Category: Thoughts On Fiction

Art: Frivolity in The Face of Tyranny

Art: Frivolity in The Face of Tyranny

I recently read John Scalzi’s post about how his productivity has suffered in the face of the unrelenting bad news cycle since Trump took up the Presidency. Within the post, he mentioned that in light of this unending period of depressing events, writing almost felt frivolous. It’s something I’ve experienced myself over the years. Being in the UK, however, has meant that the whole Trump thing has not affected me as directly as those in the States. Despite that, I still feel that daily miasma of depression, I just get it from world news.

To those in the States, I’m sure Trump and related recent tragedies will feel raw, but from my side of the pond, they’re just more of the same of what’s happening all around the world. Here in the UK, we have the mess that is Brexit (and our pathetic politicians as a whole) and the now-familiar terrorist attacks. Nationalism and right-wing attitudes are on the rise throughout Europe. ISIS is still a thing. As are the atrocities in Syria. Then we have the awful forced migration of the Rohingya from Myanmar. I could go on and on and on.

The point is: horrific tragedy is ever-present. It has always been thus and will continue to be so. Violence, brutality, tyranny, oppression—these are as much a part of the human condition as love, compassion, charity, and generosity. So, if it’s a reality, is writing or creating art frivolous?

Firstly, what does frivolous mean?
The dictionary says: Adjective—not having any serious purpose or value.

I think this is a pretty good barometer for all artworks actually. I mentioned in a previous blog post about how I can no longer tolerate superficiality or entertainment for entertainment’s sake. If one perceives their artwork as frivolous then perhaps it shouldn’t be created. I would argue, however, that almost all art has at least some purpose or value.

We then have to ask ourselves: if I’m not going to write or create art in the face of tyranny because I feel it’s frivolous what else will I do? By not doing the art, will we change the tyranny? Not likely. It’s hubris to think so. One only has to look through a brief history of humankind to see that violence and brutality have persisted throughout the ages. It’s an act of great arrogance to assume that one can change that. Entire nation-states and allied states have failed, what hope an individual? The reality is none in the larger scheme of things.

We have to cast our eyes closer to home. Our friends, family, and most importantly—ourselves. If we change ourselves, we change society. Even if we don’t change things on a grand scale we can stop harming those around us, dissolve separation and division. This extends to art, to writing. We can respond to the bad shit that’s happening in the world by exposing it in our works. By holding up a mirror to the world, we can show reality for what it is, not what the biased media wants us to see, or what we assume it to be.

Exposing truth in our work is never frivolous and always worth doing. I’m not suggesting we do this as a form of escapism, however. I don’t think that helps matters one bit. By ignoring the truth, we condemn ourselves to live a lie. Entertainment hasn’t helped matters. Quite the opposite: it has exacerbated things. It’s a tool used to numb us to what’s going on. To the ugly truth of humanity. By ignoring it, we can not fix it. But like those who wield ‘entertainment’ to further their agenda, we artists can use it to fight back. To shine that light.

And there’s nothing to say that creating art that exposes truth can’t be as entertaining as the truly frivolous escapism. I think that’s every artist’s responsibility. And I’m not necessarily talking about huge truths that will change society overnight. It can be something small; something that people can recognise within themselves; something that makes them think a little and break out of the hypnosis of news and media and all the bullshit that comes with it.

Getting depressed in the face of tyranny won’t make it better. We have to raise our brushes, draw our comics, write our books, compose our songs in reaction to tyranny. It’s under intolerance and oppression that we need to increase our productivity. Shout louder. Art harder!

Because the alternative is to let the fuckers win.

I call for all artists to stop for a brief moment and consider: are you creating frivolous escapism, or are you creating truth? We all have the power to choose. Choose wisely.

I haven’t retired. New things coming.

I haven’t retired. New things coming.

I’ve recently heard from a number of people who asked if I had retired from writing. It’s a fair question; I’ve not published anything under my name for almost two years. My last release was Soil back in February 2016, and I finished that in 2015. I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that I had quit writing, or perhaps ran out of ideas. The truth contains a little of both. But let’s roll the time back a little as I explain my lack of prolificacy.

