Steven J. Pemberton's Blog

November 30, 2018

I finished recording the audiobook of Stone & Silence, except for pickups (re-recording bits where I made a mistake and didn't notice). I'm about four-fifths of the way through editing it. I don't know if it'll be ready in time for Christmas, but we'll see. The audiobook will include the bonus story that I wrote for the ebook omnibus, The Shortest Distance Between Two Points.

Our writers' group had a stall at the NSPCC Christmas fayre, and raised some money for the charity.

One of the writers held a launch party for her new book, What I Never Knew When I Said "I Do", which is a guide for newly-married couples and those thinking of getting married.

I wrote a bit more of The Dragons of Asdanund, which now stands at 6700 words.

The writers' group recently had their last meeting before Christmas, and in view of this, Lorraine, our unofficial leader, suggested that we bring along a piece of Christmas-themed writing. I pointed out that most of my stories are set in worlds where Christmas doesn't even exist, and then I remembered that I'd sketched out some ideas for a sequel to my children's book, Simon and the Birthday Wish. The book would be set around Christmas time, and I'd even thought of a working title, Simon and the Christmas Plot. Against my better judgement, two days before the meeting, I dashed off the first scene, and the writers seemed to like it. So I might see if I can write some more of it while I'm off work over the holidays.
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Published on November 30, 2018 17:49 • 23 views • Tags: writing_progress

October 31, 2018

(Happy Halloween to those who care about such things...)

I recorded a bit more of the Stone & Silence audiobook, and have almost caught up with editing it. Depending on how much Breda grumbles about having to be quiet ;-) it might be on sale by the end of November, or failing that, before Christmas.

I finished the first draft of the sci-fi short story that I mentioned in August's entry. I've decided to put it aside for a while to consider the comments I got from my critique group.

Science fiction writer Eric Klein interviewed me about the Dragonrider series, concentrating on the worldbuilding and some of the weird things I researched but then had to cut because they didn't fit the story. The interview is here.

The One Million Project released a new book with the rather wordy title of So, You Say I Can’t Vote!: Frances Connelly: The working-class woman’s route to the vote. (Full disclosure: I was a beta reader for this.) It ties in with 2018 being the centenary of (some) women gaining the right to vote in the UK. Most of the prominent figures who campaigned for this were from the middle and upper class. The contribution of working-class women has been largely forgotten nowadays, and this book attempts to redress that balance. Frances Connelly was a glove-maker from Yeovil in Somerset, and is thought to be the first woman to cast a vote in a UK election. She did this in 1911, seven years before it was legal. In typical British fashion, the law didn't actually say that women couldn't vote; it said they couldn't be on the register of people who could vote. If a woman did manage to get onto the register, whether through deception or clerical error, and she was issued a polling card (an invitation to cast a vote), then there was no legal way to prevent her from voting. Frances, like many other women, appeared on the register because her name was similar to a masculine name (Francis). The book covers what's known of Frances's life and sets it and her vote in a broader context. It also looks at other working-class women who campaigned to be allowed the vote, and some other women who voted or tried to vote before 1918.

Our local writers' group took part in a diversity festival, where different ethnic and religious groups in the town came together to share their cultures in the form of music, art, history, writing, food, fashion, and just to talk to one another. The highlight for me was the African drumming workshop, where everyone got a chance to play along with the band. I was reluctant to join in at first, but soon discovered I had more rhythm than I thought. Overall the festival was a great success, and the organisers hope to make it an annual event.

I've been saving what I hope is the best news for last - on Monday, only ten months later than planned, I finally started writing the sequel to The Mirrors of Elangir. So far I have 680 words of it. Not much, I admit, but I'm a bit out of practice. With a bit of luck (and a lot of self-discipline) it'll be on sale by the end of next year. The book will be called The Dragons of Asdanund unless I think of a title I like better. Those of you who've read the first book will guess that this is a fairly big spoiler about what's waiting for Raltarn and Tomaz when they get back home, but I figured I'd have to mention it in the blurb anyway to convey the story's excitement and high stakes. Watch this space!
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Published on October 31, 2018 17:07 • 21 views • Tags: writing_progress

September 30, 2018

I haven't done any actual writing this month, but I've had plenty of other things to occupy me.

