About robjtriggs

Currently based in Cambridgeshire but with links to Belfast, Bradford and Norwich, I'm a writer of speculative fiction and a dreamer of dreams. Including that one which starts out nice and then turns on you like a twisty-turny thing

New Gods – now available to pre-order!

Busy busy busy at the moment – last-minute self-publication fixes and editing deadlines – so please excuse this somewhat hasty post. Just wanted to drop you a quick note to say that New Gods is available to pre-order now!

The Kindle version is, at least. I can’t work out how to set a paperback for pre-order so I’m lagging behind somewhat. That might only magically appear on Publication Day.

Word of warning – I’m still tinkering, so it might drop off availability at odd times, but it is up, and if for any reason it disappears, it should be back again in a day or so. Promise!

I know, I know, I’m not the most competent of vendors. I fully intend to add a page to this blog – indeed, I do intend to re-work the whole thing – with details of all my books, a little info and where you can find them from, but I haven’t quite got round to that yet. Blame the government; they might as well be responsible for this fiasco as well.

In the meantime, please do pre-order New Gods if you can; it makes a big difference to me and my Internet-Retailer-of-Doom algorithm/ranking.

And remember, if you do read and enjoy – or even if you don’t – please do leave a review. It really does help!

Remember also: you’re great and I’m nothing without you.

Cheerio!

The Prologue

Morning all, and how are we doing today?

New Gods is speeding towards publication; Pre-ordering – for the e-book at least – should be available any day now. Expect to hear more about this next week. Everything is ready, apart from the bits that aren’t.

Still on the hard sell, this week’s blog is an extract from the novel: the prologue, to be precise. Hope you enjoy. Oh, and a reminder that I previously posted an extract from a little later in the novel back in September 2020. You can find that here.

…Static… A crackling, whistling roar… Vision slowly filtering – and then suddenly resolved…

          A slum: the camera jerks around, shows you a forest of crude buildings. There is no order. The shacks fall into each other, rubbish litters the dirt streets. But this isn’t a shanty; rather its descendent. It’s a palimpsest, a polyglot of styles, of years, of building, rebuilding; cannibalisation of a thousand different materials and styles. This is rubble and dust…

          A voice, sudden and uncomfortably close, barks in an unfamiliar language. The camera spins and blurs again; down a mud street it finally focuses on a unit of soldiers. A dozen or so men armed with rifles. They’re walking – not marching, this is no parade-ground drill – but neither are they diving for cover. Company logo on their chests, on their guns. Behind them, maybe another thirty yards back, come the bulldozers. They roll inexorably on, smashing walls on their blades, carving a highway of crushed brick and mangled iron and powdered glass.

          The camera pans again and there are more shouts. Now you see a crowd of men – and women, and children – facing the soldiers. They are unarmed, but they are resisting. Indian or Bangladeshi; there are scraps of writing, unfamiliar text; there are more shouts, screams. And yes, there are men with weapons there too: blue-capped soldiers nervously trying to herd the civilians back.

          You watch as a man leaves this group and advances towards the bulldozers. He is waving, shouting towards the Company men. His voice is lost beneath the roar of engines. His words are swallowed by the crash of masonry and he coughs as dust billows around him. He spreads his arms wide: stop. He pauses and sets his gun on the ground before walking forwards still further. His face is pale, his Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows.

          The Company men pause, and, though the camera is unstable and the focus swoops in and out, you can see the tension etched in their faces. Their sergeant advances to meet the leader of the blue-caps. Sergeant waves expansively. Move aside. We are coming through. There is nothing more to say.

          Blue-cap shakes his head. He gestures behind him, to the civilians, then to encompass the slum around them. He is speaking, shouting. He is begging.

          The sergeant does not care. He pushes the man aside and Blue-cap’s colleagues step forwards, then halt as the Company troops bring their weapons to bear. Blue-cap is still begging. And all the while the bulldozers are closing in, behind them a storm of dust like a waterfall. Now you can see that the drivers are all masked. They’re horribly robotic without their eyes.

