Recommended Reads: Ratcatcher by Tim Stevens

Ratcatcher

This book was recommended to me by Kate from the Roughseasinthemed blog. As she is very discerning about the books she recommends (ahem), I didn’t think twice before downloading it, which goes to show that personal recommendations are always the best way to promote a book.

The Description

Purkiss’s job is straightforward. Track down agents of the intelligence services who are taking kickbacks, committing crimes, or otherwise abusing their positions. And bring them to justice.

Straightforward doesn’t mean easy…

After a renegade British former spymaster, Fallon, is sighted in the Baltic city of Tallinn on the eve of a historic summit meeting between the Russian and Estonian presidents, Purkiss is despatched to investigate, and uncovers a conspiracy that threatens to tear Europe, and the world, apart.

But Purkiss has personal reasons for going after Fallon. Four years ago, Fallon was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Purkiss’s fiancée, a murder Purkiss himself witnessed.

Now, in an atmosphere of treachery and sudden violence, as the countdown begins to a potentially catastrophic conflict between Russia and the West, Purkiss must keep his desire for revenge under control for the sake of the world’s – and his own – survival.

 

The Review

Sent to Tallinn to hunt the man who killed his fiancée, John Purkiss finds himself ensnared in a post-Soviet terrorist plot which if successful, could start another world war. But what can one man do? Quite a lot it turns out, if the man’s name is Purkiss.

As spy thrillers go, Ratcatcher is less Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and follows very much in the tradition of James Bond. It is pure entertainment from the start and the main character, Purkiss,  is an unabashed alpha male fantasy figure. When faced with an easy or hard option, Purkiss will always take the one with most danger, and while the gadgets may be very much based in the real world, the action is pure fantasy. However Stevens while some suspension of disbelief is required, Stevens manages to introduce enough realism for each situation to maintain its plausibility.

The only criticisms I have with the book is that Stevens uses passive voice a lot (a particular bugbear of mine) and I found some of the fight scenes overly descriptive, but none of this takes away from the overall fun you’ll have reading this book. If you’ve read every Bond and are looking for a modern replacement, Ratcatcher is the book for you. Highly recommended.

 

 

To buy Ratcatcher from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Ratcatcher 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.

Recommended Reads: My Father and Other Liars by Geoff Le Pard

My father and other liars final for kindle 6 July

I recently interviewed Geoff Le Pard about the writing of his new book, My Father and Other Liars (you can read part 1 of the interview here, and part 2 here). At the time of the interview I was reading the novel, so I didn’t give an opinion on whether I liked it or not. However, I’ve now finished it and needless to say I enjoyed it very much. Here’s my review.

Disclaimer: I know Geoff Le Pard, first through blogging and over time he’s become a friend I’ve met on a number of occasions. This hasn’t affected my review in any way (and he’d be horrified if it had) but I like to be open about these type of things.

The Description

When British freelancer Maurice Oldham saves American scientist Lori-Ann Beaumont from a pack of journalists at a pro-life conference in San Francisco, neither expects to see the other again. But six months on, Lori-Ann is on Maurice’s doorstep, bruised, penniless and desperate to find her boyfriend, Peterson, who has gone missing in England.

Maurice soon realises nothing is as it seems with Lori-Ann. Why is she chasing Peterson; why has her father, Pastor of the Church of Science and Development sent people to bring her home; what is behind the Federal Agency who is investigating Lori-Ann’s workplace in connection with its use of human embryos; and what happened in Nicaragua a quarter of a century ago that is echoing down the years? For Maurice and Lori-Ann the answers lie somewhere in their Fathers’ pasts.

Finding those answers will take Lori-Ann and Maurice from England via America to Nicaragua; in so doing they will have to confront some uncomfortable truths about their Fathers and learn some surprising things about themselves.

The Review

My Father and Other Liars is a thoughtful, thought-provoking novel about the impact parents (fathers in this case) have on the lives of their children, set to the backdrop of tele-evangelism and the medical ethics of cutting-edge genetic research. When Maurice Oldham attends a Pro-life rally looking for a story to prove himself to his absentee father, he soon becomes entangled in a ruthless power-play involving politics, science and religion stretching between the USA, Nicaragua and the UK, with the beguiling Pastor’s daughter Lori-Ann Beaumont at the centre.

