YAFB! – Yet Another Free Book

Free BookGood morning freebie fans.

Just a quick post to let you know about another freebie. You might have missed Time Trial last week, but don’t worry because my first short story Christmas Past, is free today!

Here are the details.

Christmas Past Book CoverChristmas Past – Amazon.com /Amazon.co.uk

The Time Travel story with a dark side.

A man died while the snow fell. His body would be hidden until summer, but there are strangers in the woods today. During a long forgotten Christmas, three time travellers come to town; is their presence just a coincidence or are there darker secrets hidden beneath the ice.

 

Red Dwarf X: Entangled – Review

Red Dwarf Crew It’s hard to believe it’s already a month since Red Dwarf returned to our screens. Red Dwarf X is proving to be enjoyable, occasionally disappointing, but generally a worthwhile successor to the show of years gone by. Now we have Entangled, an episode that seems to sum up both the good and bad in a half hour of comedy that feels true to its roots, but never really becomes very funny.

The premise of Entangled is actually pretty good. Lister takes Starbug out to meet some local lifeforms called BEGGs and gets caught up in a game of poker. Unfortunately luck is not on his side and he loses Starbug and, in an attempt to win it back, Rimmer. This is a classic setup that gives the show some of its best moments. The crew attempt to bargain with the BEGGs but things don’t exactly work out. At the same time, Kryten and Cat are suffering from an outbreak of synchronicity, in which they both encounter extraordinary coincidences. This is funny at first but becomes less so as the episode continues until it becomes as much of an annoyance to the audience as the characters themselves.

However, Entangled starts to fall down pretty rapidly from a good opening. In an attempt to remove a device from Lister’s groin intended to do something nasty if he attempts to run away without paying his debts, the crew visit a ground breaking research facility and we reach one plot too many for a half hour show. Almost everything after this point is a waste of time and the episode never really catches up with its promising beginning. It feels a lot like the writers didn’t know where to go with the poker game plot and abandoned it halfway through. It’s a shame, because whatever was likely to have developed from there was bound to be a lot more interesting than the rushed mess that followed. I don’t want to be too down on the show. We’re certainly not in Lemons territory again, but I can’t shake the feeling that the writers were expecting a 45 minute runtime.

For long term fans, part of the annoyance of Entangled is probably going to be the most egregious use of plot recycling so far. For a start, the poker game plot is ripped right out of Emohawk. This wouldn’t be too bad except it’s really not as good as Emohawk. The BEGGs are not that different from the GELF tribe and it would probably work better if they’d just used them again. Worse still is the repackaging of the Luck Virus from series 5 in Kryten and Cat’s coincidence generating quantum entangling. The writers were clearly aiming to hit the same sort of beats, but when the coincidences start solving problems in a way that is poorly explained and (once again) seems to be pulled out of thin air, I must admit that I started to lose a little patience.

Entangled isn’t bad. It’s well written and still feels true to the characters and spirit of the show, but it feels sort of lazy. It’s not just the rehashing of old ideas that hurts it, but the general lack of effort gone into pacing and plot structure. The show has always been a sitcom and the jokes absolutely have to come before the clever sci-fi concepts, but there also needs to be a strong, clear skeleton to build those jokes around. All too quickly Entangled forgets its narrative thread in favour of an ever more ridiculous series of events that become less and less funny as the show goes on and it’s a real shame because each element would probably be interesting AND funny if it weren’t crammed into 30 minutes along with its brethren.

Entangled isn’t the worst episode of Red Dwarf X, but it’s probably the most disappointing because it could, and should, be so much better than it is.

Free Book on the Kindle Store Today

time trial book coverOMG FREE BOOK!

Good morning all.

As promised, Time Trial is free today on the kindle store. It’s only going to be free until tomorrow, so grab it when you can.

Harbour is the nicest place to live in the known universe. Unless you’re a time traveller. 

It has been weeks since Annie left Earth and all she wants to do is go home, but first she and her friends must stand trial.

Unfortunately, they are all guilty. 

Time Trial – Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

In Other News

As we get to the end of October, we approach a very exciting time for the aspiring novelists of the Internet. NaNoWriMo is here again, and as I decided after much musing, I will be going for it this year. It’s always a great event and I’m looking forward to it, but it’s forced a bit of a squishing into my schedule. With that in mind, I thought I’d give you all a bit of an update.

