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Archive for August, 2008

RELEASE DAY!


Today’s the day!

After what seems an eternity, STARQUEST finally sees the light of day! I am so excited and I can hardly believe it. I’ve also had a revised print date – Starquest will be in paperback on 5th DEMBER, just in time for Christmas.

To add to the excitement, I was interviewed today by Christina Phillips. (Thanks Christina, I really enjoyed being interviewed by you.)

You can read the interview HERE

Also I’m holding a CONTEST on my My Space Blog. To find out all about it, go to my Starquest My Space and check out Jess’s Blog.

To whet your appetite, here’s a short excerpt from the first chapter:

Part One
Chapter One

The scream of the red alert cut rudely into Jess’s dreams, waking her Instantly. She sprang from her bunk and ordered the computer to shut off the alarm, then pulled on her bodysuit and raced the short distance from her cabin to the flight deck. She flung herself at the control panels. The flickering lights above the main computer console and the figures on the visual output screen demanded immediate attention.

Her fingers elicited no response when she ran them rapidly over the tactile command pads. She looked up and addressed the main computer panel.

“Jaii, these readings are crazy. We’re way off course and nothing’s working on manual, either. I thought I’d fixed the fault. What’s going on?”

The image before her wavered, the familiar features distorted.

Emergency, the J.A.II series computer intoned, with what sounded like a Hint of panic. Serious malfunction of auto navigation array, inertia dampers and control systems, including shrouding device failure. Life support systems severely compromised. All systems currently operating on emergency power. Auto-repair systems unable to reverse degradation. Main drive calculated to reach critical mass in fourteen minutes and nine seconds.

“What? Why didn’t you wake me earlier?”

Such action would have been pointless. You could have done nothing further. I anticipated that the auto-repair systems would keep the situation under control. When the position became unsustainable, I transmitted an emergency beacon before waking you.

“What are the chances of the signal being received?”

There is insufficient data to form an accurate prediction.

“A guess would do.”

The image darkened as if about to fail completely, although a moment later it sputtered grudgingly back to life.

“Well, I can’t see help reaching us before the ship blows,” Jess muttered, her voice grim. She had only one course of action available. She was

heading in the direction of the emergency airlock and her escape pod when the computer’s voice made her stop and turn back to the flight deck again.

It appears…the signal…has been answered. My sensors indicate a large starship on our trajectory. Available data shows that since it would have been outside the range of our sensors when the beacon was transmitted, it must have attained previously unrecorded speeds to reach us so quickly. We are currently being scanned.

Despite the distortion, combined with the gravity of the situation, Jess had a fleeting sense of something akin to amusement. The computer gave the impression of looking and sounding almost envious as it recited the data relating to the other ship’s size and speed. The strange ship was obviously larger and more powerful than anything previously encountered — and phenomenally fast.

“It would help if our scanners were operational,” Jess said in frustration. Frantically she activated another control, and the titanium shield covering the observation panel slid back. “Well, at least something works.” She gasped at the sight of the starship speeding toward her craft. She took in the long, sleek lines of the main hull with its lethal-looking weapons array. The nacelles on each side gave the appearance of the backward sweeping wings of a gigantic bird of prey. Its graceful double tailfins glowed, radiating a pulsing, golden light. Jess tore her gaze from the panel. Her situation was too critical to muse over the aesthetics of the unknown vessel. She had to leave her ship, and quickly.

Attention, the computer commanded. Imperative you eject in the escape vehicle immediately. Repeat, eject immediately. Life support systems are not sustainable. Drive mass will reach critical in eleven minutes and thirty-seven seconds. All functions deteriorating. I am no longer able…to…stabilise…

The electronic voice slowed and then faded completely, the image dissipating as if it had never existed.

If you’d like your very own copy, there is a purchase link HERE

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The Friday Brit clinic is back.  If you have any questions about life in this chilly, overcast island, feel free to ask them in the comments.  We will do our best to answer.

Appropriate picture of the day – Prime Minister’s Question time in the House of Commons 🙂

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The English Imagination

This is by way of a musing on Peter Ackroyd’s book Albion: The Origins of the English imagination.

In which Peter Ackroyd attempts to discover whether there is a national character when it comes to the imagination of the inhabitants of the British Isles, and if so, what it is.

I’m not sure why he calls it ‘the English imagination’ rather than ‘the British imagination’. The second would seem more appropriate, particularly as he claims that the landscape of Britain influences its inhabitants, so that our many waves of immigrants and invaders are gradually assimilated to a similar way of thinking in the same way that they gradually get used to the climate.