As a federal investigation threatens the very existence of the church, and with people being killed to keep their silence, will Maurice be able to get to the truth of the dark secret at the heart of the Church of  Science and Development, or is he being manipulated by Lori-Ann to find her own truth about what happened in Nicaragua 25 years before?

On the surface this is a fast paced, twisty-turns mystery novel with relatable protagonists set in a very believable world of political and religious intrigue, however underpinning it all are the questions around how religion fits into the modern world, the grey ethical  areas at the boundaries of scientific advance, as well as the more human tale of how children’s lives are impacted upon and shaped by the actions of their parents.

One of my fears in starting this novel was that this subject matter could easily lead to a one-dimensional portrayal depending on the author’s personal opinions, yet Le Pard manages to pull together the these themes with great sensitivity, without resorting to melodrama or cliché. It’s a testament to how well Le Pard did this that towards the end of the novel I found myself relating to characters whose own opinions I strongly disagree with, because I could understand their motivations for their actions and beliefs.

There were certain parts of the story I felt were overly complex and for me the jury’s out regarding the second ending, but overall I felt this was a well-written, thought-provoking  mystery with real depth. Recommended.

 

To buy My Father and Other Liars from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy My Father and Other Liars 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.

How we write – a discussion with Geoff Le Pard part 2

My father and other liars final for kindle 6 July

This is the second post in a two-part discussion on writing with Geoff Le Pard to promote his new book, My Father and Other Liars. Part one of this discussion can be found here.

In this part of the interview we discussed plot and story development, beta readers, research, empathy and the secret to writing a bestseller.*

*I’m lying about this last point.

 

GLP: You have a nice twist at the end of Second Chance; was that something you planned up front or did it come as the story developed?

DSH: The twist in Second Chance was something I’d had planned from the beginning although it underwent a few changes during the editing process. For me this is one of the strengths of plotting a story, even if it’s at a very basic level, it allows you to identify what to reveal when, to ensure the twist’s full impact is achieved.

That said, the real heroes for this are my beta readers. They’re the ones who let me know whether a twist worked, was far too obvious, or came totally out of the blue with no foreshadowing so they felt cheated. It’s really difficult when writing a thriller or mystery for an author,  knowing the full story, to get this right on your own.

How many Beta readers do you use? How do you choose them and do they change book to book?

GLP: Beta Readers. Yes the unsung heroes. I don’t have either a set number or a consistent group.  For My Father I had both general and specialist. A major component of the story is around genetic research using human embryos, and especially the current attempts to develop pluripotent stems cells from skin rather than embryos. I wanted the science to hold up – I gave up biology at school at 13 – so was fortunate that two of my daughter’s friends at school studied biology at Oxford and read the book. Not only did they make comments on the story but gave me great feed back on the science. In a similar way I decided to based my fictitious church in Oklahoma (why oh why!) but never having been couldn’t be sure my scenes there made sense. I found, via blogging, Paula who had spent the first 25 years of her life living in the Oklahoma panhandle in a staunch Baptist family. Her insights, both into the setting but also the religious family context, were invaluable. Otherwise I think a minimum of two beta readers are needed at the final stages; before that it’s really up to you and how comfortable you are showing a raw piece of work to people.
This has tied into my research; you have a significant storyline around the damage of climate change; did that involve much research? Were there areas where you worried that the science or settings or whatever might not pass muster because of the depth of research you were able to undertake?

DSH: Yes, I did plenty of research into the effects of climate change, especially how high sea levels need to rise to cause major devastation, along with future technologies. In fact I did so much research the hardest part was leaving most of it out. Most, if not all went into the first draft but on reading it back I realised just how dull these passages were so took most out. For me, the key to my fiction isn’t realism but plausibility. As long as the majority of reader believe it’s possible, I’ve done my job.

As of this moment I’m about a quarter of the way through My Father and really enjoying it. There’s one passage in particular that caught my eye, when you go into detail about the Church of Science & Development’s belief system. You’ve mentioned already that you’re an atheist but the way you’ve combined scripture with science is very believable. Is this something you developed yourself and if so, do you think you’re subconsciously trying to marry your conviction in science with a need to empathise with those of faith?

