Helene - A Lost Tale Of Solace

 
Helene is the first in my new Lost Solace spin-off series to accompany the main Lost Solace books. These will all be shorter works (10-20,000 words), each tale focussing on a particular character, filling in some gaps in the main story or scenes from the character's past. I thought this series could be fun to write, allowing a range of styles and stories, and adding to the depth of the Lost Solace universe. Plus it is easier and quicker to write 10-20,000 words than 100,000+ words, so there won't be such a wait between books! Don't worry, Opal's story will also continue in the main series.

Lost Tales of Solace will be e-book-only as individual releases (since they are too short to be paperbacks), but I won't rule out releasing a collected edition later, in both paperback and e-book.

Helene is available to buy, at the same e-book vendors as my other books. It would be great if my readers could leave reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, or other review places: it's always difficult launching a new book with no reviews.

Here's the blurb for Helene:

--

Dr Helene Vermalle is shaping the conscience of a goddess-level AI.

As a leading civilian expert in Emergent AI Socialisation, she has been invited to assist in a secret military project.

Her role? Helping ViraUHX, the most advanced AI in the universe, to pass through four theoretical development stages. But it's not easy training a mind that surpasses her in raw intellect. And the developing AI is capable of killing her with a single tantrum.

On top of this, she must prove her loyalty to the oppressive government hovering over her shoulder. They want a weapon. She wants to instil an overriding sense of morality.

Can she teach the AI right and wrong without being categorised as disloyal?

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Lost Solace Blog Tour


Lost Solace is going on a blog tour! Each day from Monday 2nd to Sunday 8th September (2019) different bookbloggers will post their never-before-seen reviews of the book on their sites (and possibly elsewhere e.g. Goodreads, Amazon).

The table below shows where the tour visits each day: I'll update it with direct links to the reviews and blog posts as they go live.

Join me in visiting the sites and seeing what people think of the book. I'll be sharing links on social media, answering questions, and generally being in a party mood all week. So I hope you'll join me for at least some of the time! Read the reviews, follow the blogs or their social media accounts, share links, leave comments on the blogs, or whatever you feel like. It's even more exciting for me because I have only done one blog tour before, back in 2016, for They Move Below.

Feel free to tag things with #LostSolace, or even the hashtag I used back when Opal's story was being drafted: #GirlOnAMotherfuckingSpaceship (I think I was getting a bit tired of "Girl on/with a ..." book titles back then and wanted to add a bit of sarcasm; yes, I did even consider that as the actual title for Lost Solace for a little while after I bought this book!).


Monday 2nd September


"Clarissa the AI was my favorite. There’s just no way I couldn’t love her. I am completely hooked."

---

"When I read sci-fi books I want excellent world building, interesting protagonists and a well-crafted, thought-provoking story. Lost Solace gave me all that."


Tuesday 3rd September


"The tension kept me turning the page even when I should have been eating my dinner. A tense, exciting sci-fi adventure, with interesting characters and convincing world-building. Highly recommended."

---

Twitter / Facebook

"Here, Karl Drinkwater manages to remind us just how powerful this can be by crafting an atmosphere for us that is genuinely unsettling. And I love it!" 
 

Wednesday 4th September

"Non stop action, fast pace, travel in outer space, ghost ship, fights with military, new decisions, and 2 kickass heroines made this a great read."

---

Twitter

"The whole concept of just one main character and an A.I was very interesting, plausible and well executed. I loved their relationship, the dialogue between them was sparky, intelligent, witty and felt very much like a real friendship." 
 

Thursday 5th September

"I loved the strong female character, intelligent and fearless (very Ripley-esq) and likeable too. I can’t wait to read the next in the series."

---

Twitter

"I read the rest of the book at warp speed. So much is revealed about Opal, and what’s in the ship is the stuff of nightmares."
 

