Saturday, November 27, 2010

Words Fly Back

Last week I received a really nice email from Denys, a reader from Winnipeg, Canada.  I've been very lucky over the past couple of years to be sent emails from some extraordinary places and it always gives me a thrill to picture my humble texts being read in far off places.  Whilst it's unlikely that I'll ever travel to Winnipeg, Cork or Port Elizabeth, it seems words have the power of long distance flight and occasionally they return to you accompanied by other words in the form of emails from people who, for one reason or another, were prompted to write.

Winnipeg Folk Festival: Friday Sunset by Quiplash! 2005 Non-Commercial, Copyleft Creative Commons Licence

I particularly liked this email as it was from someone who didn't usually read fantasy but was enjoying what he was finding in What Lies Beneath.  I'd like to use this post to respond to one of the questions this correspondent had about the role of the Caliban's End wiki.

"In googling your work, I just came across the wiki with maps, character charts, etc.  I think these will come in handy as I continue reading, but I am a major spoiler-phobe.  I see all the enticing links on the right of the page (specifically overview, places, races) and they are begging me to click them but I'm worried about giving away anything from the actual story line itself (i.e. character deaths, outcomes of conflicts, etc.)  If you have a moment, could you please let me know which, if any, of these links I can safely click without ruining any surprises?"

Denys' concerns are totally understandable and I'm surprised I haven't commented on this until now.  I thought I'd post some of my response to Denys as I'm sure that other readers would have similar feelings when confronted with the wiki for the first time.

One page of hundreds from the Caliban's End wiki

The primary reason for the wiki is to flesh out this world I have created and to provide a backstory that would otherwise slow down the narrative if included in the story proper.  Quite a few pages of the wiki contain things that aren't in the books, including flora, fauna and events (and plenty of accompanying images).  If I remember rightly, the aardwolf (for example) isn't discussed anywhere in the books.

In compiling the wiki I have tried to avoid spoiling the story which has been a bit of a challenge.  The wiki teases, and implies things, but it shouldn't give away major points such as characters' deaths, plot twists/reveals or the outcomes of battles in the trilogy.  For example, the character of Remiel, who is introduced in Chapter Two and is clearly a significant character, receives the following account in the wiki:

Shortly after the catastrophe that befell The Melody on the fateful day Caliban was being taken to Sanctuary, Remiel disappeared from all knowledge.  He was seen briefly in Pelinore, but following his father's death, he vanished from all reckoning.  The family home on Pelinore Hill was boarded up and the last trace of Remiel was in the ship log of a merchant ship called The Broken Promise bound for Terminus via the ports of Findias, Gobnet, Garlot, Tamesis, Corineus and Ceres.  If Remiel moved to one of these cities, no record was made in any census taken in the period after 1799, the year of Gideon Grayson's passing.

In some cases, I have been quite playful and there are a few non-critical points revealed in the wiki that are not covered in the books.  These are whimsical and are not 'required reading' to fully appreciate the books.  For example, in Chapter Fourteen a minor character with a rather offensive disposition is thrown overboard and that's the last you hear from him in the tale.  In the wiki it is revealed that he can't swim.

I'm particularly proud of the wiki and believe that it will enhance a reader's enjoyment of the Caliban's End saga.  The map for example does much to convey a sense of the geography and scope of the Myr.

Map of the Myr

HOWEVER, although I've endeavoured to make the wiki relatively safe, it is inevitable that it will provide extra information that may not be revealed at the same time in the books.  In a way these could be considered minor spoilers, but in the context of the larger tale and all that comes to pass, it's my opinion that these shouldn't affect a reader's enjoyment of the yarn.  Perhaps the safest links to click are the more general ones such as Places.  The Characters links will contain information that may be better served by being revealed in the course of the narrative, but I don't think there's anything there that could be considered critical in terms of major plot points.

Some readers of the books have told me that they are picking up things on their second reading that were missed on the first, little things that perhaps are more obvious when one knows the outcome.  Ultimately though, for all the hints and suggestions, I hope the central story is what readers find most fulfilling.   I have attempted to do what good fantasy should do and explore the human condition under extraordinary circumstances.

On a completely unrelated note, I have just put the finishing touches on another site which is where my various interests and activities have been brought together in one place.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Importance of Daydreaming

When I finished writing What Lies Beneath (Book One of Caliban's End) last year, I uploaded a copy to Scribd. If you're not familiar with Scribd, the easiest way to describe it is YouTube for books. Tonight I uploaded Akin to Pity (Book Three of Caliban's End) and whilst I was on the site, I had a look at the stats for What Lies Beneath - I was shocked (in a good way) to find out that it had been read over 800 times!

