Rogue One, possibly the best Star Wars film to date.

I finally got to see the much hyped new Star Wars film, Rogue One, a Star Wars story yesterday. I purposely kept away from any reviews and comments about the film because I wanted to see it with an open mind. All I knew about it was that it preceded A New Hope, Episode IV which began the immensely popular franchise back in the 70’s.

I had seen the other new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens when that hit the cinemas and was disappointed in the fact it was nothing more than an updated version of A New Hope. So this film at least was supposed to have some originality, at least that was my hope. I got to the cinema without many expectations, I thought I would be excited to see it but to be honest I still had the bitter taste in my mouth left there by The Force Awakens, so I sat in my seat and waited for it to begin.

After the inevitable trailers and adverts that always come before the main feature the lights dimmed and the film began.

From that opening sequence when we see the young Jyn Erso with her family on that cold wind swept planet with the rain battering down on them I knew we were in for a new kind of experience, Star Wars, most definitely, but different somehow, more real in context. The characters felt more real, their experiences, more visceral which was transposed onto the viewer through the screen. The danger the characters were exposed to in this film felt more realistic than in any film that came before. Darth Vader and the Sith Lords were evil personified and yet I felt they were somewhat cartoony and yet the antagonists in Rogue One were more evil and you felt a sense of real danger for the protagonists. Not at any time in the Lucas films did you have a sense that the good guys were in any danger, not when Luke was attacked by Sand People, not when he faced Darth Vader for the first time, not even when Han was placed into the pit to be carbonised you always knew they would survive. In Rogue One, every time Jyn and her band of rebels faced off against the Empire troops you felt any time they could die. For the brief time Darth Vader is seen in Rogue One you get a real sense of menace from him which, looking back at all the other films he’s appeared in and considering the Lord of Evil he was supposed to be, I never got. I don’t want to give any details away but there are several times when my heart was in my mouth as I sat perched on the edge of my seat hoping for a good outcome. I knew enough of the story to know the true outcome but how the film makers got there was truly remarkable. The physical effects were matched only by the use of CGI, notably in the few areas, again no spoilers, that made the film that much more special. This is a film that I could view many more times and still feel the same about. This was the Star Wars film I wanted The Force Awakens to be. This one, even though we all knew what the story was going to be, felt more original than any of the so called new films being thrashed out by Hollywood.

Rogue One is not just the best Star Wars film to date, but the best film of 2016. I hope the makers of Episode VIII take on board all the things that Gareth Edwards, the director of Rogue One, did right and follow his lead with the new film. Anything less would be a waste and more importantly, a massive disappointment.

Are Indie Publishers the new Self Publishers?

Are Indie Publishers the new Self Publishers? To elaborate on that question I would have to go back to when self publishing was in its infancy. When I first started to write I followed the path of many budding authors before me, and tried to get published by the mainstream publishers. There were many to choose from but, like so many before me I faced rejection from every level. It never occurred to me that the problem was with my approach and the quality of writing I was submitting but in time I learned. Then, still facing rejection, I learned of the self publishing route a writer could take. How to keep control of your work, keep the majority of royalties, it’s the best thing since sliced bread, and all the other things that the advertisers claimed you could do if you chose them. So I tried After a while I heard about Createspace, owned by Amazon with distribution directly through them and I thought “That has to be better, right?”

My next few books were published through Createspace and I sat back and waited for the royalties to roll in. I did some social media marketing and tried to raise my profile but when I told a someone I met at a party that I had written a book and it was published her reaction was what I expected. Admiration, she was pleased and somewhat surprised until I told her it was self published. Her exact words were, “Oh they’ll print anything, if you send them the phone book they’ll publish that too.” I was gutted and in a way I knew what she meant, but she was obviously getting self publishing confused with Vanity Publishing. When I tried to explain the differences she just didn’t believe me and the conversation died. I had nothing to prove my point because at that time, and it’s still true today, you can actually send in unedited copy with sloppy formatting and it will get published. The word on the street was that self publishing was no better than Vanity Publishing.

