New short story in ‘It’s Behind You’ anthology

This has been out for a few days now, so apologies if you already know about it, but I have a new short story in an anthology, available on Amazon as both an e-book and a paperback.

It's Behind YouThe anthology is called It’s Behind You, and is a collection of stories based around fear (and yes, a couple of the stories do feature clowns). My story is The Reason We Run, a post-apocalyptic thing that might be a twisted love story (don’t want to give too much away, but you can probably guess it’s going to be dark).

The e-book is currently 99p / 99c (a bargain for seventeen stories and one poem), and you can find it at the links below:

E-book (UK/USA)

Paperback (UK/USA)


Riled Dogs (Dominions IV) now available to pre-order

The next story in the Dominions series, Riled Dogs, is now available to pre-order for only 99p/99c.

Riled Dogs (Dominions IV)The only certainty in life is death.

Genna can’t let her guard down, even for a moment. Running a district is hard work, and there are always those determined to undermine her. And now she has a fugitive from the Dome to protect, someone who is still seen as a threat to be neutralised.

Then there is her old enemy to the east, an enemy who appears to have new, worryingly powerful weapons. Already, the dog is snapping at her heels. Genna knows that is it only a matter of time before he attacks.

And if he wins, she could lose everything.

Click here to pre-order now‌—‌the price will rise a few days after the book is released on 27th March.

Reading Fast and Slow

Some books, I shoot through. Others seem to last ages. And it’s not simply because I’m not interested in reading them. It feels like the length of the book is not the only factor in how fast it takes me to read it.


A couple of books highlighted this to me recently. I read Mark Dawson’s first Isabella Rose thriller, The Angel over a couple of days (which is about what time I’d expect to take for one of his books), but before that I read Stephen Baxter’s Time, and this took ten days.

Time clocks in at about 550 pages, and The Angel at 350, so I’d expect to read the latter quicker. But the maths doesn’t add up‌—‌350 pages in two days works out at 175 pages a day, so Time should have only taken about four days. Not over twice that time. And there was no difference in the amount of reading time I had available for each book, either.

But The Angel flew by, and Time took its time.

Why? Why do some books take ages while others feel like they’re over almost as soon as I’ve started?

Length of chapter/paragraph/sentence

It’s common writing advice that short, sharp sentences make for a fast pace. This works really well in thrillers. The ones with punchy sentences. A couple of words. It keeps the tension high. It keeps you reading.

Single-sentence paragraphs work well, too.

Then there’s the opposite‌—‌the languid, drawn out prose that linger on the scenery, like a slow-panning camera, allowing you to savour the setting. Then there are the sentences that dive deep into a character’s thoughts, often leaping about from idea to idea (because that is how thoughts work), so by the end of the sentence you can hardly recall the beginning, and you feel like you have been on a journey between those full stops, and you need a moment to recover before you drift into the next sentence. These sentences are written to draw the reader in, or to offer the reader the opportunity to dwell on the poetry of the language.

It doesn’t always work that way, but generally something written with a short, snappy style tends to flow faster.

It also results in more white space on the page, and this is another factor in reading speed, for a couple of reasons. First, a page of solid text can appear daunting, and we almost need to build up the will to start attacking it, whereas a page with lots of white space is more appealing and we dive straight in. And secondly, it is easier for readers to lose their place in dense passages, so they proceed with more care, taking more time to ensure they don’t miss out lines.

With the books I mentioned above, The Angel has lots of short sentences and paragraphs, with loads of white space on the page. Time has its short, sharp moments, but overall the sentences are longer, and there are long passages with a couple of paragraphs taking up single pages.


Stories are there to provide entertainment, but in many stories there is a need to impart some information as well. Baxter’s Time has a strong hard sci-fi element, with lengthy scenes where the characters discuss in-depth science. At times it veers close to becoming a lecture, and it requires effort for someone unacquainted with that type of science (like myself) to follow the arguments. This concentration naturally slows down the reading speed. As much as I enjoyed these passages in Time, they took longer to get through than more action-based scenes.

