Another book in a year – Once Upon a Valley

Here we go again

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to write a story that begins ‘Once Upon a Time’. (A story that means something, that is, rather than just an obvious re-working of already well-known tale.) But there were always too many other projects, so it remained firmly on the back burner.

As 2020 dawned, work on two of my books were proceeding nicely. A trip to Bergen was planned to help complete key sections of Earl of the Southern Vale. Meanwhile, final edits were underway on The Rescued Year. Following feedback from trial readers, there was just a refining of the backstory to the latter. A backstory which included the near-future world setting having been afflicted by a strange (ahem) virus…

And then COVID-19 happened. All of a sudden it was definitely not the time to launch The Rescued Year, and nor could the research trips for Earl of the Southern Vale really be called ‘essential travel’. Still, far worse things have happened in the last two years to far better people than one aspiring writer seeing their projects grind to a halt. So, with the lockdown restrictions in place in the UK, what else was there to do? Just pick up that pen and start filling some beautiful notebooks with something fresh…

Set of notebooks used for the story

Once Upon a Time…

“Write from what you know” is a common saying. For me, the setting is as important as the story. As many know, Shetland has long been my inspiration (directly or indirectly), but a trip north wasn’t on the cards. Instead, I turned to somewhere I know so well I don’t need a visit to recall it: the beauty of Snowdonia. Or more specifically, the wooded slopes, clear air and idyllic location around Betws-y-coed. (a.k.a., Weissdale – yes, I know, in name if not place I ensured Shetland still had a role!)

That gave me the tapestry; though the story isn’t set in Snowdonia, it helps provide the scenery. I already knew some of what else I wanted in this story/world I was creating. Somewhere in the future (but not too far in the future; A world where things weren’t necessarily going great, but perhaps not as gloomy as in A Rescued Year; A settlement that was so remote from the centres of power that it would feel a world apart to any stranger. If you’ve read my article on getting ideas for a story, you’ll know I build my work around key scenes. And what better way of exploring this world than through the eyes of a stranger arriving in the remote valley?

Thus the opening of the story was born, as we descend from the summits into this world.

A wooded hillside in snowdonia

It begins

“Once upon a time, a horseman came riding over the top of Ronas Hill. His horse raised slow clouds of snow from the dead ground while he shivered inside a jacket that looked two sizes too large and several feathers too thin. He reined in the beast as they reached the crest and he stood up on the stirrups, surveying the landscape around and behind them. Other snow-capped hills littered the way to the horizon, grey beneath the cloudy sky, valleys hidden beneath the rampaging forests which lay in between.”

That was pretty much ‘it’ in terms of the opening scene I had in mind as my pen’s nib touched paper: A stranger from the cities, Kris Saunders, almost swallowed up by the landscape around him. New to such wilderness, almost as new to his horse, and still fairly new to the exalted rank of ‘Messenger’.

Of course, there was more to my initial ideas than just that. For example, I had snapshots of the cast who might be in the tale. And with a story beginning ‘once upon a time’, there certainly needed to be a ‘princess’ at the heart of it. (One who was self-reliant at that; no hapless Disney princesses, thank you.) There were also real people making a life in this remote valley; including someone – even a few – who would be a foil to the lead character. Naturally I had some crisis for the characters to deal with, though we don’t necessarily get to see that right away.

I also had other key scenes in my mind, including both a few ‘waymarker’ scenes and how the final scene looked… Not all of those made it into the final cut, but relating those here would give you some hefty spoilers!

So, I just let my pen flow, I let the characters act things out, I listen to them talk. Some parts of the tale changed from what I imagined, some of the characters differed from my initial thoughts. Some of the changes were quite different! But that’s the way writing often goes, and I will leave it up to prospective readers to judge the end result.

Woodland in the autumn

So what happens next?

Well, as you might imagine, the Messenger carries with him not just a message but many secrets. And for a ‘city boy’, things don’t go the way he expects in such a remote place as Weissdale…


I see, you mean what happens next in terms of getting the book out?