          Another burst of static, a blurring; more voices from behind the camera. A microsecond of blackness and then an almost vertiginous movement; you are running, camera showing the ground, showing feet – the cameraman is not alone, and this small group is ducking behind walls, scattering, scampering down alleys, through abandoned kitchens, kicking over pots and scrambling through windows. They pause. Words are said. You are afraid. You peer around a corner, zoom out and in and realise you’re looking at the same scene from a different angle. But the dynamic has shifted. Now the blue-caps are backing off, the Company man advancing in a line, weapons held steady before them. The blue-cap leader tries again. He is almost crying – dust or emotion? – as he pleads.

          You are rocked: the camera spins. Focus. In the background a bulldozer has exploded. Gas bottle? IED? Debris rains down. Spin again: the civilians are cheering. Some kneel to pray. A boy scampers forwards and grabs a section of caterpillar track, a souvenir. Some chant, inaudible over the din that surrounds you.

          You turn back to the soldiers. The Company sergeant now has the blue-cap pinned against a wall. Blue-cap is speaking quickly. He gestures to the bulldozers, now drawn up just a few yards behind the confrontation. Again Blue-cap is begging. Stop. Stop, please. Talk to us. He waves to the civilians, tears in his eyes.

          The sergeant’s face is hard. He is in control. He speaks in short bursts. We have our orders. We will not stop. We are coming through. This town is being erased.

          The voices around you are as much part of the background as the terracotta sky.

          Blue-cap’s face changes. Now he looks dazed, unbelieving. His mouth falls open. He shakes his head weakly, swallows. Camera zooms in tight on his eyes (brown), just for a moment, then out again. Company-man turns away from Blue-Cap, releases the pressure on his shoulder. He signals the bulldozers to continue their advance. Blue-cap is stunned. He staggers out of the sergeant’s grasp and into the middle of the road. He faces the bulldozers, head turning this way and that. And then a Company soldier steps smartly forwards, whips the butt of his rifle across Blue-cap’s face. He falls. Blood drips onto the rutted track. The defenders raise their weapons. The Company troops respond in kind. The bulldozers growl.

          You jerk round again, back to the civilians – the ones who are losing their homes and everything they can’t carry. A man is running forwards. He is young. His clothes are rags. He is carrying – my God, he’s carrying a sword. Where the hell did he get that?

          The man’s eyes are too wide, too white. His mouth is distorted in a feral snarl, saliva spinning off his beard. Dust eddies around his bare ankles as he raises the weapon to cleave…

          He is shot before he gets within a dozen paces of the enemy. A red bloom erupts from his shoulder; the sword flies from his hand. He falls backwards, spinning madly in the dirt as if his blood is pushing his body in tight little spirals, legs flexing madly, scrambling in a crimson razor-dance.

          This is the first bullet fired. No-one knows who made the shot.

          The bulldozers are moving again.

          Blue-cap makes on final effort to make peace. He is pushed aside. The Company men have had enough. They advance, ignoring the weapons pointed at their chests. Stones fly, the civilians, the peasants, resisting the only way they can. The missiles rattle off body-armour, off helmets, off the blades of the bulldozers. The camera spins again; there is so much to take in, you can’t see it all.

          So you miss the next shot.

          Blue-cap is dead, a neat little hole in his forehead. His face still bears a look of shock, of disbelief. The Company soldiers walk calmly over his body.

          Then the bulldozers grind him into a bloody smear in the dirt.

          More shooting. More UN soldiers drop. The slum-dwellers are fair game too.

          The cameraman is backing off; dragged away, you think, by his companions. But he keeps the lens pointed –

– static again, the picture breaking up –

          – civilians screaming. Women crying, children wailing, the timeless sounds of panic. There is no mistaking terror.

