Author Review: V. Gomenzi

This was a massive novel to write.  It was intended to be the fourth novel in the Fleet Quintet and encompassed all three earlier novels, beginning before the first one (Commences – yet to be published) and ending after the third one (Flesh for Sale).  I had to work out how to get my main character to leap 400 years in the future without using any of the standard sci-fi style tech:  time travel, time machines, black holes, worm holes, any other kind of hole in space…

I wrote the first four novels of the Fleet Quintet one after the other, which meant that I carried the story around in my head for YEARS.  I felt as if I was inside alter-space itself and that feeling of being disconnected from reality shows strongly in the novel:  Vincent is not connected to the universe the way anyone else is.  His time track is different, even as a Fleet being, and his beginning remains unknown.

Readers who get this far in the Fleet Quintet will feel some closure.  Vincent’s story feels finished and so is Sistia’s.  The Fleet appeared to have run away and the Fleet game is over.  In fact, the Fleet game was already over in Flesh for Sale:  how many more times can I end this story?!  But the story had not ended with Flesh for Sale.  At the end of that novel, Vincent goes on without Sistia and it’s in this novel that we find out where he goes – and who he takes with him and why.

I had to work very hard on the three strands of the novel.  At first I alternated easily between the three.  However, as the plot became more complex, some of the strands began to tangle, sometimes badly.  I threw out an entire section, only to resurrect it later – when I no longer had access to the original writing.  Writing the novel was a process fraught with dead ends and freaky time.  There were seconds that took pages to write and several centuries passed in a sentence.  Contracting and expanding time is a Fleet thing and being able to do this with writing was both exciting and nerve-wracking as I never could be sure I was expressing the inexpressible clearly enough.

Gomenzi has three starting points: the moment when Vincent Gomenzi leaves Earth at 16; the aftermath of the botched nuclear war on Nigel;  and an angel in a garden.  Integrating Vincent’s history was by far the hardest part.  I had to go over the same ground covered in Commences and then later had to do a monumental edit when I realised Commences was going to be the fourth in the quintet, not the first.  Much more fun was his relationship with Sistia Scarpora, already covered in Flesh for Sale, but here told from his point of view with new revelations.  The third strand deals with the history of Recovery, beginning with the wonderful Jenna Lloyd and Priest One from Transference, then Dragør Johnson and the mysterious space station, and later Igen, whom we get to know very well indeed.  V. Gomenzi basically covers the same ground as Transference, Flesh for Sale and Commences but goes much deeper.

Vincent Gomenzi is probably the deepest character I’ve ever created.  He was elusive at first but when he finally came alive on the page, I was delighted.  I still am.



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Author Review: Flesh for Sale

When I began FLESH FOR SALE, it was as the next Fleet novella after COMMENCES, at the time the first Fleet novella.  Between the two I had written a short story called Access Denied and it was only while writing FLESH FOR SALE that I thought to associated mindwalkers with the Fleet.  Access Denied (and its sequel Baby Doll) were brought into the Fleet universe, later turned into the novel TRANSFERENCE, now the first in the Fleet Quintet.

The heroine – and she really is a heroine, not just a protagonist – came to me fully formed.  I remember looking around the room I was working in at the time to find inspiration for her surname (I already knew her name was Sistia) and spotted a shoebox on a shelf.  They were for Italian mountain climbing boots (no, I’ve never climbed an Italian mountain)(I’ve never climbed a mountain, for that matter) and the name leapt out at me.  And there she was:  the fabulous Sistia Scarpora who doesn’t, for one single moment, regard herself as fabulous in any way.  Her phenomenal beauty is central to the plot but not in the way beauty is usually portrayed.

