company tasked with visiting an isolated landmass and retrieving dinosaur eggs. Yep, that’s right. Swords, shields, and dinosaurs. On top of that, I’m currently working on two WIPs. One is a sci-fi story involving AI, androids, and the end of the world. The other is a satirical alternative history novel. As if I’m not already a glutton for punishment, The Green Horizon audio drama creator Paul Walsh and I are collaborating on a sci-fi horror novel, but no timeline for that at the minute. Long story short; you ain’t seen nothing yet! Want to find out more? Here are the links! FB : https://www.facebook.com/DamienLarkinAuthor/ Twitter : https://twitter.com/Damo_Dangerman ? IG : https://www.instagram.com/damo_danger_larkin/ Website: https://www.damienlarkinbooks.com/ Purchase links: https://www.damienlarkinbooks.com/shop https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Red-Steel-Big-Book-ebook/dp/B0BYDXCQC1/

#BookBloggers Catalogue

#BookBloggers Catalogue

In my Meet The Bloggers interviews I asked everyone to recommend other #bookbloggers. Authors are often on the lookout for people to read and review their books so I thought it might help if I created a definitive list from these recommendations. Needless to say, these good folk usually have a reading list as long as your arm! So send your invitation but be patient. Be ready for them to say no because they are so booked up. And remember, they do this work out of love and in their free time. Appreciate them. In alphabetical order: Celeste at A Literary Escape Jacob at All Stars Were Red Lois at AquaVenatus Alex Hormann at At Boundary’s Edge Beth Tabler at Before We Go Blog Tabitha at Behind the Pages Rowena at Beneath a Thousand Skies Chris at Biblio Nerd Reflections Mogsy at BiblioSanctum David at Blue Book Balloon Tammy at Books, Bones & Buffy Cat Treadwell at Cat’s Books Stefan at Civilian Reader Liis at Cover to Cover Sarah at The Critiquing Chemist Dini at Dinipandareads David W and the team at FanFiAddict Mihir and the team at Fantasy Book Critic Mark at Fantasy Book Nerd Dylan and Charles at Friends Talking Fabienne Schwizer at Grimdark Magazine Matt at Hobbit Hole Books Eleni at Late Night Books Lynn at Lynn's Books Maria Haskins at Maria’s Reading Sahi at My World of Books Nick at Out of this World SFF Peat at Peat Long’s Blog Timy at Queen’s Book Asylum Shazzie at Reader at Work Caitlin at Realms of My Mind Scarlett at Scarlett Readz and Runz Night at So Many Books Alex at Spells and Spaceships Sue at Sue’s Musings Sam at The Book In Hand Filip at The Grimoire Reliquary H.C. at The Irresponsible Reader Michael at Track of Words Isabelle - The Shaggy Shepherd Book Reviews Esme at The Weatherwax Report Jodie at Witty and Sarcastic Book Club If you're looking for someone to read and review your work, I hope some of these good folk will be able to help. Good luck!

Legacy of a Hated God by Patrick Samphire

Legacy of a Hated God by Patrick Samphire

The Mennick Thorn series comes to an end in the best, most epic of ways! I maintain writing is like weaving. The best stories bring threads together, carefully applying the warp and the weft to highlight some elements, while hiding others for later. To do this over a series of four books presents an enormous challenge for any author. Patrick Samphire succeeds with aplomb! One of the things I've loved most in Legacy of a Hated God is the way threads from earlier books appear, fade, only to reappear again. Shadow of a Dead God establishes the magic system. In Nectar for the God the role of The Wren and Nik's mother, High Mages, comes into focus and his relationship with Benny goes sour. Strange Cargo sets up the conditions for the final part of the series. It means, by the fourth instalment, characters are familiar, thoroughly explored and utterly engaging. They are human (OK, apart from the monsters and the gods!) and have their frailties and failings. Those very qualities underpin the stories. Patrick Samphire's plots are founded on these weaknesses. Though the stories may be fantasy, you see these people everywhere you look. Just because it's fantasy doesn't negate the need to provide social commentary! Nik is the type of hero that fits perfectly within this theme. He is the person we would all like to be. That person who doesn't question personal safety, who supports those who are vulnerable for no other reason than no one else will. His integrity is rock solid and we'd all like to be that way, few of us are. To illustrate, part of the plot revolves around his reaction to the death of a minor character in an earlier book. That reaction costs him dearly but at no point does he ever regret his actions. He accepts the consequences and moves on. Nik's stories fall into the fantasy mystery genre and they typify it perfectly. The mystery is established at the beginning and events misdirect us when we think we're being fed accurate information. Like a conjurer, the author needs to completely surprise us in the end because the denouement is not what we expect. Yet, with closer inspection, you realise the answers were there all along! These stories are labelled as being akin to Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and I can see the similarities. Dresden is another man whose heroic deeds leads him to risk his life in pursuit of doing The Right Thing. This conjuring act may not sit well with my weaving analogy, except to suggest parts of the final pattern are never visible until the job is finished. (OK, I've stretched that metaphor as far as it will go!) As the author says in his Acknowledgements, I will also miss Nik a great deal. I'm sorry this is the end of his adventures. The story wraps everything up beautifully. I finished the final page and let out a huge sigh of satisfaction. I'm a sucker for a happy ending. That's not a spoiler either. These stories are not that dark. The question is always, HOW can that happiness be achieved? We're promised more short stories and novellas and that provides a crumb of comfort! I have deliberately not mentioned any events in the story. To do so might compromise the enjoyment of those folk who are about to start reading the series. But the plot is so complex, the threads woven so tightly (oops!) that to lift out certain events belittles that complexity. Suffice to say, the pace never drops. Nik spends most of his time running in this story, from one crisis to another. The result of perfectly sustained excitement. Go get this book. You will not regret it. And start badgering Netflix and Amazon to get Nik's adventures on screen!