The audiobook of Dust & Water went on sale (see previous post for details).

I started editing the audiobook of Stone & Silence and am about a fifth of the way through. I wrote a couple more "simple" computer programs to help speed up the editing process. There might actually come a day when they save me more time than I spent writing them...

I interviewed and was interviewed by a fellow author, Lauren Alder. She interviewed me here about The Reluctant Dragonrider. I interviewed her here about her début novel, The Codex of Desire.

Our local writers' group took part in an event at the central library in Redbridge, Essex. This is quite a way from us - the connection is that the father of the organiser of our group is also a writer and lives in Redbridge. He runs a writers' group in his area, and some of them came to the event too. We donated copies of some of our books to the library, and a few weeks before the event, they went on display in the foyer. The staff told us that if we didn't see our book on the stand in the foyer, someone had borrowed it. I donated three books (Simon and the Birthday Wish, The Accidental Dragonrider and Death & Magic ). When I checked the stand, none of them were there, which was most gratifying.
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Published on September 30, 2018 16:31 • 45 views • Tags: writing_progress

September 22, 2018

The audiobook of Dust & Water is now on sale. It's narrated by me and runs for just under 12 hours. You can buy it from the following retailers:

Amazon USA: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00C44CHMO

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00C44CHMO

Audible USA: https://www.audible.com/pd/B07HFL5Z3L...

Audible UK: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/B07HFJCK...

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/audiobook...

(Full disclosure: the Audible links use their bounty programme, which pays me a bonus if you become an Audible subscriber after clicking a link. There's no difference to the price you pay for the book or your subscription.)

You can listen to a sample of the audiobook (5 minutes from an "interlude" between chapter 33 and 34, mostly spoiler-free).

I suppose I now have to explain why it's an interlude instead of a numbered chapter. One of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time... There's a prologue, which is from the point of view of Galdrakh, the main antagonist, and an epilogue, also from his point of view. I found that I needed a scene from his point of view in the middle of the book, and since the other two aren't numbered, it seemed natural not to number this one either.

I had to trim the scene to use it as the sample, firstly to get it under the five minutes that Audible allows for the sample, and secondly to remove a major spoiler. It's now a slightly surreal conversation about how Galdrakh and his cronies are going to get a horse into the Governor-General's palace on the night of a big party...
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Published on September 22, 2018 03:20 • 1 view • Tags: release_announcement

September 11, 2018

Today's post is something new for me: an interview with a fellow writer. I don't know yet if it's a one-off or the start of something regular. We'll see how it goes.

My guest today is Lauren Alder, author of The Codex of Desire, a "tragic tale of prehistoric love" amongst intelligent feathered dinosaurs.

Photo of Lauren Alder in a museum, standing in front of a dinosaur skeleton

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. What made you want to be a writer?

I am a 53-year-old freelance commercial artist, happily married for 23 years to a fellow artist. We live in Winnipeg, Canada, in a third-floor walk-up apartment (which bit us HARD when my husband recently broke his ankle, but on the whole it suits us down to the ground). I’m a Wiccan, a science fiction and fantasy fan, and a person with an abiding love for cats, dinosaurs, and the movie “A.I.: Artifical Intelligence”. I deal with treatment-resistant depression and anxiety, which made finishing a novel quite the challenge.

As far as what made me want to be a writer… what makes me want to breathe? It feels like the answer to both those questions is: fundamental instinct. If I don’t write, I feel much worse emotionally and mentally. I won’t say that writing is therapy for me, but it certainly makes life more beautiful and more bearable.

2. Tell us about your book. What makes it stand out from the crowd?

Well, it’s a time-travelling adult science fiction novel about tragic dinosaur love triangles, which certainly aren’t a dime a dozen.

