Summer Readin’

I think, even if we can’t agree on everything, most writers would agree that to continue to grow and develop as a writer you have to make sure you read. A lot.

This has never been a problem for me. I am the perpetual bookworm and always have a pile at my bedside of reading or to-reads as tall as the bed itself. Ask my partner, he’s had it landslide round his ankles often enough. He finds it cluttered and sometimes painful. I find it…comforting.

I also go through phases of re-visiting old favourites (titles and authors) and branching out into unexplored territory. So I’m never short of inspiration when it comes to reading.

Right now is summer time, which is peak time for reading in my calendar. When the weather’s good outside, the first thing I want to do is seek out a patch of grass and settle down with some music and a book. The only thing more enjoyable is being away on holiday and doing this same thing. The first reason it’s better is because the weather is almost guaranteed to be better than here in Lancashire and another is because of that wonderful headspace you get into when holiday: away from jobs, cares, chores and all that boring real-life stuff. It’s somehow easier to drift away.

I have a trip to Spain at the end of August which involves a villa and a poolside so I had the diverting, if tricky, task of narrowing down what titles I’m going to take.

After some serious deliberation, (you can’t taking holiday reading to lightly!) the ones that made the final three are Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier Longbourn by Jo Baker and Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks.

The Collected Works of Daphne Du Maurier made the cut

The Collected Works of Daphne Du Maurier made the cut

Du Maurier’s Rebecca is one of my favourite books. It was one of the successes to come out of my sporadic and sometimes onerous attempts to familiarise myself with the classical cannon. You can read a full report on my adventures into this sometimes fascinating, sometimes sinfully dull realm in this previous blog post, but, in short, Rebecca was one of the reasons I was glad I did and continue to try new things.

Having not heard much about her other titles, I asked around for recommendations for what to try next. I’ve heard mixed things: some people tell me all of her works are worth reading. Some say Rebecca is her best effort. But Jamaica Inn did come up a couple times as a recommendation, so I got my hands on a collected works and this is in the poolside pile.

Longbourn by Jo Baker has won acclaim since its release. This is my signed copy. Oh yes.

Longbourn by Jo Baker has won acclaim since its release. This is my signed copy. Oh yes.

Second is Longbourn by Jo Baker. I have had the hardback on my shelf since it was released (signed by the author too, thank you very much!). It is the tale of the servants of Longbourne, the house in which Pride and Prejudice is set. A sort of Downton Abbey take on this classic romance. Now this was a classic that did not speak to me all that much, but I know Jo’s writing and also know from reports that this is a book in its own class, something that fans of Austen will enjoy but that also appeals to those of us who put Jane back on the shelf. Since its release, it has taken the world by storm, earning rave reviews in the Times and the Telegraph and Jo places at international literary festivals and signings. There has been mutterings of a film also.

Jo also happens to be one of my tutors from university. She was a fantastic tutor, as you can imagine. She taught me a lot, not least about keeping at it and never being afraid to strike for the stars. I am very much looking forward to settling down in a deck chair with a glass of wine and Longbourn because, even though it is not the sort of book I would normally read (no space pirates?), as I say I know her writing, know she will pull me into this world with effortless ease and because every single person I have spoken to who has read it has told me what a beautiful and gripping book it is.

Abduction? Murder for Hire? Memory thieves? Yes please!

Abduction? Murder for Hire? Memory thieves? Yes please!

Last, but by no means least in my poolside pile is Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks. This is action-packed science fiction at its very best, set in a world rife with political intrigue, criminality and memory thieves. Oh yes.

This is the sort of book make a beeline for in the shop and totter off to the counter with it gripped in my sweaty little mits after reading the blurb and grinning to myself in anticipation. I can’t wait to get my teeth into this little gem and since Michael was kind enough to do an advance review of Zero, my own SciFi novel (with space pirates) due for release Aug 16th, I’m very happy to have a chance at returning the favour.

Of course, since narrowing down my choices to these three, I made the mistake of popping into my local Waterstones and have since added Ash by James Herbert, Half a King by Joe Abercrombie and The Telling, also by Jo Baker (this time a ghost story, ooooo!) to this list…but I think suitcase weight limit will have to be a factor to consider when payday comes on Wednesday…

What are your reading habits? Do you save reading as a treat for a holiday or down time, or is it something find yourself doing it as your go-to pastime?