Meet the Bloggers: Celeste from A Literary Escape

Meet the Bloggers: Celeste from A Literary Escape

In this series of interviews, I’m talking to a bunch of people who are the lifeblood of the #indieauthor . Their hard work and time, their enthusiasm and commitment, enables the #selfpublishing community to thrive. Simply put, if they didn’t review and promote our books, no one would know about us. Which is why I thought it was time to turn the tables and ask them the questions. In this interview I talk to Celeste from A Literary Escape . Her site not only includes her reviews but also great discussion-prompting posts about the wider issues around reading and writing. 1. Tell us about yourself, Celeste. Hi, everyone! I'm a 30-something book blogger who lives in northern Virginia. Some may call me a middle millennial. I work full time, so book blogging is purely a hobby. I've been reading all my life, though high school assignments and college meant an extended hiatus from it. When I'm not reading, my other hobbies include gardening, traveling, and cuddling with my cat. I'm privileged to have traveled to over 30 countries, most of those with my husband, though much of Europe remains unexplored to me. A fun fact about me is that I used to have a travel blog, but the upkeep was a lot more intense, so I decided to close up shop on that.
2. What prompted you to start blogging and reviewing? I feel like I've seen other bloggers have a similar impetus, but in short, the coronavirus pandemic. I was feeling pretty down nearly a year in and on a whim I opened my Kindle for the first time in quite a while. As fate would have it, A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR) was on sale. That was my gateway back into reading and I promptly read all four books that were out at the time. I had a major book hangover from that series and really wanted someone to talk to about it, so I decided to start my own blog. And here I am, still here 2.5 years later! It's been such a great time, albeit a lot of work.
3. In a typical week, how much time do you spend reading and blogging? I don't keep track of that even though I've told myself I should, so these times are just estimates. I wouldn't be surprised if I spend a minimum of 10 hours per week reading. And I probably spend about 5 hours per week blogging, which includes blog hopping. So at least 15 hours per week minimum on this hobby.
4. Do you have a favourite type of book? Or genre? Can we tempt you to list some favourite authors? My soul craves fantasy romance or romantic fantasy, and bonus points if a book includes the fae. But overall I enjoy most types of fantasy. Needless to say, considering my answer to question 2, Sarah J. Maas is a favorite author. (However, I haven't read anything other than ACOTAR. Oops!) I really love Olivie Blake for her extremely atmospheric writing; I usually dislike things that err on the philosophical side, but she writes in such a way that just captivates me. I also recently discovered indie author Nicola Tyche, who wrote the Crowns trilogy, of which I've read the first book. I do also read outside of my preferred genre so I don't burn myself out on fantasy. Sometimes I'll read nonfiction, contemporary romance, and the occasional literary fiction novel.
5. Reviewing and blogging requires energy and commitment. What sustains you? In short, this community sustains me. Reviewing and blogging is such a time-intensive hobby that I don't think I'd still be doing this if I hadn't found my little niche within the larger bookish community. Most of us appreciate and want a community with which to discuss like things and I'm not different. I try not to care too much about engagement statistics. But I do admit it's nice to see them go up because it means someone cares enough to read what I have to say. It's even nicer when a fellow reviewer can relate to how you felt about a book.
6. Conversely, what annoys you about this job? My first thought went right to all of the bookish drama on social media. But I think many of us agree on that. So I'll branch out and say that it annoys me when both newcomers and senior book bloggers expect to get engagement without putting the work in. If you want mine or others' time, it helps to reciprocate it. Please don't complain about not getting retweets or blog comments if you're not also doing the same. I wrote a whole blog post exploring this topic . In short, I spend my time where I know it will be appreciated.
7. What “ingredients” does a book need to have to really get you excited. I’m not talking generic things like world building or character either. More specific things. Call me basic when it comes to fantasy romance, that's fine with me. Sticks and stones and all that. But I get excited when a story includes the following: fae, enemies to lovers, morally grey love interests, and/or political intrigue/court politics. I really appreciate that last ingredient when it comes to reading historical fantasy. I fart in the general direction of the miscommunication trope.
