Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Meet the author: YE Meakin, creator of Hunted

The first book of YE Meakin, Hunted, publishes on September 1. She joins the blog in a state of high excitement ahead of its release!



Hi there, and congratulations on your first book! How's the excitement/terror balance going as you wait for it to go live on Amazon?

Honestly, I am so nervous! When you spend months working on something, you just really want everyone to love it. I wonder if these nerves will gradually disappear with each book! It is great to be finally getting Hunted out there though, and I do look forward to hearing what everyone thinks.

Now you've described the book to me as being dystopian and aimed at young adults, a dash of Hunger Games, a dash of Divergent – what has drawn you to that genre?

I think that it is easy to draw parallels between our world and the worlds based in these novels. It is amazing to see the worst parts of ourselves in these dystopian societies and I think it is a little bit of a shock too. Young adults will understand elements of what my characters are going through, there are times when we all feel a little lost, a little emotional and everything seems to be alien to us. I think the appeal to writing for young adults is their ability to empathise regardless of what world our characters are based in.

Do you read a lot in that genre or do you find yourself writing outside of what you might normally read? If the former, who are your major influences in that field?

I read an awful lot in that genre. There seems to be something about YA books that just capture my imagination endlessly. There are so many authors that I admire! Richelle Mead is amazing; her Vampire Academy series was brilliant. Obviously Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth were major influences. I think, and this one may surprise you, Joss Whedon was a massive influence, although he isn’t an author! I grew up watching Buffy and she was the ultimate strong female lead character.

I can't knock you for liking Joss Whedon - no complaints there! Tell us a little about Hunted, what's your elevator pitch for it to readers? And no spoilers, might be reading it tomorrow ;)

Okay! Well Hunted is set in a government run Academy aimed at producing perfect soldiers. The children raised in the Academy have to fight for their lives on a daily basis. Laura discovers a few things that the students aren’t supposed to know and is forced to choose between staying and trying to escape into a world that she has never known.

What about the lead character? Tell us a little more about them – what drives them?

Laura is pretty kickass. She is the only girl in her year at the Academy (the other females were terminated at earlier stages). I think more than anything she longs to be safe. She wants to keep her friends alive and she wants a home and people that she can trust.



The tagline for the book is “Has High School ever been so dangerous?” - which to me makes it sound like John Hughes movies gone to Hell! What made you focus on that high school moment in your characters' lives?

The student’s lives at the Academy are the most important part of the entire novel. It is their time contained in that building that shapes them and damages them the most… I think maybe some of us can relate ;)

Go on, I have to ask, what's your own worst high school moment? If you can bring yourself to tell!

Honestly, I hated high school! All of those unrequited crushes and the girl cliques! I spent most of my time with my nose in a book. I think the one that I am willing to share is when my trousers split in the library! Luckily no one seemed to notice but I did have to stand in my underwear in the bathroom whilst my best friend attempted to sew them back up! What are friends for, ey?

Given that collision of dystopia and high school – two questions here – what's your favourite YA movie/series and your favourite high school movie. Points deducted if you choose Vampire Academy.

Okay so the easy one is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because it was amazing and I never wanted it to end! I think my movie choice is going to make you deduct more points than if I had said Vampire Academy (which was a really good movie by the way!). I still like Twilight, I think that maybe I can empathise a little bit too much with Bella because of how clumsy I am.

What's your background away from the world of being a writer? And what drove you to make that step to creating your own novel?

There isn’t all that much to tell! I grew up in Staffordshire, England, and was a book worm from day one. I have Dyspraxia which is a learning disability, but my reading has really helped me through the literacy part of it. I have previously written for two global business to business magazines on the subjects of Law and Finance (yawn). Fiction has always been an aspiration though; I love books and getting lost in stories.

So the book is available on Amazon, yes? Is it ebook only or hard copy too – and being new to the publishing process, what were your greatest difficulties in going from finished story to finished product?

Hunted is available exclusively to Amazon for now, I wouldn’t definitively say that it will never be a hardcopy, but it isn’t at the moment. I hated the formatting part, if it wasn’t for a very good friend of mine, I don’t think I would have gotten through it without throwing my laptop out of the window! I had a few issues with the cover too, I had originally paid a graphic designer to do it but after seven attempts he didn’t seem to grasp what we were going for. In the end, I designed the cover myself.

With this being your debut, we'd love to chat to you again down the line to see how the launch went – but dare I ask what are your launch week hopes? Have you got any reviewers already lined up?

