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Kuang-Shi (2012) – Sneek Peak

‘Kuang-Shi’ is a story I wrote way back in 2002. It’s one of the Legacy stories I’ve been most looking forward to revising. Ten years is a long time, and there’s much about that story which needs fixing. Or more like beating into shape. And so this week I’ve started revamping it! The core story is the same, the events are, more or less, as people will remember them. Only this time it will all make sense, there’ll be some real depth to the characters, to the dark journey they all take in this story. And there will be loads of new material.

The book is due out at the start of 2013, but here’s a sneak peek at the revised first chapter…

Chapter One

The air frizzled and an outline of three people appeared. Within seconds they had solidified, standing in a circled off area under a large cedar tree. The Doctor was the first to act, removing his hands from his two young friends. He looked around, rubbed the bronzed amulet hanging from his neck and muttered to himself.

‘So, not Westminster Abby, then.’

The young man and woman looked at each, smiled and looked up at the sunny sky. Almost in unison they raised a hand to protect their eyes from the glaring sun.

‘This is Earth, isn’t it?’ asked the woman.

The Doctor turned to face her. ‘Yes, Alf, it certainly is Earth, but not where I expected us to materialise.’

‘Nice one, Doctor.’ Alf removed her sunglasses from one of the pockets of her combat trousers and placed them over her eyes. She looked over at Nick who was putting on a less advanced pair of sunglasses. ‘Nick, I’m home,’ she said, and the Doctor grinned behind her back.

After almost a year in the 26th Century it felt nice to be back on Earth. He had to admit he did miss the old place, but probably not as much as Alf. For her, she didn’t even remember her homeworld – the future Earth had been consumed by the Cybermen, and made uninhabitable as a result.

Nick subtly squeezed Alf’s hand, not that the Doctor noticed, of course.

He smiled to himself. ‘Well, we are in the correct year, although not in the place I wanted to be. We were supposed to arrive in Westminster Abby, just in time to witness Andrew marry Fergie. Still,’ he added, checking his watch, ‘we appear to be in the right temporal location. July 23rd 1986.’

‘This the Lebanon Circle, which means we’re in the East cemetery.’

He wandered off to look at the stone wall, overgrown with foliage. ‘Highgate Cemetery unless I am mistaken.’

Nick looked around. ‘How can you tell that?’

‘This the Lebanon Circle, which means we’re in the East cemetery.’ The Doctor looked over at Alf. ‘I brought us to Earth on purpose, for you. Neither Nick nor I have homes we can return to, but you at least deserve to see your home.’

Alf was still smiling. ‘Thanks, Doctor.’

‘Least I can do. After all it is my fault that you lost your memory. Kind of.’

Alf looked around, awkwardly. ‘Look, Nick, do you mind if I go off on my own for a bit?’

‘I…’ Nick clearly did mind, but the Doctor stepped in before Nick could say anything else.

‘That’s a good idea. Reacquaint yourself with London. Explore your roots a bit. Who knows, being here may spark some memory in you?’

‘Hope so. Remember that jacket I had? The one that looked like it once had things stitched to it?’

The Doctor nodded. ‘Yes. Whatever happened to it?’

‘Lost it during the war somewhere. Maybe in the Settii cluster?’ Alf shrugged. ‘Don’t matter. Point is, the last badge to fall off, when I was working at the internment camp, was this little black and silver thing that has “1987” embroided onto it. This is 1986, right?’

‘Hmm.’ The Doctor could see where Alf was going. He wanted her to find her roots, but if that badge came from 1987, then it followed so did Alf. What could he do, though? Could he really deny Alf this opportunity? No. This universe was not the one from which she originated, so maybe she never existed on this Earth.

The Doctor hoped so.

‘Okay, there’s an Underground station nearby. Archway, I believe.’ He reached into his deep pockets and pulled out a role of notes. ‘Money. Look after yourself. You can use the amulet to find us.’

Alf looked down at her own amulet. ‘Yeah?’

‘Yes, just hold it, think of us, and it will guide you. Low telepathic feild,’ the Doctor added with his brightest smile. ‘Not as good as the TARDIS, but…’

‘Works for me.’ Alf smiled and looked over at Nick, who was standing a little distance away from them.

The Doctor noticed a strange look pass across his face; disappointment.

Nick looked away.

Alf shrugged. ‘Fine,’ she said softly. ‘Cheers, Doctor, catch you in a bit.’

Nick watched her as she walked out of sight. ‘That was nice of you,’ he said, coming over to the Doctor. He didn’t sound so happy.

‘Well I owe both you and Alf a lot. Besides, you and I have to talk. We haven’t really spoken since you left for your mission to New Mars, and then, I seem to recall, we didn’t part on the best of terms.’

Nick scratched his head. ‘Yeah, keep forgetting that.’ He nodded. ‘Clone you on Nova Mondas.’

‘Quite.’ The Doctor sniffed. ‘Can you smell that?’

‘Yeah.’

It was a faint burning. The Doctor looked around the small circle, and with a cry of excitement pointed to a small build up of energy hanging before the cedar tree. They both walked over to it.

‘What is it?’ Nick asked.

The Doctor probed it with a chubby finger and pulled back quickly. ‘Ow!’ He sucked the tip of his finger. ‘That hurt.’

‘So, what is it then?’

‘The remains of some kind of temporal-spatial portal. At a guess I would say that it was this that pulled us slightly off course.’ With a pop the fissure closed up and faded into nothingness. ‘And now it is gone. Hmm.’

The Doctor looked around. It had been a while since he’d travelled through time, and his time senses were rusty. He concentrated. As a Time Lord he should have been able to sense disruptions in time, but that ability had weakened ever since the planar shift that had altered reality around him.

Ever since Gallifrey had gone.

He removed his amulet and waved it around in front of him.

‘Some kind of divining rod?’ Nick asked.

The Doctor was impressed. ‘Yes, actually,’ he said slowly. ‘I’m fine tuning the amulet’s temporal field to the portal; if it returns the amulet will let me know. There!’ He pocketed the amulet.

‘So, this talk then?’

The Doctor looked at Nick with a smile. ‘Yes. And I know just the place!’

*

Nick sat down as the Doctor went to fetch some drinks. They were in a small coffee shop just off Hampstead Heath, and Nick was in the best mood he had been in for half a year.

The Doctor is alive!

Things had happened so fast since the Doctor had walked into the shop of Alpha Centauri, carrying a teddy bear and a Ming vase. Nick had tried to slow things down, get some sense out of the Doctor, but it had been a whirlwind of activity and explanations. Nick did not doubt the Doctor, he never would, but he hadn’t had the time to truly process everything.

‘What about Falex?’ Nick asked as the Doctor sat at the table and passed Nick a drink.

‘He’s where he needs to be once again.’ Although he put on a smile, Nick could tell the Doctor was lying.

‘But you promised to look after him, we both did.’

‘I know that, Nick, but when I met his aunty on Taureas II she made me promise to return him home. I should have returned him straight away… but the war…’

A lot of things went crazy with the war. Nick could at least understand that. ‘But I should never have taken him to Chronos with me, I should have…’

The Doctor looked up from his drink sharply. ‘Chronos?’

‘Yeah, some totally screwed up planet. Void pirates, living sky barrels…’

The Doctor rubbed his beard. ‘Oh, a planet. I thought…’ He shook his head. ‘It doesn’t matter. Look, Nick, I understand what you’re saying, but Falex will be better with his own people. Remember what you told me about the Black Sun Station. What Falex did there. While the war went on, while I was in hiding so the clone could do his work, I looked into what Theahmin said. No, not said, implied. She told me it was not safe for “someone like him” to be off Taureas II. And then there was something Alf noticed; that there were no children to be seen anywhere in the capital city of that world.’

Nick didn’t like the sound of that. ‘Then why send him back?’

‘Because of what I discovered. Nice coffee, don’t you think?’ the Doctor asked abruptly, even though he’d yet to pick his cup up.

Nick knew this one. Deflection. He’d seen it practiced many times; heck, he’d done it enough with Falex, especially after he’d thought the Doctor had died and Falex continued to barrage him with questions.

He sat back and folded his arms. ‘This isn’t going to work on me. I’ve been without you for months; I almost died! Lost the use of my legs.’