Hybrid is being bumped until after Christmas time. I know I’ve been promising the next Timewasters story for a couple of months now, but there are good reasons. Firstly, I don’t want to be worrying about sorting out any problems with publishing and promoting during NaNoWriMo, it’ll be much smooth to wait until afterwards. Secondly, it’s not that long since Time Trial was released and I want to really look at the story before publishing. I feel like it’s pretty much finished, and I’m happy with it, but I’ve written two in succession pretty quickly now and I’d like to step back and get a bit of perspective on it.

So, by the end of 2012 there will be three Timewasters stories on sale. In 2013 this should continue, I will also be publishing a Novella around March-April. As for my NaNoWriMo novel… we’ll have to see how it turns out.

Thanks for reading, enjoy the story. 

Free Book Coming Soon, Excelsior!

Free BookThis is just a quick post to let you know if advance that one of my short stories, Time Trial, will be free this Thursday on the Kindle store.

Time Trial is the second story in my Timewasters series but can be enjoyed without reading the first. It’s a science fiction short about a group of time travellers who find themselves on a planet where time travel is illegal.

I hope you enjoy it.

Red Dwarf X: Lemons – Review

Kryten, Rimmer and the Cat in LemonsThis review contains big spoilers. 

Lemons is, I am sad to say, everything I expected Red Dwarf X to be, and everything the first two episodes weren’t. Lemons is a cartoony, clumsy episode that evokes the worst moments of the Back to Earth specials and reeks of trying to be far too clever. Worst of all, Lemons subscribes to that “and after that” school of writing that seems to be ruining all the best shows these days.

Let me sum this up for you.

Lemons opens with the crew discovering a flat pack “rejuvenation shower” that makes the occupant young and healthy, they make some jokes about flat pack furniture while doing a poor job assembling it. The shower sends them back in time to 23 AD by mistake, where they discover they don’t have the means to return. Their only option is to travel to India to find lemons so they can make a battery. And after that they meet Jesus, and after that they take him back to the ship, and after that they perform surgery on Jesus, and after that Jesus gets disillusioned about his future as the messiah and travels back to 23 AD. The first half plays out reasonably naturally, but the second half isn’t a tidy flow of events. Instead one tired development turns up after the other, with little thought as to how, or why, the episode is progressing.

This episode just does not work. The initial gag about a flat pack sci-fi gadget is naff. This kind of 90s observational humour doesn’t suit the show, and the gags have all been done to death. On top of that, the basic premise is so poor. Kryten tells the crew that the rejuvenation shower rewinds your genes, but he says nothing about it sending your genes back in time. Perhaps I’m being nitpicky, but even if you’re happy to accept that the machine has gone wrong and is sending people back in time, why Britain in 23AD? I’m not questioning the scientific accuracy so much as the pulled-out-of-our-bottoms quality it all has. It’s an awkward and unfunny opening that doesn’t feel like cause and effect. The shower feels very much like a late addition, any bad gag gadget that could send the crew to 23AD would do.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except the plot that follows isn’t worth the effort. It looks promising when they’re talking about potatoes, lemons and batteries. We are led to think this is where the episode is going, a gag filled romp through the past while they attempt to find a way home, but this is soon forgotten with the introduction of Jesus. From here on it all gets coincidental and stale. Sure, they’re in about the right time period for Jesus, but why is he in India? They say that it’s during the missing years in the Bible when Jesus travelled, but it makes no sense. The sets don’t look much more like India than the middle east, the only reason seems to be the location of the lemons. Sure, the show goes to great lengths to convince you that it’s possible Jesus would be in India at the age of 23, around the same time as lemons, but it all seems so pointless. Why is it set in India? Couldn’t Kryten think of a fruit you could make a battery from that’s native to Jerusalem?

From there it just gets worse. They take Jesus back to the ship and he reads about all the wars Christianity has caused, but it never really goes anywhere and none of the gags are worth the very lengthy setups we’ve had to endure over the course of the show. Couple this with the absolutely feeble pokes at Christianity that could only entertain a very militant atheist. I watched this episode with my partner who was raised an evangelical Christian and is now a happy non-believer. Her response was that it all felt too easy, and wasn’t particularly funny.

