Saturday 29 September 2012

Tube Riders new cover

I loved the train, but unfortunately the readers didn't (or at least no one bought it with the train on the front) so it had to go.

However, I will keep it up as the banner on my Facebook page for now, partly because its a great picture by a really talented artist and because I like it.

I've been thinking to change the cover of Tube Riders for a while, mainly because I didn't feel that it really reflected the contents of the book.  While the original train picture, titled Final Train (just look at it, is that not a fantastic picture?  Incidentally, this is the one I was hoping to get for part two), was supposed to suggest a train that takes you to hell or something like that, when I had to crop it for the ebook cover it lost a lot of its fearsomeness and became, well, just a train.

Initially I considered doing a new cover myself, but I have big plans for Tube Riders and the reviews I've got so far suggest those plans might be justified, and felt that it was time to step up and get a pro to do it.  A writer friend of mine, Jenny Twist (thanks Jenny!), suggested Su at Novel Prevue.

Not only did Su really understand what I wanted but she was quick, cheap and easy to work with.  I still can't believe she can be doing this for anything less than love at those prices, and I'd strongly urge any writer on a budget to check her out.  Her prices might be budget but her work isn't.

Anyway, here is the new ebook cover -

This one really ramps up the scariness.  That evil guy in the middle is a Huntsman, one of the government's near uncontrollable, tracking/killing machines, a group of which are sent after the Tube Riders.  And there's a train on the front as well.  Su did me a slightly different version with wires coming out of the guy's head, but I think I like the chip best.  Kidnapped off the streets of London, the Huntsmen are people who have been genetically and physically altered to become part dog, part machine.  It looks a little more like a horror, but while its set in the near future there are some pretty bleak scenes, particularly those involving the Huntsmen.  My mother found it a tough read, let's put it that way.

And here's the paperback -

 While I actually liked the original Createspace cover more than the original ebook one, this new version just takes it to a different level.   It's currently in review, so hopefully will be available in a couple of days.

Right, now back to writing Part 2.  I'm not one of those writers who tends to hide their progress, and I'm happy to say that I'm closing on 150 pages now, a little over a month after starting.  You won't believe what Switch is about to blow up this time ...

30th Sept 2012

Sunday 23 September 2012

10 Tips for New and Busy Writers

Okay, I was giving some tips in a forum the other day and thought I’d write them all down in one post for people to reference.  These tips will mostly be useful for beginning writers, busy writers or those who just can’t find the muse, but maybe there will be some info in there for pros to agree with as well.  Of course, these are just my opinions, so you can take them or leave them as you see fit.  I hope that everyone will find at least a couple of things useful.

1.    Kill the internet

Don’t think about it, don’t talk about it, just do it.  I defy anyone who claims they can write well with an internet connection on the same computer.  If they can, they’re a stronger-willed person than me because I really can’t.  I’ve written 125,000 words since I killed the internet on my wife’s old laptop in mid June and adopted it as my main writing computer.  Some of you retired/stay at home/machine-gun writer folks might think that’s nothing, but that’s my most productive period EVER, plus, with working full and part time, looking after a wife and cat, rocking out in a band and managing a cricket club, I rarely get more than an hour or two to write per day.  I can directly correlate the last time I was heavily productive to the last time I had a computer with no internet on it.  That was seven years ago.  That’s an awful lot of writing I didn’t do in exchange for mostly useless web browsing.  I may live to regret it, or I may have pulled it back again just in time.  If you like the internet, have two computers (in different rooms).  But one more time, if you like writing, kill the internet.  No talking.  JUST. DO. IT.  No excuses either, no “Well, it’s my only computer and I need the internet …” whiny type things.  Save it.  You don’t need much power to write.  You can pick up a secondhand 512MB laptop with Word 2003 for less than $100.  Then all you need is a cheap flash drive to transfer your work to your power machine when you want to publish, format or do any of the other stuff.  No excuses.

2.    Stop watching TV

How much do you enjoy watching those chat shows, soap operas, game shows, football matches?  You’re allowed to watch some TV, of course, but have a think about how much you actually watch because you’re interested in the program, and how much of what you watch is just boredom browsing.  Stop doing the latter, and stop doing it right now.  All the other things I could say about this are covered in point 1.

