Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Chapter 3 from Jack Strong and the Red Giant

Chapter 3: First Contact

Jack looked down the corridor as it curved away into the distance.
It was bright and well-lit, and like the outside of the spaceship it was silver-looking, without any recognisable panels, buttons, or instruments of any kind. Indeed, he couldn’t even see where the light was coming from. There were no light bulbs, filaments, or even switches in the ceilings or walls. It seemed to come from everywhere at once.
The whole ship was absolutely silent. No engine purred and roared. No machinery whooshed and rattled. Not even his footsteps made a sound on the soft, shiny floor. All he could hear was the sound of his chest rapidly sucking in and out lungfuls of air.
Jack looked around frantically as he felt the fear rise in his chest. He reached out and touched one of the walls. Like the floor, it was hard and smooth, and yet it seemed softer than metal. When he ran his fingers over it, he could press the material down by about half an inch. The whole corridor seemed to be covered in this strange sponge-like material.
He stood there for a few minutes not knowing what to do. The whole ship seemed deserted. Not for the first time tonight he was alone and frightened. What had happened? How had he got inside? Would he ever be able to get out?
He turned around and tried desperately to find a way out - anything that he could open and escape through. He couldn't find anything. He attempted to grip the smooth silk-like walls, trying to prise open a non-existent door or hatch, but his hands just kept slipping off.
Then his fear and frustration began to boil over, his screwed-up fists pummeling the walls.
“WHO ARE YOU?” he shouted out to whoever might be listening “WHAT AM I DOING HERE? LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT!”
But there was no answer, only the echo of his own trembling voice.
Then suddenly, as if he'd pressed some hidden switch, a huge portion of the wall vanished.
Before him appeared a giant image of the Earth.
He jumped back, expecting to be sucked out into the vacuum of space at any moment. But nothing happened.
Then he reached out, his hands shaking. The image of the Earth rippled under his touch like a reflection on water. The wall was still there however, but it now seemed to be some kind of transparent window.
Looking down he was now high above Africa, with the pale yellow sands of the Sahara desert clearly visible next to the lush, green rainforests of Western and Central Africa. White and grey bands of clouds were drifting over South Africa and parts of Eurasia, and around all this was the bluest ocean Jack had ever seen.
When the spaceship had taken off he'd no idea. He hadn’t felt any acceleration, or heard the rush and boom of any rockets. It was like it had magically disappeared in one place and then re-appeared in another.
Not only was he the first boy to go on board an alien spaceship, but he had now become the first to fly into space too.
Then almost as quickly as the Earth appeared it dissolved into nothing, leaving Jack alone in the corridor once more.
Still too afraid to move, he sat in the corridor for a long time not knowing what to do.
After a while boredom and curiosity got the better of him and he decided to explore further down the corridor, turning around every now and again just to make sure he wasn’t being followed by some hairy, ugly space critter.
Where was everybody? Why weren't there any aliens or robots to greet him? That was what happened in the movies, right?
The corridor seemed endless. Every now and again he would pass some brightly-lit rooms that like the corridor were lit by a non-existent light source. On each of these there were no doors of any kind, nor no windows either. He could only guess as to what they were used for. He thought about going into some of them to explore, but thought better of it.
As far as he could make out there were no other levels to the ship. He saw no elevators, escalators, or stairs that led anywhere else. He saw no signs either. The only things he did see were some 3-D pictures of what looked like the Milky Way galaxy set against an even larger star. They seemed to be part of the wall itself. When Jack touched one it came alive, the shimmering stars revolving around the sun in the centre. He could even put his hand into the picture and feel the glow of the stars tingling on his fingertips.
He kept on walking for well over an hour but he couldn’t find a way out.
Then he saw something brown on the floor in front of him. He bent over to have a look. It was dirt – his own. He'd gone round in a circle. He must have brought it onto the spaceship when he came aboard.
Not only was he on an alien spaceship thousands of miles above the Earth with no way to get off, but he was also lost on this spaceship without the faintest idea where to go next.
Panicking, he began to run frantically around the spaceship; in the hope that he had missed something, or perhaps had taken a wrong turning. He hadn’t. About forty five minutes later he found himself back where he had started, next to several crumbs of dry mud and a few twisted blades of grass.
He slumped to the floor dejected, ran his hands through his clammy hair, and wondered what he could do next.
He was just about to go and explore one of the larger rooms when something large and heavy fell on top of him.
He crashed to his knees and fell over, his right cheek bouncing off the soft, spongy, floor.
Something was on top of him holding him down.
Whatever it was it was alive. He could feel its hot breath on the back of his neck and what felt like sharp claws or fingernails digging between his shoulder blades, ripping and tearing at his skin.
He managed to squeeze one of his arms out from under his body. He flapped and flailed at whatever was on top of him, grasping nothing but air. Eventually, he managed to grab what felt like tough dry leather and wrenched-off whatever was holding him down.
Jack gasped. Facing him was a pair of big, round black eyes surrounded by a pale, milky head, and a mouthful of sharp, white teeth.
He barely had time to breathe but what the creature attacked him again, its sharp fingernails poking and jabbing at his eyes as its small nose twitched and prodded as it sucked in his scent. Within moments it was on top of him again, its gleaming teeth locked in an angry grimace as it tried to strangle him.
Then he heard the sound of laughter from the other end of the corridor. He turned around instantly.
Before him was what looked like a young teenage girl.
The first thing that he noticed was how red she was. She had bright red hair and eyes, crimson lips, light-red, pinkish skin, and she was even dressed in red, wearing a tight-fitting red suit that stretched all the way from her neck to her feet.
“Is that how you practice first contact on your planets?” she chuckled.
Jack laid there quietly not knowing what to say as the jawstrocity on top of him glared at her with its tar-like eyes.
Then suddenly it opened its mouth, snarling back at her, “No, of course not, I was just …I was just…”
It glared in the direction of Jack again, “I was just protecting myself. I thought that HE was going to attack ME!”
“No I wasn’t.” Jack yelled, still gripping its arms. “He attacked me, I did nothing to him, I swear.”
“I don't care, you can believe what you like,” it said as it thrust him once more to the floor.
Then it got to its feet and walked quickly over to the red girl. “Where did you learn my language?” It demanded, the dark green veins in its skin almost popping out of its forehead.
“What do you mean? I was going to ask you the same thing. Where did you learn Rennish?”
