The Momentum Blog

David Rollin’s writing process

Posted October 6, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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I often get asked what my writing process is. The fact is, writing a novel is a pretty romantic notion for a lot of people. But is it? Most people envisage that they’ll be sitting in their study, soothing music playing, and otherwise undisturbed while the creative juices flow. Hmm…my reality is that I write at a desk in my bedroom, facing a brick wall. I used to listen to music, but for some reason I don’t any more. I used to do that so I could block out the real world and concentrate instead on the world playing out behind my eyes. I don’t need to do that anymore. I can hold reality ay bay at will. I write sitting in departure lounges, or on planes, or in the back of taxis. I can write anywhere. Sometimes I have to because there’s not enough time for that desk in my bedroom.

For years I wrote 2000 words a day and I was religious about it. Sometimes that writing would start at 6 am and finish at 8 or 9 pm – whenever that 2000 words was on the hard drive. Some days I could peel off 2000 words a few hours. Sometimes the words come fast, and sometimes you have to lever them out with a crowbar. These days, there’s so much else I have to do that I’m happy if I just advance the story. Even a couple of hundred words, if that’s all I can manage.

When I’m in the middle of a manuscript, I go over and over the dialogue in my head until it sounds about right. Sounds cool, right? But often this happens at 4 in the morning when I’m trying to sleep. Or when I’m trying to exercise. Or when I’m watching my daughter play soccer. Or driving. Or at a restaurant with friends. In fact, sometimes I wish the voices in my head would just fuck off and leave me in peace. My wife will often say, “Hey, where are you?” because I won’t be in the here and now, I’ll be in someone else’s skin, in some other place, and, recently, in some other time. It’s relentless.

I also don’t always know exactly where the story will go, though I’m reasonably clear on where it will end up. I write a kind of an outline and this includes several key scenes I can see clearly. The outline is important – if it works, I know the book will work. This is my “spine” or “railway tracks” – I’ve heard a number of writers call this different things, but it’s all the same. If I don’t have something like this – even a paragraph – I know I might lose the plot.

You want to know one of my most favourite sounds? It’s the clatter of fingers on the keyboard of a computer. What a beautiful sound – all those words and thoughts being created. It’s like a rush of new life.

Is writing a novel romantic? Maybe it is, I don’t know. What I do know is that no one else will write it for me. If the words get written that’s me. If the words don’t get written that’s also me. So instead of going to the pub, I write. Instead of going to watch a game of rugby, I write. I’ve missed quiet a lot over the years. And maybe lost a friend or two also. But in their place I now have 10 novels and each one has been its own adventure. I went to Siberia to research The Zero Option. And the Thai-Burma border for A Knife Edge. For Standoff, I went to Colombia, Panama and Texas and hung out with The Texas Rangers and watched drug couriers come across the Rio Grande at night. I’ve also met some great people, though admittedly some of these have been conjured in my own brain.

And when you write the novel, you live with these people in your thoughts for the duration. That’s not always a good thing, believe me, because a novel has to be convincing. If you can’t convince yourself that the characters and the situation (or plot) is real, you can forget about convincing your readers. So when I’m deep in the story, the lines of what’s real and what’s in my imagination can get a little blurry. My family is used to it now, but the outcome is that I’m thought of (I believe) as being either vague and dreamy. There’s no room left in my head for names or faces or places that aren’t in my current book. It’s weird, I guess, but that’s how it rolls for me.


Field of Mars: The Complete edition is out on the 8th of October! Grab your copy now!


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Cover reveal: Nations Divided by Steve P. Vincent

Posted September 23, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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Peace has been decades in the making, but chaos is just the press of a button away.

Jack Emery is happier than he has been in a long time. Nobody has shot at him or tried to blow him up for years, and he’s learned to love the job he thought he’d hate: Special Advisor to the President of the United States.

But nothing can prepare Jack for the work to come. As America continues to heal from self-inflicted wounds, an ambitious President McGhinnist draws closer to achieving the impossible: peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

As the countdown to peace reaches zero, a desperate group of hardline Israelis invoke the Samson Option, a secret protocol that will eradicate the peace agreement and pave the way for the destruction of America and the Middle East.

Jack has learned the hard way that when a crisis knocks, you don’t always get the chance to ignore it.

Perfect for readers of Vince Flynn, Steve Berry and Tom Clancy.

Nations Divided: Jack Emery 3 will be released on the 10th of December. Pre-order your copy now!

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5 Pitches for the Next Gritty Hollywood Remake

Posted August 7, 2015 by Emily Stamm

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These days, Hollywood can’t seem to get enough of rebooting our favorite books into gritty dystopian movies and television shows. The latest beloved classic to suffer this fate is Little Women. The loving sisters are going to be uncovering conspiracies and trying not to kill each other in Philadelphia, while we watch and wonder how on Earth someone thought this was a good idea.

Let’s take a look at how we could remake five other childhood favorites into ridiculous television drama or made for t.v. movies.


The Secret Garden
Is it so hard to imagine this + opium smuggling?


After her parents are murdered, sixteen-year old Mary Lennox is sent to live with her reclusive uncle. She’s miserable until she discovers a mysterious locked garden…with an attractive boy inside! Mary breaks into the garden and is shocked to discover that eighteen year old Dickon is running her uncle’s opium smuggling operation out of…The Secret Garden. We’ll kill cousin Colin off early, throw in a dash of star-crossed lovers from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and BAM! You’ve got a hit.


Charlotte’s Web

A pig, a spider, a revolution.


Wilbur the pig is shunned by the other barnyard animals, until Charlotte the spider takes an interest in him. She is the leader behind a group of animals who want to revolt against humans and take their lives into their own hands. Charlotte comes with with a scheme to spell words in her webs, manipulating the humans to think that Wilbur is chosen by God and should not be slaughtered after the fair. She begins convincing them that he should be set free, along with all the other farm animals, but is tragically killed in childbirth before her plan can come to fruition. Almost all of her children flee as soon as they hatch, but three remain behind to carry on her fight to free the animals.


Anne of Green Gables

That smile has never been innocent…


Anne’s parents are killed by rival wizards when she is a baby, leaving her to float from foster home to orphanage and back again. When she is in her early teens, she is accidentally sent to the Cuthberts on Prince Edward Island. Furious that she isn’t a boy, they threaten to send her back. Anne casts a spell that makes them, and the entire town, adore her. The wizards who killed her parents find Anne, and she must battle them while maintaining her spell on the town. Scenes of note include the wizards changing the raspberry cordial into currant wine in order to discredit Anne; Wizards trying to kill Anne, but instead killing Matthew; and Anne becoming a powerful enough witch to teach at the Prince Edward Island equivalent to Hogwarts.


A Little Princess

Wouldn’t this just be 100x better if it was in space?


Young Sara Crewe is taken by her father to one of the best boarding schools on the moon in 2075. Knowing her father is a rich explorer who has been doubling his fortune every five years on Mars, they treat her like a little princess. A few years later, the school receives word that Captain Crewe’s whole team was lost on Mars during a dust storm, and he was most certainly dead. The school, especially the headmistress, begin treating Sara like a servant. She regularly has to go outside in a spacesuit to collect rocks and clean dust off the solar panels (because space). Meanwhile, a mysterious man moves in next door to the school. He slowly recovers his memory, and realizes that he was the lead scientist on Captain Crewe’s mission, and that’s why he has a research monkey living with him. The monkey escapes (in a tiny monkey spacesuit) and Sara finds him while cleaning solar panels. When returning the monkey to the mysterious stranger, they learn of their connection.

Bonus sequel: The mysterious stranger and Sara go back to Mars to try and recover Captain Crewe’s body. Once there, they find that the whole crew has become zombies. Space zombies.


Little House on the Prairie

If there’s one thing the Little House books need, it’s more grit!


A few decades after most of the world was wiped out by nuclear bombs, the Ingalls family struggles to survive in the desolate wasteland that was once America. If we change the tone of the narrator from unending optimism to resignation, we can even keep most of the major plot points the same! Everyone gets malaria, sister Mary goes blind, locusts eat all the crops, nuclear winter strands the family in their log cabin, and there are so many chores to be done. Think of the possibilities for costumes! Special effects! Dramatic acting! There is no way this wouldn’t be a hit.