I just hope that it goes smoothly and as many people as possible like it. I do have a few reviewers ready to post their opinions; they all really loved Hunted (which was a massive relief). I hope that these positive reviews continue. Of course, I always have time for you, so I would love to come back and have another chat!

So, what’s next after the release of Hunted? Are you working on a sequel?

I have a few writing projects at the moment. I am hoping to release another novel before Christmas, it is called ‘Deadly Secrets’ and it is written from the point of view of a female serial killer. The sequel to Hunted is also in the works, I am releasing ‘Trapped’ in March 2017 and you will find a teaser in the back of your copies of Hunted!

Best of luck with the launch. We have a traditional two-part question to round things out here – so what are you reading presently, and what has been your favourite book that you've read in the past year?

At the moment I am reading ‘Secrets of the Mind’ by the wonderful E.J Bennett, I love it so far and the author is a friend of mine, I would really consider checking it out!

My favourite book at the moment is ‘Dear Amy’ by Helen Callaghan, it is a bit unusual for me to have really enjoyed something that isn’t YA, but the twists were amazing.

Hope all goes well – we'll be sure to lend a hand with retweeting!


Thank you for having me! 

You can find YE Meakin on Facebook here, and on Twitter here. She will be revealing the Amazon link there as soon as it is live - and we'll add it here once it's up and running. Drop by and wish her luck!

Sunday, 28 August 2016

PODCAST REVIEW: Back to the headphones as we go back to school

This article previously appeared in The Tribune Weekend section on August 26. 



As the thoughts of parents turn towards children going back to school, we take a look at three podcasts that focus on education.

Stuff You Should Know

There's a range of great podcasts under the How Stuff Works umbrella, and Stuff You Should Know slots right in alongside them.

Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark are the hosts, and aim to tell people cool and interesting things about the world around them.

Jellyfish are the subject of the latest show, in all their weird and fascinating glory. The chat is interesting for parents as well as children. I'd say it's a better show for older children to listen into rather than younger ones, as they chat about things such as the sex lives of animals in a relaxed way and some of the discussion might be a little out of place for younger ones. That said, my six-year-old stepson drifted in during the show and started asking questions about jellyfish when I wasn't really aware he was listening, so they succeed on sharing knowledge in a way that draws younger listeners in too.

They do it in a fun way, too, while debunking myths such as peeing on jellyfish stings to cure them!

For parents, I'd recommend listening to a show or two first to gauge whether it suits your child's age range, but for adults too it's a fun way to learn about the world around you.


Educate

The Educate podcast is a short and sweet weekly show looking at different aspects of education. The latest episode is just eight minutes, for example, so makes a great listen over a coffee break.

The latest show looks at the importance of food to studies, with a survey showing that 7% of college students went an entire day without eating.

The hosts chat about how being hungry affects the student's ability to focus - though with surprisingly few studies into the problem. They also point out the increasing problem in the area for adult students, too, worrying so much about how they're going to be able to afford to eat that they can't focus on their courses.

It's amazing how much is packed into the few minutes of the podcast, from the APM Reports team. Seriously, have a listen, but go grab that coffee first, and perhaps a bite to eat too.


All The Wonders

All The Wonders is a podcast focusing on children's books - and mostly on chatting to the creators of those books. Recent guests included the likes of Ellen Potter, author of the Piper Green and the Fairy Tree series, and Aaron Zenz, creator of Monsters Go Night-Night.

The latest show features Kelly DiPucchio and Greg Pizzoli, author and illustrator of Dragon Was Terrible, who chat about the process of creating the book, and about how they consider how children will read the story aloud.

Again, this is probably a show for parents rather than children, but offering great ideas for books that they might want to introduce to their children.

Youngsters might well want to sit down and enjoy a show with an author that might be their favourite, but it's a lot more about the behind the scenes of the books as the host and guests share a fun chat about the work.

Clearly, here are people who love their work, though, and that is always a joy to listen to.



Saturday, 27 August 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Blackbeard's Daughter by Diana Strenka and L-2011 by Mark Gillespie

Guest blogger Brent Harris gets into double trouble as he stops by to review two tomes of alternate history. The first, Blackbeard’s Daughter, is a secret history of the life of Edward Teach which promises that it’s not ‘a kissing book'. The second, by alt-historian Mark Gillespie, showcases a fictional world that’s scarily prescient.


Blackbeard's Daughter, by Diana Strenka

Blackbeard’s Daughter is a ‘secret history’ of Edward Teach’s fictional daughter, Margaret. While Teach would later become the fearsome and infamous pirate, Blackbeard, Diana Strenka’s debut novel focuses on the emotional trials of Margaret and what she must endure as her father is mostly absent throughout her childhood, and tragedy befalls her in every chapter, in a story that would make G.R.R. Martin shed a tragic tear or two.