“Very amusing,” it said, “Stop messing around and tell me where you learnt Asvari. Your accent is perfect.”
“Look,” she continued in a slightly arrogant tone “If you want to believe that I am speaking Asvari or Astar or whatever you want to call it then fine, but you might want to ask your friend over there how he can understand the both of us too!”
For the first time it looked flustered, green canals popping-up all over its skin. Then it glared at Jack again, who was still lying on the floor in a heap. “He’s NOT my friend!” it spat “I ...”
Then it abruptly stopped. “What language are you speaking?” it demanded of Jack.
“What do you mean?” asked Jack a little flustered.
“L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E!” It spelled out sarcastically. “What language are you speaking?”
“English, of course!” Jack replied, getting to his feet.
“See, I told you!” said the red girl triumphantly, her cheeks glowing.
“But how? It doesn’t make sense,” it said, looking confused.
Now it was her turn to spell it out, “We aren’t speaking each other’s languages, but we are hearing them! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Somehow in this spaceship we are able to understand what other people say.”
“But that’s impossible!” said Jack. “How…”
“I don’t know how,” interrupted the red girl. “All I know is that it IS happening. Perhaps there’s something on board the spaceship that makes it possible. Maybe it’s the spaceship itself, or maybe our brains have been re-programmed in some way.”
Upon hearing that Jack immediately touched his head, worried that it might explode at any moment.
“Don't worry,” Vyleria continued “I'm sure it's fine. By the look if it this spaceship is very advanced, so I'm sure it can handle a teeny-weeny bit of brain surgery.” “By the way what happened to your t-shirt? It looks like he's hurt you.”
“I didn't do anything to him!” protested the mouthful of teeth, its silver-grey spacesuit shimmering as his arms danced about in protest.
“No, it wasn't him,” Jack said, looking down at his blood-soaked t-shirt. “It was … it was … I fell.”
“You fell?” asked the red girl, not quite believing him.
“Yeah, I was playing football and I tripped and I fell and I hurt my lip.”
“And your cheeks and your nose and your forehead too?” she chuckled.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Jack replied, shuffling his feet and fidgeting.
“See, I told you!” barked the mouthful of teeth “What do you take me for – some kind of monster?”
“No, of course not what do you take me for some kind of narrow-minded speciesist?”
“How did you both get here?” Jack asked, seizing a chance to change the subject and to stop them from arguing “I’ve been walking around this corridor for ages but I didn’t see either of you.”
“I..I..” started the creature with the milky, green face, but again the red girl interrupted him, “I’ve been exploring some of the other levels. There’s some amazing stuff down there, you should check it out. I got around by using one of the transportation rooms. I found it by accident actually.”
“What do you mean the transportation rooms?” Jack asked.
“You know the transportation rooms!”
Jack looked at her blankly.
“Oh,” she said, reading his expression “You mean you haven't found them yet? What have you been doing you two? Come on, I’ll show you,” she said, chuckling to herself.
They followed her down the corridor and into one of the rooms that Jack had passed before. It didn’t look like anything special - just white and empty.
“What do you do?” Jack asked, staring at it as a monkey might do a computer “How does it work?”
“Here, I’ll show you;” she said confidently “First you step inside and then think of wherever you want to go on the space ship. Wherever you think of, it sends you there.”
Then with that she stepped inside, turned round, closed her eyes and promptly vanished.
Jack was searching the room for her when suddenly he heard a voice behind him.
“Hi there!” said Vyleria, tapping him on the shoulder.
He jumped about a foot in the air.
“Where did you come from?” he asked, gasping for breath.
“I simply thought of the next room along this corridor and it sent me there. You should try it; I've been having so much fun!”
Jack stepped forward, only for the other creature to elbow him out of the way. Then it stepped inside the room, closed its eyes, and vanished, before re-appearing moments later.
When Jack stepped inside the room but he found he couldn’t concentrate. His head was a whirl of thoughts and feelings. He thought of the room next door, then the long corridor, Gaz Finch, the football pitch, arguing with his parents, the pen fight, the spaceship, seeing Planet Earth, how to get out, and then and then …
He found himself close to the ceiling.
He fell down immediately, bouncing lightly off the soft floor.
Then he heard the sound of laughter.
“Stop laughing at me!” he shouted.
“Sorry Jack,” said the red girl “I can’t help it. I never thought that you’d be so funny!”
“I did,” snarled the mouthful of teeth, its green veins almost poking out of its cheeks.
I’m not going to be laughed at here as well as school, Jack thought to himself, so picking himself up he went back into the transportation room, closed his eyes, thought of the room next door and vanished again.
He opened his eyes on a large white room. “Yes, I’ve done it!” he shouted, but when he went out into the corridor he realised that instead of re-appearing next door he had in fact ended-up in an identical room more than a hundred feet away.
He trudged back to yet more howls of laughter. It WAS like school all over again!
It took Jack five more attempts to get it right. Each time he got closer and closer, though once he ended-up in a room so far away it took him almost thirty minutes to walk back!
Eventually he got it right, though they still sniggered at him.
“Where should we go to?” the other creature asked the red girl, ignoring Jack completely. “Where haven’t you been to on the ship?”
“I came on board several floors down so I’ve been making my way up ever since trying to see if anyone else was here,” she said. “I’m not even sure how many levels there are, let alone how many remain up or down. We could always keep going up I suppose. Maybe we will find others too. By the way my name is Vyleria. Vyleria Romen.”
“I’m Jack … Jack Strong,” Jack stammered.
“Number six hundred and thirty four, Alpha wing, Andromeda sphere,” replied the other creature, matter-of-factly.
“That sounds more like a room in a space hotel than a name,” Vyleria chuckled, “What can we call you for short?”
“You can call me Six hundred and thirty four, alpha wing, Andromeda sphere,” it replied, glaring at them both with those big, black eyes of his, “That's my name!”
“Yes, you're right,” said Vyleria with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “I didn't mean to laugh at you. I just thought that if for example we are fleeing from an exploding supernova (Jack didn't like the thought of this) or are caught up in a solar hurricane (or this) for the sake of simplicity calling out Number Six Hundred and Thirty Four, Alpha Wing, Andromeda Sphere, might be a bit too long and complicated, and perhaps even a tad dangerous. Do you have a nickname (Jack thought of a few at this point); something that we can call you for short?
For a moment Jack didn't think it was going to work, but then after a few seconds the jawstrocity stopped glaring at them. “Call me Ros,” it said.
“Ros?” asked Vyleria.
“Yes, Ros.” it punched back “There do you like it? Can we move on now?”
“Okay, Ros it is then” said Vyleria, smiling “Let’s go up to the next level and see what we can find. Try to concentrate Jack; you don’t want to end up in outer space!”

