Tag Archives: indie writing

Vardin Village

Another festive book on special offer today. Check out Vardin Village by Maggie Spence and let us know what you think.


Sixteen-year-old, George Vardin, lives in a crappy, ramshackle cottage with no electricity and a roof that’s about to implode. The creaky front porch overlooks the magnificent ancestral mansion that his father lost because of his drug abuse. George is not sure which is more breathtaking; the view or the irony.

George’s life is about to suck even more because school starts next week and he can’t scrape up enough money to pay his cell phone bill let alone the fee to play varsity football. Uncle Morris shows up and offers a creative solution to keep George and his sister together under one roof. It’s a much larger, less leaky roof, with a breathtaking view of the crappy, ramshackle cottage. Crafty Morris reveals a secret tunnel that leads to the mansion and consequently some Vardin family secrets that will make junior year unforgettable.


Download from Amazon on special offer today.

Terence Park

This is a post for all you indie authors about inspiration, influences and science fiction. This is a must read for all your aspiring SF and Fantasy authors from a really talented author Terence Park.


Influences. We’ve all got them. Who looks at theirs? It’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time on but I suppose mine began with Space Westerns. Of course I didn’t call them that; not then. An aspect of Space Westerns that I’ve found interesting, I call Backwoods SF. I’m going to look at that and see where it leads.

What’s in a term

Backwoods: Not in the big city; wooded or partly cleared and far from a city; remote or culturally backward.
SF: Fiction with healthy doses of scientific speculation.
Big cities: where decisions are made and where the politicians who make them hang out. These are places where the rewards are compelling and what’s on offer is a cosmopolitan style of life, new technologies, new (and laxer) social mores. They are where it’s at. Yet cities are also at the sharp end. In a way they’re the kitchen of civilisation – if you can’t stand the heat you get out. Big city life is demanding and unforgiving. Trust is in short supply. Can-do writ large morphs into opportunism. It has more than its fair share of thieves and crooks. Let your guard down and you suffer. Those who dwell there know it’s the price they pay for living at the apex of civilisation. City Slickers, if they think on it, will consider those in smaller cities, towns, villages… as further down the slippery slope of success.
Stories to entertain that market will need big themes, something to lift the reader above the overpowering presence of masses of people. By its very nature, most Science Fiction gravitates to a city point of view. But not all. There’s a strand connecting to the realities of rural life. Backwoods SF is as far away from Space Opera as you can get.

Writers in this area

Clifford D Simak and Robert Heinlein spring to mind. Robert Heinlein needs no introduction. He works this strand well in novels such as Red Planet, Farmer in the Sky, Tunnel in the Sky and Starman Jones. Heinlein’s works are suffused with the self-determination and individualism that is often seen as American in character. His heroes rely on their own judgement and skills and have a healthy disregard for overbearing authority – jumped-up men in suits. This is not unfamiliar territory to those who read Westerns.

Tunnel in the Sky cover

Tunnel in the Sky

Rod Walker steps through a gate to do a survival course on an alien planet. The planet is a wilderness and he’s there for a week. But after the course ends, the gate doesn’t reopen. He’s marooned. There are others trapped there just like him. They work together to build a place to live. In this work, Heinlein shows the best and worst of human nature.

Clifford D Simak was an exemplar of Backwoods SF. His settings were often rural and his heroes, backwoodsmen. When his stories concluded, he often left mysteries hanging. His work was usually described as gentle and pastoral. Clifford said of his work:

Overall, I have written in a quiet manner; there is little violence in my work. My focus has been on people, not on events. More often than not, I have struck a hopeful note… I have, on occasions, tried to speak out for decency and compassion, for understanding, not only in the human, but in the cosmic sense. I have tried at times to place humans in perspective against the vastness of universal time and space. I have been concerned where we, as a race, may be going, and what may be our purpose in the universal scheme—if we have a purpose. In general, I believe we do, and perhaps an important one.
In his hands fiction became something greater than homespun story-telling.

All the Traps of Earth cover

All the Traps of Earth

In All the Traps of Earth, Clifford twists and turns through each story so the reader can rarely guess where each will end. Many of these tales mix his sense of the homely rural and suburban against a backdrop of the alien and cosmically vast. The title pice shows a robot closing down the accounts of the Barrington family, to which he belongs. The problem is the last of the Barrington’s just died. That means he (the robot) will have to have his personality erased. These short stories remind me of PK Dick.

The rural / outdoor life; what is it? It’s not just city economics; labour + materials + process = result; there’s a whole lot more it than that. Those who live the outdoor life see something different; they see the pattern and flow of nature. This is brought out through the story. Character emphasis will be different, its development will be refocussed; regardless of whether it’s set in the outback of some place on Earth, or in the big back yard of another planet. This becomes the baseline. Contrast it with the unknown / alien; the two will be very different. These pre-built extremes are ready to generate conflict; the known matched off against the strange and unknowable. If you’re the writer, you’ve now some variables from which to draw the characters of both hero and alien. Your protagonist loves nature? Nature gets in the way of the alien. Your protagonist knows how to track a trail, the alien uses gadgets for that… and so on. From there you can start to flesh out your alien’s back story which will in turn determine further traits. A delight for the writer and hopefully, the reader.

UK Outback = up North

I always felt that Backwoods SF was an interesting notion to develop. However, here in the UK we don’t have no outback. It’s hard to be a long way from Big Cities in the UK – the nearest one to me, Manchester, is a mere 15 miles off. I live in Rossendale. Still; I empathise to being disconnected from the hustle and bustle of city life. I guess if I worked there (as I have in the past) that that would vanish, and the disconnect might well transfer to the place I live. We’re admonished: write what you know – it gives your work authenticity. I know small town life and it informs my narratives. So that’s what I plug into them.

Bundling these together can lead to interesting and intellectually satisfying results. For example: where does an alien on the run go? Does he / she go to ground? or go to the most important person they can find, perhaps pretending to be the ambassador of an advanced race? Could the alien become part of a technology transfer trading setup? Heading for the President or someone in authority sounds superficially attractive. This is actually a snag, if you’re on the run, as that’s the first place a pursuer would check on. Symbols of power mean a lot on technologically undeveloped worlds and it’s easy to work out who makes decisions. A lot depends on how thorough pursuers are likely to be, and how well versed they are in the craft of information gathering.

Alien as Refugee

This is what I did in Lucky (named for my alien heroine). Lucky rejects most of the above as too likely to get noticed and decides to go to ground. She second-guesses human intolerance and, rather than go to a big city, chooses to settle in a town. She finds a place where ‘one more’ makes little difference; where the chance of being outed as a true outsider is low. The country she chooses, the UK, has large scale, on-going immigration. She works on her back story: she is a refugee (just not from Earth). Knowing my locale, the rationale for why an alien might choose to hide there seems plausible.

Writing point: you know your neighbourhood. Write it. It gives a voice to your area. Done well, it sounds authentic. Or you can always research. If you’re a writer, you’re always researching – even when you’re not!

What aliens do you do?