I stepped outside of several boxes in creating this novel:  Sistia’s exotic beauty;  her relationship with her father and how this is resolved;  the irony of her relationship with mindwalkers;  and the structure of the novel itself.  It’s an unusual structure in that there are chapters about Sistia told in the third person while most are in the first.  Only at the halfway point does the reason for this becomes wildly apparent.  Instead of a narrative device, it’s in fact an integral part of the plot.  Initially botched in my first attempt at the novel back in its novella days, I worked on it until I got it right.  When I was done, I realised that I had, somehow, graduated as an adult.  FLESH FOR SALE was, at the time, my most mature work and Sistia Scarpora remains, for me, an unsurpassable creation of fully grown woman-ness.

There’s more world building in this Fleet novel than in the others.  While TRANSFERENCE is intentionally claustrophobic, Sistia at least gets to travel a bit.  Creating Lomensis, the old world she lives on, and Narthenaecia, the city where she grows up, was fantastically exciting.  After TRANSFERENCE, readers would be familiar with Lomensis as planet Nigel is a Lomensii colony world and Aster plans to move there (providing she can get a passport.)  I also loved creating Wet City – it’s a highly stylised and super-modern version of the City of London, all the glittery, shiny best bits without the history.

Readers will also recognise several characters that were briefly introduced in TRANSFERENCE:  Vincent Gomenzi, Dragør Johnson;  even President Waughmaker gets a mention.  The tumultuous events of TRANSFERENCE are barely a blip in history from the point of view of FLESH FOR SALE.  Centuries have passed and the Fleet are no longer a rumour.  Mindwalkers are no longer a myth.  And Vincent Gomenzi shouldn’t be alive.

FLESH FOR SALE remains one of my strongest works, not just because Sistia has to face the Fleet but because she has to face her own personal demons.  I also got to rewrite my own history, surely a writer’s greatest joy.


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Author Review: Transference

You’d expect to find brilliantly imaginative technology in your average sci-fi novel.  For some futurist authors, inventing new hardware is probably half the fun.  With TRANSFERENCE, I went in the opposite direction:  the computers are laughable, like something out of the 1980’s.  There’s no internet but they are networked, the way I dimly remember them in the late eighties, except much worse.  As for communications:  you have to book any calls you might want to make through an operator (when was the last time we did this?  The fifties?!) and the call could take hours to go through.  Callers wear headsets and can see each other on phone screens but otherwise, the phone network is appalling.

It’s also very funny and central to the plot.  Despite having an enormous space station used as a refuel stop for ships heading to more technologically advanced planets, the tech on backward Nigel feels purposefully restricted.  Androids are built to do the dirty work but have no intelligence.  And a trillion miles away, somewhere on Earth, someone is still using a Bakelite phone and one of those answering machines with a tape.  All this has a great comic effect but the novel itself is actually quite dark.

Darkest of all is its anti-hero, Gomenzi.  I found myself transfixed by him when I was writing his character, just as the other characters are spellbound.  He’s a sympathetic character but also utterly immoral and evil.  Since I invented him in the mid-nineties, this type of character has been done to death, with authors getting inside the mind of serial killers.  What a yawn.  Gomenzi is never that unimaginative.  He’s a mindwalker and it’s this that makes him different from your usual killer – not that he intends to kill anyone, you understand (not usually…..)

This novel started life as a rather long short story with another short story as a sequel.  Much later, when I became A Professional Writer (if there is such a thing), the short stories, called Access Denied and Baby Doll, were turned into my second screenplay.  It was at this point that I realised I wasn’t a screenwriter – I wanted to write pages and pages about the characters and the background which you can’t do in a pared-down script.  I also wanted to get inside the heads of my characters and rummage around – rather like a mindwalker.  So Gomenzi found himself at last inside a novel, at the time the second in the Fleet Quintet.

For various reasons, it’s now the first and despite working on it again and again, really trying to improve the words on the page, the story, the characters, it still feels to me like a first novel.  Thinking about it, it actually is my first novel (not counting the garbage I wrote before becoming A Professional).  Ultra was published first but it was written much later.  There is a lot about this novel that doesn’t work:  it jerks the reader’s attention in too many directions.  It’s clunky.  It’s patchy.  It’s too long.  The purposefully stereotypical minor characters just seem, well, stereotypical.