Currently it’s with the second-stage proof-readers. Depending on how much work they give me, and the final copy edit, I’m hoping to publish this year, hopefully by Summer. This will initially be as an e-book, though I am looking at physical copy options to follow.

Once this first book is out, it will hopefully pave the way for the others which are already queuing up ready to follow (whether through the same publishing method or other channels). Though I expected that to happen with The Rescued Year back in 2020…! Needless to say, there’s already more stories I’m drafting up and storyboarding. If there’s one good thing that the past two years have taught us, it’s that our minds can take us anywhere, even when our bodies can’t.

Last edited: 29/01/2022

How to Write: Getting Ideas for a Story

(Part 1 in an occasional series of rambling blogs from an amateur author)

Closed notebook and fountain pen


This article may seem a bit self-indulgent from someone who’s not yet published, but one of the things I’m asked most often is: “I’d love to write, but where do I get ideas from?” This is usually from people who I know have more than enough skill and capability to create a novel. And they do have a smattering of ideas (however thin).

So, this is an attempt to explain how I go about writing my books. And please note, this is the way I go about things; it is far from being the only way, and won’t be the best approach for everyone. There’s plenty of advice out there if you browse around, but there’s one important thing… Pick up that pen / keyboard and start writing.

By way of disclaimer, I now have six books fully written and on the road to publication, with two on the way to completion (and four others ‘storyboarded’). At least in terms of getting together ideas for your story I can hopefully offer some tips.

It’s all about the story

Hmm, where to begin…?
Once upon a time a man had an idea for a book. He wrote it up, got it published, and everyone lived happily ever after.
Except that never happened, not to anyone, ever. There’s a lot more work to it than that! I’m assuming you already have some idea of what type of story you want to create, even if at this stage it’s only the vaguest of ideas.

When I start to create a story, it is firstly about scenes. I come up with a minimum of three scenes, reflecting the typical story arc of a beginning, a middle(s), and an end. And when I say ‘scene’, what that is can very hugely. Maybe the scene is almost a still, with someone traversing a landscape; maybe it’s people having a particularly significant conversation; maybe it’s a piece of action such as a chase, a battle, a car crash. with lots going on. Whatever, it should be something important to the story.

The first scene can be the most important, for it (often) determines the type of story you are telling, sets the tone, and establishes some of the key characters. But then, the end scene is almost as important, because it helps you think about what your are driving towards. You may well come up with a multitude of ‘middle’ scenes, and that’s fine. Some of those scenes may present key events, others may just help to portray the world and its people.

I always craft the opening scene first, meeting the key characters just as a readers would; but this is your story, that might not work for you. Perhaps you’ve a grand finale in mind, and you need to work backwards from there. Maybe your story takes a dramatic swing mid-way, and that crux point is what you want to flesh out first.

Whatever way you take, you end up with a number of scenes, in some sort of rough order. Remember, you are not fixing anything in stone. This is your story. As you write you can create everything out more. Maybe some scenes won’t even appear in the final story; perhaps the ending scene changes completely from your original idea! At this stage all these scenes are just a hook to get you going.

Details in a scene

For all your scenes ask yourself the following

  • What is the setting (time and place)?
  • What has just happened and what is happening?
  • Who is present and who are they (and what is their role)?
  • How did they get to the situation they are in?
  • What are they doing and what do they want and what do they plan next?

Here’s a slightly different way of thinking about it: You’ve got a blank stage and you need to fill it. Things have happened before your characters come onto the stage, and things will happen to them when they leave it.

Once you know all the above and more about each scene you are well on the way to crafting your story. There’s more work in store but we’ll deal with that later.

Now, the whole point of a scene is not about answering a mass of facts, it is about creating a setting you and the reader can imagine stepping into. Open your eyes and look around. What does it feel like? What can see about you? What do the people’s voices sound like? I find the more connected I am to the scene the easier it is to write the story.