Friday 6th September


"Opal did remind me a bit of Ripley as she is hard faced, takes no shit from anyone, and will take anyone on even if it’s unknown beings or really hardcore supreme marines."

---


Saturday 7th September

Twitter / Instagram / Facebook

"This book caught my attention, and left me turning page after page to unravel the mystery. If you’re a Sci-fi fan with a few good intense and spooky moments- this is definitely a book worth checking out."
 

Sunday 8th September


"Opal is the type of female heroine that was missing in my life. She doesn’t flinch, she doesn’t cower, she’s a force of nature."

---

Twitter / Instagram

"So you probably know by now that I love a good AI-human in space romp, and this is one of them."
 

This tour has been organised by Anne Cater of Random Things Tours.

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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A Tip To Help Authors Make More Money


A trick for author profitability: find a Venn overlap between what sells, and what you love writing: and dive into that sweet spot. Here's a handy diagram I made earlier.

If you've already published books and they aren't doing well, the first things that spring to mind as culprits are that the cover and blurb are wrong, or the book has a problem with the style or plotting. After that, it could just be that it just isn't resonating with the readers in your target niche, or that niche isn't big enough. In that case you could try writing in another genre or sub-genre.

I write in at least three genres, and love them all, and the books all seem to be well received: but it is only in my third genre that I hit the sweet spot. I'll still write books in all three genres, but now my sci-fi work subsidises books in the other two. The good thing is that finding my sweet spot on the third attempt wasn't selling out: it was still writing something I love, but I originally just didn't think I would be any good at writing sci-fi. Readers proved me wrong and gave me the confidence to continue! Also, trying something new reinvigorated me as a writer.

Peace, love, and good luck to all my fellow authors.

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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How To Get Your Book Noticed


A question I was asked: “How the flipping heck does one get noticed? What makes people go yeah, alright, I'll buy your book?”

Here are some of my thoughts on the topic. Some of it is about the writing, and some of it is the stuff around the writing.

You need ... a brilliant, on-genre cover

The cover is the first thing potential readers see. It needs to be distinctive and appealing. It also needs to make the genre of the book immediately clear via fonts, colours, layout, image elements and so on. The trick is to reinforce the message of what kind of book it is, whilst also promising something that isn't generic and copycat. It's a fine balance.

If you're trade published you'll likely have no say in the cover, but if you publish independently then you'll probably hire someone to design it. Remember that working with a cover designer is a two-way process. When you give them a description of a scene in minute detail, down to the exact design on the background teacup, and the designer says that's not necessary, and that it is better to give a general idea - they're right. We can't be too precious about it. The cover is meant to pull in new readers, not act as a catalogue of a scene.

One tip for working with designers is to show them examples of other book covers. I keep whole folders of covers I like for different genres, often subcategorised into types. I regularly add new ones, and delete those which are starting to look tired or over-used, so that my folders always include up-to-date and inspiring examples. They aren't covers I'd want to imitate, but each one probably illustrates one point, such as a painterly effect, or a font placement, or a colour scheme, or layout - I can then pick some to pass on to a cover designer.

Just one of my many cover image folders!

When you pay a designer I also recommend getting the source files. Cover designers sometimes quit their job, or die, or get abducted by aliens, or their computers blow up. The last thing you want is a book where you can't make any changes to an existing cover if any of that happens (e.g. changing a tagline, or adding a high-profile review quote or award). Likewise, if a new artist has to take over, it is much easier for them to create further designs that fit thematically if they have access to the original cover, so they can exactly match fonts and layout and colour schemes.

Talking about covers edges into the area of title selection, since it will feature so prominently. The title, too, needs to be appealing but not generic. (If I see a book beginning "The Girl in/on/with ..." I tend to run a mile.)