With that they stepped into the transportation room, vanishing one by one. Vyleria first, then Ros, and then finally a worried-looking Jack.

Check out the rest of the novel here:



Acknowledgements

Foreword

Below is the second part of the acknowledgement section from my book Jack Strong and the Red Giant . The reason that I have decided to include this on my blog is because it relates to creativity, inspiration, and the intellectual bonds that can sometimes exist between teachers and students.  Sometimes the students can be the teachers ...

Acknowledgements

 Special mention must also go to one of my old students in Beijing, George Jia Hang. His generous praise of the first few chapters notwithstanding, it was whilst teaching him that I realised something about myself as a writer. When I first encountered George I would often find him writing story after story about plane loads of terrorists descending, machine-guns a-blazing, on Paris or New York until they were rather hastily and brutally dispatched by Seal Team Six or some other super-awesome American special forces unit. It went like this sometimes for a dozen pages or more with explosions and battles raging throughout the narrative; now whereas other teachers or adults may have seen only violence and mayhem, I saw IMAGINATION and CREATIVITY – the product of a video-game obsessed generation to be sure, but a vital, informative product nonetheless. And what was I writing better at the time besides poetry? Nothing. I hadn't written a serious short story since that day in English class when I was eleven years old. We had been set a task to write about the colour 'Red'; and so given my action-movie obsessed life at the time I wrote about the Falklands war. If I remember correctly the whole class was stunned into silence as soon as I began mimicking the sound of a heavy machine-gun rapping off a few hundred rounds. Since everyone else rather predictably wrote about love and flowers and such, I looked like a bit of an idiot: in fact my mum to this day says that the teachers pretty much thought I was mad. But what does all this have to do with George? Well, after the ridicule that followed my war story I stopped writing, or at least I stopped writing anything that was remotely out-of-the-box or contained machine guns and tanks and generous amounts of action. That was of course until I became George's teacher. His stories, whilst being a product of his generation, took me back to when I was at school in the early 1990's and got me thinking about our respective writing processes. To me there was nothing inherently wrong with his stories and so instead of diverting him back to what he was supposed to be writing on (I think I actually gave them the same topic 'The Colour Red' as my English teacher did all those years ago) I encouraged him to explore and invest in his creativity, his imagination, his passion, because ultimately – and I'm talking to all teachers now – this is what writing is about: finding what moves us and excites us, and what as readers makes us want to open the book and keep on turning. So with this in my mind I began to write … and write and write (there was a LOT of writing), not about tanks and bombs because I'd left that behind years ago, but about this young boy called Jack Strong, who I couldn't get out of my head (and still can't), and all his incredible, life-changing adventures as he throttles around the galaxy.

You can buy Jack Strong and the Red Giant, a book about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space here:



Wednesday, 20 August 2014

How to promote your e-book

     The easiest thing about writing, in my opinion, is sitting down once a day or else a few times a week and tapping away at my computer, transcribing my thoughts into ideas and words as my narrative coalesces and my characters become more like real people (I hope) upon the page. Slowly, over a period of several months (up to a year in fact if you throw in a bit of editing and proof-reading as well) pages become chapters, and chapters form-up into solid, identifiable chunks which in turn splodge together like a big ham sandwich to become a book. And that is when the whole writing process slows down and becomes incredibly hard. Because somehow, some way I have to be able to attract readers in, and after I've put it on Kindle or other such devices, get them to download and review it. To do just this I have to promote it in as many interesting and innovative ways as I can, so as to get more downloads and (hopefully) some favourable reviews that will in turn generate more downloads and further reviews until the whole thing becomes one big pleasantly vicious cycle that results in my book climbing Amazon's charts and me feeling really, really good about myself and my incredibly huge literary talent (I wish!).
     I first published my debut novel - Jack Strong and the Red Giant - on Amazon (Kindle and Create Space paperback) on July 7th and I can quite honestly say that I have had an exceptionally steep learning curve (and I'm still learning a great deal even as I write this). I think most of the mistakes that I made early on were purely born out of the fact that I just wanted to get the book out as soon as possible and as quick as I could so as to get it OUT THERE for people to read and buy in their hundreds and thousands (well I can dream!). The first and perhaps the biggest mistake I made was the cover. I have taken the liberty of including both the original cover (in all its textbook sexiness) below, together with the updated Hollywood movie poster version that Fantabanner on www.fiverr.com (A great website for indy writers by the way) designed for me. About 18 people downloaded (well I pestered them!) the original version but it became increasingly clear to me that if I wanted a stranger to go to the trouble of parting with his or her hard-earned money then I would have to have a cover that jumped out at them and said READ ME! Hopefully, the new cover satisfactorily addresses that issue. Another problem with the book has been the synopsis/book blurb. I'm still not happy with it - perhaps I never will be - and so far I think I've re-wrote and re-jigged it about five or six times. Not unlike the cover, I want somebody to read it and for it to jump out at them and grab their attention like the blurb for Harry Potter or else The Lord of the Rings. I will paste the current blurb/synopsis below this blog. Please feel free to give me your honest opinions about it, though like I said I'm still not entirely satisfied.
     Another particularly daunting - and not to say tiring - challenge for me has been trying to take the book beyond my immediate circle of friends and trying to get strangers to look at it and buy it. So far my main focus has been the internet. Since the book's launch (though in a way it's more like an enduring campaign) I have swamped Facebook and Twitter and Google + and Linked In etc with updates and promotions all about my book. It's pretty time-consuming stuff (as those of you who are currently engaged in it will no doubt know) as I have to post links, reply to comments, and even post sample chapters (a good way to draw the reader into the quality of my book imho) in various places, all in the pursuit of sometimes scant sales. But this is where I think I have improved as an author/promoter - where once I daydreamed of a hop, skip, and a jump to international literary fame - I now come to value just how important one single sale is. It just goes to show that somebody out there thought enough of my book's blurb or the photo or any of the numerous posts I've plastered all over the internet to download my book. Sometimes as writers we have to be willing to make the hard yards in order get a few touchdowns. Actually, last week I went on holiday to France and upon my return several days later I found that five people had downloaded my book and I hadn't even promoted it whilst I'd been away. How good was that? I felt like a Terminator, that I could conquer the literary world five readers at a time.
     But if there was anything that could have brought me back down to Planet Earth it was a bad review. For the past few weeks, as part of my promotional efforts, I've been sending free copies of my novel off to several book reviewers in the hope that they will adequately (or more than adequately I hope) review my book on Amazon and Facebook etc so that this will in turn generate more buzz, more positive publicity, and thus MORE SALES! As there is a direct link on Amazon between the number of positive reviews and actual sales this is acutely vital for many writers like me. Well, I got one such review and it stank like a rotten egg that had been left out in the farmyard for a month or two. I won't go too much into the details - I can't even remember the website now - but suffice to say that it was not exactly conducive to a good and happy mood on my part. I felt down about it for a while (well, pissed-off is the word) - they hated all of my main characters and much else besides - But then I just kind of thought what the hell, or as Chef might've said in South Park - Fudge em'. It's all a matter of opinion after all, and there are plenty of people who write great, snotty-nosed epics slaughtering Stephen King and Tolkien and Shakespeare et al and saying how rubbish they are. Not that I'm saying I'm as amazingly awesome as they are but it's just that as a writer I believe that whilst it's important for me to be open-minded and thoughtful of what other people say about my work, I also believe that I must have this stubborn zeal to carry on regardless, otherwise I'll end up losing all my confidence and hard work and I may, just may end up changing my voice to suit others - others who may not give a fig about my work one way or another. Besides, I've had far more positive reviews about my novel than bad and I'm still averaging five stars on Amazon from five reviews - hurray for me!
     Another way I'm trying to promote my novel is through this blog. Hopefully, people who are interested in reading it will also want to check out my novel. Of course I have no stats to back this up - but like I said earlier you gotta have faith. The more work, the more innovative I get with my promotional tools the more success I believe I will ultimately get. Speaking of blogs, one promotional tool that I hope to kick start in the next few weeks or so is Jack Strong's - the main character in my book - diary. Using some artwork kindly donated by my friends I aim to set up fake accounts on twitter, facebook, blogger etc and write approximately one diary entry a week. It will be a new challenge and one that may also throw up some short stories and some poems but I think that it will help me and Jack (because in my head he feels more and more like a real person now) create that buzz, that fizz that surrounds all the successful books and drags the reader to them and not the other way around. But whatever happens I will keep on promoting and trying new things that can help me bring my book to my target audience and indeed the wider reading public as a whole. So far I've shifted 130 copies of my book and this is something, that as a writer I'm incredibly proud of. Hopefully, I will shift a few more copies over the coming weeks and months, and then maybe, just maybe a small publisher in the U.K or the U.S.A will see my book as more marketable than it had been when I first set out on this journey.



     If you want to read more about Jack Strong's adventures around the galaxy please feel free to check out: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00M22USRE I've also enclosed the prologue below.

Prologue
The boy pulled the bundle of furs close as the last of his fire rocks went out.
He couldn’t stop shivering. It was getting colder and colder every day now.
Outside he could hear the Nagwhals calling, their shrill whine bouncing off the ice falls, reaching deep into the cave.
He was so hungry. He hadn't eaten in days.
Beneath the pile of rotten fur he held onto his brother, now stiff with cold.
Down the tunnel he heard a long, piercing shriek and a loud splash. Moments later a big silver head followed by a long silver body squeezed itself out of the darkness and slid towards him, its huge, jagged teeth snapping at his rags.
A yell and a lunge and it was all over.
He let go of his brother as the Nagwhal tugged his stiff body back down the dark tunnel.
He was alone now - the last boy alive on a long dead planet.
The boy shivered, and waited for the Nagwhal to come again.



Book blurb/short synopsis


Jack Strong and the Red Giant revolves around a young twelve year old boy, called Jack Strong. One day after getting beaten-up by the school bully he runs away from home, only to find himself face-to-face with an alien spaceship. Once on board, he must overcome his lack of confidence and low self-esteem in order to become accustomed to his strange, almost magical surroundings and get on with his new alien 'shipmates". Crash-landing on a barren, volcano-infested planet in the shadow of a Red Giant Star, he must do all that he can to ensure not just his survival but also the lives of his new found friends.

Covers

Cover 1 is the original, cover 2 is the new, current version.




