2014 in review

2014 has been a wonderful year for me, not just because I published not one but two books, but also because I got to meet so many great people, many through this blog. So thanks to everyone who has taken the time to visit, like or comment on any of my posts this year and I look forward to seeing you all in 2015.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Best Bloggers Blogging … according to me!

If you’re looking for some new and interesting voices to follow in 2015, you can’t go much wrong with this wonderful list of bloggers worth following (plus one rogue) including a few who are new to me too.
Thank you once again, Susan, for spreading the love 🙂

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

I’ve already given you a wrap-up of the best books I read in 2014. As well as being a reader and an author, I’m also a blogger who promotes other authors and doles out advice and information on all manner interesting areas, to me and my readers. Throughout this past year I have become “acquainted” with other like-minded bloggers (some of whom are also authors), have followed and read their blogs, commented on them, and reblogged their posts a number of times. Some of these bloggers came to my attention in the first place, because they offered to read and review my books or gave me promotion by way of an interview or guest post on their blogs. In turn, I met a number of other bloggers through that first set – people who commented on those posts about me or who won a copy of my book through…

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Recommended Reads: Yellow Tag by Kep Lagrange

Yellow Tag

The Blurb

He never liked going outside.
It wasn’t safe.
In close orbit around a violent star, Conroy braves intense heat and radiation to repair the damaged hull of the space survey ship Pervideo.
When things go wrong, he races against time to get back inside the ship.
Inside to safety…
…but sometimes the greatest threat is that which lies within.

The Review

One of the things I love about blogging and meeting new writers is finding out about the books they’ve enjoyed reading. Having read and enjoyed Scott Whitmore’s Green Zulu 51, which I reviewed here, I decided to check out his blog. He too reviews books and he named Yellow Tag as one of his books of the year. Well, I just had to take a look.

Conroy is the Systems Technician on the survey spaceship Pervideo. When a marble-sized meteoroid hits the ship, taking out two air pumps and causing a hull breach, Conroy has to go outside to repair the damage. Unfortunately, two crew members are away on a mission taking with them the last remaining fully functioning – or green tag – space suits, leaving just Conroy no option but to use one that works but has issues, classified as yellow tag. After leaving the ship to survey the damage, Conroy has difficulty contacting Wolfgang, the last remaining crew member, but very soon that becomes the least of his problems.

Yellow Tag (Pervideo Series Book 1) is a really well written novella which plays on one of our deepest fears – being lost and alone in a hostile environment with only our ingenuity to make it out alive. The ship and crew are all well realised, with the ship wearing out due to a combination of a long voyage and being scavenged to support other, higher priority missions, and the crew having their own issues for volunteering for this lonely mission, leaving you wondering whether the yellow tag designation is for the suit, the ship or the crew themselves.

It’s clear La Grange loves the logic puzzle aspect of throwing Conway into almost impossible situations and trying to work a plausible way out, and in this respect the book works admirably. There is a real sense of danger as things start to go wrong and Lagrange managers to convey the claustrophobia of being in serious trouble millions of miles from any help really well.

The only issue I had with the novella was that given its length it very much focussed on the specific situation at hand and didn’t allow us to get to know Conway, or the rest of the crew, that well. This wouldn’t have been such a problem if the small amounts of interaction that were present hadn’t been so well written they made me want to know more. The good news is that this is the first in a series, so hopefully this will get expanded upon in the next part. That said, this shouldn’t put you off reading what is a very atmospheric, sometimes terrifying, and thoroughly enjoyable space survival story. Recommended.

To buy Yellow Tag from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Yellow Tag from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

2014 – The best books I read this year!

I know I said my post a couple of days ago would be my last and now I’ve posted two in one day, but how could I not celebrate Second Chance appearing in a Best of 2014 list?
Thank you Susan, both for your ongoing public support and promotion, as well as the behind the scenes encouragement you give that nobody sees. Have a wonderful Christmas.

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

I don’t normally do this – recap what I’ve read during the year and choose which have been the best books, but I was tired of scanning the Best of 2014 lists that media and book sites produce, seldom seeing anything at all I’ve read. So I decided to come up with my own list.

