Goodbye for Now!

Goodbye for Now has now been out for one week in ebook and audiobook! It still doesn’t quite feel real, but thank you to everyone who has bought it so far, and those who have left reviews.

There have been some great reviews coming in, but it would really mean a lot of me if you could leave a review – they make a huge difference to whether a book sells. There’s also something to do with algorithms, which I don’t quite understand, but I do enough to know that in this situation more is more.

You can pick up your copy here: https://t.co/Sg5mNMH1pW

It has also been on a Blog Tour this week, which you can see here:

GoodbyeForNow_BlogTour

Thanks again!

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2016 is Dead, long li- Nah, scratch that.

So, I haven’t blogged in quite a while (March last year was the last time – eek!) and a couple of conversations over the past few days have encouraged me to say hello again.

Hello! Thank you for stopping by. I’m hoping to publish a weekly blog on all sort of writing things. This may be a Wednesday, but I’m looking at posting every Monday in future as that works better for me. What day is best for your readers? For now here’s an update of what I’ve been up to.

2016 was an odd year, and a bad year for many reasons (Let’s not talk politics right now!). I spent the second half with the worst sinus infection I have ever had. I haven’t felt that ill since before I was first diagnosed with ME in 1999. From about June I felt constantly exhausted and bunged up. Only now are things starting to clear up and I’m starting to feel like normal. I’m using that as my excuse for not blogging in so long. I wanted to, believe me! During that time I’ve self-referred myself to the local ME therapy clinic, and I’m booked in for some sessions, so I’ll keep you updated on how that goes. (When I was first diagnosed there was nothing like it).

Back in June I also started work on my PhD at Liverpool John Moores University. My thesis is currently “The Affect of the Second World War on Science Fiction”. I aim to keep you updated on it through this blog. At the moment I am plotting the novel and making sure it’s of a PhD standard. I may post some excerpts/updates on research from time to time.

In May, I finished my First World War novel Objection. I’m currently making a spreadsheet of agents that are accepting Historical Fiction submissions. (If you know of anyone, agent or publisher please get in contact!) Then I will begin querying them with the novel. I’ve sent it out to one agent that I know so far, so let’s see how that goes.

As if I didn’t have enough to do, I’m currently toying with the idea of putting my MA Writing and Academic Teaching experience to good use and offering an editing/proofreading service to writers and students. I haven’t had a chance to contextualise it yet, but if you are interesting in some help then please feel free to comment below, or get in touch through my contact page and we can discuss it. I will post something more solid on this soon.

The final thing of this blog is for me to ask you, the reader, what kind of content you would like to read. If you have a particular idea you would like to know my thoughts on, or a particular writing issue that you have, then get in contact and I will try to help in a future blog. Even if you just have a question comment below and if it needs a long answer then I will incorporate it into a future blog. Another interesting question for you is, “how long should a blog be?” How far do you read before you get bored? Answers in the comments below!


One feature I would like to add to the blog is something I am currently calling “Book of the Week”.

Last year I tried to summarise all the books I had read that year with a single blog post. The problem was that I couldn’t remember much of the books I had read earlier in the year. So, from now on I will tell you which book I am currently reading and my thoughts on it. As it may take me more than a week to read some books you will see how my opinion changes throughout reading.

I’m currently about 40 pages from finishing Europe In Autumn by Dave Hutchinson. This book is published by Solaris who are predominantly a Sci Fi publisher, and it was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award.

Honestly, I can’t see how it made the shortlist. It’s an interesting idea, and a Europe of the future is intriguing. There is some intriguing Le Carréesque espionage plotting, but its main downfall is the vast swathes of info dumping. Info dumping and exposition is a trope of Sci Fi, particularly when a large amount of world-building is involved. However, when you find yourself scan reading, you know something is wrong. As with most novels, I like to persevere till the end (I usually have to know how the story ends, or I get annoyed), but I don’t think I will be recommending this one to anyone. The ending might be enough to save it, but you’ll have to find out next week!


Once again, thanks for reading, and please do comment below.

Remembrance 2015

In the past on such a day I have shared my World War One short story. This year I thought I would do something different. 