Whether you love them or hate them, we want to hear your thoughts on the gritty reboot trend. Do you have any hope at all for the new Little Women series?

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Cover reveal: Field of Mars by David Rollins

Posted July 9, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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Episode One – released 13th August. Pre-order now!

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Marcus Licinius Crassus’s lust for gold and glory was legendary. What became of his army is myth.

In Crassus the tyrant, Rufinius the soldier, Appius the historian, Mena the hag and Lucia the Golden Whore, David Rollins brings to life a mystery that has plagued historians for centuries. The only constant in this world is Mars, the god of war, and who he will favour is anyone’s guess.

Desperate to write himself into the pages of history, proconsul Marcus Licinius Crassus marched 40,000 Roman legionaries into the heart of the Parthian empire. More than 10,000 were never seen or heard from again.

In a story that spans empires and generations, this vanished army’s fate is finally unveiled. From the streets of Rome to the deserts of ancient Iran, around the globe into the heart of an empire vaster than anything Rome ever imagined, a young Alexandrian soldier is borne on the tides of the age of empires from soldier of Rome to slave of Babylon to commander of armies.

Perfect for fans of Robert Harris and Conn Iggulden, this sweeping historical thriller takes the reader on an epic journey across ancient empires and into the unknown stories of myth and legend.

Episode Two – released 27th August. Pre-order now!

Field of Mars ep2

Defeat does not come easily to a soldier.

In the wake of an epic battle with the Parthian empire, Proconsul Crassus’s Roman army faces a crisis the likes of which Rome has never known. Centurion Rufinius, one of the few surviving officers, must ensure safe passage for his army and himself.

Facing turncoats within the ranks and temptation from a mysterious beauty promised to the king of a distant empire, Rufinius must fight for his life and for love. In cold-blooded slavers’ pits and on bended knee before foreign generals, Rufinius will do anything to renew his men’s faith in themselves.

Tested from within and without, Rufinius must learn to lead his men at a time when there is no best option. The first battle that must be fought is one of wills. And on the outcome will hinge the fate of empires.

Episode Three – released 10th September. Pre-order now!

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Even a soldier fears to march into a land his gods have never known.

Struggling to believe that the horizons stretch so far, Centurion Rufinius leads the remains of Crassus’s Roman army ever eastward.

His passion for Lucia intensifying, and his conflict with his own men reaching breaking point, Rufinius must demonstrate to his men and to General Saikan that he can repair this broken army.

Kept imprisoned in a wagon, the Golden Whore Lucia presents Rufinius and the hag Mena with an opportunity, but with it comes a risk that could kill them both.

Should he prevail, this peril will not be Rufinius’s last. He and his men must yet answer the call of the horizon, beyond which a vast empire awaits, rich with incalculable spoils.

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9 Most Exceptional Fictional Rabbits

Posted April 20, 2015 by Eve Merrier

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At this Easterish, springlike time of year, the mind inevitably turns to bunnies. Here is my rabbit ranking of the best.

  1. Peter Rabbit. This is number one because my partner just said ‘Peter Rabbit better be number one’, and I have to live with the guy. My partner, not the rabbit. He’s gutsy, adventurous, perhaps rather incautious, and insists on going into other people’s gardens. My partner, not the rabbit.
  2. The White Rabbit is the very reason Alice goes down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. He is the catalyst for one of literature’s most famous adventures. And he has an enviable pocket watch.
  3. In Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, a bear asks all the forest creatures whether they have seen his hat. The rabbit denies that he has while sporting something atop his head that looks suspiciously like the missing item. For gumption alone this rabbit makes the list. bear-and-rabbit
  4. All the rabbits in Watership Down deserves to be listed, but my favourite was Fiver, the littlest one who could tell the future. I learnt from Watership Down that rabbits can’t count above five. I think that’s just the loveliest non-fact.
  5. In the novel Chocolat, the daughter of the main character has an imaginary rabbit friend called Pantoufle, which is French for slipper. I find this adorable.
  6. The Velveteen Rabbit transforms from a stuffed toy into a real life rabbit in the most heartbreakingly gorgeous way: we all learn what it means to be really real.
  7. Miffy feels very modern to me, but in fact has been around for over 60 years. Stylised with a limited palette, every book has twelve pages with four lines of verse on each. She’s also become an emblem for ecological activism, which is pretty awesome. miffy
  8. Rabbit from Winnie-the-Pooh likes to come up with elaborate plans and generally lead and scold the other animals of the Hundred Acre Wood. He is very keen on his friends and relations, claiming that he would need “seventeen pockets” if he were going to carry them about with him.
  9. When God Was a Rabbit is named after God, a pet rabbit given to the main character, Elly by her brother. It is a constant companion during her childhood. It’s a compelling novel about sibling love and growing up.

Who would you add to the list? Comments please!

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How to be a Hero by Duncan Lay

Posted by Michelle Cameron

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What does being a hero really mean? With Anzac Day almost upon us, and football season in full swing, it’s a word that is being used all the time in media reports – aptly in the first case, pointlessly in the second. But who would want to be a hero? And would it be what you hoped, if you were one? It’s one of the many questions that I try to consider in The Last Quarrel.

Fallon is a man who longs to be a hero, to do something memorable. His wife, Bridgit, just wants the quiet life. The last thing she wants is to be a hero. But when a ghost ship sails into their quiet village and turns their lives upside down, when their worst nightmares come to life, how do they react? Who will be the real hero? Who will deal best with the responsibility thrust upon them? The one who dreamed of being heroic, who trained every day for that chance, or the one who wanted nothing to do with it? They approach the task from different directions. One is used to protecting the village, the other used to protecting their child. I wanted to explore their reactions, and see how they dealt with the most extreme circumstances, as their world crumbles around them and everything threatens to be destroyed by true darkness.

My guilty pleasure is the reality TV show Survivor. Even after all these years, each season beings its fascinating human drama, as people have to use their strength, their wits, their brains and their charm to win. Sometimes the most unlikely characters come through – and that’s what I love about it. The struggle to keep going, when you are tired, when you are hungry and when seemingly everyone is against you – I find it fascinating to see which ones crack and which ones rise to the challenge. Men and women often tend to approach this fight for survival in different ways, as well. This was another aspect I wanted to look at. And when I say that, I do mean the characters are the ones leading the way. I like to get them to the point where I know how they will react to any given situation. Then I turn them loose on the story and if they want to take in a slightly different direction, then I go with it. That is the fun of writing!

So who does deal best with adversity? Well, I’m afraid the question isn’t completely answered in book 1 of the trilogy – but you’ll certainly have a better idea after you finish The Last Quarrel!


The Last Quarrel: Complete Edition is released on the 23rd of April – pre-order now!

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Change is Good

Posted March 26, 2015 by Eve Merrier

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If characters stay the same their actions are usually predictable and stories can lack edge and excitement. That isn’t always a bad thing: Winnie the Pooh is always going to like honey and be gently philosophical. That’s his thing and it works for him. However, for humans, change is natural and inevitable as we adapt to new situations.


A classic way to show this is to have a character enjoy a thing, almost to the point of obsession at the beginning of the book, before abandoning it for more important things later on. This can be classed as Shifting Priorities. At the start Angela goes into every comic book shop she sees. At the end she passes one, pauses, and walks on, because she has to be somewhere more important.

A change of appearance can be used to similar effect. At the start of the book Julia polishes her shield each morning so she can have the shiniest armour. By the end it’s battered and filthy, but it’s still doing it’s job and she no longer cares.

Another way to demonstrate development is through Overcoming. We’ve established that Joe has a fear of public speaking. At the end of the book he has to rally a dissident army of apocalypse survivors. His ability to do this shows growth.


A character arc can be a skillful way of introducing a parallel Conflict: The character’s internal strife can mirror the conflict in the plot. This could be in the form of a necessary Moral Adjustment wherein the character must reconsider their ethical position. This could go either way: ‘good’ characters might have to compromise their ethics, or ‘bad’ characters might rethink their world domination plans because they adopt adorable children (I’m thinking Despicable Me here). When a morally questionable person softens, this can also be called Badass Decay. Don’t soften them up too much!


