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Jim Burns tells how he created the cover for Biblia Longcrofta…

Biblia Longcrofta-kcFirstly a sort of general comment about me and my digital output. The reason I ‘keep my hand in’ digital-wise is that just occasionally I get a commission from a publisher – as opposed to the majority of my work..which is traditional painting for myself (for potential sale to the collector market) or as a direct commission from a private collector. The sad truth is that I haven’t received a major commission from a big publisher for several years now. The ones I do get are from Small Press publishers…which I’m very happy to do because therein resides the spirit of what publishing is all about in my mind..in particular with the bringing on of new, and often very interesting young talent. The guys who run these small press outfits are usually highly literate lovers of the written word, eager to spread the word of excellent, often niche writing to book lovers…as opposed to simply trying for vast high street profitability. So this is the zone my digital output is usually aimed at. Unfortunately, hand in hand with that comes the inevitable fact..that of the ‘limited budget’!! So in order to produce the piece as quickly as possible..whilst at the same time being true to the book and hopefully not short-changing the client..I turn to the Mac. I have to say – I do very much like working on the Mac as a sort of extra tool in the armoury..and to be honest – painting big canvases is really quite fatiguing..so a time spent in front of my big monitor – or more recently my Wacom Cintiq (I did a deal with Fred Gambino on his old one!) is often really quite pleasurable and indeed, exciting – creatively speaking.

But my digital techniques are limited essentially to Photoshop. I never got round to learning Painter..even less am I interested in any 3d software. Far too old to learn THAT stuff now.

Q: So I presume you read the Black Ship from Biblia Longcrofta and Simon Marshall-Jones’ words inspired an idea?

I did indeed read the story! As always with me a story unfolds like a movie in my mind’s eye. Sometimes a moment clearly ‘freeze-frames’ in my imagination, other times a mélange of elements combine to form a mental image. The story is quite short and has a kind of alternate universe exoticism about it..which appeals to me very much. That collision of the familiar with the strange.. For me it was clear that the Black Ship of the title had to feature prominently..and that was my jumping off point.

Q: Was the boat painted by you, a stock pic or a mish-mash of several pics skilfully blended together.

It’s a mixture of stuff really. I’ll quickly add here that the modus operandi varies from image to image. Some are heavily ‘painted’ in Photoshop…others I may well drop in some found textures that I think will work as a building blocks. Where I can I use my own photography….a growing resource but still short on lots of stuff. I have a fairly clear impression in my mind of how this vessel might look. I get an immediate sense of something that is a sort of fusion of Brunel’s ‘Great Eastern’, a current day bulk carrier of some sort and elements of old dreadnought style superstructure. So I check out my own photo reference stash for all things nautical..and whilst I have a lot of material on old wooden vessels and cruise ships..I’m short on the appropriate material for the Black Ship as I’m imagining it. So over to the internet..Google the appropriate imagery and start to sketch digitally a rough form that draws on these vessels for inspiration. I find an old rusting hulk shot which is great for the hull surface textures. The near-the-waterline ‘flange’ I invent and by using selection/pen tools I create the shape of that flange and then shade/highlight realistically. The same is true of the bow indentation, groove whatever it is! It has no function…I just think it looks sort of cool and pulls the vessel away from ships as we know them…sufficiently different to give a sense of alienness or strangeness at least (We don’t get from this one story quite what the nature of the mariners aboard it is…presumably it gets more revealed in other tales?). The bulge at the bow waterline derives from an image of a big tanker in dry dock. The bulging rear upper main hull with the row of portholes is created by using the warp tool mainly. I like to push and pull shapes around. The whole hull shape gets this treatment until I’m happy with its proportions. All of the superstructure is painted without any dropped in elements from photos. But I had on screen at the same time the amazing superstructure formation of WW2 Japanese Battleships..the Yamato..but in particular the Nagato…which is wondrously complex. Mine is simpler but I just wanted some of that sense of bulk and arcane functioning.

Q: How many components/layers are in the finished piece?