Monday, 11 August 2014

Chapter 2 from Jack Strong and the Red Giant

Chapter 2: Blast-Off

Frustrated and angry, Jack ran as fast as he could down a narrow, winding country lane, which cut through a string of fields and woods.
Eventually he arrived at his Cousin George’s house, which was on the sprawling Badgerton estate nearby. Like so many of the houses there, it was semi-detached, sandstone coloured, and with large gardens to the front and rear. He grasped the shiny brass door-knocker on the white PVC door and rapped it three times. His auntie Margaret opened the door, her gold jewelry twinkling in the evening sunshine.
“Oh, you’ve turned up I see,” she hollered, her skin almost as golden as her bracelets. “Your mum’s rang and she says you’ve to go back home at once and clean up all the mess you’ve made!”
“But I-I-I-wanted to ask George,” he stammered “If he wanted to come out and p-p-play football with me.”
“No, he can’t!” she bellowed back, “He’s not allowed to play out with you tonight. He's got homework to do, and besides you’ve to go home and clean-up that kitchen of yours.”
“Oh c-c-come on Auntie Margaret!” he begged. “Just for an hour, then I’ll go back home and clean it up, I promise.”
“No! Your mum says you’ve to go home now, and that’s the end of it!”
“O-o-okay, tell her I’m on my way.” he said, walking back down the drive.
“Oh no, you don't,” she said, “I'll drive you. I'll just go and fetch my keys.”
But Jack didn't want to go back with her. He'd had a terrible day at school - aside from losing another pen fight, someone had poured a whole bottle of salt over his lunch, and he'd been given another bad school report from his teachers (All D's, E's, and F's) – so now all he wanted to do was to play football and enjoy himself for once. So as soon as she went back inside to get her keys he ran off towards the football pitch as fast as he could.

As Jack walked towards the side of the pitch he saw several boys and girls playing football. As he'd been so eager to run away from his mum and dad he'd left his glasses behind, so he squinted his eyes in the bright evening sun and scanned their blurry faces, trying to work out who they were. He’d got to within a few metres of them when suddenly he realised that the boy in front of him was Gaz Finch, the biggest bully and self-proclaimed ‘cock’ of the school. One of the roughest boys in Rockingdale he was constantly being caught fighting, not just with other boys but also with some of the teachers too.
Thick-set, tall, and stocky, like a pit-bull terrier, he at once turned towards Jack, his whole, ugly face snarling.
“Hey, look who it is!” he shouted to his friends, through yellow, jagged teeth. “It’s Jack MONG!”
Immediately, his friends howled and shrieked with laughter.
“What d’you want Mongy?” He continued, “A new face and some new clothes ha ha ha!”
“I-I-I don’t want anything,” Jack stammered, suddenly afraid. “I-I-I just wanna play f-f-football.”
“NUTHIN? Don’t look like nuthin Mongy!” he yelled. “What do you want to play football for? Yer RUBBISH!”
“N-n-n-no I’m not, I’m …I’m…” spluttered Jack.
“N-n-n-n-n-n-n-n!” Gaz mocked back, to yet more howls of laughter.
“G-G-Gaz …I-I-I.”
But Gaz interrupted him again, his voice even angrier. “YER WANNA FIGHT? YER STARTIN’? Think you can show YOUR BIG RED FACE around here do yer?”
Then he began to push Jack, inching closer and closer, spit spraying all over his face.
Jack was terrified; he didn’t know what to do.
He held out his hands to try and prevent Gaz from getting closer, but all he did was slap them away.
“N-n-n-no,” Jack begged again “I-I-I just wanna p-p-play f-f-football, honest. I don’t want to fight yer Gaz, please!”
But his pleas only seemed to make Gaz angrier, and his pushes and shoves and his barks and yells became more forceful and more violent, as he brushed and slapped away at his arms.
“YEAH YER ARE, YER STARTIN’! He yelled again. “Think you can take me do yer Mongy? I’LL SHOW YER!”
With that Gaz punched Jack just below his right eye.
Immediately, his skin stung and seared.
“Arrgghhh!” Jack screamed at the top of his voice. “It hurts! It hurts! Stop! Stop! Stop! Please!” he begged, absolutely terrified, trying to back away, his heart hammering like a pneumatic drill.
But Gaz didn’t listen. He just kept on hitting him, his stinging fists swinging like wooden mallets.
“COME ON! COME ON! LET’S FIGHT!” he yelled, punches landing all over his face. “COME ON! COME ON!”
Then Jack spat out some blood. Gaz had bust his bottom lip.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” he kept shouting over and over again, his mouth stinging, blood dribbling down his bruised chin.
He didn’t know what to do. He was so scared. It didn’t seem real. He was trapped in a waking nightmare and he didn’t know how to get out.
Still Gaz's fists swung and clubbed away.
Finally, he did what he always did with the bullies.
He ran.
Gaz didn’t chase after him though. He didn’t need to. He’d got his fun for the evening. Today it was Jack. Yesterday it was a younger boy with ginger hair, glasses, and eczema. Tomorrow it would be someone different.
Jack ran from the football pitch across some fields, and through some bushes and trees, past flocks of startled sheep; leaping over mole hills and piles of cow dung, until eventually he came panting to the cool, blue haven of Darnley reservoir.
There Jack sank down on one of its rough grassy banks and started to cry.
He felt weak, lonely, and pathetic.
He was still bleeding from his bottom lip, and his shoes and jeans were smeared with mud and cow dung. Thoughts whirred around his head. How was he going to explain his bloodied clothes to his mum and dad? Would he get black eyes? What would everybody say at school after the holidays? No doubt Gaz would tell the whole school that he’d beaten him up. Everybody was going to have a right good laugh at him.
He ran his fingers through his clammy hair, and then he started to cry again. He felt humiliated. He hadn’t even fought back …
He sat there for about twenty minutes feeling sorry for himself, until eventually the sobs subsided and the tears dried. He thought about his mum and dad too. He felt sorry for shouting at them and for breaking all those dishes. Though they were poor, he realised that they always did their best for him. His mum was always buying him t-shirts from the charity shops and his dad would often bring home bags of chocolate from the chocolate factory where he worked. The thought made him smile. He would go home and make it up to them, even if it did mean getting told-off and being grounded for a few weeks.
He wiped his bleeding lip with his hands and now bloodied t-shirt, and then he got up and trudged off towards home, spitting out a pink mixture of saliva and blood every few paces.
It was now approaching eight o’clock and it was beginning to get darker. The Moon had long since been visible overhead, resting on a bed of red and orange, and now poking through the increasingly dark sky were the first glimmers of a vast armada of stars.
It was at that moment that he saw out of the corner of his eye a small, bright, circular object moving across the horizon.
“It must be a plane,” he said out loud, but even so he continued to follow its course as it cut a path through the increasingly populous night sky.
His mind swirled with the possibilities: Could it be a satellite or a space station? Or perhaps it’s one of those new rockets taking tourists into space?
But just at that moment it suddenly turned around, changed course, and headed in his direction with incredible speed. He watched unbelievingly as it became an increasingly large bright dot in the sky. In a matter of seconds this dot had then changed into a large, silver, elliptical-shaped object.
All the time it was getting closer and closer. Then suddenly in a matter of seconds it swooped down across the wide sprawling valley, close to where he was standing. He tried to run away, but it was no use. In no time at all it had whooshed over his head settling beside a dark, shadowy clump of trees about twenty feet in front of him.
It was absolutely massive, easily swamping the football pitch that he'd just run from. It was bright silver and shaped rather like a triangle, only more aerodynamic, being curved around the edges. There were no windows, lights, panels, insignia, cockpits, engines, or mechanical instruments of any kind that he could see, and it was absolutely silent. It glimmered brilliantly in the cool moonlight; the moon, clouds and the stars reflecting off on its shiny, metallic surface.
Jack’s heart was beating wildly. For a few moments nothing happened, it just hung there suspended above the field, casting not even the slightest bit of shadow. Maybe it doesn't know I'm here? He thought.
He should have been terrified, he should have been panicking and running away in the opposite direction like he always did. But for some reason he didn't feel scared at all; if anything he felt calm and relaxed, welcome even.
He walked towards it, its size appearing all the more gigantic the closer he got, the battered image of the crescent moon glinting off its huge nose.
In no time at all, he was directly in front of it, the wavy image of the grassy field reflecting back at him. It had still not moved, and no landing ramp or steps of any kind had come down. It didn’t appear to know he was there.
Then for some unknown reason he had an idea to try and touch it. He stretched out his fingers, running them over its soft, fluid-like surface. And then, as if someone had pulled a lever or flicked a switch, he was inside, standing in a long tube-like corridor, his own awe-struck reflection staring back at him.