Now it was the Doctor’s turn to furrow his brow. ‘What? But you’re…’

‘Implants.’ Nick sat forward again, and picked up his cup. ‘Let me tell you what happened on JS-439,’ he said, and outlined the events that led to him being crippled, and the subsequent implants given to him by the Martian surgeon Zylarx, and then the best Draconian cyberneticists who fixed them after the war. While he did this, he sipped the coffee. It was a strong taste, quite unlike anything he’d ever tasted before.

‘No other planet has ever come up with anything like coffee,’ the Doctor pointed out. ‘Oh, there’s worlds which claim to have drinks called coffee this and coffee that, but none quite have the right kind of beans. Remind me to take you the early 21st Century sometime. Coffee seems to be the taking over the Earth by 2011.’

Nick chewed his lip. ‘I don’t think Cybermen really have a taste for coffee,’ he said, trying to keep his tone light, but it was difficult when he remembered how many had died because the Cybermen.

‘Yes. I keep forgetting. Need to get used to this again.’ The Doctor finished his drink. ‘What about Alf?’

Nick nearly spilt his drink; such was the unexpected way in which the Doctor had changed the topic. He eyed his mentor. Had Alf been talking to him? No, of course not, she wouldn’t have had the chance. Unless it was before the war… only, there was nothing to tell the Doctor then.

Was there even something to tell him now? Nick wasn’t so sure. But he remembered the way Alf had massaged his shoulders before the ceremony on Draconia…

‘Erm, what about her?’

‘She’s only with me because I am the only link to her past. But she doesn’t belong with me, nor does she belong on Alpha Centauri. That life was forced on her by the Dommervoy.’

‘Seems to me, mate, the entire last year was forced on all of us.’

‘That is true.’ The Doctor pulled the amulet out of his pocket. ‘Nothing.’

‘What do you think that portal thing was?’

‘No idea, Nick. But whatever it was, it was powerful enough to pull us off course.’

Nick stood up. ‘Then maybe we should head back to the cemetery? Can’t sit here drinking coffee all day.’

The Doctor beamed at him. ‘That’s the spirit, Nick! Now we’ve cleared the air, let’s go and make ourselves useful while Alf is off recollecting.’

At the mention of Alf, Nick paused. The Doctor stopped in the doorway and looked back.

‘What is it?’

‘You don’t think Alf will want to stay here, do you?’

The Doctor thought about it for a second. ‘I don’t know, Nick, that’s up to her.’

Nick sighed inwardly. Yeah, it was…

*

There was definitely something familiar about the place, almost as if she were visiting somewhere she had grown up in and only had a vague memory of. Which, Alf considered, wasn’t that far from the truth.

She had distant snatches of London, as she was now realising. Passing through the various tube stations on the way from Highgate to Oxford Street awoke certain feelings in her.

There was nothing too specific, just a sense that she had been on a similar journey before. A child bored out her head, while a woman sat beside her, head buried in a magazine. Presumably her mother. Someone who encouraged strong feelings in Alf, either way.

She stepped out of Oxford Circus Station and looked around. So many people!

People like her. Humans! For so long it had only been her. Sure there were plenty of humanoid races in the Galactic Federation, those who looked almost human, but even Nick, the closest to human she had found out there, wasn’t really human. During their long mission to find those spies for the Cybermen, the Doctor had explained a little something about Nick. That he’d once been part of this almost-omnipotent race called the Millennium People, but something had happened that had turned him human. Or at least a close approximation of one. That should have bothered Alf, but living on Alpha Centauri tended to expand one’s horizons. Some of her best friends had been non-human. People she respected, and trusted. But at least being around Nick, and to some extent, the Doctor, made Alf feel a little closer to her own people.

Now here she was. Once again on Earth, surrounded by real human people!

She set off down Oxford Street…

She set off down Oxford Street, looking for somewhere to eat real greasy, unhealthy food. The kind only humans could make.

A number 88 bus passed her by, and she looked up at it. Snatches of memory came back to her. She could see herself as a young girl, with a bunch of other girls, on a bus as it drove up Oxford Street, intent on visiting Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus. She was sitting next to the window, looking down at the sea of people, while a brown girl chatted to her. They were laughing about something, although Alf could not remember what. She thought hard. That girl – her best mate. What was her name?

It was frustrating, but at least it was a memory. Alf smiled. Thanks, Doctor, she thought, a real trip down memory lane.

As she walked she noticed the bill-posts pasted to closed shop fronts. She had seen similar things on the trains. It was an imitation of the Kitchener posters used in 1914, a recruitment campaign of the First World War (she dimly recalled learning about this in History at Greenford Secondary School – more random memories!).

UNIT WANTS YOU, it said in bold letters, with JOIN THE UNITED NATION’S ARMY! GOD SAVE THE KING written underneath in a smaller font.

Ever since she’d entered Archway Station Alf had the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. These posters confirmed it. She had never heard of UNIT, and since when did Earth have a United Nation’s Army?

Then there was the mention of a king… Alf was pretty sure that the UK had a queen in 1986.

She shook her head and continued walking. Maybe the Doctor could explain it later. For now she wanted a good old fashioned burger.

*

A man walked a few feet behind Alf, unseen by her. Short blonde hair and eyes like blue steel, he followed her, unable to believe what he was seeing.

He smiled. He knew this was a different world from Styria, but it still felt familiar to him, as strange as it might be. Full of machines, carriages without horses, and people wearing the strangest clothes. It was, he thought, the perfect place to hide.

Until he saw her.

For a moment he thought the blood countess had followed him, that she too had discovered one of those magic doors, but as he reached out his mind he felt nothing. No presence at all. The young woman, although an exact double, was empty.

Yet, somehow, she looked just like the Countess Dorothea.

And so he followed her, intrigued, memories of their short-lived marriage filling his mind.

*

Nick buckled but the Doctor caught him before he hit the ground. Nick took a deep breath and steadied himself. He looked at the Doctor, and saw the sympathetic smile.

‘The implants?’ the Doctor enquired.

Nick wasn’t so sure.

Yes, pain from the implants was a constant, one his the pain-centre of his brain was getting used to. Like an itch he could not scratch. This was different.

‘Ain’t got a Scooby,’ he said, rubbing his legs.

The Doctor nodded, then blinked. ‘A what?’

‘A Scooby. Scooby-Doo. Clue. You know.’

‘Oh. Rhyming slang. Okay. Well, come on, let’s uni.’ The Doctor smiled at his own cleverness but Nick only looked confused. ‘University don, move on?’

Nick smiled through the pain, and raised his eyebrows. ‘You made that up.’

‘I did not!’

Nick laughed, folding his arms. ‘Yes you did.’

‘I… did, yes.’ The Doctor cleared his throat and glanced down to the pavement below him. He looked up with a cheeky grin. ‘Right. You fit enough to carry on?’

‘Thanks,’ Nick said, realising what his friend was attempting to do. He practiced running on the spot. ‘Yep, all systems go.’

‘Come on then.’

*

Alf bit into the quarter pounder with relish, and chewed. It was amazing! She didn’t even mind the sharp taste of the pickled gherkin; it just felt good to eat real Earth food again. The Doctor had done his best back on Alpha Centauri, but it hadn’t been the same.

She looked out of the window as she chewed. People continued about their business, unaware of the phenomenal moment Alf was having. To her, that only made things even more incredible.

For the first time in ages she felt truly alive. Vibrant!

She blinked. Across the road she thought she saw… She looked closer.

Nah, it couldn’t have been. Although it did look like Nick. Their eyes connected and the man looked away.

She closed the polystyrene burger box and picked up her milkshake. She could have sworn it was Nick – even though he was dressed in some ancient looking clothes, and his hair was short.

As Alf moved from the table she bumped into a McDonald’s crewmember. ‘Oh, sorry,’ she said, then stopped.

Beneath the cap there was no mistaking the rounded face. It was Alf. Younger, less worn, but Alf nonetheless. The younger looked at the elder with equal surprise.

‘Gordon Bennett!’ the younger exclaimed.

*

The rest of the walk to Highgate Cemetery was uneventful. They passed the obelisks that gated the shaded lane, and Nick pointed to one of the nearby tombs. On the wall next to the iron door hung an inverted torch.

‘What’s with the torches, Doctor?’

‘They are an ancient symbol of death. Indeed, according to old Earth mythology…’ He tailed off and pulled the amulet out of his pocket.

