Okay, so a long time ago (couple of months), I was sent some questions to answer for Amazing Stories. Haven’t heard how it turned out, or if they want my answers or not, but hey-ho. But it was relevant to The Package. Keep in mind this was written before the release of Thicker Than Snow as well.
So tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi! Myself, eh? Not much to tell really, I was born in London, raised in North Devon (yes, I used to surf at Croyde), and now living in Chard (cider country). I’m married, and we have four wonderful kids between us, and two black cats called Narla and Porridge (stop sniggering).
I work as a ready meal chef for a big company, but writing is what I love, and I have several books out already, with more on the way, as well as a series of flash fiction shorts on my blog, called Tales of the Nineteen Galaxies.
I’m an out-and-out geek, a Whovian, a Trekkie, a nerd, a Jedi, and all the rest. I love science fiction; and would love to have a job that lets me be immersed in it throughout the day.
Tell us about your books
I currently have five out, three novels and two eShorts, all centred around my main character Adam Caine in the Nineteen Galaxies universe.
They are: The Legend of Adam Caine, my first novel detailing the beginnings of Adam Caine’s adventures in the 41st Century, discovering his new family and friends. And fighting enemies he could never even dream about. Caine is the estranged son of a billionaire, a former Royal Marine and Special Boat Service operator, forced out for refusing an illegal order. He is captured from the London Underground by an alien force and tortured, but escapes with a large group of others, and discovers a whole new massive world out there. The book spans ten years of his life, through fatherhood and marriage, interstellar races, regicidal assassinations, pirate invasions, and even fighting a black hole. The book itself runs to almost a thousand pages. Ooops.
Recon One-Five was my first attempt at Nanowrimo, this one a bit shorter. This book follows a small squad of elite Terran Army soldiers as they are shot down behind enemy lines. The only way they can escape is to fight through the enemy command posts and end the war for good. This was my first out-and-out military science fiction story, in the same vein as Black Library’s Gaunt’s Ghosts series.
The Lament of Reverend Bishop (Prelude to Ghosts of Earth #1) was my first eShort, and followed what had happened to one particular character from the original Legend. The story shows his loss of faith in God, and faith in something else, something darker and more familiar. It also shows a plague of death that leads into the next Prelude.
The Phoenix Incident (Prelude to Ghosts of Earth #2) follows on directly from Lament. The HMS Phoenix is ordered to breach an interstellar quarantine zone, and discovers the re-animated remains of Reverend Bishop’s team. The plague gets on board, and the crew begin turning into zombies as well. The two Preludes set up the succeeding Ghosts of Earth (both were originally part of the book, but it was too big and messed with the pacing).
Ghosts of Earth: everything has been leading to this. The Core, Adam Caine’s longtime enemies, have begun a full-on invasion of humanity’s territory, and the book shows several different methods to which they try to accomplish this. The book is big, and introduces several new characters as well as the usual core group with Caine at the centre. He himself discovers the beginnings of a grand destiny for him, but is bogged down in blood and death. The final battle sees a massive fight in space, inspired by The Dominion War and the New Jedi Order. Ghosts begins the insanely huge series CORE WAR, which will dominate the stars!
What is your favourite genre to write in?
Science fiction is a no-brainer! Although I tend to veer towards the military aspects of it, as Warhammer 40,000 (and growing up around the British military) has had a huge influence on me.
Are any of your characters in the books like you?
I think all of the main characters have something of me in them, same as any other writer, at least to a certain degree. Caine is the angry young man with a world of hurt on his shoulders, The Samaritan an alcoholic, Deef Alcott a dedicated military man, and the rest have some sort of random parts of my weird-ass personality.
What is your next book?
My next is The Package, which I’ve finished and is ready to go, just trying to get promos and posters and reviews and everything set up for the release. It has no release date yet.
What is it about you ask? Well, it’s a standalone spinoff that follows a young girl enlisting the help of a washed out smuggler The Samaritan (think Han Solo but without the honourable influence of Chewbacca), currently living at the bottom of a bottle. Both have deep dark secrets (one of which is directly related to the odd cover picture), but eventually warm to each other. The smuggler finds himself once again, and must fight to preserve his ideals and those of his passenger.
The book is set five years after The Legend of Adam Caine and shows the seedier side of the Nineteen Galaxies universe: smugglers and bounty hunters, as well as some shady officials, all after the girl and what she’s carrying –the titular package.
