Monday, 18 September 2017

The world that might have been - author Brent A Harris discusses his alternative history A Time of Need

I'm awfully excited to be able to say that Brent A. Harris is now a published novelist. His book, A Time of Need, dives into a rabbit hole of alternative history, where George Washington is no longer the American hero we know today but instead fought for the British. He joins us here at the blog for a chat about his book, delving into its creation. 



Hi Brent, and welcome back to the blog. For regulars here, you’ve obviously been a frequent visitor – but… you’re different this time. Now you’re a published novelist. Published. Novelist. How’s that title hanging round your neck? Feeling good?

Hi! Thanks for having me swing by again. It’s a pleasure to be here. And about that novel business? It turns out writing your own book is much like finishing one you’ve read. There’s that cathartic moment, and then a bit of sadness and reflection that it’s over, and then the rush to crack open the next one.

Okay, so let’s delve into the book a little. It’s an alternative history, for starters. What does an alternative history allow you to do that historic fiction doesn’t?

Alternate history allows you to create a wholly new world that does not exist, much like Fantasy and Science-fiction. Historic fiction is wonderful, so long as you don’t mind being tethered to the world we are already in. I personally like to travel to worlds that never were, and that’s what alternate history allows me to do.



You tell the tale of a world where George Washington fights for the British and Benedict Arnold marshals the American forces – beyond the research into the real figures, how did you feel you got to know them through the process of writing them as characters?

What helped me understand the historical figures was to discover what motivated them. It’s arguably fair to say both Benedict Arnold and George Washington were motivated by ambition. In writing them, I knew I had to present them with as many challenges to their success as possible. I’m pretty sure if I ever met the fictionalized versions of these characters I created, they wouldn’t like me much. Particularly Stevens, the militia soldier caught in the middle of these two titans. He just wants a good ale and a decent game of dice.

One of the things I really love about the book is the way the changes in the world aren’t just manifested through the leading figures but through those in harm’s way, the soldiers fighting for causes that may have shifted from those in the real world. I’m particularly fond of Stevens, and his journey through the book – tell me a little about the process of creating those characters and what role did you want these new characters to fill in the book?

One of the things I wanted to show in this book is how regular people were affected by the changes in the new timeline. I wanted to show how the lives of Hessians, and Loyalists, and characters like Steven were inexorably altered, and how they then responded to it. I wanted to show that the past is also about people like you and me. That history, when the focus is on people, is story.

How long did the process take – from first idea to printed book? And how does it feel now to have that book in your hands?

The first seeds of the idea occurred decades ago. It was an exercise, a mind game to take out when daydreaming clouds passed by. The real beginning to the book happened shortly after my mother died several years ago. Life is short, and you can go unexpectedly. If you are not carpe-ing the diem, then life will pass you by.

I’d begun writing since I was old enough to start scribbling stories, made a few false starts at novels, had read and studied the craft extensively, and had close to my million words of rubbish in the bank. It was time to set out and do it. It took four years of study, research, outlines, miserable rough drafts, miserable-er revisions, editing, sending out to publishers and agents, rejections (boo!) getting picked up (yay!) and then going through much of that process… again.

But here we are, book in hand! 


So what next? Marketing, I presume? What do you do next now that the book is out? Are you on any other blogs or podcasts?

Marketing is the sleeping giant you have to poke with a stick that they don’t tell you about when you start writing a book. You’ve bled your heart out doing everything from the previous question, now you got to sell it, sell yourself. You have to ask yourself, “Q&A for Altered Instinct, or work on a chapter of my current work in progress?” It’s time management, and it’s difficult, but doable, if you don’t like sleep much. Ultimately, what keeps me going is I’m excited to be sharing this book with all of you. So, thank you to all who’ve picked it up and have begun reading it!

Now, confession time, Mr. Altered Instinct: I’ve been seeing other blogs. I hope you don’t mind. The best way to catch me with them is to Google “Brent A. Harris Alternate History.” It’s so easy to click. I’m sorry, I’m weak!

Other blogs? Traitor! You're as bad as George Washington! Ahem. Okay, back on track. What is it about the era of the Revolutionary War that drew you in? 

