Thursday, 31 December 2015

Five New Year Plans

Following on from a shameful reversal of my year-end weight loss efforts at Christmas, I've decided to make a quick list of my 2016 writing goals.  I've never been a big fan of resolutions, so these aren't so much set in stone, but I know from experience that when I set myself targets, I achieve far more than if I just laze around the place, napping and eating biscuits.

So here are the big five writing goals for the next twelve months!

a)  FINISH WRITING A DAMN NOVEL.  I honestly can't say this one loudly enough.  So many people I know have now published novels that it was actually a bit embarrassing seeing my picture in the paper next to theirs when the November Nano stories came out.  I've redrafted my novel four times now, and I'm thinking that I probably won't ever be fully, absolutely, 100% happy with it.  So for this reason, the final draft will be the last one, and then it'll be coming to a Kindle near you in 2016. 

b)  Read a bit more.  I know people who claim to read 200 books a year.  While I salute their efficiency, pretty much my only time not spent working or sleeping is spent gaming and writing, so my reading time is generally at a premium.  That said, I've read some of the books I've been planning to read for a long time in 2015 ('Dune', by Frank Herbert, 'Bright Lights Big City', by Jay McInerney, 'Rivers of London', by Ben Aaronovitch) and I've already met my two favourite authors (Jeff Noon and JM Coetzee), so I'll be looking to new places for inspiration. 

I'm therefore setting myself a loose target of 25 books, at least 12 of which will be sci-fi.  On my list to read so far are:

'Dunes over Danvar', by Michael 'Pennsylvania' Bunker;
'Jar Baby', by Hayley Webster (thoroughly lovely local author whose work has been described as, 'powerfully sensual, gorgeously grotesque, grimly funny');
'Risk of Rain', by Andre Brink (more post-Apartheid fiction from South Africa);
'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?', by Philip K Dick;
'Shantaram', by Gregory David Roberts;
'The Broken Road', by Patrick Leigh Fermor.

c)  Blog a bit more.  You're worth it, dear readers, and it encourages me to do more things so I have more things to talk about.

d)  More short stories!  This is a biggie for me - anthology work is fun, reliable and great for boosting a profile.  I've always been a fan of short stories, and I'd love to release an anthology of my own work.  I've written prize-winning short stories before, and I think there could be a decent market for these online (I've certainly sold a fair few copies of 'Girl, Running' on the Amazon store at a pound a pop.)

Plus, you don't win competitions without entering things, and it's a big boost to the confidence to win an independently judged contest.  It's good for all aspiring writers.

e)  Make more money from writing than I did in 2015: Thanks to my anthology work and a few short stories, the pre-tax sum total of my writing income for this year is around £200.  While that's a nice bit of extra money, with a bit of commitment, I don't doubt I could have earned much, much more.  So this year I'm going to make that commitment, take jobs that I would have previously turned down, do more editing work, teach or run workshops if anyone asks me to, and generally aim for a more professional, more fun and higher earning 2016.

What are your 2016 writer goals?

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Winter General Update

I realise it's been a little while since I last posted, so I think I'll do a quick update about the last few weeks and some forthcoming things I'm involved in.

First of all, Cressy's book launch was very successful, and very well-attended.  I was involved in a Nanowrimo meet-up that night, so could only sneak in towards the end, but everyone was having a lot of fun, not least Cressy herself.  The book seems to be very popular, so I'm really pleased for her.

Nanowrimo itself was very successful, and after a couple of years where I've been doing other training, it was nice to return to writing again in November.  This year we had a fantastic group with some great  ideas and some really lovely people, and I'm hoping we can get together again in the new year for editing sessions.

I made the 50k with two days to go, having quickly abandoned the literary work I was going to produce in favour of something that was a bit more light-hearted.  I'm producing a novella set in a future America where distant nuclear events and climate change have led to desertification and a struggle for resources.  So it's basically hillbillies with lasers in the Wild West. I'm enjoying it, and hopefully when it's finished, you will too.

By coincidence, I happen to be reading 'Dune' by Frank Herbert for my reading group, and while it's nice to fill in one of the key gaps from my sci-fi education, I've found it pretty hard going.  The story is fun enough, with some nice touches, but the complete lack of a chapter structure and the POV hopping all over the place to explain each character's thought process is really grating on me.  I can't help feeling that if it was released today, it wouldn't be regarded as the classic it is.

Some of the people close to me have mooted the idea of a fifty-book reading challenge for 2016, an ideal that appeals massively to me and my poor, underworked Kindle.  I probably won't have the time for 50 novels, but I might well be able to do 25.  It remains for me to think carefully about what I'll read, and what effect it'll have upon my writing.

Finally, my first piece of work for the new year will be writing for and editing the forthcoming 'Shadows at the Door' anthology!  I'm very much looking forward to this.  The Black Shuck legend that my story focuses on is one of those that every town seems to have, but this one will have a distinctly Norfolk twist.  I'm very much looking forward to sharing it with you!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

A Notepad and a Dream - Cressida McLaughlin

In a series I call 'A Notepad and a Dream', I interview up-and-coming authors about their books, their writing process and their future plans. If you have a book shortly due for release and would like to take part, or know someone else who would, please let me know via the 'Contact Me' page above.

In this episode of 'A Notepad and a Dream' episode, we'll be meeting contemporary romance author Cressida McLaughlin.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your novel?

I originally come from London, but moved to Norwich to study English Literature at the University of East Anglia. I fell in love with the city and never went back. I’ve always loved books, but was only ever interested in reading them until I had the opportunity to try a free Adult Education course. I picked creative writing, and caught the bug.

Like lots of authors, my route to publication has been long and littered with rejections, so I’m over the moon to be approaching publication date for my first novel. It’s called 'A Christmas Tail', and was first published as four eBook novellas during 2015. It tells the story of Cat Palmer, who gets fired from her job at a nursery after taking a puppy into work, and decides to set up a dog walking business in the seaside community where she lives.

Have you always wanted to write romance novels?

I love reading all genres, and am a huge fan of a good crime novel, but when it comes to writing I love the will-they-won’t-they element, and the challenge of creating that and making it work over the course of a whole book. There’s nothing more satisfying than reading a really hard-won happy ending, and that feeling is multiplied when you write one. There’s also so much more to the stories than the romance element – there are no restrictions on plot or style or humour, and I love that freedom.

The success of romance novels is typically dependent on the chemistry between the central characters. Is creating this chemistry something that you've had to practise at length in order to perfect, or something that comes naturally to you?

I think it’s a mixture of both, but it’s something that I’ve got better at through years of writing, and also reading other books that do it brilliantly. It’s one of the most fun aspects of creating the story, keeping the tension alive so that it keeps readers interested and doesn’t become too predictable. It can be a real challenge, but it’s one that I love and don’t think I’ll ever get bored of.

What advantages do you think the traditional model of publishing offers you over those who might be thinking about the indie/self-publishing option?

There were a few occasions on my publication journey when I thought I might try self-publishing, but I never went ahead with it and held out for a traditional deal.

I think for me it’s having all the support that comes with traditional publishing; a great editor who values your writing and spends time helping you make it better, the marketing and publicity teams who know exactly how and where to promote your books, and then of course that amazing moment when you get to hold a copy of your own book, complete with pages and a cover and that great book smell, and know that it will be in bookshops.

I know you can buy in elements of this when you’re self-publishing – editors, cover-designers, publicity – and some people love the autonomy of being able to do everything themselves, but over the last year I have really loved, and valued, having an amazing team who have worked really hard on my book and have helped it to look and be the best it can be.

What would you say is your main strength as an author?

I think one of my main strengths is being open to ideas and prepared to learn. You never stop learning as a writer, whether that’s from editors, agents, other authors or readers, it’s important to be willing to take comments on board and work hard to improve. I want to keep writing, and being published, for years to come, and I want each book to be better than the last.

What will your next project be?

I’m writing my second book at the moment. It’s called The Canal Boat Café and will be another romance novel, again published in four eBook novellas before the paperback comes out next summer. It’s great to be exploring new characters and a brand new setting, and I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I’m enjoying writing it.

Cressida McLaughlin will be hosting the launch of her book at Waterstones Norwich at 7:30pm on 4 November 2015.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Girl, Running

With a week to go before Nanowrimo begins, I'm pleased to present my latest story which is now available for purchase on Amazon: 'Girl, Running'.

Originally part of Samuel Peralta's 'Z Chronicles' anthology, the story follows Elie and Little Shrew, two disenfranchised American teenagers fleeing the apocalypse.

Clocking in at 6,000 words, 'Girl, Running' is available now for just 99p, or if you are part of the Kindle Unlimited programme, you can borrow it for free.


Little Shrew is still calculating in her mind – speed versus distance versus pain in joints – when Elie says, 'Okay, in five seconds, we're going to run for the Harbour building.'

'Elie, no. I'm in a lot of pain.'

'Sweetie, we can't wait, you know that, right? The soldiers aren't going to shoot because the sound will bring even more of these...people...over. There's not enough of them there to hold the place as it is. If the fence comes down, the military are going to close the doors and sail away.'

Little Shrew is incensed by Elie's steely calm observations. She's not sure whether the pain she is in is stopping her from thinking straight, or her inability to think is somehow contributing to the pain.

Elie slaps her on the back and practically pulls a salute. 'Time to shine, Little Shrew. This is where that time on the track is going to pay off.'

