Review: The Silence

A live televised caving expedition in Moldova takes a disastrous turn when a team of potholers and scientists opens up a large and hereto sealed underground ecosystem, releasing from it a swarm of vicious bat-like creatures that promptly feast on their liberators. The now-unmanned cameras keep on rolling, beaming the harrowing footage to a few horror-struck Discovery Channel viewers across the world.

Two such witnesses to the carnage are Ally and her father, Huw, whose stories we then follow as the world rapidly goes to hell. Ally is an easy-going fourteen year old girl getting on with life with her mum and brother in a quiet town in south-east Wales, not letting a thing like her lack of hearing hold her back. Huw, on the other hand, is holed up in a bed and breakfast on the Cornish coast, working lonely weekdays away from home. Both can scarcely believe what they have seen, and yet both are rocked by the footage.

At first the creatures escaping from the cave aren’t deemed much of a threat. As Ally scours the internet and social media for context, she finds many commentators dismissing the footage in one way or another. Surely it’s a movie trailer, right? Right? Well, sucks to be them, then. Shouldn’t have gone down there in the first place. Why should I care? I mean, Moldova is pretty far away, isn’t it?

Then the news stories bring home the terrible truth as towns, cities and countries begin to fall. The creatures are astonishingly quick, immediately attracted to the slightest noise around them, their appetites voracious. They have no eyes, their flesh is a sickly yellow, and their teeth – oh, man, so many sharp pointy teeth. Worse still, in this new ecosystem teeming with unsuspecting walking meat, and with no predators to speak of, the creatures swarm like locusts and breed like wildfire.

Both Ally and Huw know deep down that the situation is serious, perhaps even the beginning of the end. But what can they do? Should the whole family up sticks and run? Even if they did, where would they run to? And could they outrun the coming swarm?

Maybe. Maybe not. All they know is that in order to survive they will need to be very, very quiet.

A couple of years ago I tore through Tim Lebbon’s fairly lengthy end-of-the-world novel Coldbrook and thought it was a riot. Picking up a copy of The Silence, however, I was struck by how similar the premise seemed. It was as if someone had replaced the flesh-hungry zombies of Coldbrook with flesh-hungry du Maurier-esque birds, then reset the apocalypse simulation and hit the play button. Even so, I had enjoyed Coldbrook more than enough to buy The Silence without a second thought, and, y’know what? I’m glad I set my cynicism to one side, because The Silence is excellent.

There is a lot to like here. The pacing of the book is spot-on. The vesps – little, hungry buggers that they are – overwhelm Europe at a frightening pace, and yet, at the same time, Lebbon manages to keep the horror away from Blighty’s shores for as long as possible, ratcheting up the tension brilliantly as Ally and her family struggle to cope in a land fast losing itself to panic. The writing is smooth as silk and, like Coldbrook before it, I tore through The Silence in only a few sittings, probably leaving scorch marks on the pages.

Not only is the pace expertly judged, but so are the reader’s expectations as the story develops. As bizarre as it sounds, I swear Lebbon is telepathically linked to the reader. There were a number of times I found a nagging thought developing along the lines of “surely if everything was going to hell, then such-and-such would have happened/run out/gone off by now” only for that very thing to happen within a couple of chapters.

There’s also a nice bit of symbolism threaded through The Silence, if you go in for that kind of thing – perhaps nothing too subtle if even I’d spotted it, but pleasing all the same. (I’ll keep shtum on that one, in case you’re tempted to have a read.)

But the biggest triumph of The Silence is Ally. She is one of the best-written characters I’ve read for a while, matched only perhaps in my recent reads by Jamie Morton in Stephen King’s Revival and the hapless hikers of Adam Nevill’s The Ritual. It’s quite cunning, really, in that it’s Ally’s normalness that defines her. Any prejudices taken into this book melt away within a few chapters. While we’re never left in any doubt that Ally cannot hear, it seldom seems to matter. She’s just getting on with it, signing with friends and family who know how, and lip-reading those who do not, no biggie, no dramas.

There were niggles and downsides to The Silence, but these were fairly minor. For example, Ally’s chapters within the book noticeably outshone those that focused on Huw. I don’t quite know why, but I never really connected with him. Perhaps it was his tendency to gush with love at the slightest sight, sound or whiff of whichever family member was nearest him. Then again, I am a bitter and cold-hearted sod, so bear that in mind.

I also felt there were small inconsistencies in what it would take to attract a nearby vesp. The slightest whisper could set one upon you, but in other scenes you could gather up a bag of odds and sods with the things peaceably perched almost on your shoulder. Nothing truly jarring, and perhaps easily overlooked.

One plus point, and a rare one for a Titan Books first edition, is that I found no typos in the book! Huzzah! It’s such a shame, then, to find they’ve gotten Ally’s name wrong on the cover. Hey ho, I guess you can’t have everything. (By the way, the copy-proofing offer still stands, guys.)

So, in summary, should you give The Silence a whirl? Absolutely. Read it as if you were watching a movie, and be sure to check your fingertips for burns as those pages fly by. It’s not quite a 5/5 from me, but, equally, it seems harsh giving it only 4/5. Heartily recommended.

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Review – NOS4R2

NOS4R2 is Joe Hill’s third novel, following “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Horns”, the latter of which has been recently made into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe.

