Wednesday, 26 December 2012

RIP Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson, creator of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, UFO and Space: 1999 (among other shows) died today aged 83.

Thunderbirds was a significant influence in my childhood interest in science fiction; it was a bright, optimistic show depicting a future full of extraordinary and wonderful machines (but very few people!).

Captain Scarlet was a far darker show, with the Mysterons, an alien race probably based on Mars, waging a "cold war" against humanity because we destroyed one of their Martian cities.

Space: 1999 had the bizarre premise that the Moon was blasted out of orbit and tumbled through outer space encountering weird and strange alien worlds.

And UFO involved a secret organisation battling invading aliens with the help of hi-tech space-craft, set in... er... 1980. (ten years ahead when the show was made!)

Gerry Anderson forged much of my childhood image of the future. Rest in peace, Gerry - you will be remembered through your creations.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Why fantasy?

Storytellers have told tales of magic and monsters from time immemorial. The Greek myths are widely known, with a myriad of Gods and monsters. 

The Norse myths have dragons, dwarves and spirits.

The Celtic cultures (in particular Irish) have giants, goblins, magical cauldrons and sorcery.

Less well-known mythologies have the same range of magic and monsters, whether it be Hawaiian or Aztec.

Why is there such a fascination with monsters and magic? The usual explanation is that these stories explain strangenesses and unknown phenomena that the ancient peoples did not understand, and that knowing, for example, that the Gods are responsible for lightning makes the thunderstorm less frightening.

I don't agree. There would be far easier ways to explain such things, and so many of the stories do not actually explain any natural phenomenon or landmark. No, my explanation is far simpler. People like having a sense of wonder. People like stories. Big, extraordinary, magical events and monsters are fun. They brighten up the lives of the readers or listeners. Nowadays we have television and films, but back in the distant past the best wide-screen surround-sound cinematic effects were created by storytellers. And fantasies make the best and most exciting stories.

Friday, 14 December 2012

SFFSat 15/12/2012


 This is my snippet this week for SFFSat. SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. Please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here.

This snippet carries on almost directly from last week's events. Sorrel has picked a fight with three graalur. One, nicknamed Crest, is dead. One is tackling the woman Sorrel was trying to rescue. The third, unimaginatively named Three, is still thoroughly alive, much to Sorrel's dismay.

Once again I've asked my heroine not to use such bad language, but Sorrel doesn't take any notice of what I say...

His next blow was low and twisting, beautifully timed and controlled. Volg it, the squumer was good! I brought my sword up, catching his motion, barely edging it aside and leaving myself with no way to hack back. I retreated, trying to remember where Crest's body was - the last thing I wanted was to fall over him. Three, of course, wanted nothing else for me. He was grinning, breathing fast, the sword moving in small circles as he bore down upon me. And somewhere there was the other graalur - it didn't sound as though the woman was keeping him occupied. I was in trouble. Again.

 Comments welcomed!

Friday, 7 December 2012

SFFSat 8/12/12

 This is my snippet this week for SFFSat. SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. Please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here.

My snippet this week is again from Sorrel in Scarlet. Sorrel is in trouble again - she has gone to a woman's aid, and has found herself confronting three angry graalur. She has dealt with two so far...

As is often the case with Sorrel, I give the usual warning about bad language!

    Three had dropped into a fighting stance, his expression hard. He was no longer thinking about taking me captive. The other woman had gone silent, and I wondered fleetingly what had become of her. If I could deal with Three, I'd try and help her.
    Three took an experimental swing, trying to gauge my skill. I let him almost pink me. Lull him into false confidence. The blow came closer than I had intended, and I only just managed to parry his strike. Volg it, he was fast! I had a nasty suspicion that I was lulling him into a realistic feeling of confidence.

Comments welcomed!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Leicester successes

Well, I'm back from Leicester in one piece after going to the UK in the Playground gaming convention. A successful trip – I ran a Star Wars game with some degree of success, and also sold half a dozen hard copies of Sorrel.  It gives me quite a boost when people want a signed copy. It was the best single day for sales of Sorrel since the novel launched.

We also took part in the Leicester Games Society's Geek Quiz, and won. Well, won the wooden spoon, anyway, for getting the worst score of anyone! It was a good day, if quite exhausting.

Friday, 23 November 2012

SFFSat 24/11/12

This is my snippet this week for SFFSat. SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. Please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here.