Remembrance Sunday is a day when we remember all those that have given their lives in pursuit of our freedoms. We should remember them every day, but this one day at least gives a focal point.

For the last year I have been working on a WWI novel. As it approaches its final stages of drafting I thought I would share an excerpt of a part that has been more polished. I think it is a particularly poignent passage considering today’s message. Have a read and see what you think.
Lest we forget…

—————

Objection (Novel Excerpt)

– Prologue – Sometime After the War
He stood in the gathered crowd, his family in a line beside him. He looked at them before bowing his head, as all those around were doing in reverence to the dead. They, his family, had changed so much during the few years of the war, as no doubt he had also. When he looked in the mirror he no longer saw the young boy he had been in nineteen fourteen. The war had aged them all. His family could no longer bear to look at him for long, no doubt seeing in his eyes the horrors he had witnessed. Or maybe he reminded them of the other son and brother they had lost. 
They all stood in silence, with hats and caps doffed under arms, focussing their vision on their shoes. Meanwhile the bishop droned on in his fashion, extolling he virtues of sacrifice.
He stared with them, trying not to dredge up the memories of the past. I have lived through hell, but in that I am not alone, he thought to himself, trying to push away the rising feeling of nausea. Bile stuck in his throat and he desperately tried to swallow it away. No one noticed, or if they did they attributed it to his grief. 
It wasn’t just the soldiers that had suffered and sacrificed, those at home had too. He wondered how his brother might be now, at this memorial to the dead. How much he would have changed by the war. But he would never know. They had both endured their own private hells, and as the dead would keep their solace, so would the living. No one would ever truly understand their plight and those that had experienced it didn’t need the others to remind them. That was what the nightmares were for. 
So he stood there, in silence, with their neighbours and people from the nearby streets, waiting for the bishop to finish his sermon and for the memorial to be revealed. There would have been many more of them before the war, with smiles on their faces and a friendly welcome, but now it was so different. So many were lost, so many he had never really got a chance to know. So many chances not taken, opportunities lost. Some families didn’t even know what had happened to their sons, brothers and husbands. The steady stream of letters had dried up, until one final, foreboding letter had arrived, decorated with the stamp of the war office, telling the family that their son was missing in action. Whatever that really meant. It had happened to too many. The look of defiance, of still holding out hope that their loved one would push their way through the crowd, to tears of joy and welcoming embraces, was mixed with the grief on their faces.
The bishop stopped, and was replaced by a Major that looked young enough to have been a junior Lieutenant at the outbreak of war. His voice broke as he began reading out the names of the lost…Morgan… Norris… Oliver… and many more besides. The endless torrent of the dead never ended. They were just names now, their legacy the brass plaque that was being unveiled. 
He patted his coat pocket, remembering the bundle of letters that he kept there. That’s where they would stay, sealed, but not forgotten. The letters had started almost as soon as the war had. When they were very young, he and his brother had written notes to each other, especially when they went to separate schools, but they had stopped as they grew apart. As adults, and with a war hanging over them, it had only seemed natural to write again. 
He stood there, head bowed as the Major continued reading out the names of the fallen, some of whom he knew, others he had never met, and he wondered why he thought of his brother, not of the friends and loved ones he had lost. 
When he could bare to think of him, he had spent most of the war angry with his brother. Not angry, that wasn’t strictly the right emotion, but it was true that they had never really understood each other. Not since they were kids had they ever agreed on anything. Like most things concerning his brother, he couldn’t put his finger on how he felt. They were two very different people, with two different stories. He had high hopes for his brother, they all had, yet he threw it all away. He chose his path. When he should have turned to his family he turned away. It was hard now to remember him as they were when they were children. Too much had happened to both of them. The family had a little memorial of their own, in the privacy of their home, but his name had not been spoken aloud then, nor since. They missed him, that much was certain, but it was too painful a memory to recall. 
The major had finished now, and had disappeared from the front of the gathering. There was a cough from someone amongst the crowd. The only sound apart from that was the occasional sniffle of a nose, or the sound of stifled weeping. Heads were still bowed and would remain that way for some time, some years perhaps. 
At first he hadn’t understood his brother’s decision; they stood on opposite sides. But as the war dragged on and on, past its first Christmas and into a new year, year after year, he had begun to feel that he understood his brother a lot more. He begun to understand the need to fight for something, to believe in something and to not give up, no matter what life would throw at you. That was a sentiment he could agree on, and he guessed it was something their father had managed to install in them both, despite their differing opinions on other matters. It had been a clear dividing line at first, but things were less clear now. Things had changed for all of them. The horror of the war had left no one family unaffected. They couldn’t change their decisions, but they could make sure that they counted for something. That things hadn’t just changed for the worst, but would be allowed to change for the better too. 
He just wished his brother was still around to say this to, but he would never have the chance now. Their paths drifted apart, on what was to be a fateful day for millions of people…