In the centre a sapphire glow emanated.

In the centre a sapphire glow emanated.

‘It’s back!’ he said, his bearded face lighting up. He set off at run.

Nick watched him hare off and groaned. Why does he need to run around so much? Bracing himself for the pain, Nick set off at a brisk jog after the Doctor. His route took him through the two rings of catacombs. As soon as he emerged from the inner ring Nick came to an abrupt stop.

The Doctor stood there, a look of total disbelief on his face. Nick looked beyond the Doctor to the portal that hung before the massive cedar tree.

A man was standing by the portal, looking around as if dazed by something. He was dressed in clothes from a simpler time.

A man from their past.

The Doctor stepped forward and held a hand out. ‘Bradley?’ he asked, his voice choked.

The young man turned to look at the Doctor. Nick took a step back. There was no doubt about it, the man before them was Bradley DeMars – one time companion of the Doctor, and a man who had died on Nova Mondas in 2101. Nick remembered it clearly.

This was not good.

‘Erm, hi,’ Bradley said.

*

Alf stepped back and looked herself over. She could not believe it. Then it came to her. Summer 1986, and with a month to go before her sixteenth birthday she had been doing work experience in McDonald’s on Oxford Street. She had hated it.

‘Ere, how come you look like me?’ asked the younger Alf. She peered closer. ‘You are me, ain’t you?’

‘Yeah.’ Alf was not sure what to say.

Young Alf grinned. ‘I knew it! Knew I wasn’t from Earth, no way I’d be from that naff family. Time travel,’ she asked.

All the name badge said was ‘trainee’. Alf shook her head. She needed to know something important. The most important thing ever. ‘What’s my name?’

‘What? You don’t know? But you’re me…’

‘From a future where you’ve lost your memory.’

Young Alf looked crestfallen. ‘Brilliant.’ She shook her head. ‘Well, I know what it ain’t. It ain’t Dorothy, that’s for sure.’

Dorothy. Yes, that sounded right somehow. Only there was something else that came with the name. A sense of disappointment.

‘Call me Ace, that’s what everyone else calls me.’

‘Ace?’ Alf repeated the name to herself. She thought back to the jacket that she had left in Earth’s Pride. There used to be a name on the back of it, but all that was left was an ‘A’. When Vasek had suggested she call herself Alf, she’d figured that made sense of the ‘A’. But now… She reached out for the girl. ‘Listen! You have to tell me…’

Alf’s hand connected with Ace’s shoulder and time seemed to stand still around them. They blinked in unison.

There was a crackle of energy and the two of them hit the floor together.

Ω

Kuang-Shi © 2002, 2012 by Andy Frankham-Allen, All Rights Reserved

‘Time Amulet’ design © 2012 by Mark Pilbeam/Frankallen Books

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An Augury About The Gardan Saga

The Comic Guru is sucked into Seeker

A very good thing happened on 24th November, I met with a publisher. The result of said meeting was an interest in picking up The Garden saga of novels, beginning with book two. This will, of course, be great news to those who’ve read Seeker and eagerly await the second instalment (which, I’m happy to say, is at least 98% of the readers – always the first question I get asked is ‘when’s the next book?’). This also means I need to write, and so I am deep in the world of Jake, Sam, Celeste and the upyr once again. The book also needed a new title, and that has become Augury – a portent, an omen, but of what? Tune in next year to find out. 😉

In other Garden news, Seeker was nominated for a Rainbow Award, that of Best Paranormal Horror 2011 (Gay). Alas, it did not win, but it did get an honourable mention, and one of the judges had this to say about it; ‘ Boy, there’s quite a lot of story here. It isn’t my usual type of read, but I thought the author did an excellent job of weaving so many details into an intriguing plot.

Seeker has also been featured in this week’s Comic Guru TV. The Comic Guru is one of the premiere comic shops in Wales, and is based in Cardiff. The owner, Kristian Barry, has been a supporter of Seeker since it was released back in March, and has, over the last six months or so, become a very good friend indeed. So big love and thanks to him for the continued support, and the wonderful comments in the webcast.

And now, just for you followers of this blog, a very exclusive treat. The first scene of Augury

Jake was in a good place.

True, life could still be as tough as nuts, but he’d made it. Not to say his life was now perfect, it was far from that, but he was at least in a space he could call good. Well, compared to the two longest weeks of his life back in March. He tried not to dwell on those weeks too much now, but once in a while the memories and accompanying feelings would come around and smack him in the face.

‘You still there?’ Conrad asked.

‘Yeah. Yeah, sorry, guy,’ Jake said into the phone, his ubiquitous Californian lilt as affected as ever, as he opened the front door. It was all Conrad’s fault anyway. They had been talking about how much things had changed since they’d first met, a topic that was always bound to bring back certain memories. Still, good place, he reminded himself. ‘Come on, Curtis!’ he yelled up the stairs, and said into the phone in a softer voice, after hearing Conrad’s hiss of annoyance, ‘ah, sorry.’

‘Right, ’tis cool.’

Jake could hear Conrad’s smile in his voice. Sometimes Jake reckoned that if Conrad was any more laid back he’d spend his whole life on his back. Jake grinned at the mental image that brought forth.

‘So, yeah,’ he continued, dragging his mind out of that particularly dirty gutter, ‘we’re heading off to the station now. He should be there soon.’

‘Looking forward to it?’

‘I guess. Haven’t seen each other in what seems like forever.’ Jake paused. He couldn’t back down now, either way. ‘Curtis is eager to see him, so yeah, should be fun.’ As soon as he mentioned Curtis’ name, the toddler came bobbing down the stairs. Jake didn’t even bother with the safety gate that Willem had installed anymore. Curtis was walking so much better these days, full of the bubbly life a three-year-old was supposed to have. He’d changed a lot since Jake and Lawrencia had come to their ‘agreement’. Jake smiled to himself; Will would be very happy to see his nephew, too.

Mock-Up Cover for 'Augury'

‘What about you?’

‘Huh?’ Once again Jake was miles away. He seemed to do that a lot these days.

‘Are you eager to see him?’

Jake didn’t answer straight away. Sure, he was looking forward to it, but there was a part of him that…

‘Okay,’ Conrad said, cutting into Jake’s thoughts, ‘look, Jake…’ He stopped abruptly, and Jake could just about make out someone trying to get Conrad’s attention. Probably his sergeant. ‘Yes, sir,’ Conrad’s muffled voice said. ‘I need to book,’ he continued to Jake, ‘so text me soon, yeah? Let me know if tonight’s defo on.’

‘Sure thing,’ Jake said, and ended the call.

Curtis stood at the bottom of the stairs, wearing the jumper Jake had bought him for his birthday last month. He had told Curtis it was from ‘undle’ Willem, and Curtis had corrected him saying it was uncle. Getting the kid into playschool was paying off for sure. And since it was a present from his missing uncle, Curtis had decided that the jumper was his favourite and thus had to be worn almost every day. Or at least the three days he stayed with Jake, since Jimmy refused to allow the boy to wear it. Merely because it was ostensibly a present from Will.

‘You ready, champ?’

Curtis shook his head. ‘No. I get cold outside.’ He stretched up for his coat hanging on the rack by the door, but couldn’t reach.

Jake lifted the coat off the rack and held it higher. Curtis started jumping for it, but Jake kept moving the coat around, making Curtis jump and run around in circles. Laughing. Jake loved it. Such a happy kid now.

‘Come on, let’s wrap you up,’ he said, and knelt down next to Curtis. As he zipped up the coat, Jake asked; ‘Where we going?’

‘We going to Paddytum, and get some mamylade for my toast for breakfast before school tomorrow.’

Jake grinned. ‘Yeah, kind of.’ They were certainly going to Paddington, that much was true, but not to get marmalade. Jake had already secretly stashed some in the glove compartment to give to Curtis later. The kid would never know. They were going to meet someone. A very special someone, and already in his mind Jake could see the big smile on Curtis’ face when he saw who it was.

Curtis reached out for Jake’s hand, and he took the chubby brown hand tightly. Curtis smiled up at him. Just before closing the door Jake glanced across the passage to the kitchen beyond. The house, Will’s house, had his own touch to it now. He wasn’t sure how Will would like it.

