Inspiration and 2016 Works

Have you been writing more than one book or series at a time, perhaps to give yourself a break? If you have, it’s easy to get confused about the focus of each book or at least to understand why you write about specific themes in one as opposed to the other.

For that reason, I thought I’d make it more clear how I channel my inspiration and differentiate it between my science fantasy Marcellus series and my epic sword-and-planet fantasy Kroll series. In both series, I have a main character and the series is both from their perspective and ‘about’ them from the perspective of other characters.

Kroll series

Kroll Magnificence Image1 (2)

The Kroll series is specifically about my difficulties with Asperger Syndrome where they relate to inflexibility of thought, obsession, social inadequacy, and isolation or exclusion. When I understand something new about the problems I face, I write it into the Kroll series. In this sense, the series is a record of the major mental difficulties I have fought or been through, and in the stories it’s not always apparent if you are the victor or the loser for undergoing changes in perspective.

The main character Kroll wants to shut out all truths and his acceptance of the outside world that he detests so much, and relies solely on his skills in sorcery to create his own system that his more acceptable to him. His anxiety is over whether he is skilled enough to have the control and satisfaction he desires, both of which are ever changing desires.

Marcellus: The Mantle by Alex James
Marcellus: The Mantle was published January 2015 and was written as an introduction to the concept of Marcellus. At the moment it could be considered to be a standalone novel or spin-off of my planned Marcellus series.

Marcellus series

When I’m worried or concerned about my strengths or weaknesses in comparison to people who don’t have Asperger Syndrome, I include it in the Marcellus series. My first book, Marcellus: Origins, focuses on the strengths of naivety and optimism, while the second book Marcellus: Legend focuses on the infectious problems caused by cynicism. The main character Marcellus has anxiety about his differences to the Tekromun around him. He knows he was born as an adult Tekromun in an egg, and never went through the experience of growing up as a young Tekromun or ‘tyke’. Marcellus wants to understand his differences and his place on the home-world.

It could be argued that he is not talented, ruthless, or confident. His successes are either attributed to him by others, or exist simply as rumour. As a sorcerer, he cannot unleash overwhelming force or complex spells to achieve his aims, instead relying on his ‘humanity’ and moral compass to guide his actions, making him slow to fight and react against unscrupulous enemies.

”’The Mantle” is the physical manifestation of Asperger Syndrome’

‘The Mantle’ is a mysterious cloak: an alien force that besieges Marcellus upon his immediate birth, attaching itself to him for what he fears will be the remainder of his life. He doesn’t know what the Mantle is or why it has attached itself to him, but it has made him want to rid himself of it. However, at times he does begin to trust and ‘listen’ to its powers and how they can help him get out of disastrous situations. At other times, it betrays him.

The Mantle is the physical manifestation of Asperger Syndrome: a constant worry, and major factor in Marcellus’ experiences. The Mantle acts, and causes Marcellus to react accordingly. It’s like being wrapped in the embrace of a life form that unceasingly flinches or responds before you can, and so informs your responses to both it and the external environment. The external environment is therefore in some way secondary in Marcellus’ consideration.

Marcellus is born an adult and can see the Mantle so he knows it exists, while many humans do not know about their Asperger Syndrome until later in life. Sometimes even humans only fully awaken in young adulthood to understand the world around them, particularly experiences and sensations that have been there for a long time.

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Is Inkitt the right platform for writers?

Kroll Magnificence Image1 (2)Are you a writer looking for reviews or thinking about getting published? Actively approaching reader communities is a good way to get feedback on your complete story, or for a sample or excerpt. Engaging reader community websites might be your next step towards adding those finishing touches, reaching new readers, or getting published. The following blog post will cover my experience of data-driven publisher and reader community Inkitt, and their recent Story Peak Contest, where three writers can win a publishing offer from them. I’ll address the positive and the negative aspects of the contest and what my thoughts are on Inkitt as a publishing company, which will hopefully give you some insights into how to make the most of the contest in achieving your writing aims or book marketing aims.

Should I enter the Story Peak Contest? That was the first question on my mind. A little research on Google on what other sites say about Inkitt leads to quite mixed results, and there wasn’t enough convincing information on either side to encourage me to fully decide one way or the other. The sites that were positive cited how amazing the platform was for connecting with readers and getting their stories noticed, and that some writers were going to eagerly upload their latest story to future contests. However, I spent more time looking at the negative points on sites, to see if there were any valid concerns before I entered their latest contest. Some cynical sites will tell you they are notorious spammers, that you’re giving away first English language rights by uploading your content to their site, or that it’s silly to ‘publish’ your story on Inkitt for them to maybe offer you a ‘publishing’ deal afterward. Some of us have become so suspicious of new start-up publishing companies that our attitude is to dismiss them out of hand, and based on what I’ve experienced or seen I can understand.