'Two more minutes,' Little Shrew pleads.

Elie vaults the wall in a single movement, graceful as a cat. One of the shamblers nearby is more alert than the others, and takes a three-iron to the temple for its trouble.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Warm Winds of Kyoto - Part Two

Cicadas, everywhere, wherever there are trees.  The first time I hear them, walking from Daimon station to my hotel, I think that it's the sound of industrial machinery somewhere in the distance.  These fearsome little bugs whine, whoop and wail throughout my adventures, providing me with a looping soundtrack that I miss immediately upon my return to England.  I'm conscious of the fact that my photos cannot capture their roaring vigour, so when the noise is at its loudest, I try to take video instead.  Unfortunately, I can't explain to people what they are listening to, as the cicadas completely drown out my attempt at commentary.

Smack in the middle of one of Tokyo's most vibrant districts, the Meiji Shrine typifies everything that I love about Japan's iconic monuments.  The gorgeously constructed wooden gates (known as torii), the wide, sweeping pathways, and the ultimate stillness of the shrine itself, where even the aforementioned cicadas whisper rather than sing.  Shinto is an ancient religion that reveres the spirits (or kami) which live in natural places.

There can be fewer places more in tune with Japan's beating heart than Meiji itself.  Named for the Emperor that prompted Japan's restoration at the end of the eighteenth century, the outer precinct houses a collection of murals, and the pathways are lined with barrels of wine and sake which have been donated to the shrine.  You can get married here if you wish.


The inner precinct houses a treasure museum, and visitors are encouraged to buy a prayer board, which is about the size of an airline luggage tag.  The expectation is that you write your wish upon the board and tie it to the ropes strung between the trees.  I quickly survey what visitors are wishing for - health, love, money, Christiano Ronaldo to join Arsenal.  Each of us gets what we want from the process.

A minute's walk from the entrance to the shrine, a procession of smiling teenagers leads us to the top of Takeshita Dori, and then we are down into the colourful madness of Harajuku.  The area is a pedestrian expanse of small independent shops selling all sorts of tourist nik-naks and branded clothing.  In the busy times, simply standing still or lifting your arms in the middle of the street is impossible.

It struck me here that city living in Japan would not suit someone with social phobias.  Nearly 14 million people live in the city of Tokyo, but another 20 million more live in the metropolitan surrounds.  The sheer density of people here is matched only by their friendliness and curiosity.  I slip through the crowds, and badly in need of a way to quench my thirst, I opt for the first cafe I find.  It is a Spongebob Squarepants cafe, complete with bright yellow plastic furniture.  Embracing the surreal nature of the moment, I order a mango frappe.

Another thing that I noted here is the frequently bizarre nature of English slogans, which are everywhere in Harajuku.  So many times, I see random phrases on shirts or as the name of shops.  Who decides to call their fancy clothing boutique 'Store My Ducks', or wear a t-shirt that says, 'Born free, eat my cool'?  If I ever want to make a shitpile of money in Japan, I'm going to write an algorithm that cribs random phrases off the internet and prints them onto t-shirts.  Unless someone else has already had that exact idea, which is a distinct possibility.

Shortly after leaving Tokyo, I spend a short time in Osaka, where I visit Universal Studios.  I freely admit that I'm not really a theme park person, being neither a fan of thrill rides or of long queues, both of which predominate here and at the Disney Parks in Maihama.  The Universal Park does have a fairly spectacular parade to end the day, which culminates in this 'last thing you'll ever see' shot of a fifty-foot Elmo float descending onto me.

I've heard it said that Japan is an expensive country, but that didn't fit with my experience at all.  While I was there, a debate was raging on the news about the 1000 yen/hour minimum wage (about £5/hr) and more than once, I was able to eat a sound three-course meal with sake for under £20 a head.  Try doing that in central London!  Next time, I'll talk some more about food and souvenirs, about my faltering attempts to master pachinko and about a too-successful visit to Akihabara, where a stint on claw machines nets us enough plush toys to exceed our baggage allowance.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Warm Winds of Kyoto - Part One

I arrive in Kyoto by shinkansen in the early afternoon. Japan is famous for many things, but up till now, I'd heard little mention of the summer weather. Europeans desiring guaranteed sunshine flock to Spain, Florida or the Caribbean, but I'd never previously considered August in Kyoto. When I step off the train, it's 39 degrees centigrade, with humidity at 90+ percent. The winds are even hotter.

Not for the first time, I'm pinching myself that I'm here at all. I've already spent a week in Tokyo, where I've posed with Hachikō, watched the tuna auctions at Tsukiji and visited the magnificent Meiji shrine near Harajuku. One bullet train journey later and I'm creeping through the whispering bamboo forest at Arashiyama. In two days time, I'll be leading a procession of deer to the largest Buddha in the world. It's every bit as bizarre and magical as I'd hoped.

I won't get ahead of myself.  I get off the plane and am instantly bewildered by the choice of drinks in the airport (a bottle of Pocari Sweat for you, sir?)  I find myself making notes about the tiny things that intrigue me.  Within hours, my notepad is full and I am scribbling in the margins.

Tokyo is a rush of colour, but its inhabitants are a monochrome palette.  From early in the morning till late in the evening, weary salarymen are the city's stock in trade.  In their white shirts and black trousers, each one is barely distinguishable from the next as they flood across the street at Daimon.  I try to follow them, and immediately learn that crossing signals are observed impeccably by pedestrians, but drivers treat them only as gentle suggestions.

Past the statue of Hachikō, the bright billboards and electronic screens at Shibuya turn night into glorious day.  Here, where the language barrier makes subtlety of meaning impossible, advertising is stripped down with amusing results.  On one wall, a cat recommends a particular brand of washing powder.  On another, I am offered a product made from placenta that will make my skin sparkle like snow.

The Japanese metro systems are clean, efficient and easy to understand once you have grasped that certain lines are owned by different companies.  You might make the mistake of buying a ticket for the wrong line once, but you'll learn quickly.  Compared to England, the price of everything, from food to travel, seems ridiculously cheap.  In no time at all, I'm eating lotus root tempura and drinking more gekkeikan than is good for me.  In one location, they stand the glass in a wooden box, and fill both to the point of overflowing.

Taking advantage of my distorted sleep pattern on arrival, I head to Tsukiji fish market on day one, only to find that arriving at 5am means that I am too late to join the organised tours.  Three a.m., I'm told.  Three a.m., where I queue a day later in a sweaty box room with fifty other curious-and-slightly-crazy insomniacs, all for the joy of watching gruff men cut the heads off flash-frozen fish with a bandsaw.

There is something quite horrific and yet still deeply compelling about Tsukiji, and I fear that words may never quite do it justice.  The tuna are laid out in slick rows, looking more like munitions than creatures that were alive mere hours before.  Their tails are carved open with crowbars so that buyers can sample the product ahead of the auctions.  Tuna is big business here, and individual fish can cost the equivalent of thousands of pounds.

Outside, you are led across a courtyard which is a hive of trucks, forklifts and other industrial vehicles which sweep around you in a mesmerising mandala.  There seems to be little in the way of earmarked paths, and people, bicycles and other vehicles compete with one another for first access to available space.  I am left amazed that serious injuries are not a daily occurrence.  On my near side, a veritable mountain of empty boxes is bulldozed into a rubbish pile.

If it seems for one moment that I regret my trip to Tsukiji, I can only say that it is something that has to be seen to be believed.  I recommend it both as a cultural experience and so that you can see how much effort really goes into getting food onto your plate.

On the way out, numerous market stalls are selling
products fresh off the boat.  In the spirit of adventure, I buy a sea urchin off the griddle.  The dark spikes are rended by a single slash of the fishmonger's knife, and I am into the flesh, which is creamy, fishy and fruity all at once.  As with the market itself, they're an acquired taste, but I suggest that you give them a go.

The other great thing that I got from the market was a new idea for a writing project - but I'll let you in on that another day.

In part two of this travelogue, I'll share with you the joys of chirruping cicadas, Shinto rituals and a fifty-foot Elmo.  Sayonara for now!

Monday, 27 July 2015

A Notepad and a Dream - Melissa Brown

In a series I'm calling 'A Notepad and a Dream', I'll be interviewing up-and-coming authors about their books, their writing process and their future plans.  If you have a book shortly due for release and would like to take part, or know someone else who would, please let me know via the 'Contact Me' page above.

In the latest 'A Notepad and a Dream' episode, Melissa Brown is dying to talk about Grim Reapers.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your novel?
I'm an American author that wishes I was still a teenager. I teach work in a library and teach English.  My novel, Becoming Death, is about young grim reaper that tries to rebel against her destiny to save someone she loves.

What made you decide to write a book with a supernatural theme?

I was researching fairy tales and folklore for an university paper when I needed an idea for Nanowrimo that year. I thought the idea of a modern female grim reaper sounded fun to write and would allow me to create a new world. 

How does your book differ from other books with a similar premise?

Books about grim reapers are few and far between.  I feel Madison isn't the normal YA protagonist, she isn't a chosen one, she isn't brilliant or beautiful.  She is just trying to get through life/afterlife in one piece.  She's a fan girl that loves comic books and fan fiction, not something that normally pops up in YA novels.

Have you always wanted to write for a YA market?

Yes, I love the YA book market, there is such variety and it's the type of book I would gravitate towards as a reader. 
If you could choose any writer as a mentor, who would you pick?