Jack Strong, the boy who had gotten an F for his latest science report, had just become the first boy inside an alien spaceship.


If you want to read the rest of the novel you can find it here: Jack Strong and the Red Giant

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Prologue and Chapter 1 from Jack Strong and the Red Giant

Prologue

The boy pulled the bundle of furs close as the last of his fire rocks went out.
He couldn’t stop shivering. It was getting colder and colder every day now.
Outside he could hear the Nagwhals calling, their shrill whine bouncing off the ice falls, reaching deep into the cave.
He was so hungry. He hadn't eaten in days.
Beneath the pile of rotten fur he held onto his brother, now stiff with cold.
Down the tunnel he heard a long, piercing shriek and a loud splash. Moments later a big silver head followed by a long silver body squeezed itself out of the darkness and slid towards him, its huge, jagged teeth snapping at his rags.
A yell and a lunge and it was all over.
He let go of his brother as the Nagwhal tugged his stiff body back down the dark tunnel.
He was alone now - the last boy alive on a long dead planet.
The boy shivered, and waited for the Nagwhal to come again.


Chapter 1: School’s Out

Jack slammed the front door shut and quickly ran up the stairs. He went straight into the bathroom, locked the door, and looked into the small mirror by the sink.
It was worse than he feared.
There were swishes and squiggles of red, black, blue, green, and orange marker pen all over his face.
He panicked.
Not wanting to be seen like this by his mum and dad he turned on the taps and frantically began to scrub his face with a large, yellow sponge. It took almost twenty minutes of feverish scrubbing to remove every last mark.
After he finished dabbing himself with a towel, he walked across the landing, entered his small, sparsely decorated bedroom, and slouched upon the bed.
He had lost another pen fight.
When it was other children fighting though, they didn’t seem to come away as badly as he did. It was supposed to be one against one, yet as soon as he said he wanted to fight there were five or six boys and girls holding him down, scribbling and scrawling all over his face. He kept shouting at them to stop, but they just laughed and giggled, their pens thrusting and jabbing.
Jack looked into the mirror one last time. Just for a moment he hoped that his birthmark had been washed away too, but one look told him it was still there: stretching all the way from his forehead to his chin like a big red smudge. Wiping his blue eyes dry, he put on his glasses, neatened his short brown hair, checked his face again for pen marks and left his bedroom.

