Tuesday 6 January 2015


Every time I have an "am I a good writer or not?" moment, I pull out this very short story I wrote in one inspired hour back in 2012. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about it, as far as I'm concerned this is as close as I've ever come to writing something perfect. It was heavily inspired by Ray Bradbury's The Lake, the tone of which I was shamelessly trying to emulate. Bradbury's story is world famous, my little imitation has been read by about eight people. If you have a chance, spare me five minutes of your time to have a read.


by Chris Ward

The news often fills air time with talk of cloning. It is possible, they say, to replicate a human body, a human mind. To make two of one, four of one, fifty million of one.

In the schoolyard I was nothing. Pushed into a corner, backed up against a wall, shoved down against the ground. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Bombarded by a battering ram of words.
I didn’t know it then, but I wished I was a clone. I liked me. No one else did. I wanted to be me, but somewhere else. Somewhere kinder.

I remember that summer, in that field along the coast a little ways from Fowey. The caravan, the endless games of UNO in the rain, the swimming pool on the warm August days. The little “play” area where the kids hung out, with the jukebox and the pinball machines, the table tennis table. The beach, across the road from the summer camp, where I saw her for the first time.

This is all about a girl, you see.

I had stupid hair. Pulled through one of those hair nets and bleached, we left the peroxide on too long, my buddy and me. His hair, darker, could take it. Mine, fairer, went as bright as the summer sun. Straw-bright, the kids at school said. Wursel Gummage, they called me, after the John Pertwee character. I’m sure none of them had ever seen the old TV show, but kids have a way of knowing. Ways of hurting seem to float through the air like balloons, drifting from one generation to the next, waiting to be plucked and popped.

They put gum in it. Gave me dead arms, just because. Laughed. Joked. And I wished I could be someone else, still me but not me. A clone.

Amy was a year younger than me, she said. Fifteen. Scrawny but cute, her hair pulled back into a neat ponytail, held tight with a little green scrunchie.

I like your hair,’ she told me. She actually used those words. It’s been years, and many of the details have faded, but I remember those words exactly. She may or may not have said, ‘You’re cool’, but that first line was enough.

I met her in that room at the holiday park, the play room. Next to the pinball table. She saw me standing there, as they say. We talked awhile about nothing, about the songs on the jukebox neither of us liked. The sun went down, and we took a walk down to the beach.

I was cloned.

Nothing much happened, just a bit of fooling around. We were young, she was cute, I was a deadbeat in another world a million miles away. But we kissed, we held hands, we lay down on the warm sand for a while.

Behind us, on the road, local chav kids revved their souped-up cars and tore along the seafront, but in our little bubble we were safe.

Next year?’ she begged me. ‘Ask them.’ Meaning my parents. ‘The same week of August. We’ll see each other again.’ And she placed a hand over mine.

Cloned, I returned to school. Got a basketball thrown in my face which flattened my nose. Shaved my head, watched it grow back, light brown, like before. The seasons turned, and the holiday park - and Amy - rode back around.

We were a week late. Dad’s work, Mum’s appointments. Our holidays overlapped by a day. That day, our first, Amy’s last, I dashed down to the beach. There I found sirens, an ambulance, someone sewn up inside a bag. A souped-up car on its side, a dark stain I couldn’t look at a couple of feet out from the pavement, as if someone had dropped a bag of copper-coloured ink on the road.

A woman was screaming, over by the ambulance. I guess they could have been related, Amy and her. I didn’t see, I couldn’t ask.

Perhaps she had hoped to find me down there on the beach beyond that hazardous road, in amongst the sand dunes. Perhaps her parents had stopped the car for her to take one last look.

Maybe it wasn’t her, but I’ll never know.

I didn’t read about it in the newspapers or see it on the television. I didn’t want to look. I returned to school a week later, cloned.

The years drove slowly past like a commuter train overtaking a car, stretching me up towards the sky and stacking meat on my bones. I grew bigger, stronger, the line of my jaw grew tighter and no one any longer bothered this clone. I sailed through university with a gentle following breeze, tore down the rapids of my twenties and drifted out into the lake of my thirties, peaceful and placid.