This may sound strange, but the Revolutionary War is a period of history that people stop paying attention to shortly after discovering that Washington chopped down a cherry tree, and Paul Revere sold silverware. It’s an important part of our past that has become steeped into our foundation myths, yet we don’t know much about them past the narratives we were all given as school children. And that’s on both sides of the conflict. How many people know there’s a statue of George Washington, in London, of all places? Right across from Big Ben.

I understand you have family who are re-enactors – ever taken part yourself? 

Ha! That’s a funny story. I love history, and I have no problem showing up to a re-enactment to watch. But I prefer WIFI and showers and not having to churn your own butter and bake your own bread at 3 am so you have something to eat before drill at 6. I respect my family for doing it, and for doing it exceptionally well, I might add. But the only time I’ve ever attempted to participate in a re-enactment was when I formally asked my father-in-law for his daughter’s hand. Please keep in mind, he had a firearm in his hands when I asked.



Tell me a little about the cover design process – was it smooth? How did you come up with the final cover? 

The cover process is just like any artistic endeavor – there’s research and idea gathering, and mock-ups, and revisions. In this case, a picture of a cannon I had provided to the publisher as inspiration turned out to be anachronistic to the period. It was greatly disappointing because the cover was truly phenomenal. It sent us back to the drawing board and I essentially asked, what if we could have exactly what we wanted? 

And the answer to that was to find an illustrator with the talent to draw exactly what was needed. What we got was a fantastic rendering of George Washington wearing a British uniform.

What’s interesting about it, is there are no forward-facing portraits of Washington – he’s always painted at an angle. So, our illustrator had to create Washington’s face from the ground up, based off all these other angled images. He did a great job.

Who’s the artist for that portrait of Washington? Where did you find the artist to commission?

The talented Ian Bristow illustrated the portrait, and the publisher put together the cover. Ian’s also a writer too, so go stop what you’re doing to go Google his name and grab his books. 

As far as finding talent, well that’s easy. I belong to a group of Science Fiction writers, The Knights of the Roundtable. If you write SF, you really should join. They are the best, most talented, most professional people I know. I’m proud to be a member.

Is there a particular scene you’re proud of? And what is it about that scene that makes you feel that way about it?

I can’t give it away without spoilers, but what helped me drive through this book was the excitement and anticipation at writing a certain showdown. I looked forward to it forever and when I finally got to do it, I ended up writing several scenes, just to see what worked best and how the two characters would respond to different lines. It was almost akin to being a director and having two awesome actors to feed lines and have them play off each other. I just sat back and let the two characters write the scene for me. It was fun.

There’s a sequel under way, right? Right? 

Maybe. I really have so much I want to write, so many other stories to tell and I just don’t kn—

*Ankles snap* *Altered Instinct sets mallet back down*

Alright! Alright! I have book two in the works, just get me a typewriter and some ice!

Okay, before we round off, remind us where readers can keep up with your work. 

Easiest way is to swing by www.brentaharris.com and from there, you can taunt me on Twitter, or Facebook. The choice is yours. Easy!

And lastly, you know the drill around here – what’s your favourite book that you’ve read in the past year and what are you reading right now?

I’ve been reading so many fantastic books lately. Best of the year so far is Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. My favorite short story I’ve rediscovered has been GRRM’s A Song for Lya. I’m reading Heinlein’s Have Space-Suit Will Travel, but I’m reading around right now so I also have been seeing the essayist Joan Didion.

On the Indy scene, I’m finishing up the first Felix Fox novel—Assaph Mehr’s wonderful Murder in Absentia. Along the same vein, I’ve been enjoying E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago’s Dying to Be Roman series, and several other SF Roundtable novels that are in various ‘percentage read’ states on my Kindle. I’ll get to them all eventually.

Brent, congratulations on the book, I hope it does very well for you. Thanks for calling by. 

Thank you! I always enjoy being on. But you were kidding about locking me up until book 2 is fin—

*Door snaps shut. Locks*


Oh.

A Time Of Need is available at the above link to Brent's website - but you might also want the Amazon link. It's right here: Mybook.to/ATimeofNeed

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Meet the author: Brhi Stokes, author of urban fantasy Caligation.