GLP: That’s beautifully put. Yes, I feel annoyed at the Dawkins and Hitchens, and indeed the Frys of this world who, in their articulacy, appear, in some cases possibly innocently, to patronise those of faith. No one has all the answers so who am I to say there isn’t a guiding hand, for want of a better expression, behind everything? I don’t believe it because it seems wholly improbable that something so creative could create something so random and bizarre as the universe. So I try to empathise all the time.  The Church of Science and Development probably came about after hearing a debate between Richard Dawkins and a professor of physics who was a committed Christian. Frankly I was on his side because I loathe Dawkins’ sneering so it set me thinking: was there any way to reconcile science with the bible, with basic Christian theology? And this was the closest I came.

When I read Second Chance I was very taken with the Scrambles. It was a very vivid creation and easy to feel oneself inside it. I loved, though was surprised (in a good way), the way it took centre stage at the start of Absent Souls. When I created Beaumont for the home of the Church and the University I found it a struggle and it was one of the areas I felt was still weak even at the end of the process. How about you and the Scrambles? Was that always the plan or did that develop through the writing? And what did you base it on, (other than a warped imagination!?)

DSHThe Scrambles came easy to me because it was based on somewhere I know very well, the Düsseldorf Altstadt. While the Altstadt (or old town) isn’t quite the same den of iniquity as the Scrambles, it’s a very concentrated area of bars, restaurants and clubs in the historic heart of this modern city. 

Having a very specific geographical and even architectural lawless zone appealed to me as I believe strongly that while socially and intellectually humanity has advanced significantly, emotionally we’re still the same as we’ve been for millennia and without some form of release valve, things could go downhill very quickly.

I know you’ve been writing a long time but have only recently started publishing your work. Even though both your books have been in the works a while, do you feel your writing has progressed from one to the other and if so, how?

GLP: I started My Father before Dead Flies (but not by much).  The biggest change – improvement – is, I hope, in the show don’t tell area. As a lawyer (I have to blame something!) our drafting had to be explicit. Any contract worth its salt is clear and unambiguous. Sometimes that is why a contract clause may use up all synonyms to cover all bases ‘to repair, maintain, remedy, renew, improve, replace, restore, reinstate, refurbish…’ Of course, transfer this to a novel and it is 19th century literature at its most clunky. This form of writing has a legal term – the ‘torrential style’ – and that was my biggest challenge. That apart, I tend to be clever for clever sake, to add descriptive curlicues for the sake of them and then miss out something fundamental. My first beta readers pointed this out. ‘Where are we?’ ‘What does she look like?’ Because I have always had a fine sense of my characters, sometimes I forget my readers don’t and I underdo some description. I don’t think I will ever do this naturally. My first edit almost always consists, not in correcting plotting errors or continuity problems but adding in descriptions of some places and people and removing overblown descriptions of others. In many ways that’s why I enjoy editing: I know how much better it is going to be because my first drafts are so much rubbish. And they are rubbish because I do not plan.
What about you? What are your biggest failings that you’ve corrected and what do you still do that needs correcting at the edit stage. What do you find hardest? For instance, I love dialogue and think – is this hubristic? – that writing dialogue that is natural is one of my strengths. You’ll now turn to the page to something awful!

DSH: There are a couple of areas I struggle with. Like you, description doesn’t come naturally. I either add far too much or not enough to provide grounding for the readers. My writing style is naturally light on description anyway as I personally hate wading through pages of pure description, but I learnt early on that you can take this too far. You do need enough description otherwise the readers feel lost. That said, the brief descriptive style in Second Chance is deliberate as we’re seeing the world through the eyes of people who spend most of their lives looking inward rather than outward.

I too love dialogue. I think it comes from having spent my whole life re-running every argument I’ve ever lost in my head, testing all the permutations and snappy one liners I could have said. It’s been good training for the natural ebb and flow of conversation.

I’m also hopeless at spotting typos, which is why having a good editor and proofreader is essential for me. I made the mistake of publishing Second Chance with a large number of typos (despite having the support of a number of friends to look for errors) but was luckily saved by some very kind readers which allowed me to correct the manuscript before too much damage was done. I knew this area was important but I didn’t realise just how many rounds of checking were required to get a book in shape for publishing. Now I’ve a much more stringent process in place, which was proven with the launch of Absent Souls, but it’s still an area I know I need to work on.