Fear of Failure

Fear is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome when you want to do something. You may disagree, but it’s true, whether it’s conscious or subconscious. (It took me a few minutes to come up with that opening line for fear or getting it wrong).

As I sat here this morning, wanting to write and finding myself constantly distracted I came back to this idea. Every time we try to do something hard, or challenging, we as humans often try and find something else to do in its stead. Take for example, this very blog post. I really should be writing my novel, but instead I thought I would share my infinite wisdom with you, whether you like it or not.

We often don’t attempt things because we are scared of failing at them. Throughout our education, we’re warned off by failure, rather than encouraged by success. As such, there seems to be a general consensus that “If you don’t try, you can’t fail.” Which does seem somewhat backward, but it’s definitely out there. I often don’t blog because I’m scared that people might disagree with what I have to say, or probably more accurately, that no one will read it. Low blog stats or the most depressing thing for a writer. (Okay, maybe not the most depressing! But it still sucks.)

I don’t suffer from writer’s block, I suffer from fear. When I sit down to write, what stops me isn’t not knowing what to write (though my brain often tries to convince me that’s true.) I always outline my stories and know where they are going. It’s to do with the fact that I’m worried that it will be crap.

This all reminds me of a panel I went to at a convention, entitled “Fear and Writing” (Or something along those lines). It was hosted by Emma Newman (@emapocalyptic), who I believe was a teacher. One sentence she said then has stuck with me ever since: “Give yourself permission to write shit.” Which is probably one of the most important pieces of advice a writer can receive.

It’s okay to write crap, you can improve it. You can’t improve what isn’t there, no matter how awesome it might be in your head.

There are two types of writers “pantsers” (see: flying by the seat of your pants) or outliners. Both work fine if you can convince yourself to write and just write, then come back and edit it later, polishing it until it is as good as it deserves to be.

I do know of writers who “close edit” while they write, which is fine. It works for them, and they have learnt how to work that way in what I can only assume is a pretty exhausting and time consuming manner.

However if you find yourself sitting in front of a blank screen, convinced that you don’t know where the story goes. “Give yourself permission to write shit”. I dare say once you’ve got that first draft it will be better than you expected. Besides, you can always get out that red pen and start turning it into the masterpiece you envisaged.

I’ll leave you with an analogy. I always like to use sculpture as a defining point of art: A sculptor can chip away at stone and make a fantastic piece of art, but he can’t sculpt if he doesn’t have any stone.

Now I really should get back to writing that novel, huh?

Thanks for reading!

Re…search…? WW1

Hi guys, as some of you may know I am in the process of planning and writing a WW1 novel.

I also have to pitch it to agents and publishers over the next few weeks as part of my MA class. If last night’s practice was anything to go by it will be okay, but I need more information.

I have an idea for characters and plot, which I’m really excited about, but anything I can do to flesh it out and/or hone it would be incredibly useful.

Due to this year being the centenary of the outbreak of war there has of course been a massive interest in it. There has also been an influx of books and novels on the subject. There are just too many books that have been published since 1918 to physically be able to read them.

So I’m asking for your help, and comments are very much encouraged in this.

I would like to know what WW1 books (preferably novels) you have read and a short comment on the focus of the story (regiment, battle, character, etc.). I’m especially looking to know if there are any novels that cover the King’s Liverpool Regiment or Liverpool Pals Battalion.

