The Nemesis Gene – New Cover

Here’s the latest version of the cover for my new novel in the Nemesis series.

What are the most important elements of a book cover? The design should be eye-catching, even arresting if possible. For my books, mostly published as e-books, the title has to be large and loud. Amazon and other online booksellers will need to display it in thumbprint size.

Then the cover should make an attempt to show the type of book it is. These are the usual cliches:

  • for romance – lovers, or men with six packs
  • for fantasy – medieval soldiers, helmets, swords
  • for detective fiction – main character set against a bleak city or country scene

One glance at a book cover with these images will immediately establish the genre, which is no bad thing.

I’ve chosen a castle to illustrate a pseudo-medieval time-frame, a font often associated with fantasy novels, Cinzel Decorative, for the word Nemesis, and I’ve included sorcerey in the tag line, which hopefully opens up a whole world of intriguing possibilities for fantasy readers.

The Nemesis Gene Cover

Adventures With Wattpad

I’ve been experimenting with Wattpad for some time, uploading my new novel The Nemesis Gene, chapter by chapter. Of course it’s first draft only as I’m writing and publishing on the fly. There are sure to be changes further down the track, but one of the nice things about Wattpad is that authors can get feedback, ask for help if needed, and even ask for suggestions for plot direction or character development. This free platform really takes advantage of the community learning spirit of the web and writers no longer need to work in total isolation.

Wattpad is an adventure for me. It’s nice to see my words published as I write, and also get satisfying comments from readers. The big challenge in today’s writing world is to get readers full stop, but here there are readers aplenty – 30,000,000 subscribers at the last count and about a third of those are fellow writers. We are definitely not alone.

There are some nice features. The image above sits at the top of my latest chapter, adding a little mood and context. Authors also have the option to cast actors in their character roles. That’s fun! I haven’t yet decided which actors would play the parts in my story, but I’m working on it.

Because the stories (novels, short stories, poetry) are free for anyone to read, Wattpad is a great resource for communities without libraries, or those who can’t afford to pay even 99c per download.

Margaret Attwood told this story to the Guardian:

Allen Lau, the co-founder of Wattpad, remembers getting a letter from an old man in a village in Africa. The village had no school, no library, no landline, and no books. But it had a mobile phone, and on that they could read and share the Wattpad stories. He was writing to say thank you.

She’s also a big fan of Wattpad. Read the rest of her Guardian interview. It’s enlightening.

image credit:alpha coders

The Nemesis Gene – New Excerpt

This is a scene from Chapter 16 of The Nemesis Gene. The whole chapter’s currently published on Wattpad.

Ludo was awake. The monks at the seminary had brought him back from the brink of the after world, but he was still too weak to leave his bed. The room was light and airy with the shutters thrown open to the morning sunshine. Jerrod sat on the side of the cot, being careful not to jar the master’s wounds. The master was weak and gaunt, but his eyes gleamed.  ‘They told me of your day at the Temple. The mission was successful. At least so far.’

‘There is more?’

Ludo scratched the slight stubble on his chin. ‘I’m afraid so. Yes.’

Jerrod waited. How much of this mission was predetermined and how much left to chance was something of a mystery. Perhaps he was about to find out.

‘You have memorised the spell?’

‘Yes.’ But not intentionally. The words still lodged in his memory like an old nursery rhyme.

‘Good. Then you must destroy the parchment, if you haven’t already. The spell is yours alone.’

Jerrod sat back. ‘What am I to do with it? It was for the benefit of the council, or so I believed.’

Ludo winced, at a sudden pain, or at his pupil’s dim lights? ‘I don’t have the strength now to deliver a lecture on the custody of spells. Suffice it to say that once a particular form of sorcery has been fashioned and passed on it is then owned by the practitioner.’

‘So … again … what am I to do with it?’

‘That’s not for me to say. It will become apparent—when the time is right.’

Jerrod digested this information. The glimpse of that other world was still fresh in his mind; the white light, the sounds, the feel of powdery snow on his face. He had tried to convince himself that he had produced an illusion for the benefit of an audience, like a cheap fair-ground magician, but he knew in his heart it had been real enough. Could he go there again? Ludo’s next statement brought him back to the present with a start.