One of the things I like doing is leaving ‘Easter Eggs,’ for my readers, little things that would appeal to people from certain backgrounds. There are one or two characters who are named after villages local to where I live, for example, and one of the locations in Second Chance is named after the founding father of climate science. I’ve also included phrases my children use as a little surprise for my wife. Do you do anything like this? Are there any messages or in jokes you leave in your books?

GLP: No, I don’t think so. I like to write around  places that have a meaning for me in some way but apart from that, I don’t consciously do that.
One of my problems is using words repeatedly. ‘He/she/they turned’ for instance. Do you have words that you really try and remove yet often can’t think of anything better?

DSH: I’m a serial passive language offender in my early drafts. I have an editing crib sheet I use when proofing with over one hundred words or phrases I need to check, including any time I use could, had, was, should or were to see if it’s in a passive context, along with seem. I also overuse the word ‘look’, especially as a beat in dialogue and work hard to use alternate words instead.

Now that I’ve finished My Father… I’d like to talk endings. In it I reached what I thought would be the end point, only for the story to (successfully) continue on to a different resolution. How do you know when to end a story? Is this something you have planned in advance or is it a voyage of discovery?

GLP: You must have had that dilemma, with endings for a trilogy? So important to get that right. Enough to satisfy the one off reader, enough to hold them for the next instalment. You’ve done a great job but how easy was it? If I think about it, I’d say book one felt vey natural, very satisfying but more of a full stop than two. In book two a lot more feels unresolved – a lot of pent up energy waiting to explode.
My ending? I hadn’t decided where it would end when I started writing save that it would end on an upbeat note. In two (different) versions I killed off both fathers but it was a bit grisly and felt like Alice in Wonderland meets The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In fact the ending came reasonably soon – maybe the third or fourth edit – in the original draft Mo and Lori end up back in San Fran but that was too forced. The part here you think it ends is in fact a much later edition after a fried read it and said how sad she was that X didn’t happen in Nic (no spoilers) and that’s when I had an epiphany and added in the extra scenes.

 

I hope you enjoyed our (not so) little conversation on our writing processes. I’d like to thank Geoff for being such a wonderful interviewee/conversationalist. I feel we could have carried on for days but sadly we both have our next books to get finished!

 

My father and other liars final for kindle 6 JulyMy Father and Other Liars is the second book by Geoff Le Pard. Published in August it is available as an ebook and paperback here:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

dead flies kDP 20 10His first book, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, can be found here:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

 

Geoff and his number one fanGeoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls.

How we write – a discussion with Geoff Le Pard part 1

My father and other liars final for kindle 6 July
A few weeks back, my good blogging friend Geoff Le Pard asked if anyone would be interested in hosting a blog tour to promote his new book, My Father and Other Liars. As Geoff is one of life’s good guys, I couldn’t really refuse.

One thing I’m always interested in is how other writers go about their craft, so I thought that rather than doing a standard interview with Geoff about the new book, we could have a discussion instead. Here’s part 1 of our discussion, where we talk about inspiration, characterisation, point of view and how much stories change in the edit. Enjoy!

 

DSH: To kick things off, your last novel was a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale set in the New Forest in the steamy summer of 1976. What made you want to write your next book about big business, politics and religion?

GLP: The answer is really in two parts.

First why did I want to do something totally different to the first book?

When I started creative writing my first attempt was a buddy story with a twist, the second a thriller, looking at people trafficking. Neither has (yet) seen the light of day beyond my saved documents and a few misguided friends. Those friends asked why I hadn’t done a follow up to the buddy story. For a while I pondered a sequel; I had a few neat ideas but I had others too. So I made a conscious decision not to follow like with like, not to do a sequel, nor even to write in the same genre.

It felt like I had laid out the course my writing would follow. I had no intention of publishing anything so I could be choosy – for which read self indulgent. That was 2006/7. Roll the clock onto 2010 and a lot of people were saying publish something. If you don’t want the hassle of trying the traditional route, go indie. I started my blog in April 2014 with that in mind, choosing my favourite book as my lead off. But again I knew I didn’t want to follow like with like. I looked at the books I’d written, chose the one the most different from my fort published one and worked on that. I guess I’m a stubborn contrarian. It is also true that, once Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, my first book, was out there it was no longer my favourite. I didn’t expect that. My Father and Other Liars took that mantle as soon as I started editing it again. I also started a sequel to Dead Flies and I didn’t expect that either. I can’t really explain in any logical way how these decisions occur. Mostly it feels like I come to them randomly and then reverse engineer my reasoning why I’ve chosen X over Y. I’m very good at finding a rational sounding ex post facto justification for what I do; part of my legal training I suppose.