A couple of weeks ago, author Brhi Stokes was kind enough to give us a sneak preview of her book Caligation as it headed for publication. She returns today for a chat about the book, her writing and more. 



Hi, Brhi, and conratulations on the publication of Caligation! Glad to have you on the blog, and for our first question, let’s talk about that title. Where does the title Caligation come from? 

Caligation is a real world. It comes from the latin Caligo, meaning dimness or cloudiness. In the book, Caligation has some interesting attributes to do with fog. It also reminded me of a lot of American towns with -ion names and lended to the feel I wanted.

Tell us a little more about the book – what’s it about?

Caligation is about a young man who starts hitchhiking north to see if life won’t throw him something more interesting. Unfortunately for him, it does. After a brutal car accident, he awakens in a city beyond his wildest nightmares. The book follows his journey as he is chased by horrific beasts, and becomes embroiled in the mob doings in the city. All the while, trying to discover where he is and if he can even get home.

Is this your first book? How have you found the build-up to publication?

It’s been fun. I’ve done almost everything (save for some of the editing) myself. The cover design and layout and formatting were all me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love planning and organising, and I’ve had a lot of great support from fellow authors as well as family and friends.



I do like the cover for the book – how did you go about the design process with that? 

Originally, I had a different cover but I knew I could do better and I began to browse similar styles of work until I was able to craft together the idea. I wanted a sort of inverse of a city, I knew that much. Eventually, I found an image which suited Caligation - the dark street, the tram tracks, the wetness of the ground - and added in the symbol I’d designed for the city for symbolism and a bit of colour. I’d had the silhouette and menacing clouds in the previous cover design and wanted to keep it. So I changed the colour to the sickly green it has now and spent some time figuring out placement of the elements. 

Basically, I wanted a modern city, but I also wanted it to be clear that there was something wrong, that this wasn’t ordinary.

Caligation is urban fantasy – who are the writers in that field that you love reading?

I absolutely love Neil Gaiman and Sergei Lyukanenko. Both do modern but fantastical really well, and have quite dark elements to their work. I’m not a huge fan of the usual urban fantasy (which has sort of been taken over by the paranormal romance genre) of “main character is cool supernatural creature who does cool supernatural creature thing”. I don’t mind the main character knowing about the world they’re in and being experienced in it, but I really enjoyed an MC who had literally no idea what he was in for.

Okay, wish fulfilment time – Caligation gets picked up to be a TV series or movie. Who are the actors you would cast in the lead roles?  What is it about those actors that matches up to your characters?

This is hard for me and only partially because I’m terrible with actors’ names. I don’t really describe Ripley very much (he’s a male with long brown hair) for the purpose of allowing the reader to picture him however they like. He could easily be caucasian, dark-skinned or Asian (and often flits from one to the other in my head when I try to picture him, to be honest). 

The others I have pictured fairly well. I feel like Kristen Stewart would be good as Zero (though I’ve always pictured Keira Knightley for her, maybe it’s the name) but I find the strong jaw and almost ‘handsome’ features of both those women to suit. 

Probably Matthew Mcconaughey for Archer (he does grizzled super well and he’s the right age) and maybe Taylor Kitsch for Ajax because the Gambit style he had in Wolverine: Origins really suits Ajax.

Whereabouts in the world are you based? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of being based there? 

I’m in Australia. There’s a lot less book-based cons here and a lot smaller cons in general so that sort of exposure is something that’s harder to come by here. It’s also horrible for Amazon shipping costs. But a lot of distributors are starting to base themselves here, so that’s pretty cool.

Is there a moment in Caligation that you’re particularly proud of – without spoilers – a moment which goes beyond the overall plot to be something that you find particularly close to heart?

I like the last chapter a lot. Without spoilers, the end of most of the chapter flicks between two different scenes and I feel like I’ve executed the tension quite well. I’ve also received a lot of compliments on that particular part. I love any bits in books that give me the rush of “what’s about to happen” and keep me on the edge of my seat, and that was the goal for that part. 

What next after Caligation? What’s in your writer’s cooking pot?