My snippet this week is again from Sorrel in Scarlet. Sorrel has crashed in the Chasm, but has gained aid from a trio of men - unfortunately, they don't seem to speak her language. They are taking her back to their encampment, but a gorge blocks their way.

CONTENT ADVISORY: this snippet again contains an amount of bad language. Sorrel is not a lady.

    Blondie pointed at the rope bridge again.
Volging lafquass, Blondie!” I swore. “You expect me to cross that?” Knowing that he couldn't understand me only added to my vituperation.
   There was nowhere else for me to go. I just had to find the strength and get on with it. I scowled at Blondie again, and stepped onto the bridge.
    Believe me, I'd much rather be in an aeroplane at ten thousand feet than on a fragile rope bridge forty feet over a churning river. The spray from the rapids meant the ropes were slick, and as I moved over the walkway the roar of the water became deafening. The universe is fundamentally unfair – all that water, and I couldn’t do anything to quench my thirst.

 Comments and brickbats welcomed!

Friday, 16 November 2012

SFFSat 17/11/12

This is my snippet this week for SFFSat. SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. Please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here.

My snippet this week is again from Sorrel in Scarlet

CONTENT ADVISORY: this snippet contains an amount of bad language. Don't blame me - blame Sorrel. I've asked my heroine to temper her language - she told me to volg off. So now you know who is to blame.

This is the very beginning of Sorrel in Scarlet.

Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.
This wasn’t.
I crawled out of the wreckage of the dead triplane, grabbing at the jasq to take that, at least, with me as I twisted out of the ripped canvas and broken spars. Blood was oozing from the gash in my side, and from the gash in my head, and probably from the other gashes I hadn't spotted yet.
Merik was dead. A branch had skewered him cleanly through the heart. His face had a look of surprised annoyance. I howled obscenities at the lafquassing scarlet trees that had wrenched the aeroplane into the ground and killed my friend, and more obscenities at Wrack, wherever he might be. I use too much foul language at the best of times - Tolly used to complain that I couldn't complete a sentence without saying 'volg' or 'lafquass' - but now I discovered just how wide a vocabulary of swear-words I possessed.

 Comments welcome, as always!

Friday, 9 November 2012

SFFSat 10/11/12

This is my snippet this week for SFFSat. SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. Please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here.

My snippet this week is again from Sorrel in Scarlet. My eponymous heroine is in the jungle with a group of people. They have just fought and slain a hideous monster - a ruzdrool, which Sorrel barbecued with magic. One of the others has been injured by the horror, and everyone is fussing over the victim.
I glanced at Korhus. “Is the ruzdrool poisonous?” I asked.
Wrack, beside me, murmured condescendingly “She means venomous.” I gave him a venomous glare.
“I don't think so” Korhus answered, “It can kill without it.”
I took a deep breath, glared at Wrack again, and turned back to Korhus. “I actually meant poisonous” I said mendaciously. “Can we eat it?”

Comments and brickbats welcome!

Friday, 2 November 2012

SFFSat 3/11/12

This is my snippet this week for SFFSat. SFFSat is a place where a number of authors post snippets from their written works, and give the opportunity for comments, support and encouragement. Please also explore the other blogs that are part of this set - you can find the information here.

My snippet this week is from Sorrel in Scarlet. My eponymous pilot heroine has been captured by graalur (orcs, effectively), who are occupying a farmhouse.

We were going into the kitchen, and I was hungry again. If they were going to give me breakfast it might be worth being captured. I glanced around at the graalur with the sword at my back and said "Breakfast?" in a querying tone of voice, this time in lloruk. Of course, most likely they couldn't speak lloruk. My old school reckoned that knowing the lloruk tongue was a sign of erudition and good breeding.
These were evidently erudite, well-bred graalur. The one with my sword replied harshly in clear, recognisable lloruk "Not for you. Walk!"
All right, so they were evil, erudite, well-bred graalur.

Comments and brickbats welcome!

