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Author on Author…

tbp“In what Alex Davis hopes will become the first of a series of informal chats with his fellow Tickety Boo-ers, he was lucky enough to catch up with the very talented Jo Zebedee, author of the newly released Abendau’s Heir. It’s a book he’s really looking forward to reading, so it was great for him to get some insight into the book, and it’s always nice to talk about his own book of course – what author doesn’t like to?

You can pick up Abendau’s Heir by clicking here, or get your pre-orders in for The Last War here. Or both, if you fancy – both authors won’t object to you buying the pair…”

 

Jo Zebedee and Alex Davis in conversation:

Jo:
Okay, so you have a trilogy coming out? Tell me more?

Alex:
Sure thing – the Noukari Trilogy starts with The Last War, which comes out in July, and will be continued with The Last Days and The Last Star. The first book is really about trying to get a civilisation started, and some of the conflict that can be intrinsic in that.

Jo:
Noukari – unusual name? Is that a planet or a system?

Alex:
That’s the name of the species at the heart of the series – they’ve just been created and ‘seeded’ on the planet, so it really is the very earliest days for them

Jo:
Cool. So it’s told from the alien’s perspective?

Alex:
Absolutely, they’ve got a lot of human qualities I suppose, but it’s their telepathic powers that set them apart.

Jo:
Heh. I have am Empath at the centre of mine. Telepathy is in! So, you’re launching at Edgelit, yes? Buried in edits?

Alex:
Great minds think alike – especially where telepathy is involved! Edits are on their way, I gather, so will be interesting to see what the editor makes of it. But very exciting to be launching on home turf at my hometown gig, even though I’ll probably be too busy running around to fully appreciate it!

Jo:
Yes, because you run Edgelit, of course. And it’s been going a good while now, hasn’t it?
I was lucky to work with Teresa Edgerton on mine – she’s a terrific editor and made a huge difference.

Alex:
This’ll be the fourth Edge-Lit, and I was involved in another event in Derby prior to that called Alt.Fiction. This’ll actually be the tenth convention I’ve headed up, so something of an annniversary!

And you’re absolutely right, you can’t underestimate what a good editor brings to the table. That second pair of eyes is invaluable..

Jo:
Teresa is one of the reasons I was so keen to go with Tickety Boo Press – I had worked with her before and knew the quality of her feedback. Plus it was great to see a start-up press using great editors and attending to detail.

Alex:
Absolutely – it’s such a vital part of making books read really professionally. Tickety Boo have definitely been making a splash so far.

Jo:
They’ve been doing well and signing some really great writers.

Alex:
And speaking of making a splash, your novel Abendau’s Heir has been making some waves so far!

Jo:
Yeah, Abendau is going well so far, getting a good reception and a fantastic first week. I hit the bookshelves this week (NI only for now) and have a launch happening next month. There will be stormtroopers, allegedly. I’m also at Comic con in Belfast at the start of May. It’s all new to me and a crazy learning curve.

Space opera is going through a resurgence, and Abendau has a classic feel though closer focus on characters and consequences than most. But that’s the sort of books I like to read….

Alex:
I think every first-time published writer goes through that learning curve – how does it feel to have the book in your hand now?

Jo:
It feels incredible. The ebook had been out for a day or two before the pback but it wasn’t until I opened the first box it really hit that I’d done it. It was, genuinely, my 1st book (I’ve trunked a few since, though) so to see it was pretty special. Made all the rewrites worth it!

You also have a publishing company, don’t you? How does it feel to see it from the other side of the coin?

Alex:
Yeah, I run a press here in Derby called Boo Books – we largely aim to publish writers from around the region, but we’re not too genre specific. It’s definitely odd being on the other side of it, although hopefully knowing how it is for a publisher will make me an easy writer to work with.

We’ll have to ask Gary about that I suppose…

Jo:
I had worked with an agent to get a book to submission-level and found it helped a lot in terms of learning some of the ropes. But the level of detail going into the release still took me by surprise.

Alex:
Oh yeah, there are so many steps to the process it’s hard to believe. There are a lot of people who support the author in getting the book out there.