But how do I come up with a scene?

That much I can’t tell you – that is down to your own imagination and inspiration. After all, writing is not a mathematical formula! Maybe the following – very different – pointers will help.

  • Do you already know in general what type of story you want to tell? “It’s about a person called a, who meets b, and they want to x, but the end result is y“. Start by thinking about that. For instance: how did they meet, what was special about it, where was it? Bingo! There’s one of your scenes.
  • Are you’re doing a historical story? You should have a feel for the span of time you’re going to cover; so, what happens in the bigger world during this period? How does it affect your characters? There’s lots of research you can do to get a better picture of such settings and likely action.
  • Perhaps your story is heavily focussed on one person and their life. In that case, think: What part of that person’s life will your story show? What are the key things that happens to them in this period? Could your first scene show them in a happy carefree life (cue ominous overtones), or maybe you want to start with some traumatic event?
  • Inspiration is all around:.
    • The person opposite you on the train: What’s their story? Are they on an important errand, not just a 9-5 commute?
    • Take a place you know well: What unexpected events might happen there?
    • That story on the news that interested you: Is that something you could research and develop into fiction?
    • An old lady who stops and stares thoughtfully out to sea: What past events might she be dwelling on?
    • How different might the world look if x happens rather than y?

To be honest, a range of different things have influenced each initial scene. So, for Sunset, books 1 and 2 were inspired by fleshing out a dream (perhaps a nightmare when you read it!) Books 3 and 4 were influenced by trips to Berlin and Belfast, placing history into the setting of other worlds. The Rescued Year very much emerged as my angry response to populism such as Brexit. Marquis of the Southern Vale is inspired by the heroic WW2 Shetland Bus operation; and Once Upon a Valley came about through thinking what a future-day fairy tale might look like.

It’s all about the people

With all those initial thoughts in place, it’s time to first think a bit more about the people. More about the story in the next section.

So, let’s bring in the cast. (There’s that stage comparison again!) You hopefully already have some characters from the scenes you’ve drafted, but maybe there’s others who haven’t featured yet. Just concentrate on the key characters at first, whether protagonists or antagonists, but that’s not to say others won’t become important.

Obviously there’s the basics you need to think about in a character – what’s their name, their age, their physical appearance? Is there anything unique about the way they move or speak, the way they dress? That should be easy. But think a bit more. There’s at least two more things you need to work on, unless you want your characters to end up resembling cardboard cut-outs.

Firstly, what is their history? What has happened to them up to the point where they appear in your story? I don’t mean what skills and abilities they bring with them, but their experiences; perhaps those influence how they behave. And as part of this – which should be critical – what are their desires, what do they want?

Secondly, what is their personality? That’s a whole range of things. Are they the sort of person who reacts to events or do they try to shape them? Do they tend to speak up or keep quiet? Do they trust others or regard them with suspicion? (Not forgetting their quirks, their likes and dislikes, and so on.)

That sounds like a lot of work… but I like to get to the point where I know the characters well enough that I can imagine how they would react in any given situation. So that I can imagine what it would be like to sit down and have a beer / coffee with them. (Granted, not every character may be someone you would want to converse with…!)

All this work may not end up on the page. But it will help you in your writing, and mean that you end up creating something that has more depth to it.

Starting to stitch it all together

OK. So by now you know your key characters. You know how your story starts and how it (maybe) ends, and have some way-points you think it will pass through on the way. Now it’s time to start gluing an outline of everything together. Make sure your scenes are in the right order, then ask yourself: How do the characters get from one scene to the other; what goes on in between? This is an important part of guiding your writing. Sometimes its obvious (to you at least!) how the story will flow from one scene to the next, but you may find you need to start planning extra scenes to fill in gaps! I’ve said it before… you’re not setting anything in stone. As you write you may well want to change things.