How do you chose your holiday reading and, most interestingly, what’s on your list for Summer 2014?

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Book Review: “Zero” by J.S. Collyer

J. S. Collyer:

Another review in for ‘Zero’ and it’s another stonker :D Go and see what M C Dulac has to say and, whilst you’re there, be sure and check out her Flash Fiction. It is some of the best I’ve read!

Originally posted on M. C. Dulac:

Zero cover

It takes a lot to stop someone in their tracks on the blogosphere, but that’s what happened to me when I came across J.S. Collyer’s creative writing blog “The Path” last year. Her short and flash fiction pieces jumped out to be read. In each piece there was a masterful control of plot, scenery and sensations, and a depth and humanity that made even the tiniest flash fiction memorable.

Then I heard that J.S’s first novel, “Zero” is being released this August by Dagda Publishing!
I put my hand up for an Advance Review Copy and settled down to read.

So is “Zero” a good story?

IT SURE IS!!!!!!!!

Kaleb Hugo is the perfect officer for the Service, an organisation that keeps order in a not so distant future. But after disobeying his superiors in a spacefight with rebels, he is demoted and becomes Captain of the ramshackle spacecraft Zero

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Book Review – Zero by J.S. Collyer

J. S. Collyer:

And here’s another review :D Some really great feedback and some really useful things to know myself as a writer. Thanks, Phillip! You legend! Consider yourself approved in the Service’s eyes!

Originally posted on Phillip McCollum:

“A little faith wouldn’t go amiss, Commander.”

Zero by J.S. CollyerDisclosure: I received an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of this novel directly from the author.

Zero is the debut novel from author J.S. Collyer and the first in a series of what promises to be a restless, back-of-your-skull-pinned-to-the-seat ride for classical science fiction aficionados. If you’re looking for hard sci-fi, look elsewhere. Zero is more Star Wars than 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When an introductory quote is pulled from Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, the hint is there: expect a messy affair in which there are players and in which there are pawns.

We begin with Captain Kaleb Hugo, a recently disgraced soldier of a military organization referred to only as “The Service.” By questioning his superiors, Hugo violates Tennyson’s simple role assigned to the soldier and winds up on their sh*tlist.

Of course, the normally disciplined Captain is good at what he does and the Service makes use of…

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Zero by J. S. Collyer – A Review

J. S. Collyer:

Another review for ‘Zero’ has landed! And I’m beaming all over my face. A massive thank you to Helena and everyone who is into paranormal, horror, litarary and any fiction with a bit of grit and integrity should go and check out what she has to offer. You will not be disappointed!

Originally posted on Being the Memoirs of H̶e̶l̶e̶n̶a̶ ̶H̶a̶n̶n̶-̶B̶a̶s̶q̶u̶i̶a̶t̶,̶ ̶D̶i̶l̶e̶t̶t̶a̶n̶t̶e̶ Jessica B. Bell, Creepy Fucker:

Zero CoverMy earliest memories of science fiction all revolve around Wookies and green-skinned aliens, and having to learn different languages or else read sub-titles. As a child, I enjoyed the space-battles and futuristic technology, but for some reason, never got into reading this genre. For me, it was always more visual, perhaps because a lot of those stories were created to showcase new techniques in special effects.

So, how does a writer carry a story full of action without the benefit of CGI and a John Williams score?

Well, in the case of Zero by J.S. Collyer, the answer begins with the characters she creates. This begins as the story of Captain Hugo, a disgraced starship captain whose career is seemingly over, following questionable actions he made, following his heart instead of blindly following orders.

This immediately endears him to the reader — who doesn’t love someone who breaks the rules…

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Look for me and you shall find!

Hello all!

Just a very quick post, as momentum is picking up, just to recap when and where you can find me should you wish to, whether it be my fiction, my pictures, my tweets or my FACE.