Before I entered their contest, I asked a few questions to see if they could clear up some of my concerns about the above points. The responses I got were prompt and friendly, though perhaps a little vague. Sometimes different people would answer my questions, which was confusing, but at least they had names and job descriptions. I was soon wondering if I was asking stupid questions. The reason for this is because the instructions on their website are short and simple, Spartan one might say and we writers like to ask questions and worry about the details. A few things came back to my mind to reassure me: All Rights Reserved was posted beside the writer’s name on every story uploaded to the Inkitt website; and on the few occasions in the past when they have contacted my writer website, they have been friendly and reasonable. I haven’t been spammed by Inkitt on Twitter.

I entered the Story Peak Contest early August 2016, with my title Kroll: Magnificence, in the hopes of getting feedback from prospective readers. In the contest, only 100 readers can reserve copies of your story, so if you’re concerned that the entire reading community out there are going to read your latest creation, then don’t be. Those who don’t reserve a copy can only see a short sample. Your job is to build your readership from the ground up, persuading your already existing fans or maybe new fans to reserve their copy, read your story, and leave feedback on the Inkitt site, in the space of about a month. No, you don’t have much time, and if you haven’t got many friends and family who are willing to read your story, you’re going to really have to put in the legwork if you’re going to get anywhere. Indeed, my experience in this contest taught me the same lesson again about reaching readers: the onus is on you. Readers aren’t going to magically gravitate to your story, and then go out of their way to read your story and leave feedback; they need a reason and you need to give them that reason. As a result, getting through the ‘first round’ is not the cakewalk you’d expect it to be. 15 copies of my title disappeared like hot cakes, and I had a real belief I was overtaking the other titles and would get through with ease, but I was wrong. After my preliminary efforts, only 3 more copies were reserved for the remaining three weeks, and I only had myself to blame for my lack of effort. I don’t see it as a failure because it gave me an excuse to ask for feedback on Kroll. More on that below…

Okay, so the positive

Inkitt do take on board writer feedback. Their contest rules, including prior and existing contests, have changed in response to writer feedback, which shows they are prepared to listen and adapt accordingly. Despite their supposed reliance on an objective algorithm, they aren’t uncompromising with writers.

During the contest, I was emailed to be informed I was given a second chance to build my readership when a ‘second round’ to the Story Peak Contest was going to be added, extending the contest. Inkitt also gave writers more control over who was allowed to reserve a copy, encouraging a system whereby only those who submit feedback/reviews would keep their copy. I welcomed this change because it meant writers could control their involvement in the contest and build reader loyalty. After all, 100 readers is the official aim of the contest, but reviews are the main goal of every writer and could well determine success if you manage to get your 100 readers and move to the second round.

Inkitt does provide a handy dashboard for analysing your analytics, and a promotion to-do list that points writers in the right direction to build a readership. It encourages you to succeed, and doesn’t discriminate (at least until the second round).

Whenever I asked Inkitt questions, the people responding would reply in a friendly and efficient manner, and were happy to address my issues. I was under the impression Inkitt were a writer-friendly company determined to adapt to succeed. Though some have doubted their publishing experience and background online, they have a drive to succeed by interacting with a multitude to writers and they seem to be catching on how to we think and responding positively to our needs by changing contest models.

Entering the contest was a worry for me at first. Do I upload my whole unpublished story? Is it wise to do that on a website I know so little about? However, it gave me the motivation to ask friends and family for feedback, and some were more than happy to be asked, for which I was thankful. In a publishing industry where there are no guarantees with book marketing, the simple goals of the contest gave me the push I needed to make an effort on my own behalf to get some reviews. Thanks Inkitt! I went into the contest with nobody having read more than a chapter of Kroll, and came out of the contest with over five people having read at least five chapters, if not the whole thing. It doesn’t sound vastly impressive for a writer, but considering Kroll: Magnificence is an unpublished story that I haven’t shared, I did feel I made reader connections with friends and that I came out of the contest with a sack (of reviews).

The negative parts

When you have your 100 readers, and hopefully, some well earnt good reviews, you advance to the next round where Inkitt will decide who gets published based on their algorithm/system for measuring reader engagement. ‘Algorithm’ can be off-putting for writers, who many mistrust exactly how Inkitt will perceive your story’s success to make it more of a success… Furthermore, it is a source of anxiety what will become of your story if you make it to the next round. Do you just sit tight and wait, and how long do you wait for? How will the second round be carried out? These questions are not answered on the Inkitt website.

Personally, I like to see a publishing company that specialises in certain types of books because it gives me the confidence that my story, and me as a writer, would fit with what the publisher stands for or publishes. Inkitt’s positive every-writer-is-welcome was nice, but if I was offered a publishing deal would I be convinced I was with the right people and company? In their contest description, they do imply they can act as a bridge between A-list publishers and writers, but there are no guarantees here. I’m sure the arrangement would work very well if your story has an exploding readership. Coupled with Inkitt’s promotion, it could work to your advantage. But if readers and reader engagement ebbs then you’re going to see the contest, or your efforts in promoting the contest, as being the main reasons you built a decent readership. I suppose in some ways it depends on the publishing contract and what they can do for you.