The question I asked at the start, are Indie Publishers the new self publishers, is in this regard. Are the small presses, the Indie Publishers facing the same opinion from Joe Public that self publishing faced when that originated? To the man on the street if you mention you have a book deal they expect a world wide ad campaign shown on tv, in shops and in the newspapers. They expect that your book will be available in every bookshop around the world and even in their local supermarket. Unfortunately not all small presses have that kind of marketing budget and to try  explaining that you get the same looks from them that I got when I tried to explain the difference between self publishing and vanity publishing.

I’m lucky enough to have been picked up by a small press in the United States and I know how hard I had to work at getting my book good enough for them even to consider it worthy for publishing. I also know all the hard work they have done so far in getting my book ready for publishing, the editing, providing the artwork for the cover and the two trailers they have already produced, both audio and visual. I know that Indie Presses give the full service that the big five publisher provide but unfortunately they do not have the marketing budget that these behemoths of publishing have earned through years of controlling the market, at least not yet. I hope the success of my book and others they are going to publish, and the success of other writers like me will tip the balance and help earn the revenue small presses like Imzadi Publishing need to compete on a level playing field. The book will be released on May 16th 2017 which I am looking forward to immensely. I had a blast writing it and I hope you have as much fun reading it.

New Perspective

I watched a short video recently on Facebook that got me thinking. It was about this guy who was ranting on about stay away dads moaning about child  welfare payments and how their baby Momma’s were spending their money. I agreed with every word the guy said but that was because I could relate. Back in the late 80’s my wife left me for this other guy leaving our two children behind. Now truthfully, when she told me she leaving I said she couldn’t take the kids and she agreed. I don’t know what she told the kids, probably that she wanted to take them with her but couldn’t but the truth of the matter was that there was no room where she was moving to for them, and she was well aware of the fact.

I kept a roof over our heads, kept the family together and kept a full time job going so we could survive. Was it hard? Damn right it was hard, looking after two children who missed their Mum, was never going to be easy. Did their Mum help out with money? At times, yes but not all the time and this was how I could relate to what the guy in the video was saying.  Did I make mistakes? Of course I did but I never stopped trying to do the best for them.

In later years, the children have had a better relationship with their Mum, which was something I always encouraged, at least I hope I did. I never wanted them to hate her, I had ill feelings towards her, who wouldn’t? She left me for another guy, that I could forgive, eventually, what was hard was the fact of how much debt she left me in knowing I would be looking after our kids. That hurt and I went into depression thinking about it.

I tried to put all this behind me and I actually have an okay relationship with her. I’m glad the kids see her I truly am but what has left me thinking is that their relationship with her now seems to be better than what we have. They travel to see her, they spend time with her, they ask her if her health is okay, but none of that for me. I recently had a bout of the flu which turned into a chest infection and I was off work for a week. Not once have they phoned to see how I am feeling. The only contact I have had is when they want something from, me. This is standard practise for kids you will say, but these are full grown adults with kids of their own. This is not the first time it has happened either. I realised that in their view point I could be the bad guy. I kept them from their mum and made them live with me. It makes a kind of sense but I don’t know if that’s how they feel but it explains a lot. This new perspective has given me something more to think about. How do I go about changing things, should I change things? If I’m right then no matter how I try to tell my point of view they will have made up their own minds. I have no doubt they love me, that is not the issue, it’s never been the issue. Ever since our family got fractured I considered myself to be the one doing the right thing by the kids, never once did it occur to me that they would think otherwise. There’s not much I can do about it now, what’s done is done and we have a relationship that works. Do I wish it was better? Of course, who wouldn’t want a better relationship with their kids. Is it perfect, far from it but it’s also miles away from being dysfunctional. We have had our problems but we will survive but now I’m looking at things from a different view point so maybe I can understand them a little better now, so that’s good right?

Not The Man from UNCLE

It took me a while before I could bring myself to watch the recent reboot of The Man From UNCLE film. I tried to watch it when it came on Sky Cinema but I couldn’t get through it all. Then recently, when I was off work at the start of the Christmas break and I was at a loose end I thought I’d give it a go.