Now I'm not so naive to think that it has been read from start to finish that many times but it is delightful to think that there are people out there - people I'll never meet or even hear from - who have taken enough of an interest in the story to have bothered to open it up on this site.

The electronic nature of texts these days is a godsend for amateur writers. It is encouraging to think of the alternatives to old school publishing that exist today. In fact, it is quite overwhelming to consider how many more texts are available to readers. I bought a Kobo eReader the other day and it came with 100 free books on it (all public domain). Today I downloaded a free copy of Cory Doctorow's For the Win and dropped it onto my Kobo. I now have more books available to me than I have time to read!

It's probably worth noting that I am at that nice stage of having a number of people letting me know they have finished reading the Caliban's End trilogy. I have received a lot of affirming comments which I won't document here as that would seem too indulgent. However, one comment I have been getting a lot is the observation that the books have an undeniable cinematic quality to them. My mum even suggested I should get in contact with James Cameron (writer/director of Avatar). Now I know mums are meant to say things like that, but I have taken on board some of what she said and started writing a screenplay.

So do I think I have a snowflake's chance in hell in seeing this series of books at the local cinema? No, not at all. So why go to the trouble of writing a screenplay?

Quite simply, why not?

I've never written a screenplay before, and I am realising, there's a real art to it, one I am far from mastering. It's a fun challenge to rewrite my books in this format. I have to get rid of half my characters (and I don't mean by killing them) and I have to condense the plot considerably. I even have to restructure the narrative so that it fits the movement of a film.

I'm taking my time so don't expect a screenplay to be finished any time soon. But it is something that is worth doing. I get to revisit my story and reshape it in a new form, refining it and improving it, and whilst all this is going on, I get to imagine what it would look like if my mum's wish came true and James Cameron helped me put it on the silver screen.

Daydreams are awesome.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Last week, we bought a new bookcase from Ikea. Not a dinky little bedside unit that holds no more than a handful of your favourite books. No, this was a real bookcase, taller than your average Greek titan, designed to carry hundreds of weighty tomes with ease.

After I assembled this monstrosity (with little more than an allen key and an instruction sheet with only pictures on it) I thought it was lacking something. At first, I couldn't put my finger on it, then I noticed a trilogy of two books sitting on one of the shelves. A trilogy of two? What Lies Beneath. Into the Endless. And an empty space. It looked wrong.

But not anymore...

Now there are three. The set is completed. Akin to Pity is finished and all three books of the Caliban's End trilogy are now sitting on the bookcase where every visitor can see them, ideally leading to casual conversation about my favourite subject - me.

The timing of this milestone was perfect. As this blog chronicles all too comprehensively, I have not always been overjoyed with my publisher Lulu, but last week-end they offered free printing of all new books, so at their expense I printed my final book. I also decided to print hardback versions of the entire trilogy and I couldn't be happier with the result.

So now I'm done, what's next?

Firstly, I'm just going to savour the moment. Writing novels is a long road to walk upon and my feet are sore. I think I'll just pause for a while and take in the view, staring at all the books sitting on the bookshelf as I rub my feet. I'll sit back and take in all the names running down the spines: Tolkien, Feist, Clancy, Malouf, Rowling, Moorcock, Jansson, Zahn. I couldn't count the hours I have spent reading these authors, getting lost in their worlds. And now one more name sits among them. Of course, I would never regard myself as their equal - they're published authors with countless followers. However, it is nice to know that there are some bookcases out there that also have books bearing my name sharing shelf-space with such luminaries.

Sure, it's a little like gate-crashing a party after the Oscars, but I can't help but be thrilled to see my three books sitting between Tolkien and Rowling on my bookshelf.

Monday, January 18, 2010

To Go Boldly

Things are only impossible until they're not.
Jean-Luc Picard, 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'
I remember watching a Star Trek movie where Captain Jean-Luc Picard was discussing economics in the 21st century. The human race by that stage had done away with the concept of currency, and all property was either shared or ubiquitous thanks to technology such as replicators. Even at the time of watching the film, the demise of capitalism seemed incredible (if not impossible) but... perhaps there's a kernel of truth in science fiction. Perhaps technology can help to even things out, if only just a little.

Jean-Luc Picard (from Wikia, published under Fair Use Provisions)

To explore briefly how technology could possibly help to level one particular playing field, I'd like to focus on a relatively new gizmo - the eReader. Although eReaders are yet to enter into everyday idiom, I believe that their impact is pre-ordained. Put simply, the eReader is a game-changer - it will alter how people access, share and discuss literature. It will effect how we buy books and perhaps how we read them. It will change how books are annotated. It will change how books are disseminated. It may also change how they are written. Certainly, it will increase the number of writers realising their dream of seeing their work published.