Gosh…tricky to answer that! During its creation there are dozens of layers…but I reckon that essentially as I arrived at the end and it’s time to flatten everything – maybe between 12 and 15? With these digital pieces I often find myself with maybe 30 or more layers but I try to merge as I go along to keep things moderately under control!

Q: How many of them are what I would call hard components like the rocks and the ship and not brightness/blur/hue etc

This is very hard to answer ‘after the event’!! I jump about a lot between hard elements and effects/filters etc. The degree of say, blurring and mist and so on and so forth is part of the ongoing process. So whilst a ‘hard’ element can be dropped into the composition at any time..it will almost certainly immediately become the subject of much tweaking and incorporating through filters, blurring and also the standard Photoshop painting tools – into the overall image in order to maintain a sense of integrity and natural blending. Much of the time if foreground elements are completed early on, the layer will be turned off whilst I then work on backgrounds. A back to front approach I know…which often results in wasted time as stuff then gets obliterated by the foreground elements when the layer is made visible again!

Q: Which parts of the piece are original and which are from digital stock or a combination of several pictures?

By original…you mean that they have been ‘painted’ using the painting tools? Well in this one there isn’t a huge amount of ‘painting from scratch’ as such (Other digital pieces may be approached differently…with a lot more painting). The superstructure is all painted. A large part of the misty skyline of half suggested buildings ended up being painted or perhaps being cut from those painted bits and distorted and pasted back in somewhere else…but with much addition and subtraction using brushes, erasers, smudge tools and layer transforming etc. But as I recall the initial bit of skyline was a bit of reference I had of some old European city skyline..clock towers etc..which I made ‘ethereal’ and ‘lost in the miasma’ Simon refers to as part of the mystery the Black Ship brings with it.

Q: Is the figure your son and where was the pic taken. Was he actually standing on those rocks?

It is indeed my son Joe! I said to him ‘I need a reference shot for a character on a book jacket..so give us a hand here’. I made him stand on a big old pile of paving slabs I have in the garden and took some shots. We have an old guitar – but it was in my wife’s studio – which is some miles away at her workplace..so as I needed to press on I pulled one off the internet. It’s only a tiny element! The rocks themselves are from my own library of shots..in this case shots of rocks taken down on the Devon coast. They are much cut about to give them a more jagged look. The green algae look was added by me. There is a lot of processing going on in the rocks. The water is from that same bit of coastline, taken as it crashed interestingly between rocks on the shoreline.

Q: The cranes in the background, were they shot by you or were they a stock image?

A bit is from my own library of images..something I took on the Clyde when I went up to a Glasgow Worldcon some years ago..and the others are pulled off the good old internet of dockyard shots etc.

Q: Was this image done in Photoshop, if not which program (s) did you use?

All Photoshop.

Q: Which filters did you use to get that misty but crisp look?

Well no filters as such with the mist. The sky is from my one of my own ‘sky reference’ shots taken in my back garden. I’ve then duplicated the layer and moved it around a bit and then changed its style to maybe ‘overlay’ or ‘soft light’…something like that. I build backgrounds up a lot like this. I’ve then used a chunk of that same sky to develop the misty, miasma effect. It’s all done a bit sort of ‘off the cuff’…and I don’t actually recall the exact sequence.

Q: The fossils were they photo-shopped into the rocks or did you find an amazingly old rocky outcrop somewhere?

Reference material of ammonites shot during a trip to Lyme Regis years ago! – plucked out of their original rock backgrounds, dropped in and scaled up. ‘Colour Dodge’ used here if I remember correctly. Anyway..convincingly enough dropped on to the rocks I had already placed.

Q: How many hours, roughly did it take you to do?

I would estimate maybe 20 hours…something of that order

Q: Where did the tree come from?