R.L. Stine.  He's the reason I decided I wanted to an author as a kid.  I was addicted to his Goosebumps and Fear Street series; they were my introduction to horror and the paranormal.

Do you have any further plans for the characters in the 'Becoming Death' world?

At the moment, I'm working on another book about cupids but you never know - I might revisit Madison and her family again at some point.  I've always toyed with the idea of writing a book from her mother's point of view.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A Notepad and A Dream - Zoë Sumra

In a series I'm calling 'A Notepad and a Dream', I'll be interviewing up-and-coming authors about their books, their writing process and their future plans.  If you have a book shortly due for release and would like to take part, or know someone else who would, please let me know via the 'Contact Me' page above.

In the latest 'A Notepad and a Dream' episode, Zoë Sumra talks gangs, heists and space opera.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your novel?

I'm a born Londoner but spent some years living in northern England and in Scotland: I'm now back in London and enjoying it.  In addition to writing, I fence - I was thirty-fifth in the UK at sabre in mid-2013, and late last year, thanks to a freak combination of results, was just inside the top fifty at sabre and the top hundred at foil at the same time.
'Sailor to a Siren' is a gangland thriller disguised as a space opera novel, or possibly the other way round.  It's about a drugs heist that goes perfectly to plan up to the point at which an even-more-suspicious-than-expected item turns up among the haul.

Can you introduce us to your main characters, and give us a quick insight into their motivations? 

Connor Cardwain is a gangland queenpin's lieutenant, and is very good at his job.  Connor would be good at most jobs that involved rationalisation and quick thinking, as he grew up on the streets of the galaxy's poorest sector, organised crime was the best career open to him, and to date he has taken every available opportunity to advance himself in his boss's eyes.  While he wants to improve his own position, his priority is making sure his younger brother, Logan, stays alive.  He hopes to achieve both at once by making enough money to set up his own business.

Logan has, putting it mildly, some anger management issues.  These date from his teenage years but worsened when he fell in love with a woman whom he now never expects to see again.  He works as a gun for hire to the same gangland queenpin as Connor, but his tendency to outbursts of verbal or physical violence puts him at risk of imminent expulsion or death.

Éloise Falavière is Logan's ex-girlfriend: she hails from a more stable area of the galaxy than Connor and Logan.  She follows her civilisation's basic morality with a dedication that comes from most members of that civilisation being able to read minds, despite almost no one in that civilisation being able to read hers.  Two years ago before the start of 'Sailor to a Siren' she saw no handicap to falling in love with a ganglander, but now she has been hired as a police officer's temporary enforcer and bodyguard, and finds her loyalties severely tested.

Is there a message or theme in your novel that you want to convey to readers?
The main message that the characters learn from the story's events is about trust - when an already dangerous situation becomes exponentially more so, the number of people that one can trust reduces to practically zero.  Family ties become incredibly important to all my characters.
Do you write solely in the sci-fi genre, or do you explore other genres as well?

I have written epic fantasy, though not for about fifteen years, and my only completed short story is urban fantasy.  It's not impossible that at some point in the next ten or twenty years I will write an urban fantasy novel set in London.  For now I'm devoting all my time to space opera.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

I have many favourite authors in different milieus!  My favourite active author is NK Jemisin.  All her settings are very vivid and her work circumnavigates genre conventions in a refreshing way.
What will you do next now that 'Sailor to a Siren' is published?

I'm currently working on two first drafts: a sequel to 'Sailor to a Siren' set roughly two years later, and a much later volume - which has been eating my brain for about twenty years - set sixteen years after 'Sailor'.  There will hopefully be much more to come in this universe.

'Sailor to a Siren' is now available to buy in ebook format.

Amazon France: (
Ten other Amazon sites and iTunes: (

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A Notepad and a Dream - Nadja Losbohm

In a series I'm calling 'A Notepad and a Dream', I'll be interviewing up-and-coming authors about their books, their writing process and their future plans.  If you have a book shortly due for release and would like to take part, or know someone else who would, please let me know via the 'Contact Me' page above.

 In the latest 'A Notepad and a Dream' episode, Nadja Losbohm talks translation, and stories that find themselves.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your novella series?

My name is Nadja, I’m 32 and live in Berlin, Germany.  Actually, I’m a dental nurse, but at times I transform into an author, writing fantasy stories for people all around the world.  I started writing at the age of 19.  My first German novel, called 'Alaspis', was published in 2012.  Since then I have been working on the self-published project, 'The Huntress'.  Parts 1-5 are available in German, but there’s also an English edition of Part 1 called, 'The Beginnings'.  This series of books is about a young woman who isn’t the right kind of person to be a supernatural heroine, but she and the reader find out that there’s more to her than being a faceless girl in the crowd.  I had a lot of fun writing the books and I think you notice that.

The protagonist in the 'The Huntress' series is Ada, a young woman who is selected to protect the world from supernatural devastation. To what extent does your own personality come across in your main character? 

I think it’s difficult not to add certain things to your characters.  It’s something that makes the people in your book vivid.  So, Ada and I do share a few things, like some of the experiences she goes through, our sense of humour, our will to not give up. Ada also doesn’t like Brussels sprouts, just like me, though I don't eat green vegetables at all.  But that’s another thing.

'The Huntress' contains elements of Urban Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult and Humour. Are there any particular challenges with trying to fit so much into one series? 

The writing process was quite easy.  It wasn’t me who found the story.  The story found me.  It wanted to be written, it seems.  'The Huntress' told me what she wanted to include and what not to. The only thing that challenged me was to write fighting scenes. That was a bit tough.

Which other self-published authors do you most admire, and why?

There are a few I admire for different reasons.  I’m very impressed by author Jason Tru Blood, who writes so many different stories: fantasy, romance, historical fiction, crime and lots more.  I cannot imagine writing in so many different genres myself.  I also admire authors Leisl Kaberry and Kasper Beaumont.  The worlds they've created in their books are just amazing, plus they’re very kind people.  I wish I could read more self-published authors.  There are incredible talents out there without a big publishing company behind them.

As someone who speaks (excellent!) English as a second language, how easy did you find the process of arranging for your work to be translated?

Getting 'The Huntress' translated was a nightmare.  I worked with a translator who quit after a few months for health reasons.  Then someone else translated the book, but I was told it wasn’t the way it should be.  So, the translating process had to be done again. It took more than eighteen months to finish the English version, a real emotional roller coaster ride.  But I just couldn’t give up.  That was not an option for me.  There she is: the huntress in me.

As a successful self-published author, what advice would you give to those seeking to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t give up! Do what you can, follow your heart, be grateful for every chance you’re given.

If you’d like to get in touch with Nadja, visit her on Twitter or Facebook.  She posts in English and German.

You can find all her books on Amazon, and she's hopeful that there will be more opportunities for readers to check out 'The Huntress' in future.

Saturday, 27 June 2015


Hello there, just a quick update today as I'm making progress on the book, and am keen to take advantage of the opportunity. I am now nearly halfway through the final draft, and when I'm back from Japan, I'll be looking into cover art and getting everything finalised for release! Exciting times :)

One of the other major considerations I've had for a while has been getting a mailing list set up (and if you're not already signed up, all you need is an email address!) Now this is arranged, I have a way to communicate directly with my readers, and they can help shape what I produce in future.

One of the ways I'm hoping to encourage email sign-ups is with a certain amount of unique content that won't be available on the web. The idea that I have is for something I'm calling 'Vignettes' - unedited short scenes, 750 - 1000 words in length, that will vary stylistically but will hopefully capture a little bit of what my writing is about. I'm going to aim for one of these a month, as it should be possible to do this without severely impacting on my writing schedule. I can make them seasonal, or link them to things happening in the world, and hopefully provide something beautiful and entertaining that people will be able to read and enjoy quickly.

So sign up! Tell your friends! And look out for 'Vignettes', the first of which will be coming soon! :)

Friday, 12 June 2015

The Caladria Story Competition!

I'm pleased to announce that I've come second in Caladria's recent short story competition!  I'd like to thank everyone from Caladria, and offer my congratulations to the winner, Grace Haddon.

The Caladria short story (entitled 'The Heat at the Heart') will be published in a future copy of the Caladria 'zine, 'Fab Fables', and I'll release more information about this when it is available for purchase. 

This achievement builds on my competition win from last year, and it makes me all the more excited for the anthology projects I have in the pipeline.

On the subject of anthologies, 'The Z Chronicles', the horror anthology that I feature in alongside Hugh Howey (multi-million selling author of 'Wool') and Jen Foehner-Wells ('Fluency'), is now available for pre-purchase on Amazon.  Goodreads previews have been glowing, and reviewers have suggested that this could be the best of the Future Chronicles series so far.  What are you waiting for? :)

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Munificent Lmao

When I was a younger man, I took a trip, you see
I crossed the ocean, walked for weeks through a desolate valley.

I was in search of something fine, a way to live, a how
Everyone had pointed me to the Munificent Lmao!

Ruler of a distant land, more power than a king,
And yet, revered for gentleness, and knowing many things.

Industrious, her country was, her people were all wealthy
Their skins were bright, their minds afire, their appetites were healthy.

Yet even then, with all their help, I was still prone to bungle
In searching for her palace, I got lost within the jungle.

I fought typhoops and mabeljacks and swarms of killer bees
Until I found her palace, lying low beneath the trees.

Crowds of people waited there, curiosity a feature
The Lmao rode out to meet me, astride a fearsome creature!