At some point, you, as author will want to move from unknown, presumed hostile aliens, to something a little more sophisticated – imagine your Nth alien saying its equivalent of “I am Dalek. I exterminate” – that gets kind of repetitive. Before we look at this further, there’s another aspect that deserves some attention; human reaction. Alienness gives the opportunity to stoke up fear of the unknown. If there’s one thing to provoke humanity to a killing frenzy it’s fear of the unknown. Run with that and you have something for your alien to second guess. That’s assuming your alien’s intellect takes precedence over its instincts; it could of course be a predator, come to hunt, or a feeder / breeder that hosts on anything alive (like Giger’s alien). This elicits a primal response. Is that your only aim?

Alien as Victim

A key alien character in A Guide to First Contact knows there is no means of returning home. She starts in the hands of authority and, without the opportunity to develop a good back story, her options are limited. Were she to escape, the pluses and minuses for big cities come into play. Big can mean easier to hide in; but also harder to stay out of  reach of those who would go out of their way to identify her and hound her, or profit from her. They would never let her alone. Recognising the inherent threat in humanity, she is forced to suffer in a secret laboratory. She becomes a victim. If you know no one, who can you turn to? I give my aliens difficult choices but they don’t all respond the same way. Some display the manners of cultured guests at a dinner party while others behave like opportunists (a trait we know so well).

This kind of talk suggests another look be taken at characterisation. As a writer, you’ve developed characters in contrast to alienness. But this then provokes you to round out your alien characters. Do you make them accessible? give them traits to which we can connect? Here, Zenna Henderson is worth noting because she pays particular reference to sympathetic alien portrayal. The two works I have of hers are The People: No Different Flesh, and Pilgrimage. As a rule I mix it up. A twist of inscrutability, some sympathetic traits plus, where appropriate, reference to the places you know.¹

Pilgrimage cover


Zenna Henderson wrote about alien exiles in the American midwest, who call themselves the People. They live in secret but come across as gentle and more akin to the spiritual side of humanity. Their flight from their doomed home world left them scattered across the US and Pilgrimage documents their stories as they try to find each other.

Lucky is mostly set in Codwich, a fictional town in the North of England. It felt appropriate to add some reference to its Celtic and Anglo-Saxon heritage. She asks a tramp about himself:

“You didn’t tell me your name,” Lucky called from the kitchen. She listened, but his only answer was quiet silence. Another sensitive area? She racked her brain for another tack, while she prepared the teapot. The kettle came to a boil and she dug out a tin with a still unopened pack of Rich Tea biscuits.
“I’m researching, you know.” he called.



Lucky added milk to the jug and brought in the tray, flushed with the success at having made a cup of tea for her first visitor. She looked at her small table, puzzled; he had emptied his pockets onto it. In the corner nearest him was a dirty handkerchief, tissue paper and a crumpled carrier bag. Covering the rest of the space were several plastic cards and heavily creased paper documents. His arms trembled but he swept them aside to make room for the tray.

“What are you researching?”

“Many things. Codwich, Coed y Ffin – tree bordered?” She knew how words morphed over time and recognised the Anglo-Saxon rendering of the original Cumbric term for the town. Few would. ²

Stretches of Guide are pastoral. Easing in a local reference was tricky. Sometimes, all that’s possible is a reference, meaningless to all but a few. Here, an amateur conspiracy investigator who’s tracking down a missing astronaut, retires for the day, baffled:

Maybe there really was redaction style webware out there.
So, her name was a no-go area. Did that apply to the other crew members? No way to tell, but based on Ms Singerton it was likely.
Something to chew over while watching soccer on Sky-Fox. The Clarets playing the Gunners. No wine, no firearms. Where did they dream up these names from? I would have flicked the channel but didn’t have the energy. ³

The Clarets is the nickname of my home town team who have been a Championship side since 2000; as of the time of writing – 18/11/14 – they look like making a return by the end of the season. Predicting they’ll be playing Arsenal in Premier League, March 23rd, 2019? Now that’s Science Fiction!

Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine
Clifford D Simak


¹ Aristotle’s Poetics

The rules to creativity were outlined in antiquity by Aristotle in a work that came to be known as the Poetics. I haven’t seen a satisfactory translation of this piece but if you cut through the philosophical trappings, you can see the granddaddy of works on writing; it dealt with issues that writers still deal with.
Section 4.3: poor characterisation makes poor tragedy
(although this section sees Aristotle talking of tragedy, this has much wider application)
Section 8.1: In all things: is this plausible? probable?
Section 11: things may be portrayed as they should be, even if they aren’t
My notes on Aristotle’s Poetics are here.

Author references

² Lucky p47

Lucky is on the web as Lucky and other stories
Lulu: 21617090 (UK Crown Quarto)

Lucky cover


³ Guide p240

Guide is on the web as A Guide to First Contact. The title is an ironic play on words.
Lulu: 21455011 (US A5)
Lulu: 21444383 (UK Crown Quarto)
Lulu: 21444388 (UK Case Wrap)

Guide cover


Web sites
My Telegraph


Today I’ve got an extract from Jan Domagala and his book Ronin. Take a look and we’ll be showcasing more from this book tomorrow.




He stood on the Observation Lounge looking out at the vista of stars, waiting to die.

Out of the four volunteers for the special experimental programme, only he and Kurt Stryder were left alive. The other two, Summerfield and Watson, had died in circumstances too horrible to contemplate. Was this his fate too, to die like them?

He knew there were risks involved in the programme, a fact of any experimental programme but seeing those risks, seeing the consequences up close and personal made him doubt the validity of both the programme and his eagerness to enlist in it. It was too late to pull out now though, for the final round of tests had been completed. At least he had gotten that far, more than could be said for Summerfield or Watson.

Turning away from the large panoramic viewport he decided to return to his quarters. It was after midnight station time, which was synchronous with Earth Central Time. At this time of night only the night shift were working keeping this station, Research Station Five, operational. He walked towards his quarters, nothing more than a cubicle with a bed really, and he entered. He soon had disrobed placing his uniform in the wardrobe, the only other piece of furniture present in the Spartan quarters before climbing into the bed.

He was more tired than he had first thought and sleep came to him quickly. After a few hours sleep, he was suddenly awakened by a searing pain that ripped through his abdomen like a wildfire. He tumbled out of bed wrapped in the duvet that strangled his movements. He tried to stand but a wave of nausea engulfed him like a raging tide washing over the shore. He stumbled and steadied himself against the wardrobe to prevent falling on

the floor then activated the locking pad on the door. As it opened on a cushion of compressed air he threw himself out into the corridor beyond.

A series of hacking coughs wracked his body and when his sight returned he saw the wall he had leaned against for support was splattered with blood.

This was not good. This was how the other two started before they died.

He was afraid then and he screamed for help before another coughing fit took control.

He fell to the floor, his stomach heaving, the pain building to excruciating levels. As he lay on the floor he turned his head to see a pair of boots running toward him. He had never felt such pain and he was so weak he could hardly lift his head.

He felt someone cradle his head and he looked up into a pair of worried eyes.

He coughed once more spraying the shirt of whoever was holding him with blood before he succumbed to the darkness that had been creeping into his peripheral vision.

The man cradling his head accessed a comm channel via his Neural Interface.

When the call was connected he said, “Sir, Captain Bell

has just died.”