There’s a number of ways of how you do all this. You could be very organised and create a set of ‘storyboards‘ – essentially detailing not just the scenes you’ve already created, but each step in between. This way you know exactly what you’ll be writing about. Some storyboards can be quite detailed – listing events, people involved, key items of dialogue to cover, maybe even a visual ‘mock up’ of each board. You can use post-its, index cards, whatever you want. Some people may prefer a rougher guide in the shape of bullet points arranged into draft ‘chapters‘, picking out the key points for each of these chapters. Others want to may use logic maps or diagrams. Have a browse around, see what you think works best for you! That may change over time, and that’s OK.

For me – and this may not work best for you – I create a broad road map provided by the different scenes I’ve created, I keep a file with notes on characters and places, and then just start writing. There’s certain events highlighted that I need to ‘hit’ on that road map, things that are probably going to happen… But I also go with the flow in terms of how the characters are reacting to the world around them. So for example, part way through Once Upon a Valley I make a pretty big change to the story – I didn’t plan that, it’s just the way the characters led things.

It’s all about the setting

I’ve mentioned scenes and characters, but it’s also important that you think about where the story is located. This may be one place or a range of locations. It’s a lot easier to write your story if you know the details of where it is set. I said above you should be able to imagine sitting down for a chat with the key characters; equally, you should be able to imagine what it’s like to walk through your setting. There may be parts of the world you create that you don’t even visit in the story… but knowing they exist can help fix the places in your mind.

Maybe your story is set around a few households, in which case you will want to pay attention to a lot of the exteriors and interiors of buildings. (Really, they went with those curtains?). Perhaps your story revolves around a range of exotic locations, so you might concentrate on the stunning natural wonders, the glamour, maybe the seedy underbelly. And those of you writing Fantasy and Science Fiction may have the hardest task of all. This is not easy, you have to create whole worlds from scratch, which is not a task to be undertaken lightly. (Subject of a future blog!)

In some stories the setting may just the stage your characters walk through. But in some stories the setting itself forms an important component, as important to the story as your protagonist.

Sometimes a setting works best using somewhere you’re familiar with (if you can easily convey that to others), but by all means put in the effort to create somewhere new. Whichever way you go, you should be able to answer a number of things about the setting: What is its history? What smells are on the air? What does the ground beneath your feet feel like? What is any architecture like? Is it down at heel or elegant? And importantly… what is unique about this place? (Or, maybe its very averageness is a factor.)

Again, not all of this may end up making it onto the page. But it’s about you knowing it all so that you can just get on with writing the story.

Hints and tips

The above may all sound like a chore – but it’s not (or shouldn’t be)! This is often the ‘fun’ part of creating a story, where you’re free to flex your imagination. Sure, there is a lot of work involved, but it’s all good enjoyable stuff.

The following are a few random thoughts on creating a story which may help.

  1. When you’re at the very start, don’t be tempted to plunge into writing the whole thing just because you’ve thought up of one or two good sentences. Maybe some can do that, but you will almost certainly will hit a block a few paragraphs later when you’ve run out of that one idea! Scribble down what you’ve thought of for later reference. Then go back to finishing creating your key scenes / characters / settings for the story.
  2. Create cards which portray your key characters (electronic or hard copy, whichever you prefer). Describe the things highlighted above for characters, because at some point you will forget what makes each character unique.
  3. That particular bit of narrative or dialogue you thought of before – don’t forget about it, write it down! (Maybe use a scrapbook, maybe more organised as an electronic file, whatever works.) It could be something you can copy and paste in later, or something you end up using in a different story entirely.
  4. Keep anything that helps you plan out your settings – maybe photos of the actual place, or ones that just look like the town / building / mountain range you imagine. Perhaps you’ve done a rough sketch or drawn a map to help you understand the layout (highly recommended). Whatever it is, store it where you can find it!
  5. Look for software tools to help you, whether that’s just making sure you know all the tricks of your word processor or getting specialist writing software. I’ve used both y-Writer and Scrivener. Both can seem cumbersome at first, but once used to them I found them excellent tools to both plan and write stories.
  6. Above all, remember: this is your story, nothing is fixed. Add to your background notes as you go; make sure if you start writing a character or setting differently than what you initially planned that you update this. Too easy to make a mistake if you don’t!