Some readers I was in communication with felt it was inconvenient to read from the Inkitt website, which is a problem that may be somewhat rectified once the Inkitt app has been released. Some also were put off by the idea of reading a whole story in approximately one month, but for the sake of a contest I don’t see how this feature could be improved.

On the Inkitt website, I had overlooked the fact that they imply that in a publishing contract you would give your rights to Inkitt, presumably instead of licensing them, and you would get them back if Inkitt didn’t sell 1000 books in twelve months. Some writers might be uncomfortable with this arrangement, but this is only if you are offered a publishing deal. To reiterate, you don’t surrender any rights by uploading your excerpt or your entire story onto the Inkitt website.

Overall verdict

The people who work at Inkitt are writer-friendly in that they listen to writers’ needs, change their contest models, and are happy to explain any issues with prompt replies. This gives me confidence and trust in their company. Their contests are amazing concepts for bringing readers towards their website, and therefore for fostering a future reading community, like Wattpad perhaps. Not only are the contests improving, but they keep targeting different types of readers, which is smart of them.

The people I reached out to were curious about Inkitt, and wanted to learn more. Writers end up being advocates for Inkitt in the hope they can translate this into advancement in the contest, and crucially, more feedback for their complete story.

If you’re looking for a fast way to gain new readers automatically, forget it! You must put in the time to promote your story and reach out to existing or new readers, even if you’re using Inkitt’s handy dashboard. Though it doesn’t state that the reader must read the entire story to write a review, I would recommend asking them to read the first five chapters, especially if they have to read on the Inkitt website.

What happens if you have 100 readers and some decent and positive feedback, after all your efforts? You might get a publishing deal with Inkitt, which might be a good thing, once you’ve seen what it entails and how they can help you reach even more readers. They do the editing, design, and even run the marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, more details or at least an FAQ section isn’t available to view, so I’d recommend to Inkitt that they write something to that effect. Their new website design states that they are a revolutionary literary agent, which is a well-considered angle, if they hope to pitch your story to A-list/traditional publishers, where your story would be published a second time and Inkitt would be the middle-man. If you trust Inkitt, they could work well as literary agents, but you need to be sure they can deliver as literary agents, who usually have a lot of connections and past experience in publishing or are members of an association. They also need to write why they are best placed to become your literary agent. At the moment, there is no guarantee that an A-list publisher would make an agreement with Inkitt, though they have done for past titles published by Inkitt (Bright Star by Erin Swan for example) as is currently visible in a slideshow on their website. As a writer I assumed popularity would interest A-list publishers, but exactly how much popularity is necessary? No, I’m sorry but we writers need more than just a “maybe” made clear to all of us. We need to know in detail what’s great about being published by Inkitt, what’s great about Inkitt as our literary agent, and what’s great about our chances of being published by an A-list publisher in terms of what they can do for us. It might give us writers more motivation to succeed in the contests.

Kroll: Magnificence five-chapter excerpt on Inkitt

(If you liked this article, please consider reading my five-chapter excerpt of Kroll: Magnificence on Inkitt and providing me with feedback.)

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The Unlucky Man by HTG Hedges – 4/5 Stars

The Unlucky Man by HTG HedgesI don’t know what my expectations were for The Unlucky Man – I was looking for something dystopian, dark, and that I hadn’t read before – and believe it or not that’s what I got! I’d classify it as an urban dystopian fantasy with supernatural and thriller elements. Ultimately, it’s about ordinary man John Hesker who is talking with best friend Corg when a body smashes on top of their car. They’re questioned by an investigator called Whimsy, who is a man only half-interested in what they are saying and seems to ask his questions ‘on a whim’, so he was well-named. However, it’s not long before the dark elusive organisation called Control will send its most accomplished assassin Wychelo (like a witch with dark unnerving pools for eyes) to kill Jon and therefore hide its secrets. When a disturbing supernatural force is injected into Jon, he goes on the run, over Old Links bridge where there is no law and only savagery awaits.

Well, HTG Hedges has an eye for atmosphere and setting, which places the reader into a three-dimensional world that brought clarity and richness to every description of setting, and was applied consistently throughout. I’d say this was the best feature of his writing, and made me feel as if I was reading something new or rare. The writing from 76% captured me fully, immersing me into complete disorientation, which was the intention, into a graphic hell that was also somewhat pleasant on the senses to witness.