In NOS4R2 we are introduced to a young girl by the name of Vic McQueen. She’s beginning to twig that her parents aren’t exactly getting along. When her mother loses a cherished bracelet Vic sets out to find it before all hell can break loose. She happens across a covered bridge suspended over the Merrimack River. The trouble is the bridge shouldn’t be there. Upon crossing it she is amazed to find herself at a diner they had all visited earlier in the day, wherein she finds said bracelet. She has discovered a magical bridge that can take her between lost and found, and, crucially, it belongs only to her.

Unfortunately, Vic’s use of the bridge sustains a painful toll upon her in the shape of agonising headaches. As Vic grows up the trips she takes across the bridge become less frequent, but when she learns of an evil fellow called Charlie Manx doing the rounds in his similarly magical 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, complete with NOS4R2 number plates, her interest is piqued. When she storms from the family home following a blazing row with her mother and heads out looking for trouble you can guess where her bridge offers to takes her.

All the while Charlie Manx is on a mission to save the souls of assorted children he claims are under threat. He does this by whisking them away to a place called Christmasland, where every morning is Christmas morning and all the kids get to play such delightful games as “Scissors For The Drifter”. What his sleazy right-hand man, Bing, does with the adults is often left up to Bing himself. Needless to say it never ends well.

When Vic finds the trouble she was looking for, and succeeds in getting Manx locked away, a bitter vendetta is born. As time goes on, Vic finds herself paying a heavy price indeed…

So let’s talk some NOS4R2 (or NOS4A2 as it’s known in the US. A2, R2, potato, pota-too, let’s call the whole thing off…)

Moving on.

The more I read Joe Hill’s work, the more I find a top-notch writer and a very talented storyteller. His work goes through more drafts than a conscientious objector and it really shows because NOS4R2 goes in without ever really touching the sides. (The story, that is, not the 700 page hardback. *Coughs*)

There is, of course, an inevitable temptation to wang on about him being a chip off the old block, but I’m not so sure this is accurate. There’s more than enough here to see Hill stand out on his own. For example, there’s a lot of invention in NOS4R2: some real put-the-book-down-and-utter-“you clever, clever bastard”-under-your-breath moments. I genuinely can’t recall ever doing that with a Stephen King tale. (That said, I’ve recently splurged on a whole lotta King recently to put that to the test.)

The main players of the story are all well-realised and are often brilliantly observed. The pacing, too, is just about perfect. No one scene ever outstays its welcome. We’re always trucking on, engrossed, to the rather bombastic finale.

In a book of this size, however, not everything is perfect. Initial drafts of NOS4R2 contained around a hundred pages of Charlie Manx’s backstory, for example, but these were eventually dropped from the novel. If I recall correctly, the reason behind this hefty excision was that Manx’s backstory risked softening his menace. Hill reasoned that in cutting away a monster’s history we know less about them as a person, and so the more fearsome they can become. By taking Manx’s story out of the novel, however, a noticeable imbalance develops. You get Vic McQueen’s backstory, and by virtue of that you get a decent snapshot of a number of supporting characters. You even get some backstory for Bing, Manx’s right-hand man. But the most you get about Manx’s past arises from a frank confessional he makes to one of his charges. (He says, tip-toeing around the spoilers.) When you consider Manx is taking said lad to Christmasland, and would otherwise be making upbeat promises of brightly-lit fairground rides and more candy canes to eat than those found in an Acme Candy Cane factory, said confessional had a feel of raw scar tissue about it.

The other gripes I had with the book were all fairly minor, and they were mainly little tics that I felt became overused. For example, several of the earlier chapters ended by leading into the title of the next. This was initially a neat touch, then became wearisome, then stopped altogether and then restarted again near the end. (I can’t for the life of me work out why!) Manx’s overuse of exclamation marks! Also! Gets! A bit much! After a while! The nods to geek culture and to his father’s universe risked bouncing me out of the story the more I picked up on them, and there were the occasional narrative asides to the reader I could have done without.

Anyway, like I said, these are minor gripes. NOS4R2 is a great read, and one that belies its length. I’m not the quickest reader around by a long chalk, but I tore through the final third in one sitting. The ghoul in me would have liked a little more story at the end, but that perhaps says more about me than the book.

Before finishing this review I’d also like to credit Gabriel Rodriguez’s excellent illustrations sprinkled throughout the book. It takes a really steady hand and a strong line to make something rather technical and geometric look so simple. Brilliant stuff.

This is the second of Hill’s novels I’ve read. It certainly won’t be the last.

4/5

Review – Cold Turkey

Disclaimer: This review is based upon an advance proof of Cold Turkey, provided by TTA Press.

Cold Turkey marks TTA Press’ third entry in their novella series and was written by Carole Johnstone, who has contributed a number of stories to TTA’s Black Static magazine over the years. In it we find the story of a primary school teacher called Raym and his increasingly bizarre battle to quit smoking.

We initially find Raym fretting over his health and dwelling on the recent deaths of his parents, both having succumbed to separate smoking-related illnesses. When he resolves to kick his own twenty-a-day habit for the umpteenth time he immediately finds his sleep plagued with bizarre, trippy nightmares where he is chased around a surreal landscape liberally populated with assorted sci-fi and horror icons of his youth.

