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Stewart Hotston

Hope, Anger and Writing

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Novels

Dreams of Darkness

Here’s the blurb for the first of the series, The Fox’s Hope. I hasten to add that it’s a complete novel though, so don’t worry that you’ll discover a world in which you’ll be left feeling unsatisfied.

Millennia ago, man walked the Dream with creatures now dimly remembered in myths and legends. Then came the Darkness, for which all believe man was responsible. To defeat it, man was banned from the Dream, cast out into the world of dumb matter.

Chris Elkin knows nothing of this – he’s more concerned with failing his degree, being dumped by his girlfriend and losing access to the inheritance left to him by his late mother. When his mother’s best friend gives him a stone with a hole in it everything seems to change. Suddenly he’s being forced from his home and discovering that if he doesn’t deal with his mother’s legacy, both worlds will go to war.

On the edge of the Dream, Maela, a Fae ambassador, finds humanity flouting the ban. She travels home to warn her people but her news is not welcome. Maela is sent to determine if man truly is to blame for the Darkness and if he is, to unite the Fae in a war against all mankind.

Shaal, an ancient fox spirit, is a survivor who mourns the loss of his lover in the last war. He still haunts the shattered lands where they once lived. Stumbling across a deliberately forgotten memory. Shaal wants to return home and use its power to restore his land. Instead he finds the Fae want what he has and will sacrifice thousands to get it.

Chris, Maela and Shaal converge in a climactic battle against those forces who would wipe out mankind to stop the Darkness.  Even if they win, shadowing the edges of their confrontation, the Darkness is plotting its first moves.

Dreams of Darkness is an epic fantasy spread across our world and the world of the Dream, that place where all our myths, all our legends are real. It is the first book of a new Epic Fantasy series, The Fox’s Hope and asks, if all our dreams are true, what would happen if our two worlds collide?

Just who is David Chalmers

No spoilers here!

In A Family War, David’s a policeman. In A People’s War he shows a different side. Helena always thought it was strange that an Oligarch wound up as a policeman, even one with as broad a remit as Chalmers.

It’s worth explaining a little about the Oligarchs. They are those whose families were rich enough or powerful enough that when longevity technologies first arrived they could secure these advantages for themselves. They were and remain the 1%. There are, at the time of Helena’s story, about 6 million Oligarchs on the planet. That sounds like quite a lot of them, but it’s not when you consider the planet’s population is closer to 9 billion. These 6 million are tracked and watched for the large part, they have what the media call Adherents, or followers in today’s parlance. Adherents are those who have latched onto specific Oligarchs for whatever special properties they perceive in them.

One of my key drives in building their society was celebrity culture, not simply saturday night television or the movies but how that plays itself out in boardrooms, academia and politics. Even there it’s not really the Trump effect, it’s more about the cult of personality, the idea that the person at the top deserves to earn a thousand times what their lowest paid staff members earn. We all acquiesce in that structure and you see this in how these people at the top are venerated, deferred to and respected as if they alone are responsible for all the good that’s done and profound decisions made. I found the work on organisations by Charles Handy invaluable in trying to figure out how large corporations would engineer this kind of social structure. When I cross referenced that to Richard Sennett and Zygmunt Bauman whose work on modernity, capitalism and the workplace is superb, I realised I wanted my corporations to be miniature dynasties whose boundaries were electronic as much as they were product driven and physical.

If you’re one of just six million among 9 billion ordinary people, something strange must have happened for you to end up as a policeman. Just saying.

Image is from the film Hot Fuzz and is not my own!

Helena Woolf

Book 2 of the Oligarchy is nearly ready to go. We’re aiming for the third week of November – more on that when we have a firm date. In the meantime, I realised that I’d never really talked that much about Helena, the main character throughout the trilogy.

Helena’s an Oligarch. By that I mean she’s solidly within the 1%. Don’t hate her just yet (no…wait until you read about her and what she does before you make the decision). She’s blessed with access to technologies that the 99% are denied. For instance, she’s functionally immortal, although the reality is no one really knows just how long her generation will live. She’s benefitted from genetic therapies that mean she won’t get any of the more common diseases associated with ageing or those we might ordinarily say are heritable.

Add to that the fact that she’s had the best education, the best opportunities and you’d be forgiven for thinking she had everything going for her. A woman who might typify #firstworldproblems. Except Helena is also completely human, just like and I. Well, almost.

In the first book she discovers something terrifying about the world humanity has built for itself, about how it could follow its own logic and destroy the very thing that gives it substance. In A People’s War she’s following through on what she discovered in the first book, not least of which is that her missing father might just be the very man around who everything now revolves.