Her malefelant stood ten feet tall with skin that was jet black
Fifteen eyes and thirty tusks, yet she rode upon its back.

Regarding me with caution, she called out, 'Ho there, stranger!'
And yet she was amused by me, and could see I was no danger.

The Lmao stepped down with sparkling eyes, and though she wasn't tall‌,
She moved with the grace of fifty cats, and in no time at all

She stood beside me, looked me over, judged me to be bleary
'Fetch water, food and strongest ale – this traveller is weary!'

In time when I had rested, I had chance to look upon her
She could have been of any age; it was for me to ponder.

Her cloak comprised of golden cloth, her buttons tiny rubies
Her smile was wide enough for three; she gestured over to me.

'Come and sit with me,' she said, 'and share the shade awhile.'
'Grateful, ma'am, I am,' I said, 'for I have walked these many miles

'Specifically to speak to you, if you will give me license
 For of all the folk in all the world, they say you are the wisest!'

She rubbed her chin with calloused hand and squinted at the sun.
'There are many folk with wisdom, and I am only one.'

'Still, travelling is no mean feat and takes courage to do
 Since you have made the effort, I will share my thoughts with you.

'You should talk and listen, be yourself, laugh and sing and dance
 Clean your teeth and comb your hair and change your underpants.

'Get lots of sleep. Read a book - this will expand your mind
 And above all other advice I give, remember this - be kind.

'For while we travel in this life in ones, or sometimes, twos
 I cannot hope to know your fight, or walk within your shoes.

'So look within, and look without, and watch the skies above
 Take every opportunity to be with those you love.'

Her sermon done, the Lmao did stand and stretch herself awhile
I knew my trip of many weeks had been at last worthwhile.

She walked back to her malefelant and bid me a good day
So choked I was with her advice, I knew not what to say.

For surely there are many things that I have learned, and how -
Yet no-one else has wisdom like the Munificent Lmao!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

A Notepad and a Dream - Olivia Kiernan

In a series I'm calling 'A Notepad and a Dream', I'll be interviewing up-and-coming authors about their books, their writing process and their future plans.  If you have a book shortly due for release and would like to take part, or know someone else who would, please let me know via the 'Contact Me' page above.

In the latest 'A Notepad and a Dream' episode, Olivia Kiernan discusses the projects that keep her on her toes.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your novel?

First off, I write under two names. Clearly, one illustrious writing career is not enough for me. Kidding. I write for adults under my real name: Olivia Kiernan and under Olivia Bright for Teens and Children. My books for adults typically take me a couple of years to write, they tend to have complicated plots that link the past and present and therefore require quite a bit of research. My books for Young Adults tend to be the kind of books I wanted to read when I was younger. 'Becoming Lady Beth' is one such novel. It’s a romantic comedy that tells the story of a modern seventeen year old girl who is transported back in time to Regency England and finds friendship, humility and love.

Did it present a particular challenge to place a contemporary character in a historical setting?

The biggest challenge was achieving the right tone in the authorial voice. I really wanted to capture a wit and irony similar to that of (Jane) Austen’s prose but a narrator that sounded like it harked from Regency England would have jarred too much with the opening contemporary scenes and Beth’s voice would have been too far from the narrator’s. It took quite a bit of rewriting to achieve the right balance.

What would you say are your main influence?

For this novel: a mixture of the character Cher Horowitz of the movie & novel 'Clueless', and author, Jane Austen’s novels. Which is funny as 'Clueless' was based on Austen’s novel, 'Emma'. Otherwise, my muse is stirred into action by anything from Diana Gabaldon’s fiction to Booker-shortlisted Sebastian Barry. I try to consume a varied literary diet.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with writing and putting stories together. I was the English student that would submit all three essay choices for my homework, instead of choosing just one. But I thought becoming a writer was something other people got to do. It never occurred to me that I could become a writer until I was well into adulthood.

What would you say is your particular strength as an author?

Definitely coming up with new ideas. The same imagination that got me into trouble at school is now proving itself useful. I never seem to have a shortage of ideas for story but more importantly, I have the determination to see those ideas through.

What are your future plans?

I have recently finished an adventure novel for middle grade readers (9-11 year olds) and am working on another for that age group. I am also researching for my next adult novel, which I hope to complete in the coming year.

I have also just begun a ‘World of Writing’ series of blog posts on my website.  These are writer resource posts which tackle the big conversations in writing and are running monthly.  I continue to blog about my experiences in writing for Teens and Children at And have a YouTube channel to keep updated with helpful ‘how to’ videos and vlogs for readers and writers.  There are always plenty of projects to keep me busy.
Olivia Kiernan is a writer and novelist.  She writes for children and young adults under the pseudonym Olivia Bright.  Her novel for teens, BECOMING LADY BETH can be found at: Amazon, Kobo and Barnes & Noble.

Follow her on Twitter: @LivKiernan
On Facebook: Olivia Kiernan (Author)

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Lychgate

It's been a fair old while since I've posted some new writing on here, so here's the first few thousand unedited words from a new epic space opera I've been working on.  The 'Lychgate' refers to the portal in space through which aliens are approaching earth.  It opened six months before, directly above the disputed region of Kashmir, which is nominally under the control of India, Pakistan and China.  Let me know if you enjoy it and would like to see more!

When the Pirate came down on the hillside, local media reported it as an earthquake. Terracom watched the skies, and they knew better. Within minutes, the radar signature was communicated to the Security Council, and a radio signal echoed off the endless curves of the landscape, eventually beaming down into the squat dirt-brick buildings in the simple complex at Pakhyala. The alarm raged, and the light passenger transport carved a path out of the underground silo and into the night sky above Kashmir.

There was the initial vertical climb, and then the plane banked lazily to the right, heading north-east. In the daytime, a pilot could find their way easily enough even when searching deep into the mountains by picking out the occasional landmark rising out of the fog, but once the sun went down, the hinted undulations of the hills underneath were lost in lengthening shadows and the light would disappear as though someone had dropped an ebon blanket over the landscape. Back in the direction of Lahore, ten thousand lights flickered, the twinkling eyes of a city heaving with life.

On board, there was the relentless hum of the engine, and the feeling of her own blood pumping in her veins. Holding her rifle steady at her side, Lacey Crowden shifted in her harness, the blocky ridges of her body armour catching every time she moved. She was hot, frustrated, knowing that she should be focused on the job ahead, and all the more annoyed that her mind wanted to be elsewhere. She adjusted her combat glove, pulled a finger guard back into place with her teeth and took several deep breaths.

Opposite her, Francisco Hierro gazed wordlessly into the middle distance above her left shoulder, his tiny dark eyes and immaculate moustache rolling from side-to-side with the movement of the craft. To his left, Van Hooiveld and Nydegger glanced at one another as strands of Nydegger's flame red hair escaped from her helmet in ringlets. Opposite them sat the two local recruits that had been pressganged into joining the mission. She knew nothing at all about these two except that they clearly weren't familiar with the standard issue rifles. She'd even had to point the shorter one in the direction of the armoury.

Crowden hated the way that the Partnership force organised troops. As they couldn't justify keeping a barracks full of battle-ready soldiers on standby due to cost implications, what soliders they had were cycled with local forces. This meant that apart from her own core squad of eight, at any given time they had between five and twenty troops from India and Pakistan, many of whom were barely teenagers, and others who seemed to have more interest in fighting one another than providing the joint force that they were supposed to under the UN's Partnership Agreement. It made for interesting politics, but Crowden was concerned first and foremost with staying alive. When the firefight began, she wanted to know who had her back, and the Partnership forces were akin to rolling the dice and hoping for sixes.

Of course, it had been one thing dealing with them when she was just a squaddie, but from now on, she would be the troop leader, the first woman and the first American in Terracom to hold the role. Up until her decision to step sideways into Terracom, more than three-quarters of the UN troops that had been through the base had been European. Not all of the local Partnership troops looked kindly upon the country of her birth; others weren't happy taking orders from women.

'This is a challenge quite unlike any other,' her lieutenant had said. 'But you're young, bright, an excellent soldier. It's an amazing opportunity. Every pair of eyes in the world will be watching you.'

Privately, the thought of having her every move followed by the world disturbed Crowden greatly, and she was trying not to let the thought cause her to lose concentration. Besides, she was aware that she was flying under the radar just now. While the missions were low key, none of the top brass would try to step in and take them away from her. If anything major came through the Hole, there would be senior staff who would fight one another to be seen as the lead driver of the project. So far, there had been half a dozen small jobs to do in the eight months that the project was live. The rest of the time, she read in her bunk room, exercised in the limited confines of the Partnership gymnasium and relaxed in the common room. Crowden felt ready to lead Terracom troops in combat. And now that her lieutenant had finally moved back into terran-based peacekeeping missions, they'd held the short ceremony in the Civic Room back at the base noting her promotion to senior NCO, with the second shoulder pip and the derisory pay increase that went with it.

Crowden was an experienced commando and knew the ropes. From now on, she'd be writing the rules for anyone that came after her. But still, it wasn't so hard. You cracked the nut, neutralised the enemy and got everything on the craft home before the local tribal leaders gathered to ask what in hell had stormed from the clouds and landed on their village. But every now and then, through impatience or poor judgement or just sheer bad luck, something went wrong and friends who'd gone out living came back in body bags. This was the first time that she'd led an operation, and even with Hierro there, she could feel her mucles knotting and her heart beating a step ahead of the rest of her.