Garden Poll

Thursday 1st December will be the day I officially start writing book two of The Garden saga. I’ve got a new publisher for it, although I can’t say any more than that at this point. However, before it’s release I shall be releasing an exclusive e-interlude, a short novella focussing on one of the lead upyr, in the same way that Serere, the e-exclusive prelude, focussed on Frederick and how he came to be obsessed with finding the Seeker.

Here’s your chance to influence the focus of the new interlude. Vote below for the upyr you’d most like to read more about, and if you want to tell me what it is you wish to learn more about, then please comment in the box provided.

 

Getting it out there…

It’s been a week since Seeker was launched and I hear sales (both print and digital) are doing quite well. It’s quite an exciting time, really, with many comments coming my way like ‘it’s worth way more than £10’ and ‘an exceptional fantasy novel’, and my all-time favourite so far, ‘this pulls you into it, better than Twilight.’ A phrase I will never tire of hearing. My publisher and I are currently working on setting up a few signings across Wales and England, and I’ve been invited to a signing in Ireland, too. No dates as yet, we need to wait until the book is properly on the system (which takes a couple of weeks), and then we shall see. I’ll announce the dates as and when I get them, of course.

The launch itself went quite well, I thought, although it began for me the day before. Saturday 19th March; I was visiting my sister in Southend, England, one of the main locations of Seeker, and while there I figured I’d drop a few promotional posters off. One such place is a small coffee shop called Cafe Reviver, run by a friend of mine called Gary Willis. While there, Gary offered the use of his cafe as a place to do a signing – an offer I intend to take him up on later this year, most likely in the summer. So if you’re in Southend during the summer, look out for this bearded chap sitting outside a cafe on Queens Road surrounded by books. From there I popped into the Halfway House, a former place of employment and also a location used in the book, to drop off another poster and catch up with some friends. There I got into a conversation with a former-customer of mine, Linda Knights (all the time I worked there and I never knew her name), in which I discovered both she and her father, Charlie, love reading. They got quite excited about me releasing a book, and promised to pick up a copy as soon as it hit the shops. So, I consider the trip to Southend successful. After my brief visit to the Halfway I was picked up by my very good friends Ryan Hunter and Ben Theobald (who were travelling all the way to Wales just for the signing – that’s dedication!), and began the long journey back to Wales; a journey which proved to be rather amusing, especially when, by the time we reached the toll booth at the Severn Bridge, the three of us we bouncing and singing along with Christina Aguilera and ‘Fighter’. I looked at them, laughed, glanced around at all the other cars and said, ‘can you spot the gay car?’ Shame on us!

The actual launch took place on the Sunday, March 20th, and I have to admit that during the lead up to it the nerves were beginning to set in. Ryan, who was to do a reading (maybe!) thought he’d be nervous. Ha! He had the easy part. We arrived with plenty of time to spare, and after a bit of faffing around regarding parking meters, we met Tim, head honcho of Hirst Publishing, to help him carry boxes of books to the venue. Boxes of my book! What a strange feeling. As soon as we got to his car, Tim ripped open a box so I could finally see my book. And it was awesome! Everything up to this point (the short stories published in the official Doctor Who anthologies, the eBooks, even the proof beta-copies of Seeker) – everything! – paled in comparison. Finally, after many long years I was holding the fruit of my labours. Not only that, but the summation of the dream I’d had since I was sixteen. And yet, somehow, I managed to contain my excitement. I was intent on not being some excitable geek, but rather the seasoned author. Calm, collected, reserved, and maybe, just maybe, a little cool.

The venue was the King’s Cross Bar, and the staff there were incredibly helpful. Setting up the stage, complete with hanging chains, and allowing me to reorganise their tables (which we did put back when we were done!). Flyers were already on every table, just to inform those who came for breakfast. We arrived plenty early, which did mean a lot of waiting around, and an anxious publisher who wondered how many people would turn up, and when, and what time should we start and… yeah, you can imagine. Me, I just took it all in my step, after all we did have plenty of time and there was no immediate rush. Slowly, but surely (as the saying goes), people started to arrive. Primarily there were many I knew, friends and family invited, but there were plenty of others, too, just general visitors to the pub who were a little curious as to what was happening. Alas the first potential disaster struck near the time of the ‘event’, when I discovered that my cousin could not make it to do her reading. It bothered Ryan more than anyone, though, as he didn’t like the idea of doing one alone, so I managed to persuade Jolene Ferries to read the piece my cousin was due to read. Problem solved, disaster averted.

Tim took to the stage to do his introduction, only to find that the mic didn’t work anymore. Another potential disaster that was an easy fix; dislodged batteries, no problem.  In his introduction Tim pointed out that I was the first author he took onboard without even reading their book, simply because ‘Andy was recommended to me by Gary Russell, and if Gary Russell doesn’t know a good writer then who does’. As introductions go, that isn’t too shabby. Cut to Ryan, doing his reading. He said afterwards that his whole body was shaking with nerves, but despite an initial stumble over a few words, I think he acquitted himself very well indeed. This is the passage he read;

She leaned in closer and whispered his name in his ear. Sam reacted with a start, his movement so sudden that Lilly almost fell over, but she regained her balance in time for Sam to rip off his glasses and point at the mirror.

‘It’s you!’ he shouted, then staggered backwards.

Lilly moved quickly to steady him. He blinked a few times, and looked around wildly.

‘What… where… who…?’ His eyes came to rest on Lilly. ‘You. Where am I?’

‘Sam, it’s me, Lilly. Come back to me.’

For a moment he just looked at her, and the hatred written over his face made her heart ache. Whatever he was seeing, or whoever, had caused him so much pain. She placed her palm against his cheek.

‘Sam,’ she said, using her most calming voice, ‘come back to me. Wherever you are, you don’t need to be there anymore.’

Before she realised she was going to do so, Lilly tiptoed and placed her lips against his. At first there was no response, but slowly Sam’s mouth opened and their tongues met. For what seemed like an eternity they remained like that, their tongues gently probing the other’s mouths, but then pulled apart.

Sam smiled at her.

‘Lilly, what are you doing here? You should be at work.’

‘It’s almost seven,’ Lilly pointed out, nodding to the carriage clock on the mantle.

‘Seven?’ Sam walked up to the clock, examining it closely. ‘But it…’ He turned back at Lilly. ‘It was four o’clock when I put those shades on. I’ve been out of it for almost three hours.’

Lilly’s first thought was that she should be worried, but other than some dried blood on his ears Sam seemed okay. Still, three hours…

Ryan may think he was nervous, but it never showed, indeed Ryan received a round of applause for his reading. Then it was time for James Gent and me to take to the stage. James was also nervous and, although I shared those nerves initially, as soon as I stepped on the stage my nerves blinked away. In many ways I like to entertain, and so I sat down, relaxed, raised my mic and just got on with it. Intent on making sure people understood a little something of Seeker and keep them amused, too. Which I think we did a pretty good job of. James asked his questions, I answered them, talking about the themes of sexual identity, and how in many ways the two leads, Willem and Jake, are flip-sides of the same character. We also discussed the difficulties of re-inventing vampires, and promised there’ll be no sparkling in ‘The Garden’. By the end of the discussion I think it’s fair to say that we got across the point that Seeker ‘is good’.

The rest of the launch was taken up by people mingling, enjoying the sun, me sitting at the table signing books (we went through a box of twenty in total), and sending Ryan and Lisa out to blitz the streets with flyers to let people know that Seeker exists. They even nabbed one or two people outside Waterstone’s.  Just as I was about to wrap up for the day, a girl in yellow came over, and bought a copy for her nan, who apparently likes ‘books like this’. I’m hoping so, otherwise it’s a nan who’s in for a bit of a shock. The launch ended with some fun pics of the the remaining group, and my tipsy mother who managed to down a whole bottle of wine in an hour.

It wasn’t until much later that I realised somehow Jolene managed to get out of doing her reading. So, sorry, Ry – she hoodwinked ya! 😉

People keep on asking how many books we sold that day, and I keep pointing out that it wasn’t a sales drive, but a launch. It was all about getting the book out there, making people aware of its existence, and this we did. With the help of freebies from Rainbow eBooks, a prize in the shape of a Rubik’s Cube, and free wine, we managed this in style! So, big thanks to all that came along.

