2018 has been a rollercoaster!
Just a little over a year ago, I sat where I’m sitting now having penned my first novel. It still needed a lot of work, but after an exhausting few months, I had done the impossible. The story that bubbled and boiled for so long was finally here and I had no plans on resting until I shared it with the world.
I submitted it to various publishers and literary agents, but after three months and dozens of template rejection emails, I decided to self-publish. I read every blog and article I could find and after putting together a marketing plan, I unleashed my story into the world. It did surprisingly well for the first few weeks, before ultimately crashing and burning.
Big Red has landed!
It’s been a long few months, but everything was worth it to launch Big Red surrounded by so many friends, family, and well-wishers. A massive thank you to everyone who came out to show their support and to everyone who’s picked up a paperback of Big Red or downloaded the eBook.
My mind is still blown from the events of the last few weeks. Coming from relative obscurity, it was a surreal experience to suddenly find myself doing radio and newspaper interviews (with a magazine interview coming up soon). I’ve even been approached with an invitation to work on a very interesting project… but more on that later…
It’s been a long journey to get here. There were times when I felt like giving up, but every time that thought popped into my head, I pushed it straight back out again. It’s normal to experience fear, especially if you’re doing something that takes you way out of your comfort zone. What matters most is what we do with that fear. I had a picture as clear as day in my mind; I wanted to see Big Red sitting on a bookshelf (although hopefully, not for too long!) No matter how tired, exhausted, or frazzled I felt, I pushed forward. The moment I saw Big Red sitting on a bookshelf in the Gutter Bookshop on 14th May, I knew everything was worth it!
Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey. From my family, friends, and colleagues in the Irish Writers Union and British Irish Writing Community to every single person who has purchased Big Red. Thank you for putting up with me and for helping me to create the latest addition to the ever-growing library of Irish sci-fi.
It’s been a rollercoaster and I look forward to sharing more stories with you in the future.
Thank you!Click here to order a copy of Big Red now: https://www.damienlarkinbooks.com/order-big-red
“You want to become a writer? Are you drunk?”
That was one of the many reactions I received after I made the conscious decision to take writing seriously. I can’t blame anyone for reacting like that – prior to September 2017, I had never once openly expressed an interest in writing. It was always something I’d considered doing when I had more time. When my children are more settled in school, when things get quieter in work, when the latest season of Game of Thrones is over. The list of reasons not to write grew longer and longer.
Then, in September 2017 something happened. For years I juggled parenthood, working and building my app development side-project. After one particular project went south, a moment of clarity struck me when I asked myself what I wanted to do. Did I want to spend every spare hour continuing to build and develop apps? I thought about that question over and over until I came to a realisation.
Deep down, app development was nothing more than a means to an end. I wanted to grow my app portfolio for no other reason than to increase my income. That would then allow me to quit my job and focus on what I really wanted to do – write. From that moment, an idea crystallised. Rather than spending what little free time I had doing something that I may have been good at but realistically, had no interest in, I decided to start writing.
The transition wasn’t easy, but I did have a head start. Prior to forming my first app development company two years previously, I had written roughly thirty pages of a story based on a vivid dream I had. I dusted this story off, re-read and edited it and then I wrote a single sentence. From that sentence a paragraph was born, followed by an entire chapter.
I became possessed, spending every (extremely rare) moment of peace and quiet dragging a story out of me. It was something I had been thinking about for years, something that I had torn apart and put back together so many times, that it felt more realistic than the real world.
Determined not to rest until I had this story completed, I worked furiously around the clock, eventually finishing it two hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve 2017. The sense of satisfaction from drafting a 100,000-word story struck me like a hammer. It almost felt like an out-of-body experience as I read through it. Through sheer force of will, I had ignored every desire to relax, laze about and waste my time and instead, had built an entire world from scratch.
It isn’t easy and there are times when the last thing in the world I want to do is write. I sometimes think back to September 2017 and wonder what things would have been like if I didn’t have that epiphany. There would have been no self-publishing journey, no countless hours of bashing away at a keyboard, no publishing deal and certainly no Big Red.