8. If you were a character in a fantasy story, what kind of role would you play? And would you survive to the final page?! This is a really hard question to answer! I admire all of the strong female main characters, so I'd like to say I'd play that role. But what they endure can be downright difficult at times. Instead, I think my personality leans more toward playing some sort of lead spy advisor or something of the sort. Meaning, I'd observe and receive reports and work my influence behind the scenes and hopefully not get my head chopped off. Or I could be a castle groundskeeper since I like gardening. Totally in the same field as being a spy advisor, right?
9. You’re going on holiday and you’re going to have lots of time to relax (so without the family!) What five books would you take with you? I'm going to stay away from rereads, so I'd take with me: 1) THE ATLAS PARADOX by Olivie Blake; 2) SHADOW QUEEN by Nicola Tyche; 3) TO FLAME A WILD FLOWER by Sarah A. Parker; 4) HOUSE OF EARTH AND BLOOD by Sarah J. Maas; and 5) THESE TWISTED BONDS by Lexi Ryan.
10. You help authors in lots of ways. Tell us how. I feel reviewing books on my blog is the main way I help authors. It's free marketing for them, especially when I share it on social media to help potential readers to discover something new to read. I also retweet book announcements. I participate in blog tours, though honestly it has been a while since I've done one. I also participate in judging competitions. Last year I was a judge for the Book Bloggers' Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA) and this year I'm a judge for the inaugural judging season of The Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship (SFINCS). I also have some upcoming publication day announcements for indie authors. 11. Tell us what qualities matter when you write a book review. Not everyone finds them easy to do so what do you comment on and why? Personally, I need more than a one paragraph review because I want a more in-depth look into what specifically did or did not work for the reviewer. I appreciate when a reviewer discusses whether the characters were well rounded or flat and if the plot made sense. As someone who does this, I also like seeing the themes of the book addressed (whether or not the perceived theme is what the author intended). I like seeing tropes mentioned, but some people don't. Additionally, it's helpful if the reviewer makes a broad statement about who might like the book they're reviewing, e.g., "This book is perfect for readers who love heist plots and morally grey characters." The hardest part of reviewing for me used to be creating my own synopsis. So I stopped doing that and use the official one instead. I figured someone was already paid to do that, so why agonize over creating one myself?
12. You’ve always been an active supporter of #indieauthors. Why? Before I joined this community I honestly didn't know what an indie author was. I thought all publishing was done through publishing houses. But obviously that's not so! There are smaller independent publishers as well as those who self publish. While I like many of the traditionally-published books I read, I like to also read and support indie authors because, simply, indie authors have great stories to tell. There is plenty of amazing stuff to read outside of big publishing houses. However, indie authors don't have the same marketing budget, so I like to try and leave a review on my blog when I can. Some of my more popular reviews have actually been those about indie books. And I love it when an indie author becomes so popular that traditional publishing swoops in and acquires them so that more readers find them.
13. Which superhero would you be? (Marvel or DC!) Please don't hate me, fellow bloggers, but I've never been big into comics or superheroes! If I have to pick I would go with Superman. It was one of the Saturday morning cartoons I used to watch as a kid. I was a fan of the 1990s Justice League cartoons as well as Batman Beyond, not to mention the WB series Smallville . I always thought it was cool to have basically all of the powers. Why choose? When it comes to all of the recent Marvel stuff, I'd pick Loki, though I'd probably make a terrible Loki because I'm way too logical.
14. When you read, do you listen to music? If so, what kind? Most of the time I don't listen to music when I read. If I do it's instrumental music because I find lyrics very distracting. I might listen to random lo-fi music on Spotify.
15. Finally, if our readers want to discover more reviewers/bloggers, who would you recommend? Before I list reviewers/bloggers, keep in mind I can't list everyone, so please don't be offended if your blog isn't here! That said, I often visit blogs of: Tammy at Books, Bones & Buffy ; Janette at Wicked Witch's Blog ; Chris at Biblio Nerd Reflections ; Shazzie at reader@work ; Caitlin at Realms of My Mind ; Leah at Leah's Books ; Julie at One Book More ; Athena at One Reading Nurse ; and Amanda Kay at Your Book Friend . Sahi at My World of Books also has great reviews, but she's on a bit of a hiatus at the moment.

