What happened in September? Resting, re-charging and a little Dusk

Hi team! It’s still just about September, but this’ll be a shortish update. I’ve been trying to recharge over the last few weeks after getting knocked sideways by an illness – thankfully not the dreaded ‘C’-word, but still something that saw me sleeping a lot and generally doing anything other than working and writing.

Thankfully, this also seems to have recharged my brain a little – I’m not entirely sure how season five of Prison Break, both seasons of The Order, the first half of Once Upon a Time and quite a few books managed to do it, but I’m slowly starting to get back into Dusk. I’m still only averaging 10k words a month, which is a bit measly, but I’m feeling better about it, and we’re currently sat at around 69k. It’s definitely going to be longer than Parasites – I’m still four or five chapters off finishing one of the major story strands, and only about a quarter through the other – but that’s pre-edits, of course.

Everything else is on hold, but in the meantime, I’ve written a short blurb for Dusk – hopefully this isn’t too much of a tease; we’re probably looking at a release date of mid- next year, but it’ll be sooner if I can, promise!

You can also read this on my Books page, but here it is:

It’s two years since Kael and Alessia returned from their expedition to find a solution to the big crunch, but things haven’t gone according to plan. Despite an unexpected source of help, Lyra’s resources are being used up faster than ever before, and one of the monstrous creatures from Carthusian, the city-ship, seems to have been sighted in Vulpes, Lyra’s farming city.

With new enemies coming from unexpected places, Vega’s mayor Alhambro is determined to find a faster way to navigate the thinnings linking universes, dispatching Basteel and Slyph into the diplomatic and scientific nightmare in Vulpes. At the same time, Kael and Alessia embark on a mission crossing a forbidden asteroid, an abandoned planet previously home to a super-advanced race and into the unknown.

But as a new, hostile species capable of traversing the thinnings emerges, it seems that the sun is setting on Lyra for the very last time.

I’m psyched about it and can’t wait to bring it out to you all. As ever, take care, stay healthy, and be kind.

What happened in August? Dusk, Small Places and Wild Court updates – and BBNYA news

Hi solarpunk fans! I hope that you’re all faring well. I didn’t get around to doing a July update, so here’s August – I’ll be honest with you, 2020 is a tough year and progress has been superslow. But we’re getting there.

So, where are we at right now? Well, Dusk is currently sitting at just over 58k words, but my writing brain does not want to engage over about 27 degrees Celsius. It’s also quite difficult to know exactly what percentage of the book that constitutes – the book flips between two different parties of people, and after struggling to shift my brain every chapter, I’m just writing the entire storyline of one before moving to go back to the other later on.

I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but it seems to sit best with my head, so I’m going with it!

Small Places, my urban fantasy title, is getting close. It’s been read by two beta readers and a sensitivity reader, and generally got positive and constructive feedback. It’s now being read by – gulp – my wife, who has a laser eye for detail. She hasn’t read any of my work before, so this has been a fairly nerve-wracking affair so far. I’m pleased to say that her feedback is all incredibly useful, but that doesn’t make it any easier, psychologically!

She’s also extremely busy with her job at the moment, so that’s slightly slowing things down. The book is dedicated to her though, so I thought it only fair to give her a look at it first. Once she’s done, I’ll give it a final read to make sure everything is consistent and smooth, then it’ll need to be print / kindle formatted … but then we’re good to go! I’m excited to have you all read it at some stage, although I wouldn’t recommend reading it seven times in one year, which is essentially what I’ve done so far. 

I’ve also got to level with you about Wild Court. It’s stalled again. It really needs a huge amount of focus, inspiration and love to get going, so once I’ve finished Dusk, I’m going to see how I’m feeling. If I’m in a good place, I’ll strip it back, re-plan it and absolutely run at it. If not, then I’ll either work on the third book in The Navigator series, or the sequel to Small Places, although the latter is only half planned out at the moment. I guess that makes Navigator 3 more likely…  

In other news, I was absolutely delighted to be shortlisted for the BBNYA Awards – Parasites is currently in the Top 30 shortlist, with the Top 10 to be decided by September 30th. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

What happened in May? Dusk, Small Places and Wild Court updates, pandemic problems and amazing books

April and May have been strange and difficult months, so I’ll start with the book stuff to avoid boring anyone with the personal updates if that’s not what you’re here for.