A few minutes later, the rear supports of the aircraft crunched down onto loose rock. At the moment of impact, the engines whined and died. Van Hooiveld ripped the earphones from her ears, and Crowden could hear heavy rock music blaring from them as they hung down by her chest. She watched the ear buds dangle uselessly for a moment, then realised Hierro was watching her.

'It's not easy, is it?' he said.

'I don't think it'll ever get easy, Franco,' she said. 'But all we can do is get it right.'

Hierro and the Dutch girls were out of their harnesses quickly enough, but the local troops made no attempt to get up.

Crowden slapped the nearest one on the shoulder, and he looked up at her wide-eyed from under his comically large helmet. It was the one from earlier who hadn't even known the layout of the building he was working in.

'How good is your English?'

'Yes...oh, I mean, good, yes.'

'What's your name, soldier?'

'Singh, ma'am. Jyoti Singh.'

'Private Singh, please don't call me ma'am. My name is Sergeant Crowden...but to you, just Sarge is good for now. This is Hierro, Van Hooiveld, Nydegger. Who's your friend?'

Singh looked around for a moment. His colleague was an immensely tall man with the build of a wiry dog. He seemed to be dozing, head forward, eyes closed. 'This is Naakesh Motra.'

'Do me a favour and wake him up.'

Singh looked uncomfortable. 'He's not sleeping, ma'am...I mean, Sarge. He's praying.'

Crowden could forgive him for that. Sometimes she regretted having left her own religion back with her family in the States, like it was something she'd forgotten to pack in her hurry to leave. When she'd left home two years earlier, her horizons expanded and they'd turned an already doubtful girl into an outright sceptic. Then the world had changed beyond all measure, and when you'd seen some of the things that Crowden had, suddenly the whole notion of a god seemed thoroughly superfluous.

Crowden placed a heavy glove on his shoulder, and the one called Motra opened his eyes.

'I'm sorry to interrupt your prayers, Motra, but we need to go.'

Motra gave the slightest of nods and stretched his long arms upwards as though trying to get the feeling back in them after the journey. Crowden watched him carefully as he released his harness, and took an age to check his sidearm. At the moment he finished, the voice of central control sounded in Crowden's ears.

'Delta two-one, you are cleared to leave the craft and approach the Pirate.' The heavily-accented English sounded rich and smooth to Crowden's ears. She far preferred the subcontinental sound to classically-spoken English.

'Copy, Central. Motra, come on, on your feet.'

As Motra unfolded one set of joints at a time and stood upright, the radio buzzed in her ear again. 'Exercise caution, Delta two-one. This is a strange one. Dispatch says that the Pirate fell through the Hole, straight to Earth.'

'Copy, Central.' With these kind of incidents, briefings tended to be short, simply because details were in short supply. Even so, this was a patchy effort. Pirates weren't an everyday occurrence, but they usually came through the Hole with their thrusters intact. This one had simply dropped, like a bird falling dead from a frozen sky.

Putting her nagging concerns to one side, Crowden addressed the crew directly. 'You all heard Central. This is a standard sweep and tag. There's been nothing so far to suggest that this one is a hostile, but we all know that these things can change quickly, so keep your rifles handy. Remember your brief - you're cleared to engage if necessary.'

The three Europeans assumed positions, while the two Partnership troops hung back.

'Singh, Motra, have you two been out on live ops before?' Crowden said. The pause in the aftermath told her all she needed to know. 'Okay, fine. In which case, stay close to the group for now. We'll establish a fifty yard perimeter and then secure the craft. When we crack the Pirate, you're backup to the first team. Move into the craft when they've secured a foothold. Keep your eyes open and don't take any chances.'

Singh looked visibly excited at the thought of the combat ahead, while Motra was clearly the more cautious and reserved of the two. Crowden thought back to how the taller man had handled his pistol. It had looked thorough and professional, but also slow and measured. Motra looked like someone who prepared and planned, rather than someone used to reloading in a hurry in the middle of a firefight. She caught his eye.

'So I'm guessing that you told the armoury you didn't want a standard issue pistol? Only that looks like a custom build to me.'

Motra frowned for the briefest of moments, and then shrugged. 'This is what they gave me.'

'Sure,' Crowden said, her tone easy. 'Though someone's going to be pissed, 'cause that gun of yours is monogrammed. It looks like it belongs to somebody, and the kind of person who owned that kind of gun would probably take very good care of it.'

Motra was suddenly very still, and his eyes met Singh's. Their was a tiny flicker of recognition, and then there was a cursory exchange in a language that Crowden couldn't understand. It was Singh who spoke. 'My friend is sorry. His spoken English really isn't very good. This is definitely the gun that they gave him in the armoury.'

Crowden felt the reassuring presence of Hierro at her shoulder and decided that this was a mystery best tackled later. She glanced at Jyoti Singh, and then addressed Motra. 'I am sorry. Your spoken English seemed fine a minute ago, that's all. But whatever. I'm sure I'll find out more about you when we get back in a few hours. Let's just hope that you shoot better than you lie.'

Crowden's pulse fired and her body twitched with the anticipation of the mission ahead. She brushed off a lingering doubt at the back of her mind that she'd been unduly harsh to the two Indians. She had mixed feelings about the training that local recruits from both sides of the border received. The team members undertook combat simulation exercises in addition to the basic training that they received from their respective national armed forces. UN resources were stretched however, meaning that it was hard to accurately reproduce the kind of short range, craft-based urban battles in which Terracom were specialists. Unless they found themselves becoming part of the core squad, troops tended to get cycled out before they garnered enough battle experience to be really useful. Repeated practise of the exercises they had set up at the base tended to encourage overconfidence in a recruit's ability and teach a range of bad habits that had to be unlearned in the field. Even then, Crowden knew, all the experience in the world was of no use if you ran into a combat situation you'd never previously encountered. Occasionally, you got a hell of a lot more than you bargained for.

The sergeant could feel Hierro watching her closely as she marched to the transport's rear and engaged the hydraulics. She glanced at him and his eyes were mirrors that reflected her own fear.

She could die today. Here, now, thousands of miles from home, a hundred wishes unfulfilled.

'Are you okay?' Hierro asked. By all accounts, with his wide, masculine shoulders and his Mediterranean heritage, Crowden always thought that Hierro's voice should be deeper. Instead, it was soft, light, almost melodic. He was ten years older than her, could easily have been a Sergeant himself by now had he shown any inclination to be one. Maybe he hadn't put himself forward because he didn't want to feel the same deep sickness in his stomach that Crowden was feeling now.

'I'm good,' she said, as much to herself as to him. She pushed a few strawlike strands of hair out of her eyes and back into her helmet before reaching for her rifle. The gantry rolled down, opening a yawning toothless maw before her. Crowden took another controlled breath and led her team of six into the night.

As they walked, the group's boots crunched on the loose surface. Crowden took two steps and immediately looked for cover. The second lesson they had taught her at cadet school had never let her down yet. She took point, Hierro followed, and the back up squads took left and right respectively. Slightly ahead and to one side, the mountain sloped updwards steeply and she used the cliff face as cover, trusting that the squad to her side would sweep the ridge.

She reached down to her belt, pulled out a T-shaped device about half the size of a handgun and twisted the base. There was a hiss, and she balanced it between her thumb and index fingers. A few seconds later, the device began to emit sparks and then it jetted off at pace in a graceful vertical arc about a hundred yards into the distance. When it landed, the casing burst open, flooding the mountainside with light.

Hierro had a second flare ready, but he waited for her order before he loosed it in a flatter trajectory wide and to their right to illuminate the area for the second support team. Crowden stood motionless in the shadow of the cliff face, one eye scanning the countryside, one watching the two pairs of blips on her tac-map. When both teams had gained good flank positions, she reached back and gestured to Hierro. He followed her around the corner.

There was an expanse of open, flat ground before her that swung away in a dog leg that turned almost back on itself as it gained height. The track above joined their own, meaning that the Partnership pair on the ridge would be coming down towards Crowden and Hierro as they climbed. On the far side where the second flare gleamed, there was a lot of brush and some debris, but little that would present itself as genuine cover. They would need to move forward and secure the area in front of the craft before the Dutch girls would be able to follow safely.

The craft itself could be seen as three wide grey arches that had dug themselves into the treeline at the end of the ridge where rock gave way to thick forest. The Pirate rested as neatly as if it had been built there, silent, but full of deadly promise.

In three previous missions that Crowden remembered, Pirates had been shot down by UN-sponsored fighters. On those occasions, there had been grooves scored ten feet deep in the rock by the dying alien aircraft as they had screamed from the sky. Other days had seen the Pirates evade combat with their superior speed, or simply land amongst the mountains without needing to be shot down. Those ships always carried a crew of three Blues, sometimes four. They always fought to the death.

The standard spaceships that carried these crews were about the size of modern European houses, with a room for the engine, a bay for storage and a bridge. There were also smaller craft that seemed to operate as unmanned drones. This Pirate was neither of those. It was wide, far wider than any Pirate that Crowden had seen before, and while she couldn't judge the depth from her position, she was ready to bet that it was deeper too. There was no way to tell from here what the purpose of the craft had been. The alien ships operated via some kind of anti-gravity mechanism that was not well understood, and the wide areas of this ship did not look like wings.