Friday, 26 October 2012

SFFS snippet

This is my first snippet for SFFS - I hope it is of at least some interest.
This is an extract from Sorrel Snowbound, the sequel to my current published novel, Sorrel in Scarlet. Snowbound is still a long way from completion, but this is a short section from what is currently chapter nine. Our heroine, Sorrel is in a railway yard - and she has heard something moving in the darkness...
Luck is a fickle, untrustworthy lover. Give him half a chance and he'll abandon you for another woman. This had to be a case in point. I had very little doubt just what was groffling along the wall towards me - it was almost certainly shaggy, with big, soulful eyes, four short, rather comical legs, and a head with a long, slightly prehensile snout. Oh, and lots and lots of teeth and hunger. How many stations bother to have a balehound on guard duty? I suppose if your sidings regularly contain wealth and riches then it might be worth it, but that had to be a rarity. Galdoren didn't strike me as an affluent town, where expensive goods might be left in wagons overnight. Which meant that Master Luck had decided to dump me. If I ever got my hands on his new woman, I'd scratch her eyes out.

Comments and thoughts welcomed!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Not the triplane I intended

 Years ago, while writing Sorrel in Scarlet, I joked to Janet that if I ever got published, I should get an author photo taken with a triplane.
As the book progressed, I bought myself a Revell plastic kit of a Sopwith Triplane, and a Poser CGI triplane which was also a Sopwith. These two fixed the image in my mind that Sorrel's aeroplane was of that form.

So, as I prepared to release the book upon an unsuspecting world, I decided to get myself a photo with a Sopwith Tripe. A few moments with Google confirmed that the Shuttleworth Collection, less than an hour's drive away, owned a beautiful example (a replica, but still a perfect specimen). And so, this morning, we had the first free day for us to have a family trip to Shuttleworth.

To my surprise, as we neared the aerodrome, it became clear that today was an Air Day, and that the aeroplanes would be flying. I hadn't looked at the Shuttleworth webpage carefully, and hadn't expected this. Worse still, as we arrived, I saw the Triplane itself being wheeled away into the distance.


I eventually found that it had been parked at the far end of the aerodrome, well away from anywhere that mere mortals could get to. My chances of getting photographed with it had just become approximately nil.

All right, so the compensation was to see the aeroplane flying, but that wasn't the objective.
On the other hand, the aeroplane in the book is simply a triplane. Not expressly a Sopwith one, notwithstanding my mental image. And the Shuttleworth Collection has two triplanes.


The second is an Avro Triplane, originally built in 1911 - again, Shuttleworth's version is a replica, built for the film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. It was still in its hangar, almost in solitary state as the other 'planes were being wheeled out - we jumped at the opportunity, and gained a photograph of yours truly.

As we waited for the airshow, Janet spotted a young woman in modern green coveralls... with a badge describing her as a pilot. I managed to snatch a few words with her. She was Clare Tector, and she confirmed she would be flying the Shuttleworth DH60 Moth, in full period pilot garb. The chance of a photograph of a female pilot so attired was too good to miss - she generously agreed to pose for a photo after she had flown.
Her flying was impressive, the aeroplane handling magnificently.The Moth is the predecessor to the Tiger Moth, a two seat trainer still commonly flying and in use - Clare confirmed that the Moth, despite being an older airframe, actually flies better than its descendant.

Afterwards, she kindly let us photograph her, even holding a copy of my book. I think she was rather shocked that the novel begins with an aeroplane crash - she said she was glad she hadn't known that before she flew. I hope I haven't traumatised her, and I am extremely grateful to her for her generosity and willingness to be photographed.

Expect to see more about Shuttleworth, triplanes and pilots in future posts.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Advertising images

I'm endeavouring to publicise the book. I spent yesterday at the British Fantasy Convention in Brighton, and I left a bundle of flyers around the convention centre. (I wasn't the only person littering the place, so I don't feel too guilty!). There still seemed to be a fair number lying around when I left, so I don't know how successful my ploy was. I thought the flyers looked quite good: they looked like this:
   I've also done a banner to add to forum posts, which is at the top of this post and which I think is quite striking - the close-up on the dragon face works well, in my humble opinion.
   The question is whether anyone will take notice and buy it...

   And I'm going to add a smaller version of the banner, just for completeness:

Friday, 28 September 2012

Sorrel - the video

A sneak preview of the video I'm planning to use to publicise Sorrel - just to make sure it works!

Thursday, 27 September 2012


And finally the Kindle version is live!

Amazon seems to like me after all - the kindle version is finally available on and

I can breathe again!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

I think Amazon hates me...

I was all prepared for the launch of Sorrel in Scarlet on Monday. I uploaded my files to my three targets on Saturday. Lulu went live almost immediately - epub format for e-readers other than the Kindle. CreateSpace - print on demand paperback copies, which I thought might well take longest to launch - was available on Monday morning, and I received my own copy this morning.