This is my three-sentence pitch: “Love and violence, war and lust, lies and betrayal — even intelligent feathered dinosaurs fell prey to such destructive impulses, more than 67 million years ago. Girn'ash, a cunning female slave, falls in love with a dashing military prisoner and will do anything in her power to win his freedom. But Girn'ash's queen is determined to coerce the handsome warrior into her harem, and when so many savage desires collide it might doom an entire civilization to nuclear extinction.”

So: intelligent feathered theropod dinosaurs, a human paleontologist who is mentally drawn back in time (via an alien memory storage device) to witness the catastrophic intersection of their lives, and the barbaric splendor of a long-lost primordial world. That’s a lot of interesting content (and all my beta readers LOVED it).

3. What was the inspiration for the book?

The inspiration for “Codex” came through a non-fiction book called “Ninja: 1000 Years of the Shadow Warrior” by John Man. As I was reading about the samurai and ninja cultures (both in real life and in myth), the idea struck me: “Romeo and Juliet”, with those two cultures as the warring factions! However, I was reluctant to set the novel in the actual cultures, since I felt I wasn’t capable of properly sympathizing with them. Then the second element came to me: “Set it in the distant past, with intelligent dinosaurs as the main characters!” And thus the seed for “Codex” was born (although it ended up being a very different story once it was done).

[Steven: This wouldn't be the first time a story has taken a long and winding road from inspiration to publication :-) ]

4. Describe your writing process. Do you have a daily writing routine? If so, what is it?

I don’t edit while writing the first draft: I believe that only slows me down and causes me to second-guess myself. Instead I concentrate on writing down everything and anything that comes to mind, even if it’s out of sequence. To me, the first draft is a process of telling the story to myself. I worry about perfection in the editing phases.

Because I’m both a visual and a written word artist, I tend to alternate between the two. When I’m in a writing phase, I start writing each morning after I’ve had an hour or so of Internet time plus at least a half a cup of coffee, and I write for 1-2 hours with the goal of producing 1000-2500 words. Rinse and repeat until I feel the need to switch to visual arts, or a visual arts project hits my studio and I need to change tracks.

Once I’m in a writing phase, I generally don’t take days off because I find that disrupts the creative flow.

5. Which character was the most enjoyable to write, and why?

Although I took great pleasure in writing all the “Codex” characters, I have to admit that the ones who were the most fun to write were Fir’ala~Enk, the indomitable leader of the Furies and Tir’at’s implacable enemy, and U'nur~Mik'Ur, the Chief Cook of the Tribal settlement of Permanence where Tir’at is imprisoned for most of the novel. Fir’ala is shrewd, sly, bloodthirsty, possessed of a wicked sense of humour, and admirable (to a certain degree) in her relentless ruthlessness and her devotion to her Most Potent Chieftess. U'nur… well, I don’t want to say too much and give away part of the plot, but his genuine tenderness of heart is highly endearing to me and I admire his devotion to his family.

The cover of Lauren Alder's book, The Codex of Desire

6. Are there any plans for a sequel?

Yes, but it won’t see the light of day unless “Codex” achieves a degree of commercial success. I always craft my final works with an audience in mind, and if nobody reads “Codex” then nobody is likely to read the sequel either.

7. What things did you have to research for this book? What was the strangest or most unlikely thing you had to research?

Dinosaur and bird physiology. (Did you know that birds have a circular respiratory system, instead of the “lung” system that mammals rely on? I didn’t, until I started writing “Codex”.) The making of ale and beer. What plants and flowers were in existence during the Late Cretaceous Period. And the one that caused me the most headaches -- how long WAS the lunar month, 67 million years ago? (Answer: less than an hour shorter than it is in modern times.) Finding the lunar month length required a good 2 or 3 hours of Googling, and then the in-depth reading of an academic astronomy paper until I found the tidbit of information I needed.

[Steven: I was vaguely aware that birds had a different respiratory system from mammals, but didn't know any of the details. You've now got me curious as to how astronomers figured out the length of the lunar month 67 million years ago. Did they just extrapolate backwards (the Moon is gradually receding from Earth), or is there some evidence in ancient rocks?]