So what is an eReader? It's basically a handheld device capable of digitally displaying text, but it's not a notebook computer, iPod Touch or netbook. Now most people agree that one of the biggest problems of reading digitally-displayed text has been the glare (and resulting headaches caused by reading from an illuminated screen). Fortunately this problem has been resolved by the advent of electronic ink.

E-ink has been incorporated into many eReaders such as the Sony Reader , the iLiad , the BeBook , the Amazon Kindle, and Barnes & Noble's nook. It's quite amazing technology. Basically electronic ink is comprised of millions of wee microcapsules, each about the diameter of a human hair. Each microcapsule contains positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles that float about in a clear fluid.

When a negative electric field is applied, the black particles are pulled to the bottom of the microcapsule and as a result, that tiny area will appear white to the reader (or black if the capsule is positively charged). By controlling each miniscule area, E-ink can recreate the look of a printed page.

Nook and Kindle by evilgenius Creative Commons 2010 Non-commercial Licence

There are obvious benefits to this method. E-ink can be read in bright sunlight and does not place any more strain on the eyes that a normal book. Also, because it's all digital, text can be resized at the click of a button. Add to that other features such as electronic bookmarking of pages, the ability to share books by wirelessly transferring them from one device to another and the fact that each device can literally contain thousands of books, eReaders are quite a compelling alternative to printed books. (For more info on eBook readers, head over to

The price of eReaders is coming down, largely due to competition. On the day Barnes & Noble's nook was released in the US for $259 (USD), Amazon dropped the price of their eReader (the Kindle) to the same price. And this year, more devices are coming out on the international stage. This in turn will lead more and more publishers and writers to consider eReaders as a viable option for their content.

In fact, I sense something of a revolution in the wind, as writers discover they are not quite so dependent upon traditional publishers as a means to distribute content. Whilst this causes a conundrum for today's publishing houses, it means that readers of books will be spoilt for choice. In fact, the problem facing readers will not be accessing content, but finding books to their liking. I can see the rise of supporting mechanisms to make the selection process easier - for example, social networking sites such as such as Good Reads, Shelfari, LibraryThing, WeRead, ReadWhale, JuiceSpot and others. (For a more comprehensive list, head over to 100 Awesome Social Sites for Bookworms at Online College).

What fascinates me about all this is how the lines between consumer and producer are blurring. People who always wanted to write a book have one less excuse - publishing is not the great obstacle it once was. Anyone can publish a book.

I look back on my teaching days and think of all those brilliant minds I encountered and it fills me with great optimism. I taught so many budding writers but few considered going down that road due to the torturous path of getting things to print. Now, schools have the option of moving kids into this space. In fact, it's not really an option - it's an obligation.

On a related note, last week I was contacted by Susan Crealock of Online Novels seeking my permission to include my second book Into the Endless on her site. Online Novels is an amazing collection of free novels, most of which can be downloaded from the web and read on eReaders (as well as on the humble computer). My inclusion on the site highlights the growing number of avenues available to writers who just want to see their work out where it can be read.

Of course, the future Jean-Luc inhabits is a long way off, but that's the thing about technology - it sometimes takes the stuff of fantasy and turns it into reality. Only time will tell.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

And then there were three...

At the end of last year, I was led to believe that my printing issues with were behind me. Unfortunately I was wrong. The second book in the Caliban's End story was too large for the Australian printers and had to be printed overseas. At the time, I thought that Lulu had attended to its prohibitive shipping charges but this was not the case - it still costs much more to ship a book than it does to print it.

Rather than get bogged down in a situation I couldn't control, I decided to break the lengthy Akin to Pity into two books: Into the Endless and Akin to Pity.

Into the Endless is available for purchase as of today. Akin to Pity (see below) will be released this April. It only costs about $8.00 to ship the books (as they are all printed in Australia) so for under $20.00 you get a big thick novel delivered to your door. If you're feeling like one isn't enough, you can save quite a few pennies by ordering in bulk e.g. I purchased five books and it only took $15.00 to ship the lot! NB: These figures are for the greenback, but the gap between the two currencies is negligible at the moment, so it's a good time to buy.

Breaking up the saga as a trilogy was my original intention but I didn't like how it turned out - the last book was only 80 pages and it looked a bit silly alongside its bigger-boned siblings. The problem was due to where I separated the narrative. I have now made the cut after Chapter Twelve in the second book and now the second and third books are about the same size. Admittedly, Into the Endless ends with many things left hanging, but this wasn't a problem for The Empire Strikes Back, or The Fellowship of the Ring, so it shouldn't be a problem for me.

So there it is - the second book is now available and the final installment is out in autumn.