Kurt Stryder was taking a shower when his Neural Interface tingled, telling him a comm. channel had been accessed and a call was coming through to him.

“Go ahead,” he said. The NI automatically connected him to various networks, wherever he was on a starship, station or on a planet, whether it was comm. networks or the main computer on board. Effectively doing away with the need for external devices, the NI gave remote access to the same sources. Most Col Sec personnel were fitted with these NI’s and also, some private citizens who could afford the cost of surgery, and the device.

“Something’s happened to Bell,” General Sinclair said, his voice coming through as clear as if he stood next to him in the room.

“What, same as the others?” Stryder asked almost knowing the answer, which would make his own worst fear come true.

“I’m afraid so, just like Summerfield and Watson.”

“How long have I got?” Stryder asked, for he was part of the same project and now, the only remaining test subject left alive.

“There’s no guarantee that what happened to them will also happen to you. They assure me they’re doing everything in their power, to get to the bottom of this,” Sinclair said.

“Excuse me sir if I don’t feel reassured. What I don’t understand is, if we all had the procedure at the same time, why have the others died at different intervals?”

“That’s something they’re looking into, I can assure you. I want you to come to the main lab right away. There are some tests they want you to perform and I want you

under close surveillance at all times, until we get to the bottom of this.”

“Right, I’ll just finish my shower and be right there sir.”

“There’ll be an escort waiting at your door when you’re ready, Sinclair out.”

Stryder continued with his shower now that the tell tale tingle had left him, as the connection was severed.

All he could think of was, when would he die? He’d seen the reports of the first two deaths and they were horrible. He’d seen his fair share of death during combat and had caused enough of his own to warrant his participation in this project. This was supposed to help bring about the end of the needless death, or at the very least, help reduce it. He had thought that if the results of this project helped to save one life in the field, then whatever they had to endure would be worth it.

Now he wasn’t so sure. It didn’t seem right to sacrifice three lives, possibly more, to save only one life. The balance was off, and he had no idea how to redress it.

Finishing his shower, he dried off and quickly got dressed in his uniform of white shirt and dark blue trousers. The Col Sec emblem was on the patch pocket on his shirt, over his heart and the three pips of his rank of captain were on the epithets. He glanced in the mirror to ensure he was presentable, but what he saw disturbed him somewhat. His blond hair was cut to regulation length, not too short but trimmed neatly around ears that lay flat against the side of his head. High cheekbones gave evidence of his Nordic ancestry, as did his cobalt blue eyes. His normal, warm smile was missing now, replaced with a worried frown. Trying not to think about what could lie ahead, he went to the door.

As the door opened he saw his escort, two marines from Recon Delta. Delta was his old unit, the elite of Col Sec, which meant the General was taking this development

seriously. The marines promptly fell in behind him as he left his room.

Arriving at the main lab he was met by General Sinclair and Doctor Baxter, the two main men heading this project. General Sinclair was in overall command of Col Sec; both Recon Delta and Intelligence Division. Doctor Baxter was in charge of the lab.

“There you are Captain,” Sinclair said as Stryder entered the lab, flanked by his escort. Sinclair was in his fifties but still ram-rod stiff from his years in Col Sec. His brown hair was receding from a high forehead in a widow’s peak. Below that, his deep brown eyes were unfathomable, as was his normal, stoic expression. Thin lips rarely if ever, spread into a smile. It was said in some circles that, if Sinclair had ever indulged in playing poker, with his normal deadpan expression, he could have been wealthy beyond his dreams.

“Yes sir, I see you’ve beefed up the security somewhat,” Stryder replied with a sardonic smile.

“Yes I thought it about time.”

“Granted, but don’t you think it smacks of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, just a little?”

“Your opinion is thus noted Captain, but Baxter here doesn’t share your sense of doom. Tell him Doctor.”

Stryder turned to the doctor not daring to hope. He said, “Tell me what, Doc?”

Baxter was smaller than the other men in the lab who were all professional soldiers standing between six feet one and six feet three inches tall, with lean hard physiques that had been honed through years of hard training. Baxter, however, was five feet ten inches tall, with a thin, reedy body that had rarely seen exercise. His mind though was as sharp as any blade known to man.

“Well Captain, you know as well as any on this project, that what we’ve witnessed, has been unprecedented and quite frankly, simply should not have happened…,” he

said, his slate grey eyes aglow with excitement. He ran his hand through his thinning, salt and pepper hair, and then pushed his spectacles up his aquiline nose, a habit of his when he was nervous, or excited.

“But it did happen, sir, three times now. The same every time. What I need to know is, when is it gonna be my turn and can you prevent it?” Stryder asked.

“But that’s just it, the same every time. All three died exactly the same.” said Baxter, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his white lab coat.

“I understand that Doctor, what’s your point?”

“You know the basis of what we’re doing here, right? We’ve injected you all with a serum that would alter you genetically; to enhance your immune system, to give you the ability to heal faster and to aggressively attack toxins.”

“Yes sir, I was briefed fully at the induction, we all were.”

“And you agree that no two people’s d.n.a. is exactly the same?”

“Yes sir.”

“So why would the treatment affect three people in exactly the same manner, at different intervals, when it has been proven, that there are no toxins present in the serum?”

“I don’t know Doctor; you tell me, you’re the expert. No wait, you suspect foul play. How is that possible? I thought the facility was locked down tighter than an air lock in deep space”

“It is, but considering we are in deep space, that comment is redundant. Having said that, it’s the only explanation that fits the facts,” Baxter said.

“So what’re we gonna do sir?” Stryder asked, glancing at the general.

“You are going to continue with the program, leave the security of this facility to me,” Sinclair replied confidently.

“Do you have a list of suspects sir? I’d like to know so I can keep an eye out, or am I to be the bait?” Stryder asked.

“We’re looking into it Captain,” Sinclair said, giving nothing away as usual.

Stryder watched as Baxter turned to the General and said, “Tell him.”

“Tell me what sir? What is it you’re keeping from me?” Stryder asked suspiciously.

Sinclair stared at Baxter for a second, his eyes boring into him with repressed anger. Baxter was a civilian scientist working for Col Sec, but not directly under Sinclair’s command, otherwise that little outburst would not have happened. He looked away from the doctor then turned to face Stryder. There was a battle going on inside his head, Stryder could see that. When he came to a decision he said, “Okay, we suspect that Captain Howard may have something to do with all this.”

“Howard? Isn’t he in charge of security here?”

“Yes and we have to handle this carefully. If he has ties to the Alliance, then we need to find out. We’ll have to keep him under close surveillance but without alerting him to the fact we’re on to him. If he is our man and he gets wind of our suspicions, there’s no telling what he might do.”

“One thought has occurred to me sir, why is he going to so much trouble, when this project clearly doesn’t work?” Stryder asked.

“Excuse me?” Baxter replied indignantly, staring at the taller man as if he had insulted him.

“Well sir, if this serum is supposed to increase our immune system, to make us more able to fight off toxins, how is he killing us off one by one? All the testing we’ve undergone so far has been to see if it affected us on a physical level. As far as I can see, our immune system has not been tested yet. Surely if a poison or toxin of some sort has been used shouldn’t the serum have neutralised it?” Stryder explained with no trace of malice.