I could easily have kept on developing apps and who knows where I’d be with that now. The most important thing is that I’m happy. I’m glad I made that decision. I’m glad I spent months sacrificing my free time to write Big Red. I’m glad I have the opportunity to be a writer.
And no, I’m not drunk. (Well… Not that drunk…)
Like most of my writing projects, Big Red started as a dream. I’ve always had an overactive imagination, which is something that’s followed me into sleep. It’s rare that I don’t have vivid dreams (or nightmares) that I can easily recount the following morning.
When I woke up, I wrote roughly two pages describing what I had dreamt about. It wasn’t much and I didn’t know it at the time, but that became the basis for the first two chapters of Big Red. I can still remember seeing rows upon rows of fold-out beds with soldiers laid out on them, screaming and howling out in pain and agony. Dressed in an army uniform myself, I walked past them before looking up and seeing a swirling, crisp image of the planet Mars. To say this dream impacted me would be an understatement.
I played around with the idea for months, trying to figure out the context. What were those soldiers screaming about? Why Mars?
While doing day-to-day errands the idea played on my mind. I created characters and their backgrounds. I read up on interstellar colonisation and exploration and kept track of the growing attempts to put a manned crew on Mars. I considered setting Big Red in the future, at a time when we had the mainstream technology to do the things that so many people dream of. But that didn’t feel right.
I thought back to my years in primary school. One of my teachers once quipped his belief that our current level of technology is far more advanced than most people realise. In a two-minute ramble, he told us that, in his opinion, technology is released to the masses decades after being developed behind the scenes by various shadowy government organisations.
Was he wrong? I have no idea. I enjoy reading conspiracy theories with an open mind, but I never bought into the idea that some international cabal was trying to control us. Still, I took his idea and looked at Big Red through his lens. What if (in 2018/2019) humanity already had the ability to travel between the stars and establish colonies? What if those colonies have been there for decades? What would that be like?
And with that thought, the background story for Big Red was born. It took further research to develop and flesh it out. I wanted the history of the colonies to be based (as much as possible) on real life events and fears, even if that history wasn’t directly dealt with in Big Red.
Being a bit of a history buff, I remembered reading about the Nazis V1 and V2 rocket programs during WW2 and the fear and terror this newfound technology brought. I studied up on it and read about how the Russians and Americans both rounded up these Nazi scientists post war and quietly put them to work.
Using that and the still ongoing fascination with the theory that Hitler escaped as jump-off points, I created a background where the last remnants of the third Reich used their advanced technology and escaped to Mars.
Stories like that have been done before, but the events in Big Red don’t deal with this. Instead, it takes place decades after the Allies victoriously crush the Nazi threat (following the historically documented “1952 Washington UFO phenomena”) with their 1954 invasion of Mars.
The characters in Big Red learn all this, shortly after realising they’ve been abducted. As fascinating as it is to them to learn about this alternate history, these events don’t impact them directly. The aftermath does.
The simmering racial tensions between descendants of the Nazis, Mars-born Allied colonists and the Earth-born soldiers that protect and police them is a vital aspect to the overall story and one that brings dire consequences.
To think, all of that started with a dream.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and it’s great to be back!
I had a busy few weeks after Big Red’s launch which didn’t leave a lot of time for blogging. Thankfully, things have started to settle down a bit. For the first time in what feels like an eternity, I have time to dive back into a few different projects, some of which I’m hoping to share with you soon…
The first project I wanted to take on is this blog. I’ve since rebranded it from (the not-so-original name of) ‘My Blog’ to the ‘Mars Occupation Force – Press Office’. Whereas beforehand I wrote a bit about Big Red and my journey so far, I’m now looking to expand my horizons.
Over the last few months, I’ve had the chance to delve into so many fantastic military sci-fi and Irish sci-fi and fantasy books. My goal is to expand on these topics a bit more and shine a spotlight on some amazing novels and topics you may already know about, as well as some you may not have heard of.