I’m showing two pictures for Helena above because she has changed her appearance more than once in the story so far. She has, via internal AIs, control over her pigment, hair colour and a limited ability to change her basic features given enough time. For me it’s a sign that in a world where you can change your appearance at will you’re not going to be worried about looking a certain way (except to be fashionable). While that doesn’t exclude racism, nor implicit bias, it does mean that people like Helena aren’t wedded to a certain way of appearing. You might comment that both the women whose images I’ve shown are beautiful (depending on your POV). I’d say, yes. Given the option, most people would probably choose to adhere to symmetry and current norms for beauty. It’s an issue I don’t tackle all that much I’ll admit, but I am very aware of what kind of messages are constructed in choices like this and wanted to highlight that this is deliberate and, hopefully, satirical.

Helena is complex (and I hope that comes across on the page) just like the rest of us.

Dreams of Darkness

This is Maela. She’s the daughter of the High King of the Parade, the combined courts of the Seelie and Unseelie Fae, although not all Fae are members of the Parade, not by a long shot. She’s also in exile, having had ideas considered too dangerous to leave her unharmed. She is of House Dark, one of the elder Fae Houses.

When I was developing my ideas for DoD (as I call it), one of the central themes I wanted to explore was difference. Not diversity for its own sake, but how different peoples and cultures may never see eye to eye simply because their foundations rest on entirely different premises.

Having said that, I explicitly wanted to write a female protagonist whose colour (and Maela isn’t locked into being the same as this picture shows her) was starkly different to that of the other main characters.

I’ll show those characters in other posts – we have a Kitsune called Shaal, an ancient fox spirit and we have Chris, a schlubby white male student from the Great Britain.

For this story, whose ideas impact the entire world, it seemed fitting that the characters we access the tale through represent its very different elements.

I’m writing this now because the novel is done and I’m talking about it with a publisher I’ve admired for a while. I hope to have more news that I can properly share soon but in the meantime, I thought I better start talking about a book that I love, that stands on its own as a proper story but whose world is built for a properly epic cycle to be told within.

 

The Fox’s Hope

I can finally come with some awesome news. As of this weekend I sold my novel, Dreams of Darkness to Ticketyboo Press. I can’t tell you just how jump around the room happy I am with this news.

Ticketyboo are a great outfit with some great authors on their lists.

What’s more amazing is that they’ve also taken the 2nd and 3rd books in the series as well. Dreams of Darkness is a standalone novel but it builds a world in which there is a much greater tale to tell and I’m delighted to get the chance to write that larger story and see it come into print. The series, in case you haven’t guessed from the title of the post, is called The Fox’s Hope.

I’ll be posting some pieces about the main characters, the world and the ideas over the next few weeks but this post is just to say….YIPEEEE!

A People’s War

This is the blurb, well draft 1 anyway. It’s always had to give enough of what makes a story cool without giving too much away, either about the first book or about what happens in the story itself. Suffice it to say that there’s no spoilers below. 🙂

“Helena’s father went missing a century ago. He took his team of researchers and their findings with him so that none could benefit from his work. For Helena this is a problem since someone’s finished up what he started and is looking to benefit from creating a war between the largest corporations in the solar system. A war in which there’ll be no winners.

Throw into this mix a third side, one intent in freeing itself of the Oligarchy and Helena is propelled into finding her mother, who may just have a clue to where he went. Except Edith is slumming it in a war zone far from the City, refusing to cooperate with anyone on anything while she satisfies her own agenda.

Helena is going to have to risk everything to persuade Edith to help. Even if she does there’s no guarantee that any of them will make it out of the war alive because this is a people’s war, a war of rebellion against the 1% and Helena is very much in their sights.”

What do I do next?

I’m at something of a crossroads. I’m in super positive discussions with a publishing house I’ve admired for a while about taking a novel of mine, Dreams of Darkness, through to publication. I’m so excited I’m pacing the house thinking about it whenever I’m not actually working at the day job (and even then…).

The novel is standalone – the story and characters wrapped up in 110,000 words. However, the world they exist within is very carefully laid out for a much grander story that would spread over 9 books…yes 9. It would be an intertwined series of three trilogies whose characters would find one another over the course of the series and accomplish grand things.

Now. A reality check. This may not come to pass. I’ll not really believe it until the 9th book is out and I’m looking back on it all. However, in terms of timing it’s actually thrown me a little.

I’ve worked with Matt at Alternative Realities to bring out A Family War which did well enough (far beyond my initial expectations of a dozen copies to mates!) that it warrants the sequel. We’re currently aiming for the end of November. I’ve just had the final cover artwork through though and am sitting staring at it wondering how I’m going to split myself in two to focus on both at the same time. This would be pretty easy – except that I’ve got to find some time to finish the trilogy with the final book in the series, The AI War.

