Saturday, 29 June 2013


Right at the moment I'm rather becalmed as far as writing goes; as I said previously Different Skies and Secession campaign are being proofread at the moment so I can't really do anything with them at the moment. On Thursday lunchtime I was working on Fourth Planet Problem on my tablet and I must have touched the wrong part of the screen because it went back to the main menu and when I reopened the app I'd lost all the writing I'd done!

So now I'm in the midst of a four day weekend and not really in a writing mood; it happens from time to time. What actually helps is often just to write something, anything, just to get some momentum going; which is mainly why I'm writing this post at the moment. :)

I've never really experienced writers block; certainly had moments where I didn't know where to take a story and had to hammer away until I saw a way to make things work. It's usually a sign that I'm trying to take the plot in a direction it doesn't want to go and once I do what it wants everything is fine.

Anyway having warmed up here I'm off to tackle T4PP once more!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Progress Report

Just a quick update on how the various projects are going. Obviously things have not gone as planned the last few weeks but I've now got 'Different Skies' and 'Secession Campaign' being proof read to squeeze out as much as possible of the inevitable grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and missing words that still remain. Both are likely to get one last buff up in terms of plot and dialogue. 

'The Fourth Planet Problem' is into chapter 23 at the moment; I was at one point expecting it to be about 25 chapters in all but it's now beginning to look more like 30 now. That though has been pretty much par for the course for T4PP, it started out as a 3000 word short story in its first incarnation.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Different Skies: One World One People

So back to something a little more cheery, well sort of, picking up with the third story in Different Skies; 'One World One People'.

Like 'Changing Times' this story is set in an alternate universe and like the Changing Times universe space travel is more advanced with bases on the moon by the time the story opens in 1968. Where it sharply diverges is that in One World the Third Reich has survived the Second World War and is locked into an endless battle against insurgents in Russia and Asia at the same time as competing for control of the high frontier with the North American Union, which is a sort of NATO/EU organization formed by the USA.

The story centres around the journey of Klaus Kittel from watching the first man in space on TV to being an astronaut at the German moonbase on a mission that could tip a world on the brink of Armageddon over the edge.

So why 'Nazi's on the moon'? OWOP came out of the accounts from a number of astronauts of how profoundly the experience of seeing Earth from space affected them. I wondered how someone would square such an experience with living under the tyranny of the Nazi's belief system? It essentially comes down to sharply contrasting visions of what the words in the title really mean.

Now I actually wrote OWOP before I wrote Changing Times and I originally thought of them as completely separate stories but it did occur to me later that perhaps they represent two different outcomes for the same departure point from our history. In Changing Times World War II works out much the same as it did historically while in OWOP things take a turn for the worse during the war and the USSR is defeated allowing the Third Reich to survive; so in a sense they represent the opposite sides of the same coin.

Friday, 21 June 2013

A Sad loss

I've mentioned before that I'm a member of my local writers group Speakeasy. The group's treasurer, and one of its most prolific contributors, was a gentleman named Colin Webb; he had been one of the pillar's of the group since long before I joined.

A couple of month's ago Colin, for the first time I can remember, missed a meeting and we found out that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Tonight I recieved an email that passed on the news that he died Friday afternoon in a hospice.

I just really can't process it to be honest and frankly I'm afraid anything else I can say will just sound trite so I'll settle for; RIP Colin.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Phantom Writer

Apologies for my lack of input; had a nasty chest infection that's required two different courses of antibiotics to treat it.

I am not however the phantom writer in question. That would be one Richard Castle. As some of you may already know Richard Castle is the lead character in the TV series 'Castle'. The character is a mystery writer seeking inspiration for his next book. He meets NYPD detective Kate Beckett and she becomes the inspiration for his new series of books centred on a fictionalized version of Beckett called (much to Beckett's horror) Nikki Heat.

So far so slightly confusing. Where things get truly strange is that as the show proved popular (currently in Season 5) someone decided that it would be a good idea to make the various Nikki Heat titles mentioned in the series into actual books; so the fictional works about a fictional detective based on the adventures of a different fictional detective are now real.

I find it somehow disconcerting that a non-existent author has more works published than I do...