The smell of food was now emanating from the kitchen and wafting up the steep flight of stairs.
Eager to see what was for dinner, he quickly rushed down the stairs, almost tripping over on the way and ran, much to the consternation of his Mum, through the living room into the kitchen.
He was so hungry.
His mind raced with the many possibilities: hamburgers, roast chicken, pepperoni pizza, sausages - anything so long as it was delicious, and what was more - lots of it!
His heart sank.
Upon the kitchen table was a pan of slightly burnt pork chops, along with some stringy onions served in some dark, black lumpy gravy. There were also two plates of soggy carrots and peas, as well as what looked like a big dish of lumpy mashed potatoes. Next to these were also some heavily buttered slices of white bread and a bottle of tomato ketchup (the store's economy brand). His dreams of coming home to a plate of crisp, chunky chips and a moist, oven-cooked pizza, or else a plate of yellow, creamy curry had vanished yet again. Why couldn't he get something better for a change?
But he was hungry, and so he sat down across from his mum and dad and said nothing. He then grabbed a knife and fork from a small pile on the table and began to eat. Though as the peas and carrots were soggy and lacked salt, and the mashed potatoes well everything, his dinner mainly consisted of making some rather messy pork chop sandwiches. This was of course after he had spooned-off the streaky onions, given the pork chops a good helping of brown sauce, and pulled off some little bits of mold from the bread.
A few minutes later and it was time for dessert.
His mum, cheeks reddening, put on some ragged, grey oven gloves and brought out a hot, steaming dish of …gooseberry crumble!
He couldn’t believe it.
Not gooseberry crumble again!
Jack hated gooseberry crumble. As far as he was concerned, it was quite possibly the most disgusting thing on Earth, being nothing better than sour, green, slimy goo.
“Why can’t we have something else for a change?” he suddenly shouted out loud, anger rising in his chest. “I hate gooseberry crumble. It’s horrible!”
“Nonsense Jack!” replied his mum, in a soft, kind voice. “It’s good for you. It helps you grow into a big, strong lad.”
“No, it’s not!” he spat, getting angrier “I hate it, why can’t we have something different for a change?”
“Now Jack,” interrupted his dad in a stern voice “Be nice to your mum, she’s been cooking your dinner for a long time.”
“I don’t care! I’m sick of it! All we ever eat is gooseberry and rhubarb crumble. Why can’t we have some ice cream for a change?”
“It’s healthy!” his mum continued “Besides we’ve loads of gooseberry bushes in the back garden. We can’t let them go to waste. You don’t know how lucky you are. People would love to have what we have!”
Jack made a face, grunted again, but thought better about answering back.
Besides, he was still hungry and there was a red hot jug of steaming yellow custard on the table. Still not wanting to eat the gooseberry though, he got hold of a large, wooden serving spoon and attempted to scoop off the top of the crumble from the green goo underneath.
Immediately his dad stopped him.
“Jack, what have we told you about taking all the crumble?” Leave some for us!”
“But daaaaaaad!” he whined.
“But nothing,” he said, his brown eyes almost poking through his glasses “Stop being selfish, and think about other people for a change!”
And that was the end of that. Sulking, Jack dejectedly put a small dollop of gooseberry crumble in a chipped dessert bowl, followed by a couple of large spoon-fuls of hot custard.
He ate it in silence, gulping it down, mouthful after mouthful. The quicker the better he thought. In order to avoid tasting it he tried to surround as much of the disgusting gooseberry as possible with either the custard or the crumble. This didn’t work very well however and every now and again a big, slimy wedge of gooseberry goo would get stuck at the back of his throat or else at the top of his mouth, causing him to wince and grimace.
Once he had finished, he got up and tried to leave the table, eager to watch some T.V, only for his dad to stop him. “Jack, don’t forget it’s your turn to wash up today!” he said, irritated.
“Oh, come on dad,” he said. “Give me a break! I want to watch some TV.”
“No, it’s your turn. Your mum has cooked the tea, so now you must wash up after her. Besides, it's the summer holidays now; you’ll have plenty of time to watch TV in the coming weeks.”
“Okay, whatever.” Jack muttered under his breath.
“What did you say?” barked his dad.
“Nothing.”
Jack made his way to the kitchen sink and gripped the washing-up bottle tightly, squeezing out a green jet of washing-up liquid into the sink. He then turned on the hot water, and watched as a mountain of frothy, white bubbles arose like an island from the foaming sea.
“Jack!” his dad shouted again, “Don’t use too much washing-up liquid. It all costs money. You only need to use a little.”
“I knooooooooooow!” he bellowed back sarcastically.
Still his dad continued. “Well then make sure you wash them properly this time. Last time you didn’t do a good job, and your mum had to wash them all again!”
With that they both left for the living room.
Still annoyed, Jack began to wash-up, flinging the cups, plates, pans, and cutlery into the sea of bubbles. Not wanting to think about the pen fight again he did the wiping and scrubbing as quickly as he could. He didn’t care about any correct order or way of doing things; he just wanted to get it all done, and to get out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. He just flung them in the drainer one by one, stacking them haphazardly on top of each other until eventually a Mount Everest of pots, plates and pans arose from out of the drainer at least a foot high.
As soon as he finished he burst into the small living room, eager to watch some TV, where a man in a grey suit was talking on the news about the latest tourists to blast-off into space.
He was just about to plonk himself on the sofa when a sound like thunder came from the kitchen.
Craaaaaaaasssshhhhhhh!
Everybody sat up and turned around.
“JACK, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” his mum and dad bellowed at once.
They all rushed into the kitchen like a herd of stampeding wildebeest. All over the sticky, yellow lino floor were an assortment of broken cups and plates as well as several pans and a great many knives and forks.
“Oh, Jaaaaaack!” his mum whined, “How are we going to replace all these? We haven’t got the money!”
Even he for once was lost for words.
“B-b-b-but I didn’t mean it!” he finally stammered, embarrassed, feeling sorry both for himself and for them.
“Didn’t mean it?” His mum bellowed back, “I’ve told you before about not rushing the washing-up and stacking them properly. Why can’t you listen, you STUPID boy?”
“I’M NOT STUPID!” He yelled back, the anger now becoming a flood. “I was only trying my best!”
“TRYING YOUR BEST!” she spat. “You never try your best. All you do is please yourself and make excuses.”
“No, I don’t. I’m always helping out with the washing up and making cups of tea. Why can’t we have a dishwasher like everybody else?” He demanded.
“Because we can’t afford it. I’ve told you bef..”.
“RUBBISH!” He shouted. “I’m SICK of being poor! I’m SICK of living in this run down house! I’m SICK of these second-hand clothes! I’m SICK of not going abroad! I'm SICK of SCHOOL! I'm SICK of this FACE! But most of all I’m SICK of YOU!”
He didn’t mean to say this. It just slipped out. He couldn’t help it.
“That’s enough, Jack!” demanded his dad “Stop shouting at your mum. Apologise to her at once. She does a lot for you. Clean this mess up and then get to your room!”
“NOOOOOOOOO!” He roared suddenly, “I’m leaving and I’m not coming back!”
With that Jack stormed past them, knocking over a potted plant on the way, and left the house, slamming the front door behind him. They tried to follow, shouting and bellowing. But it was no use. Like a fox he ran away into the evening as fast as he could and didn’t look back.

He would never see his parents again.

If you want to read further just click on "Jack Strong and the Red Giant" below for the link ... 


Friday, 8 August 2014

Jack Strong and the Red Giant

Hi everyone,

This is just a quick post to let you know that my debut novel "Jack Strong and the Red Giant" about a 12 year old boy's adventures in space is available to download for FREE on FRIDAY and SATURDAY only. If you tap on the highlighted title it will direct you to the appropriate Amazon page.