In the most convincing character arcs, change usually happens gradually, for example with a gradual erosion of long-held beliefs, or a slow building of confidence. The Coming of Age paradigm is one of the best places to see this.

Perhaps your character doesn’t need to change fundamentally, but only in the eyes of the reader. We’ll call this revealing Hidden Depths. Maybe Snape didn’t hate Harry so much after all…

Change to avoid:

Flanderization – when a character becomes defined by a prominent quirk or mannerism.

Character derailment – when a character does something that does not compute with what anyone knows about them so far with no decent motive.


Can you think of any good (or terrible) examples of character arcs?

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Always Read the Epigraph

Posted March 10, 2015 by Eve Merrier

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[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business. ― A.A. Milne, If I May

‘Epigraph’ is the name for a quote from an author that appears at the start of another’s book, chapter, story or essay. In general I think they’re a lovely idea. They usually set the mood, tone or theme for the forthcoming word extravaganza. José Saramago said, “Anyone who doesn’t have the patience to read my books can at least cast their eyes over the epigraphs and they’ll learn everything from there.”Moreover, they make me feel like I’m in safe hands. An epigraph says to me: It’s OK, relax, here’s a writer who reads other great writers; they’ve put the research in and they know what they’re doing.

Epigraph from Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Fisher Bryant. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Epigraph from Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Fisher Bryant. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

The genre and themes are set at the beginning of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with this:

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me? — Paradise Lost, X, 743-45

These could be the words of the monster.

Epigraph in American Savage

Epigraph in American Savage

One Day by David Nicholls plumps first for a Philip Larkin poem to frame the whole book, then introduces its first chapter with Dickens:

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day. ― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

The book, for those who haven’t read it, is based on the same date each year in the lives of two friends. The pertinence of the quote is evident.

Epigraph from The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Epigraph from The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird has perhaps the most perfect epigraph:

Lawyers, I suppose, were children once. – Charles Lamb

John le Carré is a fan of the epigraph. His 1999 book, Single and Single uses not a quote from a fellow author, but from a legal declaration. It is many levels of intriguing, and wholly in-keeping with his criminal/espionage/corruption genre:

Human Blood is a commodity. -US Federal Trade Commission, 1966

There’s no reason a quote should be literary; meaning can be found in unexpected places, as demonstrated by T. Michael Martin in The End Games:

Everything not saved will be lost. –Nintendo “Quit Screen” message

Alice Walker begins The Color Purple with Stevie Wonder:

Show me how to do like you
Show me how to do it.

The device has been used and adapted in modern literature, with the rise of the fictional epigraph: John Green quotes a book he invented in The Fault in Our Stars, as does Jasper Fforde in his Thursday Next series. Postmodernism loves a meta epigraph.

It is important to ensure that the epigraph has keen relevance: a hastily Googled Shakespearean couplet might not add the desired erudition of it’s not on point. Even if the pertinence isn’t immediately relevant, they can serve as a real treat for re-readers.

Do you like or use epigraphs? Do you have a favourite?

Pictures from the brilliant Epigraphic.

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Cover reveal(s) – The Last Quarrel by Duncan Lay

Posted February 3, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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Gaelland is a nation gripped by fear.

In the country, fishing boats return with their crews mysteriously vanished, while farms are left empty, their owners gone into the night, meals still on the table. In the cities, children disappear from the streets or even out of their own beds. The King tells his people that it is the work of selkies – mythical creatures who can turn from seals into men and back again – and witches. But no matter how many women he burns at the stake, the children are still being taken. Fallon is a man who has always dreamed of being a hero. His wife Bridgit just wants to live in peace and quiet, and to escape the tragedies that have filled her life. His greatest wish and her worst nightmare are about to collide. When an empty ship sails into their village, he begins to follow the trail towards the truth behind the evil stalking their land. But it is a journey that will take them both into a dark, dark place and nobody can tell them where it might end …

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The Last Quarrel Episode One is now for sale. All other episodes are available for pre-order.


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Checking Wardrobes for Narnia: Why Fantasy Should be Ordinary

Posted January 23, 2015 by Eve Merrier

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This week I read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s very special. One of its best qualities is the blend of ordinariness with the fantastical. This is epitomised by the eponymous ocean, which looks like a duck pond. It struck me that all the best means of travel through space, time, and various other dimensions, are ordinary. Or at least they look it. That’s the joy of it: bringing the magic into the real world, making it feel like you just have to find the right wardrobe…the_ocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane

Narnia is a good place to start. The wardrobe is, of course, the most iconic means of reaching Aslan’s realm, but you can also get there via train platforms, with magical rings given to you by a sinister uncle, or through a picture in your aunt and uncle’s spare bedroom.wardrobe

Fireplaces work well too. Not to take you to a different world, but to travel around Harry Potter’s version of our own. The traveller also needs to be in possession of Floo powder and to speak the name of the place they want to go to. Apparently, it’s also important to keep your elbows in. I think I might start telling children that Santa Claus is Dumbledore’s brother, travelling by Floo.harry

The TARDIS may be iconic these days, but the UK used to be covered in police boxes, so it was a subtle way to travel. The interiors of the boxes used to be used as mini police stations, so you could, quite easily, plop it down anywhere and step out without anyone batting an eyelid.police_box_inline1

Powered by the fire, the innocuous wooden door of Howl’s Moving Castle has a dial to turn, depending on where you’d like to step out. This works no matter where the castle is. The flower meadow, which Howl is showing Sophie for the first time below, is my happy place.meadow

In Yonderland, the funniest TV series in existence, the pantry functions as a portal. Debbie is a suburban English mum, and a bit bored, until and elf appears from her cupboard, insisting that she is The Chosen One and must save Yonderland. Though they’ve lost the scroll that says how she’s supposed to do it. Each episode, they venture through her pantry to a magical realm, ensuring she’s home in time to pick up the kids. Watch a clip.

Fiction is also full of swirling wormholes, rips in time and high tech teleporters. They’re cool too. But I think there’s something truly excellent in using the ordinary as the basis for the extraordinary. The more closely it resembles our world, the easier it is to believe in magic.


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A stranger in a strange land: guest post by Louise Cusack

Posted November 14, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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I’ve been watching the wildly popular new television series Outlander, adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s 1991 novel of the same name. It’s about WW2 army nurse Claire Randall who is visiting Scotland when she’s sent back in time 200 years, leaving her husband behind and needing to marry young and handsome highlander Jamie Fraser for protection. Outlander (the novel) is currently Goodreads #2 top romance of all-time, so this is a popular story that’s still selling strongly 23 years after its original release.

The television series features stunning Scottish landscapes and a regularly bare-chested male lead played by hunky Scot actor Sam Heughan, which might explain its popularity with non-readers as well. But according to blogs and reviews springing up across the Internet, the stranger in a strange land aspect of Claire coping with the primitive day-to-day life of eighteenth century Scotland is one of the most thrilling aspects of the story.

Unlike other historical dramas, this series looks at a time period through the fresh eyes of a twentieth century female character, allowing us to put ourselves in Claire’s shoes as she rebels against their patriarchy, is disgusted by their medical practices, and occasionally delights in the strangeness of it all – exactly as we might.

Of course, this isn’t the first stranger in a strange land story to enchant audiences.


Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole into Wonderland have thrilled generations of children, and Avatar, where cripple Jake Sully saves the beautiful planet of Pandora, is the highest grossing movie of all time. Not to mention Edgar Rice Burrough’s hero John Carter, transported to Barsoom/Mars – a particular favorite of mine that was made into a Disney movie a few years back. I used to devour Edgar Rice Burroughs novels as though they were Mills & Boon when I was a teen, thrilling to the adventure of a ‘clean limbed fighting man from Virginia’ saving the princess and falling in love. Beyond the romance, I was falling in love with a genre that lets audiences see a new world through the eyes of a stranger.