Saturday, 8 June 2013


Some time ago I heard that Max Brooks' World War Z was being adapted as a movie. For those who haven't read the book its an account of a 'Zombie Apocalypse' told in the form of interviews with survivors after the war. It goes all around the world, and above it in an interview with the former Commander of the ISS who was marooned on the station during the fighting. I enjoyed it a lot and my reaction when I heard about the film was a mixture of anticipation and no little bit of dread. Having seen the trailers my dread has distinctly increased. It isn't a certainty yet but it does look awfully like this is going to be one of those cases where the finished movie shares nothing but a title in common with the original book. 

World War Z is hardly the only work to fall victim to such a page one rewrite; so why does it keep happening? Here's my take on it.

To start with I'm not one of those people who get outraged when every full stop and comma from the book doesn't make it to the screen; there are things that work on the printed page that simply won't work on screen and of course things may have to condensed to squeeze a book into 2-3 hours of film. That however is quiet different from the way some films completely discard their alleged source material. 

Now everyone has probably read a book and thought it would be so much better if A, B, etc. were changed; its the beginning point for all the fan-fiction ever written. It's a little different if the 'reader' in question is a Hollywood studio that wants to make their 'improved' version onto the big screen. They have to worry about little things like multi-million dollar lawsuits. They could just cut out the remainder of the original source material but that's not always practical and besides keeping the title and some of the character names may help sell the film. The solution is to buy the rights to the book and cover themselves against everything except the irate author walking away in disgust when they find out just what the studio intends to do to their book.

So when you see the announcement that Hollywood is planning to make a movie based on your favourite book its probably wise to assume that based on = butchering. It's not always going to happen; sometimes a book is big enough that the studio doesn't dare mess with it too much but those instances are fairly rare and if a book isn't that big it creates another problem besides the greater willingness to 'improve' it.

When a book is a truly massive hit, like Harry Potter or Twilight, casting tends to be about finding actors who fit the characters as described in the book(s), and more than likely unknowns who are going to be grateful and not expect the world to revolve around them; yet. When the book in question has a narrower fan base the situation often flips round; studios become eager to attach a big name actor to a project; when they succeed in landing an honest to goodness A-lister that's usually the kiss of death for the book. 

Going back to Word War Z the main character in the book is the interviewer; we learn little or nothing about him and all he really does is introduce the interviewees and inject a few questions to prompt them in telling their stories. For the movie they got Brad Pitt to play the lead. Can you imagine a studio paying Brad Pitt (or any other marquee star) many millions of dollars to appear in a lead role that involves being on screen for maybe fifteen minutes and doing little more than taking notes? Its not going to happen. Once that big name is attached to a project that project is going to start revolving around them.

In WWZ it means that the story now becomes the story of the 'interviewer'; and that character has to have all sort of close calls and heroic moments so that the audience will sympathize with them and root for them. It's happened time and again and its not the actors fault. it all too often seems to stem from a lack of confidence in the source material, or a simple lack of understanding of it. Sadly with the sums of money riding on a movie these days it's not likely to get any better and we are doomed to find ourselves fuming time and again at the outrageous liberties taken with our favourite stories.

None of the above means of course that if the day ever comes where some studio was willing to write a large cheque for rights to my work that I'm not going to take it. :)

Friday, 7 June 2013


So I've been under the weather for the last few days hence the lack of updates. The strange thing is that even when the rest of me grinds to a halt the imagination keeps going; insistently throwing out ideas and nagging away at awkward plot points even when I really wish it would shut up and let me get some sleep. Anyway hopefully a proper update at the weekend.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Different Skies: Testament

So returning to the actual writing here's some musings on the second story in Different Skies; 'Testament'.

The story is set around a manned mission to Mars and the backdrop is a little more ambiguous than 'Changing Times' in that it might be an alternate universe or simply a point in the future of our own. Now as well as enjoying a good space opera novel I'm also keenly interested in real word spaceflight and space exploration. Whenever the topic comers round to Mars I am however somewhat dubious as to the practicality of a mission when the mission profiles currently being discussed all envision a two year plus round trip.

Now given that some important part breaks on the ISS with alarming frequency I was far from convinced this was a credible plan and somewhere in all of this an idea came to mind that was more 'fiction' than 'science'; about what would really be the worst case scenario. Imagine if you will that a Mars mission has been launched and the crew is fine, the ship is working well and the Mars landing is going to work perfectly. Their only problem is that Earth is gone; humanity has been erased by a cataclysm bar the six people aboard the Martian expedition.