Criticism: it took me a while to remember who the villains were, especially their names and what distinguished them, because they had small parts and mainly from the point-of-view of Jon. Closer to the end there was a touch too much background information on the villains, which though missing before to add mystery, was inserted a little late in this relatively short novel. Third-person omniscient was used to re-shine a light on the villains at 67%, which though I worried the plot was crumbling at this point it did actually put things back into perspective where they had been missing in the car-chases and well-directed action scenes. Third-person and first-person point-of-view was mingled, which lent the story inconsistency and did become more noticeable as it progressed. On that same note, the author was adept at using first-person to add depth, colour, and contrast that I haven’t seen before when reading from first-person POV, but his use of third-person omniscient from 76% was a display of incredible writing. It seems the author needs to decide on where his strengths lie and how to use point-of-view with consistency to deliver maximum impact. I would have enjoyed this more if it was better balanced as well: two-thirds action and one-third background/conclusion didn’t move events forward in a way that I had hoped.

Overall, I don’t think HTG Hedges’ readers will be disappointed by his writing. The atmospheric descriptions, combined with metaphor, worked consistently well throughout. I was often curious where the plot was going, and when things turned chaotic I was utterly absorbed, with mouth agape. Piecing together the sub-elements of the plot didn’t come immediately to me, but when parts did they made sense and piqued my interest. There’s some terrific writing in this.

HTG Hedges’ Website

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Is there a tyrant in you? How would you deal with your tyrant?

Kroll Magnificence Image1 (2)

(Please feel free to comment below.)

Kroll’s personality is a powerful influence in my own life, which defines me in relation to how I feel compared to others. I won’t go as far as to say he completely embodies all traits of Asperger Syndrome, but I’m sure there are similarities to be made such as with inflexibility of thought, obsessive routines, and singular determination and focus.  

Why have I written an epic fantasy about a tyrant who rules the planet? Am I a tyrant? I don’t have any similar experience that can relate to Kroll’s infamy. I haven’t yet subjugated any populations, as far as I’m aware, or conquered all dominions of even our planet – not to be confused with Kroll’s planet. As writers are wont to do, I have put myself in his shoes a little, but it’s just as important to remember that Kroll: Magnificence is a story told from the point-of-view of a few characters – not just Kroll. Therefore, it’s not just about an evil tyrant’s struggle to extend his sorcery and further his control over the realm; it’s also about the fight against Kroll!

To get some perspective and insight, I need to attempt to critically examine my own personality and motives against Kroll’s. Kroll’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that he doesn’t understand everything about his realm is extremely difficult for him to even consider, never mind accept. Our ruler, as his creator does, has an inflexible mind. He was once an alchemist, but when he invents sorcery, he sees an opportunity to empower and liberate himself from the teachers he detests. As he develops sorcery, to combat alchemy, he latches onto its principles and importance in determining the fate of the realm. Indeed, he becomes so engrossed in extending his knowledge in sorcery that his concept of the realm and the state of his sorcery are synonymous. And so, for two thousand years, it has determined how he thinks, lives, and all courses of action he takes are measured against it. Any contradictions to his drive or will to succeed using sorcery are seen as deliberate attempts to undermine or thwart him.

His strong interest in understanding and unravelling its intricacies lead to obsession, and he soon forgets about the world outside, his realm, for so long that he loses any empathy and understanding of the life of mortals. In the ancient past, he had deliberately set himself against the men and women of society, and his obsession can be seen as a protective or comforting retreat from frustration, lack of understanding, and mistreatment. But even now in the present he has, unwittingly, severed all ties with mortals and reinforced his isolation from them.

You will have noticed I use the word mortals, partly because Kroll sees himself as superior to them because of the value he ascribes to the achievements that made him ruler. It’s also because he has successfully lived for two thousand years, where they haven’t. (Or has he?). When things start to go wrong in the realm, as they do, Kroll starts to doubt himself and his understanding of sorcery. What he doesn’t see and grasp is that life is not all about sorcery. There is a part of him that deeply fears this fact and the thought itself haunts him at intervals, because he is afraid if he lets go of sorcery then all of his power and achievements will fade to nothing, and his empire will crumble. (Empire crumble: how tasty!).

There is also a hidden part of him that knows that the most problematic thing that can happen after his tyranny with sorcery would be for him to latch onto another system of power that he would believe to contain more truth or importance than the last. For Kroll, the torment is an everlasting cycle of incomprehension and nail-biting frustration. Why Kroll needs to learn about the way the world works is both a fascination and a huge error in the way he thinks. Let’s face it: in any world you can’t apply your knowledge of a single subject to everything that exists, without oppression, but in the story Kroll is both unable and reluctant to change to suit mortals he doesn’t care about.

Did Kroll take the right path?

Estranged from other people, he has only had to rely on himself, and as a result he has crafted a system for self-provision that he believes is successful. His interactions with others are mostly to do with imposing his will, or setting them inside the framework of the concept of sorcery. It makes sense to Kroll to see others in the context of his latest and most successful system of sorcery. I suppose what he lacks is empathy or a basic understanding of the needs of the mortals in the realm, whose struggle against him in many ways resembles the struggle he had against evil in the ancient past. As is implied at some stages in the story, Kroll sees glimpses of the lives people who look similar to him have and often wonders if or how he could have lived them. Would it have been possible for him to (as he sees it) settle for less? People think he had the chance to become like them, but that because of how he was treated in his youth, he took a path of no-return.