A Princess of Mars was soon followed on my shelf by Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness and Frank Herbert’s Dune as firm favorites (along with Outlander). Not to mention that my first big crush was on Captain James Kirk of the starship Enterprise whose mission was to boldly go where no man had gone before…

I couldn’t get enough of characters going from one world into another, so it was also no surprise that I’d settle on stranger in a strange land stories as the theme I wanted to explore as a writer. Across, fantasy, romance and erotica, that theme is a constant, but my absolute favorite is my Shadow Through Time trilogy that begins with twentieth century Catherine falling through a Sacred Pool into Ennae and discovering that in that world she is Princess Khatrene, with a hunky champion of her own and adventures and romance more thrilling than anything I’d ever read.

So in celebration of all things stranger in a strange land, Momentum is offering the first book of my trilogy, Destiny of the Light, for free so you have your own vicarious adventure in an otherworld. And as one book-blogger said, “If you love your fantasy to be slightly gritty but with plenty of swoony romance, Destiny of the Light is for you!

 Louise Cusack‘s Destiny of the Light is currently FREE!

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Q&A with Sophie Masson

Posted November 10, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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We asked our wonderful author Sophie Masson some questions about her upcoming release Trinity: The Koldun Code.


 1. What inspired you to write the Trinity series?

I could say that what inspired me was my lifelong fascination with Russia, and that’s true. I could also say that it was inspired by my long-held desire of writing a big urban fantasy series, one that blends the everyday and the magical worlds, the natural and the supernatural, against a modern setting which makes the whole thing even more striking. That would also be true. And I wanted it to have other elements I love too, such as a good spice of romance and a sharp tingle of mystery. But Trinity might just have stayed as an idea in the back of my mind, if it hadn’t been for a chance glimpse on the Moscow Metro: a young man in modern jeans and leather jacket, but with the timeless, striking face of a prince or a legendary warrior, such as I’d seen that very day in paintings in the Tretiakov Art Gallery.

In that instant, just before the young man got off the train, Trinity really came alive. For there was Alexey Makarov taking shape in my mind, and there was Helen’s voice describing him. And I knew I could not rest until I had told their story.


2. Russia is such an evocative setting, how did you come to choose it?

As I mentioned, I’ve been fascinated by Russia since I was a child, when I read Russian fairytales, and later, Russian novels. My father (who comes from France) loves Russian music and art, so we were exposed to a lot of that at home. Much later, I visited Russia (I’ve been there twice now) and loved it—it was just as interesting as I had imagined it, in fact even more so! It’s such a mix of so many different influences—hugely diverse, enormously paradoxical, and extremely addictive.


3. Speaking of Russia, magic is such an ingrained part of their culture, how did this influence you?

Heaps! Russia is the absolutely perfect urban fantasy setting—you hardly even have to make anything up! From the Parliament trying to regulate witchcraft to the businesses who employ wizards to the scientists studying DNA for evidence of psychic talents to the ‘energy vampires’ who people firmly believe in, this is a place where the supernatural and paranormal are taken for granted by many, many people. And yet it’s also totally modern, with very high literacy and education levels.


4. What was your favourite scene to write, and why?

My favorite scene is the one where Helen and Alexey meet for the first time, in the woods. Everything changes in that moment for Helen, and it is truly magical, in all kinds of ways. Writing it gave me goose bumps!


5. What can we expect in the second book The False Prince?

A new threat on the horizon as a figure from the past resurfaces and causes havoc both natural and supernatural at Trinity. Watch this space!



Trinity: The Koldun Code is released on the 13th of November.


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Cover reveal – Trinity: The Koldun Code by Sophie Masson

Posted October 29, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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 An unexpected encounter with a handsome stranger in a Russian wood changes the life of 22-year-old traveler Helen Clement forever, catapulting her into a high-stakes world of passion, danger, and mystery. Tested in ways she could never have imagined, she must keep her own integrity in a world where dark forces threaten and ruthlessness and betrayal haunt every day.

Set against a rising tide of magic and the paranormal in a modern Russia where the terrifying past continually leaks into the turbulent present, Trinity is a unique and gripping blend of conspiracy thriller, erotically charged romance and elements of the supernatural, laced with a murderous dose of company politics. With its roots deep in the fertile soil of Russian myth, legend, and history, it is also a fascinating glimpse into an extraordinary, distinctive country and amazingly rich culture.

Trinity comes out on November 13 in all good ebook retailers!

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The 10 best teachers in fiction

Posted August 21, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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We lost a teacher last week.

A teacher whose presence seemed to dominate all representations of teaching in films and books, to the point where graduate teachers around the world still grapple with the impossibility of measuring up to a classroom of students standing on their desks calling out ‘Oh captain my captain!’

And while this post was initially drafted with this teacher’s inclusion, I’m going to leave him out of this list now because, well, frankly John Keating in Dead Poets Society can sit alongside Mr Chipping in Goodbye Mr Chips as logical, foregone conclusions when it comes to handing out positions for Best Fictional Teacher.

So, in the spirit of seizing the educational day– and in memoriam – here’s my list of the 10 Best Fictional Teachers.


10. Walter WhiteBreaking Bad

Okay, maybe not the greatest person, but if there’s one thing to be gained from Mr White’s inexorable descent into villainy, it’s his ability to teach. Here we have a teacher who takes a student with no interest in learning, only in the results, and turns them into a perfect graduate (we’ll just ignore what happens later on to this perfect graduate, especially in the last few episodes, but hey, he still learned good).

If there’s one thing good teachers should do it’s love their subject, and when it comes to the production of methamphetamine, well Mr White certainly loves what he teaches.


9. Mr Collins – The Wonder Years

He only appeared in three epsidoes, most memorably in ‘Good-bye’, but Mr Collins seems to dominate my entire memory of The Wonder Years. In a really short space of time, the show seemed to encapsulate everything that great teaching is to me, particularly in the little dance Mr Collins has with Kevin where he can see through the student’s lies, but knows he must play along so that Kevin can learn from failure, from effort, and from life.

And ultimately, despite everything, good teachers never die.


8. Grady Tripp – Wonder Boys

Okay, he might be disinterested and under the influence most of the time, and in the position for the tenure, the time he gets to work on his novel, and the proximity to the Dean’s wife, but Grady Tripp does get quite a few things right about teaching.

Most importantly, he understands that teachers don’t have to teach everyone to an A, and that not all students have the same path: ‘You tell them what you know, you tell them to find their voice and stay with it, you tell the ones that have it to keep at it, and you tell the ones that don’t have it to keep at it because that’s the only way they’ll get to where they’re going.’


7. Charles Xavier – X-Men

He has a school for mutants. Pretty much a great teacher there. But most importantly, Professor X takes them all in: regardless of shape, size, skill and colour, despite how much property damage they might inflict on the school, he’s happy to have everyone there.


6. Indiana Jones – Raides of the Lost Ark

Some of my favourite moments in the Indiana Jones films are watching the adventurous archaelogist hero grapple with returning to the classroom, and the unending demands of his students.

But also, there’s a fair bit of vicarious enthusiasm for any teacher, imagining that all they need to do is put on a hat and jump out a window, and they can take all their educational skills off to some far flung jungle to retrieve a lost artifact.


5. Edna Krabappel – The Simpsons

Ever-present (until the end) at the front of the 4th-grade classroom, Mrs Krabappel ended up becoming one of the most consitent teacher figures for anyone who grew up with The Simpsons. But the best thing of all was that despite her flaws as a sympathetic teacher, she was bold enough to show her students that all teachers are people, and have to go home at the end of the day, especially in episodes like ‘Bart the Lover’.


4. Jake Epping – 11/22/63

I had to work one Stephen King teacher in here, especially as King battled through being an underpaid teacher before his career took off. This is probably his most developed teacher character, with Epping not only travelling back in time to try and prevent the Kennedy assassination, but also attempting to fix the childhood of one of his students. On top of that, he doesn’t just go back in time, he goes back in time and becomes the most important teacher for a whole bunch of students in the 1960s, particularly when he convinces the star football player to take the lead in the school play.


3. Laura Roslin – Battlestar Galactica

Teachers in charge of humanity! How great is this premise, and installing the politically inexperienced, but morally driven Roslin as the President of the Twelve Colonies is one of the best updates the remake brought to the series. Despite the emphasis on Adama, Starbuck and the completely unhinged Baltar in Battlestar Galactica’s reception, it’s Roslin for me that makes the show, and binds all the characters and storylines together in a way that grounds the space opera in a reality.