The story is essentially about the choices they face as to how best to use their reprieve; its downbeat but hopefully not gloomy.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Cover Art: One more ship

After joining the speculative fiction community at Google+ I got a lot of feedback on the cover design for Secession Campaign and I spent yesterday afternoon and this evening working on a new version (Saturday was shamefully wasted at a family barbecue), and here it is:

Sunday, 2 June 2013


I must admit I haven't really gotten along with social media in the past; I don't have dozens of pictures of adorable cats to share and if wanted to spend a lot of time on a farm I'd go to a real one. However going down the self-publishing route means that I also have to think about promoting my own work, which rather implies that people have to know that I exist, and that means having a social media profile of some sort. 

To that end I've signed up to Google+ and I apologize in advance for what is likely to be a very steep learning curve as I figure out how it all works. You can find me by searching for Mike Mullen. I'm the one in Milton Keynes UK the US Admiral who was JCS. :)

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Rewriting, and the art of finishing...

Quiet day all round yesterday, so I've had time to think over some ideas and this one came out on top:

One of the best moments in writing is when what started out as a vague idea becomes a finished story; a feeling which lasts maybe an hour before you realize that what you have isn't really a finished story but a first draft. If it's ever going to be publishable you are going to have to do some rewriting. That is you will have to polish, tweak, expand, cut, and proofread for all the spelling and grammar errors, and those places where your brain is too far ahead of your fingers and bits of sentences are missing (yes really, I've gone back over a piece of writing and found I've literally skipped over half a dozen words or completely changed the tense of a sentences halfway through.

Proofreading is the most tedious and grinding of those activities and its tempting to just give your work a cursory once over and let it slide. This can be costly to the author both in terms of reputation and cold hard cash. When I've gone browsing through the Kindle section at Amazon looking to get some hints about how to maximize the chances of success with own stuff the one complaint from people who've commented that appears time and again is; 'would have given it a higher score but for the terrible spelling grammar'. Now bearing in mind that unless your an author people are going look for by name your chances of selling a book on Amazon are probably going to come down to people scanning through hundreds of choices and deciding to stop and give your title 30 seconds to wow them. If you have a mediocre star rating(or a dull cover for that matter) you aren't going to even get that thirty seconds.

Now having just explained why rewriting is important there is one other thing to remember; and that is that you have to know when to stop. Allow me to illustrate with a sad tale of rewrites run amok. After my attempted novel 'Thermopylae Star' and long before the writing group and 'Pioneer War' there was 'Garrison'. The plan was that with Garrison I would take on board the advice I had gotten from Baen Publishing about Thermopylae Star(as mentioned in a previous blog) and apply it to a fresh new idea. Now being a lot less disciplined about making time for writing, and lacking the helpful mobile gadgets I have now, it was something of a slog to complete that first draft and I was probably getting a little stale by the time it was finished, this I think laid the groundwork for the problems when it came to rewriting.

Putting the first draft aside for a while to try and freshen it up I actually spent a lot of time thinking about it; it would have been far better to work on something completely unrelated instead (One of the reasons why I have Pioneer War and Fourth Planet Problem on the go at the same time; it allows to switch back and forth and keep things interesting). Just to compound the problem I had also failed to find anyone to give the first draft a once over and give me some feedback. That was the product of my being more than a little paranoid and frankly scared about what others might say about my work.

The practical upshot of this was that there was nothing to act as a brake when I started to try and apply all the changes to the original that had come to mind; and by changes I mean ripping up the entire arc of one of the main characters and replacing it. That meant that a third of the original manuscript was trashed and there other less drastic changes that still meant some sections had to be drastically altered with a huge amount of new, and slow, writing to be done. Working in a vacuum I never stopped to ask what now seems the obvious question; was I improving the quality of what I had already written or just changing it because the new ideas were fresher and less familiar?

The answer for 'Garrison' turned out to be the latter; what I ended with was a draft that was less coherent than the original and I simply had no willpower to try and turn it into something workable. It was a debacle but as they lie to say after every disaster; 'lessons have been learned'.