Second, sometime back in 2009, my daughter decided she wanted to explore her spiritual side and attend a local church with a close friend. The church is a small branch of the Anglican version of Christianity and we began having what amounted to bible discussions over Sunday dinner. I asked her to find out how this church differentiated itself from say Baptists, or traditional Church of England but perhaps due to her years or their inability to articulate it I never really found out.

I find it intriguing how groups seek to make distinctions that to most of us looking in from the outside aren’t real. About the same time I read about a tele-evangelist, Oral Roberts, who was fabulously successful – so much so that his fund raising supported a university for his church. He too had his own version of how to celebrate the Christian faith. He was eventually done for siphoning off the cash for his own use. Could I, I wondered, create my own Sect? Could I include it in a story that was bubbling under about to people who meet accidentally never expecting to meet again but then do with thriller-esque consequences? Thus the Church of Science and Development was born, together with its university – the Christian University of Beaumont, based in the fictional Beaumont Oklahoma. Given the creed I fabricated interprets the Bible as supporting the natural selection of Darwin – it sees the Bible as a work in progress not the end game – I wanted to centre on the science, the genetics, and that brought in the use of human embryos which are highly controversial especially in the bible belt in the US.  The Federal investigation into its possible malpractices followed naturally.

You too have had to create a fictitious world, complex science, a new political order and security structure, changed technology. Mine started with a religious question and went from there, pulling in the other strands. What started you on your road to Second Chance?

DSH: Funnily enough, there were two drivers for me as well. The first was on reading a book by Peter F Hamilton (whose novels I love) and one of the main characters died, only to be resurrected through cloning and stored memories. While all the other characters accepted this as OK, I remember shouting out loud “but it’s not the same person!” This then got me thinking about how you could use cloning to extend life, which led to Re-Life being born.

The other point was around how politics globally (or at least in western democracies) are focusing ever more on short-term issues and putting off making difficult decisions to deal with long-term issues like climate change. The thing is, I’m a great believer in humanity’s ability to overcome these issues but I’m not sure our political systems are set up to find the solutions, so if they aren’t, what alternatives are there?

One of the things I tried not to do is turn my novels into a lecture on my political beliefs. I’m hoping readers won’t be able to tell my personal thoughts on the issues raised through my books. How do you feel about this? Do you think authors should promote their politics or religion through their stories and is this something you do yourself, consciously or otherwise?

GLP: To answer about Second Chance, one might surmise an antagonism to today’s relative indifference to the climate change issue simply from the conclusion from which the book starts – i.e. there will be a climate driven catastrophe which climate change denier would argue isn’t about to happen, but beyond that there is nothing to suggest a pro or a con to the political order that takes over. What is interesting in this connection is that, at the end of Second Chance there was a sense that what we had here was a corrupt system with the main players out to feather their own nests – classic little guy beaten down by system – whereas towards the end of Absent Souls the sense is the main players are convinced the system needs to be upheld and steps, while individually dreadful, are necessary to maintain that. Much mores subtle and worrying! That’s one reason why I want book three. LIKE NOW!

Should authors let their views come through? No. I don’t like the novel as polemic. In My Father I was anxious not to have the story come across as dissing those who have a faith. I wanted, I hope, to allow everyone their choice with any judgement; it just so happens the Church here is peopled with people who don’t necessarily uphold Christian principles. And even then I hope by the end that there’s sufficient ambiguity in the protagonists motivations to make it clear the main drivers of the actions are personal not faith based. So I’d say I consciously try to avoid my own theist/atheist views are hidden but maybe I’m being naive.

In Second Chance you have, if memory serves, four narrators, or POV. In My Father, Maurice is the main narrator and it is written in the first person. To keep the story moving at pace I include other POVs so the reader is privy to events about which Maurice has no idea. The main female protagonist has only one short chapter devoted to her POV.  I wondered if this would cause any concern or disconnect with the readership but I’ve received no adverse comment on it. Yet! How did you decide on your POVs and the structure you used? And which character came to you first?