8. How similar to a real dinosaur species are the intelligent dinosaurs? Are they based on a single species, or a composite of several species? How much is real (or at least based on what scientists have figured out) and how much is made up?

It’s hard to say how similar to a real dinosaur species the “Codex” theropods are, because we honestly have no idea of what that type of dinosaur really looked like and acted like. I based a lot of their behavior on the behavior of highly intelligent modern birds (like ravens and parrots), as well as their physiology. In terms of dinosaur types, physically they’re very roughly based on Velociraptor (the actual type, not the “Jurassic Park” version), and I made them feathered because (1) that gave them many more modes for self-expression, and (2) recent research indicates that most dinosaurs of that type were probably feathered.

The biggest deviation from real life comes from where the fossils in “Codex” were found: no theropods of that type and size have been found in Alberta so far. But new and surprising dinosaur discoveries happen on almost a weekly basis, so I felt safe enough placing those fossils in the Badlands.

9. What do you get from the frame story? The story starts in the present day, when a human palaeontologist finds an artefact left behind by the dinosaurs. He touches it and starts to experience the memories of the dinosaur who wore it. The artefact seems to be "just" a recording device, so the palaeontologist is passively experiencing the dinosaur's story – he can’t influence it in any way. On the face of it, this complicates the story and distances the reader from the dinosaurs (who appear to be the real stars of the show). Why did you choose to do it that way, rather than tell the dinosaur's story directly?

I wish I had a good answer for that -- or at least an intellectual one. All I can really say is that when I wrote out the first draft, I felt like a major element was missing -- an element of perspective, a human connection to the events of the narrative. Raoul Deguchi came to me very clearly and powerfully as a character who needed to be included in the story. (Plus in the planned sequel, he’s the main character and his connection to the dinosaurs in “Codex” becomes a vital plot point.)

I’m a great believer in telling the story that demands to be told, not necessarily the story that rationality tells us SHOULD be told. Time will either prove me right or wrong. I sincerely hope it proves me right.

10. Lastly, where can readers buy the book or find out more?

You can buy The Codex of Desire from Amazon and Smashwords.

I'm on Facebook and Twitter. My blog is at https://laurenalder.home.blog. There's also a trailer for the book on YouTube.
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Published on September 11, 2018 15:13 • 254 views • Tags: interview

August 30, 2018

I completed the "proof listen" of the audiobook of Dust & Water, which mainly involved fixing the pacing - too long or too short a gap between sentences and paragraphs. I fixed a few mistakes in the editing where I omitted a sentence or included two takes of it. I still need to record some pickups (to fix mistakes that I didn't notice when I was recording). Then I'll do the mastering and submit it to the distributor.

All this work on Dust & Water means I'm no further along with the Stone & Silence audiobook, but I should be returning to that in the next week or two.

I started another science fiction short story that might end up as a bonus for subscribers to my mailing list. Go here if you want to be one of the first to read it when I finish it: http://eepurl.com/_5EDX

I'm this week's guest on Lucas Spangler's First Chapter podcast. As the title suggests, an author reads the first chapter of their book. Lucas then interviews them about the book and whatever other topics come to mind. I read from Escape Velocity, and Lucas and I then talk about the inspiration behind my writing, the relationship between writing and software, and my traumatic first encounter with a computer. (Parental advisory: there is a bit of swearing in the book.)

You can find the podcast on iTunes here - https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/f... (my episode is number 13) or you can find the episode on Libsyn here: http://traffic.libsyn.com/firstchapte... It's about 45 minutes - half reading, half interview. Enjoy!
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Published on August 30, 2018 16:40 • 50 views • Tags: writing_progress

July 30, 2018

It turns out I was lying about having the audiobook of Dust & Water on sale by the end of this month. But I was lying for the right reasons. Breda was in Ireland for most of this month, so I decided to take advantage of the quiet evenings to start recording an audiobook of Stone & Silence. (Breda's fond of her TV programmes, and doesn't like having to switch off while I'm recording.) I did finish editing Dust & Water, so now that she's back, the next job will be to listen to it and fix any mistakes, and then it can go on sale. With a bit of luck, Stone & Silence won't be far behind, as I'm two-thirds of the way through recording it.