‘Leave here. It’s not safe. Take Lady Ellin.’

‘Take her where? Where could we go?’ Inexplicably, his heart began to pound.

‘Head north, towards the Crystal Peak. The magic is strongest in the mountains.’

Jerrod stared. ‘Why there? It’s a hard journey. She’s not strong.’

‘As to that, I think she’s stronger than you know.’

But the hard terrain was not the only danger. ‘As soon as we leave Aldred will have word of it.’

‘Even so. You must both leave soon. There are others who will help you.’

‘She might refuse to go.’ It was a slim hope, but he clutched at it. Setting out alone with Lady Ellin to cross the Crystal Peak was a prospect more daunting than anything he had met so far on this bizarre journey.

‘I doubt it,’ Ludo said. ‘But in the event, you must convince her.’

The master was tired then, but he managed a few words of encouragement before sinking into a doze. Jerrod went to his room in the seminary and found the parchment lying where he had carelessly dropped it on top of a pile of dirty linen. In the seminary guest hall he tore it into tiny pieces and fed it to the flames in the central fire place. Now the magic would be his alone, and with him always, unless he either lost his memory, or lost his head. The latter seemed by far the more likely possibility at the moment.

The next day was overcast with a punishing wind once again tearing at cloaks and head scarves. From the Temple forecourt he looked out towards the distant mountains. Crystal Peak was partly lost to the clouds, but there was enough of it visible to make him sicken at the prospect of scaling those icy slopes. He was no mountain goat. The estate at Denyston was almost flat, with only slight undulations of the land across the wheat fields. The Three Crones were the closest he had come to any kind of challenging topography. He flinched at the thought. That was where all this had begun, he was sure of it.

He was about to enter the Temple arches when a hand plucked at his sleeve. He turned sharply, expecting a challenge, but it was only Brother Lorens. ‘Brother Jerrod,’ he said. ‘Your pardon. I have news.’ They walked away from the stream of pilgrims and took shelter behind a wide column. ‘Lord Aldred—he and his men have left Lanminster. Did you know?’

‘No! When?’

‘Early this morn. I was out walking. I always rise with the dawn. I heard the ring of horse hooves on the cobbles not far from my lodging. It was them alright. The whole company, with Lord Aldred behind the standard bearer. They were in a hurry. Nearly ran over a baker’s boy.’

The news was welcome, but almost incredible. Why has he left now?

‘He’s surely not riding out after Eadric. Not with his whole company.’

‘No. Eadric’s no great prize, whatever he’s guilty of. There are rumours.’ Lorens looked quickly aside to check they were not overheard.  ‘Castle Dauria is under siege.’

image credit: Alpha Coders

Book Roundup – The Buried Giant

Is Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant a fantasy novel? Well … there be dragons.

There’s a rather belated review of The Buried Giant on the Guardian’s Australian site. When the book was first published Ishiguro drew considerable ire by seemingly denying the fact that he had written a fantasy novel. The controversy was over the inference that the author either did not want to be seen as a fantasy writer, or did not think the fantasy genre worthy of his considerable talent. Be that as it may, the book certainly has all the elements of fantasy.

BuriedgiantIt’s the story of an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, who go searching for their lost son across a weird landscape. The journey brings them into contact with various characters, including an aging knight, to finally confront the dragon, Querig, who is responsible for the peculiar amnesia that appears to affect everyone in this strange, medieval-style world.


Here’s an excerpt from the review by Anthony Cummins:

More intriguing even than the choice of story is the way it’s told: what is Ishiguro up to? The bulk of the text consists of formal dialogue, stiff almost to the point of comedy; there are weirdly icy fight scenes itemising stance and weapon grip; and there’s a narcotised narrator with one foot in the past he’s describing and the other in a hard-to-locate present we’re meant to share: “Once inside it, you would not have thought this longhouse different from the sort of rustic canteen many of you will have experienced in one institution or another.”