Thanks for downloading,

Heys

P.S. I will post another blog post about the trials and tribulations of publishing and promoting an e-book on Sunday


Jack Strong and the Red Giant

Monday, 4 August 2014

Books, books, glorious books ...

     Finding time to read


     Writing takes a long time - a very long time in some cases - out of our lives, especially if we work long hours and spend yet more time getting to and from work. And then there's kids to feed, housework to be done, and a whole host of other mind-numbingly boring and distracting chores that sap and fizzle away at our time like sulphuric acid. So with all this going on it can be difficult for the writer - especially if they are doing it as a hobby or are still looking for that first elusive agent and/or publishing house to come a-knocking - to find adequate time to read. After all, sometimes it is a battle in itself merely to find sufficient time to finish that novel or poem we've been working so hard to finish, never mind pick up The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Jack Strong and the Red Giant (Okay, guilty as charged that's my own book I'm plugging!) for example. But, as writers it is important - nay imperative - that WE do find time to read and treat it just as importantly as writing.


     Books and the Writer


     The most obvious reason as to why we should read more is one of basic artistic respect. How can we as writers place demands upon our readers to read our work from beginning to end, understand it, like it, and if we're lucky enough fall madly in love with it, if we aren't willing to devote valuable time into following the works of other writers? If we were all to do this then it would have a knock-on effect of reducing sales, leading in turn to agents and publishing houses cutting back on the number of books they publish, thus reducing their demand for new and talented writers (namely us!).
     In George R.R Martin's Game of Thrones series, his character Tyrion Lannister remarks in one of his books that "A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone." Not only is this true for Tyrion but it is also true for any aspiring writer. If, for example, you are a budding science fiction writer does it not make sense to read as much as you can about science fiction, rather than simply getting your ideas from a T.V set or from the locker room of your mind? The same can be said for any kind of writer be they a poet, a biographer, or a Children's writer etc. But not only that, when we read books we get other things that our imagination and the T.V or the games console cannot wholly provide, namely: language. When we read books we are digesting literally thousands upon thousands of words that swill and swirl around our brains; words that when we sit down to write flow back out of our minds and onto the page. There are also other advantages like learning correct grammar, how to write colloquial English, how to show and not tell, what kind of characters work and which don't, and so on and so forth. And if any of you out there own (like me) a Kindle or another such reading device you can now underline and take notes whilst you are reading, thus increasing your comprehension of the book in question, leading again in turn to a greater appreciation of the art of writing.


     Which Books to Read


     But what kind of books should you read? Well, to a certain extent you should read anything and everything that you want so long as you enjoy it and are drawn back to the book when you're not reading - after all what's the point of reading anything you don't enjoy when there are literally trillions upon trillions of books waiting for you to read? Yes, a writer can learn a lot from reading a 'bad' book and see more clearly their mistakes and bad habits but with this method there is a danger that a) the writer in question, rather than noting the mistakes, in fact copies them into their own writing and b) begins to read these 'bad' books rather sparsely. Taking myself as an example, whenever I'm reading a good book that I really enjoy I want to read it as much as possible (Despite its 1200 or so pages I read the 5th Game of Thrones book in a little under a week), but when I'm reading something that doesn't quite hold my interest or is full of mistakes, I find myself doing other things in my spare time, such as watching more T.V and going out with my friends. Ultimately, if you read enough 'good' books you will still come across plenty of books that (in your opinion) could be improved and better written, with more realistic characters etc.
     I also think that, like I said earlier, if you are a Sci-fi writer then it makes sense for you to read a lot of sci-fi books, so as to better acquaint yourself with your chosen genre. However, I do think that it is equally important that writers step out of the box a little and read something that isn't immediately connected with what they're writing on. Whilst I often read and write YA, Sci-fi, and fantasy books I also make time for authors as diverse as Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens, and Ian Fleming, not to mention some poetry. Ultimately, if you read-up a lot on your chosen genre (particularly if  the authors are contemporaries of yours) - and the type of words and characters and stories that they employ - then you will become more publishable, as your books will be more in tune with the expectations and wants of the modern reading public.


     T.V, Movies, and the Writer


     However, despite all this, I don't want to under-estimate the importance of movies and T.V in modern day writing. Depending on what you watch, some T.V series' such as Lost, The X-Files, The Wire, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer for example, can also be of help to the constant (because writing should be more or less an every day activity) writer in the way that they portray and develop storylines and character arcs. When I was younger I used to love watching T.V shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica and I would often try to guess how this character or that character would change and develop over the course of the series. When I first started writing my debut novel - and I wasn't reading nearly as much as I'm reading now - I can honestly say that all those hours spent pent up in my room dreaming of the USS Enterprise's space battles or else how the characters of Lost were going to end up on that island were of great help to my writing, not least because as well as informing me about character, plot, and what is appropriate dialogue, they also fed my IMAGINATION, which is the pillar around which all writing (especially genre writing) revolves.


     Finding Time to Read


     But how much time should you allocate to reading? Well, ultimately that is up to you and you have to be honest with yourself if you feel you are reading enough or not. In my opinion however, I believe that for every hour you write you should spend an equivalent hour with your nose in a book, and on holidays you can even double-up on both in order to pump up your 'literary muscles'. "But I'm too busy to read", I hear you say, and to which I'll reply "Are you?" Just be honest - when you're on the bus or the train to work are you reading a book, or are you zooming through twitter, or else checking your Facebook page for the tenth time that day? What do you do when you are having lunch? Are you watching T.V or reading a paper or nattering to Bill about the weather or the latest situation in Chechnya? If you think about it you can easily claw back an hour or two from your day to read the book of your choice.
     In the end, the more you read - just like the more you write - the more you will sharpen your literary mind, thus bringing whatever writing project you are working on closer to completion, perfection, and ultimately publication.
     So go on - go read a book!



     If you are interested in reading more of my work please feel free to check out my debut novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00M22USRE