And then, get writing! Once you’ve done the planning you feel you need, it’s time to start the hard graft. Imagination alone won’t get that book written. But the writing itself is perhaps a subject for a different blog…


So, to give you the short version…

  • Know what type of story you are planning to write.
  • Imagine the scene that will form the opening; fix it so that you can picture it clearly in your mind.
  • Now do the same for your planned ending; and then for some mid-points.
  • Make sure you know the order of the events in your story.
  • Get to know your characters, listen to them as you write, see in which direction they take things.
  • Go for a walk along the streets and hills of your setting; sit in the houses, try the local food.
  • Don’t let yourself get tied down to what you planned; if your story needs it, change anything as you go along, be it characters, settings or events.

So, good luck! Above all, don’t forget to enjoy the whole process; you are creating something, you are a storyteller. Will you finish the task you have set yourself and become a writer?

3 notebooks used in The Rescued Year
Updated 11/02/22

A book in a year – The Rescue Year

My most recent ‘proper’ writing project, “The Rescue Year”, is one that I feel just a little bit proud of. You see, from inception to being fully typed up and the first wave of edits complete, it has taken just 11 months to bring the story together: 80,000 words, 2.5 A5 notebooks, 300Kb on the memory stick, and a fair amount of coffee. (OK, to be honest, it took 11 months and 10 days, but that’s close enough.)

Maybe this short blog will help explain the work behind the book. Even better, maybe it will inspire someone else to start writing!

Creating the Story

I never intended for the book to ‘happen’ like the above; that’s just the way it went. A paragraph scribbled down each day on the way into work; two pages at a time over a cappucino, whenever in a coffee shop; writing the last 1,000 words on the southbound boat on my last trip to Shetland. I could probably write even more during the year… But given there’s no slacking in my running, work, or everything else that life brings, that’s not a bad tally.

3 notebooks used in The Rescued Year

As I’m not yet published (which should hopefully change soon), I can’t offer any credentials of the quality of my writing. I will say what I have probably said before, though: For me, it’s always about the story, about the imagination. If I have a few scenes, a few characters, and can imagine the location… then the story just flows from my pen’s nib.

My stories aren’t thoroughly pre-planned. I may have a starting sequence in mind (where the characters make their way ‘on-stage’, as it were). And I often know sort of how I want it all to end, and even create a rough storyboard… but in between anything can happen. For example, I never intended a dog to feature in The Rescue Year, but at some point he just sort of strolled off the pen and introduced himself.

The downside to all this is that I genuinely feel sad writing the last few paragraphs; knowing that I’m saying goodbye to the characters I’ve grown to know. (And sometimes saying goodbye to a fond location, too.) That’s especially so when the book is a standalone like this one, not part of a series.

About the Book (so far)

So, what is The Rescue Year about? No spoilers – and obviously a literary agent or publisher may well ask for changes – but at the  moment, the following is what the blurb’ on the back cover might look like.

The Rescue Year is a story of the future.

But this is not a future of technological marvels and new worlds; it is a future where entropy and division have taken hold.

Into this landscape travel Ewan Rogart and Evie Yatoub, two ‘traders’ from The Isles on an illicit mission. When they rescue a young woman who turns out to be one of the feared and hated ‘snatchers’, their lives are changed forever. They must make the perilous journey to the all-powerful capital, in order to save everyone they know from a terrifying conspiracy.

The Rescue Year will take the reader through the dark streets of a mighty capital where the yeomanry hold sway; along the decks of the sailing ship ‘Hyperion‘; and explore the beautiful but remote islands where those labelled as ‘Recidivists’ live.