Okay, so I have two projects available to me at the moment and I am having the hardest time deciding. I accidentally'd my way 30,000 words through a YA fantasy, which I could continue working on. Alternately, I have a sort of soul-sequel (similar premise, I suppose) to Caligation, which would also be gritty urban fantasy featuring a genderless MC and told in first person, sort of noir-style.

One of those (ideally both) will eventually exist. I'm just not sure which one will come first.

Okay, we traditionally have two closing questions around here – what are you reading at present and what is the best book you have read in the past year?

I am being nagged by my husband to read The Accidental Sorcerer, which I will try to do as soon as I can (I have a few other indie authors to read as well). Best book in the past year would probably be the 3rd book in the Penny White series by Chrys Cymri - Penny White and the Marriage of Gryphons. The whole series is really well polished and just generally wonderfully enjoyable.


Many thanks for stopping by, Brhi, and good luck with Caligation!

Caligation is available at the links below: 

Monday, 11 September 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Traitor's Prize, by Thaddeus White; Dying To Be Roman, by E.M.Swift-Hook and Jane Jago; and Cracker, by Jacci Turner


Traitor's Prize, by Thaddeus White

I swear the fates were conspiring to stop me reading this novel.
Just as I was settling into reading it... pop, my Kindle died. By the time the replacement arrived, I was so swamped with work that the pages remained frustratingly out of reach.
It is a measure of the novel then that I was so keen to dive back into the world it details once time and functional devices permitted.
I've grown to like the work of Thaddeus White more and more - this is the second in his Broken Crown trilogy, depicting a raging war for a crown that sees magic largely play second fiddle to politics and the steel of the sword.
The characters face the prospect of swift, brutish deaths - sometimes even at the hands of the supernatural monsters memorably created by White.
There is tension throughout - and characters who you will finding yourself rooting for... or against, depending on which side you cheer on. The motives of the characters are understandable, from the manipulative Karena to the determination of Princess Sophie, and it's hard to completely see any one of them as evil.
My only real wish for the novel is that it had a tighter focus on fewer characters - as it can be quite tricky to keep track of the large cast, and you long to spend more time in the company of several of them only to be whisked away to another part of the realm.
That said, it's an enjoyable read and I think I'll return to this for a second read. Perhaps I'll make sure of a back-up device this time.

AI Rating: 4/5

Traitor's Prize is available on Amazon.


Dying To Be Roman, by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago

This book took me by surprise - and pleasantly so.
While the Roman elements were expected - Roman is, after all, right there in the title, the setting in a modern world where the Empire never faded was not. So it was with some glee that I explored this alternate world and its ancient rules.
A series of murders pitches together Dai, a Briton, who faces prejudice and discrimination as daily occurrences, and yet still has a role as an investigator picking up after the crimes of others - and Julia, a Roman citizen with a determination to be fair to all.
In the middle of the investigation, these two find duty to be a common trait - Dai with his duty to his job and the tasks he faces, and Julia with a duty to all those within the Empire, citizen or not.
Together, they start to piece together the pieces of the puzzle that connect a series of deaths - only for the danger to become very personal indeed.
I really liked this story - the setting and characters would lend themselves very well to a TV adaptation, if any producers out there are looking for a new twist to the genre.
There were a couple of moments in the story where information was relayed to our erstwhile investigators when I wished they might be more involved in uncovering it for themselves, but that aside, this was a great introduction to a detective duo whose adventures I sincerely look forward to following.

AI Rating: 4/5

Dying To Be Roman is available on Amazon.