Blackbeard’s time as Edward Teach is mostly a mystery, and Diana dances around factual events well enough that it is plausible that some of this story could have really happened. But, there are some incongruences with the historical record that requires the reader to develop a small suspension of disbelief. Still, accepting that the narrator is unreliable and biased towards her father helps the reader accept this differing account.

But Margaret is a naïve, entrapped young child, with only the basics of an education. This makes for very short, stilted sentences with no real descriptions or deep insights about herself or her world. 

What is left can make for a story that is hard to get into style-wise but for the tragedy which happens at every turn of the page. And that is where the book shines best: Margaret finding inner strength through these terrible events and transforming from victim to anti-hero, and why I can’t help but give the book 3.5 Dread Pirates, rounded to 4. If anything, we need a book about Pirate Margaret raining vengeance on the British.


L-2011, by Mark Gillespie

L-2011 is an alternate history story of what might have happened had the real-life death of Mark Duggan led to long-term rioting of downtown London. What interested me in this book was that the deaths of black youths by police officers have triggered such rioting here in the States, so it was a vivid reminder that Mark’s dystopian aftermath of the incident in London, resulting in a long-term and large-scale loss of control of a major city, is a very real possibility.

We see the aftermath through the eyes of Mack Walker, a teenager with a secret in his past. He befriends several local London kids, whose backgrounds are not so fortunate as Mack’s white, upper middle-class upbringing. They all have their own issues to deal with, and there is a nice interplay between characters that matches what you’d read from a NY Times Bestseller. However, my one big criticism of the book was that the characters don’t have traditional arcs. They all have strong personalities that are reinforced as the story progresses, but they don’t undergo any transformative process. And maybe that is the point. These kids are all reflective of a growing generation plugged into social media—they see the world like no generation has before, but there’s a powerlessness there as they see the corruption and media sensationalism, but are unable to affect change except through violence.

Therefore, it makes sense that the chaos from the riots also spills over into social media, as Twitter, Facebook, and Messenger, vlogs and blogs, become a battleground in which virtual celebrities are created—each with their own opposing agenda. I thought this was an interesting twist that would most likely happen, as we see how social media platforms have given voice to social injustice, and have been used effectively to organize individuals in the wake of devastation. The transition to normal narrative to social media posts can be a bit jarring at first, but I feel it serves the message of the story.

What’s lost during the events of these riots and the social media sensationalism, is the reason the riots began in the first place—the unjust death of a black youth by police actions. And because that’s exactly what would—excuse me—has happened in real life, makes Mark’s book a scary, thought-provoking work of alternate history that might one day happen in our world. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5

You can grab Mark’s book here: https://amzn.com/B01FVVPY08


Brent Harris is an author of alternate history, sci-fi and fantasy and occasionally doesn’t hate every book he reads, although he’s sure there’s a universe where he is far, far kinder. You can connect with him at https://twitter.com/brentaharris1

Monday, 22 August 2016

PODCAST REVIEW: Putting the focus on health and fitness

This article previously featured in The Tribune of August 19



Have you been inspired by the Olympics to focus on your own health and fitness? This week, we check out podcasts that look at three very different aspects of health.

Too Fit

The Too Fit team aims to, as they say, "extract tools and tricks of the trade that you can use on your journey to becoming Too Fit".
They do that by inviting a host of guests onto the show - from doctors to athletes, coaches to, in the latest podcast, entrepreneur Steven Sashen.
Sashen is the founder of Xero Shoes, shoes that replicate the feeling of barefoot running as closely as possible, and he's a great guest - the level of expertise with which he talks about running is probably hard to match.
He came to barefoot running after suffering a number of injuries while using regular training shoes, and found switching to barefoot solved his problems. He discusses why that is, how the design of shoes can affect your running, and also how it has benefited older people who find it puts less strain on their leg muscles.
It's a smashing listen, and for those who are entrepreneurs themselves, there's a bonus to it in the wealth of business knowledge that Sashen, a former participant in the business TV show Shark Tank, has to share.
If you don't end up wanting to hit the streets or start a business after this show, I'd be surprised.
A great listen, with thoughtful hosts who ask the right questions and let their guest's answers take the spotlight.