But there is someone else in Raym’s dreams, a terrifying constant, a fragment of his childhood made manifest in a tall, spindly man dressed in a crooked top hat and tails. The man’s fingers are long and dancing, his mouth is “the idea of a sharp-toothed grin”, and his arrival is chillingly foreshadowed by jangling ice-cream van chimes. He is Top Hat, the tally van man.

When Top Hat starts leaking into the real world, Raym begins to fear for his sanity. The chimes stalk him through empty streets. He finds himself being chased all the way to the school doors on a morning. Worse still, he finds he’s starting to lose time: an hour here, an hour there. And all the while Top Hat keeps asking him, “Are you done with all this yet?”

As much as he would love to dismiss Top Hat as a mere hallucination, Raym fears the tally van man is real for he’s not the only one to have seen him. Some of the schoolchildren have seen him too…

Which gets us into the meat of Cold Turkey, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Those of you with sufficient stamina for my reviews will recall I was rather impressed with TTA Press’ previous novella release, Spin by Nina Allen. Does Cold Turkey continue this fine standard?

Nnnnnnnnearly…

It’s just those first twenty or so pages. I found them a little difficult to read in that sentences would veer off here and there, (sometimes spanning a couple of lines, housed within parentheses) sometimes via tangents that – and I’m only hypothesising here – were perhaps an attempt to convey a sense of the gossipy undercurrent that exists within every close-knit community… which I found jarring. A few times I was forced to backtrack and reread a passage to make sure I had it right.

(That said, I’m not the quickest reader on the planet. I tend to chew over the words as I read them. You might therefore find these early chapters an easier read.)

Happily, once beyond those initial chapters the story becomes a smoother ride and one well worth a read. While TTA’s previous novella, Spin, was a literary blend of science fiction and fantasy, Cold Turkey is a horror story through and through.

Raym’s parabolic glide between bleak sanity and potential madness is deftly handled and well-paced. This is frequently helped by a cast of well-drawn and often excellent secondary characters for Raym to riff against, chief among them Wendy, his long-suffering other half.

The grimness of Raym’s predicament is often leavened by some well-judged humour, particularly within a number of staff room scenes. (The caretaker, Lachlan’s, sweary turn at the Easter Fayre elicited a genuine belly laugh.) It all helps to keep those pages turning.

While Raym is not the most likeable central character in the world, he does have his moments. The way he tries to deflect a young pupil’s terror upon seeing Top Hat, despite his own fears, has you warming to him. (You could of course argue he should be doing this anyway, being a teacher.) The cunning he shows in twisting a bad situation to his advantage, specifically his missing hours, also had me nodding in appreciation, if perhaps not his… um… “extracurricular” reasons for doing so.

And then there’s the ending, one which I think will linger long in the mind. It’s powerful stuff indeed, going from the comically awful to the breathtakingly horrifying within the space of a few uneasy pages. I think I actually uttered “Holy shit!” under my breath while reading it. Great stuff!

Would I recommend Cold Turkey? Absolutely. Persevere with those first few chapters and you’ll be rewarded with an evening’s read of some mighty fine horror.

Just don’t sneak away for a nervous ciggie midway through…

4/5

Welcome to The Floors!

Hello, peeps! It’s your least humble servant, Mr Poll, here again, this time with a rather special blog posting. Well, it’s special from this side of the keyboard, anyway!

Just over a year ago, on July 19th 2012, I had this bizarre story idea about being trapped in a maze of thirteenth floors. As ideas went I knew it was a good one, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Plot lines, scenes, locations, characters, possible finales – they all flooded out. I couldn’t sit down for pacing the house. My brain wouldn’t stop. Piece after piece of the story fell into place at such speed that I could barely keep up. I was awake ’til five in the morning scribbling notes. I knew I could never sleep properly again until the idea was fully out of my head and onto paper.

Fast forward 60 weeks and I am delighted to say I can finally go to bed! Yes, folks, The Floors has been unleashed upon the world, and all the gory details can be found below.

Cover Design 5HOW WOULD YOU ESCAPE A MAZE OF THIRTEENTH FLOORS?

You work in a skyscraper.
You live in an apartment block.
You stop over at a hotel.

You find a button missing from the elevator’s control panel.

Thirteen.

Over the years superstition has robbed floors from thousands of buildings across the world, and continues to do so.

Dawn McKenzie and Joe Bradley are about to discover where these floors really lie. Chased into an impossible maze split across time and space, their chances of survival narrow by the second.

And in a maze with precious little food, they are not the only ones trying to survive…

THE FLOORS is available for purchase via the following links. I’ll update this post as further links become available. (See also the dedicated page for The Floors, accessible via the menu bar, above.)

EBOOK versions – $2.99 (approx €2.60 / £1.95)
Amazon:
US UK CA DE FR ES IT
(Alternatively search for “Lucian Poll The Floors” in your local Amazon store.)
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/354409
Apple iBookstore: US UK CA
(Alternatively search for “Lucian Poll” in your local Apple iBookstore.)
Kobo: http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/fb/book–IAOUYcJeEyuiWcel_yflg/page1.html
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-floors-lucian-poll/1116875156?ean=2940045252447
Sony: (Link forthcoming.)