3.    Value that fifteen minutes

One for the busies, this.  So, you’ve got some stuff on after work that you just can’t get out of, and when you get back you’ll be tired, but do you have time to jump on to the computer for fifteen minutes before you go out, or just before you go to bed?  How about before you eat breakfast?  You don’t need to set aside an entire evening to write.  Fifteen minutes before work, when you get home and before you go to bed, and you’ll have 1000 words a day down.  And that is three novels a year.  Some people might say that you can’t get into a story that quickly, but the fact is, that doing it a little and often will keep the plot fresh in your mind throughout the day.  You’ll find yourself thinking about scenes while you’re at work, or lying in bed, or in the pub with your mates, and when you jump into that short fifteen minute session you’ll find you have so much more to write.

4.    Set goals/targets, and push yourself to stick to them

I’m a killer for deadlines/targets.  I literally can’t work without them.  Back in June, I decided, based on a blog I read, to try to write 52 short stories in a year.  I set up a spreadsheet to keep track of everything and then got to work.  That quickly morphed into 1000 words a day but I stuck to it.  It’s very important to set goals within your means, though.  1000 words a day is easy for me.  For others it might be 3000, or just 500.  Set a goal well within your limits and then every time you beat it you’ll feel like you’re cruising and anything else you write during that period will be a bonus.  I wrote 57,000 words in the third month of my challenge, but I didn’t increase my target because I’d be pushing myself too much and there’s nothing that kills motivation more than failure.  Regardless of what my final tally is, at the beginning of the next month I just add another 30,000 words and get to work trying to top that.

5.    Don’t overcomplicate things

I read a lot of posts asking about the best writing software and filing programs to keep notes, particularly from new writers.  That often says to me that people are looking for shortcuts to getting the work done.  You should write with as little distraction as possible, and, particularly at the draft stage, just get those words down.  I use Word to write, then an Excel spreadsheet to keep note of the major characters and what happens in each chapter.  I usually don’t do this until I’ve finished the first draft, though.  Again, different things work best for different people, but I find if I’m spending too long typing details into Excel I lose track of the story.

6.    Plotting is your friend, but don’t overdo it

Stephen King is the most famous advocate for not plotting your books in advance, but while I love his writing his books tend to ramble on and he’s not well known for great endings (I’m not dissing him – I’d kill to be half as good!), but particularly when you’re a newcomer it’s always useful to have a general idea of where you want the story to go.  When I write, I’ll generally write a couple of lines down for each of the next four or five chapters so that when I come to the page I know more or less what I want to happen.  Quite often I go off on a tangent or things change, but there is nothing worse than sitting down and not knowing what is supposed to happen in the remainder of a scene.  Again, plotting is something you can do in your head on a bus on the way to work, or in a notepad sitting quietly beside you on your desk at the bank.

7.    When “in public” as it were, act professionally at all times

Okay, this is not so much about the craft but is something that has frustrated me a lot recently and is rife in self-publishing.  When you put your work out there for people to buy, you cease being an anonymous person typing on a keyboard and you become potentially a professional writer.  Therefore, you should act like it.  This involves complaining about reviewers and starting arguments with other writers on internet forums (or in public, but at least the rest of us don’t have to read it then!).  If someone slams your writing – particularly your mechanics (grammar, spelling, word choice, etc) see it as a free lesson.  Take a good look at what you do and see if you can make it better.  So many people think self-publishing is a way to a quick buck.  It’s not.  Even apparently overnight successes had to learn their craft.  You have to too, there’s no way around it.  Don’t start talking about getting someone to ghost write it, or search for a really good editor to rewrite your paragraphs, learn how to do it yourself.  Editors and proofreaders should be painting your house, not trying to build it from a jumble of bricks you’ve dumped in front of them.  Read grammar books if you have to, but most of all read other novels and think about the flow, the sentence structure, the way the dialogue works.  Then get back to work on your own stuff.  Don’t thank the reviewer or bitch at them, because their review is not for you, it’s for other readers.  That doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it.