First up, progress on Dusk (Parasites sequel) has been a little slow – I’m on about 26k words, up from 15k this time last month. When I was working on Small Places, I once wrote twelve thousand words in two days over the Christmas break, so I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed at that … but in fairness they were very different times.

That said, I’m fairly pleased with how it’s coming together, although it definitely needs editing; I wrote a Basteel chapter that clocked in at about 4.5k words on its own! There’s a reasonable chunk of the book that takes place on the rest of Lyra, which was something I really wanted to do after finishing Parasites. You only really see Vega in the first book, so I wanted to explore a little more of the rest of the planet. 

We’re also coming close to the three-month deadline that I set for querying Small Places, so I may well be looking for beta readers and other bits and pieces soon, as well as setting a publishing date! With all the stuff that’s been going on, I tend to forget about it, then remember it quite fondly. I’m just not sure whether to do a last (sixth? seventh?) re-read before getting it out to a beta, but time will tell…

Finally, I’ve also started looking at Wild Court again, the low fantasy WIP I parked around the 50k word mark in the middle of last year. It’s now around 26k, although I’m finding that re-writing and re-editing a novel is much harder than writing it from scratch!

Onto the other stuff: I don’t know if any of you are gamers, but I remember when the first Baldur’s Gate game came out and there’s a narrated chapter break where there’s a reference to a journey being ‘an unfamiliar blur to your fractured nerves’, and that’s really how this month has felt. In mid-April, there were some difficult discussions at work where a few of my colleagues and I were faced with the possibility of a 40% pay cut. Thankfully that didn’t come to pass, but our physical office did close, so I had to go into London to pick up a few personal things that I’d left there.  

I was half expecting it to be apocalyptically quiet, but there were people around – lots of construction workers, and a small number of people travelling like me. There were maybe ten people in total on my train, so I was able to socially-distance quite easily.

My wife was furloughed fairly recently, which was initially stressful, but she’s now really enjoying it! We were supposed to be on holiday between two weddings a few weeks ago, and perversely, on the day my friend was supposed to be getting married (now postponed), he got hit by a car. He’s doing ok, thankfully.

I also found out that a guy I knew a while back had died, which was really awful. I hadn’t seen him for a long time, but he was a great guy, impossible to dislike. The silver lining was that I did get to attend the funeral remotely, which was very sad – but I was glad I could.

I don’t want to end on a negative note, so I’ll also add that I’ve been reading a lot more during lockdown; I’ve just finished the slightly disappointing Agency by William Gibson, but did re-read the magnificent The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which is just a masterpiece. I’m now reading Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, which I’ve enjoyed before – I’ve got a weakness for South African Sci-Fi (Chappie and District 9, anyone?). As you might have gathered, I’m also a bit of a gamer and Terraria has been absorbing a lot of my time recently – the final update launches today, which I’m quite excited about – there just aren’t enough hours in the day for everything!

I do hope that you’re all staying safe, well and healthy – take care.

The Origins of the Stormworld

[Spoiler Alert – Contains mild spoilers for Parasites]

When I was growing up, I used to write down my dreams and take inspiration from them for stories. They didn’t always make sense, but more often than not, they did, telling stories themselves of places I’d never been, people I’d never met.

For some unknown reason, I can’t pinpoint most of the origins of Parasites, but without question, the stormworld episode comes from a dream. I’d seen the two huge storm fronts racing towards each other, a vehicle not dissimilar to the car in the book racing to escape them. I remember being absolutely convinced that if it could just reach a certain point, keep in the area between the vast clouds, despite the gap growing smaller and smaller, that everything would be ok.

It’s a brief episode in the book, and a mysterious one at that. We learn about as much about the origins of the stormworld as we do about the world right at the start, with the cabbages and the rotting biodome. That said, it’s not a huge leap to say that the world was probably something like ours – the road is testament to that. Whatever species lived there, they – like most of the abandoned worlds that Kael and Alessia find – have left their mark, in terms of both the infrastructure and damage to the environment.

