Installed full-time in Spain and now fully retired, I decided to complete the novel that I had, off and on, been trying to write. Previously, the trouble had been that as it grew in size I couldn’t just pick it up and add to it, I needed instead some days to get back into the zone, to read what I had already written and seek out a muse, any muse would do! So, progress had stalled.
I planned this thriller to have a truly global canvas. I also came up with the idea of starting each chapter or sub-chapter with a Google Earth™ reference so my reader could actually look at the place where the action was unfolding. This also allowed me to ‘walk through’ my proposed tale while viewing the actual location. I thought this was a great concept and sought Google’s approbation, but like many Internet entities actually speaking with anyone proves pretty tough. A decade later, I have not seen anyone else take up this approach.
My hero for this tale was an English celebrity oceanographer and Earth scientist, he was no Jack Reacher or Jack Bauer, instead he was a capable guy being pitched into remarkable situations. The villain was not an individual but instead a new form of water discovered in the Arctic. Initially it would be unclear if it was the result of old material released by melting Arctic ice, or if it has been formed by Russian pollution or nuclear waste, or whether it had fallen there from space. But, this ‘still water’ killed all forms of life it touched, and yet was still chemically water.
There lay my problem, I was determined that it should be chemically plausible and so researched water extensively. Water is strange anyway, given that we accept as perfectly normal that water may naturally appear as solid ice, liquid water or gaseous steam. Imagine my surprise when I found there was a substance called deuterium oxide or D²O, that exists in the ocean. It is often found in comets, and the water found on Mars has 5.5-times that on Earth. In small quantities it is not toxic, but large quantities delivered what I needed.
Deuterium was good news for my plot, but not for rats. In laboratory tests on rodents, when up to 15% of a rodent’s body water is replaced by D²O there is little obvious effect except that the creature does not gain weight normally. As the D²O percentage of body water rises the rodent gets more excitable, until at the 25% level it may convulse and become very aggressive. By the time the D²O content reaches 30% it refuses to eat and can fall in to a coma. If the substance continues to be increased until it reaches 35%, then the rat dies. The good news is that if the researcher stops before the 35% point is reached and puts the rodent back on normal water, then it can still recover and quite quickly.
With the time and freedom in Spain I finished the book in around eighteen months and began the round of letters to agents and publishers and the inevitable rejections.
ASIDE: Rudyard Kipling submitted a short story to a San Francisco newspaper and was advised by the editor, ‘I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.’ ‘It is very long and rather old-fashioned’ was the comment Herman Melville received for ‘Moby Dick’. Sixteen agents and twelve publishers rejected John Grisham’s ‘A Time to Kill’. Dan Brown was rejected and told his manuscript of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ was ‘so badly written’. J K Rowling submitted her Harry Potter manuscripts via an agent and was rejected eight times. Agatha Christie was rejected twenty times across five years before she broke through to become the best-selling novelist of all-time. Robert M. Pirsig’s ‘Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ had 121 rejections. There were 200 rejections for Alex Haley’s ‘Roots’. C S Lewis is top of the shop having received 800 rejections before selling any of his writing.
I was accepted by Pegasus Publishers for their imprint Vanguard Press, we agreed a three-book deal as a series with the same hero. I was already well into writing the second.
The fact of becoming a published author seemed to be enough for several months. But as you work with an editor to shake down the manuscript, chose the cover artwork, write the blurb and so on, you realise that actually what you want is to be a successful, published author. It became clear that Vanguard was not doing much to make that happen.
They set the publishing date to meet the summer tourist reader market, but when I asked which booksellers they had approached, they had done nothing with those at Heathrow or Gatwick. Their list of those they had contacted were just a subset of south-east locations.
Worse, when I asked about review copies being issued, they said they waited for a reviewer to request these. I paid a friendly PR to send releases to a database of TV, radio and news reviewers and to follow these up to get requests for review copies placed.
We arranged for press articles, the most notable in the Western Daily Press (tugging on local boy’s done good theme) and several Spanish papers (local ex-pat author done good).
The book’s message about the increasingly worrying world shortage of water was well received, but it never took off given its lack of promotion and living in Spain I couldn’t drum up business around the bookstores/
I completed Gene Genie as the second in this series and felt I had moved my writing up a notch or two. I submitted it to Pegasus/Vanguard and they promptly agreed to publish it. This time the villain was an American evangelical sect that was abusing genetic engineering to bring about their prophesies and goals.
I asked Pegasus how they would support this new book and they said it would be just as they had for Still Water, so I withdrew it. I recovered my rights and they remaindered the balance of their Still Water print run.
So this Gene Genie cover art above was for a self-published release, I also revamped Still Water, with a new cover. Matt produced the artwork, giving them added value for me. I also changed my hero’s name from the rather pretentious Guy Quartermain to Tom Carter. Part of the desire to do this was that when you have a character called ‘Guy’ it confuses any use of the term ‘guy’ as in a guy, or this guy…
While all of this was going on I had another project that had been developing from way back when. The thought was to run around all the early innovators in the PC and Net market and get them to discuss their lives and developments to camera. There had been a spate of old-timers pontificating about their part in Hollywood, perhaps there was space for one on Silicon Valley? I had returned to the idea fairly regularly found no in to the video business.
I decided that now I had the time I would at least get down the facts and quotes into a file so that I could give some depth to the notion. As this evolvedI decided to link a self-published book with a website. I found a web hosting/designing individual in Varanasi India to do the technicals, and I laboriously produced material, pix and pages. Without meaning to, it soon ended up as four websites.
The book was The PC Pioneers, focussing on the individuals that brought us PCs and the Net rather more than on their technologies per se.
The four websites were – thePCstory.com, thePCpioneers.com, thePCtimeline.com, and wikiPCpedia.com. The four sites were interlinked rather than linear – with thePCstory running the text from the book, thePCpioneers providing a usable database of the pioneers with their dates and achievements, thePCtimeline was a database of events that also ran an OnThisDay service, cycling through them and providing the most interesting development from each day, wikiPCpedia was planned to be more free-form and to spin off into other issues. It proved to be a two-year monstrous task!
I sold books (still do) and got high levels of hits on the sites. I found that keeping up with current developments was too heavy a task given I was no longer working from within the business. Then I signed up for an OU degree and let the sites sit there, but in 2016 took them all down. Until 2019!
ROUTE OF EVIL
When I came to write the third novel, I dismissed the notion of trying to shoehorn Tom Carter into the new idea. Instead I wanted to follow a $100 bill as it travelled around the world funding all sorts of criminal activity. The bill is known as a ‘Benjamin’ for its use of an image of Benjamin Franklin, so the project name as I wrote it had been One Benjamin, however during the course of writing it I changed this to Route of Evil.
With a couple of other projects this meant I had now published six books. 100 PC Moments was a PC Pioneers Lite, describing the top 100 events. 1492 and All That! was written in the realisation that most British ex-pats had next-to-no knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese history, so it was a light-hearted whisk through Iberian history for an ex-pat reader.
But by now we had lived full-time in Spain for the agreed five years and were heading back to live in England. I have pursued a number of fiction and non-fiction notions, but my work on a BA (achieved in 2017) and MA (to be completed early in 2020) has intruded and none of these other books have yet been rounded off for publication.