• 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.

  • This week, speculative fiction writer Phil Parker has kindly volunteered to do up an article on incubation and developing ideas. Phil's debut 'The Bastard from Fairyland' is one of my favorite novels I've read this year and I couldn't recommend it highly enough. Enjoy!

    The next time you get stuck for an idea and find the whole process so frustrating you want to commit random acts of violence, stop and let things incubate. Nature does it so well. New life arrives in an egg but it needs to be warmed up to encourage growth. Even then, life needs to chip away at the hard shell that’s provided protection during the incubation process, until it finally arrives into the world.

    Ideas don’t just happen, they need incubation too.

    If you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you’ll know this episode well. Sheldon tries to apply Wave Theory to a particular problem which eludes him. He tries all sorts of comical methods -  using peas and lima beans then later, organising the plastic balls in a kids’ playcentre’s ball pit. In the end he takes on menial work (doing Penny’s job!) and, when he drops a tray of dirty crockery, the resulting mess provides the answer.

    Sheldon used a method called Divergent Incubation. By taking a break from the creative process, to do something which doesn’t challenge the brain, the synapses continue the thinking process, undisturbed by new stimuli. Or from going around and around in frustrating circles. Refreshed and renewed, when you revisit the topic, your brain has caught up and found the answer.

    Think of it like this: the brain is like a computer and sometimes we can demand so much of its processing systems, that it starts to buffer. It can’t cope with the pressure we place on it. As writers we demand a lot from our brains. Ideas that offer the next plot twist, the means to define a character or describe a location, the challenge of choosing the right words, reflecting on the story’s tone, pace and rhythms. On top of that come the emotional and personal issues that complicate everything: the crippling self-doubt, the stress of cramming your writing into the spare hour when family and work don’t demand it.

    It's not surprising the brain starts to buffer, is it?

    Divergent Incubation comes in different forms, it can include sleep. I know lots of authors have woken up with ideas or dreamed them. Paul McCartney conceived his hit Yesterday in his sleep!

    If you’re a “pantser” I think that pressure is even greater. We force ourselves into situations in our story where we don’t know what’s going to happen next. John Keats called it Negative Keepability, the ability to stay in a space where you don’t know what’s going to happen next, it’s a willingness to chase down ideas that may lead somewhere. We believe (or just hope beyond all reason) that the experience of pursuing an idea will influence the next step in the story.  It can generate as much despair as it triggers excitement but when that despair strikes – and it will – this is when you need to step back and give your brain that chance to process things, to buffer.

    So next time you get stuck for ideas, let them incubate. Go do the washing up, clean your home, sweep the leaves off the patio. Not only will it benefit your writing, you may find your Significant Other is grateful for this sudden burst of industry too. When they ask you why – tell them you’re incubating - and watch their reaction.

    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.

    http://http://viewauthor.at/PhilParker 

  • 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!).

     

    Conclusions

    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 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!