1. I now have an author page on Goodreads! You can ‘become a fan’, how cool is that?

2. My very first novel release, epic SciFi romp Zero, has its own Goodreads page also. You can add to your ‘to-read’ lists and see the advance reviews to get an idea of how it’s being received by the space-pirate-loving populace! (One 5* review on there already, woohoo!)

3. For synopsis, details and links to side-stories, teasers and excerpts, check out the Zero page right here on The Path!

4. I have a shiny Facebook page which you can like by following this link. I use it to post updates, pictures, articles and anything else interesting I find relating to the world of fiction and SciFi. Pictures from some of my upcoming events shall go up here too!

5. Similarly, you can follow me on Twitter (@JexShinigami) for more of the same :D

6. Zero is set to launch into Orbit at its very own book launch at FantastiCon 2014, SciFi and Gaming convention in Hull, UK on Sat 16th Aug! I shall be there selling and signing copies, with Zero cupcakes for the first few buyers! When I’m not jumping the queue to have my photo taken on a Star Wars speeder against an Endor Forest Moon backdrop, that is. Expect pictures and tweets! Here’s the event trailer. Look out for my FACE (it’s there, trust me!).

 

7. For anyone who is in the North West of England, I shall be in The Novel Cafe in Lancaster, a wonderful cafe/bookshop, with paperbacks to sign and sell the weekend after the launch, Sat 23rd Aug from 10am. Do come by and say hello. Come for the space pirates…stay for the coffee cake! Facebook event with full details here.

8. And last, but not least, there is still 16 days left on Zero‘s crowdfunding marketing campaign, with many perks still available to pre-order, like signed copies and ebook-USB-stick bundles containing EXCLUSIVE extra material. Click here to see what’s still available (signed poster has gone I’m afraid!) and to see my promotional video :) All the cash goes towards marketing the novel (there has been some rather exciting mumblings about certain SciFi magazines which I’m keeping my fingers crossed for) which means people everywhere can find out about the book and also helps Dagda Publishing continue to support and promote new writers.

Thanks for everything, everyone. A writer is nothing without their readers, so it’s undeniable that I wouldn’t be here without all your support and encouragment, as well as your willingness to read my fiction. Cheers to you all! And I’m not even close to done yet, so stay tuned!

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Guest Post: Author J.S. Collyer “For The Love”

J. S. Collyer:

Head on over the the great Michael Patrick Hick’s blog for my guest post all about the love of writing :) Whilst you’re there, do check out his other material. His novel ‘Convergence’ is sititng, eagerly awaited, on my kindle and as well as his own fiction he is wonderfully prolific at reviewing books and writers. It’s well worth following his blog for all the new things he can help you discover, as well as his own work!

Originally posted on Michael Patrick Hicks:

Zero, the debut novel from J.S. Collyer, is due out in August 2014 from Dagda Publishing.

Zero, the debut novel from J.S. Collyer, is due out in August 2014 from Dagda Publishing.

I’m fairly certain I stumbled upon J.S. Collyer thanks to some smart postings over at Chuck Wendig’s blog, smart enough to get me awfully curious about what was happening in her corner of the blogosphere. Good stuff, it turned out. She blogs, hosts her short fiction, some of which has been published in various collections, and generates some great Flash Fiction Fridays work. I liked what she had to say, and when I learned she had her first novel coming out soon, I knew ZERO would not only be making its way onto my to-read list, but that it would be jumping over a lot of other titles to become a next-read. Naturally, when she asked for some advanced readers at her site, I leaped at the chance. You may be asking yourself…

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All Hail The New Flesh: rage against the machine

J. S. Collyer:

I do short fiction too!! I am featured in, among other things, ‘All Hail The New Flesh’ – dystopian SciFi anthology. There’s a review if this collection here at Murder, Mayham & More!

Originally posted on MurderMayhem&More:

A collection of futuristic short stories

A collection of futuristic short stories

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good spookynatural or sword-n-sorcery story. But sci-fi and speculative fantasy have almost vanished under the mass of vampires, werewolves, trolls, and elves just lately. Every other book seems to be an undead/zombie cross-species love quadrangle featuring unfeasible biology… Hence my delight at this anthology of futuristic short fiction, in which 13 authors play around with the time-honoured theme of technology-gone-wrong. Human hubris: machine sentience; the end of the world as we know it. It’s all in here in easily digested short stories. Some are set on a grand scale in the far-flung future, while others could so easily happen tomorrow. If not today.