The mortal struggle against Kroll

In a sense, I must have wanted to also write about a tyrant because there was a part of me who wanted to know how to defeat him – to defeat the inflexible, obsessive, uncompromising mind-set. His control over the realm is not pleasant for the other characters, whose fates are known by and determined by Kroll’s sorcery creation: the Orthodoxy. The other characters, though in essence mortal, were gifted by sorcery attributes given to them by Kroll to help him control and maintain his realm effectively. These other characters are referred to as Classes by Kroll, but they themselves aren’t aware of their powerful potential. When things go wrong with the Orthodoxy, the Classes’ sorcery attributes are unintentionally bolstered. Naturally, Kroll is terrified of being challenged by mortals that have grown in knowledge and power, especially his doppelganger Dacron, because this was how Kroll lived as a youth a long time ago.

Is there any hope for Kroll?

The problem with Kroll’s mind in focusing on single encompassing subjects like sorcery is that he easily gets overwhelmed when more than one big problem afflicts him, and like a coward he retreats because he doesn’t know how to effectively respond. He can send his armies and mages out, but because of his absolute control over the realm, it’s only really Kroll who can make a significant difference. And when Kroll does fight back, it is typically with such ruthlessness and ignorance that it backfires and distances him further from his kind. But at least, he tells himself, he has solved the problem!

There is a time during the story when Kroll has a discussion with a prominent alchemist – the faction of magicians that opposes Kroll’s establishment. The alchemist is trying to help Kroll’s inflexibility by suggesting Kroll be more open-minded to other viewpoints about their planet. As you can imagine, this does backfire because Kroll doesn’t want to be contradicted or challenged in how he sees, rules, and lives his life. It does, however, plant a seed of doubt in Kroll that may rise to dismantle his preconceptions. My question is, is this a good thing or a bad?

As Alex James, writer and founder of Kroll: Magnificence, I honestly don’t know whether I am happy if Kroll succeeds or fails. When I first started writing the story, I focused on Kroll’s background and his drive to make further inroads with his conquest – even to dream of capturing the stars. It was intended as a way to understand and justify Kroll’s outlook and behaviour, so I must have seen a reason to do so for my own sake.

Kroll needed to be properly challenged and contradicted. Is he really a necessary part of the realm?

Then it became important to think about how others would live in Kroll’s current realm, even when he tightens his grip on it. At this time, I saw how detrimental it was to the mortal characters, and I sympathised with their plight. Dacron fears he will become somebody like Kroll because of his fate and how other alchemists perceive him. Lacos, a privileged country soldier, has his family captured by Kroll’s soldiers, and he is betrayed by Kroll simply because Kroll decides country soldiers are no longer needed and represent a part of his realm he has less control over. Jade is captured and seduced by Kroll against her will because she is the most formidable alchemist, and Kroll is no longer content to keep her as a check in the system. You can see the harmful effects of Kroll’s whim in many scenes. By working together, the mortals are much more effective at navigating multiple problems.

My later writing explored how the mortals would work together to defeat Kroll in a realistic way. What powers would they use, and how would they plan to defeat him and save their partners or families? I looked at how I could move the story forward – what would life be like in a world without Kroll for my mortal characters? I also added a pinch of doubt regarding if Kroll really knew what was best for himself, and that maybe if he surrendered a bit of his power he could return trust and earn forgiveness. Of course, the overarching principle here is whether Kroll would ever really break free from the everlasting cycle, which both strengthens him as a ruler and yet inhibits him socially and morally. I don’t yet have the answer to that, but maybe I will in a possible second book…

Read Kroll: Magnificence for the first time, over a year before estimated publishing. Available for only 100 readers on Inkitt.


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Read Kroll: Magnificence for the first time on Inkitt – for only 100 readers!

Kroll Magnificence Image1 (2)

It’s the first time I’ve uploaded the complete manuscript of my sword-and-planet fantasy novel Kroll: Magnificence, and I’m looking for your input! I’m determined to make sure it’s the highest quality before I publish and that means I need your valuable thoughts.

You can read it on Inkitt, a community  of some of the best up-and-coming writers. You can find Kroll: Magnificence in the Story Peak Contest, where there are only 100 copies available on request, so you really will be the first readers to experience my creation.

I need you to request to read the novel and write some short feedback on what you have read before August 21st 2016. If all 100 copies of my novel are requested then I advance to the next stage of the contest, where I may be offered a publishing agreement by Inkitt if the feedback is positive.

Read Kroll: Magnificence on Inkitt


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Outcast Journeys – Fantasy Box Set – Preorder and Release

Outcast Journeys - Fantasy Box Set

That’s right folks, I’m one of the contributing authors to Outcast Journeys, a fantasy box set with an epic twist. You can find my heroic epic fantasy Roc Isle: The Descent in the collection alongside such titles as Leros of the Underworld:The Tournament by Nathan Anton and Rys Rising by Tracy Falbe.