After finishing Soil back in mid-2015, I took a break to work on some super-sekrit pen-name titles which took me into early 2016. I then decided to move to a new town (Stafford, United Kingdom, a former hometown of a little-known fantasy author called, J. R. R. Tolkien).

I underestimated how distracting moving to a new home would be. It was all too easy to think that I could settle quickly and get back to the writing mill. I had lots of plans; synopses, ideas, half-written novels all ready and waiting for me to dive into and share with the world. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen. I found it increasingly difficult to focus and get the work done as more and more tasks cropped up from the ether-of-never-ending-things-to-do.

Renting proved distracting as I was consumed with the indecision of whether to continue to rent or buy. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of good years publishing-wise, and I didn’t want to make the wrong financial decision. Thinking over the choice to rent or buy and the search for a home (I decided to buy) quickly ate up another six months. That took me into December 2016 where I finally settled on a place. The buying of my current house became a full-time job for a couple of months as I took on the role of an estate agent, solicitor, surveyor and all other things in between to get the sale through before Christmas.

The move happened, and now I had the task of making the new house my home, which meant complete renovation inside and out. Instead of being a writer, I was now a project manager. There were times where I managed to get some work done; marketing, brainstorming, etcetera. It was slow going. After a few more months, the renovations were complete, and my mind returned to writing. Only now, I had other questions to work out.

The first being: who am I as a writer? That sounds loftier than I intend. What it boiled down to was: what do I want to write and what do I want to be known for? There’s always been this problem with me. I don’t fit into a neat and tidy box. I can’t easily explain what I write, or what I’d like to write. My interests are wide, and I’ve never been wholly into a singular genre. When most people think of an author, they usually have an association with one (or at least relating) genres. George RR Martin mostly writes fantasy, Dan Brown historical thrillers, Dean Koontz suspense, and so on. My ideas and interests include cyberpunk, post-apocalypse, dystopian, literary, thrillers, technothrillers, light-science fiction, supernatural, and mysteries.

My tastes are constantly changing. Genres and books that I was interested in a few years ago no longer hold any fascination for me now. I’ve given up reading space opera, as an example. Even my first love, cyberpunk, doesn’t grab my attention anymore. Anything set in the mid-to-far future has suffered the same fate. I’m finding that I’m not as interested in the speculative nature of genre fiction as I am exploring characters and the effect of technology in our current society. My mind is currently closer to home, as it were. All this means marketing my work has (or will perhaps be) difficult. Which brings me to the topic of pen-names.

My logical aspect wants to keep one name with one genre to preserve that association. When someone picks up a Colin F. Barnes book, for example, I’d like them to know what they’re going to get. That’s difficult when my interests are so varied. However, if I do use several pen-names for different genres, then there’s the issue of splitting my attention when it comes to marketing and diluting any progress across multiple avenues. I wonder, though, does it matter? Do you as a reader care about this genre-author association malarkey? If I were to release a contemporary, light-SF mystery mashup, would you be interested in that considering how far removed it is from Code Breakers or The Last Flotilla books?

Suffice to say I’m undecided. Although, I will write whatever I’m going to write and figure it out afterwards. After so long without writing under my name, I’m eager to re-establish myself and get back to a more regular release schedule.

I’m currently working on a near-future SF, despite my earlier comments about my tastes changing — that’s how weird all of this is. The current novel defies my current tastes, and yet there’s something about it I love (the characters mostly) that keeps me writing. If I were to describe it, I would say it’s similar to the Expanse in that it deals with a human-colonised solar system, but is ultimately a small-ish, character-driven story that doesn’t feature aliens or wacky faster-than-light technology. It’s ostensibly a mystery with thriller elements set on a number of space stations, colonies, and a ruined earth. The story could be transplanted into modern times, and it’d still work.

So that’s my current Work-In-Progress, and I’m aiming to have that released before the end of the year. I’m also working on a light-SF contemporary mystery that may or may not be submitted to the traditional publishers under a new name. Like most things with me currently; it’s up in the air. I feel like most of my life is a big game of Schrodinger’s Cat. I only know what something is when it’s done and happened. Until that final moment, it could be anything or nothing. I’ve given up long-term plans as I’ve discovered they rarely work out as intended—at least for me. I know some people who can conjure a plan and stick to it. My mind is too capricious to do that, despite all my efforts to the contrary.