The compilation opens with a witty tale set in the here-and-now, with a traditional Mad Scientist who comes up with a sat-nav that offers guidance through life’s crises (do you always do exactly what…

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Space Pirates Ahoy! – ‘Zero’ Excerpt

Happy Friday, everyone!

I felt as the marketing campaign is still doing so well and the launch for Zero (my first ever science fiction novel) at Fantasticon SciFi & Fantasy convention on Aug 16th is looming ever closer, it was high time to post an extract.

It took a little while but I settled on a section that has action, dialogue and drama but contains no spoilers and doesn’t need much background explination.

This is your chance to get a feel for the tone, characters and story. I hope you like what you find! If you do, you can pre-order signed copies through the marketing campaign as well as ebook bundles with exclusive bonus material!

General release for paperback and ebook on Amazon will be August 16th, same day as the book launch!

Oh, and it is now also on Goodreads should you wish to add it to your to-read lists :D

All you need to know about the build up to this bit of story is that the protagonist, Captain Hugo and his commander, Ezekial Webb, have been assigned a mission to break up a ring of terrorists-for-hire called the Splinters based on a space-bound colony called Lunar 1. They have found the ringleaders, Armin, Broenan, Ankle and Marlowe and have been joined by freelance smuggler Marilyn Harvey, who has her own agenda with the underground organisation.

Enjoy!

(Warning: contains violence and adult language, oo-er)

Zero: Excerpt

“Where’s Webb?” Hugo asked when he opened the door to only Harvey.

“He won’t be long.”

“What happened?”

Harvey scowled as she pulled her jacket off. “That Ankle’s a nasty piece of work. We followed him all over the sector. Webb only recognised some of the points he dropped in on but none of it was good news.”

“What sort of points?”

Harvey ran a hand over her shaved head. “Drugs. Weapons. Even dropped in on someone that Webb is sure is a blade.”

Hugo shuddered. “And then?”

Harvey turned a chair round and sat in it, rubbing her eyes. “We followed him back to his place. A hole it was too, under some barhouse in Sector 3.”

“We need to stop them before they execute this new contract. Their client wanted all of Lunar 1 brought to its knees. God knows what they want now that that’s not happened.”

“But how?” Harvey asked. “This shit called in on ten points at least today. Their connections are like a poxy great net over the entire colony. We can’t wipe it all out.”

“We have to think of something.”

Just then the buzzer went again and Hugo let in a harried-looking Webb.

“Well…?”

“I have a plan,” he said as he moved across the room and shuttered the window.

“What?”

Webb turned to face them, held their gazes a moment, jaw tight, then came forward whilst fishing something out of his pocket and put it on the table. Harvey looked at it and paled.

“Boot black?” Hugo asked, confused.

“Jesus, I don’t know Webb,” Harvey murmured. “If you’re suggesting what I think you’re suggesting…”

“Does someone want to fill me in?”

“The black cross,” Webb said.

“What?”

Harvey shook her head. “It ain’t good. Some Lunar 1 folk sent some of that shit Haven way a few years ago. It wasn’t pretty.”

“What is it?” Hugo asked, getting impatient but the set look on Webb’s face sent uncertainty creeping through him.

“The black cross is a symbol. For revenge. For retribution. For the punishment of a grievous and personal sin,” the commander said, voice flat.

“Boot black?” Hugo repeated, though quieter this time.

“You wear it on your face,” Harvey ran a finger down the middle of her face then across her eyes. “Anyone sees you wearing a black cross…well…let’s just say it ain’t something you want to be seeing.”

Webb pulled a can of spray paint from another pocket of his cargo trousers and set it on the table next to the polish with a toothy rattle.

“We take them out in their homes,” he said, “where they think they’re safe. All four ringleaders. And we leave the mark.”

“Well if you’re after shitting people up…” Harvey said, eyeing the spray can like it might bite.

Hugo gathered himself. “And then what?”

