Thursday, 18 January 2018

Using Calibre To Create An Epub File

I was recently asked about this so made a short video where I demonstrate how easy it is to create an epub file (the main e-book format) with Calibre, a free e-book management tool. It's maybe useful for authors and readers.


Saturday, 13 January 2018

Prologues In Fiction

Jessica Norrie wrote an interesting piece about prologues in fiction yesterday. It got me thinking.

I use them sometimes. Turner has quite an extended one, which isn't immediately connected to the main novel apart from location and mood ("Oh shit, something bad is going to happen!") but becomes highly relevant later. Turner's intro is labelled as a prologue; but in a way, anything before an inciting incident is a kind of prologue, whether labelled as one or not.

Prologues get a bad rep because they are sometimes unnecessary, and don't stand alone as satisfying. That's why my favourite prologues have "Yes" as answers to the question: "Would I get something from reading it, even if it was disconnected from the rest of the book?" If it is exciting to read, or a good standalone story, or fantastic prose - then it should be fine. If it is just an infodump, then delete it.

But as with all of writing: if the end effect works, then it over-rides Every Other Rule. The best writing is an art, not a craft. Craft follows and perfects rules, but art can break them.

What do you think? Any prologues that did or didn't work for you?


Monday, 8 January 2018

Q&A With Karl Drinkwater

Recently I was interviewed on So many books, so little time. Here's a backup of the interview. Lainy had already written a great review of Lost Solace.

Welcome to So Many Books, So Little Time Karl. Thanks for taking time out for a bit of a grilling with me. FYI readers, there are some swear words ahead!

So "Lost Solace", for anyone who hasn’t read it or heard of it, tell us what is it about?

If I was being flippant, I’d say it is the first of a trilogy about a kick-arse pair of women taking on every-fucking-threat in the universe, including the military-industrial complex, and still finding time for noodles and sisterhood. I don’t want to list their main goal, because it’s one of the revelations at the end of Lost Solace. If I was being serious, I’d say it’s a sci-fi book with a heart that gives me the chance to ask questions. What is strength and humanity? Can a machine feel things like a human? How does a woman make her way in a man’s world? And how far will someone go to keep a promise?

You normally write horror, what made you change over to sci fi genre?

To be honest, horror is what I’m best known for, but it’s only one of the genres I write in. For example, my Manchester 2000 books are purely about finding love and happiness, and how our pasts and our obsessions sometimes get in the way of that; one of my current works-in-progress is a literary and contemporary short-story collection with a big focus on love and ethics. My primary interest is telling a story; the genre and style evolve out of that. My books contain different combinations of elements that fingerprint me, but not all are present in every book: examples include family, horror, suspense, love, strength, humanity, action, and reality breaking down.

Opal is a long overdue kickass strong female character, tell me about her?

She’s flawed. She’s not all-powerful. She has a depth of emotion that she dare not reveal easily. She’s righteously angry. She’s quick-thinking. She hurts. All of that means she’s human. There’s no guarantee that she’ll survive what she faces, but we want her to, because she’s noble when she can be. We root for her. She’s a Greek warrior hero, a female mix of Achilles and Odysseus. A mortal Athena (Athene). She can do what we only wish we could do. But with a hero’s achievements there can be a hero’s suffering.

Is she based on anyone you know?

Strangely, no. Many of my female characters are based on women I’ve known and admired. A reader wouldn’t know it, and the inspiring women wouldn’t necessarily recognise themselves in the characters, but I could easily say who they were. Opal is different. She grew as I wrote her. She redefined herself in the flow of words.

I loved the AI (artificial intelligence) and the relationship between the two, what made you go for an AI?

In my story notes the AI was sexless and emotionless. A pure representation of efficiency, directed towards the purpose of killing by the (originally-male) protagonist. In fact, the AI was in the form of a companion robot. But as I wrote dialogue, things would pop into my head. Weird things; clever things; humorous things, but possibly overlaying either innocence or malice. That was irresistible to me as a writer. So I let the dialogue flow and the AI began to define herself. In my original notes I hadn’t even decided if the AI was going to be good or bad. That revelation just happened.