I’ve also had the opportunity to meet and talk with some fantastic Irish sci-fi and fantasy writers, who I’m hoping to guilt into dropping by on this blog to say hello. It’s been an amazing year for Irish SFF writers and I’m really excited about seeing what the rest of the year holds in store!
For anyone who’s been following along, The British/Irish Writing Community has also been taking our next steps towards global domination. We’ve spent the last few months throwing around ideas and seeing what we can do as a community. Finally, we’ve decided to launch our own quarterly magazine.
It’s still early days on this but we’ve had a lot of interest so far. Our overall plan is to use this platform to highlight and promote the fantastic works of Irish and British writers of all levels who write speculative fiction. There’s no official launch date in sight, but if you know anyone who’s interested, have them check us out on FB or Twitter!
Hopefully I’ll have more details on the above topics in my next blog post. In the meantime, if any writers out there are looking to do a guest post/interview for an up-and-coming launch or just for the fun of it, let me know in the comments below. I’ve learned a lot from the community and I’m looking forward to giving back.
There’s more to come soon, so stay tuned!
It took eight years of messing around with his story before Phil Parker published it himself. It was only when he was selected to join the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course that he developed the confidence to pursue this goal. Since then he's learned a lot. Some of it he's outlined in this post. He's still trying to make sense of the rest.
On January 15th 2018, I joined Twitter. My intention was to prepare the ground for when I published my Knights’ Protocol trilogy, which would be three months later. The date represents the moment I committed to starting a new career.
Which sounds grand and laudable perhaps, except I had no idea what I was doing. I’d suffered enough, trying the traditional route to publishing so decided to tread my own path and self-publish. I’ve learned a huge amount in the last year, THREE lessons stand out.
Research – get familiar with the landscape.
I spent a lot of time researching which marketplace I wanted to use. There’s lots of advice out there, it’s conflicting as you might expect, so that meant having to compare and contrast, like at school. It’s potentially the biggest decision anyone makes so choosing carefully is essential.
I found Tom Corson-Knowles’ The Kindle Publishing Bible to be a great help. It explained issues such as devising saleable titles, writing book descriptions that sell, how to get reviews (ethically) and promotional campaigns. It’s objective too. Kindle Direct Publishing pages will save you time and increase your awareness too I found.
Navigate the jungle of social media
I’ve met people who only Follow agents and publishers. I’ve found the greatest benefit comes from a network of folk who will support you, share similar values and experiences – people you’d call friends in the real world!
I don’t just click Follow to anyone either. I check profiles, see what they’re posting. That way you network will always remain focused on the topics you want to see in your feed.
I prefer Twitter. It’s easy to use and concise in its content. I went through Follower lists of the people I Followed to identify like-minded folk. I discovered software that helped me analyse my data to sharpen up my account – Manage Flitter is the best. It’s free if you only have one account and can help you work efficiently.
I suffer Facebook. I dislike its endless pressure to advertise and haven’t found that it works anyway. It didn’t help that my first book, The Bastard from Fairyland, caused them to ban my adverts for the use of profane language! However, Facebook does have useful forums you can join, some of which help promote your work.
Finally, to get real traction, you need to spend time on these platforms. It is a commitment but it does pay off in the long run. People get to know about you, they buy your books on the back of it. Spread yourself too thin (over several platforms) or only log in occasionally, and you don’t get the relationships you need. It’s like any friendship!
Appearance is Everything – get noticed on your journey
It took me six months to learn this lesson! You’re not the only one on a journey with your book. That old adage about not judging a book by its cover doesn’t apply in this context! People do judge! Plus, you need to stand out. The answer?
Get your book designed professionally. I tried to cut corners, bought images and used Amazon’s book cover systems and thought I was being clever. They were crap. I look at the originals even now and shudder in embarrassment. Yes, it will cost money but you will recoup it in the long run.