OK. I would be lying if I said the whole narrative around Britain’s exit from the EU hadn’t influenced this book (it has). Still, hopefully the reader will be able to bring their own interpretation onto  what the story and characters are about. I might also be lying if I said ‘The Isles’ in the book aren’t partly inspired by Shetland… but perhaps I’ll leave it to the reader to imagine the location.

Next steps

So what happens next? Well, don’t expect this on the bookshelves in time for Christmas, for starters!

The next step is a bit like baking a cake, where you need to leave it to cool after being in the oven. I need to leave the story for a month or two (some would say a year, but I don’t always hold with that), then revisit and proofread it. After that, as I learnt from Sunset (which took so many years to prepare for publication) – I will be looking for a fresh pair of eyes to offer an editorial critique.

And then and then… Then I will be ready to start submitting. I might well have found an agent for Sunset in the interim, but with The Rescue Year  being less of an epic, it may well prove easier for a first-time novelist to gain their interest.

So in the quiet hours in between all that and re-submitting Sunset to agents, I will be starting to tell/write another story. Whether that will be bringing Threads or Hamefarin to completion, or something completely new I haven’t decided yet – that’s part of the fun of writing!

Thank you

Thank you to all who continue to encourage me in this and who give me tips and advice – it really does matter.

As ever, please do keep checking back! The front page of my website will always flag any updates, and I do intend to try and put some short extracts up here. And if I move down the avenue of self-publishing, I will definitely be posting out updates on social media and looking for more advice!


November is NaNoWriMo

Er, what’s NaNoWriMo?

November every year is what is called “NaNoWriMo” – National Novel Writing Month. Now, at first, that sounds like some ghastly brash Americanism (and sounds as wrong as focussing all your attention on your Mother just on Mother’s Day, or devoting yourself to your loved one mostly on Valentine’s Day and not any other day of the year). And certainly the US is where it all began, in San Francisco in 1999; but if you are hankering to write, don’t dismiss this internet phenomenon out of hand and read on…

In a Nutshell

NaNoWriMo logo

NaNoWriMo challenges you to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in one month. There are no official prizes, no lucrative book deal for those who produce the most attractive or inspiring work, no rules on what you cana nd can’t write, no official recognition; it is all about rising to the challenge. And a challenge it is: if you are participating in the true spirit of NaNoWrMo, when you touch pen to paper / fingers to keyboard on the 1st November, there should have been little advance planning or storyboarding, if not quite a ‘cold start’. 50,000 words breaks down that you should write on average 1,667 words a day. That makes it seem less threatening, an achievable challenge.

NaNoWriMo is completely free. It is organised via the Internet, and you can get as little or as much involved with the whole event as you want to. You can simply set yourself the target at the start of the month, and congratulate yourself when your wordcount passes 50,000 on the 30th; you can create a profile and paste your completed work into the official NaNoWriMo validator to prove your completion (a problem for people like me who prefer to write their first draft with pen and paper); browse through the online resources that the site offers, get involved sharing tips, inspiration and work in the discussion boards; and even attend a write-in (they take place all over the world) so you can actually meet other writers who are as nutty as you! There’s even merchandise you can buy which helps fund the whole thing…

Full details are on the official NaNoWriMo website.

Why should I take part… and why shouldn’t I?

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first. Unless you are an incredibly gifted writer who has been hiding your light under a rock for far far too long, it is unlikely that what you have produced by the 30th November will be something that could (or should) be sent to prospective literary agents or for self-publishing. Even after leaving your completed work in the electronic equivalent of a dusty draw for a year, quite possibly you may take it out, re-read it, and realise that the whole thing… doesn’t quite stack up int he cold light of day. The concentration on the volume rather than dwelling on the quality may certainly not help hone your voice and skills as a writer; apart from anything else, you may find you end up with less time to read other books, a key part of becoming a writer yourself. And certainly if you want to be a writer, you shouldn’t just say to yourself: This is the time of year I’ll write, and that’s it.