When I started reading this, I kept thinking Event Horizon type movie with a cross of Alien, particularly the AI. Was that intentional?

Yes, they were definite influences. Not so much events, but ideas – creepy abandoned ships in space; people surviving on ingenuity when technology fails; malevolent dangers that are difficult to comprehend because they are so alien to us. Works that I respect leave me with a feeling; it’s a feeling I then try to recreate in my own worlds, so other readers can experience it. I think at one point I made a list of works that had in some way influenced me, and maybe an element of which had crept into Lost Solace. I probably had about a hundred things on the list. It’s similar to what I once did with Turner.

Lost Solace left a lot of unanswered questions, for me anyway, was that intentional and will fans get closure?

Yes to closure. A book that opens a series can be difficult. You don’t want to bind it in the darkness of exposition. Discovering Opal’s motivation is a reward. The other questions are left unanswered because, at this point, Opal doesn’t have the answers, and we generally see through her eyes. But by the end of book three – if she survives – she’ll have more answers than she ever wanted, and knowledge does not always make you happy. The reader will find out the full deal on the Lost Ships and all the other elements of the story, and the outcome may not be what you expect.

What are you working on just now?

A lot of my time is spent on writing-related activity at the moment: finding the perfect narrator for the Lost Solace audiobook, running a big promo (that got Lost Solace to #3 in Amazon’s UK sci-fi top 100!), submissions for a writing residency and prestigious prizes, and some editorial work for other authors. I’m also revamping one of my early books, 2000 Tunes, and hoping to get draft two of a new short-story collection finished. I’m also drafting out my storyboard for the sequels to Lost Solace so that when I come to write them (hopefully in the nearish future!) the first drafts will be clean and well-structured.

What kind of research do you do for this kind of book? Keeping in mind Sci Fi fans are hardcore and can be uber critical, does that make it easier or harder for you?

It didn’t feel much different from any other work I’ve written. I always do preliminary research while storyboarding, but then write the first draft and just fill in the gaps with my imagination, so as not to break the flow. Then there is a lot more research and fact-checking during the numerous rewrites. With Turner I stayed on a remote island for a week; with 2000 Tunes I researched the history of Manchester music, and the city centre layout in the year 2000; whereas with Lost Solace I was researching repair gels, ship layouts, and biological sensing systems. Luckily my degrees mean I have some background in astronomy, geology, natural science, information science and computing, so that helped shape my story. I think there was only one correction that needed making to the real science aspect.

Where can fans connect with you?

My website and blog can be found at and it links to everything else. I am active on my Facebook page and Twitter and regularly interact with everyone there. Superfans also sign up to my quirky newsletter at

Anything else you would like to add I may have forgotten?

I love hearing from people. Only today I had a long email from someone who had just read Lost Solace, and it was fascinating because it was their first book set in space. It gave me a good glimpse into how that alters the reader’s expectations. Luckily they loved the book. I’m surprised you didn’t bring cats and dogs into the conversation. Thanks for having me!


Friday, 5 January 2018

Alien Invasion Stories - Recommendations

Today I was asked about good alien invasion stories. It's a huge genre. But since I made some recommendations for horror, I'll do the same here.

I'm a fan of The Tripods trilogy by John Christopher. I re-read them all recently - they're just as good today as they were in the late 1960s. Their setting is post-invasion, but the focus on a boy is great for drip-feeding discoveries that create a surprising amount of horror for a children's book.

While talking of oldies, we mustn't forget Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951). It has all the elements of a good invasion: a believable delivery mechanism, original ways of weakening our defences, and truly alien invaders.

Jumping back even further to 1897: The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells. It's a classic with good reason. I was always a fan of the Ooo-lahs of Jeff Wayne's 1978 musical version, which first introduced me to the song Forever Autumn (Youtube).

Less traditional invasion stories include one of my favourite novellas, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell (1938). :-) It's a damn good horror story too, and was filmed as The Thing (1982).

A fun horror with an alien invader is Stinger by Robert McCammon (1987). A fantastic book that really gets under your skin. I'm sure it was a partial inspiration for my own alien invasion book, set in Wales, Harvest Festival - which is one of my most-reviewed books. Stinger was also the first book I read with a single page prologue that was a rewriting of a scene later in the novel.