Baxter’s expression softened a little. He said, “That again, is something of a mystery. You were right to point out about the testing. We had to ensure that the serum had no debilitating effects on your abilities to perform as a soldier. In fact, in your case Captain, it had quite the opposite effect; it actually increased your strength and stamina. I’m sure you’re aware that your endurance levels have increased by twenty five per cent.”

Stryder expressed mild surprise and a little bewilderment.

“To be honest Doc, I thought you were taking it easy on me, well on us, actually. I never realised it was just me, we never tested together. I just put it down to my training in Recon Delta being harder than what you put us through.” He paused then asked, “But why me?”

Baxter had no answer for him other than a shake of his head and a bemused expression. When he spoke his voice displayed his frustration.

“We’ve encountered so many variables that that were, to be honest, unexpected. Each test subject has had a different reaction to the serum, however small. You, it seems Captain, are the only one to exhibit any positive reaction to the serum. It seems the serum did not affect the immune system of the first three. In fact, once the autopsy results are in on Bell, I’m sure it will confirm my earlier findings, that their immune system, actually saw the serum as a threat, and destroyed it.”

“How is that possible sir, and what does it mean for me? Am I in danger from it?” Stryder asked a little concerned.

“On the contrary, it seems to have increased your metabolism, now all we need to do in order to get it to increase your immune system. We need to get it to attach itself onto your DNA to affect your immune system genetically; otherwise it could be perceived as a threat by

your body’s defences and be destroyed by the very thing it seeks to improve.”

“And how on earth do you intend to do that?”

“I’ve developed a nano serum, billions of tiny robots programmed to attach the serum to the specific strand of your d.n.a. We just inject it into your bloodstream and they get to work. We should see results within a very short time.” Baxter said smiling and almost rubbing his hands together in glee at the prospect of this new development.

“Billions of tiny robots Doc? I’m no scientist but how have you programmed so many, in such a short space of time,”

“We’ve been working on nano bots for many years. They’re used extensively throughout the medical profession as I’m sure you’re aware. Programming them was relatively easy; they work in series you see. If you programme one, it passes that data along to the rest almost instantaneously.”

“When are you planning on—” Stryder stopped short when he saw Baxter reach for a syringe.

“Right now Captain, roll up your sleeve please.”

Before he knew it the injection had been administered and he was pulling down his sleeve again.

“How soon Doc, before you know? What can I expect?” he asked, unsure of what would happen next.

“Not sure really, but the nano bots should get to work immediately. As to the question whether you’ll feel anything, I wouldn’t expect so. Remember this is taking place at the genetic level so the changes should go unnoticed until the immune system is threatened.”

“So what you’re saying basically, is that I won’t know if it’s worked until I get injured?” Stryder asked.

“Well, I suppose that’s somewhat true, yes,” Baxter replied seeming a little unsure.

“You don’t sound too confident Doctor.” Sinclair said.

“We’re not dealing with absolutes here, we’re into uncharted waters. This has never been attempted before and quite frankly, until we get some sort of results, until we can test this, I don’t know what to expect.”

“Forgive me Doc if I don’t feel reassured.” Stryder said.

“If it works though, just think of the potential. Think of the lives we’ll be able to save.” Baxter said, pushing his spectacles up his nose again.

“Going back to my earlier question about Howard sir, why is he going to so much trouble to kill us all off? Does he know something about this that we don’t, or is the Alliance so afraid that we may be on to something, that they’re desperate to stop us at any cost?”

“It’s no secret that they are desperate to prevent us gaining any sort of advantage over them and if they can’t duplicate our research, then the safest thing to do is either discredit it or destroy it,” Sinclair said.

“If he’s in charge of security won’t he be pissed off that you brought in Recon Delta to take over?”

“Oh, I do hope so,” Sinclair said with an uncharacteristically smug smirk.

“I get it, you want to rattle his cage and force him to make a mistake.”

“Of course,” Sinclair said.

“So, not only am I a guinea pig, but I’m bait now as well?” Stryder said.

Baxter looked from him over to Sinclair, then down to the floor, unable to maintain eye contact with him. The General though, had no trouble at all looking at him.

“Don’t feel guilty Doc, I’m first and always a soldier, this comes with the territory,” Stryder said never taking his eyes off Sinclair.

“You got that right Captain; this is what you signed up for,” Sinclair said coldly.

“Yeh! The life in Recon Delta, it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” said Stryder.


Download this book now from Amazon and tune in tomorrow for another sneak peak.

Terror Train – Extra

Okay so I lied. I’ve got one more podcast from Terror Train this is a Halloween Special for our Halloween Special, which I think makes it a double whammy of scary… so have a listen if you dare!

Terror Train

In the UK we don’t really celebrate Halloween like they do in the US but we still like our scares. So all this week I am showcasing a great collaboration of stories to chill your bones and give you nightmares. There will be something new everyday to get you in the mood for a frightening Friday. And also we’ve revamped (get it!) the blog a bit too. Let us know what you think in the comments below and please feel free to share your scary stories.

Now allow me to introduce the spine-tingling, hell-raising, not-being-able-to-go-to-sleep-in-the-dark-ing… Train Terror:




The Terror Train rides, from city to city, from village to village, through states, across rivers and mountains. If only it could tell its tales of grisly murder, of demonic pacts, black holes into different dimensions and portals to other realms where the ghosts of train robbers hunt in perpetuity for that elusive bullion filled carriage that cost them their immortal souls. Behold the terrors the train has witnessed, see firsthand the horrors it has lived through and when you get on board, pray, pray you’ve entered the right one, on the right track, the one that does not lead to oblivion…

Terror Train contains stories by new and established authors, with a guest story by William F. Nolan.

All aboard!

Download it now! http://www.amazon.com/Terror-Train-Mathias-Jansson-ebook/dp/B00KYWRWS2/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413836480&sr=1-2&keywords=terror+train+in+books

But Can You Drink The Water?

Today I am interviewing Jan Hurst-Nicholson a British writer of fun books like But Can You Drink The Water. Here’s what she has to say.

But Can You Drink The Water? is probably your most popular book – can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s a light-hearted look at emigration and chronicles a naïve working-class family’s attempts to fit in after emigrating from Liverpool to South Africa. The story follows the upsets, hurt and changing family dynamics that emigration brings and has an underlying theme of: ‘Is home more than where the heart is?’

When Frank Turner informs his wife and teenage son they are moving to sunny South Africa he is unprepared for their hostile response. His defiant son makes his own silent protest, and his wife’s assertion that “we never shoulda come” is parroted at every minor calamity.

The story began as a stage script in the 1980s and progressed to a 13 part sitcom. A local film producer was interested, but when that came to naught I still had all the characters and situations buzzing in my head, so I turned the episodes into chapters of a novel. The title But Can You Drink The Water? is a familiar phrase to British readers who travel abroad.

Although the book had some positive responses from publishers, and even won an award, it was never taken up, but when it reached the semi-finals in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award the positive review from the Publishers Weekly judge, “with a droll, witty and utterly British voice…” prompted me to self-publish it as a Kindle e-book. The encouraging sales of the e-book persuaded me it was worth producing a paperback version.