Under the Covers: Ken Dawson from Creative Covers

Under the Covers: Ken Dawson from Creative Covers

In this series of interviews, we meet those good folk who illustrate and design our book covers. Who are they? How do they work? What makes a successful cover, as far as they’re concerned? What’s it like, working with other creatives? For the #indieauthors out there, perhaps these interviews will act as an introduction to the person who designs your next book! I’m starting the series with the amazing artist who has designed my latest covers. Ken Dawson from Creative Covers. Apart from being incredibly talented (said through clenched teeth, I’ve always wanted to be able to draw!), Ken is a friendly guy too. We quickly found we were on the same wavelength. So, let’s find out more. 1. Tell us a little about yourself Ken. Your background, the work you do etc.
Hi Phil! Thank you for this! 😊 Well, I’ve been a book cover designer now for over ten years, and a graphic designer for over twenty. Currently I live in Lytham St. Annes in the North West of England and when I’m not designing I’m hiking in the Lake District.
2. On your website you talk about your own writing. Does it help, being a writer as well as an artist? I think so. Marrying up images and text is much easier if there’s good communication between me and the author. So not only do I understand what most authors are going through getting their work published having written my own books, but feel I can effectively communicate what I’m trying to achieve with the cover.
3. Looking through your gallery of book covers, you see such a diversity of genres. Do you find any genre to be easier or harder to work in?
Firstly I adore working on all genres, and each present their own challenges. But I will be honest, some are tougher at times than others. For instance, a complicated sci-fi spaceship scene is much harder than say a simple watercolour painting for a cozy mystery. Just due to the level of detail usually required.
4. Our working relationship began with my “mood board” of ideas. I included covers I thought captured some of the elements I wanted on my cover. How do you prefer to work with an author? What is the ideal approach?
I will say the mood board is very helpful! It helps set the tone of what is required, and what the author is looking for. However, I won’t say they are essential, for some authors have no idea what they would like for a cover, and insist I come up with a host of ideas to look at. I can’t say I have a preference for a way on working with an author. I feel as along as we communicate efficiently and they are honest about what they like and don’t like, we will achieve the end result and a fantastic cover.
5. You’ve used the phrase of ‘seeing’ the idea of what I’ve been looking for. Is this how you work? Do you get a clearly defined visual image in your head?
I suppose sometimes I do. Sometimes straight away I know exactly what I want to create. Other times I need a bit of brainstorming. I’ll sketch layouts, look for inspiration in the same genre, and even listen to music and soundtracks relating to the material to get the ideas flowing.
6. One artist I spoke to talked about certain colours being ‘on trend’. (Blue and orange apparently?) Do you find that colours work this way? Or is the colour defined by the book?
Haha! A simple google of ‘blue/orange film posters’ will show you how popular this combination is. But then again these are timeless complimentary colours and when used correctly can be very effective. I do think the book itself defines the colours though. We’re not trying to convey the story as such on the cover, but moreover the emotions of the tale. Readers aren’t usually searching for a particular tale, they’re usually searching to feel a certain way. They want to get lost in a good romance, adventure, comedy, or thriller. So we aim to appeal to those feelings. For instance reds and blacks can obviously signify horror. Bright luminous colours tend to lend themselves to comedy or satire. Project the emotions behind the book and you’re on your way to a great complimentary cover that garners interest.
7. Let’s talk fonts. When I first started out as an author, I quickly learned how important they are to a cover. How they help define the genre and tone. Tell us how you go about choosing the best fonts.
So over the years I’ve amassed and purchased thousands of fonts. So many, that it becomes time-consuming to search through them all. There’s a great website called Wordmark.it which displays all the fonts on your computer and lets you quickly scroll and select candidates for the wording. Of course, like all designers I have my favourites. Mine will forever be Trajan.
8. What images work best for fantasy novels? Is its swords or monsters or strange landscapes? What kind of “ingredients” do you get asked to include? If, in fact, you do!
Again this all depends on the story at hand. Big landscapes can work well as they signify a journey (pretty much a staple of fantasy novels). But you have to do something that stands out in a sea of other covers. Not too complicated is always best as a lot of people will see the cover as a thumbnail, and as such a strong design is often a simple one rather than one crammed full of elements.
9. Books you’ve designed have won awards; your work was highlighted. This must give you such a boost! Is there a consistent feature of a book cover that gets noticed in this way? Or is it down to the cover accurately reflecting the book?
Thank you. I think entering the competitions helps, haha! Personally I’ve not entered a competition myself, but it’s the authors themselves who do it. Again clear, strong designs appear to do the best. Something that grabs the eye. Strangely the ones that win awards tend to be symmetrical. Our eyes adore symmetry so I feel that has a part to play. Awkwardly two of my clients recently entered the same competition. One came first, the other came third. Out of 250 covers entered it was certainly an ego boost, haha!
10. Recent events in publishing have drawn our attention to the impact of Artificial Intelligence. Tell us what your thoughts are on this topic.
AI has been a particular concern for all artists and designers. You’re seeing incredible artists who have spent their lives honing their skills, only to be outdone by someone simply typing a few words into a generator. Not only that, but it uses existing copyrighted work to make up the artificial images. As much as we were all disheartened by the appearance of AI art, it’s here to stay, and I’ve learned to accept it. I refuse to use AI artwork in my covers for I feel the author is paying me to create the work, not use a machine to do it for me.
AI is going to impact a lot of jobs, not only designers, but the world as a whole – some for good and some for bad. We just need to roll with the times.
11. You work with traditional publishers as well as self-published authors. Do you find their requirements to be similar or different?
I’ve found that publishers tend to brainstorm ideas with the author themselves (sometimes just themselves!) then come to me with a firm idea they would like to see. I will of course throw my own ideas into the mix and make suggestions as required to which they are open to. But apart from that, the process generally is the same, and I’m grateful to have built some good friendships in the industry.
12. Finally, how about giving us some links so we can see your amazing book covers.
My website is www.ccovers.co.uk , and my socials are:
Facebook: @ccoverskendawson Instragram: @creativecovers81