If you’re an avid fan of fantasy reads that take you into the conflict zone, battling against huge armies,  searching for the person you know you are, battling good vs.evil, immersed in hellish caverns in dark realms, going on quests with fairies and magical monsters; then look no further than Outcast Journeys.

Outcast Journeys was brought together with authors whose works share the same theme – outcasts going on journeys – and reflects a diverse range of writing talent from the newest and boldest independent voices in fantasy fiction, many of whom have extraordinary fan-bases.

Are you an outcast? Have you ever felt like an outcast in the world, eking out an existence but not necessarily living as you want to. Go on an incredible fantasy journey into the realms of warriors, fantasy beings, and adventurers. Join the struggle to become who you are and to find your place in an ever-changing landscape.

ONLY $0.99!

Preorder before August 2nd  at your favourite retailer and receive Outcast Journeys before everyone else!


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The Time Machine by HG Wells – 5/5 Stars

The Time Machine by HG Wells

HG Well’s The Time Machine is Victorian science-fiction that combines time-travel with speculation on the fate of humanity’s future and modern civilisation. It’s an elegantly written novel, somewhat like an essay examining the strengths and weaknesses of the major political ideologies of the nineteenth century: Marx and Engels particularly.

Many parallels can be made between Marx’s vision of a communist utopia, and HG Well’s almost satirized version, which he witnesses in the future in 800, 000 years’ time. I message I comprehended was that a socially stratified society divided into a work-force and a privileged class would come back to haunt us in the future: that the measures and securities we enforce to create a strong distinction between the have’s and have-not’s will lead to a polarisation of intelligence, and indeed may invert it in a way we would least expect. Besides the obvious connections to make between the Time Machine and the time HG Wells lived in, there was little recognisable in the future for the modern reader.

The author has a peculiar, signature writing style that is eloquent, well thought-out, and not unlike Dickens. His ability to use the foundations of profound political thinkers and scientific knowledge to foresee a future that is so revolting, ugly, and well … unacceptable to most who live in the present; proves that he is willing to go where others don’t dare, and this is quite beside his unusual range of ideas.

Overall, I would not just simply recommend The Time Machine; after having read the War of the Worlds; it would be foolish at this stage not to recommend the author himself.

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The Messenger by Paul Coey – 5/5 Stars

The Messenger by Paul Coey“Your letter is paramount, Falnir Aasberg”. “Elsillore will remember our ancient ties”. “And do not falter”.

The Messenger is a dark epic fantasy adventure that centres on Falnir Aasberg’s duty as messenger to deliver a message to secure support. The Nameless have breached the wall at Thune, spreading horror and evil wherever they go, revelling in the torture and suffering of innocent human families. They have spilled across the southern reaches, escaping past the guards of Rangers to kill indiscriminately across the plains. Atrocity, distrust, and violence will greet Falnir as he, often accompanied by Rangers, must make his way past the habits of his enemies for the survival of the Seven Kingdoms.

Falnir’s deep regret and guilt at having devastated his marriage with infidelity comes back to haunt him when his wilful wife Annas is adamant that she will accompany him to deliver his message, as an act of retribution. Concerned for his wife’s welfare across the Nehme Plains, Falnir will need more than Rangers to see him through to Elsillore: seeing death, bandits, and encountering the Nameless’ feline monsters (fios). It soon becomes clear Falnir is not a paragon of virtue, indeed he despises those (Rangers or Maidens) who see themselves as such. As a result, he does not appear to be a reliable choice for the survival of the kingdoms, but one thing I did notice was his instinct for survival, considering immoral choices and running away when he knew the odds were not in his favour.

The second part of the adventure was probably the most vivid and exhilarating, and that is when we are introduced to charismatic axe-wielding ranger leader Rado, who is of impressive width and strength. Falnir saw something of a role model in Rado and his fellow rangers, and for a time it allowed him to protect people, love a woman, forget tormenting thoughts, and fight against evil in its purest form. You won’t be disappointed with the action in this part of the story, I assure you! There is another chase at the end, which made me read far more than I thought I could of this epic. I should probably, ahem, mention that The Messenger is not for the faint-hearted, having its share of the grim, gruesome, horrible, and quite disturbing.

I liked the grim medieval atmosphere, which was rich in detail, and this led me to conclude that the genre and setting were well-researched. I did sometimes enjoy the banter and interplay between Falnir and other such undesirables, which was foulmouthed, dirty, grim, and utterly filthy. I would say more than a few passages were very elegantly written, which combined with what I suspect was superb editing or proofreading, really gave The Messenger a literary quality. Third person point-of-view and tenses were used confidently and the ebook was remarkably clear to read.

Criticism: There were some scenes that had too many place names or were otherwise riddled with overly descriptive passages of hills, woods, horses, and mountainsides. The detail was rich, but I suppose I can’t have it both ways. Some themes repeated a bit too often and noticeably, such as Falnir made to feel guilty for acts others could not prove, being sent with new groups of rangers, and waking up in a healing hut.