I’d imagine that the race inhabiting the planet had followed a similar path to us humans, slowly destroying it and using up the resources, messing up the environment and causing the weather to become increasingly hostile to life.

As I’ve gotten older, I take less and less inspiration from dreams, although a little still works itself in there now and again. I certainly dream less vividly – I suspect it’s a condition of getting old – but they’re still there, particularly after a memorable, immersive or emotional experience.

Of course, sometimes dreams are entirely nonsensical, but as a child I was a firm believer that they meant something, that they were important. Today, I’m not so sure, but there’s definitely a part of me that would still like to believe. It feels a bit silly, particularly as an adult, but I’m also a firm believer in the saying that we don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing. If we can’t hold onto a few ideals and concepts of meaningfulness from our childhood as we grow older, then we might as well just give up now! 

April Updates

Introverts in lockdown is already a bit of a tired trope and it’s definitely been an odd experience for this introvert. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s been easy!

My wife and I are very lucky that we moved to a fairly quiet house with a garden about two years ago and have no dependents (other than the cat!). Our families and friends are generally doing ok. My wife’s uncle and aunt both had Coronavirus fairly early on but seem to have made a full recovery; we spoke to them on Sunday on a Zoom call with four generations of her family and they seemed great. In the same way as everyone else, videocalls have become something of staple, although doing one with her 95 year-old grandfather was an interesting experience!

My side of the family seems to be doing ok as well. I played chess online with my seven year-old nephew last weekend, narrowly scraping victory on both occasions, despite a couple of mistakes. I’m really, really rusty…

Writing hasn’t been *that* easy, to be honest. Thankfully, my ‘real’ job is still ‘business as usual’, but everyone is just a bit more stressed and on edge than usual, which is completely understandable. Despite strict self-care routines – alternating between a walk in the park in the morning or a run in the evening, yoga, cooking and taking it easy – it’s been stressful, and I guess it’s the same for everyone.

Despite that, I’ve tentatively started a high fantasy title, even more tentatively titled The Witch-Lord’s Apprentice. It might not go anywhere, but the overall idea is to take a new slant on the everlasting battle between angels, demons and humans. I can already see Laini Taylor and Carol Berg’s influence there (I’m currently re-reading Transformation) but there’s loads of fresh stuff there as well.

It’s a month since I started writing Dusk (also a tentative title) the sequel to Parasites and the second book in the Navigator trilogy. I’m just over 15,000 words in, and I think it’ll be about the same length as the first one, but maybe a shade longer. It’s going to be a bit darker than the first book, but I won’t say anything more just yet! I think that 15k words in a month is a little on the slow side, but like I said, stressful times.

It’s late here, so I’ll just finish by saying that I hope that you and all of your families and friends are as well as they can be, and please continue to take care of yourselves.  

Found Family

One of the themes that I’ve always enjoyed in literature, film and TV is found family. I was absolutely enchanted by Monica Hughes’ Invitation to the Game as a child, reading it again and again, following Lisse as she and her schoolfriends live together and eventually band together into a strong, family-like unit in the dystopian future.

It’s a theme that pervades much of today’s literature and film, from The Gilded Wolves to The Fast and the Furious, the latter of which I’ll admit to being a firm fan of! The idea that you might not fit in with your regular – biological – family (or you can!) but that you can find another close group of friends, so close that it becomes like family, is an incredible one and speaks to perhaps some of the deepest pack instincts within us.

I can’t use that word – pack – without giving a shout out to the Assassin’s set of books by Robin Hobb, where Fitz and Nighteyes, his wolf companion, literally bond and become a very close, two-person unit, occasionally bringing in others as the journey requires.

In Parasites, Kael and Alessia (along with Basteel, and in previous journeys, Caroline) have become a kind of found family, albeit a small one. They’ve been through a lot together, weathering the last ten years and becoming close. Their journey in Parasites does begin to test the relationship, but one thing I’ve noticed is that family dynamics are almost the third (or N+1) person in the family group. The relationship between Kael and Alessia, their friendship, is essentially its own structure, and structures can be stronger or tested in bad conditions.