Tom Parker (@papagaeio) designed mine. These people think in visual media, as writers we use the written word. Tom asked me for an outline of the books but also their themes, backgrounds, even one-word definitions. (I gave him Rage for my first book and I suggest you see what he did with it!).
A few final thoughts:
1. Writing is a lonely business. The internet is changing that. There are online groups you can join but social media offers you forums where you can share ideas, concerns and general chat with others who are just like you. It is not infested with trolls.
2. Get people to review your work – but check them out first. Make sure they are bone fide reviewers, people who consistently offer constructive comments. There are people – even businesses – who offer to do this for you but I recommend forming relationships with bloggers, it’s more honest and rewarding.
3. The hashtag is a wonderful tool to identify networks and themes. Such as #BritishIrishWritingCommunity
4. Don’t spend all your time on social media plugging your book. You’ll annoy people. Promote others, they’ll do the same for you. Show you’re a person first, a book-selling author second!
Good luck with your writing and your career as an author!http://http://viewauthor.at/PhilParker
I know, I know… I haven’t put up a blog post in a while. It’s not you, it’s me!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; I’d rather write four thousand words than four hundred. I can craft battle scenes, create new characters and worlds, and destroy them with ease. But the thought of writing a few hundred words about myself or what I’m up to makes me want to throw myself onto the ground like my five-year-old son after I tell him we’ve run out of yogurt… Anyway, enough of that and let’s dive right into it!
The last few months have been exceptionally busy. I’ve watched the British and Irish Writing Community grow from strength to strength and witnessed our online magazine Bard of the Isles continue to expand. We’ve added more members to our community and leadership team and have a dozen projects in the pipeline to support and promote fellow writers across these beautiful islands. With three issues of Bards under our belt, we’re still receiving some fantastic short story submissions, articles, and interviews. With Issue 4 out as of yesterday, we’ve expanded our offerings and opened up a poetry section. We’ve also announced the first ever BIWC prize for indie authors with the finalists due to be announced at BIWCcon in October!
Big Red, my debut Irish military science fiction novel, also got a brief moment in the limelight. Thanks to fans and supporters, Big Red reached the longlist for the BSFA award for Best Novel released in 2019. There were some serious heavy-hitters on that list and some fantastic works – just to see my name alongside them was a massive win.
Big Red was also a year old on the 14th May. A continued thank you to everyone who’s checked out my debut Irish science fiction novel and left a review. A year later and my mind is still blown by the level of support I’ve gotten!
On the writing front, things have taken an interesting twist. This year, I started on a project using the working title ‘Oceania’, a military science fiction set seventy years after humanity colonises a water world. My publisher Diane from Dancing Lemur Press had previously asked for a short story set in the Big Red universe. Setting Oceania aside, I crafted a 13k word story entitled ‘Blood Red Sand’ which covered one of the pivotal backstories in Big Red, namely the Allied invasion of Mars in 1954 and the Battle of New Berlin.
It was a lot of fun delving back into the universe of Big Red. One of the things fans of the novel had said to me on more than one occasion was that they wanted more insight into the action and the actual battles. It’s a fair point because as Big Red was told from the POV of an unreliable narrator, it can be a bit trickier to capture the wider action from a platoon, company, or battalion-sized operation. Blood Red Sand gave me the opportunity to switch to a third person POV and explore the Allied invasion from the perspective of the invading Mars Expeditionary force and the defending Wehrmacht.
Needless to say, I was thrilled by my publisher’s reaction to the story. Rather than launch it as a standalone prequel short story, she suggested developing it into a novel in its own right, which gave me a boost. Three months later, Blood Red Sand stands at slightly over 100k words and is sitting in the hands of my amazingly talented proofreader and editor Monique. I’m sure I still have a bit more to go to polish it off, but I really enjoyed writing this project and especially answering some of the questions fans of Big Red had brought forward.