Falnir’s tribulations; combined as they were with heroism, suffering, monsters, friendship, and unconscionable deeds; made for a startlingly disturbing and revelatory read that really hit Falnir hard. The reader saw the full roster of good and evil, and in many guises. The Messenger is a terrific read, put simply. Every time it slowed down or dipped into description, it would rise yet again with confrontation, intriguing scenarios, and terrifying hunts. Were you impressed with the beginning of this read, and with all the blood, gore, and action? The setting changes, but at its core is Falnir and a journey that makes Bilbo Baggins’ seem quite trivial. The author has worked a grand piece of fiction here, and anybody looking to dip into some real dark fantasy that tests the body and mind of its character should look no further.

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Star Wars: Darth Bane: Rule of Two by Drew Karpyshyn – 4/5 Stars

Darth Bane Rule of Two by Drew Karpyshyn

The sequel to Darth Bane: Path of Destruction, Rule of Two continues with Darth Bane and his apprentice Zannah as they make connections and exploit political tensions in order to fortify the Republic against any rival groups that threaten it. Bane does this because he knows that the Republic, one target, can be more easily manipulated than many. With his abundant patience and secrecy, his plans will eventually lead to the destruction of the entire Jedi.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Ruusan, where the thought bomb weapon wiped out nearly all Sith and many Jedi, new political developments are occurring. The Jedi, confident that their enemies are now extinct, are making the fatal decision to retire as warriors and hand over political power to the politicians of the Republic. Young Jedi Johun Othone thinks that the battles and sacrifices made by the Jedi in the war against the Sith are in vain now that the Jedi are relinquishing their political power, and he can’t rid himself of the suspicion that a formidable Dark Lord of the Sith may still survive to rise again.

I really enjoyed the exploration of themes relating to the aftermath on Ruusan, and how the war affected the planet’s atmosphere and inhabitants. This element of back-story, along with the back-story throughout with regard to other planets and civilisations, made Rule of Two rich in detail and well thought-out. There were some nice ideas in there too, such as parasites that can grant unlimited strength, but possession of which can lead to some problems. I thoroughly liked reading through the entirety of this well-polished novel, which had some jaw-opening events close to the end. Apprentice Zannah was just the sort of character I wanted to learn more from, being ruthless, creative, and yet not completely swayed by the dark side. Such things as love, care, and doubt were still small uncertainties for her. Even though the source of her strength in the dark side is not as obvious or concentrated as her master’s, I did respect her intelligence in supporting the Sith Order.

Criticism: I didn’t find Rule of Two to be as exciting and compelling as Path of Destruction, which impeccably described Bane’s struggle and had many twists and turns. But then, POD did set a very high standard. Some of the passages were too descriptive, and maybe it could have been balanced better by focusing more on apprentice Zannah’s development as a character.

SPOILER: The orbalisks’ weakness was electricity, which surprised me because I rather thought or hoped that it was their own power fuelled by Bane that led to their destruction.

If you liked Path of Destruction, or even if you haven’t read it, I recommend Rule of Two. The battles were well-described and critically believable. The author has done his research on this, borrowing ideas, technologies, and scenes from the films and using them to great effect to bring the Old Republic to life.

Drew Karpyshyn’s Website

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**”How to Get Published” at Bradford Literature Festival 2016**

On Saturday 21st May, I went to the Bradford Literature Festival to attend a panel about How to Get Published. I got the impression that the idea of the festival was to reach out and encourage new voices in under-represented groups. Indeed, there appeared to be a diverse mix of people in the audience, and I gathered from the questions asked that many seemed to be unpublished writers. Overall the event was 1h15 minutes long and went smoothly.

On the panel were two authors: Nikesh Shukla and Michael Stewart, who was also moderating. There were two publishers: Lisa Milton, executive of HarperCollins Harlequin Division, and Kevin Duffy, founder of independent publisher Bluemoose Books.

Upon the commencement of the panel’s talk, it was difficult to hear some of the speakers at first, but after somebody complained this was no longer a noticeable issue. As can be expected there was a lot of advice about dealing with rejection. If I recall correctly, Michael Stewart said something on the lines of rejection being a good thing because it can strengthen your submission. I agree with this to an extent, but let’s face it most literary agents do not provide feedback on your submission. You’re left in the dark wondering why you were rejected; indeed there might not have been anything particularly wrong or unappealing about your submission; perhaps your idea was not right for the literary agent’s subjective tastes or they were looking for something else. It would have been interesting to hear scheduled speaker Nelle Andrew’s (literary agent from PetersFraserDunlop) opinion on this, but she was missing from the panel for some reason.

There was a bit of good-natured back and forth between independent publisher Kevin Duffy and traditional publisher Lisa Milton. It was not unexpected, and some of the exchanges did remind me a bit of Labour and Conservative at Question Time, but thankfully it wasn’t that annoying. Kevin Duffy asked Lisa Milton about whether money influenced which books she selected for publication, but she cleared this up quite well by insisting that publishers always have to make a case for every book they choose before approaching sales/marketing teams.