When I read the book I was tempted to abandon it after struggling through the first 50 or so pages, but I persevered and was glad I did. The Guardian reviewer concludes:

I most felt the novel’s emotional clout in its portrait of a marriage with hints of past wrongdoing, forgotten in the fog or as a matter of convenience

Yes, if it’s possible to pin anything down in this novel that’s definitely it. The book struck me more as a fable than a fantasy, but whatever the genre, it’s definitely worth a read.

Read the full review or see the book on Amazon.

My Smashwords Interview

What inspired you to write Triton’s Deep?

A need to explore the middle ages from a different perspective. I’ve been interested in medieval history for some years, but did not feel I had enough knowledge to write a medieval thriller or something similar. It would have taken a lot of research to get all the small detail exactly right, and let’s face it, that’s what makes these type of stories so fascinating, not simply the characters or their challenges, but what they wore, what they ate, the scenery around them, the particular challenges of the period in which they lived.

So my answer to that was to set my stories in a parallel universe if you like, where there would be more scope for my imagination and less need to get bogged down in research.

What inspired the Triton angle?

A desire to write about the sea, and what might be down there in this other worldly place, and also to look at how the old gods could resurface, if you like, without too much difficulty. Once the main character understands the power he has he begins to work with the gods to defeat the antagonist. The struggle between good and evil.

Tell us about the gods

The point is that the gods will work with us if we believe. Without belief they are just shadows, but once we start to focus on them, to give them credibility, they start to gain power. There can also be a down side to this. Invoking any kind of supernatural force can unleash the opposites. Be careful what you wish for. I’m talking now from the perspective of this fantasy world I created.


Is there a follow up to Triton’s Deep?

Yes, The Nemesis Gene is coming in 2018. This story is set in the same world with the same social structure – medieval culture where the theologians have most of the land and power. The gods, or spirits in this case, are once again restless and determined to be given their rights. So are the natives! The local lords are planning to unseat the power of the Order and take back their lands, and their sons, who have entered the Order.

My main character is a novice monk who has joined an order devoted to sorcery. He’s supposed to be there to develop his talents with sorcery, but he’s rather lazy and has not studied. He’s content to let things go on as they are. But one day he’s shocked out of his complacency by the intrusion of an animal spirit that obviously wants to take over. This sets off a sequence of events that will force him to develop himself in ways he cannot conceive.

Published 2016-01-14.

Find Your Way Out of Writer’s Block

foggy forest

I’m not a huge fan of infographics, I prefer my instructions spelled out in detail, but when I saw a reference to this map that claims to provide a path through writer’s block I had to check it out.

writer's block

Writer’s block comes in many forms, but mostly it’s just facing a blank wall with the next scene in a story … or the next chunk of dialogue … or the next word. You get the idea. I have different ways of resolving this problem myself.

Coffee and a notebook

First there’s coffee and then there’s pencil and notebook. The actual fact of moving away from a keyboard and working on paper does provide a different perspective. Start writing and don’t worry about correct grammar or even sense. The keyboard is in many ways a tyrannous ruler that will force you to work to a certain pattern, and that in itself can become a real block to creativity.

For a fresh perspective choose a new scene

Outlining has never worked for me. If I plan at all it’s usually one or two scenes ahead of where I am, so I can’t go back to my plot and hope to continue on relentlessly. But thinking in terms of scenes — what’s happens to x when he meets y — at any point in the vague mass of ideas that will eventually become a novel, will usually provide enough stimulation to get the ball rolling.

See the infographic in detail

Apparently this graphic has been shared over 50,000 times on Tumblr alone and the authors are now considering offering it as a wall chart. Does it work? You can see a bigger version and try it out at

Meet Vara – My New Character

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 8 of The Nemesis Gene.

The trees cloaking the ranges were bowed down with soft snow. A sharpness in the air, and a scent of pine so powerful it covered all else. But there was something — a night hawk fallen to earth, its wing broken, its beak snapping in terror. The scent of fear was stronger than the rich humus smell and the lure of the bird shuffling towards the safety of a fallen log, its wing dragging through wet leaves.