But the Kindle... I uploaded the file on Saturday. The system checked it over and firmly said it was okay, and would be published and on sale within 12 hours.

Sunday morning - no sign. I assumed it meant 12 business hours.

Monday? Not a whisper. I can be patient - I sat back and waited till Tuesday.

Not a dickie-bird. No change to my status, no e-mails, no messages, nothing. So I sent Kindle a polite "What's going on?" style message.

I'm still waiting.

And to add insult to injury, the paperback is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US, but the cover picture isn't visible. The US one is finally showing up, but the UK image is still absent.

Is Amazon trying to tell me something?

Still, the good news is that the paperback version is now on sale. If you're in the UK, go here. If you're in the USA or elsewhere try here.

If you want an epub version (Nook, Kobo, Sony E-Reader, iPad etc) then try Lulu, here.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Print on Demand Cover

And I now have a full cover for the print on demand version - Janet has, as usual, done wonders for me.

CreateSpace will add a barcode on the back cover with the book's ISBN, and then it will look complete.

Still much to do before Monday, but I am quietly confident that everything will go according to plan.

Formatting headaches - part 2

I think the NCX problem is solved, but it took much heart-ache and grief. Still, I am back on track for launch on Monday.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Formatting headaches

I spent most of last week formatting Sorrel in Scarlet for the Kindle. I uploaded it to test it... lo and behold, the system tells me my Table of Contents is not functioning.

So back to the drawing board - go through the help information on the Kindle guide, re-lay and re-structure my ToC, re-upload... and it tells me I still don't have a ToC, even though I can see it.

More delving, and I find a page of information about inserting an NCX file (just one only, it tells me), all structured in html, the language of web pages. In the dim and distant past I have written bits and pieces in html, but this is way beyond my level, and I can't launch Sorrel on Kindle (or any other epub site) without this.

I have a week before my planned publication date... I could be in big trouble.

Thursday, 6 September 2012


      I love books. Yes, a Kindle is a brilliant gadget, but there is something about having an old-fashioned book in my hand – the feel of the paper, the weight, the sussurus as the pages turn – that grips me. Perhaps it was because, as a child, I read constantly – books were my friends and my treasures. I drove my mother mad keeping me with a supply of reading material – I was a member of two, and later three different local libraries, and we drove over to one or other at least once a week. Six from Carnegie, four from Dulwich, six from West Norwood – more than once I had finished one of them by the time we had driven home. Books were (and are) the escape from the mundane, a means to transfer myself into bright, extraordinary, occasionally frightening landscapes and stories, a way to meet remarkable people and confront dreadful odds... and win.

      My bookshelves at home groan under the weight of more than two thousand books, mostly paperbacks, collected over thirty years. Over a thousand more languish in boxes in the spare room and the attic, relegated there in a desperate effort to prevent a lawsuit by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Shelves. New books materialise with frightening regularity, as if by magic. And I know my books. Every cover is somewhere in my mind's eye, most of the plots can be teased out of my memory with only a few moments' thought, or a brief flick through. They are still my friends. I would be lost without them.
      Can the Kindle or its ilk replace that?
      My first thought is to say never.
      And yet... and yet I picture the books boxed up in the attic, almost inaccessible, miserable and feeling unloved. The contents of those boxes don't see the light of day. I can't casually pick one up and page through it, reminding myself of the pleasures of the story. If I had them on my Kindle, wouldn't that make them available to me again?
      I don't have a simple answer to that... except that you can't, with a Kindle, easily pick up a book almost at random off the shelf and flip to a favourite scene, or glance at a cover in passing and remember the adventures within.
      No, even if I do get prosecuted by the SPCS, I can't do without at least some real books in the house. The Kindle is a neat piece of kit, but paper books are still my first love.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Not quite published - the real world story

Novels don't appear instantly. They take time and effort and commitment. I spent a year or more bashing my head against my word-processor, but the final result read well, and I thought it had a fighting chance of publication. I had written novels before, without any great success – I had sent them to numerous agents, who had sometimes said that I had a good writing style, but that they didn't feel my previous efforts were commercial enough. Sorrel in Scarlet I thought had possibilities.

The first agent to whom I sent it sat on it for months before curtly rejecting it. The second wasn't taking on new clients at all. The third... I got a very nice email, saying he had enjoyed the first three chapters, and wanted to see the rest. Two weeks later, in March 2011, I had an agent and a contract. Tim told me he thought Sorrel was saleable.