There are many more reasons why you should take part in NaNoWriMo.

  • Maybe you’ve thought about how you always wanted to write something, but you only ever jotted a few odd pages sporadically (or perhaps opened up your word processor and just ummed and ahhed before finding the evening had passed on YouTube and Facebook); the challenge of completing 50,000 words in a month might help get you into the habit of writing.
  • The challenge is all about the writing; there’s no time to self-edit as you go along, no time for spending hours getting sidetracked on ‘research’, not even time to falsely convince yourself that you’ve got writer’s block (you haven’t); there is just you and your story.
  • Writing begets writing; maybe the work you are engrossed in for NaNoWriMo generates ideas, characters, settings for other stories you can then develop in more seriousness.
  • At the very least you get to the 30th November and think: Wow, I did it – 50,000 words in a month! What else can I do? or OK, I didn’t quite get there that time, but I will next year; and I loved reading everyone else’s experiences in the challenge.
  • …or maybe, just maybe, the 30th November leaves you something that a few months later you look at afresh, and think: With a rewrite, a change to this character, and more detail around the setting…

Call to action

I have not taken part in NaNoWriMo for five years now, partly as I now have more than enough to work on all year round, but I would say try it at least once if you like creative writing and are looking for that little burst of literary adrenalin. This post is going up late, but there’s still time for you to sign up and get involved. Go on; call up the website now; whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, for the dog to bark that it wants to be let back in, while the adverts are on the telly. And then get creating.

Official NaNoWriMo website:

Read more:

NaNoWriMo logo

Page updated 06/11/17

Debut novel Sunset

SUNSET represents the first novel I am taking forward towards publication. It felt very strange when I finally took steps to begin the process (and more than a little nerve-wracking), but I know whatever happens they will be worthwhile steps. Now, this article is not a sales pitch for the book – not yet, anyway(!) – but it tries to answer some of the questions people have asked me about it and the steps I am taking to get it published.

Banner Liverpool, Writing, Shetland


Set in the present day, SUNSET tells the epic story across four books of a group of friends caught up in a war that is not theirs, and the changes it wreaks on them as they discover a wider universe. The setting moves from the familiar scenery of Britain to the unfamiliar as the Earth itself is invaded… though this invasion is not what it at first seems. The friends’ struggle to survive changes from escaping a kidnapping to surviving a strange new enemy and learning a new way of life, whilst everything threatens to disintegrate around them.

By the time their story is told across the four books, they will have faced terrorism, piracy, front-line battles and the horrors of a civil war. Along their path, beliefs will be challenged and unthinkable sacrifices made, but they will also experience new wonders and forge truly long-lasting friendships.

In this, the first book in the series, the group of friends are kidnapped by terrorists, the experience forging them with the strong bonds they will need in all they are to confront. Phil Riwaun, nursing a private grief even as he tries to rebuild his life with Rachel Molan, must face up to leading them all to safety, whilst increasing chaos engulfs the outside world. Set against him will be his friend, Dave Brisbane, whose strict non-violence ethics lead them into increasing confrontations. But the real antagonist, surfacing like a decaying nightmare, is Asbara; a former terrorist and now mercenary for hire.

Closed notebook and fountain pen


(No spoilers!)

The books that comprise the SUNSET series are as outlined below; description carefully worded to avoid the worst of any spoilers that may occur through knowing “what happens next…

  • Book 1: A harsh cradling
    Returning from a weekend away the group of friends are kidnapped by a terrorist group. But their struggle to escape their captors becomes a battle for survival, as the Earth itself is invaded.
  • Book 2: Sunset
    Discovering that the invasion is not what it first seemed, and caught up in a war that is not theirs, they make the decision to join in what they see as the fight for freedom. New allies are made as they search for friends and family. But they soon find they have woefully overestimated their abilities…
  • Book 3: Sunrise
    Now separated and on many different worlds, the friends struggle to survive. Irrevocably, they are all drawn into the front line of the conflict; but not before they return to Earth and make a shocking discovery.
  • Book 4: Thunderclouds darken
    And they all lived happily ever after…” Life wasn’t like that; the universe wasn’t like that. Unwillingly drawn into the horrors of a civil war, the friends must make the final confrontation with an old evil that is drawing the strands of history together for its own purposes.