And then it was struggling in her mouth. One swift snap of her jaws and the bird moved no more. The gush of warm blood down her throat was satisfying. As she crunched the delicate bones the awful impulse of hunger that had sent her jumping through the deep drifts was at last relieved. The hunt had been long and fruitless until this moment with nothing stirring in the great forest. Creatures were about, alert to her marauding instinct. But now that her chewing was done she sat on her tail, digesting her food. All around was silence, apart from the occasional thud of snow slipping from the great boughs and the squeals of a pair of rodents fighting over her leavings. All creatures suffered the winter as well they might; little to eat, and the cold comfort of holes or snowy hides away from the winds. There was no wind now, only a vast stillness. She licked her left paw and felt immeasurable satisfaction with the world. Her world.

She stood and straightened her dress. The hem of her skirt was wet and cold, but she had strong boots and a cloak of soft fur. Soon it would be morning and she would have to go back. Her heart ached at the thought of leaving the forest, her sustenance, her protection. But go she must. Even now the treetops were alight with the dawn and down in the flat lands there was much to be done.

‘Ellin. Ellin are you alright?’

I am Vara

‘Wake up, please.’ Cousin Aliss was shaking her.  Reluctantly she opened her eyes and rolled onto her side.

‘Oh, thank the gods. You were thrashing about. I thought you were having a turn. Were you?’

Ellin focussed her mind. ‘Aliss. Did I wake you? I was dreaming.’

Cousin Allis stepped back, clutching the folds of her linen shift together at the neck. ‘No, dear Ellin. No. The day is well advanced. We should be up and dressed. But you were so fast asleep. And then you started struggling.’

‘Struggling to wake? I was somewhere strange.’

‘If we are to go to the temple today we should start soon. I have your clothes ready.’

The temple today? But how could she go out into the town when Aldred’s men were watching for her? Perhaps even the lord himself. And that captain. After what had happened on the road he would not easily give up on the chance to take revenge. But she needed to go to the temple, of that she was sure. The falling fits, the strange dreams—and that monk, was it Brother Jerrod now?  She struggled to make sense of everything that had happened. Somehow it was all connected.

She stretched and sat up. Their room overlooked a courtyard filled with late blooms. Rose petals were scattered across the flagstones and yesterday’s sunshine had now given way to clouds, with a seeking breeze rattling the shutters.

‘The weather has changed, Allis. You could ask the good servants here to find us warmer cloaks. It’s the Temple of Winds after all. We don’t want to catch a chill.’

They were both soon shrouded in the dark cloaks of the resident religious; deep hoods covering their heads and faces, and folds of heavy fabric falling to their toes. Ellin was sure Allis understood her real need—a disguise to confuse Aldred’s hounds while they followed the procession of pilgrims to the temple. After that everything would change.

The Nemesis Gene Cover

This is a preview of a cover I made for my new novel. It’s a work in progress, as is the novel.


Cover Nemesis Gene


Medieval Murder Mysteries and Ancient Musings

READING: I’ve long been a student of ancient and medieval history. Somehow the stories and characters from a past long gone speak to me and I sympathize and identify with the struggles of people in other times, which when looked at dispassionately, are not so very different from our own.

True, life in general was nothing like today in Ancient Rome or Britannia, and the physical challenges faced were far removed from ours, but perhaps the psychological differences were not. People who ate obscure foods, drank beer and wine with everything, traveled countless miles on foot or by donkey and survived blisteringly cold climates with little heating, still struggled, in my opinion, with the same moral dilemmas we do today.

So all this is leading me up to a type of fiction I enjoy. Medieval murder mysteries are of course fantasy combined with crime fiction. Fantasy because no matter how brilliant the research, the author is inventing a situation that probably never existed; crime because a mystery element has been introduced to add spice to the tale.

Author P.F. Chisholm does a good job of reconstructing events around Sir Robert Carey, a real-life sixteenth century character who suffers from the indignity of being an almost penniless courtier to Elizabeth I.