“The whole network will fall apart. No one will want to be associated with anyone who’s died under a black cross.”

Hugo looked the commander in the eye. “How do you know Marlowe?”

“From a long time ago. It’s not relevant.”

Seeing the grim set of Webb’s face, Hugo didn’t push. “Marilyn, do you think it’ll work?”

She tore her eyes from the spray paint. “Yeah. If we can get all four of them without being caught or recognised… I think it’ll send whoever’s left into holes they won’t be in a hurry to climb out of.”

“Then we do it,” Hugo said, the words feeling heavy in his mouth.

A nasty smile spread across Webb’s face but the sound of Doll returning for lunch had him slipping the boot black and spray paint back into his pockets before she came into the room.

ɵ

Hugo’s head ached and his skin crawled as they spent that afternoon with hard-copy schematics of the different sectors spread over Doll’s table, planning their first move. Webb played with his knife the entire time, flipping it over in the air or twizzling it with the point making notches in the table top.

Breonan, in his dilapidated apartment block without even an alarm system, didn’t stand a chance. Someone had left a window open on the ground floor so they didn’t even have to break in. They didn’t bother checking for cameras. Webb said that if they got picked up on any feeds in their incongruous black gear, peaked caps and black crosses daubed on their faces, more the better.

The man had counted on his lock system to keep his enemies out but hadn’t counted on Webb and his multi-tool. All three entered the darkened apartment in their goggles. Webb found him in the bedroom and put a bullet in his head before he’d even drawn breath to yell. He sprayed a cross on the wall over the dead man’s bed before turning and pushing back past Harvey and Hugo and out of the apartment.

They were back at Doll’s in under two hours. Webb made them scrub their faces clean before she came back from her night shift.

Harvey went with Doll down to her room once she returned but neither Hugo nor Webb made a move to turn in after they had gone. They both sat at the table, staring at a card game they had stopped playing half an hour ago.

“Do your parents know the truth, Captain?” Webb murmured into the silence.

Hugo jolted then frowned. “What?”

Webb met his eyes. He looked tired. “Do they know the truth? You know, that you weren’t really discharged? That you’re still bleeding for the Service, but you’ll not be getting any more medals for it?”

Hugo tossed his cards on the table, trying to stoke up anger but then sighed, defeated. “No.”

Webb shrugged, gaze sliding away. “Figures.”

“Why?”

Webb blinked slowly at nothing. “Nothing, Captain. Just… nothing.”

They scoured the news reports and rumour boards again the next day but found nothing to do with Breonan.

“Doesn’t mean anything,” Webb muttered. “Either they’ve not found him yet or they’re not telling if they have. It doesn’t matter. The ball is rolling.”

“Who’s next?” Harvey asked.

“Ankle’s next,” Hugo said, going back to the table to where his weapons were laid out to be checked and cleaned.

“When?”

“Tonight,” Webb said. “Then we lay low for a couple of days and let the rumours gather some steam.”

ɵ

“There are no windows at all,” Harvey said as she clambered back up on the burnt-out flyer hulk next to Hugo. “It’s all below ground level.”

Hugo frowned and looked back through his binoculars at Ankle’s door. It was down a flight of steps at the back of noisy bar.

“Can you hack the lock, Commander?”

“Seems our fat friend is a little more prepared than his pal,” Webb replied, frowning around his binoculars. “There’s a camera over the door. The minute someone starts trying anything with the control, he’ll know and he’ll be sounding the alarm.”

“How are we going to get in, then?”

“He’s going to have to let us in.”

Hugo lowered his binoculars and scowled. “And how are we to persuade him to do that?”

“Have faith, Captain,” Webb grinned. “We will be shown the way.” Hugo glared but then Webb’s grin widened. “See?”

Hugo looked back through his binoculars just as a moped pulled up at the end of the alley. A girl in a bright blue cap and high-viz jacket clambered off then pulled a pizza box out the basket on the back.

“You can’t be serious…” Hugo said.

“Harvey, go,” Webb said and Harvey was over the wall they were leaning on and moving in the shadows toward the girl, drawing her gun.