Your help will be greatly appreciated, and if it ever gets published I will see if I can include a list of acknowledgements!

Thanks for reading.

I’ve been busy, write?

Well, look at that, it’s been ages since I made a blog post. I don’t really have any excuses except for that one that everyone always has ‘I’ve been busy’. Well, I have, but I really should have updated this blog more. I guess another reason that I had no updates is because I had no writing exercises to post from my masters course as the first year has now come to an end.

I spent most of May being very busy, coming towards the end of the first year of the course. As part of Liverpool’s ‘Writing on the Wall’ literary festival, they held a ‘Pulp Idol competition’, and I was encouraged to enter by the Master’s course leader. It was a completely nerve-wracking experience. I may stand up in front of a group and talk on a daily basis, but when it comes to reading out my own work it’s completely different. No matter how much I tried to convince myself I would be okay and it wasn’t too different to lecturing, I still got nervous. In the end I think it went quite well, I got up, read well and, I believe, answered the questions from the panel of judges well, but unfortunately I didn’t make it through. In fact, no one that had entered that heat from my class got through, which is disappointing. I did continue to follow the rest of the competition, going to the next heat and final, and I was pleased when my good friend Rob Knipe came runner up in the competition. Look out for his name as he’s now in contact with some agents and with any luck there will be some well written, hilarious sci fi and fantasy books coming to your shelves soon.

The rest of may I spent frantically trying to get ready for the end of the first year of the course. As per usual we had an assignment due. I used mine as an excuse to get the first part of a novel I am writing about the Great War done. It was a great idea at first, a hugely rich period of time and I definitely feel I have a story to tell (more about that in the future. I don’t want to give too much away now do I?), but I was somewhat naive to the sheer amount of research I would need to do. Of course I was aware of the fact of research and I had already been reading about the subject before I had the idea for the novel, but when I wrote something I had to make sure it was correct. The first scene is also set in Liverpool before the war, so I had to make sure that the feel and surroundings were correct. Everything I read unearthed more questions and more lines of research, and as usual with research it grew larger and larger over time. Thankfully I was able to get a edited draft in, and it’s in a state I’m quite happy with. It’s no means perfect, and there will definitely be some factual errors that till need ironing out, but it’s a start and I feel it’s quite compelling. Hopefully it will see the light of day.

So what else have I been doing that has kept me so busy? Well, amongst all that I was learning to drive. I had taken two tests when I was 18, but the examiners in Eastbourne, where I lived at the time, were the most grumpy people I have ever met (which is saying something for Eastbourne) and I failed them both for silly little reasons. So I gave up until now. I had forgotten how much time it took up, not just physically, but also mentally. Anyone that says it’s just two hours a week is underestimating. I may have had one hour lessons the first time, I can’t exactly remember, but two hours are intense. I had to repass the theory test, so that required preparation and the closer I got to the practical test the more nervous I became, and the less I could concentrate on anything else. Thankfully, on the 5th June I passed and I now sit here with a shiny pink driving licence (now to get a car…). But I have to make a note, I couldn’t have done it without the excellent tuition of Autonomy Driving School. If you’re learning near Liverpool then I thoroughly recommend Jan.

After passing, I then spent the entirety of the week, when not at work, recording guitars for the Lazarus Syndrome album. I’m a bit behind on this as everyone else (bar the vocals) has done their part. But, I’ve been busy, right? We all could do with a few more hours in the day. If you want more info on that check us out on Facebook.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. I hope to have more updates for you soon. I’m currently waiting on someone to get in touch with me on a very important project, but I can’t really talk about that yet. I’m off to write…

Thanks for reading.

Lest We Forget…

I haven’t made a blog post in a couple of weeks, for two reasons. I haven’t had a writing workshop on my course. We have been looking at other things. Also, I have been quite busy writing stuff that I can’t post on here. One of which was a submission to Black Library.

So, I thought, given the importance of the date, that I would post a flash fiction piece I wrote for a magazine which never saw the light of day. I don’t believe it needs any introduction or any comment on setting from me.