One of the many separate strands that Ackroyd thinks he sees in the long history of British thought is a refusal to systematize. We reject, he says, the large structures of logic built on small initial premises, and instead rely on accumulating data, throwing it together in an intellectual jumble sale. Appropriately enough that is exactly what his book is like. It claims to identify some main strands of thought, gives some examples of each, and leaves you to draw your own conclusions.

Though I am English myself, I would have preferred something a little more reasoned out, possibly with an argument and a conclusion. But having said that, a lot of his points are provocative, or at least evocative, and set me thinking.

I don’t think anyone could argue against the idea that our imaginations are full of the weather, for example. Particularly rain, and light, and the movement of clouds across the hills. Nor could anyone seriously argue that we weren’t moved by trees. Look at Tolkien! Look at the design of our cathedrals, or our Christmas carols or tradition of wassailing the orchards.

Other interesting threads in the weave include the typical British embarrassment or reticence, where strong emotions are undercut and the poet/novelist employs a sleight of hand to make himself look less important than he may actually believe he is.

A love of interlace and miniatures, leading to a concentration on surface decoration rather than an interest in depth. I can certainly agree with that in art, but I don’t know how it can coexist with the love of portraiture – the concentration on characterization in literature which he also claims.

What else was there? Oh, interestingly, though I should hardly have thought it was more typical to Britain than to everywhere, there’s a chapter on women’s voices, piety, gossip, and a deep anger at being silenced and dispossessed in every other realm.

The aforementioned lack of system and logic, with an associated attachment to the practical and the useful.

A love of violence, violent effects, grotesquery and bawdy.

A tendency to be fertilized by seeds taken from the continent and then to recast the resulting flowers in our own slightly idiosyncratic mold.

A love of gardens as refuges.

I can’t really argue that any of these things are absent from my conception of Britishness. What I don’t know, of course, is how far any of these things are unique to the Brits. None of them, I would have thought. But perhaps the mixture is characteristic?

However it is, I can recommend the book. I saw many things in it which I recognise as my own interests/method/voice, and many other things I didn’t recognise at all. So the experience was one of mingled self discovery and amused bafflement, both of which were great fun!

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Exit, Pursued by a Bee

Exit, Pursued by a Bee

An interesting set of questions has arisen with the release this weekend of a new review of my Exit, Pursued by a Bee. I’d noticed a reviewer’s name, Tony Williams, crop up many times in the scifi
forums and so I approached him. He, like me is a British author and reviewer. He said he’d review Exit if I reviewed his scifi book, Scales. His book, like mine, has an admittedly preposterous premise at the beginning but then procedes to follow with the logical consequences. I love this kind of scifi. It is the what if scenario. Example: what if gravity suddenly acted upwards for an hour each day? Ridiculous but once being made a given, the rest can be logical and very interesting! I wrote Exit in that kind of vein.
It wasn’t meant to be humour book even though the irony of some scenes had to be given their head. The problem is some readers only then see humour and then write a review along Mr Bean lines. It didn’t help that the blurb for Exit was written by a reader / editor who mainly saw humour in the book. Others see the advanced physics in the Quantum Mechanics of time decoherences and realize that the physicist in the book says nothing a real theoretical physicist wouldn’t. This should be the case anyway since I researched those aspects muchly. I have a Masters in Science, am a Fellow of a Royal Society and best of all, married a theoretical physicist! hah – the irony seeps in again…

For those of you who have been kind enough to buy and read Exit (still only the price of cheap fast meal for the ebook and not much more for paperback) then peep at the contentious review that is up at
http://forum.sfreader.com/default.aspx?f=7&m=85751&p=1

Perhaps you would think that it is a good review and that I am being too sensitive. You can add comments if you freely register.

A warning to our newbie writers here, who have yet to launch a book. It is interesting because we spend maybe two years researching, writing, revising with the aid of crit groups, editing and polishing a book. Then we release it like a fledgling sparrow into the swiping paws of hungry cats. We hope spadge survives, find friends and reproduce, but one wrong gust of wind and it’s down and gone.
Hopefully I can create maelstrom of argument at that and other review sites to at least generate sales!
Geoff Nelder

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No, I’m not making this up.  There really is a place in England called Bumble Hole.  It’s in the famous Black Country (West Midlands) and sits at one end of the old Netherton Canal tunnel.  Actually, it’s the tunnel which is celebrating its milestone anniversary, to much flag-waving and partying during the week.  It was built in the mid-nineteenth century to relieve the pressure on the older and much smaller Dudley Tunnel, which had become so congested that boats often had to wait up to two weeks for a slot to get through it! At this time the railway network had yet to take over and people depended on canals for transport, especially of heavy goods, so it was vital to open up a faster route.