Once again thank you for having me!

The GD Penman Interview

The GD Penman Interview

He’s an author of books, smoker of pipes, keeper of beasts. His books include numerous trilogies; Savage Dominion, Deepest Dungeon and Witch of Empire. Each of them with very different settings and tones. On social media, this is someone who is guaranteed to make you smile with snarky and weird memes. GD Penman is a creative force. Beyond that, he lives in Dundee. 1. For those unaware of the GD Penman brand, tell us how you’d define it. Dear god, when did I become a brand? I was under the impression up until now that I was a person. When did the transformation occur? Do I get a PR department? Can they handle this interview for me? 2. You mention on your website how you’ve worked as an editor, tabletop game designer and other ‘awful, demeaning’ jobs. How did you end up becoming a writer? Writer was of course the dream job from when I was a child, but like most people I was told that it was simply impossible to make a living as one. You might get a job at a newspaper or magazine (as those industries died) but beyond that; books would have to be a hobby you indulged in rather than a profession you excelled at. I am pleased to say that this is not in fact the case. It is still quite possible to make a living as an author, provided you’re willing to give up on frivolous things like eating and sleep. As for the glorious story of how I discovered my destiny as a scribbler of goblin tales; I got laid off from my last job and had the choice of either becoming a successful author or becoming homeless. Nothing quite like a trapeze act with no safety net. 3. Who are the authors who have inspired you? Can their influences be spotted in any of your stories? I try to read widely rather than sticking to ‘my genre’ so that I don’t get stuck in the recursive loop of only being inspired by, and responding to, the same things as all the other authors working in this space. Michael Moorcock, Shirley Jackson, H. P. Lovecraft and Terry Pratchett were all formative influences, leading me to write speculative fiction, but in terms of style I’m probably more influenced by Poppy Z Brite, Junji Ito, Agatha Christie, R. L. Stine, Anne Rice, Herman Mieville, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, Rick Riordan, Gaston Leroux, Joe Lansdale, Diana Wynne Jones, Thomas Ligotti, Ursula LeGuin, Harlan Ellison, Madeline Miller and Guy Gavriel Kay. You might see little glimpses of their influence if you’re familiar enough with them. I drop in the odd reference here and there. 4. How did you get “discovered”? Another less than inspiring story I’m afraid. I sold my first book through the traditional publishing slush pile, then I sold my second book through another slush pile. I only started getting invitations to submit things somewhere between Witch of Empire and Deepest Dungeon. 5. How do you explain the diversity of settings for your stories. Savage Dominion is classic high fantasy with swords and demons. Deepest Dungeon references gameplay using avatars, with deeper and darker levels to explore. Different again, Witch of Empire has an alternate history setting where the British Empire still controls American colonies. They suggest a very creative mind. I don’t like repeating myself. If I’m going back to the same subgenre twice, it is because I feel like I’ve got something new to discuss. Otherwise, I tend to keep moving forward to new things. 6. Your Amazon page tells people about your work as a ghostwriter. Tell us about your experiences in this line of work. Does it, for instance, help make you a better writer? All writing makes you a better writer, but being a ghost writer removes the pressure to be perfect, letting you make all of the mistakes that are absolutely necessary. As for my experiences as a ghostwriter, they have typically been quite relaxing. I get a subject, I do some research, I write a book. The only particularly interesting story I have about ghost writing was probably when a retired gangster contacted me directly on my house phone to ask me to ghost his biography. As we couldn’t make it through a phone-call without him making me an accessory after the fact to a murder, I declined the job. 7. Tell us about your menagerie and why you have one. Do you have favourites? Some people collect stamps. I collect exotic animals. Or at least, I wish that were the case. I become terribly attached to every single creature I bring into the house so I end up blubbering when an insect that would happily have murdered me drops dead unexpectedly. As for favourites: Beignet (P. adspersus) is my favourite frog, Clarice (H. nasicus) is my favourite snake, Blossom (L. Parahybana) is my favourite spider, Maven (L. Australasi) is my favourite scorpion, and Bela (H. Coronatus) is my favourite mantis. This is all subject to change depending on their behaviour, of course. 8. Are you a disciplined writer? You must be to have such an extensive back catalogue. I do not have the luxury of being undisciplined. I have tight deadlines and a heavy workload. If I wait for the muses to descend rather than dragging them out of their cave by the hair, nothing will get finished. 9. When you’ve written so many stories, you must have one character that remains your favourite. Who? Why? I must admit that I profoundly enjoyed writing the character of Maulkin in the Savage Dominion series, simply because it is very rare to have a character who is so startlingly stupid as the main character. He is, as the reviewers said, a Himbo. 10. Your humour, in my humble opinion, is a defining quality of GD Penman. How does it manifest itself? For our readers, allow me to quote you. “New Amsterdam was a city the way decapitation was a paper cut.” I am actually lucky enough to be working on a purely comedic book now, so hopefully my sense of humour will get to come through as a full body apparition instead of just manifestations this time around. 11. If Hollywood came knocking, with a GD Penman biopic, who would play you? Ron Jeremy. He’s the only one with the correct ratio of sleaze, gut and tragic balding. 12. If you had a time machine, (perhaps you have?), and you could go back in time to meet your younger self, what advice would you impart? How far do I get to go back? I feel like this is a great opportunity to avoid a lot of the aches and pains of old injuries. Young me broke far too many bones. Failing those specifics, I’d tell young me that everyone is lying to me about making a living as an author; also if you write a book called Harry Potter about a wizarding school and bang it out sometime pretty soon, you’ll be able to undercut a burgeoning hate movement and make a small fortune. 13. Tell us what is on the horizon for GD Penman fans. I’m working on a comedic fantasy trilogy with Luke Chmilenko which is getting a lot of pleased sounding noises from everyone that reads it. After that… I have a couple more fantasy comedy series lined up, but it remains to be seen just how well this one does. 14. Let’s have some links to your work as well. GDPenman.com has all the good stuff. It’s been good to talk with you. Thanks for taking part. Now can you get the snakes off me before I scream! Oh, those aren’t yours? I didn’t bring any of mine with me.