It’s been a week since, and already one shop is stocking the book; The Comic Guru in Wood Street, Cardiff. Sales are doing very well; I went through a box of twenty books myself in two days, and I know that Hirst have received a fair few orders since, not to mention a ‘bunch’ of sales for Seeker in the first two days at Untreed Reads.

If you’re looking for a decent read, then you could do a lot worse than checking it out directly from Hirst Publishing, or Untreed Reads Publishing (if you buy the eBook from UR, you can get the exclusive prelude, Serere, free). The digital edition is slowly appearing in the listings of most e-stores, and the print version will soon start appearing in all good book retailers.

Until I have signing dates and locations to announce, why not pop over the to blog, The Accidental Author, and read Jesse Greever’s interview with me, where I discuss the writing of Seeker and a little of what’s coming up.

‘Seeker’ launch…

My new (and first) novel is launched two weeks today, and this is an open invite to anyone who loves to read. Booksellers, journalists, reviewers, you’re all welcome. The launch is taking place at The King’s Cross, Mill Lane, Cardiff, CF10 1FF.

Enjoy this extract…

Ste sat down and started leafing through the sheets of paper that were on the desk. ‘What’s next, then?’

‘Well,’ Willem began, giving up on even considering a fourth chair, ‘I want you to take notes, make sure we get everything said down. Don’t want to slip up on this. I’m still finding it hard to believe that Kurt would try to scam me like this, it’s so not a Kurt thing. And yet the evidence…’

‘… Pretty much says string the idiot up by the short and curlies,’ Ste said, all trace of humour gone. ‘And haven’t you learned from last night that people often step out of character?’

Willem thought back to last night on the webcam, and nodded. Yep, that was definitely new for him. ‘Maybe, but there are character types that people usually fall into, read about it on Wikipedia. Let me see; melancholy, sanguine… erm…’

Ste nodded slowly at this. ‘Right,’ he said, even slower, ‘and we all know that Wiki is written by experts in their fields. Only, you know, not. People are not like characters in a book, dude, you can’t define them so easily, slotting them into particular personality types. People shift and change their attitudes, their desires, everything, all they need is the right… incentive.’

There was distant smile on Ste’s face as he said this, but Willem wasn’t sure he wanted to know the why of that. Instead he kept his tone light. ‘You really are the insightful professor of life, aren’t you, Mr Krueger?’

‘What can I say, Will, I’m multi-talented. And you know, there’s plenty going on in my world you’d not believe even if I did tell you. Not unless you experienced it yourself.’

Willem narrowed his eyes. ‘Is that an invite?’

‘Don’t know, dude, wouldn’t be up to me. I’d have to ask Robin.’

‘Right, the mysterious Robin. Anyway, what did you say the other day about your mixer menu?’

‘True that.’ Ste nodded, lips pursed in thought. His face broke out into a wide grin. ‘Maybe I’ll have to speak to Robin. I know he wants to meet you.’

‘You two talked about me?’

A dark shadow passed across Ste’s features, but an instant later it was gone. He leaned forward. ‘Anyhow, I meant what’s next with you and Charlie?’

‘Oh. Him,’ Willem said, waving a hand as if Charlie was the last thing on his mind. Ste was clearly not convinced by this attempt at indifference, so Willem sat down in the chair he’d prepared for Kurt. ‘Gonna meet up with him this weekend.’

‘Ah.’ Ste sat back and steepled his fingers, with a smile on his lips.

‘Ah what?’

‘Nothing, just glad to see you’re doing something about this. Been a long time.’

Willem nodded. He couldn’t argue with that, really.

‘Yeah, that’s right. Jacen.’

Willem whistled. ‘Now there’s a name I haven’t really thought about in a long time.’ And it really had been a long while, Willem realised, a good three years in fact. Jacen and Willem hadn’t worked out too well, obviously since they were no longer dating, mostly because Jacen couldn’t deal with Willem’s commitment to his work. Jacen wanted to go off and do stuff, experience the world a little, and he wouldn’t have it when Willem tried to explain they’d have plenty of time for that later when they were financially secure. Jacen had quickly found someone else, quite an adventurous guy from what Willem had since heard. ‘I wonder where he is now?’

‘Probably off doing what you should have done a long time ago, Will,’ Ste said, and let out a gentle cough.

‘Still not too sure, though,’ Willem said, wondering what it was about Ste that made him want to open up so freely. ‘I mean, Ren’s fucked off again and I’m stuck with Curtis tonight. Not that I mind, since I love spending time with him, obviously, and better him being with me than around Jimmy, but what happens when I’m away? She can’t just knock on my door whenever, then.’

‘So?’ Ste held his hands up to ward off the words that were about to erupt from Willem’s mouth. ‘Seriously, it’s not your problem. You have your own life, and every once in a while you need to remember that.’

‘That’s a selfish attitude there, Ste.’

‘Probably, but as someone once said, once in a while you need to give yourself permission to be selfish. You can’t carry everyone all the time. Eventually you’ll buckle, and I hate to break this to you, Will, but you’ve been buckling for a while now.’

 

New Exclusive eBook Release

Now out, my special eBook exclusive prelude to the forthcoming Garden series, ‘Serere, A Prelude’. The eBook is now available from The Untreed Reads Store, as well avarious other online retailers such as OmniLit and Amazon. However, if you go directly to the Untreed Store then you will also be able to get 40% off any of my previous releases when you purchase ‘Serere, A Prelude’. This offer is good throughout March…

 

Legacy 1.1: Requiem

It’s here!

I am very pleased to announce that volume 1.1 of Legacy is now officially available in print. Requiem collects the first half of season one stories, from The Catalyst right through to The Flames of Chambrook. That’s 188 pages of Doctor Who action!

Followers of this blog will be familiar with a few of the stories, as I’ve run them on here recently. However, as an incentive for buying the print edition, it includes two stories not published on this blog. First up we Greg Miller’s The Ugly Bug Ball, a story which originally saw ePublication in 2006, and secondly we have The Flames of Chambrook from the imagination of A. R. Montacruz. This story is an exclusive to Requiem – although originally written in 2006, it never got finished in time and has thus never been seen nor read by anyone other than the editors.

Requiem is being published by Frankallen Books, and distributed by Lulu. It costs £5.25; but for the first week only it’s going for £4.99! As a labour of love, the contributors do not make a penny from the publication of this book, and all royalties go directly to Cancer Research. So, in effect, not only are you buying a series of interesting stories, but you’re also helping those suffering from cancer.

Edited by Andy Frankham-Allen, Greg Miller and Elizabeth Medeiros, Requiem features stories by Andy Frankham-Allen, Christoph Lopez, Niall Turner, Greg Miller and A. R. Montacruz, with an exclusive foreword by Montacruz and a cover by Andrew Orton.

You can buy it directly from the Requiem page…

A small note; I shall be running more season one Legacy stories in the new year, as a lead in to volume 1.2…

Vampire Knight #1

Today I am proud to present the opening segment of my new, serialised, eBook, Vampire Knight. Although I have a general idea of where it is going, I’ve no definite plan in mind. Thus, in many ways, this is something of an experiment. A story that will develop week-by-week, chapter-by-chapter. I will, of course, be making notes along the way, so that the novel follows a logical path in terms of story.

So, please do join me on this journey, as we all see where the characters lead…

VAMPIRE KNIGHT - Prologue

September, 1883.

The heat was intense, a little too much so, if Liam O’Connor had anything to say about things. Not that he did, of course – Lord Lockhead made sure O’Connor knew his place, and offering opinions was not it.

He removed his necktie and ran his fingers along the inside of his stiff collar. Why he had agreed to go on this expedition was beyond him, but then he remembered with a sardonic smile. He had no choice. In this forest, so far from civilization, it was easy to pretend otherwise, but one glance at the man walking ahead of him was enough to remind him of his place. He was only a butler, and an Irish one at that. And it was a common fact that it was a hard job to get anywhere in London without the right breeding. Wasn’t a nice situation, but that’s how it was. O’Connor had come to accept that over the years, but he didn’t like it. Neither did he like this forest he was in now.

‘How much longer, Mr Lockhead?’ he asked.

Lord Oliver Lockhead III was his employer, although O’Connor knew that Lockhead still had the old master/servant mindset. Not a nice man, all told. Grumpy, and stern. Tall, with greying hair and a thick beard. Clothed in an expensive suit, Lockhead looked very out of place in the forest. O’Connor was sure he had heard Clark trying to convince Lockhead to change his clothes. Lockhead would have none of it.