Netherton Tunnel was opened on 20 August 1858 and was considered an ‘impressive feat of engineering’ because it was two boats’ width wide and had a towpath on either side of the water.  It also had gas lighting along its whole length – essential because the tunnel is a massive 3058 yards (one and three quarter miles) long and would otherwise be pitch-dark for most of its length.

Netherton Tunnel entranceThe tunnel, and the branch line created to serve it, form part of the Birmingham Canal Navigations network which still covers around 100 miles today and stretched to over 160 miles at its heyday in the nineteenth century.  This is the greatest concentration of canals anywhere in Britain and led to the saying that Birmingham has ‘more canals than Venice’!

Windmill EndAt its southern end the tunnel comes out at the hamlet of Windmill End which used to be a ‘grimy hamlet’ but is now surprisingly scenic for such an urban and industrial area. The surrounding area is known as Bumble Hole and is now a nature reserve, centred on the remains of the old canal pumping house.

There’s an interesting BBC local news snippet about the birthday celebrations, and you can find out more about the canals, and the tunnel at the BBC’s Black Country website.

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You know, it’s difficult to see myself as a Romance Writer but I guess that’s what I am now. Erotic Romance, admittedly, but Romance nevertheless. Yes, I still write short ‘stroke’ stories such as the Ladz “Local Lovelies” series , and they go down quite well, but there’s no denying that Lost&Found, Charlotte’s Secret and (when it’s finished) Chloe’s Education are anything but romantic in tone.

When I wrote my first sex story back in ’98—a story about a threesome at a housewarming party—I never envisaged being classed as a romance writer. Back then, for me at least, romance novels were still very much the “Mills&Boon” type. You know, heart & flowers, purple prose etc.

But Romance has changed. Readers now want ‘heat’. They want to know just what the heroines are feeling and what’s being done to them to make them feel it (if you know what I mean). Graphic yet sensual descriptions and thorough exploration of sexual needs and desires are the order of the day. And it’s not restricted to heterosexual relationships either – it’s my understanding that gay romances sell as well (if not better) than straight ones. Hell, there are even some BritWriters who write gay romance, isn’t that so?

But Erotic Romance still has its ‘rules’. Rules updated from ‘old style’ Romance. There must be a hero and a heroine (for straight romances at least – I’ll let more knowledgeable people talk about GLBT romances). The heroine should be a strong modern woman, but at the same time vulnerable. And the heroes need to be strong alpha-males. That’s what the girls want (or so I’m told) – the alpha-male. And since women are the predominant readers of Erotic Romance – alpha-males is pretty much what they get. And since it’s mostly women who write Erotic Romance, they are happy to serve up them up.

But I think I’m a little different from most of the erotic romance authors out there. For one, I’m a bloke – so hopefully I offer something a little different to your average female author. A different perspective, if you like. A male perspective.

And, possibly, a British perspective too. Does being British matter? Of course it does. Look at Hugh Grant – he’s made a career out of playing decidedly British men in romantic comedies. The likes of Colin Firth and Alan Rickman haven’t done bad out of being very, very British either. And let’s face it, could any other nation on earth have spawned probably the greatest romantic hero ever, Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Darcy?

I suppose at this point I really should make clear what I see as an Alpha-male in romantic writing. Well, Wikipedia (my usual Internet standby) just comes up with a definition in terms of wolves and chimps so that’s not much use. The closest I got was this

Alpha Male: a term used to describe a macho male character within a romance.

from fiction forum.

Not the best definition in the world, but when you look deeper it seems that everyone likes to argue argue about it. Look here, for example, where it seems that Alphas are both good things and bad, depending on who’s answering. Still, it’s suits my argument to use the definition above. So let’s stick with that. Are my male leads alpha-males? Or are they bumbling upper-middle-class Hugh Grant’s or stiff-upper-lipped, oh-so-proper Mr Darcy’s?

Actually, they’re neither. My male leads aren’t alpha-males, mainly because I’m not what you’d call an alpha-male. And hey, I’m a working class boy from the Black Country – I couldn’t sound like Hugh Grant even if I did have a plum in my mouth (I’d sound like Ozzy Osbourne on a bad day – “Sharrooonnn!”)