I married, divorced, had a kid, lost a kid, got a kid back. I cloned myself through so many jobs I lost count of them.

Around my fortieth birthday I wanted Amy back. I joined that social networking site – you know the one, I’m sure – and I trawled through Amys for hours. Blonde hair, black hair, brown hair, red hair, blue eyes, green eyes, brown eyes, snake eyes (!), and there she was filled out, thicker round the neck but still the Amy I remembered, cloned.

I emailed her: I’d like to see you again.

She had never heard of me before. Never set foot in Cornwall, let alone that holiday camp in Fowey. She was seven years older than me.

I searched, and there she was again. A little thinner than I remembered, her hair prematurely grey, but those same eyes.

She agreed to meet me.

Over coffee we talked. She agreed with everything I said. ‘Oh, we had great times, didn’t we? On that quiet little beach? Listen, are you free this weekend? How about we go away?’

Do you remember how many times you beat me at pool in that play room?’ I asked her. ‘Dozens,’ she said, and I told her goodbye. She had won at pinball, I remember, but never on a pool table that didn’t exist. Amy’s clone, so lonely, so lost, so desperate for a companion, cried off into the night.
I continued to meet Amy’s clones. Some of them were pleasant, friendly, and as attractive in their mid-forties as she had been at a tender fifteen. I dated a few, even, one for as much as six months. The spectre of Amy waited at the shoulder of every one of her clones though, and that always drew me away.

Eventually I had to shed my clones and return, have them bend before me to form a tunnel back to my youth and that day on the treacherous stretch of road that separated the beach from the holiday camp.

I found the holiday camp gone, replaced by a shopping mall. The beach, now developed with a wooden promenade where the dunes had rolled, was emptier than ever. I walked there for a while, calling her name softly under my breath, humming it like the forgotten lyrics to a song.

I wondered where I was going. I walked down to the shoreline, let my toes make trails in the wet sand. Then, back to the edge of the promenade, to that place where our clones had once sat, kissed, held hands and talked about stupid things. I sat down, wondering if I was still a clone or whether this was the real me.

I lay back, looking up at the sky. For a moment part of the fluffy cloud above me seemed to shift, and briefly it formed Amy’s face.

Another clone. Nature made them too.

I closed my eyes, and again I was back there on the beach as the sun went down, the hands of a girl I would never see again held gently in mine. Silently I wept, for what had been, what was, what might have been, and what would never be.

I was sure I could hear clones everywhere crying.


Clones is available along with several other similarly themed short stories in my collection, Five Tales of Loss.

Sunday 4 January 2015

Exit 2014, enter 2015

So another year has ended, and my three-year indie publishing anniversary on January 24th comes swiftly around.

2014 was, as a whole, a great year. Of course there were disappointments, and my dream to be doing this full time will have to wait a little longer, but it was still pretty damn good.

First up, here's the stats. A small disclaimer - some of these are vague, because I don't know / can't remember / don't want to give the accurate figures. They're pretty close though.

The production stats

Words written - 506,000
Complete novels written - 4
Ebooks published - 16 (including 3 novels, 2 boxed sets, and 2 short story collections. The rest were short stories / novellas, some under pen names).
Multi-author publications contributed to - 4 (1 boxed set, three anthologies)
Paperbacks published - 6
Audiobooks published - 2

The sales stats

Ebooks sold - roughly 4500
Audiobooks sold - 136
Paperbacks sold 86

The finances

Production costs - $1500 (covers, editing, proofreading, promotions, website costs)
Income - low 5 figures (that's all you're getting, I'm afraid haha)

The vast, vast majority of my sales were my two Tube Riders sequels and the Trilogy boxed set, probably more than 90%, reaffirming that series are the only way to make real money. Case in point, my biggest seller is Tube Riders: Exile, with roughly 1800 sales, while Finding My World, my little romance book published in September, has sold 7 copies. Head of Words, which most of my core readers think is my best book, has sold less than 100. Even Man Who Built the World, which was heavily promoted, has only sold about 500, most of those at 99 cents.