A female writer demanded to know why she had been rejected by Kevin Duffy, to which he supposedly replied, “It wasn’t my cup of tea”. There was good advice given to her about the importance of getting people you trust to give you honest and constructive criticism/feedback. It must have been tough to hear this from the panel, and the panel maybe jumped to conclusions about the type of writer the lady was because she had written her manuscript in such a short time, which might have been unfair (even if what they said were things a lot of writers need to hear). However, in the defence of new writers, what the panel didn’t state was how difficult it is because not every writer has a network of trusted friends who are prepared to read through an entire novel for them and give them honest feedback. Finding “trusted, reliable, and honest” people who are willing to go out of their way to spend time to help isn’t easy. Perhaps some more profound advice on this could have been given, other than directing us to the latest Writers and Artists Yearbook. Furthermore, once new writers have written a story, they are told repeatedly to look back through it, but to know how to do this you need to understand or research about writing craft. Just telling new writers to look at it again with fresh eyes might not be enough. They might need to read about revision, take courses, or begin similar professions.

This sparked a debate on making sure your writing is ready for submission. Nikesh Shukla was very vocal here, and much of what he said made a lot of sense and chimed well with my experience of writing: you’ve got to develop your idea and message, and understand your work to make sure that you know what you’ve written. I agreed with his points. It’s no good having nearly one-hundred thousand words on a page if you don’t understand the significance of what you have written, why it’s unique, or if your planning and research might not be expressed the way you intend it to be. At this point, Lisa Milton concurred with, “You’ve got to know your whole story, even before you write it”.

Part of the point of the event was intended to encourage new writers, and break the cycle of mainstream publishing where ethnic minorities and women are often excluded. One lady spoke up about whether an agent or publisher needs to know the gender of the writer, which just goes to show the fear that if you are a female writer then you might have less chance of being represented by an agent or published. I don’t think you need to explicitly state your gender in submissions, and if you have a name that is neutral it might help, even though sometimes literary agents and publishers insist on you using your real name. However, I believe you have more chance of securing an agent if you are able to convince them that you know your subject well, and for this you might have to include who you are, background expertise, or achievements. Understandably this means you don’t have to mention your gender, but the recipient of your submission will likely have enough information to know who you are. Yet this doesn’t mean I think you should go out of your way to hide your gender if the need arises! I’m not knowledgeable about the submission process for Bluemoose Books, but all of this is contrary to what Kevin Duffy said about his only having the information about the book upon which to judge submissions. Regarding ethnic minority under-representation, somebody in the audience complained that successful books from African, Asian, or Indian writers typically have to have a strong current of magic, mysticism, or an overly strong protagonist to be taken on board by publishers rather than if they would submit a story being from the point-of-view of an ordinary person.

Nikesh Shukla was strong on these arguments as well, insisting that unless people from the aforementioned groups submit to agents and become a part of the industry, rather than distancing themselves from it by seeing the books currently on shelves as unrepresentative of their writing and perspectives, then the cycle will continue with similar authors being published. Lisa Milton said she encourages writers from different backgrounds, which is nice to hear, but unless Lisa Milton is starting initiatives to help encourage unrepresented groups or unless HarperCollins has open submission periods, then I’m afraid little will change. That being said, it was still nice of her and the panel to make time to come to Bradford and for an appearance, which does enable transparency between what could be seen as the bottom and top of writing and publishing.

At the end of the event, most stragglers wanted to speak to Lisa Milton, which I wasn’t surprised at, being the executive of a traditional publisher. I didn’t have any pressing questions to ask the panel, but a few ladies approached me and handed out leaflets about a new publishing company (Dandylion Publishing) they have launched, for which they are looking for new writers. What I liked about them was the motivation and drive they had, competing for the writers, some of whom only had eyes for the panel.

I happily took a leaflet, and looked up the Dandylion Publishing website. It just goes to show that despite new perspectives on the traditional route to publication; Writers and Artists’ Yearbook, submitting to an agent, rejections; there are other ways to publish and get maybe get feedback if we are open-minded to book publishing as a whole. It would have been very interesting if the ladies of Dandylion Publishing had been on the panel, and to hear what they would have to say about improving writing and preparing material “good enough” for publication. I say this as well because, though Nikesh Shukla had experimented with crowdfunding, presumably his non-traditional route, most of the panel seemed to channel the conversation in the traditional submitting to an agent route, as if all writers had been thinking about that exact route.

There can be opportunities at such events for aspiring and existing authors.

(@s are on

Bradford Literary Festival – @BradfordLitFest and

Dandylion Publishing – @DandylionReads –

Kevin Duffy – @Ofmooseandmen

Lisa Milton – @Lmrhjb

Nikesh Shukla – @nikeshshukla

Michael Stewart – @headspam

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