Webb followed and Hugo scrambled after, hissing protests. They caught up just as the girl, eyes wide and mouth opening and closing, was dropping the pizza at Harvey’s feet and scurrying back to her moped. The little engine hiccoughed and then she was tearing away.

Harvey scooped up the pizza and Webb was gesturing at the door with his gun. Hugo pulled out his own weapon and took up position on one side of the stairwell just as Webb did so on the other. Harvey made sure the peak of her cap was obscuring her painted face and tucked her gun in the back of her waistband, then made her way down the stairs and pushed the buzzer.

“What?” snapped a voice from the intercom.

“Pizza,” Harvey said in a bored voice.

There was a whirr as the camera adjusted its angle. Hugo pressed himself against the wall. Harvey didn’t flinch, just shifted the pizza so it was more obvious. There was a pause in which Hugo felt every beat of his heart and every muscle tighten, then the door opened. Harvey looked up and Ankle cursed and tried to slam it shut but Harvey got her boot in the gap. Hugo dropped down into the stairwell and shouldered at the door. Sputtering came from the other side then Webb jumped down next to them and leant his weight to the ramming and the door gave way.

The pinging of their silenced gunfire filled the air but the fat man scrambled into another room. He was through another door before Hugo and Webb had clambered around the jumbled furniture. They both slammed into the door but it didn’t budge.

“Get back,” Webb snapped and took out the handle and lock with a couple of shots. They shouldered the door and it cracked against the wall inside. Ankle backed up into a corner, gibbering and dropped his panel on the concrete floor.

“Listen… whoever you are… just wait one second,” he stammered as he held his hands up, staring at their faces. Webb moved across the room in two strides and pulled the spray can out of his belt. He stood shaking the can and staring at Ankle as Hugo came forward, keeping his gun trained on the Splinter.

“No, please, I…” Ankle’s chins wobbled as his mouth fell open. He glanced from Hugo to Webb and back and his eyes widened. “You?” Webb turned his back and started spraying a black line across the papers and posters pinned to the wall. “No. Stop. I can help,” Ankle came forward, hands up. “I can help you guys. I can. I can get the contract erased, like it was never there. Just let me…” He stooped to retrieve his panel.

“Don’t move,” Hugo growled, taking a step closer.

The can hissed as Webb sprayed the second line of the black cross on the wall. Ankle whimpered.

“Who’s your client?” Hugo snarled. Ankle opened and closed his mouth a few times, eyes fixed on the gun, but no sound came out. “Who is it?”

“It’s all -” Ankle squeaked, coughed, wiped his mouth on his sleeve then tried again. “It’s all on there…” he sputtered, waving at the panel on the floor.

Hugo stared at him a moment longer then bent to retrieve it.

“Hugo, look out!”

There was movement, a bang and flash of heat across his arm. When the world stopped spinning, he blinked up at the ceiling for a moment that stretched on forever before Harvey was grabbing the shoulders of his jacket and hauling him back and onto his feet. His senses came back to him with a rush and there was a sharp, throbbing pain in his bicep and liquid heat soaking into his sleeve.

Ankle was sprawled on the floor, Webb stood over him with his gun drawn. The Splinter had a hand clutched at his chest where blood was pumping through his fingers as his breath came in great bubbling heaves. Blood and spittle trickled through the stubble on his chin as Webb kicked a gun away from Ankle’s other hand. The commander muttered something in what sounded like Latin, then fired again. Ankle jerked, then was still.

“You okay, Kaleb?” Harvey said.

Hugo shook himself, holstered his gun and clutched at his arm to slow the bleeding. “We need to get out of here.”

There were nods from Webb and Harvey and they moved back to the door. Hugo paused, averted his eyes from the dead man’s stare and grabbed the panel from the floor, tucked it into his jacket then followed the others back out of the apartment. They shut the door behind them and Webb shot out the door camera as they passed.

 

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REVIEW: Zero

J. S. Collyer:

Oh wow…the first review of Zero. I was preparing myself for this bit never could I prepare myself for something as wonderful as this. Thank you, Michael!!!!

Originally posted on Michael Patrick Hicks:

Zero, the debut novel from J.S. Collyer, is due out in August 2014 from Dagda Publishing.