Website: https://toofitusa.com/blogs/podcast

Marta on the Move
This is a show very much centred on the Pittsburgh area, but the latest episode, on sensory deprivation tanks, is of interest wherever you might be.
Host Marta is a bubbly presence, and she is invited to try out a sensory deprivation tank at a spar in the area.
The show is divided into two parts, chatting with the owner of the business beforehand and then sharing her own experiences afterwards - and both parts are equally fascinating.
The owner, David, describes how he tried it out and found it a life-changing experience, and talks about the process through which people go before they enter the floatation tank where they find the light and sounds of the world blocked out and focus on themselves.
Afterwards, Marta sounds still adrift, and you can hear the relaxation in her voice.
The sensory deprivation tank is hailed as particularly a tool for tackling the likes of stress.
It's a smashing show, genuine and heartfelt in discussing an alternative way to tackling issues that might be a problem for individuals and aiming towards a better, healthier life.

Website: http://martaonthemove.com/wp/36-levity-pgh-floating-in-a-sensory-deprivation-tank/

Stay Young America
This is a more traditional, radio show format, which puts the spotlight on one health issue each week.
This week, the subject is sleep - again, a problem area for those suffering from stress, and the show offers suggestions for how to help make sure you get a good night's sleep.
Lack of sleep has been linked with a shorter lifespan, and disruption can be caused by the likes of stress, sleep apnoea and even modern electronics. The hosts chat with a sleep expert who points out that blue light from electronic devices - even your alarm clock - can disrupt your sleep patterns, and they offer other suggestions for how to help get some shuteye.
The radio show style extends to a noticeable number of adverts, so be warned there's plenty of those, and a chatty style that shows the group have been doing this for a long time. It seems geared more towards an older audience, but there's useful advice here for any generation.

Website: http://www.stayyoungamerica.com/

Got a podcast suggestion? Drop a link to either @AlteredInstinct or @chippychatty, or in the comments below. 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Matt Hardy talks Cadavers. The comic, not the actual bodies.

Matt Hardy is the evil cackling genius behind Mad Robot Comics. Well, one of the evil cackling geniuses (genii?) alongside Edward Bentley. He's been in these parts before, but he stops by as the team is midway through its latest Kickstarter, for the Cadavers series.



Welcome back, Matt! For those who haven't caught your previous visits, a quick recap – you're one of the founders of Mad Robot Comics and busily starting to make a presence thanks to your Madhouse comic and now, you're midway through a Kickstarter for your new project Cadavers. Tell us a bit about the new project. 

Cadavers is a 5 part series - each issue focusing on one of the 5 main characters - these are outcasts, misfits…. but like the best comic-books these outsiders have superpowers. Mystical cool superpowers. 

Our first issue, Cadavers: Doppelgänger, concentrates on the attempt by the Cadavers to hunt down and confront Marckus North - the head of the media empire that exploits the public's fear of the Cadavers for profit and power.

I know I keep re-using the tag line Smokin’ Aces (the film) meets X-Men (the comic - not the film)  - but it does the trick and kinda sums up what we are aiming for. 

So you've hit full funding on Cadavers and are into the stretch goals – what kind of bonuses can people investing see?

Well I blinked and we smashed the first stretch goal - a copy of the Mad Robot Comics Digital Sketchbook - all the short stories and concept art we have produced over the years in one handy place. Some amazing stuff and some stuff that I hoped would never see the light of day…..

Stretch Goal 2 is when we reach £3,000 - it’s a special 3-page introductory Cadavers tale staring Bogeyman that we will release digitally to ALL backers. 

Stretch Goal 3 is for £3,500 so we can include the extra 3-page story in the physical edition of Cadavers 1: Doppelgänger (adding extra pages at no extra cost).

I think the main Kickstarter rewards that are getting the attention this time fall into 2 categories. Firstly the personal stuff - a chance to appear in the comic or the chance to design a monster for one of our spin-off comics. Secondly the money can’t buy stuff - Edward’s original art, his postcard sketches, the Trading Cards and a Pop! Vinyl version of the first issues’s focal character -Doppelgänger - not available in any shop!

Mad Robot is broadening its scope, I understand, and featuring new titles by new writer and artist teams rather than just you and Edward Bentley now, is that right? Who's coming aboard and how many new titles are there?

Well Cadavers is our main focus, but we have several other projects in development. Edward has decided that he can do a much better job than me and so is both writing and drawing his own solo project ‘Skate or Die’ - considering I can’t draw I have to agree with him. We also have a 50 page One-Shot/Graphic Novel called ‘Murder Most Mundane’ and a planned 5 issue series called ‘Night Terrors’. 