What is the Turner family like? Are they based on any family in particular?

The characters are very much a product of my imagination, but I’d like to think they represent a typical ‘salt of the earth’ Scouse family of the 1970s who were somewhat unworldly and naïve (as many of us were) about anything that was foreign. I drew (very loosely – I was single when I arrived in SA and I married a South African) on my own experiences and those of fellow expats. I’ve been gratified by reviewers saying they ‘recognised’ the characters, with one reviewer commenting: “Every page related to EXACTLY what happened to ourselves as the author experienced, even down to when we returned to the UK on holiday. Both the wife and I shed tears of laughter.”

The Turner family emigrate from Liverpool to South Africa, this is set in the 1970s so what is it like for the family stepping into this foreign country?

There was no internet to do research in the 1970s so emigrants were very much setting off into the unknown, and the bewildered working-class Scousers are soon thrust into an alien world of servants, strange African customs, unintelligible accents, and unexpected wild life (‘crocodiles’ on the wall). Immersing into a new and very different culture can be traumatic, especially for the spouse left at home to cope on her own while the husband quickly adapts to a new working life. But the Turners each learn to cope in their own individual way. Mavis overcomes homesickness by hugging the knowledge that when Frank’s contract ends they can return home; Gerry’s sullen resentment gives way to love of the outdoor life, and Frank masks his own doubts with blustering optimism and bantering sarcasm. Having overcome culture shock, the arrival of Mavis’s parents introduces a divided loyalty when Gert and Walter’s National Health glasses and ill-fitting dentures are seen through the eyes of the Turner’s new South African friends. And when Mavis’s sister ‘our Treesa’ and her opinionated husband Clive visit, Mavis surprises herself by hotly defending SA.

But Can You Drink The Water? is a British comedy, what do you like about British humour?

It’s usually understated and subtle, with a good sprinkling of self-deprecation. Sarcasm also plays a part, and Frank is a master at sarcastic remarks. I like to think of British humour as ‘observational’ humour in that people recognize and laugh at themselves.

Can you share a passage or scene that really sums up But Can You Drink The Water?

It’s difficult to sum up the book with one scene, but I think the first few paragraphs set the tone for the book.

South Africa 1970s

As the 747 hiccupped through a pocket of turbulence Frank Turner’s white-knuckled fingers tightened round the armrests in the same vice-like grip he used on the dentist’s chair. The cigarette clamped between his teeth was the latest in the chain he’d begun eighteen hours earlier on Liverpool’s Lime Street station.

The cloudless blue sky abruptly turned to brown earth as the plane banked sharply for its final landing approach. Frank risked movement to turn round and peer impatiently down the aisle. The toilet door remained firmly closed. As his head swung back his cigarette narrowly escaped contact with the crotch of the brisk airhostess who was hurrying the passengers into their safety belts. “Please extinguish your cigarette and fasten your safety belt, sir,” she said, nimbly avoiding the glowing cigarette tip, her bright smile now of a lower wattage after fourteen hours in the air.

Frank smiled submissively, but sneaked a few last drags while she strapped in the florid-faced woman in front whose frequent trips to the toilet equated with her having walked the six thousand miles from England to South Africa.

He stubbed out his cigarette and fastened his safety belt. The landing was the part he didn’t care for. Fraught with tension, anxiety clenched his buttocks, jaw and fists. He cast further furious glances towards the toilet, willing the door to open. When it remained closed he addressed the figure slouched sulkily in the window seat.

“Trust your bloody mother. It would be just like her to be caught with her knickers down if we crash.”

There was no response from fifteen-year-old Gerry, except for the barely perceptible quiver of his Mohican haircut. He’d never wanted to come in the first place, and nothing less than the promise of a motorbike was going to bring him round.

Glaring at the silent form of his son, Frank forced down the anger that surged anew at the sight of his hair. Although, thanks to his mother’s vigorous washing, the once rainbow purple, green and yellow stripes were now a paler, muted hue, it had failed to return it to its original mouse. Nothing short of a wig could do anything for the lavatory-brush style.

“I’m talking to you, cloth ears,” Frank snapped, prodding Gerry in the ribs.

The only response was a scowl and muttered, “I ‘eard you.”

The row was about to develop into a shouting match when the toilet door finally swung open and Mavis Turner limped down the aisle, the agony of her swollen ankles reflected in her suffering face. She squeezed past Frank, wincing as her new shoes caught the bunion her mother had threatened her with since the winklepicker shoes of her teens. …

But Can You Drink The Water? is just one of your books, you’re a really prolific author, can you tell us about your favourite story?

My first novel was The Breadwinners (a family saga) , but it would be 25 years before I saw it in print. In the meantime I wrote children’s books and I’m very fond of Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the missing canary eggs which was my first trad published book and allowed me to claim fame as an ‘author’. Something to Read on the Plane was the first book I self-published (in print in 2006) and is a compilation of my published humorous articles and short stories. It is still selling at airport bookshops and is special because it was the first book I was solely responsible for. But I had the most fun writing my latest book, With the Headmaster’s Approval because I wrote it for myself (and fell in love with the MC!). Knowing that I was going to self-publish it gave me the freedom to write without any publisher’s constraints, or the usual ‘rules’ sitting on my shoulder. It’s general fiction with a romance element, so it doesn’t easily slot into any particular genre – a bit of a nightmare for a publisher’s marketer. The story tells how one man changes the group dynamics when he joins an all-female community, which is something I’ve noticed on more than one occasion and wanted to explore further (women seem to have more fun when there are no men around!)

Restoring discipline at a girls’ academy should have been easy for a former US Naval Officer. It wasn’t, nor was it easy dealing with an all-female staff.

Intrigue, scandal, suspense, and romance peppered with humour tell how one man’s influence on a school of wayward girls and their teachers changes their lives in ways none of them would imagine – and eventually his own.

I set the book in the UK in the area where I went to school, and as our TV was showing re-runs of the original Hawaii 5-0 series starring Jack Lord I used him as a model for Adam Wild, the Headmaster. Having pictures of the main characters pinned above my computer helps to keep me focused.

Can you share a passage from this story?

This is how the story begins.

As Adam scanned the morning’s agenda Lisa could hear the chatter of the girls as they filed into assembly. The closed office door muted the sound, but she knew when they entered the hall it would be like the bird house in a zoo. She stood next to his neatly organised desk ready to fill in any details he was unsure of.

“So, Mrs Stannard is going to introduce me and give a brief explanation, and then I’ll take over?” he asked, looking up at her.

“Yes, we thought that would be best. It will give some sort of continuity.”

“And you’ll be ready to prompt me on the agenda,” he said, grinning.

“Yes, but I’m confident you won’t need me,” she replied with a reassuring smile.

He glanced at his watch, a slim classic that matched his gold cuff links, clipped his Montblanc pen into his pocket, picked up the file and rose briskly from his chair, his six foot-four frame towering over her. He fastened the middle button of his suit jacket, a dark blue that together with his pale blue shirt enhanced his fading tan. His broad shoulders filled the jacket to perfection and he could have stepped out of a clothing catalogue if it weren’t for the few stray locks of hair that fell over his brow despite him constantly finger-combing them back.