PRINT versions – $13.99 (€11.99 / £9.99)
Amazon:
US UK CA DE FR ES IT
CreateSpace: https://www.createspace.com/4091315

Other links
You can also find The Floors on Goodreads via this link: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18463346-the-floors
If you are a Goodreads member be sure to enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of three signed copies. The giveaway ends on Halloween and there are already rather a lot of entrants, so good luck!

If you want to get in touch via Twitter, or if you want to read my occasional witterings from time to time, you can find me via @LucianPoll. You can also use the #fearthefloors hashtag, which I check from time to time. Finally, you can give thumbs to the Facebook widget on the sidebar for news and updates on The Floors as I post them.

So there you have it – Mr Poll’s debut novel is finally out there in all of its gory glory. Do check it out. If you liked The Floors then please recommend it to those you think would also enjoy a read. If you bought the print copy then feel free to lend it on. Word-of-mouth recommendations are the lifeblood of fledgling writers, and every one of them is really appreciated!

I’ll leave this post up for a few weeks while my print adverts are doing the rounds, and then I’ll be back with a How-to guide on Smashwords publishing and a few other odds and sods you may find of interest.

Thanks for reading!

…in which Mr Poll blathers about the importance of test readers

Scream - Teaser ad v1.1How do, horror fans, and welcome once more to my darkened corner of the internet. If you’ve arrived here on the back of my teaser advert in Scream magazine then come on in and make yourself at home. The teaser ad is for a novel of mine called The Floors, which will be released on Friday 13th September 2013. If you have ever wanted to know what it’s like to be trapped in a maze of thirteenth floors then stay tuned! (You can also see my previous post for a gander.)

At the moment, however, you find me at a crucial stage of getting The Floors out there and into your hands – that of obtaining some feedback from test readers.

Skim through the acknowledgements section of a novel and you will often find the author thanking assorted friends, colleagues and peers for having read early drafts of their story. Now, unless you are a staggeringly gifted wordsmith and storyteller, with preternatural powers to shape the literary world with your expertly-crafted prose, then getting some early feedback is going to be a vital part of your writing process too, and doubly so when it comes to self-published work.

Why? Well, in the broadest terms, you wouldn’t want to sully your good name, assumed or otherwise, by peddling a shitty story riddled with errors. You aren’t going to get very far disrespecting readers like that. And if, like me, you are trying to make a name for yourself in the noisy world of self-publishing, then only your best work will do. Anything less and you are shooting all that writerly ambition of yours in the arse.

Hemingway, that hoary old source of a thousand and one tiresome Facebook quotes*, once said “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.” This, of course, is true, but it isn’t a bad idea to also place your masterpiece under the noses of a couple of test readers.

(* For Neil Gaiman Facebook quotes, you can safely up that number to approximately 5.7 bazillion.)

Putting your work out for a test read can be a valuable experience, but you’ve got to go about it the right way. (Asking the opinion of a loved one, for example, really isn’t going to cut it. They will likely spare you the hurt of pointing out where your story stinks, but if they do rip into your story then the chances are they won’t be a loved one for much longer.)

So, some ground rules. First and foremost, take any pride you may have accumulated in creating your masterpiece and swallow it down hard. What you are looking for in a test read is an honest appraisal of your work. You’ll want to know where readers became frustrated with your story. You’ll want to know when a paragraph you rewrote fifty-odd times now reads with all the coherence of a Scrabble board. In short, you want to know where you can improve your story before you put it out there for real, be that for download, or in the hands of an agent/publisher. If you are simply seeking praise for your efforts then there are plenty of parasitic review sites that’ll gush as many superlatives your way as your credit card can handle.

Second, be sure to seek test readers that are sympathetic to the genre in which you are writing. You wouldn’t, for example, ask readers of The People’s Friend to test read American Psycho. (Actually, I probably would. Welcome to my sense of humour, world!) If at all possible seek critiques from fellow writers, the more published the better, and the opinions of those readers who devour novels like they’re going out of fashion. If you find a local writers group then bite your lip, develop a thick skin and jump on in. Otherwise there are plenty of reader’s groups on sites like Goodreads who you could tempt with a test read. Don’t spam forums, though. That only brings the banhammer down on your head, and rightly so. Respect the rules and ask for help politely.

Third, and this is crucial, remember at all times that your test readers are the ones helping you. They could just as easily be reading someone else’s story, but they have taken time out to read yours. Be heartened, because you know at least your story has a decent hook. Be thankful, and at least consider sending your readers a signed copy of the finished book. Give them a high-five in the acknowledgements. After all, it’s a pretty cool feeling to hold something in which you gave a helping hand.

The feedback you receive will vary. You just have to browse through the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to see how different people like different things. What I’ve looked for in the feedback I have received thus far are patterns. If I see someone praising a part of the story and another criticising it, then that’s largely fine – the tie goes to the writer, as Stephen King would have it. If, however, I see a majority negative opinion forming over part of the story then I know I’ve still got some work left to do. I would reiterate my first point at this juncture and remind you to not get pissy at the criticism. If someone doesn’t understand the story then don’t go tearing a strip from them – it’s a failure of your story to connect. It happens. Move on. Only worry if nobody gets it!

You may have guessed at this point that these words are as much for my own benefit as anyone’s. They’ve stood me well these last four or five weeks as I’ve paced a trench into my carpet and bitten pretty much all the skin from my fingers and thumbs. Whether my composure goes all to shit with the first bad review I receive is another matter! 😉

I hope this diverting little posting has entertained more than it has lectured. I’ll likely post a few more reviews while I slave over the final draft, but will then return with a few words on what a professional edit entails. I hope you can join me.