That had been back in London, nearly two hours ago. Yet O’Connor could not escape the feeling that he walked the whole world to get to the forest.

Lockhead held up a hand and the group came to a halt. He glanced at each of them, then rested his gaze on O’Connor. ‘A little bit of patience and stamina is all that you require, young man.’ Always the superior tone. O’Connor hated it. Lockhead indicated the trees in front of them. ‘Besides, it is just beyond those trees there.’

‘How do you know that?’

Lockhead sniffed. ‘I have been here before. Now, be quiet and follow me.’

O’Connor stood his ground, and hefted the sword he was made to hold to a more comfortable position. Lockhead didn’t even blink, he just turned away. Obviously the conversation was over as far as he was concerned. None of the others seemed concerned by Lockhead’s knowledge of the layout of the forest. As they followed Lockhead, O’Connor stepped over to Clark, Lockhead’s most trusted advisor. Clark was a rather large man in stature, but his dress sense was much more sensible than that of Lockhead. Khaki safari clothes, with a hunter’s rifle in his hand.

‘How has he been here before?’

Clark glanced at O’Connor, his aged eyes looking puzzled, affronted that a butler should address him in such a casual manner. For a second Clark didn’t answer, then with a slight shrug, he said; ‘Don’t you ever listen, O’Connor? It was Lord Lockhead over there that first discovered the link.’

O’Connor paused and watched Lockhead progress towards the edge of the forest. ‘Oh.’

*

The little group came out into a rather large clearing. O’Connor was last, but came to a stop the quickest. The sight that greeted him was the last thing he had expected. From the things he had heard in London he had expected some sort of castle, full of monsters and demons. Not this.

It was a settlement of some sort. O’Connor had seen paintings of similar things. Old stone huts, now in ruins. Drinking fountains, and a lot of people. More than O’Connor would have thought for such a small dwelling. And they looked so normal. All adults, the youngest couldn’t have been any less than twenty years of age. They were dressed in simple clothes, no doubt what Lockhead would have described as rags. That wasn’t how O’Connor saw it, though. They had a simple elegance that was touching. People who were not obsessed with material things.

Except for three of them. These three stood out among the rags; older than the others and dressed in the elegant clothes favoured by the gentlemen of London Town. Complete with top hat and tails. They were very out of place.

Before O’Connor had the chance to observe any more he was dragged behind the remains of a stone wall by Clark. He looked over the very edge of the wall at the settlement, then glanced at Clark.

‘Are you sure about this? They don’t look like the ones.’

Clark shook his head. ‘I assure you that they are, O’Connor. There is little doubt of that.’

‘But look at them. Enjoying the company of each other. Going about their own business. They are nobody’s enemy.’

Lockhead let out a bitter laugh; it was soft, but full of such emotion. He looked across at O’Connor. ‘Ah, the inexperience of youth. Don’t let your eyes fool you, O’Connor. It is they.’

O’Connor shook his head, and pushed his way past Clark. It didn’t escape his attention that he was getting bolder since leaving London. ‘But, Lord Lockhead, look at them.’ He pointed over the wall. Lockhead refused to look. ‘They are no different than our own families in London.’

Lockhead pulled O’Connor down to his knees, turned and glared at him. ‘Pray, stop this now,’ he hissed. ‘Conscience will not help you stop these… these things. They may look like you, but I assure you, they most certainly are not!’

Clark did his best to motion O’Connor to stop, but, although he had noticed, O’Connor paid no attention. Instead he pursued his course. O’Connor needed to get to the bottom of this, because when he was first told about this he had heard stories about monsters. Responsible for countless deaths in London. But these people were not those monsters, they couldn’t be. It just didn’t add up.

‘But…’

That was as far as he got. No sooner had he started than he realised that he could not find the words to express himself. He was never good at these word battles, and now it was beginning to show. ‘But, this isn’t right,’ was the best he could manage.

*

The group were so immersed in their internal debate that none of them noticed as a young woman walked towards the broken wall behind which they were hiding. She held in her arm a basket of clothing, meaning to hang the clothes over the wall to dry.

*

Right! O’Connor, I do not think that right was on their minds when they killed all those people.’

‘But, sir,’ O’Connor protested, in spite of himself. He was mindful of his actions, and how by arguing with his employer in such an open way was certain to have serious consequences when they returned to London. But he could not stop himself. ‘They’re just people! No different than the homeless forced into the workhouses…’

*

One of the group, another servant, slightly older and more loyal than O’Connor, noticed the woman approaching. She was the picture of beauty. Radiant skin, long flowing blonde hair, and a very full figure. The servant only noticed these things for a brief second; his mind was filled with the sights he had seen in London. All the dead people. He glanced around the group, unsure what to do.

*

‘Your bleeding heart will not save these creatures, Mister O’Connor. Go to the families of all those that have been killed,’ Lockhead continued, ‘ask them if this is right!’

O’Connor looked down at the dusty ground. Although deep in his heart he knew this was all wrong, he couldn’t help but be humbled by the words of Lord Lockhead. Clark watched O’Connor’s reaction and shook his head, then turned to Lockhead. Nobody noticed the other servant ready his gun.

‘How do you suggest we proceed, Oliver?’

‘Pick them off one at a time perhaps. Although that will take a while. Perhaps it is better if we…’

The conversation was halted by a gun shot. Even O’Connor looked over at the other servant. But that look soon turned to outrage. These deaths were not needed. The man lowered his gun and looked at them. His eyes conveyed the fear, and O’Connor’s heart sank at the sight of it. They were committed now.

They looked at the woman lying beyond the wall. She had a bullet hole in the middle of her forehead. Further into the clearing a commotion had begun. People were looking at the dead woman in confusion, while two of the three in the gentlemen’s clothes began walking towards the woman. Even from this distance the anger on their faces was quite evident.

‘Brilliant!’ Lockhead shook his head. ‘What did you do that for?’

The servant wore a puzzled expression. He opened his mouth to speak, but very few words came out. O’Connor watched him intently; it was becoming very obvious that the man’s mind was breaking. Something had to be done.

‘I think we have gone past the point of no return. Look!’ Clark pointed at the woman. She was getting to her feet.

For a moment her eyes linked with O’Connor’s and he shuddered. Blinking, he looked away, certain that the sun was playing tricks on him. He could not have possibly seen what he thought he had seen. The woman looked back at her fellows and let out a high pitched scream. O’Connor slammed his hands over his ears and stumbled backwards.

‘Damnation take it!’ Clark yelled above the noise. ‘Now what?’

The noise ceased and Lockhead looked at his little group, then turned to Clark. ‘We attack, what else can we do?’ For a moment he sounded scared, but then he took a deep breath and continued in a steady voice. ‘Make sure there are no survivors. This is for the fallen of London.’

O’Connor swallowed hard and gave Lockhead a scathing look. Lockhead just smiled coldly. ‘Attack!’ he hissed, and turned, pulling his knife out of the pouch on his hip.

The group followed him and launched themselves at the people of the settlement. Guns began firing, the knives and swords started flashing.

O’Connor stood behind the wall and watched. He could not move even if he wanted to. ‘This is wrong,’ he whispered. ‘Where is the right?’

*

Bodies lay everywhere. Blood and insides littered the ground, in places they were joined by limbs, in other places bodies lay mostly in one piece. But all had one thing in common; the hearts had been removed, thrown on the dusty ground and stamped on.

Two members of Lockhead’s group lay dead, their heads having been decapitated by brute force. O’Connor still watched from behind the wall, emotions swimming across his face. Disgust, hate, anger… fear. His mouth was dry and he licked his lips.

‘There should have been another way…’ He looked across at Lockhead and their eyes met. Lockhead had the crazed look of a madman, hanging on the brink of insanity. O’Connor watched as Lockhead looked down at the corpse beneath, and with bloody hands reached into the chest.

Lockhead lifted the heart out of the corpse and looked down at it. ‘You stole my daughter’s soul, I claim it back.’ He lifted the heart above his head, and looked up at the sky beyond. ‘As the rays of the sun lighten and gild the blackest cloud, so the soul by entering the body of the universe gives it immortality; the abject it lifts up. Rest, my dear Juliet.’