          And the staccato snap of bullets, cutting through the avalanche of collapsing buildings. Bulldozers dig their blades into flesh and masonry without prejudice.

          The camera spins; you see bare feet. The battle is lost. You are fleeing.

          But there is still time for one last look back. Now you can see only Company soldiers amidst the rubble.

          Company soldiers and the dead and the dying.

The blurb

Well, here we are. After teasing you a few weeks ago with pitches of old books, here’s the blurb for New Gods:

“Revolution in a frozen city.

Robin Triggs’ psychological thriller transports us to the city of Australis, an industrial outpost set deep in the icy wilderness of Antarctica.

Freshly-demoted security officer Anders Nordvelt is hell-bent on finding the person who murdered his comrade. But the people of Australis are more concerned with evidence of atrocities carried out by the all-powerful Company, the organisation for whom they all labour.

As discontent threatens to break into outright rebellion, Anders struggles to walk the line between duty and justice. Having invested his life’s work in the Company, he must surely back the status quo.

Yet the murderer is still out there, and apparently targeting Anders. Are they a lone killer, or are they acting under orders?

As his superiors play a brutal game of politics, Anders must unmask the murderer before more die. In this fallen near-future world, the fate of the whole city may rest on his investigation.”

New Gods is scheduled for a 26th October release. As soon as the darn thing is available for pre-order I’ll let you know. Shouldn’t be long now.

Excitement!

Cover reveal coming shortly!

Letting go

I’m a bit frustrated at the moment. I’m working all out – by which I mean I’m sitting on my hands, waiting – on self-publishing (New Gods still planned for an October 26th release, all you people desperate to pre-order) and beyond that…

And that’s the question: what next?

After New Gods, all I have in the bank are the three novels (one complete, one in the factory for a refit, one a fifth of the way written) in the series that begins with Oneiromancer. I’m proud of these books. I think they’re either good or have the potential to be good. Thing is that I’ve already been rejected by all the sci-fi/urban fantasy agents in the country (and some beyond). So I have no idea how I’m going to go about getting them published.

Yes, yes, self-publishing and all that. I know I have that option. But I’m reluctant to go down that route. New Gods is a special case; the finale to a series that I simply want to get out because I’m proud of it and know that no other publisher with the situation as it is.

I am by no means negative about self-publishing. But that’s not how I envisioned my career as going, and I don’t know how to adapt my thinking to make myself embrace that future. I will, of course, if I can’t see any other way forwards – which I can’t at present – because I am, as I said, proud of my work and the books deserve readers.

I don’t believe I’m capable of drumming up those readers. Not on my own.

It’s times like this that ambition gets in the way of productivity. One can spend so much time worrying about whether one will ‘make it’ and less about getting not only this product ready, but that there’s a continued flow of product for the future.

Maybe the best option is simply to let go. To abandon the work I’ve put into this particular stack of world-building and move on to something entirely new. An agent can be tempted to any project, and then they might be interested in promoting a back catalogue too.

But I’m not ready for that yet. I’ve not even finished my trilogy.

No, perhaps I need to abandon my plans for being a successful (however that be defined) author. I can’t see myself ever being an award-winner, like I am in my dreams, and I’m getting too old and too envious – in a benevolent way – of the breakthrough authors I see on Twitter.

What, after all, is success but a false form of happiness? Change my paradigm, let go of dreams that will never come true and work on the things within my control; that’s what I should do.

But letting go is always hard.

Reflections on feedback

I braved the feedback of my peers the other night. I took a chapter of Our Kind of Bastard, which sadly appears like it may be some kind of problem child, to my writers’ group for evaluation.

No matter how many times I do it – and this is hardly my first rodeo – reading before peers is never easy. I can’t help but compare myself; I see how slick my comrades are, how they have wonderful turns of phrase and a skill with similes that I simply don’t have. I see depths in them that I know I lack.