Laters ‘taters.

The Floors exists! I have proof!

What-ho, world, it’s your least humble servant, Mr Poll, here with another eEpistle for you all, you lucky, lucky people. (I’ll leave it up to you how to pronoune eEpistle.)

You find us all in a state of unburnished excitement here at Poll Towers for we have recently taken receipt of an initial proof of The Floors, and, whaddayaknow, it looks pretty damn fine! Mostly.

Here, take a goosey:

The Floors - Proof Copy - FrontIn my previous post, mention was made of using CreateSpace to produce the printed version of The Floors. If you are tempted to do the same with your pride and joy then this is the kind of result you can expect. Mighty fine, indeed, but then obviously I’d say that. 😀

There are, however, three things I would note:
1) CreateSpace books have glossy covers. If you want your finished book to have a smooth matt effect, like most UK trade paperbacks, then you may want to consider other print-on-demand services. (Same goes if you want to produce hardback versions.)
2) CreateSpace books offer a number of trim sizes, but nothing that seems to tally with UK trade paperbacks. For my 2p this isn’t a biggie, but may be something for you to bear in mind. (I believe CreateSpace have recently opened a UK print shop, however, so this might change in time.)
3) The glossy laminate seems to darken the cover image. Compare the snapshot above with the featured image of my previous post and you’ll see the printed copy loses most of the marble flash beneath the book’s title. It may be due to the large amount of black on my cover, but I suspect it may actually be the laminate. Either way, I’ll see if I can improve this before the release date.

Overall, though, I think you’d be chuffed with the results of print-on-demand. The quality impressed all who held the book in their hands. More than one person asked when they could see it on the shelves.

And there, I’m afraid, the bubble bursts.

If you dream only of seeing your book on the shelves of your local Waterstones, then CreateSpace is not the way to do it. Should Waterstones see CreateSpaces’s name on the ISBN record, they won’t touch the book. (I’ve asked.) The route to retail bookshelves is pretty much the same as it has been for centuries – find a publisher!

You may have better luck with a local independent bookseller, or one more sympathetic to genre fiction, such as Forbidden Planet. Expect your chances to remain slim, however. That said, I’ll fire off a few emails here and there, and will report back if I hear anything, positive or negative.

Anyway, moving on, and if you’ll forgive the insufferably-proud-parent vibe, here are a few more snaps of what you can expect in the printed copy. First, here’s how the book looks from behind:

The Floors - Proof Copy - BackAnd here are a few snaps of the interior, including a few loosely-connected newspaper clippings, like the big tease I am.

The Floors - Proof Copy - Title Page

The Floors - Proof Copy - Initial ClippingThe Floors - Proof Copy - Part OneThe Floors - Proof Copy - Part Two

Here are the newspaper clippings in question:

Crux Cannibal v1.0

Flies v1 (halftoned)Starphone Records v1 (halftoned)

(For those interested in how it was done, each clipping was constructed using Inkscape, then exported to a PNG file and a newsprint filter applied using GIMP. The results, I reckon, look pretty cool, and look good in the proof copy.)

So there you go. A relatively short posting this time, but one that I hope helps those of you who are tempted to try CreateSpace, or, even better, one I hope tempts you into dallying with The Floors! Thanks for tuning in. Do drop by again. I should have in the coming weeks something to report from the test reads. (Gulp!)

Laters, ‘taters.

To ISBN, or not to ISBN?

The Floors - coverHello there, internet! It’s your friendly neighbourhood horror writerly thing here with another wee posting for you.

It’s like the eye of the storm here at Poll Towers at the moment. As mentioned in the previous post, the second draft of The Floors has been completed and now rests in the hands of a small team of test readers. It is also about to undergo surgery beneath John Jarrold’s red pen, which should really help the final draft slide into your eyeballs without touching the sides. Or something.

In the meantime, however, I’m caught in Limbo. I can’t really tinker with the story for another three or four weeks. At the same time I feel I cannot fully immerse myself in the planning and plotting of the next book. Oh, what’s an alter-ego to do?

To pass the time I’ve been trying to make myself useful: prettifying this here blog with a rather swish wallpaper (sorry, mobile browsers); also prettifying my Twitter page with lots of Floors-related goodness (again sorry, mobile browsers); adding a dedicated blog page for The Floors, which you can find via the menu strip above; adding a dedicated page for the book on Facebook… oh, and looking into International Standard Book Numbers, better known as ISBNs.

Yes, it’s rock ‘n roll 24 hours a day at Poll Towers! Pass the Werthers Originals, sonny.

Anyway, why ISBNs? Well, if you are keen to sell paperbacks and hardbacks in major book-buying territories then you probably won’t get terribly far without one. That odd-looking number, when plugged into a central database, tells wholesalers and retailers important information about the book, such as title, author, publisher… even the physical dimensions. (This is commonly and collectively referred to as the book’s “metadata”.) It also gives the publisher all sorts of useful sales info as each ISBN passes through retailers’ tills. In short, ISBNs are the glue that holds together the often haphazard, flaky and wibbly-wobbly world of the printed book trade, and if you want to join the party then you’re going to need one.