Our local writers' group was invited to do some readings in the intervals of some outdoor concerts. I did a couple, and had them videoed for posterity. One is from my children's book Simon and the Birthday Wish, which you can watch here. The other is The Last Story, a "tribute" to the golden era of the film noir detective story, which is here. The sound quality isn't great, as the mic picked up a fair bit of wind noise, and there were usually some... lovely people talking near the camera. Unfortunately I'm not (yet) famous enough to get away with telling them to shut up while I'm talking.

I started a Facebook author page, which you can find at https://www.facebook.com/StevenJPembertonAuthor/. It goes by the rather confusing name of "Fantasy and Science Fiction Author". I was trying to get that title to appear when you hover your mouse over my profile picture, and entered it as my place of employment. (Which is kind-of, sort-of true if you squint at it in the right way with a following wind.) A few days later, Facebook asked if I wanted to have that as the name of a page. Apparently, of the thousands of people on Facebook who write fantasy or science fiction or both, none had thought to put "Fantasy and Science Fiction Author" as their profession or employer. So I grabbed it before I (or Facebook) could change our minds. I haven't quite decided what to do with the page in the longer term. So far I've been reposting the book-related videos that I've got on YouTube.

With all that excitement, I also managed to write a 2000-word short story, but I'm going to hold onto it for a while until I have a better idea about what to do with it.
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Published on July 30, 2018 11:49 • 51 views • Tags: writing_progress

July 1, 2018

I didn't write any new words this month, but I did finish recording the audiobook of Dust & Water. I'm about 90% of the way through editing it. Then I'll have to listen to the whole thing to make sure there are no mistakes and that I'm happy with the pacing. Then I have to master it (process the audio so that it meets the distributor's submission requirements). Fortunately I've managed to automate most of this last step. Then I send it off to the distributor, and it should be available before the end of July.

Our town has been staging its annual festival over the last fortnight, and our writers' group took part in a few events. We walked in the parade and got second place in the "walking" category (i.e. of the entries that weren't on a float). We also entered the quiz and came third out of twelve teams, which we were quite pleased with. Though I'm ashamed to admit none of us knew where Jane Austen was born...
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Published on July 01, 2018 02:10 • 65 views • Tags: writing_progress

May 31, 2018

I wrote another 4500 words of my "War of the Gods" story, which now stands at 35,500 words. I still don't know how long it's going to be when it's finished.

I edited the material I recorded for the audiobook of Dust & Water last month, so now I have to resume recording. I found a few more small continuity errors - fortunately nothing that breaks the plot.

The local writers' group attended the first outdoor event of the year, which of course got rained off, though not before we'd sold a few books. Ah well...
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Published on May 31, 2018 14:28 • 67 views • Tags: writing_progress

May 15, 2018

A visit to Dublin has been on my (embarrassingly humble) bucket list for some years. Last month, we went to Ireland for the wedding of one of Breda's cousins, and decided to spend a week in Dublin afterwards, rather than staying with Breda's family as we usually do.

We stayed at the Pembroke Townhouse in Ballsbridge, which is a little way out of the city centre, but close enough to the places we wanted to see. As I mentioned in my previous post, part of the appeal of it was that the reception area was fairly quiet (no TV), meaning that I could sit there in the evening and do some writing.

For most of the first two days, we mainly used one of the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing buses to get around. In hindsight, this was a mistake, as the service we chose had quite a long route and didn't stop at many of the places we wanted to see. It also wasn't very punctual - the website claimed it ran every 15 minutes, but I don't think we ever waited less than that for a bus to arrive.

We didn't get to see everything we wanted, but we saw a few things we didn't know about beforehand, so it balanced out. Dublin is small enough that most of the places we visited were within walking distance of one another, or just a short bus or tram ride away.