No, I was the nerdy, booky type at school, the one who was bullied for wearing glasses, the one everyone came to so they could copy their homework instead of doing it themselves. And I think that reflects in my male leads. They, like me, are modern (some even say, slightly cool) young Britons. Typically they are intelligent, in well-paid professional jobs. They are stronger than I ever was – they’re not going to be bullied and they will stand up for the woman they love, but they are ‘new men’ (if that term is still used – personally, I hate it). They are sensitive, they get hurt. They have their flaws. Hell, you could even go as far as to say that, at times, they wear their heart on their sleeves.

In fact, I don’t really like referring to my male leads as “heroes”. I prefer to call them (like I just did) Male Leads or the Central Male Character. I guess I’m just more comfortable with that.

Let me try and show you what I mean by reference to the Central Male Character in Charlotte’s Secret.

David is, in some respects, the antithesis of an alpha-male. He’s an accountant—intelligent and respected in the local business community and far from what most people would think of as an alpha. He’s also trapped in a loveless marriage. Why? Because he did what he thought was right and married a woman he didn’t love just because she was carrying his baby (at least, he thought she was). Now, you know and I know that in modern Britain, marrying someone just because you’ve knocked them up isn’t the done thing anymore – but David is different. He’s from a broken home. He knows what it’s like growing up without a dad – and he’s going to make damn sure he doesn’t inflict that on any child of his.

And it’s David’s relationship with the little boy he believes to be his son that is central to this whole story. It’s that relationship that makes David behave the way he does.

Does that sound like an alpha to you?

In my e-books, far from painting my Male Leads as alpha-males, actually, it’s my antagonists (or villains if you prefer) who are the “traditional” alpha-males.

So, let’s focus on my two Phaze releases, Charlotte’s Secret and Lost & Found.

There is, unquestionably, a character fitting the description above in Charlotte’s Secret. His name is Mike Liggins and he is David’s wife’s bit on the side. He’s not the sharpest tool in the box – in stark contrast to David who is so smart it’s scary – but he is built like the proverbial brick-shit-house and has an unfathomable attraction to the ladies. As Charlotte thinks to herself when she’s hidden in the bushes watching Susie give Mike a blow-job

…he might be rough and ready, and not that bright, but he did have one thing going for him…

Later in the story, even Charlotte succumbs to Mike’s animal magnetism when she finds herself day-dreaming about him.

“You want it, then? After all you’ve said about me? What was it you called me? Moron, wasn’t it? I’ll show you who’s a moron.” He slammed into her hard and kept on slamming as Charlotte’s orgasm built again.

“Oh, yes. Harder! Faster! Give it to me, you bastard!” She screamed as her orgasm hit. How long it lasted, she didn’t know. She didn’t even know if Mike came or not.

He’s big, strong and assertive. I imagine him down the pub with his mates bragging about his conquests, going to watch the football, leading the chanting and then getting into some agro with the opposition supporters afterwards. He’s a beat-your-chest, almost stereotype of an alpha-male. And he’s my villain.

Moving on to Lost & Found, we find a different type of alpha-male. Unlike Charlotte’s Secret, which is told mostly from David’s point of view but switches to Charlotte’s for the few scenes where David isn’t around, Lost & Found sticks firmly to my Male Lead’s point of view throughout. Chris is an Economics PhD, and although his job is never specified, Beth does refer to him as a ‘financial whiz’.  But Chris isn’t an alpha-male in the traditional sense. Yes, he’s a bread winner, and yes, he earns a lot of bread but his most significant relationship in recent years has been with a woman on the other side of a computer screen on different continent. Not exactly alpha material.

Whereas Beth’s father, Colonel Robert Burnett, is alpha-male all over. Retired Colonel, he’s used to being in charge, used to having his orders followed. He’s proud his championship winning, quarterback jock son joined the army. You couldn’t get much more ‘alpha’. But here’s were he differs from Mike in Charlotte’s Secret. The most important thing in The Colonel’s life, is his daughter. He just doesn’t express it very well. He expresses it like an ‘alpha’. He tells her what to do, shouts and gets mad and frustrated. But he’ll do what he needs to protect her. Look at the scene on my own blog here.

Can you see the difference between what I consider my two Male Leads in this piece? Yes, The Colonel is as important to this story as Chris is. This is a story about two men vying for the affections of one woman – her father and her lover. Chris stands up to The Colonel, but it shakes him – he’s not used to it. He does it because he loves Beth and wants to protect her. The Colonel wants to protect her too, it’s just a shame he’s too pig headed to see he and Chris want the same thing. The Colonel handles the situation like an alpha, Chris handles it the way I like to think I’d handle it.