“Let’s go. Wish me luck,” he said.

“Good luck,” she said, wondering if he knew just how much he would need it.

And, finally, what are you currently working on?

I have several more Leon Chameleon PI stories in draft form, but they require expensive illustrations and are in abeyance at the moment, so I’m working on marketing what I’ve already

e-published and getting them all into print. I still need full covers for With the Headmaster’s Approval, my teen book Mystery at Ocean Drive and I Made These Up (short stories for the fireside). My trad published children’s books went out of print, but I was able to get reversal of copyright and convert them to e-books. Now I need to learn how to use the programme for converting them back into print. Gone are the days when all that was required of an author was to write a good story!

You can find lots more about Jan on the links below:

Jan’s website 

Jan’s Amazon author page 


But Can You Drink The Water? 

Mystery at Ocean Drive  

The Breadwinners (a family saga) 

Something to Read on the Plane 

Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the missing canary eggs 

Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the kidnapped mouse 

With the Headmaster’s Approval 

I Made These Up (short stories for the fireside) 

The Race (an inspiring story for left-handers) 

Bheki and the Magic Light

The Agent

Today I’m talking to Jonathan Mitchell and his horror novel The Agent, a perfect read for anyone trying to get into the Halloween spirit…
The Agent is a story about loner David Turner — what type of man is David Turner? Can you tell us about him?
Turner is a decent guy who finds himself getting lost in the shuffle. As he approaches middle age, Turner realizes how disconnected he is from the stream of human existence–and, when offered an out, he takes it. Unfortunately, this escape route is not as attractive as it first appears. 
Where is The Agent set?
The novel is set in Moorestown, a fictional city which is modeled on a crumbling industrial region of northwest Alabama known as Muscle Shoals. (Anyone who’s seen the Rolling Stones tour documentary “Gimme Shelter” has had a glimpse of it.) That’s the primary setting, but some of the action takes place in California. 
The Agent is a horror — how scary does this book get?
Pretty scary in the ghostly Henry Jamesian sense. There are a few scenes of graphic horror which were necessary to the story, but I didn’t dwell on them. “The Agent” is a psychological horror piece.
Can you give us an idea of the cult murders Turner discovers?
Turner’s recurring nightmares about dismembered bodies prod him to do a little research at the library. Newspaper records confirm that he’s been dreaming about real events: a series of mutilation murders which took place twenty-five years earlier in Southern California, the base of operations for a human potential cult. Without giving too much away, there is a direct link not only between the murders and the cult, but between the murders and Moorestown.
Are there any other characters in the book that are significant in the plot?
Yes, but here again I’d be spoiling the story if I described them in any detail 😉 I can say, however, that the entire sequence of events hinges on Turner; none of the action would be possible without him. 
Do you have a favourite scene or passage you can share with us?
I’m especially fond of a dream sequence in which Turner is confronted by the novel’s lead villain. It was a chance for me to indulge in some very bizarre, off-the-wall verbal imagery (not just for its own sake, but in a way that actually moved the story forward), and I think it turned out really well. Most of the dreams that appear in “The Agent” are my own; as I began to document them carefully, I realized what a crucial source of inspiration they were for the book.
What’s next for Jonathan Mitchell — is David Turner going to reappear again?
Anything’s possible! Right now, though, I’m working on an outline for an entirely different novel and trying to make my first short story sale.
You can download this story now from Amazon

Return To Brude

I have an extract from children’s book Return to Brude by G A Taylor – let us know what you think.

A streak of black fur shot over the hill, her paws skimmed the lane, her green eyes keened ahead. No need to turn; she heard him panting too closely at her heels. Ten whisker-widths behind her, his ears flapping, his head bobbing, was Dylan the terrier.

This was Cantrip’s daily burden – to be hounded – to follow the girl out of the cottage and get no further than the edge of the village before the yapping and the chase began.

Where the lane dipped, Cantrip sprang to clear the garden wall with elegant precision, land between blossoming rosebushes, and weave towards the white cottage inhaling scented triumph.

Dylan skidded to a halt inches from the wall and seconds from flattening his snout. He snorted, shook his head and trotted on to the wicket gate, where he watched her black tail lick the corner of the cottage for the last time. He barked as if to say, ‘Catch you tomorrow,’ then u-turned and headed home.

Cantrip slipped through the back door flap, and stood for a few seconds to cool her paws on the stone tiles before leaping onto the rickety stool by the kitchen table. She bent her head to breakfast, but a jarring prickle shot from tail-tip to whiskers, making them quiver. She froze and listened – but sensing no one in the house, dismissed the feeling and ate her bacon and black pudding.

The cottage stood fixed in the morning sunlight as Dylan toddled back over the hill, but by the time he was over the brow, its white walls had begun to shimmer and ripple as if distorted like a heat haze mirage, and seconds later – it shivered into nothingness.

No particle of the property remained; it vanished along with each villager’s memory of it. Even Mr Morton, who trekked by an hour later on one of his twice-daily walks to the woods with Dylan, did not notice the cottage was missing. Dylan may have suspected something though, for he gave a curious sniff at the spot where he usually peed on the garden wall, but even that was gone.

Only its residents would remember the cottage beyond the village. Two of them stood shaded at the edge of the woods watching Mr Morton heading home with Dylan.

Maggie McNiven frowned at the weedy stretch of land where their home had been, and Peg McNiven saw, through teary eyes, the patch where her herbs had flourished.

A glance at her younger sister deepened Maggie’s scowl. ‘Oh don’t you start.’ Her hooded eyes swept the area. ‘Is she still in the village?’

‘Probably,’ said Peg, half-distracted by blowing her nose.

‘Probably, what good is probably?’ said Maggie, turning a redder shade of livid.

‘Ach, cool yer heels, she’ll be at the pond,’ said Peg. ‘You know what she’s like near water, the ducks think she’s a long lost relative, but my herbs, Megs, and my books… all my lovely books.’

‘Never mind your ruddy herbs and books. They can be replaced, she can’t.’ Maggie gripped her long black skirt and charged across the grass muttering, ‘Fine guardians we are.’

‘But Megs,’ called Peg, ‘where are we going?’

Maggie wheeled round. ‘Where do you think? To the only place we can go, so hurry up.’

Peg’s eyes narrowed. ‘Is that wise, Megs?’

Maggie spread her palms. ‘Do we have a choice?’ And before she turned again towards the village, said, ‘And don’t call me Megs.’

‘Sorry, your humphiness,’ said Peg, trudging after her sister.

Now tethered to the newsagent’s pavement-sign in the village, Dylan pawed to catch a discarded baker’s bag, taunted by its meaty aroma, but it stayed beyond his reach. He strained at his leash until a breeze sent the bag tumbling into the gutter. Then another smell caught his attention and set his tail wagging, as a pair of trainers stopped beside him and their wearer bent to tickle him behind one ear.

‘Hello Dyl, chased any black cats today?’ asked an amused voice.

Dylan snuffled Annie McBride’s hand; it smelled of bread, grass – and bacon. He looked up at her expectantly.

‘Sorry Dyl, I’ve no treats left,’ she patted her pockets, ‘the ducks cleaned me out.’