You need ... a wonderful hook/tagline

Most books have a hook or tagline - a few words that help clarify the content and also entice. Here's one where the punchy and concise tagline works brilliantly, and immediately makes me ask questions about the book, which is already taking me partway towards a purchase:


No nonsense. Clipped and confident and stylish. Here's another good one, that achieves a similar effect:

The tagline may reinforce the main image cover, or contrast with it. As one example, my first book has the tagline "Some islands don't welcome visitors". That would have one interpretation on a comical cartoon cover - implying comedy mishaps, maybe a humorous travel book. However, when the cover shows a blood-spattered man with a chainsaw, the context of the image forces a different interpretation on the tagline. In both cases the way it works with the rest of the cover can help to define genre at a glance.

Taglines aren't always necessary. Only use them when they work. Don't force them. I particularly dislike taglines when they're pure fluff that make assumptions about me and my abilities and preferences. A particular one that guarantees me never reading a book is something like "With a twist you won't see coming!" I am well-read and probably will see the twist, especially after the spoiler on the front cover that alerted me to it and ruined the surprise; and if I don't spot it after all that neon flashing, it will be because the twist is poorly implemented. That kind of tagline also assumes I read because I want a twist, whereas really I read because I want a great story and characters, and often a big twist can just be a gimmick. Likewise if the tagline tells me the book is a "must-read" or anything like that, then I just move on. Don't let trashy marketing get in the way.

You need ... a punchy blurb

A blurb has two different meanings, but I'm using it in the sense of the brief book description that goes on the back of a paperback book (or as an e-book description in an online store). It's meant to entice readers, whilst keeping some elements of the story as a mystery. So it is definitely not a synopsis (since a synopsis tells everything, including the ending, and is a few pages, usually for sending to a publisher or agent).

One technique is to write the blurb in the voice of the main character (if there is one with a distinctive persona). I always think a blurb that captures the speech patterns, life and flavour of a character can be striking. Or write one in the style of the book itself. That gives the reader information in terms of what is said, and how it is said, so the words work harder. They both help to pull you in and give you a taste of what the book will be like.

If in the voice of a character, it can be first person ("I was beaten. I was chained. But when I find him I'll get my revenge.") or third person, depending on what perspective the novel takes: though the perspective doesn't have to be the same as the story. It's just meant to catch the style.

An example might be a comic first person protagonist who is a cheesy and crap superhero vigilante; maybe in the blurb it would then be better to replace the rather flat and generic:

"Underpant Man must find the villain and clear his name."

with

"Holy Justice! Underpant Man is going to track down his nemesis if it's the last thing he does (it may well be), and then it will be Kapow! time for sure."

(as long as that captured the tone of the novel).

That's what I mean by the voice of the book appearing in the blurb. I should add that writing a blurb in character is a lot more fun to do, as well.

I try and limit blurb to 140 words, in order to keep them punchier, though sometimes cutting down a blurb can seem like harder work than writing the book in the first place!

You need ... an exciting or interesting premise for the story

The trick with telling stories is to try and avoid the obvious, well-trodden path, and to find more original and interesting things. That can apply to the plot just as much as it can to writing style. Freshness is a massive selling point. It's not enough to just write a basic zombie survival novel, or a "boy meets girl, has a few tribulations, then they get together romantically" novel. They've been done millions of times. We need to combine ideas in new and exciting ways, such as boy zombie meets human girl, has a few tribulations, then they get together romantically.

The concept itself can also be used to hook the reader. Something about it that makes them wonder what would happen next, what they would do in those circumstances. Something they haven't read or seen before. Here's a few film examples with high concepts.

Buried is about a guy buried alive and waking in the coffin, with the film in real time in that one location as he tries to work out what is going on, and how he can escape, before his air runs out. I'd never come across that concept before, and was full of interest and questions. I had to watch it.

Would You Rather takes a common children's game and extends it into a sadistic version with high stakes. Then imagine you have to keep playing, even after you realise what you've been trapped in. There's already a huge amount of intrigue there.

We want the reader to think "I have to read this".