Lister shaving in Future EchoesRed Dwarf can be a very funny show. When it’s at its best, it takes a science fiction concept that isn’t funny in itself, and then explores all the humour possible in the situation. This has been a trend from the very early episodes. Take Future Echoes in which the crew witness small snippets of the future that can never be changed. This isn’t a naturally hilarious concept, but the episode is one of the best. Watching Lister trying to stop the cat from breaking his tooth to prove that he can avoid his own death has the comedy and depth that sets the show apart. Most of the very best episodes follow this formula: Backwards, Justice, Back to Reality. Even last week’s Fathers and Suns, takes two basic premises, being your own father and a computer that can predict your behaviour, and then explores the humour in them. In years to come Fathers and Suns will probably be remembered as the standout episode in Red Dwarf X

Lemons isn’t like those great episodes of Red Dwarf. It doesn’t establish a scenario and then try to find the humour in it, it flits from routine to routine, desperately trying to create humour. When you couple this with Ikea jokes and bad religious satire, the effect is just embarrassing  Three episodes in to a series that is already on pretty shaky footing, it’s not what the show needs. What doesn’t help is that the episode has clearly been hacked to pieces in the edit. I don’t know how much longer the original must have been, but there are clear gaps. At one point Rimmer remarks that they need a battery, it is delivered like a joke and the cast even seem to leave a gap for the audience laughter, but we have no frame of reference. Lister discards are battery as unimportant earlier in the episode, but it’s a throwaway line in the middle of a list and isn’t described in the same detail. We’re clearly getting half a joke, and it’s not the only time this happens.

Lemons suffers in the same way the first episodes did. The actors don’t have as strong delivery as they used to, the setups are a little more cartoony than they used to be and the characters all seem a little dumber. There’s a real BBC Three feel that doesn’t help the show much, and everyone, from the cast to costume and set designers, seem to be producing a parody of Red Dwarf rather than the genuine article. However, this has been balanced out by some of the best story outlines in years, some very funny jokes and a real sense that the show is trying its best. Lemons has none of this balance, it just feels rushed, cheap and stupid. Many of the cast and crew have come out and sold this episode as their favourite, if that’s the case then I dread to see what’s yet to come.

Mitt Romney’s Leaked State of the Union practice speech.

Mitt Romney Looking Smug

Did anyone else see the leaked vid of Mitt Romney practising his State of the Union address? It’ll be tricky for Obama to win the election as an incumbent president with the economy so bad, so Romney’s wise to take the idea of a win seriously at this stage.

Powerful stuff.

Writing and You: A Field Guide – Before the First Draft

I feel obliged to open this post with a small disclaimer. 

I have resisted blogging about the writing process here. This was partly because I wanted to let the site take shape a bit before I started on any running projects, but mostly because I was concerned about looking presumptuous. Stephen King published his first novel in 1974, he published his exploration of the writing process 26 years later. And I am not Stephen King. I don’t want to sell myself as a more talented, more accomplished writer than I actually am, and so this series of posts will not be an expert’s masterclass. Instead, I’d just like to talk casually about where I am and what I’ve learned in a way that might help others. 

Before the First Draft.

I have never been much of a planner. For a long time I assumed fiction was written in the same way it was read; the writer begun with the first sentence and then worked their way to the last until the book was done. The world is full of people who begin stories but don’t finish them; I’m sure that half completed novels outnumber the completed by a hundred to one because people don’t plan. The problem with writing on the fly is that it’s too easy to write yourself into an awkward corner. Your story might take an unexpected twist that you just can’t reverse out of. Even worse, you might pace things wrong and arrive at your conclusion far too early. It’s not impossible, but it usually makes a sloppy first draft and leaves a lot more to be ironed out later.