Compare that to Dawson’s book. Yes, there is technical information in this book‌—‌such as details of weapons and other pieces of kit. It’s what you would expect in this type of well-researched thriller, and it makes the book more believable, more grounded in reality. But Dawson keeps these passages short, a paragraph or two at the most, often only a brief sentence. He doesn’t allow the information to detract from the story.

And this highlights a difference between the books. In Time, Baxter is exploring scientific possibilities, and so the information is an integral part of the story itself. Hi work is as much about the ideas as it is about the story. But in The Angel, the story is the most important aspect, and technical information is there as colour.


This is similar to information, but is also connected with giving the reader different depths to each image. There are some wonderful passages in Time where the characters are watching space, and naturally Baxter uses many words to do this in order to give us the huge scope of what they are seeing (and feeling). He builds up a dense picture for us, taking his time (and many words) to get things just right.


But this doesn’t work for a fast-paced action sequence (of which there are many in The Angel). Here, we want action, not description. A car might be red, or a particular make, but we don’t need to know about the rust on the wheel-arches, or the dent in the rear. Likewise, when a thug attacks the hero, we’re not interested in his shirt, or exactly how tall he is, or if he’s shaved that morning. We want to know what he’s going to do, and how the hero’s going to respond.

Obviously, some colour is good. A fight scene that is nothing more than a blow-by-blow account of the action gets boring. We need some emotion, and we need some details so that we can ground the fight in reality. But we don’t need too much that is overly descriptive. We don’t want to slow down for unnecessary detail.

So a terse style, more suited to thrillers like those written by Dawson, pulls us through the book, increasing the speed at which we read.


Most people, even if they know a great many words, use a limited vocabulary in their day-to-day lives. Maybe this is down to the need (or desire) to be readily understood‌—‌using possibly obscure words will make others pause, and could lead to misunderstandings. And this is as true with text as it is with the spoken word.

Some books (or passages within books) benefit from using a wider vocabulary, but they are usually more literary works, where the particular choice and usage of words are a main part of the pleasure of the book. These are books that are designed to be savoured, designed to be devoured slowly. They are books where we are invited to acknowledge the poetic and aesthetic word-crafting of the author.

But stories are different. Stories need to be told using language that doesn’t get in the way. We want to know what happens next, and we don’t want to be distracted by flowery prose. Maybe a sharp one-liner or two in dialogue, and possibly the odd enriching description, but for the most part we are interested in the story. We want to know how the characters are going to get out of a particular situation.

Thinking of those two books I read, The Angel is definitely plot-driven. Although Dawson does use a wider vocabulary than other authors in his genre (and that is one of the things I like about his writing), he doesn’t let it get in the way of the story. Baxter is different‌—‌there are times when he wants us to take our time, to savour the images he is presenting, and so a more expansive vocabulary is required.

Story Time and Jump Cuts

The scope of Time is large. There are passages that describe short periods of time, but the story takes place over years. Months can pass in a couple of paragraphs. In contrast, the events in The Angel take place over very short time periods, and an action sequence of only a minute or so might take two or more pages to describe.

At first, it might appear that this would make Time read quicker than The Angel‌—‌slowing down to describe in detail what is happening, for instance, in a fight scene should make those intense few minutes last far longer, right? And maybe, sometimes, it does work this way. But I think the reverse can happen, too. If we know that things are moving fast in the story, we naturally read faster. Similarly, if events in the story are unfolding over many weeks or months, we feel that we can take our time.

It depends on how that passage of time is described.


One technique Dawson uses to keep the tension high and to keep us reading is that of cutting between points of view. We might start off a sequence with one character, but then (usually at the moment when they are in greatest danger), we cut to another character, and learn what they have been doing. We chop and change quickly, which is like the fast cutting of a movie action sequence. It keeps us wanting to return to each character, eager to find out what happens to them.