Cracker, by Jacci Turner

This is a bold book to write.
Author Jacci Turner takes our world and flips it around - creating an America where black people hold the power and white people are the minority experiencing daily prejudice and disadvantage.
The author herself admits that it was scary to write - and that she was wary of making the conversation about race worse rather than better.
Aimed at a young adult audience, the story follows Ann, a young white woman as she joins a new school.
In this world, the white population was drastically reduced by illness during the times when black people were kept as slaves. Seizing the opportunity, the slaves staged a revolution - and a different America was born.
Ann finds herself navigating this world, where white children are shunned, where jobs are given to others because of their black skin, where car doors are locked as she walks by and where the possibility of friendship with black children is an invitation to be hurt physically and emotionally.
It's a story of abuse and the multitude of microaggressions that victims of prejudice have to experience on a daily basis - and how they can sometimes push people over the edge of what they can tolerate.
I suspect this book would best suit those who have not explored racial discrimination to a great level yet - a book that might open their minds to the problems so many face in our own world because of the colour of their skin, and it is a book that will bring out some loud criticism from some quarters for not being more in-depth in that discussion. That said, it is a starting point, and for that it deserves great credit. If this leads readers to discover a Jacqueline Woodson, an Angie Thomas or a Renee Watson, then it's all the better for that.

AI Rating: 4/5

Cracker is available on Amazon.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

When Hurricane Irma comes to call

Hello, all.

So, you're not going to hear from me for a few days. You know those occasions when an insufferable visitor comes by, you can't get rid of them, and they hog all your time until they go again? Well, my visitor is called Irma. Hurricane Irma.


A NASA satellite image of Hurricane Irma

She's due to impact where I am here in The Bahamas - on New Providence - on Friday evening. So this time tomorrow, I'll likely be out of power as the hurricane rages around me and the family.

We're all prepared - as best one can be with a hurricane headed our way. The shutters are up, the supplies are stored away. The last couple of shutters will be closed over in the morning, so we have a bit of daylight until we close ourselves in to share the space with patience and claustrophobia.

As it stands, the storm track takes it south of us, so the forecast for the moment has us catching its outer effects rather than its core, so we're hopeful - and at the same time wishing the best for those caught in the full blast.

After the storm, my day job as a journalist will have me busy talking about the aftermath - the rescue efforts, the aid being sent those in need, the hard-working emergency personnel putting themselves in danger to reach out and help. So forgive me if you don't hear from me for those few days while the country reconnects power and clears the debris. I promise I'll pop back online as soon as possible to say hello.

A lot of people in different countries are going to be in need of help after this storm passes - we're already seeing the heavy impact of the storm on the likes of Barbuda and Puerto Rico, while Houston is still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Harvey. There are lots of great organisations who will do their best to help those places - so if you get the chance to help, I'm sure it will be greatly appreciated.

To friends and followers caught in the same hurricane's path, be safe and be well. I'll look forward to speaking to you all again as soon as possible.

Leo

UPDATE: The storm has come, the storm has gone - and thankfully where I am wasn't badly affected. A number of the other islands have been hit, though, and damage assessments are under way. You can follow regular updates on the storm rebuilding at www.tribune242.com

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

A new author, a new America, a world transformed

Let me tell you a story. 

So, a couple of years ago now, a bunch of friends who had been scribbling away on the odd story here, the odd story there, started talking more seriously about giving their work a bit more polish. 

And trying to get published. 

That bunch of friends were the merry crew that went on to create Inklings Press, and I was fortunate enough to be one of them. 

So was Brent A. Harris. 

I've known Brent probably around ten years now. We first met as deadly rivals, battling one another over the gaming table at Heroclix tournaments in the UK. I mocked his American accent. He snarled at the characters who made up my teams. You know how it goes. 

Brent was the first of the Inklings crew to turn his short story scratchings into something more substantial. And today, well... take a look at the image below. 



That's right. Today's the day for Brent's novel to be published. I can't imagine how nervous, how excited he is right now. He's laboured at this novel for more than two years - and finally, here it is. Publication day. Like the birth of a newborn baby. 

It's a real treat as a read, too. I've had the benefit of reading much of it during his progress - and the clash of a time-flipped George Washington and Benedict Arnold is a scintillating one. We get to know who they are, why they care, why they made the choices they made in this world of alternative history.

Alternative history is very much Brent's genre. He was nominated for the Sidewise Award this year for his story Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon, co-written with Ricardo Victoria. That saw him listed alongside Bruce Sterling, of all folks, whose Pirate Nation tale was also nominated.

The genre of alternative history isn't just about the moment where history changed, but the consequences that flow from it - and that's what A Time Of Need explores. You feel the icy waters that soldiers wade through, you sense the tension in the Philadelphia otherworld where politics and treachery rub shoulders.