Part of the problem is that we begin writing with only half formed concepts. You see writers who can talk for hours when asked “what is your book about?” Unfortunately, they seem to clam up when you ask them “what happens?” Often our ideas will come in the sort of spoiler free blurbs you’ll see in the Radio Times, high concept summaries that don’t really constitute a narrative. Take Jurassic Park as an example. (I will assume you’ve seen it. If you’re worried about spoilers, tough. You’ve had twenty years to seem the film.) Everyone knows what Jurassic Park is about.  If you ask people, you’ll probably get an answer like “There’s a theme park with cloned dinosaurs, then they escape and try to eat people.” That’s a pretty good blurb, it tells you what the film is going to be about without giving away plot details. In other words, that’s a summary for an audience, not for a writer. It tells you nothing about the narrative thread that travels from two palaeontologists being recruited to inspect that island and the circumstances that lead to them evacuating in a helicopter at the end.

To use an example from my own work, the initial premise of my story Time Trial was “time travellers arrive in a place where time travel is illegal.” This premise was enough to get the ball rolling, but to write the story I needed a much more developed idea of who the protagonists were and what would happen to them by the end of the story. (I’m not going to spoil this one as it has a much smaller audience than Jurassic Park.)

I am still not much of a planner. I don’t have the patience to sit and plan a novel in minute detail. Even if I did, I find the results to be sterile and lacking in tension. However, I’ve seen enough good ideas get written, seat of the pants style, into a disappointing stagnation that I’ve learned to do a bit of basic idea development before putting pen to paper. This doesn’t involve much, just making sure I have a basic idea of beginning, middle and end. Most of the time, things will change as they go, but having that vague outline to hold onto keeps the work ticking along nicely and makes the results much smoother.

Red Dwarf X: Fathers And Suns – Review

Crew of the Red DwarfLast week in my review of Trojan, the first episode of Red Dwarf X, that the series opener felt true to the series roots, but did not feel particularly ambitious. The second episode in the series, Fathers and Suns, keeps the authentic Red Dwarf feeling but couples it with a much tighter, riskier plot. It’s a gamble that really works.

The episode is a little busy, with three running plots that don’t come together until the end. The main thread of the episode deals with Lister’s parenting skills. Back in series 7 we learn that Lister is, through a quirk of time travel, his own father. It wasn’t a particularly good episode at the time, coming during an awkward phase for the series, and so the humour wasn’t really explored in full. In Fathers and Suns, we see Lister reacting to the realisation that he hasn’t been the best dad to himself.

At the same time, Kryten and Rimmer attempt to make up for Holly’s loss by installing a new ship computer. Once she is up and running, Pree gets straight to work by predicting her orders before they’ve been given. She does this by syncing her behaviour patterns to the senior officer onboard, Rimmer. This is a great set up that ranks among the show’s best, though it does feel a little drawn from earlier episodes like Queeg and Cassandra. Still, the final episode is very original and great fun.

Finally, there is a running plot about Chinese Whispers that I won’t spoil here, but really ties the whole episode together very nicely.

The jokes find their mark more often this week too. Though, the biggest laughs still come from only a couple of very well written sequences. The highlight of Fathers and Suns is a brilliant sequence in which Lister attempts to give himself some fatherly advice, but just about all of Pree’s dialogue is good for a chuckle.

All in all, this is a very fine episode of Red Dwarf. The new series still feels a little awkward in places. The delivery could be tighter and a few of the longer jokes feel like they’re forced to run for a few punchlines past their best, but on average it’s 30 pretty solid minutes. The script is a lot tighter than last weeks, and the plot never feels rushed or choppy. Instead we have three different scenarios that play out almost independently, with each being thoroughly mined for the best jokes, before they all reunite for a very nice climax at the end. Minor quibbles aside, this episode really feels like it could stand alongside some of the best of the past and if the series keeps up this pace then it will probably be the best since Series 6 when Rob Grant left the show.

A few thoughts on ideas.

Idea Light BulbsSo, I’m reading Amanda Hocking’s blog and I come across this really great post called Ideas vs. Things which you should all go read. Now, Amanda is one of my absolute favourite people. I really respect someone who is doing so well in the world, doing what they love and without stepping on anyone else to do it. I don’t keep up with her blog as much as I should because I’m terrible at keeping up with anybody’s blog for any length of time, but I never fail to find her charming, hilarious and so brilliantly normal.