DSH: The idea of having a number of different point of views came at the same time as the idea for the story. It just felt natural. While I tell the story through four main POV’s in both my books, there are only two storylines in each. I think if you try to include many more storylines it ends up causing unnecessary confusion for the reader (unlike the necessary confusion I like to use to keep the reader guessing).

I guess I was influenced by reading A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin. He’s an absolute master at weaving different storylines and POV’s into a narrative whole. One thing I learnt from his books was to keep the big characters, the real movers and shakers, out of the narrative. By all means show what they do but never reveal what they are thinking. It allows the author to maintain a level of mystery and uncertainty.

The first character that came into being was Randall, although that wasn’t his name at the time. I liked the idea of this average Joe being caught up in something beyond his control. Second Chance was originally planned as his story but as I came to the end of the first draft I realised it was really about Stephanie’s journey more than his, and changed the book’s emphasis in the second draft.

Has this ever happened to you? How much has the story of My Father changed since your early draft?

GLP: Interestingly the two changes that come back to me are the title which from writing the first chapter was God Bothering and then changed in the last three months or so and the female protagonist who was Marci-Ann for ages until someone pointed out that having my two main characters as Maurice and Mari-Ann was a bit confusing. So she became Lori Ann.
I didn’t change the story so much as add layers. In the first draft I wanted Maurice’s father to appear half way through; now he’s on page one. I tried to write it all from Maurice’s view point but it was too slow for the type of story. And the Federal Agency and its employees were a small bit part that has now grown to a substantial part of the story.

One thing I really learnt redrafting this was where you have multiple characters you need to keep bringing them back to the reader’s attention. Because I know the story I remember A or B but if you only read the book once then it is easy to forget who A or B are and it can seem like a cheap device to bring back someone mentioned on page ten in the last ten pages an reveal them the killer or whatever. That took a bit of doing without giving away the twists.

 

That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed the two of us blathering on. If you did, part 2 of this interview will be available tomorrow.

My father and other liars final for kindle 6 JulyMy Father and Other Liars is the second book by Geoff Le Pard. Published in August it is available as an ebook and paperback here:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

 

dead flies kDP 20 10His first book, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, can be found here:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

 

Geoff and his number one fanGeoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls.

 

 

 

Recommended Reads: The Pennsylvania Omnibus by Michael Bunker

 Pennsylvania Omnibus

The Description

Young Amishman Jedidiah Troyer is now a traveler. He’s signed up for an emigration program that is colonizing the planet of New Pennsylvania. He just wants to start a farm and homestead on affordable land in a new Amish community. Space pioneering isn’t as easy as it sounds when you’re “plain.” Jedidiah and his new friend Dawn arrive on New Pennsylvania in the middle of a rebel uprising, and TRACE, the resistance group that is rising up against TRANSPORT, has taken on the mission of getting Jed from the City to the Amish Zone. Being a stranger in the old world doesn’t even compare to being a stranger in a new world… a world that is at war and where nothing is what it seems.

The Review

This is a book I kept bumping into on Amazon and I was intrigued by the premise, an Amish science-fiction novel had to be worth a look. I wasn’t wrong.

Jedidiah Troyer is leaving home to set up a new life on another planet, New Pennsylvania. But stepping out from the comfort of a life and community he knows so well becomes the least of his challenges as he finds himself accused of breaking the law before his journey even begins.

I really enjoyed the Pennsylvania Omnibus on a number of levels. The story is well written and I was continually left bamboozled as Bunker skilfully revealed each plot twist, especially in the opening third of the book. There are twists and turns galore and even when you think you have a grip of what is going on, Bunker is happy to pull the rug from under your feet once again.

However, the thing I liked most about the book was the culture clash of viewing a futuristic world through the eyes of somebody who has lived in a culture virtually unchanged in centuries. This juxtaposition of a world view based in the earth and a simple life meeting the challenges of a hi-tech virtual world is fascinating and gives the novel unique flavour.

There are occasions where the book is let down by its original episodic structure, with cliffhangers at the end of a chapter only to be quickly resolved on the next page, but overall this is an excellent book and one I highly recommend.