I have quite a lot of my own tree ref shots. My favorite is a huge old Beech in a graveyard in Frome which I use for all sorts. But this  is a dead tree from a different set…

You can pre-order Simon Marshall-Jones’ Biblia Longcrofta on the Tickety Boo Website. It’s released at the end of the month.

http://shop.ticketyboopress.co.uk/index.php?id_category=14&controller=category

Michael Gilmour chats about his self-published book. Battleframe…

battleframeHere at Tickety Boo Press we are keen on networking. Michael Gilmour has done alot to promote Abendau’s Heir by Jo Zebedee so we like to reciprocate. Here’s his story so far.

“I began my debut novel, Battleframe, like every other author, staring at a happily blinking cursor on a blank screen. What sort of demented programmer designed Word with an incessantly flashing cursor? Like a dripping tap or some arcane torture it only stops blinking while you’re typing. How annoying is that! So under the lash of the cursor I began my personal journey of crafting my imagination into words. And that’s how Battleframe was born.

So other than my blinking overlord, what drove me to write? It was the story. Once I began, the only way that I could find out what would happen next was to write it. I think that readers sometimes forget that writers love to find out what is going to happen next as much as they do.

I initially wrote Battleframe as a series of episodes for a website that I was developing. Each article ended in a climax with the ambition of drawing the reader back to the website a few days later for the next exciting instalment.

This seemed to work on two fronts. Readers returned (which is always a great endorsement) and I had to get busy writing a thousand words every few days. Before I knew it, I had completed around eighty episodes and had the framework for a novel. In addition, the feedback from readers was awesome and caused me to select particular twists and turns in the plot. When I look back this is where my “problems” began, as like any worthwhile work of art my book became all consuming.

Writing is more than just putting words together on a page. I found that I was living, eating and breathing the story over and over again. I’d be sitting at the meal table with my family trying to gauge the weight of the salt shaker while I imagined it was some hi-tech grenade. I had to blink twice before I realised that my daughter had asked me to pass the salt and not the Tellurite infused munition.

One time I found myself at a church function and we were asked to draw a picture of something that made us feel at peace. All around the small group individuals had pictures of sunsets, flowers and dolphins. I had an intricately designed laser sniper rifle fully equipped with a back harness! It was clear that I needed some sort of counselling!

Every spare second I’d be either at the keyboard or dreaming up the next reason to be there. Speaking of dreaming. Each night when my head hit the pillow magic seemed to happen. Scenes played out in my mind as I spun an imaginary camera around a battlefield, an enemy base or the characters burying loved ones.

If you’re about to embark on authoring your own novel then listen to this warning. It’s very likely that you will become obsessive, fanatical and downright unpleasant to live with at different times during the writing. So whatever you do, when you finally get published thank those that have put up with you. You only have to turn the first few pages of my book to see a list of those people that helped me along my journey – they needed a lot of thanks.

So back to my episodes. The problem I found with them was they were a piecemeal mish-mash of material that had the makings of something interesting (the readers thought so anyway) but barely resembled a novel at all.

I recollect writing what I thought was a brilliant chapter where three alien beings made entirely of energy talked to one another as they looked out on the galaxy. It was a really serious, key chapter and I’d spent quite some time polishing it.

I read the chapter to my wife (always a wise move) and she burst out laughing and told me how ridiculous it all sounded. With a thoroughly deflated ego I went back and rewrote the aliens as an elderly man, a beautiful woman and a young university student (complete with skateboard). The only thing that is out of the ordinary about the characters is they have the unusual names of Wisdom, Creativity and Intellect. The chapter really seemed to work and was a lot more fun to write then glowing orbs of energy. Better than that, it passed the wife test….which is always a plus!

I often travel as a part of my business and as I live in Australia this means that I’m in the air for at least fifteen hours before landing at my destination. Prior to writing, I would don my noise cancelling headphones, assume the foetal position and pray for sleep to help me survive the long flight. I’m a firm believer that the best movie to watch while flying is the picture of the little aeroplane on the map…if only it would move faster.

