Thursday, 24 May 2012

A diary brought to life

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey and Jack Steel)

In my last post I mentioned a diary that I had been working on, and I’m pleased to say that this is now available as a Kindle download, entitled Falklands: Voyage to War, a kind of record of history as the events of that time unfolded.
This short and nasty conflict between Britain and Argentina took place in 1982, thirty years ago, but its echoes are still rumbling on even today with more sabre rattling by the Argentine government over ownership of these lumps of blasted heath sticking out of the South Atlantic.
            The facts of the conflict are well established and quite well-known by most people who lived through this period. What this book does is explore a secondary, but still extremely important, aspect of this event.
The reality is that Britain was extremely lucky to win. Our warships were ill-equipped to combat the modern weaponry, and in particular the sea-skimming missiles, with which the Argentine air force was equipped, as is confirmed by the number of vessels that we lost during the conflict. Our two capital ships, the Invincible and the Hermes possessed no form of close-in weapon system that could engage such missiles, and nor did any other vessel that we could deploy. It was rather as if the architects who were responsible for designing Royal Navy warships were building them to fight the kind of battle that was being fought thirty years ago, and had no clue about the type of combat scenarios likely to be encountered in more modern times.
Tactical errors were made during the conflict itself, and the British forces were finally victorious largely through sheer determination and a dogged commitment to reclaim a tiny part of the world for the United Kingdom, rather than through inspired leadership or superiority in weaponry.
Against this backdrop, work on the second of the CVS-class aircraft carriers – HMS Illustrious – was being carried out at a frenzied pace at the Swan Hunter yard in Newcastle, work which included the provision of proper defensive systems suitable for modern warfare, the first time such weapons had ever been fitted on a Royal Navy vessel. The book is the diary of the first six months in the life of that ship, beginning with the day she sailed from Newcastle, carrying a large number of Swan Hunter staff who were essentially still building the vessel, through the work-up and sea trials phase carried out in the Portsmouth and Portland sea areas. And then it describes the voyage down to the South Atlantic to relieve Invincible on station in the Falkland Islands, and the various operations carried out during that time.
The book is written from the perspective of the Air Staff Officer – who was also the Senior Air Traffic Control Officer – on board the ship, and is a very candid exploration of the triumphs and tragedies which took place during that six-month period.
            And it is a sobering thought that if the Argentine government made a serious attempt to reclaim the Islas Malvinas again, and were able to gain air superiority over the Falkland Islands, there is absolutely no way in which we could do anything about it. Because, due to a succession of bizarre decisions and staggering incompetence on the part of the British government, incompetence which goes way beyond what you would normally expect, we now have no aircraft carriers capable of operating fighter aircraft, and in any case no fighter aircraft to act as an air group.
The good news – if you can call it that – is that within about a decade or so, we might have another aircraft carrier operational, and it’s faintly possible that we might even have one or two aircraft that we can operate from it.
            So as long as the Argentinians are prepared to wait for at least ten years before they make any other hostile moves towards the Falkland Islands, then we’ll be able to take them on once again and give them a proper drubbing.
            Assuming, of course, that Britain, like the rest of Europe, isn’t bankrupt by then.

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Monday, 21 May 2012

Reader Desire

By Richard Jay Parker

Fifty Shades of Grey and other erotic novels are presently enjoying a real 'surge' and industry analysts are putting this down to the Kindle and its anonymous appearance irrespective of what its owner is reading.  There's no cover visible any more.  The theory is that because nobody knows what you're downloading or reading users are being a little more daring in their choice of material.

I wonder if this will work against certain works of literary fiction?  There is a belief that a lot of Booker Prize winning works are purchased by readers who want to be seen reading them.  Covers are often used as badges of identity.  Without being able to display that cover on the train or beach will a certain percentage of people now just opt for what they really want to read rather than what they think they should be seen reading?

Lots of people keep a document minimised in their task bar just in case the boss passes and they want to give the impression that they're in the middle of their work and not surfing the internet for cheap holidays.  I wonder if there will be an app for the ebook that a reader can similarly spring in case someone looks over their shoulder and it looks like they're reading Chekhov rather than E L James?

Joking aside, if it means people are going to spend time with material that genuinely engages them this can only be good news and it will be interesting to see what effect this has on book charts.  Ebook and high street charts already differ enormously and with Waterstones getting into bed with Amazon we'll perhaps get even more of an insight into what readers truly enjoy.