As she straightened up, Annie saw Aunt Maggie storming down the hill towards her with Aunt Peg puffing along behind. Knowing that thunderous stride, Annie considered ducking into the shop, but since eagle-eyed Aunt Maggie had probably spotted her already, Annie tossed her thick plait over her shoulder and stood firm. Dylan whipped behind the newsagent’s sign as the wiry, dark-haired force of nature that was Maggie McNiven, closed in.

Annie reflected on the morning’s events, but nothing she thought of deserved the apparent oncoming wrath. ‘Which one of us is for it, do you think?’ she asked Dylan, her bright-blue eyes glinting. Dylan said nothing.

When within reach, Maggie grabbed her niece’s shoulders and pulled her so sharply into a hug that it made Annie gasp.

‘Are you alright child?’ said Maggie, as she thrust Annie out to arm’s-length.

Aunt Maggie never called her by name; it was always child or girl or lassie – anything but Annie.

‘I’m fine, why wouldn’t I be?’ She’s been at her bluebell brandy, thought Annie.

Peg caught up and folded at the waist to clutch her knees, completely winded.

Annie grinned. ‘What’s the matter with you two?’

Maggie released Annie’s shoulders. ‘Nothing, we… had a feeling that something had happened to you, that’s all.’

‘No, you,’ Peg wheezed, ‘had a feeling, phew!’

Annie raised an eyebrow. ‘Don’t be daft. This is Glendowf, for goodness’ sake, it’s not like there’re murderers and kidnappers lurking around every corner. Honestly you two. This village is so sleepy it could do with a coffee injection and a kick up the –’

‘– are you quite finished?’ said Maggie, her expression pinched. ‘We are just protecting you – we’ve done it quite well for the past eleven years – we are not being daft.’

Peg objected. ‘I wasn’t worried. I know you can take care of yourself, kiddo. Now,’ she said to Maggie, breathing deeply, ‘can we please walk to the station? I don’t think my heart can take any more jogging.’

‘Well you’re not exactly built for it, are you?’ Maggie cast a jaundiced eye over her substantial sister.

Peg’s eyes narrowed. ‘Oh get stuffed, ya skinny freak of nature.’

Annie chocked back a laugh and said, ‘Why are you going to the station?’

‘We are going to the station,’ said Maggie, circling her finger to signify all three of them, ‘because we need to catch a train. And, no,’ she shot Peg a black look, ‘there’s no need to exert yourself, the next train doesn’t leave for half an hour. Let’s go,’ she said, and marched off towards the other end of the village.

That Aunt Maggie knew Glendowf had a train station was not such a shock to Annie as the thought of them actually going somewhere – anywhere. Annie doubted her aunts knew the rest of the world existed; they lived like hermits.

Peg nudged her niece. ‘Come on then.’

Shaking her head, Annie joined Peg to follow Maggie down the street.

‘Where are we going?’ Annie asked Peg.

Peg snorted. ‘More than my life’s worth to tell you that one.’

‘We’re going to visit a relative on a matter of urgency,’ Maggie called over her shoulder.

‘Hang on – where did we get relatives from, all of a sudden?’ said Annie.

Maggie halted, turned a stoic face to her niece, drew breath and said, ‘Just because we never mentioned any relatives, doesn’t mean we don’t have any.’

Annie’s eyes narrowed. ‘You said we didn’t have any.’

‘Well I…’ Maggie tutted and waved dismissively, ‘I lied. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear anyway. Now could we please go?’

Annie clenched her teeth and grunted, ‘Urgh – that woman. You know, it’s true what they say, Aunt Peg, you can choose your friends –’

‘– but you can’t whack your Aunt Maggie on the head with a shovel and then use it to bury her – yes, I know,’ said Peg, linking arms with Annie. ‘Come on kiddo, let’s go.’

A small black nose sniffed the air from behind the newsagent’s sign, and content that the danger had passed, Dylan padded back round, lay like the Sphinx and watched wistfully as the baker’s bag danced up the street.


Buy the book from Amazon now:

Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead

Today it’s the turn of Scott Larson and his coming of age novel Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead – have a read!

Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead is your new book about two teenagers, Dallas and Lonnie, taking a road trip. What are these boys like and what is their relationship?
Dallas and Lonnie have grown up in a small farming community. They are both kind of oddballs and so when it comes to friends they have mainly had only each other. They know each other better than they know anyone else. As they graduate from secondary school, they are feeling a bit alienated. A lot of people their age are already getting married and starting a life of hard work. They’re not really mature enough yet to want to settle down. Also they have grown up in a conservative religious environment which they have rebelled against. They are not particularly political, but they are definitely rebels by nature.
The book is set in 1971 for those of us too young to know anything about the 70’s, too old to remember, or those who were in the 70’s and therefore can’t remember, can you tell us what was culturally happening at the time and in particular what Dallas and Lonnie were facing?
Yes, I would in the third category: I was there and thus it is all a blur! More seriously, for much of the United States–and in much of the rest of the world, for that matter–in that year there was a lot of turmoil going on. The Vietnam War was still being fought and university campuses were roiling with protests and resultant police crackdowns. Because of the rural setting of where they live, Dallas and Lonnie are largely sheltered from all of this. It is a politically conservative area where most people are supportive of U.S. policy. But what the two young men are not sheltered from is conscription. They have a lot of uncertainty hanging over them because, having turned 18, they could now be drafted into the army and sent to fight in the war.
The boys are hitting the road under the pretence of looking for a missing friend – can you expand on this?
A few years before the story begins Tommy Dowd, a young man that Dallas and Lonnie were acquainted with, went to Central America as some sort of freelance journalist and then disappeared. Lonnie has always been bothered by not knowing what happened to him and so, after a period of bad behavior and boredom and family problems, he cajoles Dallas into the totally daft idea of driving down to Central America to look for Tommy. They both understand that the idea is completely crazy but each wants to see how far the other will go before insisting on turning around. Basically, it is all just an excuse to run away from home, engage in a lot of bad behaviour and let off steam before they have to finally grow up.
But this isn’t a book about missing people – what happens to the boys and how do they change throughout the story?
Lonnie, who is the more self-destructive of the two, seems to be on something of a downward spiral. But for Dallas the travelling opens up a whole new world to him. On the way to the border they pick up a younger Mexican boy and he becomes a window for Dallas on Mexican language and culture. Dallas even manages to have a brief but intense love affair before the journey leads to a series of difficult situations. They run into muggers in Tijuana, become stranded in the middle of nowhere, get arrested by a corrupt policeman and eventually wind up separated. By the end of the story Dallas finds himself on his own in a very dangerous situation with no one else to rely on but himself. In the end Dallas and Lonnie have opposite reactions to their experiences. While Lonnie’s reaction is to want to retreat to the places and people he knows, Dallas is fascinated by the wider world that he never knew that much about.
This is a story based on some of your own memories, are you Dallas or Lonnie? And what memories contribute this story?
Well, I am the exact same age as the two characters and grew up in the same place, which made the research a bit easier. The details of the draft and the lottery by which draftees were selected were (and are) all still vivid in my memory. Both characters are composites of various people that I knew, but I suppose I drew more on my own personality for Dallas. And there is a lot of the best friend I grew up with in Lonnie. But we never got into nearly as much trouble as these two characters! And while I had some interesting road trips with my own best friend, we never went to Mexico together. I did go down across the border a few times with other friends during my misspent youth but never as far south as Dallas and Lonnie go, so I had to do some research on Mexico. I have always had a fascination with Latin American culture so that informed Dallas’s awakening to that world. And I lived in Chile for a year, so that will explain why references to that country keep cropping up. And, given that I have lived in Ireland for the past decade or so, I had to introduce an Irish character along the way. After all, you can’t go anywhere in the world without running into the Irish.
The setting is the South down to Mexico for those of us who have never seen that part of the world can you describe it to us (please feel free to use an extract).
The region where the story begins is more accurately described as the Southwest. (In the U.S. “the South” somewhat illogically refers to area bordering the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico and evokes the old Confederacy and plantations and Gone with the Wind.) The Southwest is very dry and very hot, alternating between deserts and mountain ranges. The following passage from the second chapter describes a journey I made often, climbing into the mountains and looking back at the flat floor of the San Joaquin Valley:
As Lonnie’s Impala strained its engine climbing the Ridge Route toward Tejon Pass, I turned to look back at the lights on the San Joaquin Valley floor. When it came down to it, I hated the valley. I always had a feeling of escape when I drove up out of it. Even hell isn’t as hot as the San Joaquin Valley in the summer. And it’s flat. It has to be the most boring place on the face of the earth. As we got higher into the mountains, things felt different. We were headed to places that weren’t boring and hot. We were headed to places that people had actually heard of. We were less than two hours from Los Angeles. I had only been there a few times, and that was only straight to my uncle Jack’s and back with my parents. Now it was just me and Lonnie heading down there, and anything was possible.
And finally what is next for Scott R Larson?
In a total departure from the first book, I’m currently working on a fantasy novel. It’s a story I first wrote in high school and which evolved into a recurring bedtime story for my daughter. In some ways it is a variation on Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead in that it is a road story and a coming-of-age story. After that I plan to write a novel set in the burgeoning software industry in Seattle in the 1980s, another time and place that I lived through. And I keep going back and forth about whether to write a sequel to Dallas’s story, specifically where is he and what is he doing nine years after the events of the first book.
You can read more about Scott and his other works here