Jo:
Support has been amazing, which is incredible as I’ve met approx 10 of the writing community face to face (I live in the sticks)

Alex:
There’s a phenomenally supportive community online – it’s one of the things that blew me away when I started to get involved in events side of things. It’s lovely because the support is so mutual – I sometimes get emails asking for favours and advice, and it’s great to be in a position to help other people in some way.

Jo:
Yes, I went to Worldcon a few years ago and was blown away by the sense of community. It puts the more negative aspects currently on show into perspective. Without the online support, especially, in my case, on the sffchronicles.com I wouldn’t have got past first base.

So, do you have a timescale in mind for book 2 and 3 – are they written/planned/still in your head?

Alex:
Book 1 is written, Book 2 I started yesterday with a view to completing by the end of September, and book 3 is anyone’s guess!! Book 2 is planned out, so hopefully shouldn’t be too tricky to get written.

Jo:
Oh, you’re very brave! I had to be sure I could finish them before I signed! I’m glad I did because some of book 3 needs reflected in book 2 and I have the chance to do that over the summer.
In the meantime, I’m waiting to see if my Aliens-invade-Belfast YA finds a home and starting to query for a new agent with my Glens of Antrim based gothic maybe-fantasy.

Oh, and writing a new one which might be another trilogy. I need a clone.

Alex:
Very nice – always important to be working on a range of genres I think

Jo:
There is a limit, though. Actually, I like to write across a couple of things – it gives time between edits and keeps things fresh.

It’s also good because Abendau is darker than the rest of my stuff (though fluffy bunnies rarely feature highly) so it gives a nice contrast.

Alex:
I wanted to ask about that, because how dark Abendau is seems to have been a real talking point. Was that deliberate, or something that just came out in the creative process?

Jo:
I’m surprised at how dark it came out. It mainly came about because of the research I did on what happened to people put in the position of my protagonist and wanting to show what such an ordeal did to a person reasonably accurately.

Book two and three are a little less dark, I think, but instead of shadows of the future there are the scars of the past to be dealt with, so the dark edges are still there.

What I wanted to do was take what SFF so routinely does to their chosen ones – pit them against what the trope so often casually puts forward – and actually put a character the reader has been following and, hopefully, likes into it. I wanted to ask questions of that trope. Unfortunately, to do that the ordeal faced is pretty horrific. And the fall out from it, on a person, high.

Alex:
So those darker elements come more from character psychology than the setting itself?

Jo:
I think so, yes. The setting could be the backdrop to a much less dark story. But it’s what’s done to people and how that effects everyone that gives the darkness. And my Empress. She’s a true baddy.

But, you know, grimdark’s in, so maybe I got lucky! I think if people like character led books they will find it interesting. I tend to have a lot of people on the edge of madness in my stories because, actually, none of us are as straightforward as we seem.

Alex:
I think that’s a much more interesting angle for a story. Tell me more about the Empress, I love a good antagonist….

Jo:
The Empress is the protagonist’s mother from hell. She rules using a blend of mind powers, charisma, and cruelty. She must have a blood heir for the empire and can’t have any more children. And she’s not happy when Kare, the protagonist, refuses her, knowing how she plans to use him.

It was fun having a female antagonist, actually. Especially a mother. Something different.

Alex:
Absolutely, it’s good to step away from some of those tried-and-true tropes. It also places a human story many people will be able to identify with at the heart of the action.

Jo:
Yeah – a lot of fantasy readers are enjoying it because it’s not just about the setting, even though I have lots of fun space opera stuff in it like spaceships and sexy pilots and hip-slung blasters. but the psi powers give it a cross over to fantasy.

Does your telepathy have a sf origin?

Alex:
Pretty much, I’ve just written a prequel story which establishes all that. Hopefully that should be on the Tickety Boo Press website soon.

Jo:
Ooh, cool. Is that a short? I do like a nice background story.

Alex:
Yeah, just a couple of thousand words, but will play into the series a fair bit. Not essential to read to get on with the book, but the aim is that it will add something

Jo:
So, it must be a big world you’re creating. Which came first, the world or the story?

Alex:
The world really, but you’re right that it does leave scope. I’m planning to put together a few shorts within the same setting to go ‘around’ each book. I’ve got one written which fits between book 1 and 2, but will be keeping that one back for a bit yet!!