In Time, although there are a number of point-of-view characters, we are generally with each one for more pages, and for more time. This is like the kind of movie shots that follow the character or action with one camera, giving us a long, unbroken sequence that allows us to dive deep into the scene. There is no urge to rush, so we read at a more leisurely pace.

Of course, there are many more things that can affect reading speed. There are all those external factors, like interruptions (a sudden storm hammering rain against the window, the kids playing, noises on the street outside) and our current state of mind (feeling tired, having other things on our minds). Sometimes we have our own time constraints (something else to do, a new book we want to read), and we naturally speed up, maybe skim-reading some passages. A thick book might feel daunting, so we start with more trepidation. Or maybe we don’t want a thin book to finish, and we actively slow down (which is something that happened to me when I first read Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy).

But that is one of the pleasures of books. Unlike films and TV programmes, or music, books are not constrained by time. We can fly through a hundred pages, or we can linger over a single sentence. We can enjoy a thrilling roller-coaster ride of a story, or we can savour the richness of the language. We can set aside an evening for the adrenaline rush of racing through a whole book, or we can read a little each night, drawing out the immersive pleasure of the book.

But however we do it, reading is always time well spent.


The Power Of Words anthology

I’m excited to be part of an upcoming anthology called The Power Of Words, organised by M.L.S Weech. All the stories are either based on the First Amendment, or on the title of the anthology. There are a few more stories to come in, but four are so far confirmed, including one of mine, Ghost Stream.

You can read more about it in Matt’s latest update on his site here.

My Reading Year 2017

Another year over. Where does the time go (and all those usual cliches)? But this is a good opportunity to reflect and to look forward, and in that spirit I thought I’d look back at some of my reading highlights of 2017.

I started keeping a log of all the books I read at the start of the year, and that tells me I read roughly 25 non-fiction books (mainly about writing and publishing), 25 novellas and 80 novels (and quite a few short stories, either on their own or in anthologies). They have been both traditionally published and independently published (with the latter probably in the majority, simply because I started using Instafreebie earlier in the year), and span a range of genres (some of which are not what I would normally read).
So, some highlights.

The new-to-me author who has been around for ages

It’s often said that even an old book is new to someone who has not yet read it, and I’ve read quite a few older books for the first time this year. This includes Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (which I enjoyed, although it felt a little rushed), A Falcon Flies by Wilbur Smith (not the kind of thing I’d normally read, but I’m definitely interested in reading more) and Sharpe’s Tiger by Bernard Cornwell (which was a great read, even though I don’t often go for historical war novels. I think it worked for me because it focused on the character of Sharpe rather than the historical details). But the one that impressed me the most was Brandon Sanderson’s first Mistborn novel, The Final Empire.

FinalEmpireMistborn1_BrandonSandersonI’ve heard Sanderson talk on the Writing Excuses podcast, so I expected something well written, and I was not disappointed. It’s long (pushing a thousand pages if I remember correctly), but never felt long-winded. Often, by the time I’m three-quarters through a book (of any length), I’m already thinking of what I want to read next, but I never reached that point with Mistborn.

I loved the magic system, and the way it worked almost like a science, with a clear set of rules. Again, I’ve heard Sanderson mention how he believes all magic systems need rules, and reading this novel showed me exactly what he means.

I already have more in this series on my to-be-read list, and can see Sanderson becoming one of my favourite authors.

The sci-fi/comedy that continues to work

Most combinations that include comedy fail. The humour might be annoying or puerile, and often the story takes a back-seat in the set-up to the next joke. Even something like the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series (which I love, despite what I am about to say) often feels like a series of cool, funny moments shoe-horned into a story-arc (possibly because this was how Douglas Adams wrote it, having no idea where it was headed).

But it can be done. Terry Pratchett did it expertly in many of the Discworld books, and Harry Harrison did a good job with his Bill The Galactic Hero books. And now, Barry Hutchison has written a series that strike just the right balance between humour and story.