Despite these flaws, I think it remains an entertaining novel and Gomenzi himself has never become stereotyped.



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The Shrinking Singularity that is my Local Library

I haven’t been to my local library for years.  I stopped going because I could never find anything to read.  There were a few new books on display but never anything I actually wanted to read.  The shelves themselves remained the same year after year after interminable year.  And the place was full of snoring old farts on dirty chairs and the sound of frantic typing on the computer keyboards.

So I stopped going.  Recently, however, I’ve had the desire to read something easy.  Fantasy or romance or popular thrillers….that sort of thing.  I’ve currently got six books on the go which makes me think they are all the wrong book.  The worst of the bunch is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which, after much effort (Goodreads review to follow later), I’ve finally ditched once it reached my top three Most Hated Books of All Time.  I need a break, I thought.  I need to read something, well, nice.

And, after all, surely the library couldn’t be THAT bad?  Except that it could.  In fact, it was worse.  Much, much worse.  The children’s section used to be a lovely room in the basement, cheerful and full of books – this has now been brought upstairs with the adult fiction.  The Young Adults section had several books I might have liked – but no volume 1 of any series, making them all instantly unreadable.

The Science Fiction section has shrunk to a few shelves only, containing several series as well that might have interested me – except, again, no volume 1.  Sometimes they would only have volume 6.  What’s the fucking point of that?  Perhaps the volumes 1 are out, perhaps someone else is reading them – but these are the SAME series that were there five years ago and there were no volumes 1 then either.  Other sections have vanished entirely, such as historical fiction and romance.  They have all been thrown in with fiction, which makes it an unbearable mishmash.  I glanced over several shelves and recognised every book I had ever read.  Nothing had changed.  There were hardly any books of interest to me.

A terrible depression came over me as I stood in front of that sad, depleted, useless sci-fi section.  I haven’t been to this library for five years and NOTHING has changed.  It’s just worse.  The shelves are untidy and uninspiring.  The books are ancient and dirty.  Many titles are mislabelled and would do better in their own section.  No one actually works in the library either.  It has an unloved, abandoned air.

It’s a well-known fact that public libraries are shutting down faster than you can say government indifference.  There seems to be no solution.  If it was a matter of needing money for books, I’m sure people would love to donate the books themselves.  I recently gave a pile of virtually brand new books, mostly hardbacks, to Oxfam.  They were in better condition than anything on the library shelves.  But since there are no staff to process the new books, there’s no point in promoting this idea.

It’s not just public libraries that are suffering.  I work in a university library and the cuts are blatant with reduced staff, reduced customer service and no funding for anything, not least of which cleaning the filthy fucking shelves.  Oh, the shelvers can wear face masks if the dust gets too much.  Really?  And what about the students that end up covered in black sticky dust every time they reach down for a book in, for example, the disgustingly dirty Literature section?

There’s a reason why the library in Alexandria burned down:  nobody cares about books.  They say they do but they don’t.

I could stand on my soapbox about this for days but the apathy that hangs in a pall over my local library has worn me down.  We need libraries but the libraries we have suck.  A bit like life.



A depressing view

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The price you pay for teeny tiny fonts

I have – miraculously – got the price down on my novel TRANSFERENCE and better still, it’s the sort of price you’d expect to pay for a paperback.

One of the many cruelties about self-publishing (and that’s a long list of cruelties) is that the thicker your book, the higher the price.  It isn’t the same in “real world” publishing (I believe this is called “traditional”) where paperbacks have relatively standard prices.  I recently read a novel that had been “fattened” – there was a tremendous amount of wasted space:  huge font, wide margins, blank pages between chapters and – far worse – countless pages at the beginning with reviews telling you wonderful the novel was (it was, by the way, a ghastly novel – never trust a book that TELLS you it’s fab.  It won’t be.)  All I could think of was the trees that had been destroyed to produce this “fattened” book.