Basteel, their bodyguard, strengthens that family structure, and the presence of others tests it, putting pressure on the two to consider other goals and possibilities. We don’t really explore the duo’s past in Parasites, but there’s plenty of time for flashbacks and conversations about it – there’s a little at the start, about some of the more memorable experiences that the two have had together – but rest assured that there will be more revealed in books two and three.

I’ve thought about doing a short novella about them, but I’m leaning more towards the possibility of a Basteel and Caroline short story; the sturdy bodyguard and his agile partner have been through their share of scrapes, and their relationship is going to be an important sub-theme through the rest of the trilogy.

The events in Parasites certainly brought Kael – always the natural pessimist (well, he would say realist) – and Alessia, the more hopeful of the two, closer together, and taught the engineer a thing or two about optimism. It’s a fantastic thing to find ‘your people’ whether or not they’re as close as pack or found family. Relationships don’t come easily, especially when you’re not tied together by blood – but they’re definitely something worth investing in.

First Lines

The first lines of a book are vastly important. Lots of readers are very patient and willing to give books a chance, but when you’re reading something for the first time or from a new author, it can be make or break. And the first lines of certain books become famous in their own rights, like “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” from George Orwell’s 1984. It’s the subject of pub quizzes and trivia games across the world!

I’ve fallen in and out of love with the first few lines from some of my books – and WIPs – but thought that it’d be fun to have a quick look at a few of them. Some of this stuff isn’t ‘in the wild’ yet, so hopefully it’s an interesting teaser rather than being cruel.

It’s a garden world this time.

Genetically engineered plants and trees, huge biodomes sprawling overhead; white metal honeycombs with transparent panels, most now missing or decayed.

This is from Parasites and I’m still pretty pleased with it. I really wanted to convey what Kael and Alessia do in the first line – exploring new worlds – but to also get across the emptiness, the silence and loneliness of the worlds that they explore.

“You know, for someone who hates people, you sure do care a lot about what they think,” the man next to me says slowly. He reeks of stale body odour and urine, overlaid with cigarette smoke and cheap alcohol.

We’re friends.

This is the first line from Wild Court, my paused WIP. It’s a fantastical look at the effect of declining empathy in our society, and opens with a conversation between one of the protagonists and their friend, who is experiencing homelessness. I’m really quite fond of this; the protagonist Ben is a quiet, isolated character with occasional anxiety, and I like the contrasts in this line. I’m keen to get back to the book at some stage, because I’m very fond of Alice, the nerdy archaeologist, and Matt, Ben’s laddish best friend. That said, there’s something that’s just not quite working for me in the book. I paused after about 50k words, which isn’t like me at all.   

As I remember it, and as far as anything really has a beginning or an end, it all began when I was ten. With childlike dreams of grandeur and adventure, my friend Sam and I got lost in the Royal Albert Hall at the prom one summer.

I’m slightly embarrassed about this one. It’s the first line from Aenigma, my first – and unpublished – book that desperately needs a rewrite. I’m assuming it’s how Christopher Paolini feels about Eragon in hindsight; great themes, lovely energy, but certainly not the work of a practiced writer. A lot about this book feels too personal, too emotional, and the pacing is way off at the end – but there’s definitely something there worth rescuing! I’m playing with a few ideas for it in the future; I could definitely see a grimdark interpretation of it working, but I’m not quite sure…

“But where’s the cake?” I blurt, staring through the window bemused and frustrated. “When did this happen? Why is there an antique shop here?”

Finally, this is from Small Places, my current WIP. I’m really undecided about it – the first two chapters are told from the perspective of the protagonist when he’s ten, so everything has to be from a slightly childlike-but-growing-up-fast perspective. I’ve changed it a couple of times, but quite like the indignation.

There we go; I’d be interested to hear of first lines that you love as well – what stands out for you?

What’s Parasites all about?