Did the creators come to you or did you approach them? How did that come about?

As I’m sure you know, there are just too many stories you want to tell and never enough time to tell them, so I roped in some help. ‘Night Terrors’ came from an idea Ed and I were knocking around about little kids fighting back against the monster under the bed. I roped in a script-writer I knew called Jordan Thomas and we put together this Stephen King/gang of kids rescuing their friend from an otherworldly monster story. Yeah I kicked over some furniture when ‘Stranger Things’ came out - but although the themes are the same our story is thankfully different. Jordan took our concept and created an amazing world of fully fleshed out characters that everyone should recognise and relate to. 

I knew an artist from a few years back - Dan Earey - he is amazingly talented, his work is simply stunning - he is fairly new to comic stuff - but wanting to break in, to learn. He knocked the ‘Night Terrors’ character designs out of the park so all 3 of us are currently working on putting a first issue together. 

For ‘Murder Most Mundane’, the co-writer, Ash Deadman, came to me. I loved his pitch of explaining why so many small villages (in programmes like ‘Midsummer Murders’ and ‘Miss Marple’) have such a high murder rate - and yet no-one seems to notice! I helped Ash develop the concept into a graphic novel plot and I’m sharing scripting duties. Ash brought with him Clark Bint as an artist - Clark’s work is subtle, detailed and eerie - his character work and story telling instincts are spot on as well - so perfect for the story and the book is going to look amazing. 

I've really enjoyed Madhouse – will there be a return to that world at some point? Or is that adventure done? 

‘Madhouse’ was such an intense project that Ed and I basically swore off ever doing it again - after every issue! But we kept coming back to Andy and his mental adventures. I have a bunch of unused ideas that didn’t make it into the first arc that we may revisit - so I expect you’ll see Andy down the line sooner or later. It’s always fun to spend a little time in the Madhouse :)

The previous Kickstarter obviously went well – but in terms of response to the finished product, what kind of feedback and reviews have you received?

It felt like dropping down the rabbit hole… and then dropping down it again…. and then again - that was one of my favourite quotes on ‘Madhouse’. We are never going to say no to a Lewis Carroll comparison. People feeling that it was more like a novel than a comic (I’m still musing over that one), some people saying they felt a little confused (I’m happy with that - that was part of the plan) - but even those who felt bamboozled by the ideas and concepts still say they loved the story and adored the art. 


One of the scenes from Cadavers, the latest project. 

Who's your favourite character from the new Cadavers team?

Generally, the one I’m currently writing. There is a lot of me in the personality of Doppelgänger (issue 1) but I suppose Bogeyman (issue 3) is the character whose backstory I was most pleased with coming up with. The idea of an unstoppable engine of destruction who isn’t comfortable in their own skin is great to write. So is Poltergeist as well - his total mayhem and destruction is so fun to script. And wait till you see the stuff that Revenant can do. Anima’s plot ties it all up, so that will be superb to write. What was the question again ;)

What's your convention schedule? Where can we expect to see the Cadavers popping up? 

Myself, artist Edward Bentley and our web designer Dan Gruitt will be manning the MRC stand at the Bournemouth Film and Comic Con on the 3rd and 4th September 2016, and we’ll be at the Eastbourne Wynter Con on the 1st and 2nd October 2016.


The Mad Robot Comics team on tour, with a table full of material at convention.

Looking back on the past year, you've developed a range of characters and titles now – what's been the most satisfying thing to come out of that process? 

Of course I’m delighted with the response Cadavers has received. The Kickstarter is running away from us and people are loving the concept and the art. It’s getting the response we hoped for and very much putting us on the map. But from a personal point of view, just having the opportunity to work with other creators - help develop their ideas - they’ve been some of the most rewarding experiences of the last year. 

And after this, what next? What's your plan? 

Sleep. Lots of it. Kickstarters are exhausting. Absolutely exhausting. So maybe two or three hours sleep and then onto the next thing. I believe I have a sci-fi spaceship pitch coming my way from one of the Inklings Press guys. I have a very different taste in comics to this guy, but we both love The Legion of Superheroes - so he gets the benefit of the doubt based solely on that. 

And then it’s onto the Cadavers major motion picture. Aim big they tell me!

Thanks, Matt, and looking forward to your next visit to the blog! 


Thanks again for having me!

