Fear of the unknown.


Fear has plagued mankind since the first hominid stood erect. It has taken many forms and can strike at any time and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. When it strikes our natural instinct is one of two things, fight or flight, these are common reflexes we are all familiar with and we know the signs, the sweaty palms, the shortness of breath all these are common. There is no cure and we shouldn’t look for one for a life without fear is worthless. Fear helps us to expand our limits, to stretch our potential and become more than we are.

I have faced fear on many levels, a couple of times it was life threatening and it’s at these times we either dig deep and battle through, or we fold and run. A true test of courage is to do that which you are afraid of, despite the fear and not simply because of it. To do something you know will cause you fear is not courageous, it takes guts and fortitude but you know what you are facing because you sought out that fear. To face a sudden situation where you are suddenly thrust into danger but you do what is necessary despite fear for your life or for for another, that to me is true courage. You didn’t seek out the fear, or the danger but you got through it despite being afraid. Many may argue that this point of view is wrong and may state incidents which prove their point, that is absolutely fine, this is my opinion only. I have faced life threatening fear and I got through it because I had to, there was no other choice. I am not saying I am courageous and should be held to a higher standard, just that I got through it.

Now I am facing a different kind of fear. This is the fear of the unknown. Many horror movies play on this theme using it to build tension so that the climax can be satisfying and fear of the unknown can be truly terrifying. The fear I am facing though is not life threatening, it isn’t even dangerous in any degree, but it is something any writer, I would think, can relate to.

I have been writing for as long as I can remember in some form or another, and I’ve been self publishing for almost a decade.Last year I was lucky enough to have one of my books picked up by a publisher in the US, Imzadi Publishing. They agreed to publish The Blackstar Gambit, book seven in the Col Sec series and the release date is 16th May this year. My fear is quite simple and on two fronts; what do I do if this book bombs and I get no sales? All the hard work I have put into this series and all the hard work those extremely talented people who showed faith in my work will have been for nothing. I will have let so many people, including myself, down and I don’t know how I would handle that. On the other hand, basically the flip side of that, and just as scary, how would I handle it if it was a huge success? I’ve battled this road for so many years alone, seemingly getting nowhere, with just my faith in my ability and the stories I needed to tell as my companions that to have others come on the journey as well would be surprising to say the very least. Fame, or at least recognition is not something I have sought after, the thought of being an anonymous writer was appealing to me but nowadays with the advent of social media that is no longer an option. To make it in this business your face and identity have to be known to the world because you’re not simply a person who sits all day at a laptop banging out words that some people find exciting, you are a Brand. You have to market yourself as that Brand.

So I have to face my fears and take whatever comes. I have thrown myself into the arena of social media the best I know how, by simply being me. I know of no other person to be, I cannot suddenly pretend to be something, someone I’m not so what you see is what you get. I will gladly interact with my public, as scary as that is to me I don’t want people to think I’m above them, I’m just an average guy who sometimes can tell a good story. If you want to come and share my journey you will always be welcome. Perhaps with company the fear will be easier to face.

Are we alone? The answer could come sooner than we think.


The news from NASA this week has excited not only astronomers but everyone in the scientific community, including sci fi writers. The news of the planetary system Trappist-1 being discovered is amazing. Seven planets in the system with three in the sweet spot, the habitable zone that could contain water and therefore sustain life. We won’t know for sure until we either send a probe or visit the system but the signs are encouraging at least.

When I was growing up the question all astronomers was asking was ‘are we alone?’ This has been addressed in many sci fi films and books and is a staple plot device in the sci fi genre. It was a question no one at the time thought would get answered in our lifetime. As technology advanced though, many other burning questions had found answers but this one seemed doomed to remain unanswered. This was something that was way beyond our reach, literally. To find the answer we would have to travel beyond our own solar system and into the realms of deep space where the nearest star was at least four years away if we travelled at the speed of light. Well it seems the question could be answered sooner than anyone ever thought possible. Before you go booking your seat on the next shuttle available to visit these planets I must assure you that’s not what I meant. Advances in telescope technology has enabled technicians at NASA and other institutions such as Spitzer, Kepler and Hubble to further investigate these signals and explore these planets for more signs that life could exist on these planets.