2. Roland Pryzbylewski – The Wire

Prez’s arc of the different seasons of The Wire is possibly one of the most interesting, given that he’s one of the few characters offered up that appears capable of positive change. From terrible cop to conscientious teacher, Prez’s change is contrasted against a broken education system that is static beyond belief, even with everybody’s best intentions.

This is just about the truest depiction of teaching I’ve ever seen, particularly in Prez’s inability to change anything about the school, system or his students’ lives, even when he has success in the classroom.


1. Albus Dumbledore – Harry Potter series

Okay, well this is probably pretty obvious. But for me there’s two reasons. Firstly, I grew up in a boarding school, and so the structure, style and nature of the teachers in the series was altogether very familiar, particularly the godfatherly presence Dumbeldore seems to have over the school.

But most of all, he embodies excellent aspects of good teaching – particularly in The Half-Blood Prince – in that he models at all times just and fair behaviour, and is prepared to provide an environment for the students where they can discover this without coersion. The lessons from Dumbledore have nothing to do with practical, everyday skills, but about being a good person, and living a good life.

Seriously, the chapters where Harry and Dumbledore investigate the horcruxes are some of the best in the series. Good teaching.

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The most epic ways to die in space

Posted March 20, 2014 by Mark

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Ok, spoilers for several major films and TV series ahead. Space is dangerous, space is cold, space is cruel. So you have the opportunity to go out in a pretty spectacular blaze of glory if you’re a character in a science fiction story. Here are a few epic ways to kick the bucket in space.

Ok, and once more just in case….SPOILER WARNING



Heroic spacewalk sacrifice

The above clip is from the French dub of the terrible film Mission to Mars, but it’s the best scene in the entire movie. You’ve become detached from your fellow astronauts and your ship, you’re floating away and the only thing you can do is stop your friends from trying to come after you. Tim Robbins has a sure fire way to make sure that doesn’t happen.


Blasted out an airlock


Poor Cally from Battlestar Galactica. She’d just uncovered the truth about the cylons hidden on the ship, but got blasted out into space before she could tell anyone. Once that airlock opens, there’s no way you can survive unless your name is Sigourney.


Vaporised by the Sun

This is what happens when you don’t put on the correct sunblock.


Give birth to an alien

John Hurt, it looks like that HURTS. See what I did there?


Evil computer takes you out

There were some things HAL 9000 famously couldn’t do. Opening pod bay doors for example. But there were many things he could do. Pilot a ship to Jupiter. Sing ‘Daisy’. And, of course, KILL.


Spaceship explosion!






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The best fictional diseases. Wait, worst. The worst fictional diseases.

Posted March 19, 2014 by Mark

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Flu season is almost here so I thought it would be a good time to look at some horrible diseases from fiction. Most of these will get you a lot more than three days off work…



Captain Trips (The Stand by Stephen King)

A highly contagious, constantly mutating flu-like virus that is fatal in 99.4% of cases. Starts as a cough and ends in brutal death. Originally developed as a weapon.



The Phage (Star Trek: Voyager)

A disease that kills off organs and other body parts, the only effective treatment is replacement of the infected organs.



Greyscale (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin)

A flesh-based disease that leaves its victims disfigured but can lead to madness and/or death.



Bone-itis (Futurama)

“My only regret…is that I have…bone-itis!” It’s a horrific disease that, if left untreated, kills you by snapping every bone in your body.



Solanum Virus (World War Z by Max Brooks)

A virus that attacks the human brain, killing the host and then reanimating them as a flesh-eating zombie.



The Pulse (Cell by Stephen King)

Another brain-attacking virus, this one also turns the host into a flesh-eating zombie. But this one is spread by a mobile phone signal. Most phone companies would charge extra for that.



Rage (28 Days Later)

The rage virus is highly contagious and develops in seconds, turning the victim into a mindless rage machine, driven to violence and nothing more.


Richard Matheson_1954_I Am Legend

Vampirus (I Am Legend by Richard Matheson)

This diseases causes light-sensitivity, tooth growth, and compels its victims to drink blood and appear in bad Will Smith movies.



Meningoencephalitis Virus One (Contagion)

A flu-like virus that starts as a severe cough and ends with brain haemorrhage. This movie’s tag line should have been, ‘Nothing spreads like fear. Except meningoencephalitis virus one.’




Dave’s Syndrome (Black Books)

If a sufferer of Dave’s Syndrome is exposed to a temperature over 88°F, they’ll go on a Hulk-like rampage, usually involving a loincloth of some sort. Heat-be-gone-booties are not good at preventing an episode.



Irumodic Syndrome (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

A neurological condition that degrades the synaptic pathways leading to memory loss and confusion.



Uromysitisis Poisoning (Seinfeld)

A potentially fatal illness that’s caused when the victim fails to relieve themselves.

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Write what you know

Posted November 27, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Recently I finished reading John Safran’s new true crime book Murder in Mississippi, and like most in the genre, it was clear that the bulk of the narrative is there to clear up what happened, who was involved, and why. Ultimately, it’s a search for truth.

What else resonates with this book and other true crime stories, is that the more you look the less you know. Safran comments that if he visits a town and interviews one person, he leaves that town with a very clear, definite idea of the place, of the incident, and of the person that he met. However, if he stayed just a day longer, or talked for a bit more, or to someone else, that definite idea suddenly becomes less clear. The more he looks, the less he knows.

While this is patently obvious in the sense that one does need to investigate further in order to understand the complexity, it does reveal the goal of a story: tell the truth.

Is this true in other styles of writing, other genres?

It’s often said that writers starting out should write what they know.

It’s also said that writing what you know is crap, that writing fiction is clearly about writing unknowns.

I like to think it comes from a bit of both. For example, you can write about what you know and then start to creep into territories that are yet to be found. Imbue and extend the known world into undiscovered countries. Or, write about something completely different and distinct from yourself, but then enrich it with details and sensibilities brought from your own parallel experiences. So, either way, whether you’re starting with what you know or what you don’t know, you seem to end up in the same place.

This is where the truth comes in. Somewhere, in the middle of what you know and what you don’t know, there’s the truth. And that’s the story.

‘To read fiction means to play a game by which we give sense to the immensity of things that happened, are happening, or will happen in the actual world. By reading narrative we escape the anxiety that attacks us when we try to say something true about the world. This is the consoling function of narrative – the reason people tell stories, and have told stories from the beginning of time.’

So stories are told in order to get at the truth. This is the glorious nature of fiction for me. By the concoction of a fiction, of a lie, we get to a truth. By obfuscation and masquerading, we reveal.

The writer is allowed to lie and deceive the reader, take them somewhere that doesn’t actually exist. But then, by the end, the truth is revealed. We were talking about the real world all along; we were writing and reading about fictions, and all the while a growing realisation occurs. The real world has changed, we see it differently now, a truth – no matter how small or how large – has been revealed.

For Safran, and I assume any investigation into a known event, the more you know the less you’re certain.We all know Oswald shot Kennedy. Or do we? Maybe he did, but why? Maybe he had help, but who? Life doesn’t fit itself into three acts, or developed arcs, or moments of revelation. We aren’t all on a hero’s quest. We don’t all cross thresholds from ordinary worlds into extraordinary worlds, charged with creating our own mythology. The more we look at life, the less it is a story.

Story is rather the way we can look at life and understand it. Make sense of the disorder and discontinuous moments. We rely on pattern recognition to read, to communicate, to recognise and interact in our daily lives – the use of narrative is merely another pattern we overlay in order to get to an understanding.

The emergence and reliance on tropes and archetypes, genre and style is evidence enough that we can – as readers or writers – take a gathering of events and orchestrate them into a fashion, a pattern, that makes them coherent. The more we sift through the confusion, the more we explore the complexities, the more we can make sense of the uncertainty.

So write what you know. Write what you don’t know. Write both. It doesn’t matter. Somewhere in the middle is the truth, and that’s worth aiming for. Never one to dress up the facts, Hemingway said that ‘all you have to do is write one true sentence, write the truest sentence you know.’ Whatever that might be, it’s worth trying to find out.