As noted in previous posts, I will create both eBook and printed versions of The Floors. The printed copy will be produced through Amazon’s CreateSpace service, and for that I’d need an ISBN.

Now, when choosing your ISBN, CreateSpace do a bang-up job of confusing the hell out of people, at least if their forums are anything to go by. You can opt for a free ISBN that lists CreateSpace as the publisher. If, however, you have a block of your own unused ISBNs then you can use one of them instead. This lets you hide your self-published magnum opus behind a cool-sounding publisher’s name of your own making, such as Shit-yeah! Books or something. (CreateSpace also offers shades of ISBN that lists your own publisher’s name for plenty many dollars, but none of these services are available outside the US.)

So the question I faced was this: “Should I purchase my own block of ISBNs?”

It sounded like a pretty cool thing to do at the time. Having a title page that sported my own publisher’s logo would have given my book an air of respectability. Putting the logo on the spine would help make it look even more like a proper retail copy.

But then, after some thought, I came to the conclusion that that was pretty much the only positive to be had. In fact, putting my book out under Shit-yeah! Books could backfire if readers figure out it’s not actually a proper publishing house.

Then there was the cost of an ISBN. Nielsen will sell you a minimum block of 10 numbers for £126. Ouch! Then there was the information required as part of the ISBN application, namely my contact details. I certainly wasn’t keen on having my home address recorded in a widely-referenced database, so there was the additional expense of setting up a Royal Mail PO Box number – over £300 per year to have mail rerouted to my home address. Triple ouch!

Of course then it dawned on me what having an ISBN would actually entail. Yes, Shit-yeah! Books would be showing on the ISBN database alongside my sparkling new PO Box address, but then guess who would receive the orders? Yup. Me! I’d then have to get them printed through CreateSpace and shipped out to retailers, not to mention handling copes that don’t sell, or are misprinted.

All of a sudden I’d be three-quarters of the way towards becoming a proper publishing house! Now, yes, that sounds cool, but, truthfully, I only set out on this path to write stories, promote them here and there, and, hope upon hope, build a fan base.

So after taking into account all of that, the choice was easy. Going for an ISBN allocated by CreateSpace is by no means the end of the world. (It wouldn’t have taken long for readers to discover The Floors was self-published anyway, as I’ve been quite open about it here.)

Long post short, if you want to simply tell the damn story and hope it sells, I’d choose the free ISBN option from CreateSpace (or Smashwords, etc). If you are starting your own publishing empire and hope to use a service like CreateSpace to print your stock, then by all means apply for a block of your own ISBNs.

Well, that’s my take on the whole matter, anyway! I hope this has been of help, self-pubbers. If you do set up a publishing empire, remember little old Mr Poll, won’t you?

Right. Now to find something else to do! Laters, ‘taters.

So long, second draft! (And let the ads begin!)

Howdy, campers, it’s your favourite Lucian-Poll-named alter-ego here with a final view of The Floors’ second draft. You know, The Floors? Tut, tut, tut. I know I’ve been away a little while but even my memory isn’t that bad. (Actually it is. It’s a wonder I can still walk out of the house fully-clothed these days.)

Anyway, allow me to give you a quick recap of my most recent obsession:

The Floors - Coming Soon

“The one about thirteenth floors.” Yes, that’s the one. 🙂

So in the last post I was having a fine old time ploughing through the middle third of the book and was looking forward to tackling the white-knuckle ride finale. Well, after a further 17 days I’m glad to say not only did I get the final third down but also a full read-through and a polish to boot, finishing two days ahead of schedule.

You know what that means? Yes! I’m free of The Floors for another six weeks! I can go to bed now and not have my mind whirring over plot complexities for three hours before sleep finally takes me! I can read other people’s stories again and forget about my own for a little while!

In short, my brain gets to recharge. I’ll have one final run-though of the manuscript starting 13th July 2013, but until then it’s time to rock n’ roll with the fun stuff again: artwork for this here blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc; supplementary materials for the printed copy, such as fake news stories; a much-delayed look at publishing through SmashWords; and also looking into the more admin-related stuff of being a self-publishing author. (ISBN numbers, anyone? Stay tuned, I may have something for you.)

In the meantime my story won’t be resting on its laurels. I am both thrilled and monumentally nervous to have quickly gathered a team of ardent horror fiction fans to put the story through its paces with a test read. I hope by the next post to have also secured super-agent John Jarrold’s services for a professional edit. Their combined findings will inform the work necessary come 13th July.