Meet the Blogger: Dave from FanFiAddict

Meet the Blogger: Dave from FanFiAddict

In this series of interviews, I’m talking to a bunch of people who are the lifeblood of the #indieauthor. Their hard work and time, their enthusiasm and commitment, enables the #selfpublishing community to thrive. Simply put, if they didn’t review and promote our books, no one would know about us. Which is why I thought it was time to turn the tables and ask them the questions. My guest is Dave from Fanfiaddict.com . This is an exciting and varied site with lots of different sections to explore and a well-informed team of reviewers. Let’s get started. 1. Tell us about yourself, Dave. Well, I am a 33-year-old father of 2 girls, living out the “dream” in Alabama. Graduated from Auburn University with a marketing degree in 2013 and work in telecommunications (have worked in this industry for about a decade now). Reading is a big passion of mine, alongside spending time with my family and the occasional video game. 2. What prompted you to start blogging and reviewing? After reading Hugh Howey’s Wool and Andy Weir’s The Martian back in 2013/14, Amazon prompted me to check out some other indie titles that were similar. Ended up befriending several authors on FB who I would go on to beta read for and review for on Amazon. Ended up being scouted by Petros T. for Booknest.eu and blogged there for about a year, then decided to branch off and create my own thing. To say I haven’t looked back would be a lie, but I am glad I have kept moving forward. 3. In a typical week, how much time do you spend reading and blogging? Before having kids or after? Lol. Uhh, reading – probably around 10-15 hours a week if I get the down time or ability to listen to audiobooks, sometimes more. Blogging – maybe 5 hours or so a week? Usually crafting cover reveal posts or random blog posts that people have asked for. I don’t review nearly as much as I used to as blurbing has sorta become my thing. 4. I know I said your tastes are eclectic, but do you have a favourite type of book? Or genre? Can we tempt you to list some favourite authors? Fantasy is always going to be my bread and butter, but horror is quickly gaining. Epic, sprawling fantasy novels are my favourite but on occasion, I love to binge a quick spine-tingling horror novel that keeps me up at night. Favourite authors right now? Do you have all day? Haha. Probably John Gwynne, Michael R. Fletcher, Anna Smith Spark and Joe Abercrombie to name a few in fantasy. Stephen Graham Jones, Josh Malerman, Eric LaRocca and Kealan Patrick Burke in horror. 5. Reviewing and blogging requires energy and commitment. What sustains you? Author engagement, really. I’ve always been big on building relationships in the community and I love chatting with my favourite authors. So if I can read a novel of theirs and love it, starting that dialogue is big for me. It is also nice to be able to talk about books with other like-minded folks. My wife reads, but we are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to genre. 6. Conversely, what annoys you about this job? The book community and its toxicity (LOL). Kidding. Uhh, probably on some level, expectation and trying to keep up a level of consistency. It can be really difficult putting your thoughts down in 140 characters, let alone an entire review page. I am not one to put myself alone on camera, so the process of coming up with a concise and heavy hitting blurb can be a hair pulling nightmare. 7. What “ingredients” does a book need to have to really get you excited. I’m not talking generic things like world building or character either. More specific things. I’m a big mood reader so a book just has to feel right at that moment. Fantastic narrators tend to be the best ‘ingredient’ as I do listen to a ton of audiobooks. If I can’t get behind the narrator, I tend to shelve the book (luckily, this is RARE). With regard to physical reads, manga has to have a certain artistic style and really jump off the page pretty quickly or I lose interest. Novellas/novels need to have a pretty instant hook, which tends to be character driven or a hammer dropping scene. 