If an author has been featured on my blog, Reading Recommendations, I have linked to their promotion. And the benefit of writing this promotion blog is I have discovered and met so many great authors this past year! As well, I’ve heard from a friend, a reader, who has been following my recommendations – and reading many of them! Here’s what Violet has to say: I love to read. I read for pleasure but if I learn something, it’s a bonus. With thousands of books to choose from, it can be a challenge finding…

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Recommended Reads: Green Zulu 51 by Scott Whitmore

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The Blurb

A war of millions is fought by individuals. For sixteen years humanity and the alien Vyptellians have battled in space and on hundreds of planets in a distant corner of the galaxy.

Tyko is a teenage space fighter pilot who has never known peace; insulated from the horrors of the battlefield, he’ll learn war isn’t a game. Sergeant Siengha is one of a handful to survive the war’s first battle; surrounded and vastly outnumbered by a merciless enemy, it takes everything she knows to keep those around her alive and fighting.

These are just two of the countless stories from the human side of the Vyptellian War. To those on the frontlines and their families at home, why the war began is unimportant, forgotten when the first shot was fired. What matters is the survival of the species.

But after years of bloody conflict, the war’s end is closer than anyone realizes.

The Review

I bought this book on the recommendation of Tammy Salyer, whose book Contract of Defiance I reviewed earlier this year. Tammy is a writer whose work I admire, so when she says something is good I tend to take her word for it and give it a try. For any authors who are yet to be convinced about the value of Paying it Forward, hopefully this is proof that recommending the work of others really is worthwhile.

Green Zulu 51 (and other stories from the Vyptellian War) is listed as a set of short stories set in a future world where one of old Earth’s colonies finds itself embroiled in a war with a relentless alien aggressor. Each story takes on an aspect of the war from a particular character’s perspective (a pilot, a soldier, a diplomat) but the further you read the more you realise that these aren’t just perfectly formed short-stories but form part of a larger narrative whole.

Whitmore has a wonderfully natural style, clearly bringing in a lot of his own military experience to the fore in painting the very ancient experience of life on the front line in a futuristic war. Each character has their own perspectives, are well rounded and immediately draw you into their world. While the battles (whether in space or on the ground) are well written and compelling, it is the human stories that make this book a stand out.

The influence of today’s conflicts on this book are clear, with once clear reasons for war becoming ever more vague as the years roll on and the attritional aspects start to take hold, but rather than take these parallels too far, Whitmore prefers to concentrate on how that impacts on the brave men and women who are tasked with carrying out orders, and their families, who have either started to question, or have forgotten the original reason behind those orders and the sacrifice they’ve been asked to make. Highly recommended.

To buy Green Zulu 51 from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Green Zulu 51 from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Top reading tips for writers

reading

It’s coming up to that special time of the year all writers love: Bookmas. Yes, if you’re anything like me then the Christmas holidays are a book bonanza, either because you receive books as presents or – my particular favourite – you receive gift tokens so you can buy the books you’ve been wanting to read all year.

But for writers, reading isn’t just a chance to relax and enjoy ourselves, it’s also an ideal opportunity to brush up on your craft, so here are my top reading tips for authors.

1 Read often

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard writers say they don’t have time to read. I just don’t understand the sentiment. As Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Reading regularly is one of the best ways to improve your craft. You subconsciously take in the structure, pacing and composition of a well written story. I read every night before I go to sleep and have done for nearly 40 years. There are some nights where I read a page before I wake myself with my book – or kindle – falling on my face, other nights I’ll read so late I’m tired the next day. No matter how tired I am, I always make time to read.

2 Read your genre

If you write in a particular genre it’s important you understand the particular quirks an traditions of the genre. I’ve said before I never set out to write science fiction, it was just the story and ideas I wanted to explore fit the genre, but I love science fiction and have bookshelves full of my favourite science fiction author’s work.

3 Read outside of your genre

That doesn’t mean to say you should read exclusively from within your genre. While my tastes will always lean heavily toward speculative fiction, I also love traditional thrillers, mysteries, political thrillers, literary fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction and so on and so on. There are many excellent writers out there in all genres and with ebooks you now have the opportunity to sample a wide spectrum of genres for relatively little cost. Since starting to Pay it Forward to the writing community, I’ve enjoyed and  learnt so much from reading books in genres I would never normally have tried. If you want to broaden your writing skills, broaden your reading.