Regarding the edit, one of the aims was to get the word count under 100K. I failed, but only just, and that was mainly due to some cool new scenes that really had to go in. Another important aim was to trim away the fat of each sentence to make sure the reader doesn’t nod off before every full stop. If you’d like to know the rules I tried to follow here’s a brief rundown that may help your own projects:

  1. My first draft had umpteen sentences dragged out with things like “could see”, “could feel” and “could sense”, when, really, most of the time, “saw”, “felt” and “sensed” worked just as well, especially in fast-flowing action scenes.
  2. With perhaps one eye on NaNoWriMo word counts at the time, I found sentences in the first draft with entirely unnecessary lead-ins or lead-outs. Stuff such as “No sooner had XXX done YYY than…”. It takes a few reads of a sentence before you realise the thing works just as well when cut in half, but when you spot them it’s a good feeling.
  3. Descriptions of thoughts and feelings. Such things often constituted “telling” and not “showing”, which puts an unnecessary and unwelcome degree of separation between the reader and the character. Many such descriptions of thoughts and feelings were therefore replaced with either lines of dialogue or actual thoughts.
  4. That. There were way too many “thats” in the first draft. Same went for “had”. You’d be amazed how often you can get rid of these and not affect the meaning of a sentence. Most of them are therefore gone from the second draft.
  5. Commas. Now, the grammarians out there are going to hate me for this, but I had the temerity to remove a lot of commas that, technically, ought to be there, particularly when listing things. (As for the Oxford comma, that can just bugger off for a start.) I only did this to help maintain a quick read. If the test reads and professional edit come back with a C- for such gross misconduct then I’ll reinstate them in the final draft. Hey, it’s not like I’m Cormac McCarthy, or anything. (More’s the pity.)

Moving on, I’m delighted to report that my adverts are starting to appear. Here’s the first for you:

The first advert!

The first advert!

The “Exiiit” sign is a theme I’ve used in all the teaser ads to help convey the familiar yet otherworldly delights you’ll find in The Floors. (The lightning also plays a part.) You’ll see a larger version of this ad in Cemetery Dance issue 70, and a lightning-free (but cool full-colour) version in issue 19 of Scream Magazine. I’ll post piccies when I see them.

I must give a massive thank you to Andy Cox at TTA Press for placing the advert. Not only that but you can see quotes from my review of Spin by Nina Allan inside the current issues of both Black Static and Interzone, which is mondo cool, and really helps to establish Lucian Poll as a new name to perhaps look out for. It certainly made for a brilliant end to an otherwise typical Monday! I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it: if you like a particular genre then hunt out and subscribe to dedicated magazines like Black Static, Interzone, Cemetery Dance, Albedo One, etc. You will almost certainly be turned onto new and varied voices in the field as a result and that can only be A Good Thing.

So on that note I’ll hop down from my soap box and will take my leave of you until next time. Many thanks for stopping by. Your continued readership is always appreciated, and I hope to see you in my next wee missive.

Now then, I’ve got approximately 0.998 British Libraries making up my to-be-read pile. Which hefty tome will it be? Hmm…

Another view from the second draft (and, finally, the big reveal!)

What-ho, my good people, it’s your least humble servant Mr Poll here again with a wee update on The Floors.

In my last Floors-related missive I spent a tortuous couple hundred words essentially berating Previous Me, and the shortcuts the lazy sod had taken in getting sufficient words down for NaNoWriMo.

Having now fully repaired all 50-odd thousand words accrued during that time my dim view of Previous Me has not changed. When they start selling Tardises on QVC then Previous Me had better start looking over his shoulder. (Paradoxes be damned!)

Aaaaaaanyway, you find me this post in a much more cheery frame of mind, chiefly because the edit is going a lot smoother now. Those oases of good writing that were once so rare in the first draft are getting bigger and closer together. It’s a sign I was getting nearer to the kind of book I originally wanted to write, but only once the pressure was off.

The starkest illustration of this is in the time taken to get to the 2/3 completed stage. 32 days were spent largely rewriting and repairing the first 1/3 of The Floors, while it has only taken 10 days to sail through the second 1/3. (Indeed, this weekend saw my word count jump by 14,000 thanks in part to a couple of very satisfying chapters.)

That’s not to say NaNoWriMo was a mistake. Far from it. I loved the challenge, the adversity, the community spirit and the immense satisfaction of reaching the 50K mark. Most of all I loved the positive noises I heard as I (invariably badly) explained my story to fellow WriMos. Will I do it again? Almost certainly, but for 2013 I’ll have to invest some extra time fleshing out a more thorough outline before the event. Future Previous Me will have to pull his socks up.

(I think that sentence just about works.)

Before all that, of course, I still have the final 1/3 of The Floors to edit. I’m quite literally saving the best for last! (I say that with fingers crossed, of course.)

In other news:

On the promotional front, all of the adverts mentioned in a previous post have been created, approved and paid for. You’ll see a teaser advert for The Floors in issue 70 of Cemetery Dance and another in issue 19 of Scream, both out in the summer. (Full ads will then appear in the following issue of each.) Andy Cox at TTA Press may also slot a few ads in future issues of their mighty fine magazines Black Static and Interzone, which is jaw-droppingly kind of him and makes for a happy Mr Poll.

See?

I’ll pop the ads on here shortly for your edification – seems daft not to! They each feature a hashtag, #fearthefloors, in case anyone has a compulsion to get in touch over Twitter regarding the story, good or bad, when it’s released in September. How effective the hashtag will be only time will tell.

Going back to the guys at TTA Press, they have most generously offered space on their stand at the upcoming World Fantasy Convention 2013 to fellow attending small presses and self-publishers, which is mucho coolio. Oh, did I say they’re offering to do this without taking a cut? See, I’m telling you, these are the good guys you need to support. Needless to say I held up both hands straight away, saying “yespleasememememememe!!!” So, if you are attending WFC 2013, then not only do you get the chance to laugh at my silly facial hair but you can also buy a real tangible discounted print copy of The Floors and watch as I accidentally sign my real name on the title page. You lucky, lucky people!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the coming weeks I hope to have the second draft licked, and then out for a professional edit and some test reads. While that’s all going on I’ll work on getting some decals prepared for this here blog and getting the cover right for the print copy. (Thanks to CreateSpace for providing NaNoWriMo 2012 winners with up to 5 free copies of their book – this is an excellent way of creating proofs.)