I most enjoyed the co-stars of the book, the soldiers who fought alongside either Washington or Arnold, and the conflicts they get drawn into. It's not just the famous figures left with tough choices - and we really see a soldier's view of the war. Sometimes in life, we look back and see the outcome of wars as inevitable. This side would always win. That side would always lose. That's never the case for the soldier on the battlefield, who is fighting to survive in the blood and confusion. And it's not the case in this alternate world where we don't know the outcome. The past has changed, the future is uncertain - and America will never be the same again.

A Time Of Need is available on Amazon today, published by Insomnia Publishing - here's the early link, though I'll update this later as Amazon's algorithms click into place.

UPDATE: The ebook is now available from the Insomnia Publishing site.

And if you've read this? Do me a favour - it really is a magic moment for an author for their book baby to be born. Go on over to Twitter and wish Brent good luck. He's @BrentAHarris1 on Twitter. Maybe throw him a retweet of his new book while you're there. If you're not on Twitter, feel free to drop a comment below, I'm sure he'll see it.

Meanwhile, I'll go back to plotting his downfall for next time we meet over the gaming table.


Thursday, 31 August 2017

Discover the new book from Donald D. Allan - STOC

To coincide with the release of the new book from Donald D. Allan, we're happy to welcome a guest spot today to announce the launch. A tale of druids, warfare - and a chance to win Amazon vouchers too! 


Donald D. Allan is pleased to announce the release of his latest book, Stoc (A New Druids Novel Vol. 3).
We hope you'll join us for this epic release event August 31st at 5 p.m. EST until 12 a.m. EST. We'll start off with Donald D. Allan himself, then we'll hear from some guest authors in the fantasy genre. This is a great opportunity to discover new authors, play games, and win prizes! Speaking of prizes, don't forget to enter the STOC Rafflecopter!


Stoc (A New Druids Novel Vol. 3)




The Draoi school has formed and Will and Nadine Arbor have begun to expose their powers to the realm of Belkin.
Lord Protector John Healy has made a deal with a foreign force to secure his base of power. Turgany will initiate a civil war that will drive Will to have to decide how his draoi can protect the harmony in the Realm.
Gaea, Erebus and the Church will come together in direct conflict, the result of which will determine the future for all. All life in Belkin teeters in the balance. Only Will and the draoi can hope to save the world.
Return to Turgany County and the realm of Belkin. A quiet land now in open rebellion against a tyrant and powers beyond understanding.
This is a story of how one young man and his students will change the world.
Amazon
Goodreads

 
Enter the STOC Rafflecopter for your chance to win!
A $10 Amazon gift card
Or
The entire New Druids series ebook collection.
Don't forget to share! There are several entries that can be performed every day!






Tuesday, 29 August 2017

PODCAST REVIEW: Life Behind Bars - From Those Who Lived It

This article appeared previously in The Tribune Weekend section on August 4. 