8. If you were a character in a fantasy story, what kind of role would you play? And would you survive to the final page?! Definitely an archer. I am not one to jump straight into the fray, but I will GLADLY let loose arrows over my comrades' backs. I’ve always been into characters with ‘range’ since my first days playing video games. COD – I was always a sniper. It’s just fun picking people off :’) 9. You’re going on holiday and you’re going to have lots of time to relax (so without the family!) What five books would you take with you? Going to go with books off the TBR here, so Gardens of the Moon, Dune, The Shadow of What Was Lost, The Stand and House of Leaves. 10. You help authors in lots of ways. Tell us how. Well, I started with reviewing and then beta reading (proof-reading mostly). I branched out on the blog by helping with cover reveals, guest spotlights, excerpts from upcoming/recently released books, etc. When the dreaded C hit in 2020, I began what is now TBRCON by running a small virtual convention called MAYDAYCON. Now, I just help spread the word about upcoming releases, book sales, new covers, contracts… you name it. I also blurb new books that I read if I feel so led. Honestly, I just try and do every single thing that I can to help as many people as possible. That is why FanFiAddict has grown to over 30 peeps. 11. Tell us what qualities matter when you write a book review. Not everyone finds them easy to do so what do you comment on and why? Honestly, when I was writing reviews regularly, I always focused on my likes and dislikes. No one wants to hear a rehashing of the synopsis. If you liked or didn’t like a book, that is what other readers want to know. Why did you like or dislike it? What about the book made you give it that rating? People truly want to know if a book is for them or not, and they can’t glean that from the cover and synopsis alone. 12. You’ve always been an active supporter of #indieauthors. Why? Indie authors are the future. The majority of folks have been down on indies for YEARS because they state the quality just isn’t there. That simply is a load of $h!t (pardon my French). While I definitely enjoy tons of trad, I read tons of indie novels every year. In fact, most of my author friends are indies. I also credit indie authors for being so open and engaging with the community. You just don’t really get that from a lot of trad authors. 13. Which superhero would you be? (Marvel or DC!) Marvel, hands down. Probably Ant-Man. I’m snarky but also quite helpful in a fight lol 14. When you read, do you listen to music? If so, what kind? Not even a little bit. I honestly need complete silence when I read, maybe even a teeny bit of white noise. I get distracted WAY too easily. 15. Finally, if our readers want to discover more reviewers/bloggers, who would you recommend? It is a heck of a list. I hope you are ready: Andrew’s Wizardly Reads (YouTube) / Twitter Aquaventus / Twitter Bark at the Ghouls / Twitter Becky M (YouTube) / Twitter Before We Go Blog / Twitter Bo Kelley / Twitter The Brothers Gwynne (YouTube) Celeste | A Literary Escape / Twitter Coffee, Book, & Candle / Twitter The Critiquing Chemist Dominish Books (YouTube) / Twitter Epic Indie / Twitter Escapist Book Co. / Twitter Fantasy Book Critic / Twitter Fantasy Book Nerd / Twitter Fantasy Files (Podcast/YouTube) / Twitter Grimdark Magazine / Twitter JamReads / Twitter Kendall Reviews / Twitter Lynn’s Books / Twitter Mike’s Book Reviews (YouTube) / Twitter Out of This World SFF / Twitter Paul’s Picks / Twitter Queen’s Book Asylum / Twitter Reader @ Work / Twitter The Shaggy Shepherd / Twitter Sue’s Musings / Twitter Traveling Cloak / Instagram Witty and Sarcastic Book Club / Twitter Weatherwax Report / Twitter Wolfmantula / Twitter Thanks Dave!