The rigours of flying all changed for me when I started pulling Battleframe together. The flights meant that I had an uninterrupted, extended time to completely focus on my writing. It’s incredible how something as boring and tortuous as flying can suddenly become enjoyable when you have an opportunity to write. In fact, there’s a scene in the book where the characters have to travel a long distance and this was really inspired by my own experiences.

Most of my writing is conducted while sitting on the couch with my laptop resting on the coffee table. I’d put on some orchestral music (I collect movie soundtracks) and type away at the keyboard. I would never write in my study as that was the place I did my other work. For me, I needed the clear separation between my business and writing.

I often get emotionally involved while I write. There is a particular scene in Battleframe where one of the characters is trying to save someone (not giving away spoilers here). My wife came into the living room to discover that I had tears rolling down my cheeks. She thought that something terrible had happened and was relieved when I told her that something nearly did but that everything was OK now.

Being a writer is all about riding the highs and the lows of our stories. It’s being with our characters as they gaze at sunsets, run through the jungle and duck behind a rock to dodge plasma fire. The characters, setting and plot come to life in our imaginations and the words are just a mechanism to share the experience with others. The challenge for me was to select words that properly reflected what I was already seeing, feeling and experiencing.

It was at this time that Battleframe was finally at the stage where I could begin inflicting numerous readings upon my family. Let’s face it, every writer has someone that deserves to be punished with the early drafts of our latest masterpiece. I’ll never forget the evening when I reverently handed the first few chapters of Battleframe to my wife and eldest daughter. I was so proud of what I’d written, and despite this I humbled myself by providing them with a red pen to mark-up any mistakes they found (as if there would be any I thought).

About half an hour later I came back to see how they were going and to bask in the sunshine of their praise as they acknowledged that I had written something spectacular. My daughter told me that it was boring and she had stopped at page ten to watch something on the television. My wife had used the red pen to full effect, leaving a little bit of the original text in place.

I switched the TV off and explained to them in no uncertain terms that they couldn’t possibly be right. After about fifteen minutes of arguing I left the room in disgust, flopped dejectedly onto the couch and started to read their comments. I begrudgingly acknowledged one point after another until I realised that I needed to completely rewrite everything.

When you ask someone to read an early manuscript don’t make my mistake and justify your position. If you do this then they’ll feel bad that they’ve upset you and you’ll lose a beta-reader. Writers need people to bounce ideas off and get feedback on their work. More than that, the people you’re talking to need to feel that they can be as honest as possible. I still have a sneaky suspicion that my daughter was getting a little bit of revenge for all those school assignments that I suggested she rewrite.

I later passed on the first half of Battleframe to my twenty-one year old son who was studying Arts at university. I must admit that his feedback was absolutely brilliant. He approached the book from a completely different perspective and this caused me to write a number of chapters that provided some background to some of the technology and the characters themselves.

After eighteen long months and about twenty rewrites I finally held my completed manuscript. I assembled a number of beta-readers and provided them with a printed copy and a survey. The survey asked questions about the characters, setting and plot. It also highlighted particular key scenes that I was seeking feedback on.

Once everyone had finished reading the manuscript I invited the group around to my house to discuss it. Three hours later I had invaluable feedback. For instance, one of the readers was ex-military and he asked a number of questions about the ranks for battleframe pilots and how they were different to other military personnel. I had also backed myself into a corner on a number of plot points and after a bit of discussion I was able to pull things together.

Having a group of people beyond your family that can provide you with open and honest feedback is exceptionally important for the writing process. I would often discuss points with each beta-reader and come back to them with rewrites that helped address the issue. If you want to keep beta-readers then whatever you do, provide them ongoing feedback. Every beta-reader also needs to appreciate that it’s your book and that sometimes you may choose not to take on board their suggestions.

After all of the corrections and rewrites I was thoroughly sick to death of Battleframe. When I’m feeling like this it’s better for me to take some time out or risk making silly errors. I put the manuscript down and didn’t work on it for a few weeks. I just needed a break.