You can chip in to the Cadavers Kickstarter here. The Mad Robot Comics team is also on Twitter here

Friday, 19 August 2016

The Truth About Alternate History, with author Brent A. Harris

Brent A. Harris visits the blog to discuss the worlds that might have been. Here he reveals...
The Truth About Alternate History


Alternate history is technically the re-telling of an historical event that happened differently than it did in real life. But that definition has all the problems of an 8th grade history lecture of the succession of the British Monarchy. While that definition would satisfy me, and my enthusiasm for books, dust, and books with dust, I think it’s fair to try and tease a broader definition of alternate history, particularly as the genre has become more mainstream. After all, part of the reason alt-history has become more popular is because writers have embraced worlds and timelines far more fascinating than what was lectured to us in our own boring history class.

To broaden our approach, I would argue that anything that features an altered timeline is alternate history. It doesn’t just have to be Earth’s own history. That means, the Star Wars stuff—if you count the books, and you should—is alternate history, as the films have deviated from the timeline set by such notable authors as Timothy Zahn and James Luceno. We don’t know as of yet what the point of departure is that created this ‘new’ timeline that the films are in, but I guarantee that Disney will eventually get someone to write a book that formally separates the universes (pick me! Me! I’ll do it!).

Star Trek has always been a bit more cerebral (sorry Star Wars fans) and the nature of multiple timelines and infinite universes has always felt more at home in Trek, so it is no surprise that JJ Abrams went for an alternate timeline to reboot the universe in his retelling of Star Trek. This doesn’t make Trek any less of an alternate history.

But when we talk about alternate history that’s limited to our own past, alternate history in the strictest sense, the genre becomes more difficult. It becomes difficult to explain, difficult to write, and difficult to sell to an audience. The worlds in these ‘histories’ are no less constructed than spaceships of sci-fi and fire-breathing dragons of fantasy. So why the resistance? Why is it so hard to write?
The truth is, alternate history is like the Jurassic Park of story-telling. It has all the world-building difficulties of writing science fiction and the problems of creating good characters in a historical drama.

The first part of the problem is the world-building. We’ve all been there, reading a sci-fi book where half the first act is all exposition on how this new world works. Even Lucas fell into that Rancor trap in Episode 1. The audience cared less for trade federations, tariffs, and legal proceedings of a failing republic and more for the character and struggles of its earlier counterpart. Sometimes, as creators, we get more caught up in explaining our new worlds than developing the characters who live in them.
Secondly, and to be honest, I think some of the fault lays with the name history, as it conjures up long, boring, lectures revolving around dates and names, and not much else. History is about people and the crazy things they did, not the date that the English settled America, but rather the realization that Pocahontas was a 14-year-old girl who did cartwheels through the starving English camp, as she negotiated on behalf of her tribe in front of a bunch of stodgy, religious, white dudes, whose survival depended on them taking her seriously. History is quite fun, and literally stranger than fiction.

But even when those two problems are addressed, writing alternate history is still difficult. Even Pixar struck out with its alternate history, The Good Dinosaur. And this is Pixar we are talking about! Their only flop in twenty years of film-making involves dinosaurs and timelines. I should be its number 1 fan, but even I couldn’t stand it, with its unrelatable protagonist, unrealistic world and flat drama.

From a writer’s perspective, it’s nearly an impossible challenge to write alternative history well. First, one must take a moment in time—and then change something. It can be small, like in Sobel’s For Want of a Nail. Then, the new path has to go somewhere relevant to the story being told. The world becomes a thematic element of the story. At the same time, the author is creating a brand new world, like any sub-genre of speculative fiction. But that world also has to be built on clearly defined rules, no matter the story—whether there are spaceships in the background or not. And still, that world, and its inhabitants, have to be relatable to the audience.

Then, the characters must be real. Like in any good drama, the emphasis is on the character and how they react to the new world (which isn’t necessarily new to them). This means that the world has to sit in the background, and the conflict has to be a backdrop. To do anything else means the story rests on plot points rather than the characters themselves. What makes GRR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) so popular? Afterall, at its heart, the story is a retelling of the War of the Roses. It’s an alternate history of the Lancasters and Yorks with Dragons and Ice Zombies as the world, war and survival as the backdrop. But at the end of the show, we don’t care about the war, or dragons. But we do care about the all-too-diminishing cast. The people we’ve fallen in love with and their emotional journey through a nasty and brutish realm that eerily mirrors our own.


Finally, facts must be correct. There is nothing more distracting to a story than an improper fact sticking out of place, like a splinter caught in the webbing of your thumb and finger. This requires research. Lots and lots of research. And not the fun kind either that gets you in trouble if someone were to read your browser history out of context. It’s less, “how much cyanide does it take to poison someone’s tea?” and more, “what were the buttons made out of in 18th century peasant clothing?”