And on starting arguments – just don’t.  Self-publishing is not a school playground, it’s not about jostling for the first go on the slide.  If you’re childish enough to pick arguments with complete strangers because they sell more than you or you think their book sucks and yours doesn’t but no one buys it or whatever … get lost.  Go back to school, learn some maturity and come back in five or six years when you’re ready to try again at acting like a professional.  And if someone starts coming after you, just leave.  Internet forums are not the world, they’re just places where people hang out and shoot the shit.  I used to be a member of an English teacher’s forum and I got into a couple of minor disagreements with the long termers who liked to shoot down all the enthusiastic newcomers and I got tired of it.  It became immediately apparent that I would never win, yet the arguments were encroaching on my thoughts at other times of the day when I wasn’t anywhere near the forum.  So I left (without one of those egotistical, “I’m leaving!” announcements, I might add), and I haven’t posted in the two years since.  Every now and again I pop in to see if there’s anything useful, and around the occasional post with some interesting information there’s the same stuff going on, the old timers shooting down the newcomers, the occasional mouthy newbie getting dragged into a flame war, and I’m glad I don’t participate.  It’s not worth the effort.  I have better things to do.  So, don’t be a dickhead.  It’s a complete, utter waste of time, and at best you won’t win any friends, while at worst people will start spreading your real identify and try to trash your books.

8.    Learn to touch type

Okay, enough about decorum, back to the craft.  You might think that you can type well enough with two fingers, but unless you’re a virtuoso you probably can’t type that fast, relatively speaking.  I learned to touch type at school and it is probably the most useful skill I ever learned.  According to this speed typingtest I can type at 70 words per minute without any errors.  Yeah, so I’m a badass, but I only average about 30 wpm when I’m writing, because obviously I’m not just copying, I’m thinking as well, or rewriting sentences.  If you’re typing less than 20 wpm you should really think about learning to touch type.  You can get free online programs to help you and it’ll really help you make use of those little fifteen minute sessions mentioned earlier.  Be aware that it takes time to learn – even after doing a course at school it took me six months of forcing myself to use a touch typing style when I wrote before I could do it without looking.  It was hard, but so, so worth it.

9.    Have several WIPs on the go at the same time

A lot of people won’t agree with this, but I find it really helps when I get stuck on something to have other works in progress I can go over to.  I have I think six current WIPs, and while I have my favorites I keep everything on a spreadsheet now so that I don’t forget about anything.  Quite often I’ll take an hour and have an update, doing ten minutes on each one, aiming just to get another 100 words or so.  Quite often one will take over and draw me in, but that’s no bad thing.

10.   Be patient

Rome – nor any other city – wasn’t built in a day.  Your book might be an overnight success, but I can guarantee you won’t write it, nor even learn to write well, overnight.  Practice, practice, practice, write, write, write.  Then repeat.  Then, after a minimum of a couple of years – more like four or five – you’ll be writing at a standard that won’t get trashed if you self-publish it.  Neither should you rush your WIPs.  Having deadlines is all well and good, but a book takes time to write itself, to iron out all the creases and fold itself up nicely into something wonderful.  Give it time.  Don’t write when you’re too tired.  Don’t write when you’re drunk.  Don’t write with the TV on in the background (okay, guilty, but it’s the wife watching it and I live in Japan so I can’t understand most of it anyway).  Let your writing breathe, be patient, take your time.  You’ll be better off for it in the long run.

Right, this little post has stretched out into a 2000 word tome, so it’s time to put it to bed and get on with some creativity of my own.

Thanks for reading (if you got this far!) and I hope you find some of these tips useful.

24 September 2012

Thursday 20 September 2012

Karuizawa to Yokokawa old train line

As part of an attempt to research for Part 2 of Tube Riders (tentatively titled Tube Riders : Exile) and also to add a little more later detail to Part 1, I took myself off down to Karuizawa on the edge of Nagano Prefecture last weekend to check out the old train line from Karuizawa over the border into Gunma via the Usui Pass.

Until 1997, it was possible to get from Nagano to Tokyo via the Shinano railway, the old trundler which I can imagine took about a year, judging by the fact it takes 1 1/2 hours just to get to Karuizawa. However, since the Shinkansen line was put in around the time of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, a section of the old line was discontinued, meaning its Shink, walk, or give up.  On looking at it, that there is only 11km of the several hundred km missing, it does appear to be a blatant attempt to push business towards the Shinkansen.