This book, more than any other, was something close to me as last year (2012) we lost our daughter Melody at five weeks old and support has been utterly lax. I lost a daughter long before that, and tried to drink my troubles away. I’m now almost five years sober, not a drop of alcohol to drink, and this book to show what can happen. Loss is a big part of my books, mostly because that’s what I’ve experienced a lot, and is also a big part of military life. This book deals with it in a non-military setting, and the consequences both personally and professionally.
At the back of the book itself is a large section on Melody herself, her life and how she passed away.
Can we get a sneak peek?
Certainly! This is Chapter One from the book, an introduction to the two main characters and their corner of the universe.
(9th Year of the 28th Epoch).
As if stepping from a bad joke convention, a young woman walked into a bar.
Dressed in dirty-cream pilgrim robes, she had her hood up, only a few strands of midnight hair visible. She was small in height and stature and looked around nervously under the hood. Her facial features were obscured by the shadows. Nobody noticed she was too young to be legally in the bar; not that anybody paid attention to such rules.
She stood in the doorway, unsure of what to do.
Several heads turned.
The bar was a dive, populated by a specific type of patrons.
Regulars –or those like them- didn’t hesitate in the doorway.
It marked her out as a newcomer; as someone who didn’t belong there.
She tried not to breathe in the stale air, noting how the dust clung to everything and the smoke wafted through like a fog. Music jangled in the background following a nonsensical order, whilst murmuring conversation wrapped together to prevent anyone listening in.
Those that looked up were mean and scowling, the rest with their heads down. Some did it by choice, the rest were too hammered to have the strength to look up. None were alike that she could see, except for one or two Terrans scattered around.
The barman was a large portly fellow with grey scaly skin, formerly sharp teeth lining his wrinkled mouth. He wore a stained white apron that failed to cover his bulbous belly, and his lizard eyes were stained blue from a lifelong substance abuse. He growled his way around the patrons stood at the bar.
The hooded woman fiddled with the edges of her sleeves.
This was all normal on The Ark.
A massive collection of void-built modules, retired super-heavy freighters, orbital habitations, and even a few asteroids had been pushed together to form one massive civilian station in neutral territory. The Ark was home to thousands, many of which were not exactly decent citizens. It was a hive of scum and villainy outside the purview of the Terran Navy and Alliance Fleet. It was the kind of place where you could find just about anything.
Kliik’s was one of the milder establishments on the Ark, which wasn’t saying much, and had been recommended to her. She had, however, been reluctant to go through with it.
A gap appeared at the bar and she pushed herself into it, careful not to annoy the others beside her.
“Excuse me,” she said as politely as she could.
The bartender didn’t hear her, attending to a drunken LeMaya. He went to three other people before he got to her.
“Yes miss?” he growled back, squinting at her.
“Could you tell me where I could find the man they call The Samaritan?”
He looked at her without blinking. She wasn’t sure if he had heard her.
“I said, could you tell me where I could find the smuggler known as The Samaritan, please?”
“I heard you the first time,” he growled. “Why do you want to know, and why should I care?”
She wasn’t sure how to reply to that.
He harrumphed, looking her up and down. He picked up a tall blue glass and wiped it clean with his dirty apron, put it down and filled it with liquid. The liquid was creamy and smelt salty.
“For the drink,” he growled, pointing a blunted yellow claw at the liquid inside.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
He chuckled. She decided it sounded very avuncular; perhaps this was why so many frequented this place. “Of course you don’t; you’re new here.”
There were several dirty chuckles from the patrons nearest to her, all enjoying a private joke at her expense. The bartender frowned, as if not expecting anyone to laugh. He looked at the woman with what she approximated as licking his lips. She wasn’t sure whether it meant he wanted to eat her, or was just deciding to help her.
“You want the Samaritan? You pay me five credits for the drink. You take the drink to him, and that’s my part done.”
“What do you want with him anyway?”
She looked around, suddenly cagey.
“I… wish to conduct business with him.”
Several heads turned toward her, interest in their eyes, lust even.
“Do you indeed?” the bartender said with a chuckle that sounded more like a rasp. “I didn’t think a Terran like him had to pay for it, despite his daily tonnage of imbibing alcohol.”
She blushed as she realised what she had inferred, and what the bartender’s twisted mind had assumed she meant. She stammered for something to say, trying to take back she had said, but she could see the mirth in the eyes of those watching her, and stopped.
“I wish to procure his services.”
The bartender burst out laughing, steadying himself on the bar, and shaking his head, his hunched shoulders bobbing up and down. When he finally stopped laughing, he looked up and saw she was serious, or at least what he could see of her face.