The Day

by Michael J. Hollows

The noise grew to a cacophony as it had done each time before, wailing like sirens before finishing in a calamitous bang. British artillery shells fell in the distance, throwing up great clods of dirt that could be seen from the British army’s position. Each shell whined overhead, causing the assembled men to flinch and duck instinctively each time, despite the distance. It was always the same, the noise. Each time the commanders decided to try and pummel the Bosch into the ground, the boys at the back would aim their cannons and the shells would fly. The sound of massed artillery was not easily forgotten. But they had been through it before, countless times, to get to where they were today. It didn’t make it any less uncomfortable though.

Private Gerald Harlow ducked again as he heard the wash of another shell go overhead. He cursed as his foot slipped off the boarding and threw mud up his fatigues. The mud added to the wetness around his ankles as he placed his sodden boot back on the boarding with a squelch. He looked at the men lined up either side of him, they were all soaked through. Gerald had run out of fresh socks weeks ago, he had even forgotten what dry feet felt like. His comrades likened this place to hell, but at least hell is supposed to be warm, he thought bitterly.

The dull crump of the artillery added to the misery as Gerald surveyed his surroundings once more, trying to warm himself up. The equally miserable men around him were all of similar age. Young men gone from their homes to fight in the British Expeditionary Force. Many of them had had no other choice, no prospects. Some had chosen it. But Gerry, as the others called him, had enlisted underage to get away from his home; to get away from a difficult life. His family were poor and aging, few were left. Only his sister had managed to make any money for herself by marrying in to a somewhat wealthy family. If he had stayed at home, he would have been living in poverty now, the army had given him a way out. Looking around, it didn’t seem like such a good idea now.

The captain was moving along the line of men, swagger stick under his arm, whistle held lightly in the other hand. He was a good man, as he passed each soldier he offered words of encouragement and a brief smile. As Gerald knew from experience this was a rarity in the army. The man also reminded him of home, whether it was the comforting Hampshire accent, or the body language that reminded him so much of his late father, he couldn’t quite tell. A note in his diary that morning, that had also been transcribed as a letter waiting to head home, said as much.

Today was the first of July, 1916 and the letter had told his elderly mother about his experiences in the army at great length and about the men he had met. He had ended it with the line, “Today is the day, today I become a man.” After writing it he had thrown up into a latrine and headed out on duty. Several hours later he found himself standing where he stood now, with his sodden boots and the deafening sounds of artillery.

The squelch of footfalls preceded the Captain reaching his position. As with all the others, he stopped briefly, putting a hand to Gerald’s arm and with a commanding tone so easy to him he said, “Are you ready, son?”

Naturally, Gerald swallowed nervously and deeply, before raising his head to look his Captain in the eyes. He struggled to control his nerves and his hands were shaking gently by his sides, but he managed a curt nod. The Captain smiled knowingly and moved on, removing his hand from the Private’s arm. An odd sense of relief flashed through Gerald, before he remembered the oncoming battle and his stomach fell again.

He hadn’t noticed the absence of sound, but it seemed strange now. He had grown almost familiar with the noise of the artillery barrage and had somehow phased it out of conscious thought. Now it was gone however, its absence was far more obvious and somehow disturbing. The cessation of the bombardment meant only one thing and Gerald swallowed deeply again while he shuffled his feet.

The Captain turned on his heel and looked along the line of his men. Breathing deeply he bellowed, “This is it, lads. The big push, get rea-“

His call was interrupted by a series of dull explosions nearby, which made Gerald’s stomach lurch and almost tipped him forward where he stood.

Unperturbed the Captain continued his speech, “That’s the mines, men. Now when you go over the top Fritz will be reeling so much you can walk all the way without seeing a single one alive! See you there! Ready?”

Gerald heard his Captain’s words and felt reassured by them, surely a man of his experience knew exactly what he was talking about and as the Captain put the whistle to his mouth the Private felt an immense sense of pride. He was finally a man.

The sound of whistles broke out all along the trench as the officers signalled their men to battle and they were soon joined by the shouts of the soldiers, roaring at the top of their voices.

Gerald added his own voice to the chorus, screaming until his lungs burnt with the exertion. Without another thought he followed his comrades up the ladder, placing his foot on the bottom rung and propelling himself into no man’s land.

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