SpaceTeam_BarryJHutchinsonHe released the first Space Team book back in 2016, but is now up to number seven (and has a spin-off with another couple of novels), and I don’t know how he puts out consistently good books so fast. The stories stand up on their own, with the humour based around the characters and the situations, but the stories stand up on their own too. The characters have also grown over the series, with ‘throw-away’ back-story helping to develop the characters even more.

If you like Douglas Adams, I’d recommend Space Team (and the first book is only 99p/99c, so what have you got to lose?)

The story-studio that continues to impress

I’ve been following the books (and writing careers) of the Sterling And Stone team for a few years now. They continually push the boundaries of independent publishing, and are unafraid to try new (or old) ideas. They started their author careers with serialised fiction, and have written sci-fi, horror, thriller, literary (and, under pen-names, children’s fiction and romance). They will write an unashamedly commercial series like Invasion, but also write books simply because they want to, like Crash.

DevilMayCare_PlattTruantThe three authors on the team usually write in pairs, so you either get a Sean Platt/Johnny B Truant book, or a Sean Platt/David Wright book. So far, I’ve enjoyed the ideas more in the former, but get a kick out of the darker writing of the latter.

This year, they’ve produced three things that have impressed me. First, the Platt/Truant literary book Devil May Care. It’s a kind of road trip book, with two story-lines that are related (and I won’t spoil things by saying how they connect, although I think I figured it out a good while before the authors intended). It doesn’t quite work for me, but I admire how Platt and Truant constantly push their writing in different directions‌—‌and there are moments, especially nearer the beginning, that contain some of the finest writing they have produced to date.

TomorrowGene_PlattTruantThey also published The Tomorrow Gene trilogy of sci-fi/thrillers, based around cloning. They billed this as the spiritual follow-up to their Invasion series, and it is clear that they were aiming for something commercial. But the ideas are definitely not dumbed-down, and these are intelligent reads. Also, each book has a different feel. The first begins fairly languidly, which suits the story perfectly, and the unsettling elements are allowed to creep in at their own pace. The second is incredibly fast-moving, with loads of action. The third deals more with conspiracies and lies, and is a more psychological book. Yet all three work well together.

NoJustice_PlattWrightAnd finally, there is the Platt/Wright book No Justice. It is a very dark book, very unsettling, but this is a strength of their writing. The protagonist, the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for, is a vigilante, and he does some things that push the reader’s empathy. Yet this adds to the tension‌—‌you’re never sure if he’s going to go too far and become a full-on villain. Also, giving point-of-view scenes from the antagonist (a paedophile who kidnaps and later kills children) is a brave move, with disturbing moments where he justifies his abhorrent actions.

These books aren’t for everyone, but if you like to be challenged by what you read, and are not afraid of being unsettled, I’d recommend them.

The Dystopian series that taught me how to do it

TubeRiders_ChrisWardAlong with Barry Hutchison, I’ve found another new favourite author this year in Chris Ward. He wrote the Tube Rider trilogy, and I loved the books. They are based in a future UK that is separated from the rest of Europe (these books were written before the Brexit vote, but now they feel worryingly possible), and the main characters are youngsters who ‘tube ride’ for kicks (grabbing hold of moving underground trains and hanging off the side). Of course, they see things they aren’t supposed to, and the story soon has them fleeing for their lives.

I love how Ward deals with the characters. None of them are perfect, and sometimes even the good characters do the wrong thing, occasionally for purely selfish reasons. He sets up the notion of ‘nobody is guaranteed to be a hero’ early on by having one of the gang betray the rest and then die‌—‌which also sets up the expectation that nobody is guaranteed to survive. The villains are very believable, with clear, logical reasons for their actions, and all have the possibility of redemption (whether that happens or not is a different matter, and I’m not going to give any spoilers). And the world Ward creates is frighteningly realistic and plausible.

For more of my thoughts on the Tube Riders series, click here.

I intend to read more of Ward’s books over 2018, including his new YA series, Endinfinium (starting with Benjamin Forrest And The School At The End Of The World).