She handed him the five credits, and he pushed the glass over to her.
She picked it up, eyeing the contents suspiciously.
“It’ll help him, if you can get him to drink it,” the six-foot lizard grimaced.
He pointed over to another part of the long bar that curved around almost out of sight. There were two Terrans, neither seeming to be looking at the other. One was half-asleep, propped up against the bar, a half-empty tall glass that had a bile-green liquid in it. The other was tall and handsome, chisel-jawed, and wore a plain, straight-cut uniform.
“He’s that one,” the bartender grunted.
The woman’s heart skipped a beat when she thought it might be the hunk.
But then the uniformed man collected up his trio of drinks, and disappeared from the bar, heading to one of the far tables where an eight-foot walking carpet waited for him.
The bartender was still pointing in the same direction.
He was pointing at the drunk.
* * *
The man they called The Samaritan stank of alcohol.
His eyes were fighting a losing battle to stay open. He was unshaven, his chin and cheeks heavy with a week’s worth of stubble. His eyes were red-raw from the booze. And his clothes were dirty and unkempt. His chocolate brown hair was on the verge of turning grey, little spatters of it already lighter than the rest.
The smell was nauseating.
“Excuse me?” she said timidly.
The Samaritan, or whoever he was, looked up from his drink.
He blinked furiously, as if holding sleep off as hard as he could; his cobalt-blue eyes tried to find her through the haze of his drunken vision.
She wondered how this could be the man she had been told about. The infamous smuggler, The Samaritan, was a legend. Supposedly, he could get anything to anywhere at any time, and he was righteously picky about his clientele and what he carried. Hence his nickname: Samaritan.
The man in front of her couldn’t be him.
This man was no legend, just a drunk on a bender.
“Who… are… you?” he struggled to say, although his words were somewhat slurred.
“I wish to procure your services.”
“You… You wanna what?”
“I need your help.”
“I need you to deliver myself and a package.”
He stood up and stumbled.
Unfortunately, he stumbled into a large oxen-like creature that walked on two legs. Its drinks spilt all over its chest. It snorted with disgust.
The woman was shocked when the oxen backhanded him across the face. The Samaritan flew a few feet into another creature, which pushed him out of the way, and thumped the oxen on his snout.
A bar brawl broke out right in front of her.
Stools were thrown, glasses broken. Tables were upturned and plates smashed. Noses were broken, and bruises were thrown around like they were flavour of the month.
Each offending party attempted to get revenge on the other, and the entire bar descended into fratricidal chaos.
The woman sighed again, sitting down on one of the stools next to the Samaritan.
He smiled drunkenly at her and then collapsed over his own stool.
* * *
Pain became his entire world.
His head felt like it had been held in the radioactive core of a starship’s engine and left there to soak up the rads.
He groaned as he rolled off his bunk.
And then groaned again as he realised he couldn’t remember how he came to be on his own bunk. He had a vague recollection of a woman with no face, but it was like trying to grab onto a fog: he could see glimpses of it, but couldn’t hold onto it.
The echoes of other pains twinged at his body, especially on the backs of his legs, but he found no memory associated with them.
It didn’t make sense, even for him.
He was still wearing the stained shirt and trousers he had had on the day before, but his feet were bare and his flight jacket was hanging on the back of his tiny desk’s office chair. His room was tidy, tidier than it had been before he had gone out on his bender.
Had he tidied during his drunkenness?
He didn’t remember, and it didn’t sound like the sort of thing he would do.
There was even a vague stink of air freshener, as if someone had filled the room with it hours ago and the last dregs were still lingering.
Digipads that had once been strewn across his desk and on the floor were now in a tidy stack, clothes were either hung up or in the laundry basket.
Definitely not me, he surmised. He searched through his personal lockers, and dragged out a fist-sized half-empty bottle of pain suppressant pills. He downed double the recommended dose, feeling them fizz as they slipped down his throat. What do doctors know anyway? It’s only a guideline after all.
He had an awful metallic taste in his mouth.
He needed a drink badly, but couldn’t find any in the vicinity.
He banged the door control and it slid open to reveal an uncluttered passageway.
When did that happen?
“Did I tidy the entire ship in my sleep or something?” he muttered.
The small man-wide passageway wasn’t cluttered with the usual hoppers and boxes; it had been swept clean and properly tidied. He popped his head into the secondary cabin, not seeing the small travel sack tucked under the bottom bunk.
There was also a lemony-fresh smell to everything.
