More progress on my 2nd ‘Lissa Blackwood’ conspiracy-thriller…

From my earlier blog on 9/6/19:

I’m now ready to start writing the 2nd novel in my ‘Lissa Blackwood’ Conspiracy-Thriller series. The overall plot has been fully defined and now works within the 7-Step Story Structure.

Over the past month I have really enjoyed defining the 5 increasingly significant attacks that Lissa Blackwood will have to deal with. The final attack was great fun to work on, and it draws together several themes around terrorism and nukes that I have always been interested in.

I’m now at that happy stage of starting to paint my story on a well-prepared canvas, and I’m really looking forward to enjoying both the pre-defined set-piece plot elements and all the diversions that will arise… bring it on!

Change of style for showing inner thoughts in my writing…

‘PAIN’ – noun: that terrible feeling you get when you decide to abandon the method you were taught about 40 years ago for formatting inner voice in fiction!EndOfTunnel~shrink

I’ve just made the choice to adopt one of the modern styles: no quote marks, italicised text with a tag.

Heck – this means I’ve now got a circa 90k words wip manuscript to edit…

it’s a long way to the end of that tunnel… gulp.

“Jem” – Frederik Pohl

I’ve just enjoyed reading Frederik Pohl’s 1979 novel “Jem”.

Pohl was a prolific author- first published in 1937, with a final novel (‘All the Lives He Led’, 2011), and a collection of essays in 2012 – he died in 2013. I’ve been reading SF for about forty years and was aware of Pohl but never really go into his writing. I think I was simply too young when I first encountered his books because, as a winner of four Hugo and three Nebula awards, he clearly had a lot to say.  I returned to his writing a couple of years ago and enjoyed reading ‘Gateway’ (from 1977, the opening book in his ‘Heechee saga’), ‘Man Plus’ (1976) and his 1955 short-story called ‘The Tunnel Under the World’.


In ‘Jem’ Pohl presents a dystopian future world, set roughly around 2024 (based on the reference to Carl Sagan being a ‘… a spry octogenarian instead of whatever incredible age he really was…’). International politics has settled into three competing power blocs:

The Fuel Bloc – known as the ‘Greasies’, they have control of much of the world’s fossil fuel reserves and are leading lives of profligate energy consumption,

The Food Bloc – known as the ‘Fats’, they control much of the world’s food growing lands, and

The People Bloc – known as the ‘Peeps’, they represent the countries with large populations but much less access to Food and Fuels.

Competition for resources is fierce between the blocs. There has been a significant proliferation of nuclear weapons and the threat of a planet-destroying confrontation has become a daily norm. The discovery of a habitable planet called ‘Jem’ creates the opportunity for humanity to spread outwards. However, rather than cooperating, the three blocs compete for advantage and control of this new world. They draw in Jem’s three sentient species into their fight and create new rivalries that had not existed on the planet before – rivalries that will have terrible consequences for the Balloonists, the Krinpit and the Creepies.

In some respects ‘Jem’ has not aged well and its message can feel a bit naively obvious today. Read in the context of being a late Cold War era novel, it retains an entertaining contemporary relevance.

Approaches to writing Effectively and Efficiently…


In my latest vlog I talk about how to write Efficiently and Effectively using a combination of:

– Plotting (not “pantsing’)
– Mind-mapping in “FreeMind”
– The 7-Point Story Structure
– A writing tool like yWriter5
– Dictating a first draft using the “Dictanote” Chrome app
– Editing with SmartEdit, Hemingway and editMinion

Take a look at

There’s more of my creative work at:

#amwriting #WritingTip

MS Word – text to speech…

A productivity/editing tip – did you know that recent versions of MS Word have the ability to read your text back to you? I am finding that an excellent way to catch missing words, repeated words, gender mistakes as I edit etc.

It also has the huge benefit of helping to catch plain boring bits of text – if you are bored listening to a section, why would someone else want to read it?