Revisiting old books‌—‌not always a good move

I’ll re-read old books every now and then, but some of the ones I’ve returned to this year have left me questioning how I rated them so highly. I suppose I was more impressionable as a teenager when I first read James Herbert’s The Rats and the sequel, Lair, but now the prose feels somewhat clunky, and the stories don’t interest me as much. Robert R McCammon’s Baal read like a series of separate but connected stories, and Dean Koontz’s Watchers had story arcs that I felt could have been ignored for much of the time. I can’t help wondering how much of this ‘padding’ was at the request of the publisher, to make the book a certain length.

It_StephenKingI also re-read Stephen King’s It. I can’t recall what I thought of it when I read it when it first came out, but I’m in two minds now. There are parts I love, but overall it felt too long and repetitive. Some of the creepy horror is excellent, though, and King is a master writer. One of those books where the parts are more impressive than the whole, and it hasn’t put me off re-visiting more of King’s books (or reading his newer novels).

The novelisation of the original Star Wars film was a disappointment (I’ve written about this in a previous post, which you can read here), but I did enjoy listening to the audio-book of the ET novelisation (and you can read more of my thoughts on this here). I read this years ago, and I’m sure I didn’t get a lot of the subtext when I was younger, especially the mother’s thoughts.

A perfect shorter story

AllQuietOnTheWesternFold_JamieBrindleI’ll finish with a shorter work I really enjoyed — All Quiet In The Western Fold by Jamie Brindle. Imagine stories exist as living, breathing characters, in a wild west kind of setting. Stories are becoming sick, though, and the new sheriff has to investigate.

If that sound a bit strange, it is. But it is so well written, and manages to be serious and playful at the same time. For example, take this description:

High Sheriff Grok was a huge fat story, with thick wads of excess characterisation around his jowls and a pair of ugly similes that hung like ammo belts around his chest.

It’s a joy to read stuff like this, but the story itself is also intriguing, and makes me want to read more by Brindle. In fact, I have some of his books on my to-be-read list.

I have a lot of books on this list — far too many. Next year I need to stop downloading so much and get through more of the list (hard to do‌—‌I’ve already added a few more books over the holidays).

So, what else for next year? I’ve already mentioned wanting to read more from the authors above, but I also want to get back into some of the classics. A couple of years back I set myself the challenge of getting through all of Balzac’s Comedie Humaine (something like a hundred titles ranging from shorts to 500-page novels), and I don’t think I read any in 2017.

I’m also wanting to discover more new (to me) authors, so if you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them. I prefer darker, more thoughtful stuff, but I’m open to just about anything (I’ve even read Fifty Shades, although I’m sure I shouldn’t have been laughing quite so much).

So, here’s to a good year of reading in 2018.


What is a book worth?

That’s a very ambiguous question. To narrow it down a bit, I’ll only consider fiction here, and will define a book as an object containing a text version of a story. Generally, this is either a physical book (paperback or hardback) or an electronic version (audiobooks have another layer of performance, so I’m discounting them for this discussion.)

reading-1249273_1280One measure of worth is money, so how much do we pay for books? In the UK, a paperback is generally between five and ten pounds, and a hardback around twenty. E-book pricing varies considerably‌—‌there are the free or 99p books, right up to about twenty pounds.

Why the difference in prices? So let’s consider what we are actually paying for.

When we buy a paperback or hardback, we exchange money for a physical object. Yes, we can read it, but we can also display it on our shelves. We can admire it as a thing in itself.

But with an e-book, we received a string of zeros and ones that are stored on a hard-drive somewhere. Our computers (phones, e-readers or whatever we use) translate this information into the words we read and the pictures we see. But ultimately, it’s just data.
It’s the same story in both versions‌—‌the only difference is in the means of delivery. Any difference in price should therefore reflect the costs involved in creating and distributing these different versions.

write-593333_640Think about what it takes to turn a story into a book. There is all the work the author puts in‌—‌planning, research, writing, re-writing and editing. There are external editors and proofreaders. This goes for all books, electronic and physical.