These are just a few of the hurdles that make writing alternate history difficult, and less accepted by the mainstream audience. Let’s face it, getting a friend into Man in the High Castle, isn’t easy if they don’t care or don’t know much about World War II. Even if you get everything else right, it may still not attract an audience. To plagiarize Captain Picard, “that’s not failing, that’s life.”


Luckily, alternative history is becoming more mainstream. And it’s not because of anything new. These stories have been around for decades. GRR Martin’s Wildcards came out about the same time as Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Both are alternate history. It’s the children like us who played D&D—like the cast of Stranger Things—that have grown up and taken the reigns of the world. So, now that we have some say in our entertainment, let’s do something constructive with it. Because we can’t just live off the legacy of others. We can’t just reboot Ghostbusters to get our nostalgia fix. We need to create works of our own.

That is why, despite the challenges alternate history presents, we must go out and create new worlds. Furthermore, we must broaden our approach to the genre. Alternate history is unique that one story can have as much in common with spaceships and aliens as another story can in a strict period piece, and we should embrace both sides of that coin. By playing to the genre’s strengths, we carry on the tradition of those that have allowed us to see our world differently. Because the very idea of alternate history is to compare a world apart in order to expose a truth in ours. And that truth is all you need in order to begin this journey.


Brent Harris is an attempted author of alternate history who admits he still has much to learn, but hopes to have entertained people during his journey to get better. Sadly, he’s lacking a phone booth time machine in front of Circle K. You can reach out and virtually slap him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/brentaharris1 or hug him. He likes virtual hugs too. He features in the alternative history anthology Tales From Alternative Earths, available on Amazon

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Meet The Writer: A Q&A with fantasy author Kyle J Durrant

Today I welcome Kyle Durrant to the blog. Kyle is a fantasy author who... hey, you know what, he's going to tell it better than me. Let's dive straight into the questions!



Hi Kyle, so you're the author of the Arazian Archives – in which you have your in-progress work Doomprince, and the short story collection A Drop Of Nightshade, plus the Sanguine Town setting, where the supernatural rubs shoulders with the everyday. But I believe that's just dipping our toe into the works you have under way – so tell us a little about the Arazian Archives for starters, where does the inspiration come from?

It’s difficult to narrow down the sources of the inspiration, especially now that I’ve been working on the world for five years, but I’d say it all comes down to J.R.R Tolkien. Probably sounds a bit cliché, but it’s the truth. I read The Hobbit in primary school and enjoyed it so much that I ended up writing what was essentially a piece of plagiarism. I was young and just wanted to write something similar. It was when I started reading Raymond E. Feist’s work, after reading countless other fantasy series, that I came up with my idea for the Arazian Archives, and since discovering George R.R Martin I feel like my imagination has exploded.

I can't blame you for that - I fell in love with Tolkein's work at probably about the same age! Tell us a little about the setting for the Arazian Archives – and what makes it stand out to you as a setting that you love to explore?

The Arazian Archives are based in the world of Araz, which is split into four main continents: Norlim, Sarrodan, Erendar and Weritan. These continents originally had very simple names, and Norlim was formerly called Araz, and the world was Araz-NorSar. It was actually only recently that I worked it all out completely, renaming the continents and the world and essentially discovering the history of the world.

And that’s probably why I love exploring it. In a way, I don’t see it as a world I created but a world I have accessed; a world I am exploring and chronicling, and I want to see my stories as a record of its history. Every chapter or story I write opens up new possibilities, tells me more about this world, and I want to share that.

I love the amount of work that you've clearly put into establishing your world – visitors to your website can see the gods and demons of the world, the races, even a hefty map of the world that looks like it's taken an age to complete by itself! By putting in such groundwork for your creation, does that help you feel more sure-footed when it comes to telling the tales within that world? Or do you find it is the telling of the tales that unfolds what you want to feature in your mythology?

There used to be a lot more on the website, but it just told people far too much. What’s the point of reading the stories if all the information is there for the taking? But things like gods, demons, races and the world’s geography are things that I feel are helpful to see, and provide just enough to make you want more…hopefully.

It’s definitely a bit of both. As I mentioned, I feel like I’m discovering and exploring a world rather than creating it, and although I come up with things myself, such as the Drakon’Zoku, I feel like it is the world that forms them. Originally they were just dragon-men that smashed things and held a grudge, but they’ve evolved into an honour-bound, Oriental-esque race that I doubt I could have come up with without the stories informing me.