I know that it’s not fair to myself to perform this sort of comparison. I have strengths that others don’t, for sure; it’s just sometimes hard to see them, especially when my strengths lie in mood and story rather than in the wit of words. Still I feel like the one who drags down all the others. The bar-lowerer, if you will, which I’m sure is a useful person to be. I’m the one who makes everyone else feel better about themselves.

This isn’t meant to be some kind of self-flagellation piece; I’m not writing this in a mood for self-castigation. Rather I’m coming from a place of reflection about my writing.

One of the criticisms that I find most interesting is that I lost the character’s voice in the later half of the scene. It’s not that I drifted into another point-of-view, but that my POV character stopped adding her own commentary. This I’m struck by for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the criticism is correct. Looking back, I did absent myself (herself) a little from the latter part of the scene. This is probably (or at least in part) because the scene was extended to give more description, to provide more context and texture. This dialogue that comes at the scene’s end is now less attached to the previous emotions than it was in a more concertina-ed version.

Secondly, this is something I tend to do, I think, and I’ve never noticed it before. I have a tendency to set up a scene, loaded in personalities and explanation, then step back and (try and) let the characters talk for themselves, without too much intrusion. This reached the point – and I’m thinking about in Oneiromancer here – where I had scenes that consisted almost totally with dialogue and I was barely aware of who the POV character was for that scene.

To say that this is/was a deliberate thing is probably to overstate the case a little. It just happened, and I let it happen. Problem is that now I’m not sure whether it’s a strength or a weakness. Some little ‘neutral’, factual scenes devoid of personal baggage… I like the idea of that. But it can’t be done too much. It risks shallowness and alienation. Readers like a personality to hold on to.

I think that the OKoB scene in question needs changing. I need my character’s voice, and I’m grateful to the critic for pointing the flaws out to me. Previous criticism is that my characters in this novel aren’t especially deeply drawn, and this is another opportunity to reinforce how my protagonist feels.

Beyond that, it’s something else for me to watch out for. Am I missing other opportunities, or is the odd ‘alien’ scene actually a strength? I don’t know. I’ll have to evaluate them on a case-by-case basis.

I am still learning. I am still learning not only how to write, but how I write. Every writer has their foibles and knowing your own can only help, right?

Get feedback on your work. The mirror the reader holds up to you will not always show the prettiest image, but it will be an interesting one. One from which to learn.

On reviews

Night Shift has hit a milestone. We have – at last count – 53 reviews on Amazon. Most are favourable, which is nice. But I wonder, why do we care? Why do authors fret so about words that are often tossed out there without too much consideration or deep thought (with apologies to serious book reviewers and, indeed, anyone who really works out how they want to help others who may be wondering if a certain book is for them)?

Partly, of course, its ego; a desire for one’s work to be appreciated and to reassure them that they can write. More pertinently it’s because we live in fear of the dreaded algorithm.

Some websites begin to promote books that get more reviews higher up on lists; they’re more likely to be shown in ‘Other people read’ screens and similar. The more reviews we get – good or bad – the more visibility our work receives. Success breeds success. It ain’t right, but there it is.

I’m no expert on these things. I just know that it’s nice to find that people are still discovering and reading. After being dropped by the publisher and having abandoned all hope of royalties or a great film/television adaptation bonus, it’s terribly reassuring to find that my little novel still has a life out there. Maybe I’m premature in dismissing my chances of earning out after all.

Human Resources, on the other hand, has only one Amazon review. That seems to have disappeared without trace.

But the thing about modern times – when books can be printed on demand, and e-books exist, and the internet seems both endless and eternal, is that these figures can only ever go up. Actually, I’m not entirely sure that’s true, but it certainly seems that way. I don’t need to fear being remaindered or my work becoming unavailable. Time can bring only more sales.

Because, as I said, it’s always nice to know my stuff is being read and I’m not simply pissing into the void. Money – material reward – is almost irrelevant. I want people to read and enjoy my stuff. And I want my future writings to find a market.