OK, that’s the promotional ‘blurb’ dealt with; now a few further things. Some of you reading the above description may think this book will not be your reading material. I would say wait and see. SUNSET may have elements of sci-fi, but I give you a no-weird-alien guarantee. Sci-fi provides part of the setting, but the books are about the characters, about friendship, and about the difference one person can make.

Wow. That all sounds somewhat overconfident, and reads as if SUNSET is already on the shelves of Waterstones, or amongst next week’s Kindle downloads! I’m aware that as a debut writer trying to get an agent for a four-book series might be ambitious; yet at the same time, if they like what they see with the first ‘episode’, knowing there is more not just in the pipeline but ready to roll may help. I’m also aware that the wide ‘cast’ in the story could make it an optimistic debut, but they are necessary for the full tale to be told, as every character ends up playing their part across the four books. In that regard, I take as my inspiration epics by the likes of Terry Brooks, Stephen King, and even Dickens.

(For those of you not in the know, long gone are the days when a writer would nervously submit their work direct to a publisher. There are very few publishers who still work that way, and for the most part, the aspiring author seeks to attract a literary agent; who, if they are confident of there being a market for the work, will approach a suitable publisher on their behalf. But of course, the Internet is opening up other opportunities…)

Now, of course, there’s no guarantee that an agent will approve of everything in SUNSET as it stands. Nor indeed any publisher they approach! It may be that the title itself is changed (and I’m hardly precious about that). They might request the four books be merged into less, or expanded into more. They may even request rewrites beyond those I have already made, further pushing back any date of publication. Agents have the expertise in what they believe will sell, and it would be arrogant not to take on board their advice.


Not all my other stories could be categorised as similar to SUNSET. Not all are sci-fi, although most have a nod to sci-fi, fantasy or historical genres. In fact, I was originally tempted to base SUNSET in a historical era, but the setting adopted just seemed to flow off the nib of its own accord. That being said, I truly hope that my future readers twig what each ‘other-worldly’ setting is based on.

To date, SUNSET is also the only story I have written (or begun to write) that forms part of a series; all others act as entirely stand-alone works. That’s not to say I don’t have further large-scale epics lurking in the dim recesses of my fountain pen – far from it – but I would want to be a published author before I launch into the experience of writing such a large tale again.

Writers and Artists Yearbook being used


As of the date of this post, I am awaiting responses from my recent submission of the novel to selected agents; if I  hear nothing back, I will move onto another batch of submissions. All contacts so far have naturally been sourced from that useful tome, the Artists and Writers Yearbook, which I would recommend to anyone thinking of getting published.

Everything I have read or heard from authors indicates it wasn’t the first agent they approached (if any) who expressed an interest in their debut novel, so I will be patient and work solidly, as hard as if this were part of a job. Which, in a way, it is. But I’m realistic and understand that luck can also play a part – with the huge number of submissions each agent receives every day, it is never going to be easy delivering the ideal ‘pitch’ that will elevate SUNSET out of a bulging mailbag.

So, as indicated on my ‘About‘ page, I will be going down the self-published route if I can’t attract an agent – at which point I will become very interested in talking to people who understand publicity and marketing! If I believe anything, it is that SUNSET and its characters tell a story some will find worthwhile.

Meanwhile, work continues on getting other stories ready for publication; creating new ones; and on developing this website further. All told interesting times lie ahead, so watch this space. (No, seriously, do watch this space; with the daily 9-to-5 and all my running training, things will happen. Just perhaps not that quickly…)

SUNSET may be the first book I look to publish, and it has been a real labour of love – but it certainly won’t be the last.