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The best closing lines from books

Posted November 21, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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A while ago Mark did a series of posts on the best opening lines in fiction. Around the same time there was this excellent piece in The Atlantic by Joe Fassler where he interviewed *coughcough* Stephen King *coughcough* about the art of writing opening lines, who then also gave a fairly extensive sample of his own favourites.

Considering that, and the fact that Mark covered science fiction, fantasy and horror opening lines, I decided to turn to closing lines.

What makes a good closing line?

If done right, I think it can influence the entire reading of a book. Similar to a title, in how it establishes so much forethought and anticipation for a reader, speculating about what might come, a closing line can redefine so much of a reader’s impression. One or two in the list below completely overhauled my feelings about what I had just read.

In the article above, it mentions how a good opening line invites the reader in, says to them ‘you want to know about this.’ In conjunction, a great closing line can work magic on the reader, can propel the story from just words on a page to an experience that lives on beyond the covers of the book.

So, some of these are science fiction, some of them aren’t. Hopefully none give away anything about the plot, or detract from the joy of reading them for the first time. I’m not going to go for any of the obvious, time-honoured choices here though because, well, where’s the fun? We’ve all had our boats back against the current, loving Big Brother, and leading on into a heart of darkness. We know how they all end. Here are some others.


“I feel…what’s the word? Happy. I feel happy.

Shots outside. I’m going to look.”

– The Passage by Justin Cronin


“If you want to imagine the future, imagine a boy and his dog and his friends. And a summer that never ends. And if you want to imagine the future, imagine a boot… no, a sneaker, laces trailing, kicking a pebble; imagine a stick, to poke at interesting things, and throw for a dog that may or may not decide to retrieve it; imagine a tuneless whistle, pounding some luckless popular song into insensibility; imagine a figure, half angel, half devil, all human… slouching hopefully towards Tadfield… forever.”

 Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman


“Then the music takes us, the music rolls away the years, and we dance.”

– 11/22/63 by Stephen King


“‘And then what?’ said her daemon sleepily. ‘Build what?’

‘The republic of heaven,’ said Lyra.”

– His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman


“I never saw any of them again – except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say good-bye to them.”

– The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

9780340993781 “From long habit, Smiley had taken off his spectacles and was absently polishing them on the fat end of his tie, even though he had to delve for it among the folds of his tweed coat.

‘George, you won,’ said Guillam as they walked slowly towards the car.

‘Did I?’ said Smiley. ‘Yes. Yes, well I suppose I did.’”

– Smiley’s People by John LeCarre


“Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him—and it was still hot.”

– Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak


“He sprung from the cabin window, as he said this, upon the ice-raft which lay close to the vessel. He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance.”

– Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


“It makes no difference whether I write or not. They will look for other meanings, even in my silence. That’s how They are. Blind to revelation. Malkhut is Malkhut, and that’s that.

But try telling Them. They of little faith.

So I might as well stay here, wait, and look at the hill.

It’s so beautiful.”

– Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco


“Why? and automatically answering, out of the blue, for no reason, just opening my mouth, words coming out, summarising for the idiots: ‘Well, though I know I should have done that instead of not doing it, I’m twenty-seven for Christ sakes and this is, uh, how life presents itself in a bar or in a club in New York, maybe anywhere, at the end of the century and how people, you know, me, behave, and this is what being Patrick means to me, I guess, so, well, yup, uh…’ and this is followed by a sigh, then a slight shrug and another sigh, and above one of the doors covered by red velvet drapes in Harry’s is a sign and on the sign in letters that match the drapes’ color are the words THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.”

– American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis


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Podmentum: the one where we discover “bathetic” is a word

Posted November 9, 2012 by Anne

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Second podcast! We’re totally on a roll. In this episode we discuss the epic Genre versus Literature battle to the death in the wake of the inaugural GenreCon Australia, then we make fun of Joel for being such a gadget nerd. Also Mark outnerds himself in the recommendations. Enjoy.    

Topic  1 – What we read: Genre v Lit

Arthur Krystal’s Easy Writers: Guilty pleasures without guilt in May in The New Yorker laid down the theory that the divide between genre and literary fiction is becoming less clear, and some genre fiction is now being afforded “literary” status.

Lev Grossman in Time April 2012 responded with an article entitles Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre fiction is disruptive technology, challenging the idea that literary fiction should be regarded as “superior” to genre fiction. He basically lays down the theory that literary fiction is itself a genre with certain tried and true tropes that every book identified as such follows.

Krystal then responded to Lev Grossman with It’s genre, not that there’s anything wrong with that! in October, which had Joel absolutely apoplectic with rage, and convinced us that it was worth discussing.

Interesting look at horror in The Guardian recently with Horror: a genre literally doomed to hell? 

*note – The Ian McEwan novel that was released the year before he won the Booker for Amsterdam was Enduring Love, not On Chesil Beach (which was actually released a decade later). To my enduring shame, I completely forgot about Enduring Love, which is actually one of my favourite McEwan books. Golf clap.

Topic 2 – Devices: how we read

Joel got his new Paperwhite last week and now that he’s had enough time to fall completely and utterly in love with it, it is probably time to talk about reading technology.

Amazon Paperwhite

 iPad Mini 


Joel’s Recommendation The Silent History – Eli Horowitz The Victory Lab – Sasha Issenberg

Anne’s Recommendations January First – Michael Schofield Life in Publishing Tumblr

Mark’s Recommendation Star Wars Expanded Universe

This episode of Podmentum was brought to you by Stalin’s Hammer: Rome by  John Birmingham, and Drive Me To Distraction by Caitlyn Nicholas 

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Release day. Stalin’s Hammer. Sort of.

Posted November 1, 2012 by John Birmingham

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So, today is the day that Stalin’s Hammer: Rome drops into the e-book shops. Or at least it does everywhere but America. I found out about two weeks ago that my US publisher wants to hold on to the title until January or February next year. Originally they were even looking at holding it back until midyear, but my sad face changed their mind.

It’s still not ideal. When we sat down to plan how we’d approach the e-book market, the guys at Momentum and I agreed that there were a couple of minimum conditions we needed to meet. A price so low there was no barrier to purchase. At $2.99 I think we’ve done that. No DRM so that readers could store and carry their copy of the book however they damn well pleased. Tick. And simultaneous global release, so that somebody sitting on their couch in, say, Kansas City, Missouri, would have no reason to be pissed because they can see the book is available, but not for them. This is one of the main drivers of piracy.

“Well, I wanted to give those assholes my money, but they refused, so…”

This was originally posted on John Birmingham‘s Cheeseburger Gothic. To read the rest of it, head on over there.

To buy Stalin’s Hammer: Rome, click through for your choice of retailers via the book page.

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Stalin’s Hammer: Rome – Prologue

Posted October 23, 2012 by Anne

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Joseph Stalin knew he was being watched. He closed his eyes and adjusted the soft, red blanket that covered his legs, like a child hiding under his bed covers, thinking that if he could not see the monster, the monster could not see him. The sun was warm on his face, and bright, through his paper-thin eyelids. Sitting there in his wheelchair, his face turned up, eyes closed, it was possible to imagine the whole world was a pink, warm womb.

He let his chin slowly fall to his chest before opening his eyes and turning his glare on Beria. “We are delayed, Lavrenty Pavlovich. To what end?”

Stalin patted his pockets, looking for his old pipe, forgetting that he had not smoked in years. The doctors had said it would kill him. Frustrated at the delay, frustrated at the doctors, angry that he could not enjoy a simple pipe, his scowl grew darker. Once upon a time the hardest men in Russia had quailed at the sight of him playing with that pipe. To turn it this way and that, to stroke the bowl with his thumb while never moving to pack even one shred of tobacco in there – that was enough to signal his displeasure. Enough to make strong men quiver with fear. Now when he patted his pockets, he just looked like an old cripple, forgetful and failing.

Still, what little colour Beria had in his face leached away at the thunderous look on Stalin’s. That was something.

“No delay. There is no delay, comrade. Everything is running to schedule.”