Anyways, this particular post is all about (you guessed it) Ideas vs Things, and how in the past she made the mistake of sharing her undeveloped ideas a little too early. If those undeveloped ideas never came to anything, that would lead to disappointments and so she’s had to become more careful about what she announces.

It’s a great little post and it got me thinking about the undeveloped ideas that we leave behind. You see, I have never been a note keeper. I don’t sleep with a notebook by the bed and the amount of times I’ve told myself that I’ll remember an idea later and failed is enormous. But I still hold on to a lot of ideas that come and go over the years. For NaNoWriMo I’m going to write a novel that I’ve been thinking of for about three years now, my Timewasters stories were kicking about the back of my brain for months before I finally sat down and wrote one. Ideas aren’t always perfect starting points, sometimes they’re like seeds that need to be planted in the soil and forgotten about for a bit. The best ones will germinate and then you can tend to them.

Over the years I might have forgotten some really good ideas; I don’t know, I can’t remember. But there are plenty of ideas that nibble away at me when I’m working, the projects that I know some day I’ll sit down with a really hammer out until they go some where. If Amanda Hocking’s weakness is in announcing them too early, my problem seems to be in committing to them before they’re ready. I like my work so far, and I intend to continue it, but I will often embark on a writing project only to find that it’s not nearly so complete as I thought and that I’d much rather be working on something simpler.

I can’t say I have many wasted ideas though. I don’t spend much time daydreaming on future books, instead I prefer to build an idea when I begin a project. I don’t really suffer from writers’ block. I don’t believe in the muse, and I don’t see one’s ability to write as being ethereal or based on whim. I prefer to take a pragmatic approach to writing, laying out the story I want to tell and the way I want to tell it, and then get to work. That is not to say that I don’t believe in the spark of character that makes the best writing come alive.  I certainly wouldn’t claim to possess it, but I know that my best, most creative work comes, not while I’m developing the plot, but when I’m mid-sentence with my fingers hammering the keys and there’s 500 words to write in five minutes. What little gems of literature I do produce are small and dirty, but can be shined up later in revision.

The problem with ideas is that they are fluid things. Everyone creates them differently, and the circumstances of their creation can radically change their power. Worst of all, they seem so much more valuable when they are fresh. You want to share them with the world right then because you see them at their best, in all their potential and they seem so easy to bring into the world. Unfortunately, it never quite pans out like that.

 

NaNoWriMo: Is it too early to start planning?

Ideas and Genres for Novels

I will be doing NaNoWriMo again this year. I wasn’t sure, but in the end I considered the pros and cons and decided that the good it would do me would outweigh the bad from putting a few small projects on hold. I have been encouraged along by having an idea for this year’s novel that I really like. It’s a bit of a tricky one, and so I’ve been spending a bit of time hammering out an outline and seeing how it would work. This got me thinking, can you start planning your NaNoWriMo novel too early?

Common sense would suggest that this is ridiculous, after all you can never have too much preparation, right? The more time you give yourself, the better your final work will be, but I’m not so sure. Y’see, the more time I spent working on my plan, the more enthusiasm I got for the characters and setting I was developing. I had that little tickling urge to go and write it straight away. NaNoWriMo rules say I can plan in advance, but starting to right it ahead of time is a no-no. So, I’m in a tricky situation where my enthusiasm for my novel is at that all time high that comes just before starting a project and yet I’ve got to wait over two weeks before I can actually spend writing it.

This isn’t all bad. My idea takes a little research, and I wouldn’t want to start writing it immediately anyway. I made the mistake last year of starting out with nothing but a basic idea for a story. I ended up 30,000 words in, writing about jobs and places I didn’t understand and completely wrapped up in it. This time I’m writing a little closer to home, but the story needs to be grounded and believable to work, so I do want to get it right in my head before I start. I’m just concerned that November will roll around and I won’t be interested in the book any more.

I think when you find yourself in a situation like this, the best approach is to go into damage control. I’ll spend the next fortnight doing my research, trying to to get too far ahead of myself with planning the novel and remembering what I like about the idea. I’m also going to try and squeeze in reading a book related to my idea before the end of the month. Hopefully this will keep the ideas fresh in my mind without letting me get bored with it. On the first of November I’ll need to be chomping at the bit to get this written.

So, fellow November Novelists, have you started planning yet?