Crowden jogged towards the craft, staying low and keeping to the shadows. As she got closer, she saw that the port side was scorched and caved in. This was another first. Even Pirates that had been shot down retained almost full structural integrity. The impact of a high-speed landing generally did more damage to the mountain than to the alien ship. In this instance, there had clearly been a massive concussive blast to the port side, which might go a long way towards explaining why this ship had simply fallen through the Hole. Crowden could not imagine what kind of destructive force would be needed to cause this damage. The hull had not been breached but the surface was bent and jagged. It looked to Crowden like an aluminium can that had been crushed underfoot.

The Partnership support team of Singh and Motra had the best angle of approach. 'Singh, Motra, come in along the ridge. You have the best field of fire. I'm not expecting to see aliens outside the craft, but if you see Blue, don't wait for an invitation.'

There was a crackling noise, and then Singh's voice, high-pitched with excitement and nervous energy. 'How are we going to recognise these Blues?'

It wasn't the kind of question that someone familiar with the combat simulations would ask. Crowden filed it away under the growing list of items causing her disquiet and held her breath as she silently watched the blips move along the ridge. She only breathed out once the two men were resting alongside the body of the Pirate. 'Don't worry, you'll know them when you see them.'

The team that cracked the first ever Pirate to land on Earth had brought plastic explosives to breach the hull. They were shocked when the detonation had little visible impact upon the hull, and then they found to their amazement that the craft doors appeared to be sealed via some form of curtain made of fractal data that dissipated at a simple touch. Every other craft since had had the same mechanism, and never more than a single door. The door to this craft was dead in the centre of the middle archway, and Crowden and Hierro ran up on the near side of it. There they waited, guns trained on the entranceway and the empty ground behind it, providing cover for Van Hooiveld and Nydegger. Crowden called them forward and allowed herself another silent sigh of relief when all of her crew were under the low cover of the archway.

'Okay, nicely done so far, everyone,' Crowden said to the assembled horseshoe. 'This is where it gets real. Hierro and I will go through first. Singh, Nydegger, stand back to give yourselves a field of fire to cover us. Motra, Van Hooiveld, come through once I give the order.'

The group formed positions, all eyes on her, and she and Hierro took a position on each side of the door.

Hierro stopped short of the breach, offered her five fingers to start a countdown, but she shook her head. She had to force herself to focus her mind before she stepped through the hole and put it all on the line. Hierro watched her anxiously, rocking nervously from foot to foot. Once the door was opened, it would alert any hostiles to their position. A hundred things were going through her head, and the crushing weight of her uncertainty was preventing her from letting go of them.

Of course, it doesn't have to be you, Crowden thought to herself as the squad waited, their silent questions unasked and unanswered. She could order Hierro - she could order any of them - to lead the charge, but she was the leader, and what was the point of being the leader if you were too afraid to lead? Yet still she stayed, motionless apart from the rising and falling of her chest, and somewhere behind her, the seconds she wasn't using slipped away into the void.

She didn't dare look around, couldn't imagine what the Dutch girls or the Partnership troops would think as they watched her, but she lifted her helmet slightly - a few inches, just enough to allow her to press her cheek into the frozen metallic surface of the Pirate's outer walls. There she stayed for a count of one...two...three. The cold burn on her cheek lit a fire in her brain, her fingers counted down and she pressed a palm to the door of the Pirate, which was a fractalised barrier made up of millions of shifting silver numbers that fell away like rain.

The transluscent curtain in the doorway dropped away with a flash, and then there was nothing to suggest that it had ever existed at all. They were in.

The space directly beyond the door was illuminated by a row of tiny ceiling lights that stretched away into the distance, casting spotlights into a cargo hold that was bigger and deeper than the size of the craft suggested it had a right to be. At the periphery of her vision, the width of the Pirate craft quickly gave way to suffocating gloom. The internal mechanisms of the Pirates actively dampened light at long wavelengths, meaning that infra-red photocathode and other night vision technologies were of little use

Crowden didn't let the physics of the situation phase her - she had already seen crafts that warped space and time, with the result that they looked bigger inside than out. She also knew that that if there were combat troops on board the Pirate, those troops tended towards direct confrontation at the earliest opportunity rather than relying upon stealthiness. The small research team back at Pakhyana had some evidence that the aliens Terracom had encountered up to now were very sensitive to light at short wavelengths and their flesh burned easily in daylight. They postulated in turn that that since the aliens could themselves see electromagnetic light at long wavelengths, they didn't realise that humans had so limited a range of light vision.

She made as if to take a cautious step inside the craft, and then the space between the spotlights shifted as two small blue streaks appeared from nowhere and stopped momentarily a short distance away. As Crowden's eyes gradually adjusted, the interior of the ship began to take on dimensions that she could not have made out before and a large, imposing shadow became outlined in the darkness before her. The two blue streaks zipped behind it, vanishing once again. Crowden heard a guttural metallic sound and then a noise that suggested air was being sucked into something, as if the ship itself was drawing a breath. She felt the cold air moving around her face, the harsh ends of her hair lifting and dropping away, and she was already throwing herself to one side as Hierro yelled, 'Crossbow!'

With the deep hiss of the Devil exhaling, the superheated bolt of energy lanced at Crowden. She flung herself despairingly away. It clipped her shoulder pad, melting it instantly. The plastic popped and fused. Continuing on its path, the blast struck Nydegger full in the the face. Her head exploded with a damp pop.

Crowden watched in horror as Nydegger's corpse spun and dropped lazily away into a sitting position, knees pulled up, hands resting in her lap. Her body looked oddly comfortable, reclining slowly, resigned to fate.

'Franco, get in there!' Crowden yelled. She absorbed the horror of the scene and mentally filed it away for later, but for now she could not afford to let the Blues recharge the Crossbow. Hierro duly lowered his shoulder and launched into the ship. Crowden rolled up onto the balls of her feet and sprang forward after him.

Hierro was ahead of her and by the time she had leapt inside the cargo bay, he was sprinting towards the war machine, firing as he did so to keep the aliens pinned down. Crowden yelled for backup from the squad members behind her, but the aliens began a high-pitched screeching noise that drowned out her calls.

The Crossbow was a huge deck weapon so named because it looked vaguely similar to the siege crossbows from medieval times. The base of the weapon was held in place with a powerful magnet and their sturdy construction easily offered cover to the small frames of the Blues as they frantically tried to defend themselves. They were crouched behind it, small sidearms poking through the mechanism, snapping off blind rounds. She couldn't hear the fire over the keening aliens, but she tried her best to anticipate and dodge the chartreuse beams that arrowed at her from the night.

A figure appeared to Crowden's right, and to her amazement, it was Motra. He turned his body side on to the Crossbow, assumed a sport shooter's stance and his monogrammed pistol spat fire at the Blues. The aliens turned away from Crowden, concentrated on the new shooter, but he was already moving again towards the side of the craft, flanking them and drawing their fire.

Making herself as small as possible, Crowden loosed two rounds, the first of which slammed into the base of the Crossbow and the second zipped past it, blazing a trail into the darkness beyond. The aliens continued to return fire, beams scorching the floor under her feet, but Crowden was sprinting now and her pace carried her past the war machine in the centre of the bay. She dived and rolled, bringing her rifle to the fore. A squeeze of the trigger unleashed a wide blast into the Blue nearest her, which staggered and fell, dropping its pistol at her feet.

As all the noise of seconds past suddenly abated, Crowden glanced across to Hierro, who was nudging at the other fallen Blue with the toe of his boot. A small cerulean limb rolled limply to one side. Hierro looked at Crowden and shook his head.

Crowden scanned the bay for movement, but there was nothing. Hierro walked over, knelt down and scooped up the alien's weapon. Motra moved towards them with the air of a man enjoying a casual stroll. As Crowden watched, he ejected the clip from his pistol and inserted another with a single flick of his wrist. In the doorway, Van Hooiveld and Singh bundled warily, before finally inching inside.

'Good shooting,' Hierro said to Motra. 'First kill for you. And it was brave to run and draw their fire. Good going for a new guy.'

Crowden nodded at him, but Motra showed no outward acknowledgement of her reaction or of Hierro's words. She wondered if it was bravado, or natural focus. Her interest in his background rose another notch.

'Nydegger got it,' Crowden said. Her voice echoed eerily around the empty space.

'Yeah, I saw,' Hierro said, carefully neutral.

'No-one should die like that.'

Hierro reloaded his rifle and looked down at the two small broken alien bodies on the floor beside them. He wisely decided not to reply.

The radio crackled in her ear. 'Sergeant Crowden, report.'

'Copy, central. Two Blues and one bow, one man down. Cargo bay is significantly larger than the outside of the craft would suggest, and this is not a little ship to begin with. We still need to secure the perimeter.' Unbidden, Van Hooiveld was leading Singh along the near wall of the Pirate.

'Understood, Sergeant.'

Crowden looked at Motra. 'That could be all, but this is a big ship, so we need to stay alert. Normally they all come to the door to welcome us in, but once a group of them hid in a side room and...'

'Sergeant,' Hierro said.

Crowden was already mentally building the wall between that day and this one. The crew had done a few sweeps by that point, thought they'd seen the only tactic that the Blues were ever going to use. Complacency had been a killer. The Blues had never ambushed in that way, before or since. It added an unwelcome page to the handbook, and Crowden was taking no chances.