When I returned to Battleframe I was refreshed and eager to tackle the final read-through. While I did this I also searched for an illustrator who could capture one of the scenes in the book for the front cover. I spent hours and hours trawling websites like deviantart.com and made a list of the artists that I believe could best represent the Battleframe vision. I approached a number of them and finally settled on Sebastien Hue from Paris. He is an incredible illustrator that was an absolute pleasure to work with.

Once the illustration was completed I designed the rest of the cover and spent a large amount of time laying out the internal pages. It helped that I have a background in design and although not perfect (they never are), I was really pleased with the final look of the book.

After checking the Battleframe files about a thousand times I selected an online print-on-demand website, uploaded them and pushed the button to order the first proofing copies. A week later the package with the first copies of my book arrived. There’s been a number of moments in my life where I was overcome with joy; getting married, the birth of my children, flying an aircraft solo and now seeing my debut novel, Battleframe, in print. If you have not held your book then I hope that you receive this as an encouragement to keep on writing and if you are a published author then I hope you smile in remembrance of your first time. My wife recorded me opening the box of books and you can view this at michaelgilmour.com. I often watch the video to help remind me of the joy of seeing my own words finally in print.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading a few of the highlights and anecdotes from my personal writing journey. Since publishing Battleframe a few weeks ago I now have readers clamouring for book two of The Mindwars…..so I’d better get writing!

Since his early childhood Michael embraced the excitement and infinite possibilities of science fiction. Battleframe is his debut novel in the Mindwars series and is the culmination of a lifetime of adventures. He resides in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and three children.”

Michael can be reached at: http://michaelgilmour.com

The Day of Creation by Alex Davis…

prestashopThe 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, the foulest forces in Ensium?

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.

The Day of Creation © Alex Davis 2015. This story is a prequel piece to The Last War, out July from Tickety Boo Press. More at http://shop.ticketyboopress.co.uk/index.php?id_product=68&controller=product

Susan Boulton gets grilled by the Staffordshire Newsletter…

suNAME: Sue Boulton.

AGE: 60

HOME: Hixon

FAMILY: Married for 40 years with two grown-up daughters

OCCUPATION: I work part time for the County Council as a Technical Support Officer in Waste Management and Climate Change. I am also a published author.

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Great Haywood.

WHAT WAS YOUR CHILDHOOD LIKE? When I think back it seems like I lived in another world. Very little TV (two stations) few cars, and a home surrounded with fields which were my playground.

TELL US A CHILDHOOD MEMORY. Swimming in the river Trent by Essex Bridge. In the summer it was a favourite pastime for myself and other village children.

WHAT DID YOU WANT TO DO WHEN YOU LEFT SCHOOL? Get a decent job, one that was interesting. Things were very different in the early 70’s. Girls, especially like me, who had been brought up in a rural community, were not encouraged to have careers. There was no maternity leave, or jobs kept open for you for 12 months if you decided to have children. You left work and then either went back into a lower paid, often part time job, or became a full-time mum. There was not the nursery provision there is now. So much has changed in my lifetime. My daughters have had chances to do things I could only dream of.

HOW DID YOUR CAREER AND LIFE PROGRESS? In fits and starts. I did not start my family until I was in my 30’s, the norm now for a lot of women. Then, well, it was considered strange by many to leave it so late. For a while I was a full-time mum. Then I ran a craft business, selling products at craft fairs round the midlands area. Finally I went back to work for the County Council to earn the extra money to pay for my daughters to go to university.

WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO WRITE THE BOOK? I have always wanted to write a book, but like most ambitions you have the day to day demands of what is called, “normal life”, gets in the way. About 10 years ago I started to see if I could actually write one. Oracle wasn’t my first attempt, but it is the only one that so far has been accepted by a publisher.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE REACTION TO IT SO FAR? Very good. It is wonderful to read a review on Amazon from someone you do not know, who actually likes what you have written.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF? I think I must say my two daughters. They are confident, clever young women, who are following their own dreams and ambitions.

DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS? I try not to dwell on regrets, because you only end up chasing your own tail with all the what ifs. What is done is done, there is no going back, all you can do is move forward and do things better.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE AIMS/AMBITIONS? I have a bucket list pinned up by my computer. It keeps getting longer. Everything from driving along route 66 in the USA to having high tea at the Savoy Hotel in London. My aim is to have at least 75% some ticked off by the time I am 70.

FAVOURITE CAR: A Morgan two seater in British racing green, but I have settled for a Fait 500 in red.

HOBBIES: Writing of course, reading, films, and swimming.

FAVOURITE MUSIC: I don’t really have a favourite song or type of music. I listen to everything and anything.

FAVOURITE HOLIDAY DESTINATION: France, I have some happy memories of holidays there.

FAVOURITE FOOD & DRINK: Seafood and gin and tonic.

FAVOURITE NEWSPAPER: I better say the Stafford Newsletter hadn’t I, though the Sunday Times is a close second.

FAVOURITE BOOK: This is a very hard one. I have narrowed it down to two. Norah Loft’s The Haunting of Gad’s Hall and Neville Shute’s On the Beach. A ghost story and a classic.

FAVOURITE PIN-UP: Currently, Chris Pine, it’s something about the blue eyes. It was the same with Peter O’Toole.

THINGS YOU LOVE/HATE: Hate; itchy feet, bad breath and the way your trousers stick to your legs when you get dressed after a swim. Like; a bright cold, frosty morning. The sounds of a summer evening, and even now at my age, the excitement you feel inside just before Christmas.

Read more: http://www.staffordshirenewsletter.co.uk/PROFILE-Stafford-author-books-writing-success/story-26450214-detail/story.html#ixzz3cZAxgigE
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Susan Boulton gets interviewed of SFF World…

OracleWe’re very excited to be talking with Susan Boulton in the U.K., a long-time member of the SFFWorld community, about her debut fantasy novel, Oracle, out now from Tickety Boo Press. Oracle tells the story of an empty, mad prophet trying to deliver critical warnings in a world caught in a time of change and revolution.

 

How did you come to create this novel, with such an unusual, complex character as Oracle?

How did I create this novel? Slowly. I am not, what is termed, an outliner. I tend to get an idea, a glimpse of a character or a situation, and write about a thousand words and then stop. WithOracle, the first rambling pages sat on my computer for a long time while I thought about the character and the world in which it existed.

In many fantasy novels, there are prophecies, given by seers and wise men or women who can see the future.  And they seemed to follow a standard pattern. The prophecies are detailed, and the seers are wise, all knowing, even tormenting the main protagonist with their foreknowledge.

I wondered, what if the prophecies made no sense, that they were just jumbled phrases, even odd words. The seer was not all knowing and wise, but a mere husk of a person, driven to a kind of madness by the hundreds of voices in their head, as each voice vied for control. Add to that the idea that the seer, or Glimpser, as I have called my Cassandra, had no memory of what they had said and were just driven by the tide of voices to roam the world in which they lived, seeking out the person for who the prophecy was meant. And it did not have to be linked to world-shattering events. It could be a choice of which garment to wear, whether to have carrots or peas for lunch. Then again, when one considers the butterfly effect, a choice of vegetable could have dire consequences.

This left me with a problem: was Oracle just going to be a cypher, a mere reference point for my other characters to fall back on, or did Oracle have a past, and more importantly was Oracle going to develop and grow as all characters should? Also, there was Oracle’s relationship to the other characters – how did Oracle affect their journey, their world, etc.

And as to developing their world, that opened up a whole new can of worms.

The world that developed is an industrialized one, with steam trains, pit mines and rapid expansion going on that is causing political conflict and violent protest. What appealed to you about doing the story in that sort of setting?