The old line roughly follows the old Nakasendo, or post road, that wound its way up through the mountains.  It was very steep, therefore utilizing an old rack and pinion method to get over the Usui Pass.  There are also a lot of tunnels, as well as the pretty famous Megane Bashi, or "Glasses Bridge", the tallest arch bridge in Japan.

I rented a grandma bike (Mama-chari) without any gears for 200 yen.  I had no idea there would be a 10km uphill mountain pass to climb on the way back.

7.4km more to Glasses Bridge.  It was all downhill.

The old station at the start of the trail.  This is about halfway between Karuizawa and Yokokawa.  I had wanted to walk the whole route but it had disappeared, so this was the official starting point.

A little shrine at the entrance.

The first of about ten tunnels, all of them heading downhill.  Walking through the dark got tiring pretty quickly.

Inside one of the longest tunnels at 544m.  Note the little "air holes" on the left side.  I was planning to jump out of one in the event of an earthquake!

Megane Bridge from below.  It was actually far less impressive than I had expected.

As usual with any photogenic spot in Japan, there was an abundance of old people in attendance.

The view from the train line of Usui Lake.  While the walk was far less interesting than I had expected, there was some great scenery on offer.

Another view of the lake.

The onsen a couple of miles short of Yokokawa, where I gave up walking downhill, had a bath and got accosted into eating a pretty dire buffet lunch with two jovial old men called Toshiaki and Ken.  One of them ate like seven plates of food, at least double my effort.  I couldn't believe it.  He took bloody ages about it, too.

A view of some of the Gunma hills from the onsen.

The bridge on the other side on the way back.

Back at the dirty old station.

Against the far wall of the empty car park you might be able to see my bike.  I was pleased to find it was still there, although we had 10km of uphill to go yet.

Curve 88 from the bottom.  I started cycling at curve 84, but I wasn't about to go back down and take a photo of it.

An hour of uphill and 100 curves later, I reached the top of the pass.

The entrance to Karuizawa.  I was close to death at this point, and four days later my thighs are still burning.

Hell for all men everywhere - Karuizawa outlet village.

I guess while it was an interesting trip, I would probably drive next time, as I missed out on going to Yokokawa railway park basically because it was another four miles downhill and I was already exhausted.  I had gone to Karuizawa by train to keep in with the theme, but the railway line proved to be far less interesting than I had hoped.  There was no track left, and probably 50% of the time I was inside a tunnel.  Also, no English explanations didn't help.  Still, there were some nice views.

21 Sept 2012

Thursday 13 September 2012

Great Review for Tube Riders

My first British review for Tube Riders came in and I'm pretty pleased with it.  I've submitted the book to a lot of bloggers but The Future Fire is also a well-respected small press magazine.  After I subbed it there for review back in June I read through a few of their previous reviews.  It became quite apparently that they wouldn't take any crap and would call a spade a spade.  I hear a lot of reviewers giving it the "well, I feel bad if I have to give less than four stars" line and while I understand the desire to be nice on the other hand this keeps a lot of junk afloat when some writers really need to be told, "Sorry, you suck.  Go away for five years and practice and then come back."  As a result, a lot of good books get drowned out by the noise given off by all the crap.

So I was a little nervous.  Would I get a good one, or would I get canned?

Here's what they said -

The Tube Riders, written by Chris Ward and available through Amazon Digital Services, is a gritty dystopian novel set in future Britain, known as Mega Britain. Now a corrupt, deliberately isolated and socially devastated island, the government rules oppressively and the poor scavenge for food under a persistent threat of suspicion by the Department of Civil Affairs—almost like an Orwellian Thought Police outfit.