Which leads me onto asking why we do this. I love writing, except when I hate it and will do anything to avoid it, and I’m determined to make everything I do the best it can possibly be. Money, material reward, isn’t what I do this for, though – and don’t get me wrong, here – it is nice.

I digress. The fact is, reviews matter to authors. It (sometimes) makes us feel good. It helps our sales. It gives that word-of-mouth, that we rely on, a little boost. We the majority aren’t backed by great publicity campaigns. It’s generally us on our tod battling various degrees of social anxiety trying to do our best to get books into brains.

And of course they help other readers even more than it helps us.

So: do your good deed for the day. Find a book you’ve loved and tell people about it.

Balls in many courts

Snooker with Too Many Balls; Udehi Imienwanrin

Balls all over the place, that’s me. So much to do, so little time. I’m not the best at splitting my hours; the most urgent task is always the one I must be working on, no matter that I could space things out a little and multi- my tasks a little better. So it is that I’ve dropped everything to focus on copyediting with its concomitant deadline.

But that doesn’t mean I’m unaware of all the other things on my plate. Currently my attention is mostly on someone else’s world, but in the back of my mind there is an unattended first draft, a underdeveloped third (ish) draft and all sorts of other projects. If I was better at balancing I wouldn’t have left these things in abeyance, but they’re still lurking in the shadows, waiting just to steal a moment of my time.

So, the joy of things to come post-editation:

  • Self-publishing: Another thing with a hard (though self-determined) deadline. There are many things to do before the officially unofficial New Gods release of 26th October, not least of which is contacting my old publisher for some mutual publicity. I’m just awaiting the final final cover design before I move onwards and – well, onwards
  • Editing Our Kind of Bastard. This has somewhat stalled, partly for reasons of available hours in the day but also because I lost confidence in the manuscript. But there’s still a gosh-darn good story in there that needs telling so, once my mojo has returned a little, I’ll be back in the redraftorium giving it the old what-for
  • Writing the Top Secret New WIP. This has also stalled somewhat, mostly because I came to a really hard bit but also due to other priorities. But I’m still trying to chip away at it – another thing where I’m convinced there’s a good story to be told and that I’m determined to tell
  • Redoing this blog-cum-website. Let’s be honest here – it could all do with a bit of spit and polish, couldn’t it. I need a page with my own books put first and foremost. I need proper links to where people can buy my stuff. And it all needs a bit of love
  • Self-publishing. Don’t know if I mentioned this, but I’m self-publishing my book and there’s a lot to do. The terrifying bit is yet to come – the writing of emails and the begging of publicity-based favours

All of this has, of course, to accompany Real Life and The Paying of the Bills. And, doubtless, more deadlines will arise between here and there, and life will bring the unexpected, and all things are up for negotiation.

But I’m quite excited by things at the moment (with the possible exception of website reforms). I’m looking forwards to self-publishing. It is An Adventure. Not a straightforward task – though I know that to many it’s routine – but one that will take me into uncharted waters.

I just hope I can do my work justice. And I hope I can continue to walk forwards with all my other projects too.

Life is never easy. But sometimes the journey can be fun.

Editors of the subconscious

I am still working on my blurb. I am on draft 4 at the moment, and I am as uncertain as ever as to its efficacy. I am not going to talk about that today, however. It is time for me to move on and consider other matters.

Writing a story is all about making choices. Should a protagonist do this, or that, or should the narrative focus in this direction or on this rather attractive patch of wildflowers just sitting here in the dappled glade. As writers, we choose upon which to focus at every step. And it seems to me that the road not taken is sometimes as interesting as the path we do follow.

As I’ve been working on getting my metaphors in a row for self-publishing, I find that more than ever I’m aware of the options I’ve not selected. Partly it’s this ‘blurb’ thing: for perfectly good reasons, I’ve become aware that I’ve had to suggest a personal threat to the protagonist that is more of a background in the novel. And I’m wondering: was I wrong? Should I have made more of this in my story? It would have fitted but I chose – subconsciously, never consciously – to not make more of it. Was this a mistake? Could I have written a better novel?