Jo:
Yes, I’m hoping to do a few of those, too. I have a couple up of early back story but hope to take some events between book one and two and pop those up during the summer. If I can find time! I’d also love to write more about the world if it did well. I always find one thing in a story spirals into the next, especially when there is the epic scope in the world to begin with.

Alex:
That’s exactly it, and if the world and characters and flavour chime with readers it seems that series can run for years and years.

Jo:
Ha! The big if! I’ll keep fingers crossed for both of us.

Alex:
Absolutely – it sounds like Abendau has already made a great start. When can we expect to see Book 2 in the series?

Jo:
Hopefully by October – I have a place waiting for me at an event over Hallow’een that we’re aiming for. It’s written but needs editing, but I’m a fast rewriter. I have a few early readers asking when so that’s a good sign!

And I hope everything goes well with the launch and you find some time to enjoy it amongst the madness! Will there be a formal launch party? With cake?

Alex:
Hopefully – still putting the finishing touches to Edge-Lit, but would hate to let it pass by without at least a signing of some kind. I’m also booking lots of dates for later in the year under the working title of ‘The Last War on Tour’

Jo:
Fab! I’m waiting to announce something coming up in September that will be fun and a couple of signing events and what not. It’s been great to get so many opportunities, and forcing me out, blinking, into the big wide writing world!

Alex:
It can feel like you”re a badger emerging from their sett for sure..

Jo:
White hairs and all! Good stuff, and thank you. Book sounds fab!

Alex:
Cheers Jo – looking forward to Abendau too…

THE DAY OF CREATION…

prestashopPrior to the release of The Last War, we’ll be releasing a few exclusive sample stories from the world of the Noukari trilogy. These’ll be your first chance to get a feel of what the books are all about, and all give you some extra insight and enjoyment of the series. This first sample story is a prequel piece to THE LAST WAR, and tells about the creation of the Noukari by the ultra-intelligent aliens of the Animex.

So, read and enjoy, and if you like this one why not drop by the Tickety Boo Shop and get your copy of The Last War on pre-order here?

THE DAY OF CREATION
By Alex Davis

Sejurus weeps. He can’t remember ever doing it before.

The readings on the screens have defied him again, the figures not correlating as he had expected. He takes in the numbers through the haze of tears.

Physical Stability: 87%
Mental Stability: 56%

The physical elements are going the right way each time, which is the consolation. The new species – a work in progress, the Noukari – are not really designed for their physical attributes. Until the mental capacities of his new creation can be resolved, there can be no true progress. He draws the genetics screen up once more, with thousands of factors at his very fingertips, not knowing what to do next. He scribbles a few thoughts in his notebook. More lines, more meaningless words, no real gains.

‘How goes it, Sejurus?’
You need to ask, Canturus? Look at these figures!’
‘They are heading the right way, at least.’
‘I am not making enough progress.’
‘Is that what you think, my friend? I have every faith in you. Scientific progress is rarely a straight line. You will break this problem down, as you have everything before you.’
‘I wish I could believe that too.’
‘Just look at the successes that you have already enjoyed! The Yaxan, the Pinzori…’

Sejurus gets up from his seat, looking at charts on the walls. He seeks either inspiration or peace.

‘You are the very best among us, Sejurus. The best problem-solver, the finest geneticist. You were instrumental in building the geneputer itself! You will solve this, I know.’
‘I do not understand why you have given me this task.’
‘Have I not just offered justification enough?’
‘But why this task? Why this species? The Yaxan and the Pinzori were such simple creations, infinitesimal successes compared to this! Warriors are easy to build. They were brainless species, simpletons, brawn and nothing more!’
‘Brainless? Look at what those species are doing right now, Sejurus! So much would already be lost without your genius. Ensium is a hard place right now, friend. We did what was necessary. And now we are again doing what is necessary.’
‘Is it? Truly?’
‘What do you mean by that, Sejurus?’
‘May I speak frankly?’
‘Always, friend.’
‘What do you think these Noukari can possibly achieve? If we do not create them for war, they will get swept aside when war comes to them.’
‘Ensium is not all about war.’

Sejurus barks a bitter laugh.