4 Make notes of what works well

I read for enjoyment. I’m not analytical when I read because I like to be swept away into the world an author creates which I find difficult if I’m continually analysing the prose to find out how the author world their magic. That said, there are times when I’m reading that I can’t help but be dazzled by a well written phrase, a cleverly worked plot point or a scintillating piece of dialogue, so I always have a notepad beside my bed so I can note these down for future reference.

5 Make notes of what doesn’t work and why

On the other hand, there are also times where something doesn’t work or leaves me feeling a little let down. I like to look at why that is, try to figure out the underlying cause and identify what I would have done differently in the same situation.

6 Use what you’re reading to inspire your writing

Reading somebody else’s book can spark inspiration you may never otherwise have had. Many books have been inspired by others books, whether as an homage to the original or as a response. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was famously inspired by The Coral Island, Golding clearly believing that a group of children shipwrecked on an island wouldn’t all work together happily.

My first book, Second Chance, was in part inspired by a book by Peter F. Hamilton, an author of whom I’m a big fan. In it, a character sacrifices themselves only to come back later on after being cloned. I remember thinking at the time, “but it’s not the same person, it’s a copy.” It annoyed me so much I decided to work out how you could clone people and it still end up being the same person, and Second Chance was born.

7 But don’t plagiarise

Most writers would be delighted to find their work inspired something you’ve written. No writers enjoy seeing their work copied. There’s a big difference between taking a story and moving it to a new and unique setting, to writing the same story but changing the name and facial features of the lead characters. Don’t go there.

8 Write a review

Any author will tell you how much they appreciate a review, but as a writer yourself, writing a review helps to crystallise your thoughts on what you appreciated about the book and where it could be improved, which in turn allows you to identify how to improve your own writing.

9 Contact author to say how much you liked their book

If you really enjoyed a book, contact the author. Many authors are now on social media, either Twitter, Facebook or blogging like myself, and I don’t know of a single author who isn’t thrilled to receive a note from somebody who enjoyed their book. I’ve done this a number of times myself and have formed great friendships with other writers, building a mutual support group which in turn has helped develop my writing.

This will be my last post before Christmas, so I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and look forward to catching up with you all in the New Year.

Did you know you could broaden your reading habits absolutely free by signing up to my mailing list by either clicking here or on the image at the top right hand side of my blog. In return, you will receive one of my e-books, of your choice, for no cost to you! 

Recommended Reads: Along Came a Wolf by Adam Dreece

along came a wolf

The Blurb

“It’s like discovering the Harry Potter of technology, before everyone else”
This young adult series is written and layered for the mature reader. Set in a world at the equivalent of the 1800s, the various kingdoms and nations are rapidly approaching a technological revolution brought about by key inventors who are integral to the story.

Along Came a Wolf (Book 1) follows Tee, Elly and Richy who come together as a heroic team when a foe from Nikolas Klaus’ secret society past sends an agent to retrieve the steam engine plans. Will Nikolas’ secrets cost him the life of his granddaughter?

Fairy-tale elements are incorporated as if they were real, in a similar fashion to how Ring-Around-the-Rosie was about the black plague. For example, Master Inventor Nikolas Klaus is a combination of the Santa Claus myth and Nikolas Tesla. These elements are present to enrich the background of story.

The Review

A few months back I wrote a blog about how getting a good review doesn’t just depend on writing a good book, or even getting that book to the right reader, but also requiring that reader to be in a receptive mood. I’ve had Along Came a Wolf on my Kindle for quite a while after connecting with Adam Dreece on Twitter. Adam is one of life’s good guys, always helpful, always encouraging, he’s built a great following for his stories by doing things the right way: engaging with his readership and working very hard. Because of this I wanted to give Adam’s book a go but for whatever reason I just couldn’t get into the book. At the time I was deep into writing what would become Absent Souls and mentally my head was in a much darker world than the one Adam had created. Still, I recognised it was a good, well written story so recently decided to have another go. I’m glad I did.

In Along Came a Wolf, Adam Dreece has written a great children’s book full of adventure, high jinx and bravery in the very best traditions of the Famous Five and the books of Roald Dahl. The story is set in a very believable, fictional world where the technology many science fiction fans would recognise as Steampunk is in its infancy and inventors are king.

The story is very loosely based around the three little pigs, only instead of a wolf we have the dastardly Andre Leloup, who has come to steal top secret plans from the master inventor Nicholas Klaus, only to be confronted by the Yellow Hoods – Klaus’s granddaughter Tee and her friends Richy and Elly – who decide to do something about it.