For those that have read Big Red, I’ve covered a good few topics ranging from the origins of the Hollow Programme to the Mars Occupation Force and the Compression Matrix, as well as some insight into the background of the so-called Natives. Although some of those burning questions have been answered, I couldn’t resist leaving a few threads open, while creating a few new ones…
I have a few more writing projects scheduled for this year and a lot more exciting news coming your way. Stay tuned and stay safe!
I posted previously about the world-building involved in creating Big Red, giving some insight into where I got the ideas from and what inspired me. With just over sixty days to go until Big Red lands in a book shop near you, I wanted to dive a bit into the background, giving readers a better insight into the fictional back story and history. A lot of these events took place before the characters of Big Red arrived on Mars, but in a lot of ways these events shaped their surroundings and environment. So, here goes!
As World War 2 drew to a close in Europe, Nazi scientists perfected a revolutionary new form of long-range interstellar travel. Having been used to establish secret research facilities on Mars in the 1930s, this was hailed by an increasingly deteriorating Hitler as a chance to turn the tide on the Allies.
Hampering the Nazi leadership was the fact that this technology was based on unknown origins and couldn’t be operated to transport troops to any point on Earth. As the Russians advanced to the gates of Berlin, an increasing number of high-ranking party officials began to break with Hitler’s fantastical beliefs of a final victory and contemplated using this new technology as a chance to escape. With the Russian forces emerging victorious in the brutal Battle of Berlin, the last remnants of the Third Reich escaped the slaughter and retreated to the only place the Allies couldn’t reach them – Mars.
On Mars, the Nazis had long since established formal relations with the indigenous population dubbed “The Natives”. These Natives were an agrarian society, primarily living underground in subterranean communities. Although they had an awareness and even an understanding of technology, they had forsaken it to pursue a more idyllic life based on community, hard work and family.
Believing the lies of the new German settlers that they were fleeing genocidal persecution back on Earth, the Natives readily allowed the Nazis to excavate the planet in search of technologies left over by the forebearers of the Natives. Rumoured to be a powerful and technologically advanced civilisation, the Nazis believed that this would give them the upper hand in their quest to reconquer not just Germany, but the entire world…
That’s all for this week, folks! In the next post, I’ll detail pivotal events in the Big Red story covering the (historically documented) 1947 Roswell UFO Incident, the 1952 Washington UFO incident and the 1952 Stalin note.
These events together serve as a catalyst for the Allied response to German plans to stage a comeback and the 1954 Allied invasion of Mars (culminating in the oft-referenced “Battle of New Berlin”).
Stay tuned and don’t forget – Big Red lands on the 14th May!
Welcome to Part Two of the Big Red back story. This one picks up where the last one left off, so dive right in and enjoy!
The first concrete evidence that the Nazis had escaped the war came about in 1947, just outside of Roswell, New Mexico. In the wreckage of a crashed spaceship, Airforce investigators found the bodies of two human pilots- later identified as high-ranking SS members - thought to have died on the Eastern Front.
This prompted alarm within military and government circles that an invasion from technologically superior Nazi forces was imminent. In response, President Truman ordered the creation of a covert organisation known as ‘Majestic 12’. Given wide-ranging powers, this group began reverse engineering the downed spacecraft, directing government policy and overseeing a massive public disinformation campaign to cover up the truth. For the remainder of the 1940s, Nazi incursions into Allied airspace continued, although no direct hostile actions were taken by the aggressors. This led many within the Truman administration and Majestic 12 to believe that these fly-bys were either shows of strength or meant to test the capabilities of the enemy’s fighter-sized craft.
By early 1950, the construction of Earth’s first interstellar fleet of ships was midway under construction when Majestic 12 reported that the Third Reich leadership had opened negotiations with the USSR. Unwilling to admit to Stalin about the existence of the new fleet under construction, President Truman secretly ordered Majestic 12 to open a back channel with the exiled German forces to learn of their intentions.