I guess that to some extent my Male Leads are an idealised version of me. The way I’d like to see myself almost. Not exactly, just a little bit, because like all characters, as the story develops they take on a life of their own and become personalities in their own right.

So there we have it. My take on the traditional male lead in romantic fiction. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And here’s a challenge to my fellow BritWriters – tell me about your male leads, especially if you write gay romance, it’d be interesting to compare, don’t you think?

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I am thrilled to announce that ‘Dancing With Fate, the sixth book in the anthology ‘Song Of The Muses’ was released on 1st August.  The next three stories will be released during the next few weeks and they will be available as three paperbacks of three stories each in October.  The purchase link is HERE

I am also running a contest to win a waterdrop shaped pendent on a silvery chain. The details are in Terpsichore’s My Space blog and also on the contest page of my website at http://www.hywelalyn.com/

This is a whimsical fantasy about the Greek Muse Terpschore and is set in 5th Century Wales.  It’s rated as ‘spicy’ although the love scenes are not too graphic.

Here’s a short extract and a trailer:
 
EXTRACT:

Terpsichore believes she has completed the task set for her and is looking forward to returning home to Olympus, unaware that her mission has only just begun.


The sound of the waterfall behind her caught her attention. Oh, how she missed the spring of Hippocrene, created when Pegasus struck the rock of the Helicon Mountain with his hoof and the crystal water poured forth. Beautiful as this country was, it would be good to be home.

She turned and gazed at the water tumbling down the mountainside in a frenzy of white froth, the spray catching the rays cast by Helios, making rainbows dance in the clear air. The water called to her— -— she was, after all, like her sisters, a water nymph. She longed to immerse herself in its cooling spray, to be as one with the living water.

What harm can it do? Cleanse yourself— — rid your body of the dust of Earth before returning to Olympus.

The voice in her mind was all too familiar.  Dionysus! What are you doing here? Get out of my mind.

Certainly, dear sister, would you prefer me to materialize in all my glory?

Before she could answer, he appeared, seated upon a rock, his ever-present maenads fawning at his feet.

He held out a goblet of wine. “You seem in poor spirits, sister. Have a drink;, it will put you in a better humour.”

“I’m fine, Dionysus. I’m about to go home. I don’t need any of your wine.” She turned her head away from the sight of the maenads who fawned over him, drunkenly running their hands over his body. All at once, the purity of the day seemed tainted. How had he found her? Was it he who had eavesdropped upon her conversation with Apollo? She sighed. Somehow, she did not think so. Dionysus in his state of permanent intoxication could hardly have moved so stealthily, nor concealed his retinue of women followers.

Dionysus hiccupped loudly, causing the vines around his neck to bounce and rustle. Again, he held out the goblet of wine. “Oh, we are ‘Miss Prim and Proper’ today, aren’t we?! Go on, lighten up, take a sip, it won’t hurt you.” He learned toward her, his handsome, if somewhat effeminate features wearing an innocent expression that belied the glint in his blue eyes. “After all, you wouldn’t want to upset your brother, would you?”

Terpsichore refrained from commenting that he was, in fact, only one of her many half-brothers. She pursed her lips,  reached for the goblet and took a small sip, before handing it back. It did not do to offend the god. She recalled that despite his affable manner, he had a dark side and it was better not to offend him.

 “Thank you. Now, I really must be leaving.”

His smile was more of a smirk. “All right. I can take a hint. If I were you, I’d have a good long soak in that pool before you go. Go on, you know you want to.”

He lurched unsteadily to his feet, causing one of his Maenads to loose her hold on him, and fall over. He grabbed her arm and moments later they all disappeared like mist in the heat of the of a summer’s day.

To Hades with her demented half-brother. The more she thought about it, the more the allure of the water drew her to it. She should never have taken that wine—not even a sip. Who knew what enchantment he’d put in it?

She shrugged. What was she thinking? She was her own goddess, wasn’t she? If she wanted to bathe, she would. She certainly didn’t need any charmed wine to make her decisions for her.

In an instant, her Celtic clothing melted away. She laid her lyre against a friendly tree trunk and ran beneath the curtain of water cascading over the cliff face. She stood, waist deep in the shallows of the pool and let the water rush over her. The cold crystal clear liquid invigorated her. She felt the life force of the spring flow around and through her, the molecules that composed it, the tiny life forms unseen. This was her element and she rejoiced in it. 

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