Zero, the debut novel from J.S. Collyer, releases August 16, 2014 from Dagda Publishing.

About Zero

Kaleb Hugo is every­thing an offi­cer of the Ser­vice should be: loyal, expertly trained, unques­tion­ing. He has done every­thing ever ordered of him and has done so with a pride that comes from know­ing you are fight­ing for the good of humankind… until the day that he made a deci­sion, as he has had to many times before, in order to ensure the best out­come for the Ser­vice, even though it was in direct vio­la­tion of regulations.

A bat­tle was won, but Hugo was con­demned and dis­hon­ourably dis­charged by Ser­vice com­man­ders for going against orders and risk­ing him­self and his unit to save an inhab­ited satel­lite that had been deter­mined as an accept­able loss.

Offi­cially, anyway.

Unof­fi­cially, Hugo was re-​​assigned to cap­tain the crew of the Zero, an eight-​​man craft that is clas­si­fied in all…

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‘Hampton Loade Station, July 1942′ – new #FlashForFriday

Greetings everyone. I apologise that I haven’t been posting much. As most of you will know by now, my first novel, Zero, a SciFi romp of space pirate adventuring, is set for release by Dagda Publising Aug 16th 2014 and I have been very busy with all the things you don’t realise need doing when you have a book coming out. As well as promoting the Crowdfunding campaign (that has done amazingly so far with raising money to market the book – thank yo so, so much everyone who has contributed), I have also been fine tuning the very final edit as well as producing some exclusive pieces of flash fiction that tell side-stories about some of the characters.

(These side-stories will be featured on the USB Stick e-book bundle of Zero, exclusively available through the Crowdfunding campaign. There’s four stories altogether. Two I have published already, Promise and Downtime. Two more, called The Game and Their War are readable nowhere else but with this bundle, so you really are getting something exclusive if you order it!)

I also have the book launch to look forward to, and boy am I looking forward to it! This will take place at Fantasticon – a SciFi and Gaming convention in Hull, UK on Sat 16th August. Zero will go live on Amazon the same day. At the convention, I get my own table and will be signing hardcopies and am looking into getting Zero cupcakes made for the first few people to buy! I’ve also heard that, not only will there be a darlek present, but that you will be able to get your picture taken on a speeder against and Endor Forest Moon backdrop.

I’m going to be first in the queue for that one.

So, in short, there’s a lot going on. But anyone who has followed me for any length of time knows I can’t just have on brand in the fire. I’m a big believer in keeping moving forward. Just because I’ve got lots to do with Zero doesn’t give me an excuse to stop writing. Of course, I hope Zero does well and that people like it, but the only way I’m going to get anywhere in any significant way is with more than one title to my name. And so Haven, Zero’s sequel, is currently in the drafting stage and I’m enjoying touching base here with WordPress and keeping my hand in by posting short fiction and book reviews etc.

In the spirit of this, I feel that it has been far too long since I’ve actually shared some fiction. I’ve talked a lot about writing it but it’s been too long since I’ve written anything set outside of the Zero universe.

So, today, here is a brand new #FlashForFriday. The idea for this story came to me over the weekend. Anyone who follows me on Facebook or Twitter will know that I visited my family in Shropshire for a break and on Monday we spent the day on the Severn Valley Railway, a heritage railway that runs between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster. It still runs with the original signal systems, steam engines, compartment carriages and stops at stations which have not changed since the forties.

It was a truly inspirational day. It felt like stepping back in time.

The station of Hampton Loade, picturesque, quiet and secluded, really touched me. I couldn’t help but think what it must have been like for the families that waved goodbye from the platform to sons and daughters called away to service during WWII, or for the children evacuated from London stepping off the train there, alone and in such a different place from the city. If you are ever in the Bridgnorth area, I highly recommend this as a day out. Writer or not, it’s a wonderful experience.

Hampton Loade Station, July 1942

Hampton Loade Station, Shropshire

It was the most glorious day of the year so far. Summer was finally here, filling the trees with bright green leaves and the sky with skudding white clouds and blazing sunshine. There were pansies in the flower boxes on the station platform, patchwork faces turned toward the sky and a fresh breeze brought the smells of the river and the sound of the songbirds. It didn’t feel like a day to say goodbye.