You could also possibly include The Tommyknockers by Stephen King (1987, just like Stinger - must have been a good year for aliens).

What have I missed? Feel free to tell me in the comments.

If this post is popular I could see myself looking at other sci-fi genres that cross over with horror in the future e.g. mad science, environmental, haunted house in space etc (the latter would include Lost Solace).


Wednesday, 3 January 2018

My Horror Collection - One Of Altered Instinct's Top Five Books Of 2017

"Picking a top five from that lot is no easy task, but here, as I sip a glass of New Year rum, are my best reads of the year."

Altered Instinct has included my horror collection in their top five books of 2017!

I loved this quote about my horror collection: "Heck, if anyone can make you think of Gallagher, Herbert and Quatermass in one fell swoop, that's practically a guided tour of the classics of British horror."

Read the full article here. I'm really honoured to appear there! I always love it when my books turn up in "Best Of" lists (Jera's Jamboree, Life of a Nerdish Mum, Banshee Irish Horror Blog etc).


Monday, 1 January 2018

My Publishing Goals For 2018

Here are my publishing goals for 2018* - the bare minimum I'd like to achieve, but hopefully I'll do much more.
So there's probably something in there for everyone. If I remember, I'll return to this post and put a line through things as I complete them.


* Subject to change at a moment's notice.


Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Tips For Creating Audiobooks

Image edited from Pixabay

I love the audio versions of my books. Even though I know the stories and dialogue off by heart, I still listen to them with pleasure, because the delivery makes a difference.

Tom Freeman's clear tones make Turner flow, and he really manages to bring out the dark humour in Lord John's scenes in a way that lightens the tension.

Rosie Alldred's soft voice is perfect for creepiness, like a hushed house where you listen for the threat you know is there, the floorboard that is bound to creak before long, and you lean in to hear every detail even though you know you might regret it when you realise what's coming. Rosie voiced Harvest Festival and They Move Below.

I may also have a new narrator lined up for Lost Solace too. Watch this space! There are links to buy the audiobook versions of my works here.

Tips For Creating Audiobooks

I take the easy option of hiring a professional. I recommend that for many things - cover design, editing, distribution and so on. I use Amazon's ACX to find producers and distritbute the finished audiobooks.

Royalty options. If you are new to it then - unless the book has lots of sales or you are rich - it is best to select the royalty share option. That means that for every sale (at a price determined by ACX), you get 20% of the price, and the narrator gets 20% of the price. Amazon ACX get 60% (ouch).

Audition text. You upload a section that potential narrators can perform as an audition. Make sure your audition text is from a good part of the book that includes any challenges that occur often in the main text (e.g. multiple narrators, accents etc). You want to know that the narrator can deal with it, and also to help them decide if it is a project they want to do. I was mean in one of my audition texts, since I required the narrator to sing in a child-like voice out of key, but it really helped to find those who can cope with challenges.

Explain any tricky areas. Give as much information about what you're looking for as you can, so you attract the best potential narrators. You need to cover things such as possible voices, pronunciations, accents. There may be things that require special consideration: for example, one of my stories was told through text messages and Windows errors, so we used a ping sound effect and had to work out ways of keeping it clear who was typing; another story was a prose poem with a visual shape on the page, and we needed to work out ways of representing it in audio.

Audiobook covers. You need the book's cover in a square ACX format (thinks of CDs). Make sure you have a good cover design that works with every shape. And no, don't just try and squash your normal book cover!

Finding someone. Instead of just putting up an audition and hoping for the best, I find it is better to look for narrators that fit what you want and invite them to audition. Search and apply filters (sex, accent, style etc) here.

Provide additional commercial information about the book if you have it. Bear in mind that with royalty shares the narrator wants reassurance that they will make a similar amount to an upfront payment. Sometimes they spend a lot of time on a book and it sells very little; or they commit to it and find the full work isn't as polished as it should be. If you have good print or e-book sales and ranking data, or have won awards, then do let the narrators know.