He let the heart fall, and with a look of pure satisfaction, squashed it underfoot. Clark and the other servant joined him. Neither spoke, they just followed him over to the wall. O’Connor watched them approach, all three of them with their clothes covered in blood. Lockhead did not spare him a glance, just carried on past him towards the trees. Clark stopped next to O’Connor and placed a hand on his shoulder. The young man was trembling. Clark opened his mouth to speak, but Lockhead turned back to them.

‘By Christ’s wounds, leave him, Clark! He has no stomach for justice!’ He walked back over to O’Connor and Clark, the other servant remaining by the trees. O’Connor forced himself to look Lockhead in the eyes, but he couldn’t. The eyes were cold, and filled O’Connor with an intense sense of dread. ‘Be sure to note, Mister O’Connor, that upon our return to London, you would be well advised to seek new employment. Perhaps there is some poor micher out there who needs the services of one such as you. A boy who cannot entertain the notion of justice. The two of you would be well matched. A micher and a coward!’

O’Connor waited a few moments until Lockhead and his two faithful ones had entered the forest, before he started towards the trees himself. ‘Justice…’ he whispered, bitterness only too evident.

*

For a while nothing moved in the settlement. Then a figure stepped out of one of the broken huts. He stood; the gentlemen’s clothes caked in blood. He was on old man, but despite his obvious seventy plus years, his skin was radiant and his eyes were alive with a fire. The old man surveyed the corpses of his people, his features giving away no emotion.

All the breeders were dead. The last colony, the final hope for his species… Gone.

‘It cannot be allowed to end like this,’ he said, a new idea forming in his head. It would take a long time to come to fruition, but if he were careful then perhaps his people would live again.

The man took a deep breath and set off towards the trees.

Chapter One next Saturday, Nov 20th 2010.

Vampire Knight © 2010 by Andy Frankham-Allen,
Cover © 2010 by Andy Frankham-Allen, for Frankallen Books. 
All Rights Reserved

Writers’ Wednesday #4: Learning to Self-Promote

After the accidental lack of post last Wednesday, we’re back with a special guest blog by Sam Stone.

Sam Stone is the winner of the Silver Award for Best Horror Novel 2007 with Foreword Magazine and British Fantasy Society Award Nominee for Best Novel for ‘Futile Flame’, she has just had the third book in her Vampire Gene trilogy published by Murky Depths, and has several other projects on the horizon. She’s here today to talk about publicising your work, and offering a few helpful hints for both new and old writers on the dos and don’ts of social networking.

Learning to Self-Promote: A Writer’s Journey

This week I deleted my MySpace account. Myspace was my first dabble with social networking, and despite having over 12,000 views, I just didn’t think it worked for me anymore. Facebook has taken over as my preferred social network, but I also have GoodReads and my blog, and between them these seem to cover all the bases.   But why social networking? I’m a writer … and writers write. Indeed, lot of people think that when you’ve written a book, the hard part is over. To some extent that’s true, but these days a writer is almost obliged to promote the book that they’ve been slaving over. Your responsibility begins in earnest on completion, but really you need to start telling people before you finish. How to do that, of course, is the million dollar question. Promoting is hard. You have to be confident without appearing arrogant and getting the balance right between promotion and spamming can be difficult. I’m never sure if I have it quite right, so I always lean towards ‘less is more’ because I’ve seen so many people go completely over the top with it. However I do have a sort of formula which seems to work for me.

Some Social Networking Dos and Don’ts

What not to do …

  • One of my pet hates is people leaving adverts on my Facebook page. I never do that. I think it’s rude and disrespectful. Often I’ve had new people come onto my page and immediately post a link telling me all about their book and how wonderful they are without even saying ‘hello’. That is a big no-no.
  • Another faux pas is posting your website in every single comment you leave. Or even a full blown advert for your latest book. Okay! We get it: you’re a writer too – but please don’t do that because it won’t win you any friends or new readers – it will just annoy them.
  • Don’t harp on all the time about how wonderful you are.
  • Don’t stalk other people’s pages and then just talk about yourself all the time on them – engage in conversations, you might just enjoy yourself and make some real friends.
  • When sending out events – don’t keep resending the same one. If friends have refused once you won’t make them say they are attending by re-inviting, but you might encourage them to delete you for spamming.
  • Spam emails/private messages – OMG! You wouldn’t believe how many of these I get. Just this morning I received the same PM on Facebook three times! Don’t resort to it. It doesn’t work. Event invites are enough, if people don’t respond then leave them alone.
  • Never respond to a bad review on a public forum. You only make yourself look an idiot and people think you’re unprofessional. If you don’t like the review – suck it up. The reviewer is entitled to their opinion and you can’t please everyone so just get over yourself.
  • Never talk politics or religion – everyone has their own beliefs in this area and it won’t make you friends but is likely to lose you some.
  • Don’t be snide about other people online – even if their status is the most annoying self-obsessed bullshit you’ve ever seen. It doesn’t look good and only makes people think you’re unpleasant and bitchy.
  • Never review a friend’s books in public unless you have a lot of positive things to say about them. You should be objective and balanced in your argument if you plan to review anyway, but if you didn’t like their work – it’s always best to stay quiet about it.
  • On the same basis, never ask your friends what they think of your own work. You might get some vague platitudes, but equally you might find out what they really thought … If they liked it, then it’s up to them whether they post about it or not.

What works for me …

There’s no formula for perfect promotion but what I find works for me is just being myself with everyone. What you see is what you get. I also really enjoy interacting with people on Facebook … you could say I’m a little addicted J

  • Mix up status updates with a combination of personal things and work related things even on your official or fan page if you have one.
  • Be cheerful as often as possible, because, let’s face it, if you’re constantly feeling sorry for yourself then people will get fed up with it and stop listening. Also, when you do have a rant they are more likely to listen because you don’t do it all the time.
  • Respond to comments that your friends leave, even if you put a ‘like’ on it. Be interested in other people and what they are doing – it’s not all about you after all.
  • Respond to your friend’s updates and statuses if you expect them to engage in yours. Be supportive of other people and genuinely mean it.
  • Reply to private messages – even if they are from some guy in Turkey asking you to marry him. You can still be polite when you tell him to ‘get lost’.
  • Definitely advertise your achievements. There’s nothing wrong with telling your friends you’re up for awards or have been invited to attend a convention as a guest. That’s all good and positive and it helps to raise your profile with others. It shows that your work is valued in the wider community.
  • If you are up for awards that are voted on, then remind people – but don’t beg them to vote for you, it sounds desperate. If they want to support you then they will.
  • Pat other people on the back if they win and you don’t – it’s only an award and it’s not the end of the world. Be positive about being shortlisted – because hey – that’s a huge achievement anyway!
  • When sending out invitations to events it helps if you write a covering note. Mostly I apologise for sending just in case it is not wanted or they live too far away. It doesn’t hurt to be polite and aware that not everyone is interested.
  • Be positive and upbeat. That’s the biggest and most important of my rules.

Blog like crazy!

There’s also blogging. Mine is getting close to 9000 hits now overall and averages 6-700 hits a month. One thing you should do if you have a blog is keep an eye on your stats. I have a stats counter that analyses the hits. At the click of a button I can see the IP addresses of everyone who logs on and it shows me where they are from (it’s not full names and addresses, only areas or countries). It also reveals how they found the site – even showing you the Google pathway that led them to the page. This kind of information is useful to help you analyse your tagging process. Tagging is a great resource and helps people find you by accident. It helps if you think ‘out of the box’ when selecting tags for the main page – and always tag the individual blogs.

Other results that I look at are ‘returning visitors’. At the end of the day you could be doing something wrong if your website or blog is getting a very low return rate. If you are posting interesting blogs or the type of information that the reader wants to see then there should be good returns results.

There has to be a balance between attracting new readers and keeping old ones. I’m no expert on this of course, but I try to mix up the information as much as possible. Sometimes I blog on a film I’ve seen. At other times I write about the publishing industry, exploring things that I believe might interest aspiring writers. Then, of course, I post all of my news or latest events.

It’s important to keep the blog updated, whatever you decide to put on it. Just think about it. How many times have you gone onto your favourite writer’s website and found that it hasn’t changed in six months? Eventually you stop looking for that information, after all, what’s the point in returning if there’s nothing new to find? So it’s a good thing to bear in mind when maintaining your blog or website. I try to put something up every few days – and I’ve seen an increase in hits recently so hopefully it’s working.