Cobbled Life

I’ve been speaking with HM Flath and he’s been telling me all about his novel set in Russia. Here’s what he has to say.

1. Cobbled Life is a story about a conscripted soldier in 1908 Russia. How much of this story is fictional and have you used any events from this time, or interpreted other historical accounts that you can tell us about?


* The Tsar’s desire to modernize and build up the Russian army in 1908 is real as he did not want to be embarrassed in battle.

* The battles on the Eastern front between 1914 and 1915 along the Gorlice-Tarnow line are real.

* The Russian Revolution of 1917 is real.

* The existence of Pokovnik Constantine Vasiletvich Zaharoh is real.

* The description of the immigrant ship and train are real.

* The Flath family settlement in Saskatchewan is real.

* Many of Otto’s personal experiences while in Russia and then also in Canada are real.

* The dates are all real.


– The conversations are fictional.

* Some of the characters are fictional, ie. the Pokovnik’s family.

* Clara’s family, the Jungs, and their background contains much conjecture on my part as I had only snippets of information.

Events that are utilized:

-World War I – Eastern front battles

-The Russian Revolution of 1917

* The existence of the Spanish flu epidemic and its consequences

* The Great Depression of the 1930’s

2. Obviously 1908 Russia was a very tumultuous time, what does your leading character Otto, face as he travels on his perilous journey?

Upon entering Russia, Otto was confronted with prejudices of language, ethnicity, cultural and social status which were underlying themes through the whole book. The dramatic tumultuous time for Otto began in 1914 with the outbreak of WWI. He faced danger, the horrors of war and the possibility of physical harm and/or death, loyalty in the face of danger, escape from Russia during the Russian Revolution, the tragic death of his mother and then the difficulties of life as an immigrant during the Great Depression.

3. What type of man is Otto and how does he develop throughout the story?

Otto begins as an immature, inexperienced, nineteen year old who has had a fairly easy life until the time he was conscripted and where the story begins. His character grew much stronger as he lived and learned from personal experiences, from living with the Pokovnik’s family, from

being on the front during WWI, escaping from Russia, immigrating, etc. He grows into becoming a loyal devoted family man – strong and committed.

4. Are there any other significant characters in Cobbled Life you can tell us about?

* Martin is Otto’s father and the man responsible for the first Flaths to emigrate to Canada.

* Constantine Vasilevich Zaharoh, Pokovnik of a cavalry regiment in Russia’s third army, was Otto’s boss and mentor (father figure) for 9 years. Otto went to the battle lines on the Eastern front as the valet to Pokovnik Zaharoh.

* Anya Oleshenko was Otto’s secret love who played a major role in several of Otto’s decisions.

* Clara Jung became Otto’s wife. She provided strength and loyalty to their marriage and family and eventually became the mother to their nine children.

* Gustav Jung, Clara’s father, was a strong, ambitious, solid patriarch of the Jung family whose choices lead to the emigration of that family.

5. What is your favorite part of the story? (You can use a snippet of it if you like.)

There are several. One of my favorite scenes is in Chapter 6 when Otto takes the Pokovnik’s daughter to watch the ice break-up in the spring.

She fell backwards onto the bridge deck and lay there. Otto only had heard a small cry for help and quickly turned his attention to Natalie who was lying on the ground. Instantly, Otto fell to his knees and peered into Natalie’s face. He then sensed another presence. His eyes gazed up and not a foot away, he found his eyes locked to another set of the most beautiful soft blue eyes he had ever seen.

Another of my favorite scenes is found in Chapter 11 when the Pokovnik spoke to Otto prior to their departure for the battle fields.

This is total madness. What is there to gain? A few pieces of land? For whom? We are going to kill each other and for what reason? Because someone else speaks a different language? Because others worship God in a different way than we do? Because others wear their clothing differently? Because others have skin and hair colors that are different from ours? It makes no sense to me, Otto. All that every one of us just wants, is to be happy…… to have a family ……. to be safe ……. to live without fear. Look at yourself and the other two million men in our army …… what do they want? Do they want to lose their lives just because the Tsar wants to prevent Franz-Joseph of Austria from ruling this pathetic piece of ground? Of course not! This is sheer madness. It makes me sick. I have been in battles and I know what is coming.”

6. Who is your target audience – who will love this book and who should read it?

My target audience is anyone and everyone who has emigrated or has family which has emigrated, experienced war, poverty, prejudice and/or bigotry. I especially hope that young people who often don’t appreciate their heritage would read and reflect upon the many messages interwoven in the fabric of the story.

7. What do you want readers to come away with once they have finished Cobbled Life?

I want the reader to leave with an appreciation of their own situation, an appreciation of the Canadian way of life and a debt of gratitude to their forbearers and to those who made Canada, as a nation, possible.

8. What is next for you HM Flath?

I am presently working on a second manuscript. All that I would like to say is that it too, is historical fiction.


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