‘What else have you seen, Canturus? Have you found a section of the Galaxy nobody else has? Have you found an oasis of calm that we are not aware of?’
‘So cold, Sejurus. Yes, right now war abounds. But there will come a day when there is peace, when the conflict we are engulfed in draws to a close. And then what, hmm? What do you think will happen? Do you think these creatures of brawn you speak of will lead the Galaxy to prosperity?’
‘And you would build spiritual leaders for those with no spirituality, at a time before they need it?’
‘Spirituality? Not a word I have ever employed. Why do you use it?’
‘That is what you speak of, directly or no. These leaders are there to couch those born for violence in ways of peace. If that is not spirituality, what is?’
‘Be careful, brother. You tread on dangerous ground.’
‘Just tell me, Canturus! Tell me what you expect them to do, besides die!’
‘You are not yourself, Sejurus. Take some time. Rest. Come back to this problem refreshed tomorrow. You will enjoy another day of creation soon, I know.’
‘Keep your confidence to yourself. I do not share it.’

***

Sejurus retires to his room, laying on the comfortable bunk but still feeling restless. His mind refuses to let him have the sleep he so craves. What can he do to create the race that Canturs desires – and more importantly, should he? He has never questioned his superior until this time. The other species he has created have filled their roles well enough. But this is another kind of creature, one that surely has no place in Ensium. The Kralon would bring death to them in minutes, let alone the many other predators of the Galaxy. Cerebral beings, yes, but defenceless. And how to give them the mental stability that they require? Surely such a species would need to be in the range of 90% plus, capable of making intelligent decisions, to judge right from wrong, to see the route to peace and stray from the insanity of war. So much ground to make. How to take the leap required? The physical stability can come down, but the gains from that would be minimal. So many factors. His head spins with the combination of possibilities, each shift having a knock-on effect elsewhere. He finally drifts away, numbers still whistling through his mind.

***

He wakes the next day feeling no better about the endeavour. Dragging himself from the comfort of the bunk, he washes and dresses himself perfunctorily. How can he go back to work, with such doubt in his mind, not only to the right of the cause but also the possibility of achieving it? But then how can he go back to Canturus – his oldest friend – and tell him he cannot, will not, proceed? How can he let someone down who has never let him down before? With all these conflicts tearing at him, he takes the lonely trudge to the laboratory.

He sits at the geneputer screen once again, looking at the myriad of factors. He does nothing for a long time, just survey words, ratios, balances. He holds his inker the whole time and never writes a word. Inspiration has fled, and he does not know how to get it back. In his frustration, he starts dragging a few measurements around, with results that leap wildly from awful to utterly pathetic. Slamming a fist on the table, he resets the balances to the morning’s settings and continues to stare at them blankly. The thought occurs to him he might just have to try each combination, shift the balances around, see what happens. Even in his long lifespan, the task would take a huge amount of his days. But, resigned to that course, he draws all of the statistics back to zero and begins fresh. There’s a certain catharsis in that, something that seems to bring the first semblance of optimism in a long time. The Noukari need certain key assets. Mental stability is a huge part of that, but that is combined of so many things. Synaptic response. Brain capacity. Speed of learning. Logical thinking and decision-making. The qualities that Canturus wants them to have. He gets up from the geneputer and locks the laboratory door, making a vow not to leave the room until he has completed his task.

***

32%

Deductive reasoning. Correlation of senses to thought processes. Flick. Flick. Sejurus puts the building blocks of life together with a casual flick of the wrist.

38%

Language development skills. Comprehension of body language, own. Comprehension of body language, animal. Flick. Too high, too high. He watches the stability fall back again before correcting his earlier overcompensation.

42%

Emotional reasoning. Compassion. Morality. Flick. Downwards a little. Flick. Climbing upwards, upwards. Plenty of capacity there for the understanding of right and wrong, the very forces that drive Ensium in its infernal cycle.

49%

Sejurus can almost feel his hand being guided by something else as his fingers dance across the geneputer. Creativity. Is there much need for that? Some, probably. Flick. Problem solving? Yes, plenty of that in the mix. Fliiick…

55%

Almost back to square one, where we ended our previous attempt. But Sejurus knows he will not go wrong this time. Application of logic. Memory. Experiential intelligence. Pattern recognition. Flick. Flick. High, low. A dash of this, a splash of that, a handful of something else. Sejurus can begin to feel the joy of creation once again, the mad alchemy of being sat in this seat, giving birth to something that would never exist without him.