'Motra, I want you to stay and guard the Crossbow,' Crowden said. The tall man looked over at Singh for a moment, but he stepped over towards the deck weapon nonetheless. Despite the clear indications that he was more than first impressions had suggested, Crowden was still surprised by the grace of the Partnership man's movements.

'Franco, with me.' Hierro followed her, and the two headed towards the back wall of the craft.

The pair reached the back wall within two minutes and turned through ninety degrees. Crowden looked around, down and above constantly. As the side of the craft took them diagonally back upon themselves, she looked to her left hand side and realised that she could see Van Hooiveld but not Jyoti Singh. There was only a single blip on her tactical vision. Instinctively, her rifle came up to her shoulder as she turned, and whether he had realised the same thing or not, Hierro was right with her, as he always was. She could see Van Hooiveld moving towards them, but Singh hadn't followed. Instead, he was wandering towards the opposite wall, away into the inky darkness. The tac-map fizzed, picked him up, and immediately lost him again.

'Private Singh,' she called over the radio. When all she got by way of a response was a burst of static, she said, 'Private Singh, return to the Crossbow immediately. You're in serious danger. Repeat, return to the Crossbow immediately.'

There was more white noise from the radio but he lifted his head and turned in her direction, suggesting that he had at least heard her. She hurried over with Hierro towards Van Hooiveld, who was realising too late that her search partner had got away from her in the gloom. Then, Crowden heard Motra's voice in her ears, speaking the strange language from earlier that she didn't recognise. Singh was standing stock still in the empty space. Only the reflection of distant lights could be seen glintting on the harder corners of his armour. It would be all too easy for the darkness to swallow him.

'Motra, report,' Crowden called as she ran. A slap on the shoulder sent Hierro off to meet Van Hooiveld, and they met just as Crowden drew level with Motra. He was facing away from her, hunched over a panel on the side of the Crossbow, his long limbs suddenly making her think of a spider spinning a web. Gritting her teeth, she raised the gun in her hands and pointed it at his back.

'Motra, I said report.'

Motra said nothing and stabbed at the panel in front of him. The whole floor of the alien craft was suddenly bathed in brilliant light, like the Pakhyala laborotories which were brighter than the sun despite being deep underground. Crowden saw her comrades in the bay wince and shrink away from the light. Then there was a scream from Singh, and her tac-map was overwhelmed with blips.

In the middle of the floor, he was surrounded by massed ranks of aliens, twelve, fifteen, twenty deep and at least as many wide. They had not suddenly appeared with the light, Crowden realised, but rather they had been sitting there in absolute silence all along. The creatures were not tall, barely more than three feet in most instances, but the clawed appendages, fleshy humanoid limbs and their shrunken heads would be enough to disgust most human observers, and their insectoid pincers where one might expect a jaw completed a horrific countenance. Singh had wandered straight into the middle of the largest crowd of aliens that Crowden had ever seen by a factor of a least a hundred.

'Caligo! Lacey, they're Caligo!'

Hierro's voice over the radio told Crowden what she hadn't even realised she had been hoping to hear, and no angel in any holy book ever sang a song that was sweeter. Motra's eyes had opened wide when the lights had come up and the monogrammed pistol had flicked into firing position, but Crowden had been able to knock away his arm before he squeezed the trigger.

'Motra! Hold your fire!'

The alien crowd was a perfect rectangle that disappeared into the distance and there was a moment for Crowden that took her breath away. She thought of soldiers in conflicts in ancient times, forced into formation blocks, looking up amazed as the seemingly empty hills around them suddenly disgorged ten thousand enemy combatants from behind rocks, bushes and hummocks. They must have cursed the way in which the rolling countrysides could hold and hide.

There was no better camoflage for the Caligo than the darkness that had resulted in the troops giving them their name. Still, they were adaptable creatures and capable of hiding in plain sight. Given just a few seconds, their chameleonic flesh took on a hue that matched the available light, and even as Crowden watched, the dark colour drained away from the alien crowd with the insistency of a wave, and in the brilliant glare of the ship lights the Caligo changed from black to milky white, right down to the lizard-like balls of their eyes. Aware that they had been spotted, the gathering began to hiss softly. The sound didn't assault the nerves in the same way that the high-pitched shriek from the Blues had done during the firefight earlier, but the insidious nature of the Caligo, not to mention their numbers, meant that the sound chilled Crowden's blood nonetheless.

She had been unable to raise Jyoti Singh on the radio, but he was screaming loudly enough now for Crowdon to comfortably hear him from her spot behind the Crossbow. In a more composed man, fear could have precipitated a slaughter, but rather than open fire blindly on the crowd surrounding him, Singh dropped his rifle and collapsed into a shivering, whimpering heap.

'Private Singh!' Crowden's voice rang out across the bay as she peeled back her helmet. Her other hand was still holding Motra's gun down against his side. 'Private Singh! Listen to me.'

The other soldiers watched warily and Singh must have heard her too, as he looked up towards her despite his obvious terror.

'Private Singh! Get your gun and get back here to the Crossbow, stat. Do it! Now!'

Singh rolled over and put his hand on his rifle, and his frantic voice then snapped through on the radio part way through a burbling speech, sounding as though someone had flicked on a commercial radio station part way through a broadcast.

'What's he saying?' Crowden asked Motra.

'He's apologising to his mother and grandmother for making this trip. He's saying that if he had known, he would have stayed home and got a job with the Diplomatic Corps like they wanted.'

'Get him back here,' Crowden said.

Motra shook himself. 'What in God's name are they?' he breathed.

'Caligo,' Crowden said. 'Named for the darkness, but they're chameleonic. You can see them changing colour in the light.'

'Are they dangerous?'

'No,' Crowden said, before checking herself. 'At least, not that we've seen so far. They seem to be a non-combat species. If there's gunshots, they run for cover rather than fighting.'

'They look the same as the ones we shot earlier.' Motra's firing arm relaxed, prompting Crowden to release her grip on it, but he didn't holster his pistol.

Crowden shook her head. 'The ones we saw earlier seem to be the warriors. Their skin is blue, like you saw. The warrior ones seem to be stuck that way. We've not seen the chameleonic ability that these Caligo ones do. The head researchers think the camouflage skills are a defence mechanism that they've adapted specifically because they don't fight.'

'They look like children with insect heads. Or devils in human form.'

'We don't know what they are. But be glad they're not Blues. If they had been, we'd all be dead now.'

Motra gripped his pistol more tightly. 'And how many times have you seen these creatures before?'

'Only once,' Crowden replied. It was an answer that failed to satisfy either of them.

Hierro moved swiftly and steadily through the crowd of aliens, his face set in a horrid grimace. Van Hooiveld backed him up, turning every few yards to try and keep her weapon focused everywhere at once. Crowden watched them, loving them for their courage and simultaneously cursing their reckless bravery. She almost wished that they'd refused to follow the order. Insubordination was one thing but she wouldn't be able to bear it if her poor judgement resulted in their deaths. There were no previous reports of a Caligo acting aggressively, but the sheet weight of numbers here made them seem like spooked cows in a dangerously small corral. Crowden levelled her weapon at the front row and tried to project the image that she was in charge of the situation. She wondered if she was fooling anyone.

Motra's eyes flashed from Crowden to the aliens and back again. 'There are hundreds of them,' he said.

'Yes, there are,' Crowden replied, trying to keep her voice even.

'What are we going to do if they attack?'

Crowden said nothing, because she had nothing to say. Across the bay, in the middle of the mass of curious, hissing humanoids, Hierro reached Singh.

'Up,' the Spaniard commanded. He helped Singh to his feet and got him moving with a hand under his arm. Van Hooiveld retrieved Singh's rifle.

When the troops made as if to return the way they had come, the Caligo suddenly compacted, closing ranks in front of them. They formed a horseshoe in front of the squad and blocked their progress.

Crowden saw Hierro raise his rifle, even though he surely realised that facing down such a vast crowd would be impossible.

'Sergeant,' he said over the radio, 'we're in trouble.'

His voice was the same Franco it had ever been, but it was tinged with a sadness she had never heard before. Crowden's heart flipped and she found herself struggling to breathe. 'Franco. Talk to me. What can you see? Are you okay?'

The alien hissing increased in volume. Anxious, anxious seconds passed for Crowden. 'They're not letting us out.'

Motra appeared next to Crowden, his pistol drawn. 'We need to go in there and get them.'

Crowden gaped at him. She was torn by the situation they found themselves in, but she pulled the cable out of her radio mike and hissed furiously at him. 'Motra, I give the orders here. Hold your fire!'

The Indian pulled himself up to his full six-and-a-half feet and towered over Crowden, looking at her as one might study an interesting bug before mounting it on cardboard. 'You heard your friend. He's in trouble.'

Crowden looked desperately at Franco and Van Hooiveld, who were trying to manoeuvre Singh so that each of them had their back to him. 'If we shoot,' she said, 'it could cause them all to attack at once.'

'One at a time, or all at once. The outcome is the same.'

Crowden hit him in the chest with an open palm. Despite his slim build, he barely seemed to notice. 'You listen to me, Private. You fire before I order it, and I'll shoot you myself!'

'Sergeant. I'm sorry, but I made a promise to Jyoti's mother that I would bring him home. I'm not going to go back to her and tell her that I let him die.'

Crowden stepped back and levelled her rifle at him. 'Private Motra. Stop. Now.'

Motra met her eyes, his own pistol still hanging loosely at his side. 'Sergeant, you know I'm not in your army. You already figured that out.'