I don’t know about anyone else but I am truly excited about this. It’s too easy to become laid back or blase about this because we visit strange new worlds almost every day either on tv or at the movies so this is nothing new to us, with one huge exception. This is real life and all the other stuff is fantasy. This new star system that has been discovered is what dreams are made of, well the dreams of writers like myself at least.

Are we living in a Dystopian society now?


Gene Roddenberry’s idea of what the future held for humanity was that of a Utopian society where crime had been eradicated as had poverty and illness. It was where the different races within humanity had learned to live alongside each other and embrace each other’s differences as well as the many alien species mankind had encountered throughout the galaxy. It was a beautiful ideal and certainly one worth reaching for. It showed one potential for mankind’s greatness and I say ‘one’ because there is the other side to the coin. As with everything there are pro’s as well as there are con’s and the other side of human potential is the evil that men do.

The opposite of Roddenberry’s Utopian society we see in Star Trek is the Dystopian society we see in books such as George Orwell’s 1984, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley or Make Room, Make Room by Harry Harrison which was filmed as Soylent Green. In these scenarios we see society breaking down and governments being oppressive and totalitarian. As events unfold throughout the world we see more and more incidents that lead us to the future in those latter books. These books posed a possible future and were fiction when they were published, science fiction for the most part because they dealt with matters concerning the human condition and where our hopes and desires could lead to when advancements in technology could make our progress that much easier to obtain. Now though, like in most science fiction the fiction is becoming fact. Our goals seem to be equal part construction and destruction, whatever we seem to make to enhance our lives, to make them easier, we tend to make something that could destroy it just as easy. Instead of us learning from our mistakes we seem to endlessly repeat them. History has shown that we go through cycles where we elevate certain people to positions of power who inevitably are either corrupted by that power or are already corrupt themselves and abuse the power given them which leads humanity down a dark road. There is much fear and uncertainty in the world at the moment as we suspect we could be repeating that mistake again.

I posed the question at the start of this article, are we living in a Dystopian society? I think the only answer is, yes and we have been for some time, we just didn’t realise it.

 

What is a Best Seller?


As the time draws near for the release of my first book to be published by a professional book publisher the term ‘best seller’ is becoming more and more important to me than ever.

No doubt my book will be available through Amazon in every format possible which brings me to my point. What is a best seller, or more importantly does the term hold the same weight that it used to? I ask this because the internet and particularly, social media sites are full to bursting with best selling authors selling their wares but these people are not household names like the best selling authors I have known in the past, names like Wilbur Smith, Robert Ludlum and Jack Higgins, to name but three. I have read that if you target your book at a list on Amazon that is unique, such as Dwarf juggling Dolphin riding western then you have a good chance of being the only book on that list. If you sell just one copy then you are immediately an Amazon best selling author.

Now the thought of being a best selling author is as appealing to me as it’s always been but I think I’d rather sell thousands of books a month and not make the international best seller list, or even the national list than be an Amazon best selling author with only a few copies sold. This may sound mercenary and that I’m only in this for the money but you’d be wrong. If I sell more books it means I reach a far wider audience and there’s a greater chance of one day hitting that magic list and becoming a best selling author.

To me the term best selling means that you sell more than others. This is not a race or a competition though, the objective any author has is to reach as wide an audience as possible. To share what they have to say with people who hopefully will appreciate the hard work needed to produce the work.

On May 16 2017 my book, The Blackstar Gambit will be released by Imzadi Publishing and I will begin the waiting game to see if it will reach the lofty heights I aim for.

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 Lulu.com. 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.

Personal demons, should we share?


To share our innermost feelings with anyone who will listen seems the thing to do just lately. How do you do that though if you were brought up in the generation where you were expected to ‘just get on with it’ or to ‘grow a set’? How do you convey to a stranger your innermost demons when you couldn’t even tell those closest to you how you felt about them? Further more, should you?

This is a question I have been pondering more frequently lately, more so when I get sick like I am as I sit down to try and make some sense from my thoughts.