But after this, things diverge. For a physical book, the pages are formatted, then proof-read (in the original sense of the term‌—‌checking the proof copy, and not just looking for spelling and grammatical errors). These pages are then sent to the printer, who creates the physical book itself from materials the printing company purchases. The book is bound, with a cover that includes front, back and spine. The book is stored and, when requested, shipped to stores. These stores have their own overheads to cover‌—‌rent on the building, wages for staff, store furniture and power etc. This is true for both bricks-and-mortar and on-line sellers.

And all this, apart from the creation of the original proofs, needs to be repeated for each book sold.

Now consider an e-book. Once the text is completed, it is formatted, and a cover designed. These files are then uploaded to a seller, be that an independent website or a company like Amazon or Kobo. The seller requires a server etc., but the costs are far less than for the storage of a physical object. And there is no need to create a new e-book for each sale made‌—‌the original is simply copied digitally.

From the above, it seems pretty clear to me that the cost of bringing an e-book to a reader is far lower than getting a physical book in their hands, and for this reason alone it makes sense that paper books should be priced higher.

Yet this is not always the case. I often see e-books priced the same as paperbacks (normally by traditional publishers). I have seen e-books priced the same as a hardback, even though the paperback is under half that amount. And I can see no possible justification for this.

But that is only part of the question I first posed. This is price as a reflection of the manufacturing cost. This is the price of the book as an object.

once-upon-a-time-719174_1280Books, as a means of conveying a story, have a value in the words themselves, and the artistry and craft that are displayed in the writing. What we value in a book is the experience of reading.

And this is where things become far harder to quantify. How much would you pay for entertainment?

We could consider time. If we are willing to pay, say, ten pounds to watch a two-hour film, should a novel that takes five hours be worth over twenty pounds? If that were the case, a book like War And Peace might be over a hundred pounds. I can imagine someone paying that much for a rare edition, but I’ve seen paperback copies for around £0.99.

But it would be wrong to assume there is a correlation between quantity and quality. Is Stephen King’s It worth five times the value of Animal Farm? Much as I enjoy both books, I wouldn’t agree with this statement. In fact, many smaller books outclass longer stories. To me, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and Fight Club are far more enjoyable than, say, George RR Martin’s Game Of Thrones / Song of Ice And Fire books. And I know that sentence will upset some people, but that’s just me and my reading tastes.

light-bulbs-1125016_1280Which gives us another issue to consider‌—‌everyone is different. One person’s life-changing entertainment will be wasted hours to another. The same books could be considered a thrilling roller-coaster ride or a hideous excuse for gratuitous violence and bad language. A thrilling tale might be gratuitous violence and bad language to someone else. One person might value well-crafted prose, but another might find more of value in a finely-tuned story. One person might get swept up in rich descriptions, and another might be drawn into snappy, sarcastic dialogue.

In other words, two people will consider the same book to have different worth. I might baulk at buying the next book Martin release, even if it was on special offer, but others will gladly spend twenty pounds on the hardback version, then buy another copy when that one wears out. To them, the book is worth far more than it is to me.

Because value is about more than money. What we pay for something, and it’s value, are not always connected. Some of the best books I have read‌—‌the books that I value‌—‌did not cost me a great deal, but there are other ways I can pay the author, and other ways I can demonstrate how much I believe that book is worth. Some of my new-found favourite authors can rely on me to keep buying their books. I can tell others what I think, and I can write reviews (or mention books and authors when I’m writing here). Some fans draw art based on their most valued books, or write fan-fiction. Some buy electronic, physical and audio versions. Others frequent author websites, or follow the author on social media.

So the question ‘how much is a book worth’ now encompasses more than money. It involves time and effort. A good book is worth our undivided attention for a number of hours. A good book is worth thinking about, and maybe revisiting.

It has been said that any object is only worth what someone will pay for it, but this needs to be extended. A story is worth the money you pay for it, the time you spend reading it, and the effort you expend in thinking about it.

What is a book worth? Ultimately, it depends on both the reader and the book.