'You shoot too well, much better than any Partnership trooper I've encountered before. But right now, you're here with us. You're in my squad. You follow orders and we might just get out of here with our lives.'

Motra glanced briefly at the unwavering automatic resting on her hip. 'I don't think you'll shoot me, Sergeant.'

'Try me,' she said.

Before either of them could do or say anything further, the crowd of aliens shifted inwards towards the squad at the centre. It wasn't a wild charge, but the suddenness of the movement shocked them both. Hierro and Van Hooiveld were back-pedalling frantically. Singh, crushed between them, called over the radio in his local tongue, prompting a exchange with Motra. He seemed to be trying to reason with his friend, but Crowden didn't have the time to find out what they were discussing. Instead, she moved swiftly forward to the space that the aliens had vacated. Hierro's voice rang in her ears.

'Sergeant, I know you can hear me. They're backing us up towards the far wall...though they're not attacking...not yet.'

Crowden looked desperately at Motra and the pair of them raised their guns at the same time.

'Sergeant...should we fire?'

Crowden began to give the order, but then realised that her microphone was still unplugged. She pulled at the cable but it resisted, would not find the connection. 'Shit, shit, shit!'

Hierro's voice was straining now. 'Sergeant, what are your orders?'

The world clicked into place. 'Fire at will,' Crowden said.

'Wait!' Another female voice echoed across the frequency, startling for how quiet it had been up to that point. Everything seemed to stop, including the alien advance. Eline Van Hooiveld had a naturally soft voice, but the strain in it just now was obvious.

'There's a door in the wall here,' she called. 'A fractal curtain, like the ones on the main entrance.'

Crowden had been moving forward with the aliens and if she advanced any further now, she would trip over the nearest row of Caligo. The squat humanoids watched her carefully with what might have been expectation, and their pincer jaws shifted inquiringly. They certainly didn't seem ready to attack her, but the ones near her chittered to one another, seemingly anxious at her presence. She wanted to give an order, wanted to know what do for the best, but the words just wouldn't come.

Motra tapped her shoulder gently. She had been concentrating on the situation ahead so intently that she jumped and shrank back from the touch.

'Is the order to fire still valid?' he inquired politely.

'Wait.' Crowden looked at him, but addressed her question to the other squad members. 'What's happening now?'

Van Hooiveld said, 'I think they want us to go through the door.'

'It could be a trap.'

'I think they're insisting, Sergeant.' The Caligo nearest the squad watched Van Hooiveld raise a hand towards the door, and as she did so, the hissing from the crowd became noticeably louder.

'Wait. Ready your weapons. If you're going to go through there, take a position on either side of the doors. Remember how we do breaches.'

Crowden was trying to concentrate on the instructions she was giving, but then she felt Motra's breath hot on her ear, and she had to fight the urge to punch him. He said, 'Sergeant, no-one's guarding the Crossbow. Just to remind you.'

'Dammit, do it,' she yelled at him.

'Understood,' Van Hooiveld's voice rang out and before Crowden could do anything, the curtain had fallen away, and the hissing of the massed aliens became so loud that she couldn't even hear the urgent voices on the radio.

Base chose that precise moment to try and contact her via the officer's channel. 'Sergeant Crowden, come in, Sergeant Crowden.' The words went in her ears and floated out again.

Before her, sitting on what appeared to be a simple wooden chair, sat the largest of the aliens that she had yet seen. Even seated, it stood a head taller than her, with indistinct features captured in a glowing, red silhouette. As she entered, the being turned towards her, and she saw a visage form and then shift again, a face with that had all the intensity of flame.

'Who are you? What are you?' Crowden breathed.

The being turned the hollow side of it's face to Crowden, and suddenly her mind was filled with images and each image . There was too much to take in all at once - it was as if every moment of a life were photographed and cut into a viedo that was played at fast forward - but she still saw much. A creature cae into the world. Different from the others of its kind, trusted to lead, because that was what it was born to do. A red creature in a sanguine world. There were Caligo working, their colours ranging from cherry blossom to burnt umber. There were celebrations. Crowden's heart swelled and her skin flushed. She felt euphoric.

And then, over time, unrest. Happiness became uncertainty. There was sudden cruelty, and fighting. The red vegetation was burned and the world was scarred. The tones became darker, with much of the planet given up to smoke. Caligo running, dying. There were flags, treaties, raids by hostile races. The scene switched to a planet with rings that rainbowed across a breathtaking sky. Sadness, Crowden felt, a feeling of inevitable loss. This ruler, on a ship leaving dock and entering space, and then an epic hunt spanning a hundred years as these were hunted across space. A flash, and then a dive through unknown dimensions, time turning and twisting in agony, like a stomach trying to digest itself. Then falling, falling through the abyss, and then the hillside, and then the door opening...

'Lacey!' Franco had her by the shoulders and was shaking her.

'It's okay!' she shouted. 'I'm okay.'

'You spoke in a deep, it was talking through you!'

Crowden was too excited by what she had seen to feel scared by this. She was also no longer afraid of the massed aliens waiting anxiously outside this chamber. From what she had seen, they were not agents of terror. Rather, they were refugees, fleeing their own planet in fear for their lives. She couldn't wait to get back to Pakhyala, tell everything she'd seen to the lab guys so it could be documented. The images were so numerous, and so fleeting, fading already like a treasured dream at dawn. She wanted to write them down immediately before they escaped her recall.

'Franco, it was amazing! Did you feel any of that?'

'Any of what?' Franco said, his voice more anxious than she could recall. 'Sergeant...Lacey. We've got a situation here. We've a man down, a room full of hundreds of Caligo, more than we could fit in any craft and take back.'

'I need to write down their story,' Crowden said.

'No,' Franco said. 'You need to contact Base and let them know we need a pick up here and some assistance to move these aliens back to a secure location.'

There was a cough behind them, and they both turned to see Jyoti Singh, who had been rather forgotten in the events of the last few minutes.

'If I may, I believe I can help you with this matter.'

Crowden was still shaking with something like excitement, so she took a few deep breaths and tried to ignore Franco's expression of deep concern. 'Private Singh, what did you have in mind?'

'With your permission, I need to speak to Base staff.'

'What do you want to tell them?' Franco demanded. Crowden noticed him stand back a little so that both she and the large red alien were in his field of vision. The alien still hadn't moved, though it turned its kaleidoscope face to each of them as they spoke, suggesting that it was listening.

'It's a...delicate matter,' Singh said.

'Permission granted,' Crowden said. She was still lost among the images she had seen, taking out all the ones she could remember and running them through her mind again. Strangely, in her thoughts, some images were in black and white, and others in glorious, glorious colour, with the roseate fauna predominant. She wanted Franco to see it too. No, she wanted everyone to see it.

'Sergeant, are you sure you're okay?' Franco said.

'I feel amazing,' she replied. She hoped the certainty of her tone suitably implied that the discussion was over.

Singh had stepped over to the doorway and was on the radio. 'Base, this is UN Security Council rep Jyoti Singh speaking. I need a direct line to the Prime Minister about an urgent matter of national security.'

Crowden blinked and met Franco's stare. 'You're who?' she said to Singh. He wasn't listening. He had put his finger to his ear and begun to pace to and fro by the doorway.

'You heard me. Switch to the council frequency. No, I didn't say argue, I said switch to the council frequency. There. There you go. Now, put me through to the Cabinet Secretary. No, not someone in his office. Did I say someone in his office?' When he turned to see Hierro and Crowden standing incredulously behind him, he gave them a winning smile and a thumbs up.

'Did he just say he's a UN Security Council representative?' Franco whispered to Crowden. She couldn't reply. The last few minutes had simply been too overwhelming for her. She knew that the thunderstorm was coming, but there was still a few minutes before it hit land and she wanted to stay there for now. Every pair of eyes in the world will be watching you...

As if on cue, Motra appeared and filled the doorway. He didn't seem the slightest bit surprised by the red alien on the throne in the centre of the room. When Crowden looked at him, he nodded in acknowledgement. 'I left Van Hooiveld in charge of things in there. The aliens didn't try to stop me.'

', I don't care if he's in bed with Sherlyn bloody Chopra,' Singh was saying. 'Get him up. And while you're at it, get the Defence Minister too. He's going to want to hear about this. And while you're doing that, get the Interior Ministry to track the GPS location of the Terracom craft in Jammu. We're going to need transport copters here, and quite a few of them. Say a dozen. I want reinforcement troops, real ones, not the ones that normally get sent on Partnership duty. Send the Sikh boys, they know what they're doing.'

'Sergeant Crowden, report,' Base said.

'Base, I've found something huge,' Crowden said.

'You're going to tell me that Jyoti Singh is there with you, and that he's alive and well, and then you might just escape with a court martial,' Base said.

An eerie calm descended upon Crowden and she was left with the feeling that she was walking on a tightrope above the abyss. So much had happened in such a short space of time that she felt immune to the censure she was facing.

'Base, Jyoti Singh and his bodyguard are here and they're both safe.' Motra nodded and raised his eyebrows. 'He's on the phone to the Indian Defence Ministry right now. I think though that you're going to want to get a transport craft out here stat.'

'Why in hell did you take Singh along on the mission with you?'

'He brought himself. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Listen to me. This is epic.'

Static buzzed in her ears and Crowden waited impatiently for the response. 'What have you got, Sergeant?'

'I'm pretty sure I just found whatever passes for their King.'