TL;DR — I’ve not retired. There’s a new Sci-Fi book coming soon and perhaps something else later. And, what do you think about authors writing multiple, disparate genres under one name? Do you think that’s too confusing, or are you happy to read widely if you like the way the author writes?

Code Breakers Now In Audio

Code Breakers Now In Audio

Earlier this year I created a box set of the four Code Breakers novels. I didn’t think much of it at the time; I thought it would just give readers a more convenient way to own the whole series and save a couple of dollars/pounds in the process.

And then I got featured by BookBub, a large ebook marketing company. Things went a little crazy for a few months, shattering any expectations I might have had. The box set reached No.3 in the entire Amazon US store, sending me to the very top of the Science Fiction author rankings. Surreal times! It hung in the top 100 for what to me seemed like forever.

To date, this has been by far my biggest publishing success. There was a moment before I created the box set where I thought it would be a waste of time, that no one would want it when the individual books are readily available. Suffice to say I’m glad I gave my future self that little gift of ignoring the doubt.

Well, this extra exposure gained the attention of a number of audio production companies. Eventually, I settled with Audible.com. And now, I can proudly point you in the direction of the finished audio books for the complete series, including the prequel.

The narrator, Marc Veitor, has done a marvellous job and really brings the characters to life. He has narrated great books by authors such as: Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Haruki Murakami, Dan Simmons, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Vladimir Nabakov, Jim Butcher, David Weber, Jack Campbell etc…

If you’re an Audible subscriber you’ll know how it works already. If you’re not, when you join up, you’ll get a free credit that you can use for any book, so if you wish to listen to one of mine, it’ll cost you nada.

Here are the links to the Code Breakers audiobooks:

AlphaBetaGammaDeltaPrequel 

I hope you enjoy the adventure!

SOIL – New Release

SOIL – New Release

Soil300 I’m really pleased to announce the launch of my latest book, SOIL, book 2 of the Last Flotilla. It’s published by Amazon Publishing’s 47North imprint and I couldn’t be happier. This book concludes the story as set out in SALT and I hope all those who enjoyed SALT will get the same kind of kick from SOIL.

Here’s the blurb:

It has been almost three years since a mysterious natural disaster left the Earth submerged beneath the oceans, and still the sole survivors cling desperately to life aboard their flotilla. When they learn of a secret government facility located deep below the surface, an expedition party headed by Jim, the group leader, and Eva, a former cop, sets out in the hope of uncovering the truth about their drowned planet.

But when the ragtag submarine crew, riven by discord, united in distrust, finally arrives at the underground bunker, the scene that awaits them offers more questions than answers. What happened here to incite such shocking acts of violence? Who is responsible—and where are they now?

Jim and Eva are determined to follow the trail through to its dangerous end. But the farther they venture, the more sinister their world becomes. How high up does the conspiracy really go?

You can get your copy by clicking here.

So what’s next?

That’s a tricky question to answer as I’ve currently a number of projects on the burner and it really does depend on publishers, agents, and what I think is best to put out next. I’m currently working on a tech thriller, an SF mystery, and a space story that’s a little more literary than anything I’ve done before. However, as soon as I have more details to share, I’ll be sure to update the site and send out the news via my mailing list.

If you’d like to be notified of what’s coming next, you can sign-up here. 

Until then, stay cool and keep reading, because let’s face it, reading is better than real life 🙂

SALT – New Release

SALT – New Release

SALT Book CoverAmazon’s publishing imprint, 47 North, are publishing the new version of my post-apocalyptic thriller, SALT: The Last Flotilla Book 1, on October the 13th, 2015.

Those who have already SALT might be wondering what’s different. Well, apart from an extra copy edit to make a few things more consistent and some reordering of content, there are no major changes to the story, but I do believe it reads smoother, and has better pacing throughout.

For anyone who hasn’t read SALT yet, I’d suggest waiting until Oct 13th to read the latest version so you’re set up for the sequel, SOIL, in January, 2016.

Win a paperback copy (Offer now ended).

Amazon are kindly offering 20 paperback copies for anyone who enters the giveaway at Goodreads. All you need to do is to sign in to your account (or create one if you’re not already a Goodreads member) and follow this link: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/154460-salt. This is open to US and UK readers. The giveaway runs until October, 13th.

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