He staggered through to the four-seat two-tier cockpit, almost tripping down the steps to the lower tier; he fell into the pilot’s chair.
Checking the instruments, he thought about trawling the ship’s internal sensors to make sense of what had happened the night before. He didn’t need to.
A small feminine voice cleared its throat.
He turned to see a hooded woman sat in the co-pilot’s chair. She was stiff and proper, one leg crossed over the other as if she were trained that way. Her back was straight, and yet she was still hooded. The cockpit’s transparent panes were still shaded, tinted against the harsh light outside.
He accidentally knocked the control for the shading.
White artificial light stabbed into his eyes and the pain seared through his brain.
“Dammit!” he cursed.
“Are you alright?” the woman asked in a curiously soothing sing-song voice.
“My head hurts dammit.”
He scrambled for the controls and slapped it when he felt the rough edges of the button. The light disappeared in a hurry, and the cockpit was once again darkened.
He sighed in relief and sunk into his chair.
“Are you unwell?” the woman asked.
“I’m hungover,” he replied testily. “What are you doing on my ship anyway?”
“You do not remember last night?” she asked.
His heart skipped several beats at the implication. Although he’d been drunk before and couldn’t always remember what had happened to him, he had never woken up next to a woman.
“Let’s say I don’t and go from there,” he said warily.
She removed her hood, pulling it back with delicately pale fingers.
She was, in his humble opinion, beautiful.
Not dolled up like the working girls on The Ark, but stupendously young and beautiful, as if she could win the Miss Universe just by showing her face for five seconds. Her face was thin and delicately sculpted as if she were purposely made that way. Her eyes were a bright shade of ultramarine that looked like starbursts in the shade of the cockpit, a deep pain obvious to any casual observer. There was an equally delicate tattoo on her forehead, greyed by time. He recognised the design, but he couldn’t place where from.
His head was muzzy and full of fog.
“Last night, we made an accord.”
His heart stopped again.
She put her hand into her robes, and for a brief second he thought she was going to pull out a weapon. Her hand came out with a dirty-green digipad, the kind used by the Ark’s staff. He frowned, and she pushed it in front of him.
He took it, eyeing it as if it might go off in his hand.
“What is this?”
“Our accord; you signed it last night.”
He didn’t read it. He wasn’t even sure what language it was in. It explained why her accent was so sing-song and lilted; Standard wasn’t her first language, and she had learnt it without the aid of a universal translator.
“What language is this?” he asked.
“My homeworld’s primary language,” she answered, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. It probably was, but his head wasn’t on his shoulders properly and couldn’t think straight.
“Right, but what does it say? For someone who is here without permission, you’re acting extremely cryptic and suspicious.”
In all fairness, he could see his signature and bio-print at the bottom of the document, and knew whatever it was, it was genuine.
She looked at him, and he saw a tiny bit of humour on those purple eyes.
“I gained entry to this ship last night with your permission,” she said defensively. “I, and the proprieter of that seedy establishment, had to carry you back to this vessel. You then granted me entry and opened the ship.”
“I don’t remember any of that.”
“You were… somewhat inebriated. And I believe you had received several blows from the bar fight.”
He touched a tender welt on his left arm.
A few moments passed in silence as he wrapped his head around not remembering last night, and the events that had happened in his cranial absence.
“So… we’ve made an accord. But for what purpose?”
“I wished to hire your services as a smuggler and the owner of your own starship. I must take a package to my homeworld, and it needs to be as soon as humanly possible.”
“Sounds intriguing. But as much as my nickname is Samaritan, I don’t do these things for free.”
She pulled out a small credit wafer and handed it to him.
The tiny read-out on it read 10,000cr.
Suspicion overrode his greed.
“This is a lot for a simple passenger run; why so much?”
She looked away quickly, and he could see the shame on her face. She was definitely hiding something; something important.
“It was deemed necessary,” she replied without looking at him. “There is much at stake.”
“And I suppose you’re not going to tell me what that is, huh?”
She shook her head.
“The amount was put forward to prevent you asking. If you attempt to interfere, the contract will be terminated, and the money will be withdrawn.”
He held up his hands in surrender.
“Okay, okay. I get it; discretion and all that.”
“Thank you,” she nodded.
He sighed. “Okay, so what coordinates will I be setting?”
She rattled off a set of coordinates that lay in the Small Magellanic Cloud. The computer spit out a direct route that would only be a two week FTL journey. But he knew he would have to take a more circuitous route that would add a few days on at FTL speeds.