“Did you pack the extra jumper, Anne? The thick one?”

“Yes, Mother, I packed the extra jumper.”

“And your thermals?”

“Yes, yes, I packed everything you left on the chest. But don’t worry, Mother. It’s only London, not the North Pole.”

Mother pursed her lips, something she always did when she didn’t agree with me but didn’t think it was ladylike to argue in front of the twins.

I knelt down and gathered Tilly and Jack to me. The clung to me, little hands gripping my coat. They had been oddly quiet ever since we got to the station, not crying but not chattering either.

‘Do your bit.’

“Now, you two are going to be good while I’m gone, aren’t you? And behave for Mother?”

“Yes, Annie,” Tilly said, wiping her nose on her sleeve. It showed Mother was distracted when she didn’t scold her.

“Are you coming back?”

“Of course I am, Jack. I’m just going down to London to help all the people that have lost their homes. They have big places where they can find food and shelter and I’m going to help them.”

“Why can’t you do that here?”

“We’re lucky here,” I said, brushing Jack’s corn-blonde hair, exactly the same shade as our brother Matthew’s, out of his eyes. “No one has lost any homes yet. Don’t worry, Jack. I’ll be back before you know it.”

“And Matthew too?”

I glanced at Mother but she was watching the train pull in with her lips still pressed into a thin line.

“And Matthew too,” I said, keeping my voice steady with an effort. “Now give me a kiss.”

Tilly and Jack both dropped sloppy kissed on my cheeks and I got back to my feet. Mother was still looking anywhere other than me. There weren’t many people on the platform today. I had hoped that Margaret might have been here to catch the 10:30 with me, then our mothers could have taken the twins to the Unicorn for afternoon tea and eased themselves with disproving discussion of ‘girls these days’ and angel cake.

But they weren’t there. Margaret was meeting in me in Kidderminster and was likely there already. She was always one to be prepared.

The engine driver was leaning out to chat the station master, shouting over the huff and clunk of the resting engine. The steam swirled along the platform, smelling like oil and metal.

“Well, I better get aboard. Mother?” I prodded when she still hadn’t said anything.

“Just promise me you’ll be careful,” she said after taking a breath.

“I’ll be careful. I promise.”

Mother nodded, though she was looking past me, a hand on each of the twins’ shoulders.

“If we had choice, Mum,” I said quietly. “We’d be here with you. Father, Matthew, all of us. But the WVS is important. I feel like I need to do my bit.”

“I know, dear. I know that. It’s just…” I kept still. The twins looked between us with wide eyes. Unless it was about dress making or bridge, Mother never said much about what she felt. But she didn’t have to say anything. I’d never seen her face so open or her eyes so troubled. “It feels like something that’s nothing to do with me is taking my family away from me.”

I hugged her. The station master called and the engine tooted. There was the rhythmic clunk of the carriage doors shutting. Mother went stiff. This was the first time I’d hugged since I was ten years old. But after a second I felt her relax and she clung to me, just like the twins had, clutching my clothes and pressing her face into my shoulder.

The engine rattled as it gathered steam and I pulled away.

“I’ll be back, Mother. I promise. I’ll write.”

All aboard for Kidderminster

“I should think so to,” she said, voice high with chained emotion. Her eyes were bright with tears but she straightened her back and nodded. “Hurry, young lady. You’ll miss the train and I’m not walking all the way back here again for you to catch the afternoon one.”

I clambered into the closest compartment and the station master clacked the door shut. I lowered the window as the train started to pull out of the station and leant out as far as I could. Tilly and Jack ran the length of the platform, waving and shouting. They were smiling now, at least. I pulled out my handkerchief and waved it just like I’d seen heroines do in the films. Mother stood on the platform surrounded by billowing steam. She didn’t wave but she didn’t look away and I waved hard enough for both of us until the platform, the station and my whole world disappeared round a bend in the rail.

I sat down in the musty compartment and closed my eyes, keeping the sight of my family, the trees and the platform in my mind as long as possible, swearing to myself that I would keep my promise. I would be back. After I had done my bit.

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