In the year 1592, Sir Robert Carey, a handsome courtier, comes north to Carlisle to take up his new post as Deputy Warden of the West March. He has wangled his appointment to be nearer his true love, a married woman, and farther from the gimlet eyes of his creditors and the disapproving eye of his father (the Queen’s cousin—possibly her half-brother). And of course, he can use the money …

The series picks up pace as it continues, so it’s well worth a look at the lower Kindle price range.

Like them or loath them, historical novels are here to stay.

There is so much for a fiction writer to admire and explore in history. One commentator, disdainful of historical novels, once referred to the act of writing in the genre as ‘plundering history’. That was some years ago when I was about to launch my novel about the 19th century scientific traveller Nikolai Miklouho Maclay. Maclay: A Novel
I was somewhat nonplussed, after all, Shakespeare did it and got away with it, so why shouldn’t I? I would be interested to know what that particular critic now thinks of the works (and popularity) of Hilary Mantel and others.

But perhaps the critic would agree with the ancient Greek poet Callimachus who urged poets to ‘drive their wagons on untrodden fields,’ rather than following in well worn tracks.

Callimachus wrote the following epigram, translated (and somewhat rephrased) by William (Johnson) Cory. 1823–1892.

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead.
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept as I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carion guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant sources, thy nightingales awake,
For Death he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

More fascinating reading ahead. I just bought:

  • Peter Ackroyd’s The History Of England Volume 1 Foundation and
  • The Mighty Dead – Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson

How To Avoid The Digital Bottom Drawer

Books and birds nest

I’ve just started an advertising campaign for Triton’s Deep on Goodreads.
I have to admit to being rather disappointed in sales of my new novel, so I’m hoping Goodreads will get me more exposure. There was some interest initially, enough to raise my hopes that it might keep selling for a while, but that soon tailed off into a trickle and then, well, almost zero. Situation normal.

Everyone agrees that for authors to be noticed they need to get their heads above the digital crowd – the millions of other books out there vying for a piece of the action – but unless an author has a fan base already, there’s little hope of ever getting more than passing attention.

So what’s an independent author to do?

Well, there are many ways to publicize a book. Most of them cost money, for example:

  • A genuine review on Kirkus Reviews costs $450.
  • A listing on BookBub in the fantasy genre costs $360 – and that’s just for the US.
  • Setting up a fan page on Facebook and paying for likes costs upwards of $200 for the minimum suggested 5,000 – and how many of those fans are likely to buy a book? A very small percentage.

Self-promotion on Twitter is free, but without a Twitter following equal to a superstar like Guy Kawasaki it might be necessary to pay a promotions company to keep pushing the book in front of followers. And there’s no guarantee that will work. Twitter users soon tire of watching marketing tweets scrolling through their feeds.

Publishing is easy – marketing is hard

Self-publishing is relatively easy once the book is written. Amazon makes it incredibly simple to upload a manuscript. It’s basically filling in an online form. There are a few more hoops to jump through if an author wants to publish on the likes of B&N, Kobo, iBooks etc. but Smashwords  will happily take care of all that and their service is free.

But that’s when the truth starts to hit home. An author may have written the best novel this century, but without a huge publicity machine, once the initial flurry of sales is over, no-one will know (or care) that the book exists. So back to the digital bottom-drawer it goes, unless the writer can come up with a publicity stunt weird enough to get a mention on Mashable or BuzzFeed, but even then the buzz will only last until something else pushes it off the front page.

Trawling the web for publicity suggestions all leads to the same conclusion eventually. And as usual, no-one says it better than Seth Godin. I quote him here:


Seth Godin

After you’ve done your best work

And it’s still not enough…

After you’ve written the best memo/blog post/novel/screenplay you can possibly imagine writing, after you’ve contributed your pithiest insight or gone on your best blind date…

and it still hasn’t worked…

You really have no choice but to do it again. To do your best work again, as impossible and unfair as that seems.

It compounds over time. Best work followed by best work followed by more best work is far more useful and generous than merely doing your best work once and insisting we understand you.

All this is leading up to my hereby putting it on record that the sequel to Triton’s Deep is well underway. More best work coming up.