Imagine waking up each day inside a box, no bigger than four and a half feet by ten feet. Every day. This week’s podcast review listens to the stories of those who live that experience, day by day, waking up inside prison. 
Ear Hustle
Ear Hustle is a show that gives the microphone to prisoners at San Quentin prison. The latest show talks about the SHU, the security housing unit – though the one featured in this show is not at San Quentin but at Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California.Solitary. It talks to four prisoners who have spent prolonged periods in solitary confinement – and it’s a world away from the one we know. “It’s the hole, the dungeon, the box,” as co-host Antwan Williams says. 
Solitary confinement is just that – cut off from human contact – and the prisoners talk about the effect that has on people. From starting fights with guards just to feel some human contact, to finding ways to extend just the slightest tip of your finger through the grill of the door to be able to touch the fingertip of another prisoner to have some kind of contact with a friend. 
There are prisoners who struggle to put full sentences together because they say they become so disconnected – who struggle to remember what they’re talking about during a sentence. 
“Your mind can trick you into adjusting to the immediate conditions,” says Antwan Williams – a prisoner himself – and you can hear that in the conversations with other prisoners. There’s a mix of bravado and fear, and you can hear how hard the experience is in the voices of those being interviewed. Sometimes the conversation is broken, disjointed, such as that of one prisoner who spent 19 years in solitary. 
There’s also some talk of what it’s like to come out of solitary – the adrenaline rush that goes with it, the strutting across the prison yard after you’re out. And there’s even some talk of what it’s like to kiss a woman again after being a prisoner for so long – you hear the almost adolescent delight of the prisoners talking about that, saying that it’s like having a first kiss again.
This really is a brilliant podcast – it’s only half an hour or so in length but it packs a lot in there and really opens your eyes to a world we perhaps choose not to look at. It certainly makes you wonder about the life behind bars of those closer to home. 
Locked Up Abroad
National Geographic has a TV series called Locked Up Abroad, and this is the audio adaptation of it, hosted by Jim Clemente. 
The focus is what you’d expect – looking at various cases of people who were locked up in a country not their own. There are half a dozen episodes so far – and they are incredibly slickly produced. 
The episode I listened to focused on the case of a trucker who took up a contract to work in Iraq and ended up on the wrong end of a firefight, stuck in enemy territory and trying to find a way to escape enemy hands. 
Thomas Hamill was a truck driver in Mississippi. Aged 43, he said he felt he needed to give something back to his country and headed for Camp Anaconda in Iraq. A year to the day after the fall of Baghdad, his convoy was intercepted by insurgents and he ended up kidnapped, wondering if he would be executed. 
The show is essentially presented almost as an audio play – there’s lots of background effects, with the sounds of gunshots and explosions and a near-constant soundtrack playing throughout the show. It’s all a bit distracting from what is in itself a compelling story. It’s hard to tell if the narration of the story is being done by the person themselves or an actor – I suspect the latter – and that all removes you from the story itself. It feels like it’s a performance to entertain you and ends up feeling like a movie rather than a true story of someone experiencing the horror of being trapped in enemy territory, never knowing if they’ll see their family again. 
It’s a great story – but the show’s desire to dramatise it further really stops you getting immersed in listening to Hamill. If only they would dial it back a bit, then this would be an essential listen. 
Convicted
Following in the hefty footprints of Serial, the podcast series that analysed a court case of a possible wrongful conviction, Convicted looks at the case of Richard Nicolas, who in 1996 was convicted of the murder of his two-year-old daughter. 
It’s a much smaller production than Serial – the show host, Brooke Gittings, a social worker, freely admits in the opening episode that she’s broadcasting this from inside her walk-in closet. 
In the opening episode, Gittings lays out some of the concerns of the legal community about the conviction of Nicolas, a French-speaking man of Haitian descent. 
From his prison cell, he scrawled a note for listeners, saying “The worst thing an individual can do in society is to murder, rape or rob. However, the worst thing society can do to the individual is to wrongfully convict of murder, rape or robbery.”
The crime occurred on the night of July 26, 1996. Nicolas picked up his two-year-old daughter from her mother’s house, and took her to the local cinema in Baltimore, to go see Pinocchio. It was the first time that the two would spend an evening together alone – as Nicolas and the mother were separated. 
Later, Nicolas made a frantic 911 call after his daughter was shot. He had rushed to a petrol station to make the call while his daughter bled to death from a bullet wound. He told police it was a road rage incident, with a black car ramming his Chevrolet and the driver shooting his daughter. But the police thought differently, and the state made a case that Nicolas shot his daughter, left her lying in his car, and went and saw Pinnochio alone 
The show starts to look piece  by piece at the case – although it has to be said, not in as precise a way as Serial, for example. The show hops around a little bit, and states things as fact without really presenting the evidence. Concerns from the legal community are confidently declared, without actually laying them out in detail, while in the first two episodes of the show a lot is made of the speech impediment that Nicolas suffers without clearly spelling out how that counted against him in his trial. 
Gittings seems eager to try to prove that Nicolas is not guilty – but to convince the listener, she perhaps could do with being more even-handed and presenting the evidence more clearly, and building a case that will convince us and – if Nicolas truly is innocent and should not be behind bars – one day convince a judge.