 

To buy The Pennsylvania Omnibus from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Pennsylvania Omnibus 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.

My recent promotion – the results

Two Covers

If you’re a regular follower of this blog you’ll know I ran a promotion over the weekend for both Second Chance and Absent Souls and I wanted to share my results with you.

Background

Outside of blogging and the rare promotional tweet, up until June this year I’ve rarely run a book promotion. Second Chance was published in January 2014 and has stayed in the minor charts on amazon.co.uk ever since. Its sequel, Absent Souls, was published November 2014. There is a third book due out later this year (if I pull my finger out).

I’ve been lucky that I’ve had success with both books on Amazon.co.uk but my efforts of getting noticed in the US have been virtually zero. This is bad news for my sales (the US is by far the largest single ebook market) but good news for testing promotional effectiveness.

I’m not intending to heavily promote my books until book 3 of the trilogy is finished but I wanted to test the effectiveness of different forms of advertising beforehand to see where to focus. I ran my first paid ad in June this year through Booksends, offering Second Chance for free. At the same time I put Absent Souls on a 99c/99p countdown deal. Over the three days Second Chance was downloaded 1000 times and I should enough copies of Absent Souls to cover my costs. While my sales on amazon.com since then have been flat, my pages read (both my books are in Kindle Unlimited) resulted in a higher income than before but were starting to tail off after two months.

The Goal

As in any business, your book promotion should have a goal. My goal was to increase awareness of my two books on Amazon.com, gain new mailing list subscribers and to cover the cost of advertising. I would also hope to see an increase (read: any) in sales and/or pages read over the following weeks.

Promotion Plan

Use the same offer, Second Chance for free and Absent Souls for 99c/99p over three days.

Day 1 – Promote only on my blog, a promotional post by the wonderful author Tammy Salyer, and one or two promotional tweets.

Day 2 – Two adverts placed, one with Ereader News Today (ENT) and the other with Robin Reads. I’d originally planned to promote only with ENT but I’d heard Robin Reads had a good UK following, and as they had a space free I thought I’d try them as well. The cost of both came to the same amount as the cost of the one promotion with Booksends.

Day 3 – No promotion other than the odd tweet.

The Results

IMG_3394Day 1228 downloads of Second Chance.

This was a surprise as I’d expected maybe 50 with so little promotion, so thank you to everybody who took the time to support the promotion with tweets, reblogs or by telling their friends.

Day 21830 downloads of Second Chance.

Because both mailing lists are US based, the first (Robin Reads) didn’t go out until 3pm UK time. I immediately noticed an upsurge of downloads at this point, from around 30 to over 300 by the time the ENT mailing went out at 5:30pm UK time. This is when things went crazy. By the end of the day I’d reached no.2 in the free science fiction/cyberpunk charts, no.8 in the science fiction charts and had broken into the overall top 100 at no. 65. This was well beyond my wildest expectations and a little surreal.

The down side was that I made hardly a ripple on amazon.co.uk, so either the information about Robin Reads was incorrect, or the majority had already bought my book. 🙂

Day 3385 downloads of Second Chance

Over the same period Absent Souls hit no. 13,000 in the overall paid charts, with total sales more than covering the costs of the promotion.

Conclusion

It’s always a little dangerous drawing conclusions from such little data, however it’s clear promoting on two mailing lists was more effective than one. I know this may sound like common sense but remember I paid the same amount of money for the June promotion and the one last weekend.

I also believe you need momentum for a successful promotion. The promotion in June met my goals but it only got Second Chance into the top 50 of the Science Fiction charts. Breaking into the top 10 of science fiction, and the top 100 overall, meant Second Chance was visible to a much larger audience, giving it a second chance (no pun intended) to be seen and downloaded by readers other than those on the mailing list.

For the longer term goals it’s too early to say. I know from Kevin Brennan’s blog earlier this year, that high free downloads doesn’t automatically mean higher sales, but even if I don’t reach this goal as yet, I’ve learnt another lesson on the effectiveness of different promotional options and strategies.

What about you? If you’re a writer, which promotional routes do you find most effective? Or if you’re an avid reader, have you signed up to any bargain book mailing lists and if so, which ones? I’d love to hear from you.

 

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