Conventions

Promoting takes up a lot of your time. Once you’ve sorted out your social networking sites and blogs, and got them linked up so that posts to the blog also appear on Facebook or wherever, then you’ve got to get out there and meet people. That’s where conventions come in. This is where the real time and money goes.

In order to meet the right publishers and maybe even interest more readers you have to be seen. There are several horror and fantasy conventions that are good for promotion. My personal favourite is FantasyCon, but this isn’t always the best event for actually selling books; although I have seen a huge increase in sales there over the last three years which I hope is down to the fact that word is getting out about my work. If you’re a new writer, or self-published, then don’t expect to do well here on sales as there’s only 200-300 people attending each year. The event does attract, however, a good selection of publishers and agents, and is crammed with writers, poets and editors from the self-published, to indie-press to pro-press.

There is also EasterCon, which is a huge event. It has about 12-1300 people attending every year. It is an excellent event to get involved with. The EasterCon organisers are very open to new people being panellists. My first EasterCon I was given 6 panels over the course of the weekend. Panels are good things for writers. It’s an opportunity to talk intelligently in front of an audience. A good moderator will know who you are and will introduce you properly, explaining what you write or will give you the opportunity to do so yourself. It’s also a very good selling event. I’ve seen the most unlikely books sell at EasterCon and I think that is because there are more fans attending, whereas some of the smaller cons attract mostly writers, publishers and agents, who are less likely to actually buy your books. Also there is no snobbery at EasterCon. ALL writers can become involved at the mass signing events. So whether you are published by one of the majors or by a small independent press, you’ll be treated the same.

I’ve recently discovered Asylum –a steampunk convention which takes place in Lincoln. I was invited as a guest this year only to learn that the event attracts over 800 people. The organisation was fabulous and I was treated wonderfully. I’m pleased to have been invited back next year and I’m hoping to get more involved in the panels. This isn’t necessarily the place you’d go to if you want to meet publishers and agents – but it’s a great selling event and is full of potential readers. It’s also growing in size and has become the second biggest UK convention in just two years. It may even take that crown from EasterCon next year.

Smaller more intimate events are NewCon (a whole weekend held every two years) and Alt-Fiction which usually only runs for a day. There are more but I will be honest and say I haven’t attended them.

Outside of the UK –  I also attend the annual Gallifrey convention in LA. My partner, the Doctor Who historian and writer, and director of Telos Publishing, David J Howe, and I are invited as guests and guest status makes all of the difference. We are extremely well treated by the organisers and attendees and sales are incredible. There are also great panel opportunities, and a very diverse selection of attending guests, not only from Doctor Who but from film and literature also.

We diversified this year and I also attended the Bram Stoker Film Festival in Whitby. Footfall was less than I expected throughout the day, but I did sell some books and also met some great people. What was interesting in this situation was that there were film producers there because they were showing their latest movies. So, there may well be some opportunities that will come from attending this event.

That’s where the time and money element of promotion comes in. Attending conventions is expensive and while you’re away from home you aren’t writing – but if you’re smart, you will be working, smiling at people, chatting, and hoping that they remember your name enough to Google you later on and maybe buy a book to find out what you do.

Promotion is important, and you have to keep plugging away at it … but just remember, not too much!

Text © 2010 Sam Stone
Author Photograph © 2010 Sam Stone
Covers © 2010 Murky Depths, All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Awakening the Critic

Paris Immortal: Awakenings by S. Roit; a review.

This is the second in a series, but for a little bit of context let me refer you to my short review for the first book, which I read around April this year.

“Recommended to me by my niece, knowing full well I’d love it. She was right. At first the prose style took a bit of getting used to, as well as the rather random-at-times scene breaks, but once beyond that… A lovely and sensual story of love, and vampires. There’s much going on in this book that is not immediately obvious, loads of undercurrents which become more and more clear as the book nears its end. The leads are all incredibly well written; sensual and sexual without being in your face. Michel and Gabriel’s relationship is always fascinating, as we are shown a piece at a time the complexity of their relationship. PK is almost as much of a mystery by story’s end as she is right at the start. And Geoff. Bless him, he has got to be simply the cutest character I’ve read about in a long long time. Roit does such a wonderful job with her choice descriptions that you honestly feel as if you’re watching everything along with Trey, the narrator. Curiously, I found Trey the least interesting of the leads, although along the way there are plenty of moments where you’re left tantalised by his past. There is still plenty more to uncover in these new tales of vampires, and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on the second book.”

So enamoured by the first book was I, and having become cyber-buddies with the author since reading that first book, I not only bought the second but also the third. It took me a little longer to read Awakenings than I would have liked, mostly because there is much in this book that frustrates me. But first, let me set the good stuff on the table.

The book starts off well, straight into the hornet’s nest with Michel confronting Vicont – he who sent the vampires after Trey in the first book. There’s a nice bit of tension, and we are flung straight into Michel’s complex point of view, and thrown plenty of hints of the deeper mystery surrounding his relationship to Vicont. From there we return to Trey, and are soon into tiresome territory – but more on that shortly. The story surrounding Vicont is a very interesting one, and well layered throughout the book. It nicely plays into the other main plot thread, that of Trey’s uncovering of his past, a past that is intricately linked with that of Gabriel. Both have fantastic resolutions, and although the truth behind Vicont was not unexpected at all, Gabriel’s solution to his interest in Trey and Michel was such a clever thing that I honestly did not see it coming. Wonderfully twisted, and it will no doubt have some serious ramifications in next few books. Alas, I also saw Gabriel’s connection to Trey’s past a mile off, too, but still it’s a good a one and will definitely add further depth to the already deeply layered characters.

It’s a curious thing, but the greatest strengths of this book are also its biggest weaknesses. And that’s the characters. They are, as I’ve already said, deeply layered and always interesting. Each follow their own logic, and have their own motivations for what they do. But the downside is they’re all so in love with each other, always understanding of the next person’s foibles, and constantly forgiving. As a reader it becomes extremely cloying to read after about fifty pages. The result? A very slow read indeed. How can you develop real conflict among your core characters if they’re constantly expressing their love and forgiveness? Even when Trey, who’s possibly the most emotional and weakest characters I’ve ever encountered, finally gets a back bone and strikes out on his own, the consequences carry so little weight both on the emotional and physical level. The former doesn’t really matter since we all know he’s going to be full of self recriminations, and will be forgiven everything anyway. No conflict there. In the latter case, it doesn’t matter the physical danger he puts himself in because Gabriel and Michel have been set up as such powerful vampires that we know without doubt that Vicont and his rabble have no chance at all. It’s very hard to get involved in this kind of ‘drama’; even the ‘how’ becomes a watered down experience as a result. While on the subject of the characters, I’ve noticed two things; one, Geoff, who I loved in the first book, has become the most ineffectual character of the entire ensemble. He does nothing useful at all, merely trails around like some weak puppy (I’m secretly hoping he’ll be the first real casualty – god knows we need one soon – because that will at least cause some tangible emotional fallout for Trey that I, as a reader, can relate to properly); two, it’s very clear that a woman is writing this book since the male characters are far too sensitive to each other, and way too emotional, to be truly believable. Not to say such men do not exist in the world, but the majority of men are not so… well, girly. 😉

Nonetheless, all that said, I did mostly enjoy the book. The final two chapters did boar me, though, with their focus on more of Trey’s self recriminations (like we haven’t had enough of that), and more expressions of love. And the epilogue… Sorry, as much as I’ve come to respect Sherry as a person, I completely hated the coincidental nature of the epilogue. It was just one too many. You can surround it in as much talk of destiny as you like, but the fact that a certain character just so happened to turn up in Paris at exactly the time Trey finally decided to look for them smacked of lazy writing. It would have been a bigger strength had we followed Trey’s search in more detail in the next book.

So, I shall get to book three in the Paris Immortal series soon, but I’m not rushing to it just yet. In terms of story, when it became the focus of the book, it’s an improvement on book one, but in terms of character… although still very interesting, there’s only so much love and understanding a drama can take before it suffers.

Text © 2010 Andy Frankham-Allen,
Cover © 2008 Snow Books, All Rights Reserved