Parasites is about hope, adventure and found family, which are perhaps the three of the most important things in the world to me. It’s a science fiction novel in the genres of solarpunk and hopepunk; it takes place towards the very end of the universe, when the very fabric of space itself is cooling and contracting.

It follows two explorers, Kael and Alessia, in their exploration of thinnings: patches where two universes rub together, overlapping and allowing travel between worlds in different places. The discovery of thinnings has allowed the people on their resource-poor planet, Lyra, to survive and colonise other places in other universes.

Alessia’s father, also an explorer, died two years prior to the start of the novel, on a mission that – until now – she knew nothing about. But when Kael and Alessia find a message hinting at a ‘solution’ to the problems of the universe, she jumps at the chance to follow in his footsteps and uncover the secrets of the past, recruiting Basteel, a family friend and their bodyguard, to keep them safe.

Parasites is set across a weird and (hopefully) wonderful set of places; planets and space stations with their own cast of creatures and hazards. It’s a journey with friends.

I’m conflicted as to whether Parasites is YA: the protagonists are in their mid to late twenties, but the narrative is also fairly straightforward. It’s on the verge of being hard sci-fi, but my background in the sciences is flimsy to say the least: let’s just say that I’ve tried to make it accessible, which is something that runs through my fantasy books as well. There are no long lineages of characters to remember, no geography to memorise, no large casts, no tough scientific things to get your head around. There’s technology and magic, but it’s my aim to explain it all in a simple way that allows you to just be immersed in the story.   

You can read more about the book using Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature. If you’re concerned about trigger content, you can find a list of trigger and content warnings for all of my books on this page.

You can also keep up with me and what I’m up to on this blog, my twitter feed and (less frequently!) my Instagram page. You can also email me on mail [at goes here] theabditory.co.uk.

One last thing – if you were hoping this book was something to do with the Oscar-winning Korean film, I apologise – but I hope that I’ve piqued your interest!

Thank you!

It’s not easy being an independent author, especially when you’re hoping to (one day) not be independent. It’s pretty tough when you know that being a writer is a dream for so many other talented individuals out there, people who are often smarter, more established and less weirded out by the whole prospect of self-promotion than you are.

Thankfully, I’ve found that the book community – writers and bloggers alike – is pretty much nothing but supportive (ok, some of y’all are crazy but you’re still supportive with it!) so I wanted to take a moment and say thank you. You’ve all taken time out of your busy lives to read my stuff and I appreciate it more than you can know.

So a huge thank you to my first set of reviewers, Traveling Cloak, Alex J Books, Stevo, Natazha and Alex, and an equally huge thank you to those who have it on their TBRs, Erik at Genre Book Reviews, Nighty, Kriti, Nadja, Lori, Ollie and Cassidee.

For the latter group, I really hope you enjoy Parasites – and even if you don’t, I’m so grateful that you read it and I’m really looking forward to reading your thoughts about it. There’s currently five and a half thousands words chucked into a word document with rough ideas and structure for books two and three so at this stage, you’ve potentially got a chance to affect later books!

Uh, or, well, the cessation of efforts on later Parasites books and my return to fantasy, which is actually more of my natural homeland 😛  

Again, as an Indie writer, there’s a strong temptation to just keep writing ‘book one’ of something until it gets picked up by a traditional publisher, but all of your kind words have strongly contributed to some serious thoughts about Parasites books two and three. While I kind of need to dedicate a book to my wife at some stage, you guys will get a huge shout out after that, promise!

That was pretty raw, so thank you all again, and happy trails.

Book bloggers and reviewers ahoy!

Review copies of my YA sci-fi solarpunk exploration novel Parasites are now available! If you review in any form and would like a copy to read, please contact me on twitter at @many_writings or email me on mail [at] theabditory.co.uk. I don’t have an infinite number of copies (that would be weird for everyone) so may run out, but if you’re keen, please contact me.

I slightly struggle for comparisons – you can read a better descriptor here or see a sample on Amazon – but if you like Becky Chambers or Anne McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer trilogy, enjoyed the Mass Effect games or other space exploration titles, this may be up your street.