I grew up in a mining community back in the early sixties, my father was a Polish immigrant who came over from his homeland near the end of WWII. He had been forced to join the German Army at gunpoint, a fact I learned after his death in ’82. There were many aspects of his early life I knew nothing about simply because when he arrived on our shores he could not speak the language. It was a testament to his intelligence that he taught himself to read and write and speak our language enough so that he could communicate on a daily basis. I doubt I could do that today even with the technology at hand. The subtle nuances of the language of course were lost on him which was a pity because he could not tell us, his family just what he was going through, not that he would have, he definitely came from a background where there was no time for expressing of one’s feelings. It led to stilted conversations and miss-communication. I never got over his death and I doubt I ever will, there was so much left unsaid between us.

As I grow older and I see how society changes, the advent of social media has made it easy to share your thoughts with anyone on the planet, whether they are willing to listen or not. I see, on a daily basis at least one person who feels the need to vent either their anger or frustration with the world or their personal triumphs or battles. A personal life becomes less personal with every comment made. People know more about you every time you log on to your favourite social media page. My question remains, should we? Is it right to share what we go through or is it a burden to those who listen? I have my own demons that I battle with on a daily basis, some days are better than others and then there are the days when they all come out to play and it’s a struggle to just live. There are two reasons why I don’t share all this, one because they are personal, its my fight and I have always fought my own battles, they are what define me, my successes or failures, and secondly there are literally millions of people worse off than I am in the world and I feel it would be demeaning to their struggle to even mention mine. There is a line of thought that says ‘just because it’s not a big deal to you, doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal to someone else’ and I understand that totally, everyone’s fight is different. The older I get though I find myself relying more and more on those around me for support in my battles, this is not a sign of weakness but simply of getting older. No matter how many personal victories I face, I know this is one battle I cannot win.

 

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.

Love affair rekindled.


Saturday July 12 1969 and my love affair with a tv series began. That was the first time that Star Trek aired in the UK. My memory is a little vague about this in the respect that I thought it replaced Doctor Who in the same time slot, my favourite Doctor of that time was Jon Pertwee, Doctor number Three but since researching this I find that Star Trek actually aired in the UK before Jon Pertwee took over the role the following year. What I do remember is that I was hooked from the first time I saw the starship Enterprise flash across the tv screen. This was the tv show I had always wanted, a live action sci fi action show where crews of space ships explored the galaxy fighting encounters with aliens. There were ray guns, as we called them back then, space ships, distant planets, all the things I’d craved for since my love of sci fi began. The closest thing for me on tv had been Fireball XL5 back in 1962 and then nothing until Lost in Space. Star Trek for me at the tender age of thirteen was the epitome of sci fi, it was what sci fi should have been and it was the best thing on tv. I couldn’t wait for Saturday to come around so I could watch the next episode. When it got cancelled I was mortified. It wasn’t until Star Wars came around that I felt the same way again about anything remotely sci fi. Of course the popularity of Star Wars gave Star Trek the opportunity to move out again into the vast cosmos via Movies. So there we were once more venturing forth with the crew of the Enterprise we all had come to know as best friends, some even better than family. When the news of the reboot hit I was in two minds, first off I was pleased that the adventures would continue with a younger crew, we all could see the aging crew battling not only the alien encounters but the onset of old age, sometimes the latter was a harder battle to fight and secondly that if they were going to do it, then please don’t mess it up. Although I enjoyed the new film, I wasn’t overjoyed with the new timeline. It was a little too far removed from what we were familiar with, but, I thought with the next film perhaps we would get closer to the old formula, see more of the characters we all loved come out in the new portrayals. I was wrong, Into Darkness was a mess, so much so that I didn’t even go see the following film when it was released. I heard that they were going to return to what made Star Trek so popular, but I’d heard promises of this nature before and been let down, we all had, so I gave it a miss. Then the reviews came out and, with reservation I bought the Blu Ray when I was released. This is the film that blows away the previous two films and is the Star Trek film, we the fans had been waiting for, the film we all deserved. They got everything right, from the writing right down to the acting, everything was just how it should be. The got rid of the ridiculous lens flares, the use of the Budweiser facility for the interior of the Enterprise and brought on people who actually knew about Star Trek, people who were fans of the show and it showed. My love affair with a show, no more than just a show, with everything that Star Trek is has been rekindled. Now I can’t wait until the next film is released, I just hope they keep all the same talent on board to maintain what they’ve tried so hard to achieve with Beyond. Until then I’ll just have to watch Beyond again, and again.

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.