The chief of the Functional Projects Bureau stammered over his last words and nervously checked the iPad he carried. A rare and valuable working model, an Apple original, one of the last before the ‘flex’ models debuted, and salvaged from the emergence of the British stealth destroyer way back in 1942, it was still sleeker and more powerful than anything Functional Projects had managed to produce. Then again, it was also vastly more elegant and powerful than any of the cheaper Samsung or Google flexipads they had also salvaged.

Stalin waved him off with a backhanded gesture. “Gah. Enough excuses, Lavrenty Pavlovich. Begin the demonstration. I have many days of travel to return to Moscow. Push your buttons. Bring down the sky. Be done with it.”

“The satellite is almost in position now,” Beria assured him. “We must retire inside.”

His bodyguard leaned forward. “Vozhd?” he asked, seeking permission to move him.

“Yes, yes,” said Stalin, who did not really want to give up his place in the sun. The winters grew longer as he grew older. He was certain of it. He enjoyed the mild spring weather, but soon enough, too soon, the leaves on the small stand of trees outside his apartment back in the Kremlin would turn red again, then gold, then brown as winter stalked back into the land. What did those books say? The ones his daughter loved, from the broken future. Winter was coming? His last perhaps. He adjusted the blanket again – an old habit, it had not moved – and tried to not let his disappointment show as his guard wheeled him off the terrace out of the sun and back inside the bunker.

He felt the chill as soon as they passed into the shadows of the deep concrete passageway. Solid iron blast doors rumbled behind him as the small party of high officials, bureaucrats and technicians filed in, trudging in procession to the bunker from which they would monitor the test. Moisture leaked from the thick concrete walls, giving Stalin pause to worry about his arthritis. He regretted having insisted on traveling all the way out here to witness the test firing for himself. Then he smiled. Beria undoubtedly regretted it more, and that was cause for some mild amusement. Stalin knew his deputy premier would be fretting now, squirming inside like a greasy little weasel, anxious that nothing should go wrong.

The tension in the control room was tangible. He could feel it on his skin, taste it even at the back of his mouth. It was a familiar taste, of a fine vintage. He had been supping on men’s fear for so long now he believed he could take some nourishment from it. The scientists and military officers – no, they were NKVD Spetsnaz; Beria’s thralls, not Red Army, he reminded himself – all did their best to avoid catching his gaze. Beria scuttled about, snapping and hissing at the technical staff, his spidery white fingers stabbing so hard at the screen of the iPad that Stalin thought he might punch it to the floor. That would be amusing.

His bodyguard – it was Yagi today – wheeled him past banks of computer terminals, monitoring screens, and control boards dense with flashing lights and illuminated buttons. The supreme leader of the Soviet Union understood none of it. The technology was all plundered from the far and impossible future, the world that could not be.

He would never see that particular future. He knew that, of course. Accepted it. Life ebbed away from him now – in spite of all the new “miracle” medical treatments and organ therapies, life itself retreated from Joseph Stalin on a quickening tide of years and minutes. But nobody else would see the future from whence Kolhammer and his international fleet had Emerged either, because he would not let it come to pass. He would not let it be, this false future where Putinist thugs and bandits ruled the Rodina, where the revolution was mocked and mourned. And dead.

It would not be.

At a word from him, as long as Beria had done his job, the sky would fall in on the world outside this bunker, and the real future would draw that much closer. Yagi brought him to a stop a few feet from the viewing port created especially for him. The armored glass was 7 inches thick, they had told him, and the reinforced concrete wall of the bunker at least 3 feet deep. Peering through this personal viewport was a little like looking down a short tunnel. The glass distorted the view somewhat, and gave it a dark green tinge. Steel shutters stood ready to slam down if needed, but he could not see them. Nobody could. Only a wheelchair-bound Stalin and one of the technicians, who was a dwarf, were of a height to have an unimpeded view through the port. Everybody else had to make do with the viewing screens. There were dozens of them about, but the two largest ones hung from the wall directly in front of him, above the viewing slit.

The room was chilly, because of all the infernal computers, which always seemed to be in danger of overheating. The cold, stale, recycled air irritated his eyes and seeped into his bones, but it awoke his senses, and he did want to see this. It was why he had traveled so far east, beyond the natural barrier of the mountains.

Involuntarily he glanced upwards, imagining American satellites prowling overhead, peering down on him. But there was only the low ceiling of unrendered cement. And above that – tons of rock.

“You are sure Kolhammer is not watching this on some television in the White House?” he growled at Beria. “They are always watching us.”

Startled out of some reverie, the NKVD boss jumped a little, and even squeaked. He was more nervous than usual. “We have done our best, our utmost, to draw their attention away from the proving grounds,” he said, stammering as before. “Ten Red Army divisions and fraternal bloc forces are exercising as close to the Oder as we dare. There have been incidents. I made sure of that personally. What satellite cover they do not have watching us there will be trained on Admiral Koniev’s newly unmasked fleet base. Our strategic forces are ready to test fire a fusion warhead to mask the geologic signal. This is all settled, Vozhd. By your very self.”

Stalin waved him away again, a stock gesture when dealing with Beria. He knew everything the man had just said, but he wanted him to repeat it. If Beria’s plan to mask the Hammer Fall test failed, Comrade Beria would pay the price. Not Stalin.

Klaxons and sirens began to sound all around them, and somewhere in the distance he heard the deep, bass rumble of more blast doors sliding into place. The countdown clock between the two large viewing screens clicked over to ten minutes.

In spite of his weariness and his age – he should have been dead two years now – in spite of all that he had done and seen, Joseph Stalin could not help but feel a flicker of excitement in his chest. Well, hopefully it was just excitement … After his last heart attack, the doctors had told him (or rather suggested, very mildly) that he might need to think about cutting back to one serving each day of his favorite lamb stew. He wiggled his fingers now, marveling at how old his hands looked, how skeletal and heavily veined.

1953, he thought.

These hands through which his blood still flowed, with which he could still touch the world, they should have clawed at the last moments of life in 1953. On March 5 – as a massive stroke shredded his brain and twisted his body into a crippled, piss-stained mess.

He smiled at the thought. He was still here. For now. Inside, he still felt like a twenty-year-old revolutionary, but his body was failing him. Even with his blood washed clean by a fresh, transplanted liver, even with improbably tiny machines regulating his heartbeat and sweeping toxins from his body, it was failing him. He should have been used to it, he supposed. So many had failed him over the decades. Their bodies, at least, he could pile up like cordwood. His own, he was stuck with, mostly, despite the efforts of his transplant surgeons and pharmacists.

The Vozhd had simply given too much to the struggle over the years. That was why he was so excited and intrigued by the possibilities of today’s test. Since the reactionary Kolhammer forces had Emerged from the Gordian knot of history at the Battle of Midway, Joseph Stalin had lived every day with the knowledge that he had limited time to set history right, to secure the revolution, and his place in it.

Emerged from history, and destroyed it, he thought. Destroyed the settled history of the twentieth century, and the twenty-first century after that. It was still a wonder to him how nobody in the West could see the obvious truth of it. How the very impossibility of Admiral Kolhammer’s arrival from the year 2021 through this ‘wormhole’ spoke to the impossibility of the future from which he had come.

He grunted in frustration, setting off a momentary panic amongst his hangers-on, but he ignored them.

The forces of history operate like a machine, he thought, as technicians and dogsbodies fussed about him. History: driving human progress from barbarity to civilization, from the feudal to the capitalist, and then inevitably on to the final socialist stages. A history in which the USSR fell was simply not possible. Reality was not engineered in such a fashion. Thus history had righted itself with the destructive miracle of the Emergence.

Or rather, it had started to right itself. The revolutionary work of men was in the hands of men, of course. Stalin hoped that today they would come one crucial step closer to completing that work.

“Two minutes, Vozhd,” said Beria, surprising him.

Where had the time gone? Stalin shook his head, disgusted. He had been daydreaming again. He leaned forward to peer out through the armored glass. A nameless valley fell away from them hundreds of feet below, disappearing into the haze. Ten miles away, hundreds of obsolete tanks and trucks, many of them salvaged from the battlefields of the Great Patriotic War, waited on the valley floor. He was aware of increased tension behind him as the technicians hurried through their last-minute procedures. Literally – the last-minute procedures. The countdown clock had reached sixty seconds. Beria really had nothing to do, setting himself to annoy everyone with his pestering and interference as he did it.