This is a hard question. When I began writing Oracle, I knew more of what I didn’t want as a setting, than what I did want. I didn’t want a sword and sorcery medieval land, with kings and all the trimmings. I didn’t want a modern setting, though that did cross my mind at one point and I toyed with the idea of a 1920’s or ‘30’s setting for awhile, but there was too much technology accepted by that point in history as every-day.  Then I began thinking of the period in English history between 1800 and 1850. In the lifetime of one person, the country had gone from semi-rural to dark satanic mills. It was a massive upheaval, on an industrial and social level, that plunged the working class into the darkest of pits with regards to their rights, living and working conditions, and which took nearly a 100 years to climb out of to any degree.

It also made some people very, very rich. The structure of society shifted, reinforcing some aspects, breaking down others. In many ways society was like an out of control train at that time more so than any other. People had no frame of reference within which to place the technology that was evolving. Even though we have been in the throes of our own digital revolution for the last 30 years, we as a society have adapted, because we learned nearly two hundred years ago that our society is not set, but fluid, and we have to learn to swim or die.

It slowly began to dawn on me that a society in the early throes of an industrial revolution, with a very rigid class system and a parliament torn between those who want to push through reforms to the social order and those who believe that any change would destroy the status quo, would be ideal. It meant I had a lot of toys to play with, both steam-powered and social. I did not want to weave magic into my steam-power as many steampunk novels do, but I did want a supernatural element that would allow me to use Oracle as a catalyst. So Oracle became what they now call a gaslight fantasy, with my characters facing upheavals that would reshape their country and their lives. It also allowed me to crash a stream train, have devious politicians, political riots and a mysterious religious order.

In the middle of all that change and chaos is Pugh Avinguard, a military officer trying to protect a reform-minded politician and discovering a singular horror – that the Glimpser he encounters with perhaps a critical prophecy used to be his late wife. That’s a wild twist that creates a fascinating relationship. How does Pugh deal with this resurrection and everything that is going on?

I wanted a connection to already exist between the Glimpser and one of the main characters. I tried various ones, but then it struck me that it had to be to Pugh. The fact that she was, and still is in his mind, his wife allowed me to develop a strong dramatic thread in the story which was in direct contrast to the political shenanigans going on. It allowed me to show how the other characters reacted to this knowledge as they came to know about it. Pugh deals with the matter in a way I hope is believable, as a man trying to continue, to do the things he has to, what is expected of him, yet torn beneath the surface. However, at a pivotal point in the story the relationship becomes the catalyst for Pugh’s eventual actions and the climax of the story. It was a little hard to get the balance between Pugh’s inner turmoil and the fact that he has to continue to “do his duty”. My editor, Teresa Edgerton, helped me find the right approach, and I think in the end it works very well.

Many of the other main characters in the novel also seem to be dealing with painful obstacles and something of a crisis of faith. Without giving too much away, how does that play out for them?

This is difficult to put into just a few words. Each character in Oracle does suffer to some extent with regards to the consequences brought about by their actions and choices. The industrial revolution that is engulfing the country of Timeholm is sending ripples not just through the political arena, but is causing a reshaping of what part religion plays in this changing world.

Take the character of Mathew, a young idealist whose intentions are honourable, but as the story progresses, his personal experiences makes it impossible for him to even entertain the idea of any sort of compromise. People become blinkered by the noble ideal and forget that all actions have consequences. His very idealism turns him into a tool for other, less noble players in the game of politics.

And though the government’s High Forum is a male-only preserve, with characters like Lord Calvinward and Sir Henry speaking on the floor of the Forum, the female characters also have a big impact. Strong women, such as Lady Elizabeth Hotspur and Lady Constance Manling, are very skilled in the game, because they are forced by the patriarchal society to play it in the shadows, and this makes them far more ruthless.

I know you do a lot of historical research for your books, whether they are historical fantasies or alternate world ones, including some family history. What draws you to history and British history, particularly the modern eras of industrialized development and war?

I have always had a passion for history and historical novels, and over the years I found I was drawn more to the early industrial period and most especially to the period of 1900 to 1945. When I had decided on Oracle’s setting, I knew I had to research the early 1800’s, and living in a part of the UK that has a wealth of early industrial heritage, it was not easy, but not as hard as it could have been. I could go and see a working cotton mill, steam beam engine and stream trains in action. I could get the feel of what they look like, the smell, even the taste of the air. It is a personal thing. I find if I understand something, I can talk about it in a way that gives the reader an understanding of what my characters are experiencing, feeling, seeing. I am not just listing things I have found on the Internet.