So, like it or not, unless you have some insider knowledge that I don't have, writing series is the only way to really succeed in this game. The books don't have to necessarily be sequential or even an ongoing story, but they have to have some kind of linear theme.

I came into self-publishing as a writer not sold on churning out the same book over and over again. Most of the people I know who have great success have 5 - 10-book series. Because becoming a full-time writer is my ultimate goal, it's been necessary for me to adjust my own aims a little. For example, if I want to make money out of Finding My World, I would probably have to write a follow-up with the same characters, and then have Amazon price-match the first book to free. It's not something that is on the current agenda, but is definitely something that might happen in the future.

There is some potential in niche markets. My cricket short stories, under the name of Michael White, were collectively my second best seller in 2014, shifting around 150 copies. While most of these were at 99 cents, it was clear that there is some market for the genre, mainly because there are almost no books out there at all with stories about the sport of cricket. There are a couple, but I'm practically the only one doing it. And another thing about that - they only really sell during the summer months, when the English summer season is on, while my collection paperback, Tales from the Village Green Volume 1, actually outsells my Tube Riders paperbacks. As a result, one of my early projects in 2015 is a cricket novel.

My novella series, Beat Down!, under the name of Michael S. Hunter, continues to be a dismal failure. The perma-free book 1 shifts perhaps one copy a day, and I can go months on end without a single sequel sale. I have hope that it might one day take off, but the couple of douchebag one star reviews from people who quit reading within a page, plus it being partly comedy, which doesn't sell well, continue to drag it down. My cover designer has also gone AWOL, so its unlikely there will be any more Beat Down! books anytime soon. A shame, as they're actually pretty good.

So, on to 2015. What's on the horizon?

This is the bit where I get to write a list of all the things I plan to write and publish, most of which won't be done by the end of the year, but its fun anyway. I've decided to make categories this time, of what is most likely, and what might or might not ever come to pass.

 Most likely.

Publish Crow #2: The Castle of All Nightmares. I'm currently editing it, so hopefully by Feb or so.

Publish Crow #3: The Puppeteer King. Again, very likely, as its finished.

Write Crow #4. Writing now.

Write Crow #5. Thinking....

Write the cricket novel. Working on it.

Publish a textbook based on my job, English teaching in Japan. Very likely as I actually wrote it in 2008 while I was bored at work, shopped it to a couple of publishers, never heard anything and then forgot about it. I'm currently updating it to make it relevant for 2014. It will be of no interest whatsoever to my fiction fans, but it will definitely fit into a niche market.

Possible ...

Get back into the Rise of the Governor Trilogy. I have 80,000 words across three attempts at book one, so it's likely it'll get done at some point. As for the sequels that continue the story of Maxim Cale and later Halo, I have no idea. There is, however, some overlap with the Crow books, as the central character, Professor Kurou, forms part of the backstory to the Tube Riders world. You don't really see it until book 3, but it starts to build in from then.

Write the Tube Riders interlude novel set between Exile and Revenge. Part of it is done, I occasionally pull it out and tinker with it. This will be a very Tube Riders novel, full of trains and Huntsmen, except with mostly different characters as its set in London while the main group are over in France.

Finish my horror novel Dark Days, and start a series of detective supernatural books based on the central character, akin to James Herbert's Ash novels. Dark Days is a brilliant but unfinished story, but if I want to actually sell it I have to think about it as part of a wider series, and in order to concentrate on it I'll need to clear most of the Crow and TR books out of the way first. Far more likely to show its head in 2016.

Very maybe ...!

The Concept. This is still in the planning / I tell people when I'm drunk phrase. A multi-media project combining a novel, music, and art. Not sure I can pull it off, particularly not the art bit, but we'll see.

Sales targets for 2015

10,000 ebooks. After the first half of 2014, I would have probably estimated more, but then Amazon brought in its horrible Kindle Unlimited program, which ruined the sales of those of us who don't use it, so I'm being conservative. Whether I get close will depend very much on whether I can get the Crow series finished and out and whether it gets anywhere near the amount of attention of the Tube Riders series. If it bombs, so will my sales. We'll see.