Review: Manifest Delusions trilogy by Michael R Fletcher

Review: Manifest Delusions trilogy by Michael R Fletcher

"You're so sane," mused Wichtig, "you are the craziest person I have ever met. You cling so desperately to sanity and stability when such things are obviously myths. You believe pretending the world isn't crazy might make it so." He laughed comfortably and added, "You might be the craziest person in all the world." This quote, from Book #1 Beyond Redemption, defines the premise of the trilogy. The paradox is key. What is perceived as sanity is actually raving madness. The Manifest Delusions, as its title suggests, is full of it. Gods can be created. Fashioned by gifted humans whose insanity is a consequence of unlimited power. This craziness takes the form of Doppels who are clones of the god, though defined by specific quality of the god's personality - Trepidation, Acceptance, Contamination and Taboo. Insanity, in ones so powerful, enable them to create anything they want. A delusion is an invention driven by insanity but when you're super-powerful, you can make it real. With me so far? Into this deranged world, people are the pawns of the super-powerful folk. Or, they are assassins, swordsmen and murderers. Good people don't exist here. This is a world where the Grimdark label has been trodden into the mud and covered in manure, taken up and re-attached to the story. Yes, it is that dark. Manifest Delusions takes place in a world where hope cannot exist because it has been corrupted so badly, it sobs into its pillow at night. Add to this, even Death isn't an escape. You're forced to serve whoever has killed you. For our main protagonists, this provides them an army of people they've despatched. It is all so utterly hopeless. This is nihilism squared. No, cubed. However, this is Michael R Fletcher we're talking about. Within the insanity, the despair, the visceral violence, there is humour. It's snarky, wry and incredibly well-observed. You laugh. Then stop yourself and think, I shouldn't be laughing at that. It's sick. But next time you laugh again and realise your mind must be just as warped as Mike Fletcher's. That's like dunking yourself into an ice bath. With less skilled penmanship, these three stories would be the grimmest of Grimdark. They might sicken you. But, (and it's a big but), the quality of writing is so evocative, the themes are there in every simile, metaphor and aanlogy. You're left marvelling at the quality of description distilled into every throw away line. I had thought about quoting examples but found myself unable to find any that surpassed all the others. I'd quote all 3 books. The cast of characters is epic. All with German names. (Why German? Such a difficult language to pronounce!) They are a diverse crew of misfits and lunatics, all with hang-ups and flaws that make them revolting and despicable. But you engage with them and you feel dirty for doing so. They pull you in as you keep telling yourself, this can't get any worse. Then it does. It is important to add that Clayton Snyder is a joint author of Book #3, A War To End All. They make an exceptional double act. If you haven't read Norylska Groans, go check it out. It is truly superb. It is equally as bleak, don't expect unicorns and rainbows. But these guys can tell a story as individuals. When they collaborate, the work vanishes off the scale. I'm grateful to Mike for an advanced reader copy of Book#3. Like all of his stories, I'm left reeling. Not just at the events of the story but, primarily, at the quality of writing. A War To End All comes out in September. Go, order it now. For this is a work of such magnitude, people will be talking about it for a long time.

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