Who are your inspirations as authors? I can see hints of the likes of Fritz Leiber in the work you've done already, am I wrong?

I am ashamed to admit that the name Fritz Leiber is alien to me, though hopefully not for much longer. My main sources of inspiration are J.R.R Tolkien, Raymond E. Feist and George R.R Martin, but there are plenty of others that have inspired me. The names that spring to mind are Mark Lawrence, Anthony Ryan, David Gemmel, Janny Wurts and Robin Hobb, though I’m certain there are more.

Oh no! I'm wrong! Still, you must dive into the Lankhmar stories - great reads! Doomprince is in progress – what's your hoped-for schedule for that? And your plans for when it is completed? 

Doomprince has been in progress for about as long as Araz has existed:  five years. I finished a first draft in 2012, I think, but it was full of forced-in exposition, illogical jumps and the worst pacing I’ve ever witnessed. So I restarted it, using that first draft as a springboard, and have been writing it ever since. So in terms of schedule, I really don’t have one. I sit down to write what I can every day, and if I can’t write Doomprince I write something else, such as Sanguine Town or Hero Legends.



Turning now to the Sanguine Town setting, tell us a little about where that idea came from. 

The idea for Sanguine Town came to me whilst watching a series on Netflix called “Hemlock Grove”. I loved the first season, and it inspired me enough to start a series involving supernatural creatures. It was slow at first, but with TV series like True Blood I soon formed a pretty solid idea of what I was going for.

I can't help but think that Sanguine Town has the feel of a pretty cool TV series about it, with hunters, vampires and werewolves fighting it out in a near-future world – complete with a global British Empire. How do you see that project developing? 

If it ever ended up being a TV series I would be happy, and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought of writing some scripts, but right now I’m content to keep it in the books.

I’ve completed, and published, Under the Moon, but the main story I’m going for is simply titled “Sanguine Town” and, not to give too much away, it is focused around a small group of characters, each from a different “breed” (vampire, werewolf, hunter, human) who get drawn into a conspiracy. It’s on a bit of a hiatus, but the idea is still there.

Suppose you had to cast the lead characters from both Doomprince and Sanguine Town – which actors would you choose for the lead roles?

This is a tough question, as I’ve never really given it much thought. I try to make my characters as unique as possible without drawing on public figures.

For Drop of Nightshade I’m going to draw an actor from Game of Thrones and say that Alfie Allen would possibly fit the character fairly well, though I’ve literally pulled that from the top of my head.
For the role of Andrew in Under the Moon…it has to be someone young, and unfortunately I can’t think of any young actors.

But I could see Jared Leto pulling off most of the characters I create, simply because he’s a very talented man, haha.

I notice your books are available as paperbacks but not ebooks – is that a deliberate choice to steer away from electronic formats? 

They are available as ebooks, but I prioritised the physical version. I find it almost impossible to read ebooks, and I struggle when reading through my own work (can’t afford to print it) as it’s on a computer screen. I feel like there’s a little more intimacy in a paperback, as though I can feel the energy of the writer in its pages.

But that’s just a matter of personal preference, and that’s why I made them available as ebooks as well, so people could have that choice.

What has been your most satisfying moment in your career so far as a writer, that moment that has made you punch the air and say yes?

To be honest, I don’t feel like I’ve had many satisfying moments. I’ve maybe ten copies in total from both books, so at times I feel like the effort I put into them has been for nothing.

If I had to mark the most satisfying moment, though, it was when my Sixth Form college got me into the local newspaper, announcing that I had published my book. Although it was largely about the college promoting itself, it made me feel like I was being noticed, and for it was after that newspaper was released that I got most of my sales.

Well, I darn well hope this rustles up some more interest for you! Links at the bottom, folks! And lastly, our traditional double question to close out our interviews – what are you reading right now, and what has been the best book you've read in the past year? 

I’m a slow reader, unfortunately, and as much as I love reading I’m easily distracted. I’m currently reading Andrew Miller’s “PURE”, which I absolutely love. As for the best book I’ve read in the past year, I would have to say Raymond E. Feist’s “Magician”. I’ve read it so many times – that last read was probably the seventh, at least – and when I need inspiration I go back to it.

Can't argue with the latter, it's a really good read. Andrew Miller is a new name to me, so will investigate! Thank you very much, Kyle!

And thank you for having me.

You can follow Kyle on Facebook at facebook.com/dp.kylejdurrant and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KyleJDurrant. Check out his website - with links to buy his books and, did I mention a smashing map of his world, over at http://kylejdurrant.weebly.com.