Before I go any further I must state that I like the films that Guy Ritchie has done, all of them, until now. I grew up in the generation that spawned the original series which I absolutely loved. Watching the old re-runs later on in life I saw how cheesy and silly they were but I still loved them all the same, probably because of how they were. This new attempt at bringing those characters and scenarios to life it seemed they took everything that made it what it was and threw it out the window and kept only the four character names. Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo tried his best to capture what Robert Vaughn nailed in his portrayal of the womanising hero but his back story was radically altered to the complete opposite of the original. I’m not sure what other fans of this thought but I was incensed. Armie Hammer played Illya  Kuryakin and again his back story was altered beyond recognition. Instead of the enigmatic rock that kept Solo’s womanising in check he was portrayed as a violent sociopath dealing with trauma from his past.

That’s just for starters.

It get’s worse. The story is supposed to set up how these characters met and became the force for good we all knew and loved but they spend the entire film trying to get one over on the other until they learn a grudging respect for each other’s abilities. There is no mention of the world spanning organisation they worked for, none of the gadgets that made the show memorable and the whole feel for the show was absent. Gone was the innocent bystander dragged into the world of espionage to give it that different point of view, another detail that made the show so memorable. Waverley , their boss was only seen in a couple of scenes and the name UNCLE was only mentioned right at the end just prior to the end credits rolling.

To say this film was a mess would be too gracious. If they had wanted to kick start the franchise once more they should have started with a proper UNCLE scenario with the two agents fighting against THRUSH, everything from this fiasco of a film could’ve been condensed into flash backs or better still, discarded.

The Man From UNCLE is a beloved franchise that has a huge fan base and to give them this atrocity is nothing more than a slap in the face.

Change for the better

As this year draws to a close I look back at what has happened during the past twelve months and reflect on some of the changes.

2016 saw some massive occasions in my life both professionally and personally some of which have been documented here and on various social media. Personally, I became a grandfather again bringing the number up to four, all wonderful additions to the family. It brings home your own mortality when something like this happens. You begin to realise just how finite your time on this world is when you lose someone you love but also when another life is brought forth and laid before you. When you see that little bundle of joy, so small and vulnerable you begin to wonder just how much of it you’ll get to see before you shuffle off this mortal coil. Time travels so quickly as you get older and before you know it your kids are having kids of their own and grandkids are what I think of as being karma. All the things you put your parents through growing up, your kids put you through and now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the show as your grandkids put their parents through the same ritual called growing up.

Professionally saw some massive changes too. This year saw my twentieth year at the same job, the longest serving employee at a factory I helped get off the ground and become the success it became. It also saw me receiving redundancy from the same job. This came as somewhat of a shock as I had begun to feel like part of the furniture. I now work for a rival company where I settled in remarkably fast and am thoroughly enjoying the new challenges. The other major change came early in the year when I received my publishing contract for The Blackstar Gambit, the seventh book in the Col Sec series from Imzadi Publishing. The book will be out in Spring next year and things are progressing nicely with it. The editing has been completed, the cover has been produced an audio trailer has been issued and this week the video trailer for the book came out. This is something I have worked towards for the better part of two decades and it seems like all the hard work, the sleepless nights and all the effort is finally paying off. I’m about to be a published author.

2016 saw some massive changes to my life and I know that the coming year is going to be crammed with more challenges, more surprises and hopefully a sprinkling of success.