The first place we visited was the GPO (General Post Office) in O'Connell Street. This is famous mainly because it was the rebel HQ during the Easter Rising of 1916. I was vaguely aware that it's a memorial to the Rising and those who died in it, so I was surprised to find that it's also still a functioning post office. Downstairs is a museum about the Rising, its causes and aftermath. This does a good job of explaining what happened and why, though their speaker systems could use some work. They have several videos running on loops, one of which has a lot of gunfire and explosions, and the sound from these tends to travel quite a long way from where the screens are.

The next day, I went to the Dublin Writers Museum. (Breda returned to the GPO, not having seen everything the day before.) Ireland has a rich literary tradition, and this museum packs a lot of it into a small space. The audio guide is included in the ticket price, and mainly provides edited highlights if you don't have the time or the inclination to read all the labels.

Pretty much everyone we asked what to see in Dublin said we should do the Guinness Storehouse, a museum and behind-the-scenes tour of the Guinness brewery. It left me somewhat underwhelmed, though this isn't entirely the attraction's fault. Neither of us is particularly fond of beer, and we had timed tickets for the next place we were going, so we had to go round quicker than we would have liked. It was the most expensive attraction we visited, and most of the tour is unguided (though since we were in a hurry, this wasn't as much of a disadvantage as it might otherwise have been).

The highlight for me was the tasting session, where you learn how to drink Guinness properly. It's not meant to be sipped, because if you do that, you mainly get the head, which doesn't taste very nice on its own. Instead, you should breathe in, take a mouthful, let it lie on your tongue for a couple of seconds to appreciate all the different flavours, swallow, then breathe out. It's not so bad once you get used to it ;-)

The reason we had to rush around the Guinness Storehouse was that we had timed tickets for Kilmainham Gaol. This building will be forever associated with the rebellions of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as many of the rebel leaders were held here after they surrendered, and in most cases were executed here. After it closed in 1924, it lay derelict until the 1960s, when it was restored as a museum. The guided tour (included in the price) is short but informative.

The next day, we trudged through a downpour along the bank of the River Liffey to reach the Jeanie Johnston, a replica of a "coffin ship" that took people from Ireland to seek a better life in North America during the Great Famine of the mid-19th century. They were called "coffin ships" because not every passenger survived the journey - already weakened by hunger, they were vulnerable to diseases like cholera and typhoid, which could spread quickly in the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that were common on board. The original Jeanie Johnston was unusual in that all 2500 of the people she carried on her 16 voyages across the Atlantic lived. This is largely thanks to the ship's doctor, who refused to allow anyone on board who had any signs of illness.

Our final stop was Trinity College, home to the famous Book of Kells. There was quite a long queue to get in - I finished reading one book on my Kindle, and had time to read the sample of another and decide to buy it. The exhibition about the making of the book was more impressive than the book itself. The curators open it to different pages over the weeks and months, and the pages we saw were mostly text, with a little decoration on the capitals.

After the book, we saw the Long Room, the college's old library, which is the largest single-room library in the world. The cataloguing system is unusual, at least for anyone accustomed to the Dewey Decimal System. The books are organised into broad subject areas, but within those, they're shelved by size - tall books on the lower shelves, short ones on the upper. I suppose it makes the librarians' jobs easier when they have to climb ladders to reach the top shelves.

I paid a brief visit to the Science Gallery, a small exhibition space on the edge of the campus that hosts temporary exhibitions exploring the intersections between science and art. The current exhibition is about real versus fake, and how the distinction between the two isn't always clear. Everything in the exhibition is fake in some way or another. Probably the most unusual is a "fake fake" alien corpse. Readers of a certain age might recall a film that surfaced a few years ago, purporting to show an autopsy being carried out on an alien who'd been killed when his (her? its?) spaceship crashed on Earth. (The film was fake, of course, and the alien was a prop made in a special effects workshop.) Soon after the film was released, before it had been revealed as a fake, someone came forward with an alien prop that they claimed had been used in the film. Except that it wasn't the one used in the film, but one they'd made themselves in an effort to discredit the film - a fake fake.

And that was all we had time for. We'll probably go back, and who knows - we might actually plan it next time!
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Published on May 15, 2018 17:07 • 81 views