This is a cleverly written, rich children’s story, interweaving classic fairy tales into this unique setting to deliver something both recognisable and very, very new. For those of us a little older, it’s great fun seeing Dreece subtly reveal the various inspirations for his characters, until you find yourself second guessing whenever a new character appears.

In Tee, Dreece has created a clever, stubborn and ingenious lead character who beats her enemies using quick thinking and the help of her friends. The Yellowhoods face their foes with optimism and excitement and always believe they will win, and throughout the book there is a feeling of excitement and adventure, taking those of us a little older than we once were back to the fun and games of our youth, whether in the thrill of riding a sail-cart or the joy in developing plans to bring down our enemies.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes their adventures innocent, their heroes plucky and their villains just the right side of scary.

To buy Along Came a Wolf from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Along Came a Wolf from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Second Chance – Book Review

I’m absolutely thrilled with this review of Second Chance by Paul at Echoes of the Pen. It’s moments like this that make writing so worthwhile.

echoesofthepen

Second Chance is the first of the Transcendence Trilogy – Book 1. I had been meaning to read and review this book quite some months ago but for various reasons my reading schedule was interrupted. Thankfully though, my blogging, writing, and reviewing schedules are now slowly returning to something approaching normal service, which is just as well as I shall now be adding Absent Souls, the second book of the trilogy, to my ever-lengthening reading list.

Second Chance by Dylan Hearn is a book I discovered via a reblog by Graeme Cummings (author of RavensGathering) of an excellent article by Dylan Hearn on mutual support among Indie and self-published authors. As well as being an author, Dylan Hearn writes and maintains a blog that is a wealth of information to any new or aspiring writer, particularly self-published ones. For further information and links to Dylan Hearn please see:

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I’ve got it Covered

I’ve given recommendations for cover artists in the past but here’s an alternative, and a really good one if Julie’s story and cover is anything to go by.

Julie Lawford

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on the cover design for Singled Out. Not that I’ve been designing the cover myself… I placed a brief with crowdsourcing design site 99Designs. Here’s how I got on…

There are many ways you can get a cover for your self-published novel. You can design it yourself, although many are the respected sources which advise against this. You can use the template design capabilities available through Kindle and CreateSpace. If you’re lucky enough to find one which fits with your story, you can buy an off-the-shelf cover from several websites. Those with deeper pockets can work on a one-to-one basis with a freelance cover designer of their choice, many of whom have a great deal of experience with traditional publishers.

Or… you can do as I did and place your brief as a contest on 99Designs, and see what comes…

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Recommended Reads: The Odd Tale of Winston Riddlebury by Matt King

Winston Riddlebury

The Blurb

Winston Riddlebury is a man who has a certain fondness for the routine of home life, which is why it’s so upsetting when his computer repair business takes him to a remote island off the coast of England. From the moment he steps foot inside the Montshire Home for the Terminally Aged, Winston is bombarded with the unfamiliar, and he must learn to deal with the island’s peculiar residents if he’s ever going to make it back to his normal life again.

The Review

Matt King is one of a group of writers I’m in regular contact with on Twitter (@kingmatte) but it was only when another writer promoted the fact he’d a story out that I became aware he’d published anything. The title more than anything piqued my interest so i thought I’d have a look.

Winston Riddlebury is a computer engineer and not a very successful, predominantly doing work for his mother’s knitting friends and being paid in mittens. One day he’s contacted to service some computers at the Montshire Home for the Terminally aged on Mercy Island and it doesn’t take long to realise that the home is a very strange place indeed.

This is a wonderfully quirky tale aimed at older children (there is some mild, very English, swearing). In Winston Riddlebury, King has created a character trying to maintain a sense of normality whilst thrown into the world of the fantastical, concentrating on the job at hand and ignoring the strangeness around him. A lovely dry and gentle humour flows throughout, very reminiscent of Roald Dahl at his less scathing, and King manages to capture a very English type of the eccentric very well.

The story is short – I read it in just an hour – but is perfectly contained and has a nice ending with a great message. If you’re looking for a gentle, quirky tale of monsters and modems, then this is the book for you. Recommended.

To buy The Odd Tale of Winston Riddlebury from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Odd Tale of Winston Riddlebury from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.