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Friday, 18 May 2012

Back from the sea

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey and Jack Steel)

As regular readers may have noticed, I’ve been away for a while. In the parlance of crime fiction, ‘been away’ is often synonymous with a stretch in the slammer at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but I’m pleased to say that it doesn’t apply in my case. It’s really been a combination of several different factors, including editing two books for my two main publishers, producing a collection of short stories, short ghost stories in fact, for The Endeavour Press, and knocking a rambling series of diary entries into shape for another almost full-length book for the same publishing house. Of which more next week.
            And in the middle of all this lot, I also did a couple of cruises, which had the effect of distracting me somewhat, but also meant that Internet and email access was difficult, slow and sometimes unavailable. For those unfamiliar with the system on board cruise ships, it uses a satellite link which is expensive for obvious reasons, and also slow, more akin to a dial-up connection than ADSL.
            The first cruise was on board the newly refurbished Saga Sapphire, and it’s fair to say that it was not wholly successful. It was the ship’s inaugural cruise, and that can often be problematic. In this case, it certainly was. The intention was to do a 23-day jaunt around the western Mediterranean, going as far as Venice, but about a week before the ship was due to sail from Southampton my agent contacted me to say that for technical reasons this was going to be abbreviated to 18 days, and with an altered itinerary. That necessitated a certain amount of rewriting, because on this cruise I was lecturing on the destinations. When I joined the ship, they were still having problems, and we sailed two days late, which required further adjustments to the route the ship would take. Finally, when the ship reached Valencia, the engineering staff discovered further mechanical problems which meant that the vessel would have to remain in port for some days, and the cruise terminated at that point.
            What was made very clear was the care that Saga took with its passengers, and the concern the company felt about what they obviously saw as their failure. The reality was that the problems were entirely mechanical in nature, and there was nothing that the ship’s staff could do to alleviate them. Every passenger received a full refund for the cost of the cruise, and all were repatriated to the UK by the route of their choice, and they were offered a hefty discount off their next cruise. The company genuinely could not have done more. The downside, obviously, was the aborted cruise, but the upside was the food, which was excellent, and the staff who were universally brilliant.
            The second cruise was on the Seabourn Quest, a genuine six-star ship, and that was delightful, with no problems at all. Even the weather was great, with flat calm seas and brilliant sunshine every day except the first, when we sailed from Venice.
            Anyway, despite the undeniable attractions of these two floating hotels, and the allure of the various ports we visited, I did manage to get some work done. The editing took up most of my time, because of the looming deadlines, and the Simon & Schuster novel in particular required a lot of work because of the difficulty in balancing the demands of the story with the importance of the historical events around which it was set. It was quite a relief to finally finish that and turn my attention to something a bit less demanding: the supernatural.
            Sanctuary is a collection of ghost stories that I’ve written over the years whenever the mood took me, and which I’d never tried to get published before, simply because short stories – apart from romantic short fiction for women’s magazines – are notoriously difficult to sell. But knocked together into a short book, and authored by Tom Kasey, they seem to work quite well.
And a few people are even buying the book, so I must be doing something right!

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Monday, 14 May 2012

Pulling The Wool

By Richard Jay Parker

I read another story over the weekend that illustrates how the modus operandi of the industry is quickly changing.  A self published e-book called WOOL that has enjoyed enormous Internet popularity has been in the middle of a bidding war between major Hollywood studios.

It's a sci-fi novel set in a dystopian future and it looks like Fox could be the winner.  The biggest winner, of course, is the enterprising author Hugh Howey.  Obviously stories such as these are thin on the ground but it does show you how ebooks are now being perceived as legitimate entities.

This has to be encouraging for any writer with talent and drive if not an agent and a publisher.

Hopefully this is the case of  the WOOL being lifted from the eyes and fingers crossed we'll see more and more of this sort of news in the future.

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Tuesday, 8 May 2012

An Olympic Thriller….

by Matt Lynn

The Olympics will be the biggest event in London in most of our lifetimes. Thousands of athletes, tens of thousands of spectators, and most of the world’s leaders, all gathering in the same place.

But it will be something else as well - probably the greatest single terrorist target in the UK in recent history.

We’ve already seen lots of stuff in the papers about the planning by the security forces. Missile bases on roof tops across East London. Speed boats on the Thames. Hundreds of extra police and soldiers flooding the area.

And that is just the stuff they are telling us about.

No doubt there is a lot more going on behind the scenes.

So it seemed to me a natural subject for a thriller. What if there was a terror plot to destroy the opening ceremony? And what if there was a sleeper within the security forces themselves? A man who had stayed hidden for years, who would strike when the moment was right.

That was the starting point for my new e-book ‘Black Ops: Olympics’.

The great thing about the new brand of e-novella like this one is that you can rip them straight from the headlines, and get them out to people while an issue is still topical.

It worked for Black Ops: Libya. And I’m sure it will work for this book as well. 

Friday, 4 May 2012

Rate That Agent

By Richard Jay Parker

I see a brand new site has been set up to aid writers in their hunt for an agent.  It allows them to rate and review them so others can make an informed choice.  It also allows agents to post updates re their requirements.

There are lots of great, hardworking agents out there and finding the right one isn't made any easier by the increasing number of scammers posing as agents and publishers who are out to fleece writers by exploiting their desire to get their work published.

The thing to remember is that genuine agents and publishers never ask for money from you.  If they do - run a mile.  They're meant to recognise and then invest in your talent.

It's always a good idea to do a quick Google of any publishers and agents you're not sure of.  If they have a bad reputation you'll find plenty of angry writers posting comments in chat rooms.

Anyway - here's a link to that site.

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Twitter: @Bookwalter