But with self-publishing, the battle goes the other way:  how to slim the book down so that the price is actually affordable.  A tiny font is the most obvious solution but how tiny can you go before the reader’s eyes can’t cope?  Age has decreed that tiny fonts have become really hard on my eyes.  I wouldn’t want to reread my copy of The Lord of the Rings as the font is like a series of dots across the page.  (And this is why reading on an e-reader is so marvellous, but that’s another story.)  I eventually settled on Georgia 10.  Georgia is my favourite font and is slightly bolder than the recommended font for science fiction, which I seem to recall being Garamond.  (Obviously this is not the font you’d use on your cover.)

Check it out and let me know what you think:  AMAZON LINK



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Dear 2016, What do you mean 2017 is going to be worse?

Trending on Twitter earlier this week was a “Dear 2016” line (not actually a hashtag).  One of the saddest was someone asking 2016 not to take Carrie Fisher, which it then promptly did, along with her mother.  The general idea was that 2016 has been appalling and most hoped for a better new year.  One can only hope, although I thought the tweet I’ve used as my heading is more likely.

I’m going to keep my head down this year and just work and work and work.  All five my published novels will come in new editions, each on three different platforms.  I’ve done a lot of work on this already and it will be a great relief when it’s finished because it took up a great deal of 2016.  Endless reformatting, restructuring and corrections;  new blurbs, new front matter and new biog;  new fonts, new font size, new page number font……….the list is endless.  I had to draw up a giant chart to tick things off as I went and I still got confused.  I had a virtual nervous breakdown at the end of summer, compounded by the pressures of my Real World job as well as the godawful heatwaves that kept attacking my part of London, right up to the end of September.  I then had a physical breakdown before Christmas – quite literally working myself into the ground.  I had to force myself to put my charts away and not think about work over Christmas.  The mince pie diet has worked out very well.

Once the new editions are out, I will be publishing the fourth novel in the Fleet Quintet.  At last!  Definitely something to look forward to.

And then I’ve got two new novels to finish:  that Very Difficult one I finished in May and the Surprise One I wrote in less than three months.  By hand.  On scrap paper.  Without a plan.  Both are first drafts but the latter is much, much rougher as I didn’t go back once to inspect what I had written.  It’s easy to do daily edits on a computer but impossible when you’re writing by hand.  I was also put off by my own handwriting and am not entirely looking forward to typing it up.  And then I need to do the research.  And add bits.  Lots of bits.  And rewrite it…..but that’s the fun part.

If I get it done, I’ll get going on that Difficult Novel again.

And far off in the future, almost certainly not in 2017, I want to write more Exodus Sequence stories.

And one day get to write the fifth Fleet Quintet novel so that it is actually a quintet.

But these are big plans.

In the meantime, happy new year.  Take a break sometimes.  And nothing is that serious that you let it make you sick.



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How to insert a page number from a specific page in Word 2007

It’s very possible that I am not the only person in the universe with Word 2007.  I’m DEFINITELY not the only person in the universe to struggle with the insertion of a page number that doesn’t start from the first page.

I’ve been struggling with V.Gomenzi for weeks, trying to follow the instructions on the Word website.  But it kept going wrong!  Hours of frustration and many tears later, I eventually gave up.  Until today.  I HAD to get it right.  The irony is that I’ve done this before for no less than FOUR novels, so what the hell was going wrong this time?  Has Word changed its instructions?  Have I lost several brain cells over the horrible hot summer??  I’ve spent the morning trying several websites and even watched several YouTube videos.  Still didn’t bloody work.

But then!  At last!  I found a little slide show, followed the instructions exactly AND IT WORKED!!!!!!!!!!!  Yes, I know page numbering probably isn’t the most important problem in the entire universe, but honestly, when you’re trying to get a document together for a paperback novel that you want people to read, you really have to get this stuff right.

So:  for myself and for all those others who are also going insane trying to start page one on page nine (or whatever page you fancy) AND you’re still working with prehistoric Word 2007, THIS is the slide show to watch:

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