British history of the last 100 years is in a way my family history. I come from a working class background. Each generation has stood on the shoulders of the previous one. Each has fought battles, so that their children do not have to. My great grandmother could not write, my daughters have gone to university. I love to show how world-shattering events affect normal people, often by using supernatural or fantastical elements I can slip into aspects of that battle that reflect it symbolically.

What else and who else do you feel have influenced you as a fiction writer? Do you have any favorite works?

As a child, I loved books like Swallows and Amazons, the two Jungle Books and Enid Blyton’s works. I moved on to Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Edgar Rice Burroughs, George Orwell and John Wyndham in the SF and Fantasy field. I liked Norah Lofts (historical supernatural) and Georgette Heyer (mystery and Regency romance,) and of course Agatha Christie and Ellis Peters when it comes to crime. These books have a very British feel; they reflect the tone and texture of the country I grew up in. These writers captured the British attitude, the layered, complex, funny, dark, and at times harsh take on the world in which we and they live.  

I also loved the Powell and Pressburger films of the 1940’s and ‘50s, as well as the Ealing comedies of the same period. In fact, if I see any British film of that period on TV then I either watch or record them. These too show a side of the British psyche that is still there buried under the veneer of the modern. The Powell and Pressburger films, especially, have a dark supernatural undertone that makes you unsure of the world around you. 

You grew up in Tolkien country, didn’t you?

Yes, I was born about 200 yards away from where many years before Tolkien spent his time thinking and writing about hobbits. I’ve lived all my life in rural Staffordshire and never lost that passion for its history and legends. My day job is with my local county council, dealing with recycling and the environment. It’s not quite as exciting as making up my own worlds or versions of history, but it gives you an interesting view of human civilization.

What’s the next project for you?

I have a number of projects on the boil at the moment. It’s possible that Oracle will be getting a sequel, although the story itself is a standalone story.

There’s also my historical supernatural thriller series. The first title, Hand of Glory, is a tale of ghosts, thieves and the occult, and takes place from the horrors of the battlefields at the end of the first World War through the survivors trying to piece themselves back together in the early 1920’s. The sequel, Catnip, which is in the planning stages still, has the two Inspector characters from the first story dealing with murder and raising the dead Ancient Egyptian style in rural England, tapping into the national frenzy for all things Egyptian caused by the discovery of a certain young Pharaoh’s tomb in 1923.

I’m also in the middle of another historical fantasy thriller set during World War II, my own sort of fictionalized version of the story of Colditz Castle’s prisoner-of-war camp mixed with a particularly nasty, fae type of gremlins.

As someone who has gotten to read Hand of Glory, I’m eager to see it out, but the gremlin novel sounds great too. In a vein not that dissimilar from Oracle, Hand of Glory is kind of a cross between Dorothy Sayer’s Peter Wimsey and a Gothic horror story. Would you say that you have a pessimistic outlook or an optimistic one in tackling such dark subject matter?

I suppose you could say a bit of both. I love exploring how a character feels and has to adapt, to not only a changing world, but to the unknown. How they face the darkness that is often the result of either their own actions, or that of others. The pessimist in me believes that they haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance.

Then, as often happens, a single act of courage or kindness can bring the optimist to the fore. The darkness can be banished, and the hero can win, maybe. 

How can folks get their hands on Oracle?

The book is out in e-book form and just out in print form. You can order the e-book for the Kindle and from some other vendors. The print edition is available in bookstores in Great Britain, or you can order directly from Tickety Boo Press, my publisher, including international orders. (Some links below).

http://www.ticketyboopress.co.uk/ 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Oracle-Susan-Boulton-ebook/dp/B00VISS62W/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1427969370&sr=1-1