If you want to try it out, here’s a link for how to set that up:

‘All About Eve’ – NT Live, 11/4/19

I enjoyed watching “All About Eve” livestreamed to Vue from the National Theatre last night. Based on the 1950 film and Mary Orr’s play ‘The Wisdom of Eve’, this was a gripping experience!

Gillian Anderson (of ‘X-files’ fame, remember that one?) plays Margo Channing, an actress feeling the years tugging at her heels. Lily James plays Eve Harrington, the manipulative noir young lady looking to usurp Channing’s position in the theatre.

There was a delightful twist at the end from the theatre critic Addison DeWitt (played by Stanley Townsend) that was uncomfortable to watch with plenty of contemporary resonance.

A great play makes you FEEL something, and I left this one feeling depressed about getting old (really empathising with Margo) and excited to have seen such a great performance – recommended 🙂

“Hellstrom’s Hive” – Frank Herbert

I’ve just enjoyed reading Frank Herbert’s 1973 novel “Hellstrom’s Hive”. Originally published (in 4 parts, I think) in Galaxy Magazine, the book is a written version of the HellstromChronicles1971 film ‘The Hellstrom Chronicle’ directed by Walon Green (easily found on YouTube). Film-Book crossovers, and visa versa, are often unsatisfying experiences, but this novelisation by Herbert is an exception.


In the police-state world of this story, Dr Nils Hellstrom is the leader of a secret, (literally) underground society called ‘The Hive’. Using selective breeding, Hellstrom is seeking to manipulate human genes in order to create a new society modelled on the cooperative behaviours of insects.We learn that this process has been proceeding for hundred of years, that the Hive has nearly 50,000 inhabitants, and that it is getting ready to ‘swarm’.

A single document about the Hive’s “Project 40” is discovered by The Agency, who then send agents to the film studio that Hellstrom is using a cover for the Hive. The agents are captured, interrogated, killed and fed into the Hive’s “vats”. The book then revolves around a race against time as the Hive seeks to complete Project 40 (a weapon) before they are attacked by the State.

The story is not a dumb criticism of socialism/communism. While you can certainly find elements of that, Herbert takes his story to a higher level, treating the progression of humans in the Hive from being ‘wild’ to cooperative specialists, all working selflessly for their society. The means by which that adaptation are being achieved are horrific, but there is a relentless “why wouldn’t you do that” logic that makes the story very engrossing.

A classic read from a master author of themes like human survival and evolution.



Sci-FI author Ray Bradbury talking about love…

I just stumbled upon this wonderful quote about love from legendary sc-fi author Ray Bradbury…


“The only thing you’re ever going to own in your life is your work…

we belong only by doing, and we owned [things] only by doing, and we loved only by doing…

if you want an interpretation of life and love, that would be the closest thing I could come to.”

‘We love by doing…’ – does it get any clearer than that?

The full clip is from a 1968 CBC interview at

‘Photo by Alan Light’ 1975 – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license

“Extinction Game” – Gary Gibson

There are more sci-fi books published every year than any reader could comfortably read in their lifetime. It is impossible to keep up with them all and I find myself discovering gems like Gary Gibson’s “Extinction Game” long after they were first released. ‘Extinction Game’ was first published in 2014 by Tor, but being only 5 years behind the curve on this occasion is actually pretty good for me.


The story revolves around a disparate group of adventurers called ‘Pathfinders’. Each Pathfinder is the sole survivor of an extinction event on their home planet. Having demonstrated unique survival skills, they are then brought to an island by ‘The Authority” using some hokum science called ‘transfer stages’ that allow people to be moved across alternate realities.

The Authority then sends the Pathfinders on missions to other alternate realities, to find information or technology related to the extinction event that happened there.

The Pathfinders eventually discover the real reason why the Authority is going to so much trouble to gather up those materials from the other realities, and then a rebellion begins.

This is a good and enjoyable book. I found that the pages turned quickly and I wanted to know what would happen next to characters that I had come to care about. Well-written and engaging, I recommend ‘Extinction Game’ to sci-fi fans.