While I'm talking about trying to make things fresher - remember settings too. Don't generally set all your scenes in the same place. For example, suppose you're writing a dating novel. If every scene is set in a coffee shop, it will already feel like a rehash of other works. You've just made your job harder. Would a bucket list be so boring? No. So think of interesting locations, and variety, and places we don't often see. Love blossoming in a nuclear reactor. Deep feelings during a subaquatic archaeological dig below a waterfall. A series of dates where the only interactions take place during sky diving. Go wild. No doubt you will love writing the story because it will interest you too; and that will come through for the reader.

You need ... good writing and style

It's a given, but it's worth stating because it is a prerequisite. No point wasting money and time wrapping a turd in a shiny box. You need the basics, the foundation, and everything else that is required for a great book builds on that. Good writing. A perfectly formatted and presented interior, with no errors.

The whole book should be good. Gripping opening, unputdownable middle, amazing ending. Still, the beginning is a place to spend a lot of time polishing, since a potential reader might skim it. Make it shine. Strip out the infodumps. People want to be pulled into a character's story, not the character's (or world's) history.

You need ... to write more books!

Some authors are lucky - by which I mean they have done a huge amount of hard work and it has clicked with the zeitgeist in some way. But for most authors it's a case of working hard, and working hard again. Recognition increases with each book. Sales increase with each book. The number of chances of clicking increase with each book. For many authors it takes at least four books before they start to see any success. So time and patience and perseverance is important. Don't expect miracles with one book. Get working on your next.

Writing further books also hones your skill. You get better at each aspect of craft with practice: writing, plotting, reversals and beats, characterisation, stylistic decisions.

In a 9-5 job you go into work every day. You finish a task and start the next. You don't write a report or stack a shelf or serve a pint and then sit back and wait for the adulation. You do it again.

And the next time, we do better. :-)

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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Zen And The Art Of Planting

What's this? Find out more below.

Recently I upgraded my pond.

I had some leftover plants and stones, so decided to make a small rockery with them.

This is my story.

I spent ages choosing a location, a border stone, and a shape. In the end I decided to put it in the front garden so there could be plants where there were only chippings before, and people could see it as they walked past. The decorative black stones are used for paths around here, and are lovely when cleaned up. These had been in a pile under a bush in my garden, so I scrubbed them with water and they came up like new. I wanted the rockery to extend from the planter, which is actually an old sandstone chimney pot, one of a few in the garden.

I hate it when plastic is put below the ground, to slowly decay, turning the natural into artificial. In another house I discovered sheets of it under the soil, and you can never get it all back out again. I cut away this rubber underlay after removing all the top chippings. This can restore the connection between plants and earth.

People lay this crap under the ground to stop plants from growing. Humans have deforested most of the UK (possibly up to 70% forest once: now about 13% and dropping, for various reasons). Our culture needs to do everything to encourage plant growth, not halt it, and that goes down to the smallest scale. Every garden paved over for a driveway, every meadow lost to housing estates, every wetland that has a motorway or airport churn it up, it's all part of the same problem.

Cutting away the last bits.

I decided to create an entrance area too.

I added soil from when I'd enlarged the pond, plus some compost (and a bit of sand went on top).

These were sandstone cores I'd found. I scrubbed them, dug holes, compacted the soil around them, then relaid some red chippings.

Time to start washing pebbles to lay on top of the rockery.

I arranged some large white rocks, then placed the small plants. Note the buff over my mouth - I get hayfever, but wearing that means I can go cycling or be in the garden playing my guitar even on fairly high pollen-count days.

The final touch was using an old piece of sandstone as the top of the stone gate. That's the official entrance for hedgehogs, toads, and fairies.

The rectangle of light is a reflection from a window.



A close-up of the entrance. Does it count as a folly?



I can see the rockery from my office window. One of the plants already has more flowers on, and they have started to spread out. I look forward to seeing their progress over the years as I write more books. Thanks for reading!