Cover… cover… cover. Hmm. Why does that ring a bell? Oh, that’s right. I promised you a spot of cover art, didn’t I? Well, never let it be said I’m not a pseudonym of my word. Given that today marks the “4 months to go, holy shit!” mark, here, for your viewing pleasure, is my near-as-dammit final cover for The Floors. (Drum roll.)

The Floors - available Friday, 13th September 2013

The Floors – available Friday, 13th September 2013

You can click on the cover for a humungous blow-up of the image, otherwise here is the blurb.

HOW WOULD YOU ESCAPE A MAZE OF THIRTEENTH FLOORS?

You work in a skyscraper.
You live in an apartment block.
You stop over at a hotel.

You find a particular button missing from the elevator’s control panel.

Thirteen.

Over the years superstition has robbed floors from thousands of buildings across the world, and continues to do so.

Dawn McKenzie and Joe Bradley are about to discover where these floors really lie. Chased into an impossible maze split across time and space, their chances of survival narrow by the second.

And in a maze with precious little food, they are not the only ones trying to survive…

Well, I hope that’s suitably grabbed your interest. Stay tuned, folks, as these coming months are going to be quite a ride! Until then, it’s back to the final 1/3 for me and I’ll see you in the next post!

Review – Coldbrook

Note: This review first appeared on my Goodreads page.

Zombies. Love ’em or hate ’em, there’s no getting away from them at the minute, especially with World War Z shuffling into cinemas soon. So after softening myself with David Wong’s not-really-a-zombie-story-honest-guv This Book Is Full Of Spiders, I thought I’d fling myself into Tim Lebbon’s hell-yeah-we’re-talking-zombies-baby Coldbrook.

This was my first Lebbon novel and, on this evidence, it won’t be my last. What we have here is a surprisingly quick read, for all of its 632 page length, courtesy of a seasoned and prolific writer who, by this stage, most definitely knows his way around a horror novel. You get the impression this is a story Lebbon has been looking forward to writing for a while, which, of course, is A Good Thing. What we also have is Lebbon’s attempt to trump the body count of not only every zombie book on the bookshelves, but perhaps every single book ever written combined! If you want to play Top Trumps with horror novels, this one has the “Body count” category sewn up, and in a very clever way too.

You see, in true Outer Limits style, it’s all the fault of them bloody scientists. No sooner do they rip a portal into the multiverse and connect to another Earth than a withered old zombie wanders in and takes lumps out of people. The infection it carries takes hold fast and soon most of the scientists in the Coldbrook complex are gadding about looking to bite people. When one of the engineers escapes the complex it doesn’t take long for one of the zombies to follow and thus the outbreak truly begins.

Lebbon doesn’t hang about. This all happens in the first 100 pages. The novel follows a number of story threads as it charts the downfall of mankind: Jonah, an ageing Welsh physician spearheading operations following the owner’s suicide, and his struggle to cleanse the complex of infection while being haunted by a mysterious figure calling itself The Inquisitor; Holly, a scientist that escapes through the portal to seek refuge on the other Earth, only to find it not quite as beautiful as it once seemed; Vic, the engineer that escapes Coldbrook to be with his family and thus dooming the planet to zombie domination; and Jayne, a young woman suffering a rare muscle disease that also grants her resistance to the infection.

No one character dominates the story, but neither are any of the main characters short-changed. The action comes thick and fast with at least somebody in dire straits at any one time. It all keeps the pages turning at a fair old pace. Lebbon’s account of mankind’s rapid deterioration is impressive and scary, but is leavened by the spirit of the survivors.

The book is not without its flaws. Apart from a few forgivable typos the exchanges between characters can sometimes seem a bit too chummy, especially between those who have only just met in strange and incredibly stressful circumstances. It doesn’t distract too much from the story, though. What did drive me batty, however, was the sheer number of hanging…

I mean it happens every other…

And not just for one character, either, it’s every one of…

Once you notice it, it starts to get on your…

You get the idea. Don’t play drinking games based on hanging sentences while reading this novel as you’ll be shitfaced by the end of part one. In truth it’s only another minor niggle and it shouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of the story.

To wrap this review up, in the end I liked Coldbrook. It was certainly worth a read. It didn’t blow my mind, but then that’s not what we’re here for. Fans of the inevitable zombie apocalypse will be well serviced by the novel, and I’m sure that fans of Lebbon’s work won’t be disappointed either. Kudos also to Hammer Books (via Arrow Books, itself via Random House… sigh) for getting this meaty book onto the shelves at the relatively cheap RRP of £6.99, when one would have assumed the page count would have edged it closer to £8.99.

Rating: 4/5

And finally… I’ll post a few reviews here while I plough through the second draft of The Floors. I’ll have a status update and more news on that whole thing shortly. When I’m not slaving over a hot keyboard, ploughing through a book, or (heaven forbid) at work, you’ll often find me haunting Goodreads. Do mosey on round to my place, why doncha: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6543771.Lucian_Poll