Attempting to fit every single possibility into a story is a recipe for turgid chaos. We are editors of the subconscious and to try and cover the whole caboodle would not, I think, make for good fiction. Still, hindsight can be vicious. And often hindsight is the only clear lens we have.

Take, for example, the titling of my forthcoming book, New Gods. It’s been pointed out to me that I’ve missed a trick here. The first two books in the series – Night Shift and Human Resources – both have workplace connotations. Would it not have made more sense to have tied the third in with it and called it… oh, I dunno, The Temp or External Agency or somesuch?

Of course it would. But I am committed now. It’s been New Gods forever, and now the words are fixed upon the cover. And I am able only to lament a missed opportunity, and to explain a little. See, I never realized what I was doing. Human Resources was a late inspiration for a title: all though the original creation it had been called Australis – indeed, you’ll find it referred to as such in the earlier posts on this site. All through the drafting of New Gods I knew book two by its alternate title. So there never was an overarching titling ‘scheme’.

Hindsight again. More, it took an outsider to join the dots.

I maintain that New Gods is a good title. It came before the text was written, as with Night Shift. In my mind the title and the text are thoroughly entwined.

Still, I wish I’d been able to see a little clearer at an earlier stage. For the road not taken may have been the better option all along.

On blurbs

So. Blurbs. In another week of not getting anything very productive done (sick child and imminent deadline) I turn my mind to blurbing – writing the copy that traditionally goes on the back cover of one’s book. If you’re successful your blurb may consist only of a list of other notables saying great things about you and your work. For the rest of us it’s possibly the hardest thing you’ll have to write. Harder, even, then the accursed synopsis.

A good blurb introduces the scene, the major characters and, perhaps most importantly, it sets the tone. It should tell people this is the sort of thing they’re looking for, whether they knew it or not. In these days of thumbnail covers and mobile-phone screens, a good blurb is a key weapon in the armoury of marketing.

All at 150 words max.

As a baby writer, I was somewhat surprised to realise that I was expected to write this myself. I assumed the editor or some underpaid underling would take on the task. Then I was even more surprised when my putative copy made it onto the back on my novel without e’en a comma, a character, changed.

Of course, your experience may vary. But I did it all myself, and have no-one else to blame for their shortcomings.

So Night Shift can still be found with the following:

Antarctica. A mining base at the edge of the world.

Anders Nordvelt, last-minute replacement as head of security, has no time to integrate himself into the crew before an act of sabotage threatens the project. He must untangle a complex web of relationships from his position as prime suspect.

Then a body is found in the ice. Systems fail as the long night falls. Now Anders must do more than find a murderer: he must find a way to survive.

Will anyone endure the night shift, or will ice and frozen corpses be all that remains?

96 words. Human Resources’ blurb was a whole 4 words longer, coming in at exactly 100:

Antarctica. A city on the edge of nowhere.

Anders Nordvelt is chief of security in this frozen land, so, when a prominent member of a dissident group is murdered, it is his job to find the killer. Unsatisfied with the obvious explanation, Anders keeps pushing until the body of a colleague turns up in his apartment.

Could Anders really be the killer? Why does he half-remember wielding the knife? And why are the whispers of a fabled Human Resources black-ops team getting ever louder?

As for Anders, he’s about to enter a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a ruthless killer.

I’m not ready to unleash New Gods’ blurb upon you yet. It’s still a work in progress. I can’t get it right, though I’m getting close, I think.

On paper, writing a blurb is a tiny job, almost an afterthought. After slogging away for 75-80k words, what’s another 150 on top of that? But those final words, they have a weight, a difficulty, far beyond their characters. There’s so much to say and such little space in which to say it; so much to convey and such little time to create a voice.

Still, it must be done. And there ain’t no-one gonna do it for me.