The novel’s focus is a gang known as The Tube Riders. Walled within a devastated London—now called ‘London Greater Urban Area’—the group have developed a high-risk game that involves leaping onto the side of moving trains from underground platforms and hanging on for as long as they can. The head of this gang is Marta, who took over leadership from her missing brother. She is supported by the experienced and friendly Paul, the dangerous yet highly loyal Switch and Simon, who is soon joined by his girlfriend Jess. Part way into the book, Paul’s 12 year-old brother, Owen completes the group. Despite most of the gang being relatively friendly—misfits who desperately try and keep their heads down in the civil dystopia that otherwise envelopes them—The Tube Riders appear to have a notorious reputation which is rarely challenged.

This changes dramatically however when they are betrayed by Dan, who leaves the gang in the first chapter after an argument with Switch. Dan approaches rival gang The Cross Jumpers (who jump across tracks in front of oncoming trains)—and tells them of the underground station where The Tube Riders are located in order to curry favour. The Cross Jumpers, led by the deranged Deggo, move to attack but The Tube Riders manage to escape by jumping onto the side of a train and heading down a tunnel. They jump off in unfamiliar territory, only to witness a brutal crime at the hands of government agents. The Tube Riders, as witnesses, subsequently become wanted individuals. Their survival is threatened further by the Huntsmen, biologically-altered, government-bred killing machines who track their prey like dogs. The story delves into The Tube Riders escape and beyond as they carry devastating evidence, film footage captured on camera, and ultimately seek to expose the corrupt authorities.

The novel, as with any traditional dystopia, is a satirically critical perspective that relates to contemporary society. Mega Britain is a grotesque corporate monstrosity that seems like the result of staunch right-wing capitalism and authorities drunk on maintaining a pedantic level order and control, regardless of costs. The class system is polarised more than ever, the poverty is both stark and foreboding and the iron fisted authority often seems to have it’s roots in contemporary right-wing governmentality. In many ways it’s an even bleaker society than that of Moore’s V for Vendetta, and just as striking in written word than animation.

I enjoy analysing these kind of novels from a feminist perspective and The Tube Riders is an interesting study. The gang leaders Marta and Deggo—both powerful characters in very different ways—make the story interesting in that the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides are represented by strong female characters. The sinister government authorities, led by the Governor (think of a very hands-on Prime Minister!) are resoundingly ‘male’ and yet seemingly peripheral to the main character development. It is, by no means, a feminist novel and yet I saw little that differentiated women in a discriminatory way. Society has a distinct phallocentric hegemony and so any perceived sexism is more a factor of the dystopic society, rather than any casual subconscious implication by the author. In many respects the fact that characters are or are not female becomes mostly invisible; you have those which are strong, sensitive, violent, caring and determined—gender is not a label that is associated by default with any. If a reader considers the caring mentality of Paul, the fierce loyalty of Switch and the strength of Marta, such qualities are actually interchangeable regardless of biological sex.

While many dystopian novels export a moral of some kind, a classic message or a political pamphlet of some kind, I felt that The Tube Riders was just a very good adventure story. The pace is as relentless as the trains themselves and the narrative physically throws characters around like puppets. The story is very much a work of popular fiction, a text that takes the reader to the dark and scarily recognisable Mega Britain and yet lets it’s characters shine through brightly in spite of it. It’s perhaps then a tale of raw human determination overcoming adversity more than anything grander.

In conclusion, The Tube Riders is a tense, gritty and enthralling thrill of a dystopian novel, the break-neck speed of which is the kind that refuses to warn you of upcoming bumps and denies you the breath to secure your seat belt. You often feel jolted, shocked and yet sometimes deeply touched by the very humanistic adventure it describes. If you enjoy solid British sci-fi, or like me, are a sucker for terribly bleak yet well written dystopia, the book is a joy to read and something that really does stay with you long after you turn the final page."

I'll take that.  In fact, I'll quite happily take that every time.  It's certainly given me a lot to think about, especially as the sequel is now being written.

Just a shame hardly anyone else as read it, but I can live in hope that with a few more reviews like that people might start to pay attention.

14 Sept 2012

Monday 3 September 2012

All about Tube Riding

What is “Tube Riding”?

I actually got asked this the other day, so I thought I would explain to you the rather dangerous practice that is at the centre of my dystopian novel, The Tube Riders.