Make sure it is ready. Unlike an e-book, where a new version can be uploaded at any time, it is not easy to change audiobooks. Make sure the book is perfectly edited. Then go further: many books read okay on the page, but when read aloud they seem clunky. I think a vital additional edit before a book is finished is to read it out loud. The whole thing. Write down every clunky phrase and fix it. So many errors spring out when read aloud. My system is a bit more advanced. I get a piece of software to turn my document into an mp3 file, using a Scottish woman's voice. The accent makes me hear it afresh, rather than what I expect; and I can listen to it anywhere and make notes. I normally pick up 50-100 small changes that had been missed in all the screen reading and editing up to that point - most of them are not errors, just improvements. I do this before the book is finished, and before it goes to my final editor/proofreader. It really helps the text to flow.

Character dialects in audio books. I just want to reinforce this point: select a voice actor who can do the major accents and voices of the book (and check that they can deal well with switching from male to female voices). For some of my books I needed people who could also read Welsh and do Welsh accents, so I made it part of the selection process. Likewise American characters need American accents, just as Scousers need Liverpudlian accents. Anything else introduces discordance; imagine a traditional London-based Sherlock Holmes speaking with an Australian accent for no obvious reason. However, the main non-dialogue narrated text can be in any voice (unless it is first-person POV, in which case it needs to be the character's voice). Yes, you can have non-dialogue read in one accent and dialogue read in another. Please note: I do know there isn't a single "American accent" or "UK accent" or anywhere else. There are regions. If it's important for the character (i.e. their background is specified), make sure it is the right regional accent. If the text says a character has a broad Mancunian accent then it needs to sound like that, not Brummy or cockney or Texan. Accents are too distinctive to mess with.

You are partners. Don't assume that what comes back from the producer will be perfect, and that once you've found a narrator the job is done. That's not a collaboration. Your narrator wants feedback on whether they're getting it right. They'll have questions about pronunciation and details. Listen to everything they do, every file - you are proofing it like you would a printed text. Everyone makes mistakes - a missing sentence, a mispronounced word, an incorrect volume setting. Don't be afraid of pointing it out. In most cases the narrator will have the tools so they only have to re-record a few sentences, then they snip out the section with errors and paste in the new one. Yes, listening to it all and giving feedback takes a long time! Probably a couple of working days in all. But you need to do it. Follow up any issues. A project could take a few weeks, or it could take twelve months, from start to finish.

Promotion. We need to do it. I usually ask ACX to send me free codes for UK and US Audible (since there are two sites, just to confuse things). 25 of each. Then I use Audiobook Boom and other places to promote them to get early reviews. The downside of free codes is that sometimes people take the book even though it isn't their thing (just because it is free), and it may lead to unfairly negative reviews. (Talking of free codes - I have a few left for my audiobooks for reviewers, get in touch if you're interested.)

Don't expect to get rich. There is a lot of competition on there now, and a lot of books. Audiobooks are not an easy route to cash. But then, neither is writing. Audiobooks can be a useful extra income stream though, and it is enormously satisfying to hear a good production.


Monday, 11 December 2017

Nice Things Happen Too

Many people enjoy books without the author ever finding out. That's normal, but it is also nice when we do hear from readers. I especially love hearing about why they liked one of my books, and which elements stood out. That is the kind of thing authors bear in mind when working on future books and sequels.

Well, after a day of dealing with a crappy issue (called Paypal) I received the following email from a reader in Canada, and it made my day.

I just finished reading Lost Solace and really enjoyed it. My preferred genre is present day or near-future hard science fiction, so this was a bit of a departure, but I really dug the cover (yeah, I know that's pretty shallow). After reading the reviews, I gave it a try. It was excellent, even though I usually shy away from any horror, this was great.

I took particular joy in not having to make notes on all the characters in the book. Being old and stupid comes with forgetting most characters in a book by the next day. Instead of continually looking it up, I have taken to jotting down notes. Many books seem to take pride in how many characters they can develop in one book. They could take a lesson from you. You were able to write an entire book with a single character that never got stale. Kudos.

The AI is great, just like I envision it will eventually transform. I enjoyed the banter between the AI and Opal. The smart suit was fantastic.

Beautifully written, your word-craft is stellar (I suspect you attended all your English classes).

I know it's important, so I did leave a small review on GoodReads and Amazon.
(Message included here with permission.)