“Leave them alone, Lavrenty Pavlovich!” Stalin ordered. “Let them do their duty.”

Chastened, the chief engineer – Pah, that was a laugh! – of the Functional Projects Bureau quit bustling around and hovering at the shoulders of his senior men. He opened and closed the cover of his flexipad a number of times, before setting it down on a steel workbench and shuffling over to stand beside Stalin.

“There is nothing left to do but wait,” he said.

“Then we shall wait,” replied the Vozhd.

The final countdown was strangely disappointing. A disembodied voice on the public address system took them through the last few seconds: “Three … two … one … launch …” But of course there were no rockets to roar or shake the earth beneath their feet.

“How long?” asked Stalin.

Beria seemed unnaturally pleased to have a question he could answer promptly. “Less than two minutes,” he said with confidence. “These are the small, tactical rods we are testing today. They will launch from low orbit and accelerate to 9000 meters per second.”

Stalin scowled at him, stealing some of that confidence away. “And we are safe here in this bunker?”

“Oh yes,” said Beria, with apparent relief. “We would not dare test the largest of the rods like this. They are designed to reduce mountains, such as this, to smoking craters.”

“Like Tunguska?”

Beria hesitated, as though it were a trick question. Which in a way it was. The scientists and engineers – real scientists and real engineers, unlike Beria – had briefed him well at the start of this project. They had to. It was a massive investment of the state’s resources, and one that drew money and men away from one of Stalin’s pet projects: the electronic storage of human memory and consciousness. His gaze faltered for a moment, slipping away from Beria to stare at the back of his old, liver-spotted hands again.


“Pah! Do not bother,” Stalin told him, worried that his mind had wandered again. “I know about Tunguska. I know how it was different. The rock from space – a giant snowball, they told me – it exploded in the air. These rods will not.”

“No,” said Beria. “Look …” He bent his knees and leaned forward, pointing toward the viewing aperture, even though the giant screens hanging above it afforded a grand, God-like view of the entire valley.

The dictator peered out through the armored-glass slit but found himself watching the screens too. They had split into windows to display the video feeds from a dozen cameras scattered up and down the valley. None of the hundreds of tanks, trucks and APCs out there were moving; they sat warmed by the afternoon sun. Stalin opened his mouth to say something when he thought he spotted a flight of birds sweeping across the scene, but before he could form the words, bright white streaks of light speared down from the sky. He saw the flash of impact through the glass just a moment before the very planet heaved and rumbled in shock. His mouth dropped open in surprise as the roaring noise of impact and detonation reached deep inside the bunker.

There was little and less to see on the screens, which didn’t so much blank out as “white out”. He squinted involuntarily before turning his attention back to the viewing port. Beria too had bent over again to look through it, as other men and women, some in uniform and some in coveralls and lab coats, did the same. A few flinched away, as an enormous fireball raced up the valley toward them. Stalin thought he could make out the pressure wave that preceded it, flattening the sea of grass and a few small saplings that stood between the foot of the mountain bunker and the point of impact.

Then heavy steel shutters slammed down, blocking off even that view. A few people jumped. But not the supreme leader of the Soviet people. He closed his eyes and imagined the sun, warm on his face, and bright even through his eyelids.


For pre-orders, click through here to choose your favoured retailer. 

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These Intrepid Covers are Hot

Posted October 18, 2012 by Anne

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Today we have the pleasure of unveiling the covers for the first two books in Chris Allen‘s Intrepid series. Starring the dashing Intrepid agent Alex Morgan – policeman, soldier and spy – Defender will be released on November 1, followed closely by Hunter in December.

Defender: Intrepid 1


Hunter: Intrepid 2


You can pre-order both books by clicking on the links and choosing your favoured retailer. Defender is available for the excellent price of $2.99 and Hunter has a special pre-order price of $4.99 for a limited time.


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A Reader’s Guide to Sex

Posted August 22, 2012 by Anne

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“We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” – John Waters

That’s all very well and good, but these days you don’t need to take someone home for them to be able to see your bookshelf. You just need to show them your device. No not that device.

So before you go all the way home with your date, ask them to hand over their e-reading device. Take a quick look at their library, and use this handy guide to what your date’s taste in books says about them as a lover.

Chuck Palahniuk/Bret Easton Ellis/Philip Roth


If you bruise easily you may want to exercise caution.

Jonathan Franzen/Haruki Murakami/David Foster Wallace

You might need to pull the “shut up and kiss me” routine with this windbag, but once you’ve got things underway you can likely expect this lover to last the distance.

Thomas L. Friedman/Tim Flannery/Michael Pollan

I hope you like body hair. [Um, I wrote that before I saw the above photo and now I’m kind of all turned around on the subject. He’s holding Hot, Flat and Crowded, by the way.]

Richard Dawkins/Christopher Hitchens/Sam Harris

If you’re one of those people who has a tendency toward “oh god” exclamations during sexual activity you may want to tone that down.

Diana Gabaldon/Nora Roberts/Jodi Picoult

There will definitely be cuddling after sex, quite possibly prior to and during the act also. Suffocation warning, and not the good type either.

George R. R. Martin/Robert Jordan/Raymond E Feist

This date has no problem with commitment or patience. Likely to be a dedicated lover, but may require a detailed map. When it comes to the cut and thrust part of the night, expect great things.

Anthony Bourdain/Marco Pierre White/Gabrielle Hamilton

Likely to have an excellent appetite, and a willingness to eat out, if you know what I mean.

Charlaine Harris/Anne Rice/Stephen King

Watch out for teeth. If you like that type of thing, by all means, take this one home. But look, you may want to lay down towels. Could get messy.

Stephanie Meyer/J.K. Rowling/Suzanne Collins

Ask to see their ID and double check their birth date.

Nathan M Farrugia/Louise Cusack/Greig Beck

Definitely, definitely fuck them.

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Tasting Vanilla through magic realism

Posted August 9, 2012 by Emilia Bresciani

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I wrote The Raw Scent of Vanilla as a memoir through the lens of magic realism. In Latin America, where the genre of magic realism originated, daily life is imbued with what many would call ‘raw magic’. It’s all a product of sacrifice and sorrows, Catholic ceremonies, Andean mysticism, Amazonian animism and, an spicy imagination that come to affect daily reality. In the end, the view of life becomes almost multidimensional. Spirits are alive, the dead become companions, curses cause diseases and shamans work their magic. In other words, magic realism is not only a genre of literature, but a way of viewing life. As a writer born in Peru, it is natural for me to also look at life under such colourful lens.

But what is magic realism, the literary genre? It has a number of definitions. For me who learned from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, magic realism is simply realism with a twist. In the genre of fantasy, the world is created with different rules; in realism the world is shaped by conventional wisdom. In magic realism however, one or two elements in the story break the rules and disrupt the fabric of realism. The rupture is the result of imbuing reality with added meaning or symbolism. It also occurs by creating a twist in the reality. How we present the twist is up to the writer as I did with this memoir

It may be that some people believe that a memoir cannot be written with the plume of magic realism because it deals with facts. True, a memoir is a collection ‘real’ moments in life experienced by an individual who has a story to tell. But this factualism can be done through a narrative that reflects feelings, dreams, conflicts and aspirations. Our dreams can add colour to our narrative. Our feelings give meaning to our life allowing us to interpret it. For example, I chose to give meaning to my pain by looking at how my ancestors’ culture dealt with tragedy, and how this view affected my reaction to it. In the process I learned how tragedy was transforming my life. Time of course helped. It was the effect of time that allowed for the transformation to occur. Time provided the distance, and distance revealed the meaning.

Maybe not all of us need to find meaning in life. And that is fine. For me, writing the way I did was beneficial because I could make meaning of my ancestors’ story. Interpreting their story the way I did allowed me to deal with the painful events that took place in my life. At the same time, writing under the lens of magic realism allowed me to unleash my creativity and reach planes I never thought I could. The process filled me with excitement and delight. This, I believe, is the magic of life.


Emilia Bresciani was a television journalist before her husband was tragically killed, and she became the prime suspect in the murder investigation. Her memoir is an account of her life around the tragedy. Read more here.

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