## Disclaimer – “Tube Riding” is a fictional sport performed by a very small number of people in 2075 London.  It is highly dangerous.  DO NOT attempt to do it for real.  You could quite possibly die and I, the author of The Tube Riders, will not be held legally responsible.  Trust me on this.  Just watch the movie. ##

A “tube” is a nickname for a subway/underground train.  The Tube Riders are a group of young people (there could be older people, but they probably wouldn’t be able to handle it) who “surf” the sides of these trains.  However, while the novel opens with them tube riding in the London Underground, it is possible to ride any train providing the prerequisites are met.

Prerequisites for Tube Riding –

1.      A wooden board, known as a “clawboard”.  Any flat piece of wood will do, but it must have metal handles or leather straps (preferably both) attached to one side, and a curved hook on the other.  Some clawboards have two or more hooks, others have one big one.
2.      Somewhere you can jump on the side of the trains without getting arrested.  The Tube Riders in the novel use the abandoned London Underground Station of St Cannerwells.  Now, don’t go looking for it, because St Cannerwells doesn’t exist.  Yet (the novel is set in 2075).
3.      A train.  Obviously.  Preferably one going pretty fast.  The benefit of St Cannerwells is that it is abandoned and thus the trains don’t stop.  They move through the station at speed, meaning the Tube Riders get a very exhilarating ride.
4.      Some old mattresses or pillows to land on when you jump off.  This is non-essential, as with correct technique it is possible to leap off and roll.  However, as Marta explains in the book, “it hurts like hell”.

How to Ride and Dismount

As the train enters the station, you must run at a diagonal angle in towards it, as demonstrated by Marta in the first chapter of the book.  You hold your board out in front of you.  As you come alongside, you leap up towards the train, angling your board towards the metal drainage rail that is just above the window.  Not all trains have this, so check beforehand.

If successful (and you really don’t want to miss), you stand with your feet braced apart just below the window, leaning back.  Give any commuters a little grin, then get ready for the dismount.

It is very important that you get off before the train goes into the tunnel.  Some of the tunnels are very tight and you could die.  When you are nearing the breakfall mats at the end of the platform, push your board in and up.  It will be held against the rail by the force of motion and you have to counteract it.

Immediately duck your head and arms in.  Land on your back on the breakfall mats and be thankful that you are still alive.

The Aim of Tube Riding

While in the book, Switch describes Tube Riding as "better than any drug", obviously, the main aim is not to die.  Several deaths have occurred, mainly when a rider misses what is known as the “hook” or the “mount”, and gets caught between the edge of the platform and the moving train.  Some platforms have smaller gaps than others, but you really want to make that hook.

However, once successfully on the train, the aim is to dismount as close to the wall as possible, as indicated by painted or chalk marks on the platform edge.  A score over thirty feet is novice, fifteen to thirty good, ten to fifteen exceptional.  As mentioned in the book, no one has done under ten feet and lived.

You can check your own scores, but a score is not official unless it has been verified by at least one other Tube Rider.

More than anything, though, for the Tube Riders, their dangerous sport is something that holds them together in the chaotic days of Mega Britain.  None of them have much family left, so it holds them together.  It will also be needed to save them when they fall foul of the government.

Lastly, that disclaimer again.  Remember, Tube Riding is a FICTIONAL sport.  DO NOT try it EVER.  NOT ONCE.  I am not responsible.

The Tube Riders is available now from Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

September 4th 2012

Saturday 1 September 2012

South Korea - Part Two

Been meaning to add a few more pics of our trip to South Korea in July but haven't had a chance to get around to it.  Finally, here they are.

An extremely large ice-cream.

Some street characters in downtown Seoul.

The best t-shirt ever made.  Ever.

Very happy, having just captured lunch.

The war museum in Seoul.  I hate war, but it fascinates me.

These flags are for all the members of the current United Nations.

A B-52 bomber.  Look at the size of that thing, built purely for killing as many people as possible.  Is there really not a better way to be spending money?

Another field of war machines outside the war museum.

Large kimchi pots, and um, a traffic light outside our hotel.  Protected by the very friendly hotel dog.

A pretty little cafe in downtown Seoul.  I thought the city was pretty nice for the most part, particularly in the shopping areas.

Some rather "delicious" soup near our hotel.  Unfortunately we didn't have time ...!