60%

Progress steadying, but all fine. The pattern is there somehow, subconscious, the knowledge of what is needed intrinsic to him. Flick. Fight and flight reflex. Flick.

65%

Caring and empathy. Flick…

68%

Flick. Sexual desire? No, that never contributed to sensible behaviour. Flick…

73%

Symbology. Typology. Etymology. All useful assets to have, surely? Yes, prepare you for many things. Flick, flick, flick…

80%

Just a few more now, yes. Scientific understanding. Plenty needed there. Music, art? No more than a pinch. We’re not seeking too much temperament… Flick…

88%

Social interaction. Emotional resilience. The final two qualities, and no need to hold back on those…

97%

Sejurus stops, slumps back into his chair, euphoria dethroned by exhaustion. He looks down at his hands, the hands of a creator. For all that, they look no different to any other of the Animex. Perhaps it is something inside, something more. Something divine. Spiritual? Sejurus laughs at the ludicrousness of his own language. Ego is the strangest of things, he reminds himself. An enemy at one moment, absent the next, before carrying you along on its broad shoulders.

He gets up, unlocks the door to the laboratory and goes for some well-deserved sleep.

***

The next day he returns to look at his handiwork with fresh eyes.

Physical stability 34%
Mental stability 97%

The first figure purses his lips in a frown, he was forced to make sacrifices there to achieve the incredible second figures. Days ago he would not have thought it possible, but now he knows it is easier to change path and begin again than it is to continue down the wrong road.

And it was the wrong road, without a doubt.

Perhaps it is still the wrong road? He presses the indicator at the corner of the screen, and is taken aback by what appears. It’s an image of the Noukari as they are going to look. Gaunt, drawn, pale to near translucence. He takes a moment to recollect his first sight of the Yaxan, the Pinzori… so majestic, so hard-edged, indomitable-looking. These creatures look like children compared to the other species of the universe. What chance would they have in open conflict with the enemies of the Animex?

He shakes his head and returns to the statistical screen. Shaken by the first impression of the Noukari, the hundreds of figures seem to blur and meld nonsensically. How can he do this? How can he create a species that will be torn apart by a warring Galaxy in years, months – weeks? ‘For Canturus’ is not answer enough. The act of creation comes with a sense of care, or pride. Of wanting to see your creations succeed, and his children before the Noukari have thrived. There is no end to this but death and abject failure. Is it pride speaking, perhaps? Sejurus wonders. Maybe quietly, but there is much more of truth and reality guiding what he does next.

The geneputer was another creation of his. There were others who helped in the process, of course. Others can use it, have done, for experiments and species of their own. Their success? Well, that is yet to be seen.

But what that means is that his access and his powers over the geneputer are unparalleled. Even Canturus is not privy to all of the information and facilities that he is. And maybe there is something he can do to give the Noukari a chance of survival in Ensium…

Nothing physical, of course. That would be an immediate cause for suspicion, a ruse Canturus would detect in moments. But is there still potential in their minds?

***

Hours later, Sejurus sits at the very same computer screen. The statistics and scales look unrecognisable on the geneputer from just hours before, as do the figures that head up the screen:

Physical stability: 41%
Mental stability: 23%

He smiles to himself as he runs the simulation of the Noukari. Exactly as expected – in physical conflict they would be useless, probably worse than useless compared to the darkest legions of Ensium. From the simulation, he moves on to the screen focussing on their cerebral aspects. He scrolls down the list and allows himself a smile. The sacrifice in stability gives them… something else. An interior arsenal with which to fight their battles.

With that done, he scrolls a few more screens along to an area of the geneputer that only he has access to. He taps in his password, long and unguessable. And, with just one sweep of his finger, he tells the greatest lie he has ever told, will ever tell.

When he returns to the main details, the figures read:

Physical stability: 41%
Mental Stability: 93%

***

Canturus looks over the details, running his eyes over a few different pages.

‘Amazing. Absolutely amazing. I knew you could do it, Sejurus. I never doubted you.’
‘Thank you, my friend. This one has tested me sorely.’
‘But you have risen to the test. I have always said that in times of adversity we find out who we truly are.’
‘I suppose that is true, Canturus.’
‘Excellent. Well, in light of these results, we may as well commence with the Seeding. Are you ready to begin, to enjoy your day of creation?’

Sejurus simply nods silently.