Then…oh then. I have just finished my first pass at editing a new novel which I’m tentatively calling Immortal Daughter. I’m trying to concentrate on creating a blurb for it but I’m too excited about Dreams of Darkness for which I’ve been staying up creating the history of a world and how the myriad of characters will twist together to tell what I’m hoping is an epic story.

I know. It’s not the worst dilemma in the world. Or even a dilemma really. The actual solution is to take each one in order of urgency (since they’re all important). But right now I’m a little like:

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I’ll get there. Hopefully without dropping any of the balls I’m currently juggling. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ve got a synopsis to write, then a cover to approve, then a final edit to read through, an anthology to put together (if the authors ever get their bios back to me) and a series to plan…

A People’s War – Cover Reveal

It’s here. At least the cover is almost here. Lawrence Mann has done another bang up job.

This is the cover for the second book in the Oligarchy trilogy. It’s due sometime towards the end of November, but we’ll make sure there’s lots of advance warning. I am looking for a small handful of people who want advance copies in exchange for honest reviews, so please let me know if you’re interested.

The process for creating this cover was simpler than the first one – after developing a sense of the visual representation of the world, Lawrence was quickly able to capture what it was I was hoping for in this cover. It’s not a spoiler but it does represent a key scene from the book.

The story here moves on from that in the first, starting just a few days after the events of A Family War. It moves in a very different direction though as Helena heads off somewhere new for…(no spoilers, Stew!) Reasons ™.

I’ll have a proper blurb in the next week which I’ll post here too. In the meantime, enjoy the cover.

The price of free

I decided last week in discussions with Matt at AR, that we should put the kindle version of my debut novel up for free at Amazon for 72 hours. That 72 hours runs out tonight. This post is about what’s happened and my feelings about it.

The first consideration was this: lots of people, including a not inconsiderable number of friends, have stumped up proper money for either a physical or ebook copy of A Family War. A decent number of those have then gone on to post very kind and honest reviews about the story they experienced.

I have been really concerned that they’ll feel a little bit cheated that the book has gone for free for a short period. I worry that it might put them off buying anything more of mine in the future because they’ll think ‘I can get it free later on anyway’.

I also worry because they’ve bought the fricking thing, have been supportive and have given me great feedback.

However, at the same time, I’m a fledgling author who’s is trying to establish an audience not just for this novel but for its sequel and all the other ideas that are trapped in my skull screaming to get out. I want this book to get to as many people as possible and create that market that an unknown author like me simply doesn’t have through the machinations of a massive marketing department.

So we come to the event itself – the book has been free since Saturday morning. In that time at least 2,000 downloads have occurred – definitely more as I’m still waiting for today’s numbers to come in. I have NO IDEA how people have found it, I have NO IDEA how it’s got to where it is in the charts – #1 in US Sci Fi, #1 in US Sapce Opera, #111 on the whole kindle store while in the UK it’s been #4 or 6 in the same categories.

I truly don’t understand how people found it at that point or how it’s propelled itself up the charts among other authors who’ve written lots of novels and have well oiled marketing programs. I’ll be trying to figure that out in the coming days with Matt as getting this kind of attention was exactly the kind of outcome I was dreaming of (even though not expecting in any way). It’s something to learn from, to understand and then to figure out how to make it work for me when book 2 comes out.

At the same time, I’m waiting to see if any more reviews pop along, if people continue to buy it when it returns to the heady heights of two bucks a copy and if this does actually help build an audience over time.

I’m an author – loving writing. However, I’m also an author who wants to get his work out there, selling for real money preferably, but also who has just enough self belief to think my work is, on a good day, worth reading. So I wrestle with the idea of creating something and then having to think about how to present it in the best way over time (and by time I mean weeks and months) in order that my secondary wish of getting it in the hands of as many people as possible bears fruit.

The free offer has paid dividends in terms of getting my work out there to literally thousands of people. I have been really tempted to make it permanently free, to ride this wave of people downloading the story to see how far it will take me – the heart gibbers madly, saying thousands could become tens of thousands or even more. Yet I’m listening to those around me who have advised ending the promotion as planned and seeing what happens…Part of me thinks it’s about momentum and that it should stay free, but in the end the argument that it’s actually worth something wins out. We’ll see if readers agree.

Free is tough. I love the people who spent their own money to buy a copy, (I don’t see book 2 ever being free). I truly hope they’ll stick with me as I continue to write and hopefully get published. However, I also really hope that as more people find my work, as some of them even like it, that they will, in future, also think it’s worth paying out their money too!

It’s not that I don’t appreciate anyone who takes the time to try my writing out – trust me I’m humbled that among all the choice out there, you’ve taken the time to pick my stuff up. But I’m trying to figure out how to make this all work and how to ensure that Matt as Alternative Realities thinks it’s worth publishing the next one I send to him.

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