To buy time, the President ordered these unofficial talks to be dragged out for as long as possible, while Majestic 12 stepped up their efforts in building the new interstellar fleet. These negotiations came to a head in March 1952 when Stalin made public his infamous ‘Stalin note’. This note called for a reunified Germany, free elections and the subsequent withdrawal of all Allied forces. The US and their allies publicly rejected the Stalin note, seeing it as the first possible step in a Nazi attempt to return to Germany from exile and re-establish a militarised National Socialist state.
Infuriated, the Third Reich leadership ordered an aggressive show of force, culminating in the 1952 UFO Washington Incident. Between the period of 12th – 29th July 1952, there were multiple sightings of UFO’s over America’s capital (including the White House). Determined not to back down, President Truman opened secret negotiations with Stalin and confirmed the existence of an American interstellar fleet of ships. After a series of long drawn out negotiations, the two sides agreed to form a united front against Nazi aggression and began planning an invasion of Mars.
Despite mutual shows of good faith, neither side could agree on the make up or composition of the ground forces needed to conquer the German colonies on Mars. Stalin feared a blow to his prestige if it ever became public that American forces were victorious in Earth’s first interstellar war, while Truman worried about a Soviet presence on Mars once hostilities ceased.
As a compromise, it was agreed that although the fleet would remain nominally under US control and both sides would commit support personnel and military attachés, the necessary manpower would need to come from third parties. Both sides reluctantly agreed to a joint British-French task force. This new group would be known as the Mars Expeditionary Force (MEF).
In early 1953, the Mars Expeditionary Force set off on its mission and arrived on Mars in March 1954. Although the initial landing of MEF soldiers and supplies went according to plan, the fleet was practically annihilated in a series of daring suicide attacks by Nazi spacecraft. These actions left the MEF soldiers effectively cut off from re-supply or escape and forced them into a do-or-die action to seize the German colonies.
The Battle for Mars had begun.
That’s all for this week folks! I had thought about doing a Part Three on this subject, but delving into the world of Big Red again has given me too many ideas that I’m not going to share just yet…
I have some announcements coming up to do with Big Red’s launch on 14th May, so stay tuned!
I always tend to start my blog posts with some reference to how busy I’ve been. I tried to come up with some other way of starting this post, but the truth is; I have indeed been kept busy. So, without further ado, it’s time for a quick catch up and a progress report!
Probably my most exciting piece of news is that I’ll be attending Titancon 2019 in Belfast 24th-25th August. I’m really excited about this as I’ve never been able to attend a con before. To top if off, I’ll be doing a book signing at the con and hosting a talk about Twitter pitches for aspiring writers.
For those of you who’ve followed my journey from the start, you’ll remember I got a lot of interest for Big Red during last year’s #IWSGpit. Not only was that the first time publishers had ever expressed an interest in my work, but it also allowed me to land a traditional publishing deal with my amazing publisher.
I’ve talked about Twitter pitch events during various radio, magazine, and newspaper interviews and I’m still amazed by people’s reactions. I know a lot of people in the Twitter writing community are aware of these events, but there’s still a lot of writers out there who aren’t. Just like any other form of querying, participation doesn’t automatically guarantee success, but it does open up your work to a whole load of potential matches. I’m really looking forward to chatting about this and hopefully pointing a few aspiring writers in the right direction.
In other news, the British/Irish Writing Community has nearly finished work on our very first e-zine and website. We’ve opened submissions to writers from all across Ireland and UK and some of the short stories we’ve received have been mind-blowingly good. Thanks again to everyone who’s gotten involved! I really can’t wait to share the very first issue with everyone. Also, keep an eye out for my own short story ‘The Republic of Inishdearg’. More details on that soon!
Last of all, I’m making steady progress on my current WIP. I’ve had a few mini projects over the last few months that slowed things down , but I’m glad to say I’ve thrown myself full steam into it again. I’m roughly halfway through the first draft now, which I’m aiming to have done early to mid-September. I’ll leak some details about it in a future post, so stay tuned!
That’s all from me for this week, folks. I’ve plenty more good news to share with you soon, so watch this space!