We spent months editing it, so Tim was confident in its chances. Then he sent it to a dozen major UK publishers.

Three, including one of the biggest, showed interest – I met with a commissioning editor, who said he wanted to publish it.

And then Sorrel crashed and burned.  His acquisitions committee vetoed it – too strange, too far outside the obvious niches. The other two interested parties said the same.

I was left with an unsaleable manuscript, and some broken dreams.  Tim and I had both been so sure Sorrel would fly.

Get back on the horse that threw you. Impcatcher was the new novel I've set to work upon.

But I still had a manuscript in my clutches, one that had been within a whisker of a commercial sale.
And so now I intend to put Sorrel on sale myself.

I've got a long way to go, but publication beckons.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Land that Time Forgot

     My family didn't regularly go to the cinema when I was a child. So the few films I did see on the big screen packed an impact. Back in 1975, one movie I remember well was The Land that Time Forgot. At the time, I didn't know of Edgar Rice Burroughs apart from as the creator of Tarzan (and Tarzan I only knew from the Johnny Weissmuller films, which hadn't grabbed me). This, on the other hand... it had dinosaurs, and a submarine, and a brave hero. The pretty young woman didn't catch my attention much – I was too young for girls to have impinged. What the film did have was action, monsters, and a sense of the extraordinary. The titular Land was not just a “Lost World”, but had a strange pattern of advancement in evolution the further inland you went. That aspect was never fully explored, but it gave me the feeling that there was more here, more that could be explored, further mysteries to follow.
     It was many years later before I saw the sequel – The People that Time Forgot – which takes the ideas further, but which is by no means as good a film.
     The special effects, at the time, looked pretty good to me. Now, they creak nearly as badly as original Doctor Who – but so what? The story is what matters. The characters are relatively two-dimensional, but they are still better than the characters in some of the current blockbusters being made, and the plot keeps moving. The characters are active – they work to get themselves out of the trouble they are in through brains and muscle, rather than just panicking and being blown on the wind of fortune. Yes, Doug McClure's character may be a square-jawed hero with very little in the way of depth, but he is still a strong central figure.
     The Land that Time Forgot was the first of the Doug McClure action-adventure films, and is in my view the best. I hadn't discovered pulp adventure stories at that time (with the exception of Biggles) – this was the film that really introduced the genre to me. Without this, perhaps there would never have been Sorrel in Scarlet...  so you can all blame Doug McClure!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Cover revamped

And an amended version, after comments and advice from the Giant in the Playground crowd.

Thoughts gratefully welcomed!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Cover art

   And we have a cover. This is what I'm planning to use - comments and thoughts gratefully received!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

So what is this book all about?

Sorrel in Scarlet is a fantasy novel set in a world where a form of magic works, dragons rule the land, and monsters exist, and where technology has advanced to the stage of steam cars and biplanes. Sorrel's land was ravaged by an apocalyptic war more than a thousand years ago between elves and lloruk (serpent-folk). Fortunately for everyone alive on the surface now, both evil, twisted races ceased to exist during that war. One remnant is the Chasm, a gigantic tear in the fabric of the continent. It plunges two miles down into a permanent layer of cloud – no one who ventured down there has returned.
Sorrel is a pilot. She hates the dragon-lords who are the masters of her land. She has raided one of them – Wrack. The novel begins with her crashed in a crimson jungle at the base of the Chasm, blasted out of the sky by Wrack and stranded down in the depths. There are creatures of nightmare in the Chasm long vanished from the surface – graalur (think orcs, and you've got the right idea); rusdrool (don't even ask); snarqs (two-headed acid-spitting flying lizards)... and lloruk.

The humans in the depths are in a war with the serpent-folk sorcerers. Sorrel finds herself caught up in the conflict – and then she finds that her fate has become inextricably bound with that of Wrack, who is also trapped down here...

Sunday, 26 August 2012


 Welcome to Dragons and Triplanes, an unashamed attempt to garner interest and support for my forthcoming novel, Sorrel in Scarlet, of which I will say much more in future posts, as well as my opportunity to talk about fantasy in books, films, television and games. I'll probably throw in a range of other topics that may well intrude. Dragons? Lots.
 Triplanes? Yes, not to mention other bits of weird and wonderful technology from the last two hundred years.
Kits, fantasy artwork, and maybe even the odd soft toy.

You have been warned.