“I’m assuming the fact that you’re not using a public transporter or liner means you want to avoid authorities.”
She nodded sheepishly. “I apologise if that’s an inconvenience.”
He eyed her suspiciously, wondering if she was taking the frag. But she seemed genuine enough, as if she were incapable of sarcastic comments.
“That’s why you hired a smuggler,” he said as cheerily as he could.
He input some more parameters into the computer, and it spat out another route that would take three weeks instead of two.
“Three weeks,” he said out loud.
She nodded. “As long as I get the package there, it doesn’t matter.”
“Give me about three hours to give the ship a full check and have a shower and get changed, and then we’ll be off.”
“That is acceptable.”
She stood up from the co-pilot’s chair, her movements still exact and precise like a gymnast’s or a dancer’s. As she stepped up to the second tier before leaving the cockpit, he stopped her.
“Of course,” she said, turning her head to look at him. Her chocolate hair framed her face nicely as she turned, and he briefly had thoughts he knew would get him into trouble one way or another.
“Why did you clean the interior of the ship?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Do you mind if I ask why not?”
She didn’t answer, turning away and hurrying to her cabin. She didn’t have to answer. Even as he had said the words, he realised he knew the answer. The look on her face had said it all, and he had seen it enough times in the mirror to understand it.
He sighed, looked at the credit wafer, and tucked it away into a pocket.
He stood up, and began his inspection of his freighter, the SilverCat.
Do you need special conditions to write?
In theory, no. But I do like to get into the zone with a gigantic mug of espresso, headphones on, writing music on (usually Halo Soundtracks), and shutting everything out. But that’s not always possible.
Are you a typer or longhand writer?
I’m a typer; I can’t get much detail when I write long hand with a pen, I don’t know why, and I can really ramble when I type. There is something to be said, though, about putting pen to paper even if it’s just a small chapter or something.
Who inspires you?
Just about every author I’ve ever known, especially ones like George R. R. Martin and Stephen King who can write reams and reams and still have it make sense! Kevin J. Anderson who has managed to do just about everything, including some truly iconic books (some of the recent Dune books, Star Wars Jedi Academy trilogy, and the Saga of the Seven Suns to name a few).
And then there’s Abnett…
Dan Abnett and Raymond Chandler.
Abnett has a style that describes a situation in incredible detail with minimal words, and all of his work that I’ve read has been action oriented, or in the case of my favourite Gaunt’s Ghosts series all-out war in the grimdark of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. He is, quite frankly, right up there with the sci-fi greats: Wells, Asimov, Heinlein, and Herbert. Abnett is the reason I got into writing, First & Only my first look at military sci-fi.
Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe series (more specifically, The Big Sleep) was what actually got me interested in the non-sci-fi classics, and opened me up to the noir detective books. The Big Sleep is one of two of my favourite books, in fact, right after Abnett’s Necropolis.
I’ve just started to get into the Culture series by Banks, starting with Consider Phlebas, which was an absolutely amazing book! AND I’ve just started reading Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao, which is turning out to be quite cool.
Authors who influence your writing?
Same as above, though Chandler’s writing was specific in that for Nanowrimo 2012, I wrote a detective novel set in the Nineteen Galaxies universe called The Case of the Empty Killer, which carried on the story of Ruul Vin-Bornn, a PI from Ghosts of Earth. I’ve submitted that to Angry Robot Books, and am waiting with baited breath (yes, I said that) for an answer. Fingers crossed.
A lot of my independent author friends have also inspired me to keep going, to not give up, and raising the bar every time I read somebody else’s work. Some of them you may recognise, some of them not, but all far better than me: Matthew Sylvester, Dana Ellington Myles, Abhinav Jain, Milo Milton-Jeffries, Dominique Goodall, Jennifer Don, Kim Emerson, and Melina Turner to name but a few. There are tonnes more, but the list would be as long as my arm, these are just the ones I have the most interaction with.
Camo green. What? Why are you laughing?
Bangers and mash! But with baked beans, none of this gravy rubbish!
Favourite writing snack?
Bananas. Not actually sure why, but that’s what I always eat when I get started for the day of writing.
At the moment, it’s “Take A Look Around” by Limp Bizkit. Can’t get enough of it!
Favourite vacation spot?
Necropolis by Dan Abnett and The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.
Batman Begins, and The Big Sleep (the proper Humphrey Bogart one).
Favourite TV Show?
Star Trek Deep Space Nine hands down. Love that show, best television sci-fi EVER.