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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Chasing Solace - The Paperback

The Chasing Solace e-book has been around for a while. But there was no paperback.

I'd already received some book post today - another author sent me their latest title because they thought I'd like it (the excellent-looking Conundrum puzzle book by science writer Brian Clegg).

Then ... an even larger parcel arrived. I half-expected it to be a chocolate order I'd forgotten about. I like chocolate and I won't apologise for that love.

I fetched Mr Stabby, and we opened it.

Yay! This is often an author's favourite type of parcel. (Yes, even more than chocolate or whisky). Authors normally share videos of the happy openings but I am old-skool and low-tech so the best I can do is photos. I thought I'd share my happiness, since I am normally seen as rather grumpy. :-)

Siblings!

Title pages!

Once again, the book chapters are a countdown - but Chasing Solace has a lot more chapters! It's a bigger book and a bigger story. "Deeper and wider" is how I think of it.

Order your copy via the links here.

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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My Pond

The original pond. I didn't even realise there was a lion's head hidden by ivy.

I'm not a DIY person. I consider the "D" to stand for "Do It Under Duress". I do love wildlife and nature, though.

My house came with an ornamental pond, but it had no plants, no way out for any animals that fell in, and was just a layer of leaf sludge and stagnant water in an old liner. I got a quote to replace the liner and make a few changes, but the quote made my eyes water, so I thought "I can do it myself, surely?"

Thus began a week of pain and regret.

I had emptied the old pond, taken up the old stones, and placed a new liner over the old. Then I just stood in some water and wanted to weep when I realised how much more work there was to do. Oh, you can see the newly-revealed lion's head. I didn't know if the plumbing still worked at that point.

I started to relay the stones. Error #1: not recording the original order and arrangement of the stones. Error #2: I couldn't work out how to get them all to lie flat, and didn't have enough mortar, so kept having to stop and cycle to DIY shops.

Temporarily giving up in a grump. It would have been easier with two people.

Dolly did the taste test.

Mostly finished. Lots of tidying up to do.

I bought a dwarf lily, which had four pads - it now has twelve, with another two coming up! Note the new "climbing out area" in the bottom right.

Electricians put in a safe outside electrical box, and I attached a pump to the old hose - behold, water came from the lion once again! It lives!

Working on a small rockery at the edge of the pond.

While I was at it, I laid two decorative paving stones (one has a hedgehog on, one a rabbit) to give easier access to the plug sockets.

The day I finished - and added some more pond plants.

A more recent photo.

I think it's a big improvement. If a hedgehog fell in, it would have an easier way out. Frogs or newts have a transitional area with ground cover. The lovely fountain is so relaxing when you are in the garden, and adds oxygen to the water. The lily is thriving, along with the iris and brass button plants. I included some floating foliage (which currently sprouts white flowers), and the other day I added blue-coloured water forget-me-nots. I have to scoop out some green algae and remove excess leaves from the surface of the pond (there are a lot of overhanging plants nearby!) but it's actually a fun process, and I get to examine the micro-fauna, which grows by the day.

First there were mosquito larvae, followed by rat-tailed maggots (hoverfly larvae). A couple of weeks later I began to spot cyclops in the water, and two days ago daphnia appeared. I have no idea how they get to a pond, but they did, and some are 2mm across. Wasps regularly land by the edge for a drink of water. And then I found my first water snail in the shallow area, exploring the warm stones and eating algae. I was really excited when it turned up out of nowhere, because I'd hoped to see them! Now that the micro-fauna is getting established, and there's more shade from plants, the pond should soon be a good environment for frogs or newts if they can find their way to it. Then it will be hard to drag me away from staring into those living green depths.

If I started again I'd do a few things differently, especially in terms of the surrounding paving, which leaves a lot to be desired (they are not suitable for walking on). Pond version 2 would probably be even better. But I'm pleased that it is all coming to life again, and provides an oasis of calm and life that makes me truly happy.

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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