The scourge of a writer

Any writer will tell you that writers block can strike at any time. It’s one of those things that no one really knows what causes it or why but when it strikes it can be crippling. I’ve had it affect me too many times in my short career and each time it happens I sit in despondency hoping it’ll go away soon, but it never does. There are a few tips writers employ to get through this and there are many forums where this problem is discussed at length but the fact of the matter is, you have to use what works for you. Not every tip is relevant for each writer because we all have our own ways of working. What works for me though, and the important thing here is that it doesn’t always work, I’ve tried several ways and this has been the most successful, is to write anything. Each time this method/trick has worked I have started writing a different story, something that I played around with. It may have started with just a few lines which developed into a bit of a story which then went on to become another series, eventually. The first time I tried this trick I was trying to write the next installment in the Col Sec series and due to personal issues, we were in the process of moving home and it wasn’t going well, I found little time or will to concentrate on anything remotely Col Sec. I had to write though, and when I had the free time to sit and actually do something nothing would come so I played around with what was then just a germ of an idea. It got me through until we had finally moved and had settled in our new home which saw me able to return to Col Sec. The idea I had played around with eventually became The Satan Strain which I self published under the pen name of Jack Dillon. This time I find myself struggling with another Col Sec book and I think a number of things have attributed to the block, one of which is settling in to a new routine with a new job. I’m really enjoying working at my new place, it brings back memories of when I was a teenager on an apprenticeship and all the fun I had starting out in a career that, back then I had no idea would span over forty years. It’s difficult to explain but for the last twenty years I worked at a job that although I knew exceptionally well, I was always learning something new. Unfortunately what I was learning was how not to treat your employees, how not to run a business and no matter how well you did your job, someone, somewhere would find fault. To say it was difficult would be somewhat of an understatement. This time around I have found somewhere that respects experience, treats their employees as humans and is fun to go to. There are some who have their moans and groans, that is normal, you can’t please everyone and the job is by means perfect but it helps pay the bills. The transition from where I worked to where I am now has taken a little longer than I expected and yet in some cases it seems sooner than realised, hence the block. I tried my trick once more and yesterday I found what started out as an idea formed into what could be another series. The important thing though is I think it helped me get through the block and back into the Col Sec adventure I was writing. This blog post is a point proving that I have begun the road to recovery.

This tip/trick, whatever you want to call it, might not work for everyone but it certainly helps me, and like I said earlier, not every time either. If you find yourself stuck unable to write the best advice I can give you is try not to worry about it to start off with. Worrying only makes it worse, that much is true, and it’s only wasted energy anyway. If I’ve learned anything in my life it’s that it’s pointless to worry about things beyond your control. What will happen will happen whether you worry about it or not. So if you get hit by the scourge of every writer just do what works for you, try different tricks until you find something that works. You never know, you could end up writing something that becomes a best seller.

Old dog, new tricks.

After spending twenty years working for a company doing a job I have spent over forty years learning I faced the harsh reality of a failing economy. The company I was working for went into decline, falling orders forced them to seek solutions to combat this dire situation and I was one of the casualties.

I was suddenly faced with one of the top five most stressful things you can do during your lifetime, changing jobs. This was something I never thought I would have to do again, considering the time I had devoted to the company which just illustrated the severity of the situation. Never the less, taking the bit between my teeth I set out to find another job which I did, with much less trouble than I expected, I think the magic words ‘forty years experience’ helped there.

The new company, even though they trade in the same market place has a more diverse clientele and to fill the customers requirements means I have to learn new skills. Some say people of my age don’t like change and don’t cope well with it but I beg to differ. When I started writing the only way to get published was through a publishing contract with a publishing house. During my journey of discovery I learned that self publishing was becoming a viable alternative, or so we aspiring writers were led to believe. I also learned all the things publishing houses do for writers, which I had to learn to do for myself. It was a challenge that I embraced with optimism and hope which quickly turned to frustration and, at times, panic and despair but I never gave up. That attitude saw me through, honing my skills to the point where I earned myself a publishing contract with a small press in the United States. This is the first step on the ladder to fulfilling my dream of becoming a full time writer. It’s also with this same attitude I embraced my new job, facing the challenge of learning new skills to become a useful member of the team I now work with.

This experience has reminded me of something that I always knew but that was never recognised in my old job. Experience does count and you can teach old dogs new tricks, you just have to be willing to face the challenge.

Book Shelves

Recently I visited our local library to check out how it had changed. I hadn’t been there for some time and I felt bad. It was a place I used to go frequently when I was a youngster. When I learned to read and I discovered there was a place you could take as many as an armful of books home with you for free, I wanted to live there. During my high school days I would spend many a Saturday morning in the reference section checking out books for a topic I was writing about and I admit to being frequently distracted by all the other books available.

I have always been an avid reader and I always will, the joy I get from reading is limitless and I just cannot fathom the reasoning behind anyone who says that they don’t read. I feel sad for them thinking of all the worlds they will not get to inhabit, of all the places they will never get to visit nor see, but it is their choice. I learned long ago that you cannot force anyone to do something against their will without torture, and not reading, in my opinion is torture enough.

Being the avid reader that I am I was looking forward to revisiting all the books at the library, saying ‘hi’ to some old friends and to making some new ones. The layout had changed and was a little disorganised for my taste. There used to be a thriller section, but these books were now all lumped together under ‘general fiction’ mixed in with some paranormal. The only other sections separate from the rest were ‘crime’ and ‘sci fi’ As I perused this latter section I came across the first two books in my Col Sec series, Ronin and Omega. I was taken aback slightly at the sight of my books, bot that I didn’t know they would be there because I did, it was just the shock of seeing something I had written actually on a book shelf, it was an awesome feeling. For the first time since starting writing the series I actually saw the fruits of my labour on an actual book shelf.

In a couple of months I hope that there will be an addition, another in the series but this one published by Imzadi Publishing. The Blackstar Gambit is due out in late spring of 2017 and will be the first book of mine picked up by a publishing house, the first but hopefully not the last.library-image

End of an era

It is a fallacy that writers make a ton of money. Most do not make enough to make a living and have to earn a living with another job, their day job, and as in every rule  there are the exceptions, but these are a minority. Unfortunately I belong to the majority, those writers who work feverishly into the night and at weekends honing their skills on projects that only see the light of day when hours of painstakingly exhaustive attention to detail have been completed.

My day job was one that has taken over forty years to gather the skills I have acquired. I started out as an apprentice and worked through into becoming a professional printer in the ceramic industry. My most recent employment had been with a company that lasted twenty years. I started there when I was the only employee and I’ve seen the company grow from infant-hood to one of the major players in the industry.I have seen both good and bad times. I have not always seen eye to eye with my employer but I have always given my best. The company recently has been in a bit of a decline and staff have had to be let go and I was one of them. I was lucky enough to find another job but the day I left was one of the hardest days for me to endure through my twenty years with the company. I went around the factory to say farewell to all my friends letting them all know we would meet up again which I meant. We have been having regular get togethers at my home for the last year or so and these will continue. To say farewell to them on that morning felt like part of me was dying, even though I knew I would see them all again soon, I would not see them on a daily basis, and it hurt. There was almost a tearful moment with one particular lady, a wonderful woman who was a true inspiration to all of us knowing what battles she faced over the last few years, battles that took her to the brim but ones she eventually won.

My manager summed it up when just before I left, he said “It felt like the end of an era because you’ve been here so long.” I suppose he was right.

I hope the company breaks free of the present slump for the sake of everyone I left behind. I may have had my differences with some of them, being so long anywhere it was inevitable, but I harbour them nothing but good will. Realisation that I have left the company has begun to set in over the last couple days and it’s something that has bothered me more than I thought it would. I look forward to starting work in my new job. It’s a challenge I accept with open arms and I’ll also carry on writing, working feverishly into the night as I hope to move from the majority into the minority.

New Chapter

Change is a good thing, everyone says so.

As you get older change is something you regard with trepidation. As time passes by you get set in your ways, you get used to doing things a certain way and when something comes along that disrupts that flow it can be challenging to say the least. I find myself at a point in my life where change is inevitable, but this is a good thing. I accept the challenge and look forward to the changes that I will face. One of those changes is in my writing career. I mentioned in an earlier post that I have signed a publishing contract with Imzadi Publishing in the US. This is a huge challenge for me because now I have to pass over the reins to someone else. I have been used to doing everything, from searching out the right cover for the book, finding the right editor who fits with my style of writing, right down to when the book is published and in what format. Now I have to allow others to do all that for me. In one way it’s a relief to hand over all that work to someone else, a professional who actually knows what they’re doing right out of the gate rather than having to learn as I go, hoping I get it right. This leaves me more time to actually write. Being a little of a control freak, a symptom born of years of doing it all myself, I know I’ll find this difficult but it’s something I will have to get used to, so that’s okay, I suppose, we’ll just have to wait and see. As long as I keep my impatience in check we should be okay.

In accordance to the changes, I’ve given my blog a bit of a makeover, a new fresh feel to it. As they say, a change is as good as a rest, so here’s to the changes and I face the future with hope and optimism, facing the challenges that will come with eyes wide open.