Review – Interstellar

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IMG_1658.JPGI had heard predominantly positive feedback about Interstellar, but I wouldn’t have needed any encouragement to see it as Christopher Nolan is one of my favourite directors and storytellers.

Minor criticisms first: the plot could be seen as quite farfetched, especially towards the latter parts of the movie, but it’s easy to forget that this is a science ‘fiction’ story, dealing with theoretical subjects. Aspects of it may be grounded in science ‘fact’, but I think each individuals’ ability to suspend disbelief plays a large role in being immersed in the story.

My other criticism is more of a difference of belief. Interstellar champions the view that the redemption of the human race is within the grasp of humanity themselves. I disagree with this and believe that redemption lies solely within the power of an almighty God, who is outside of the constraints of time and space.

Those things said, Interstellar is a fantastic movie. It is a majestic and colossal visual experience, with a score that swells climatically but also communicates dread and tension as well. I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t see it in IMAX, but I may have melted in awe!

The main strength of the movie is the relationships portrayed between the central characters. This is the kind of ‘relationships and spaceships’ story I aspire to tell, where people are what drives the plot. The father/daughter bond ties the movie together and could be its strongest facet due to the performances from Matthew McConaughey, Mackenzie Foy, and Jessica Chastain. There’s a vein of regret and loss that runs throughout the story, and I think it’s hard not to be moved by it.

So, to sum up; go and watch Interstellar. Even though there are some weaker moments, the overall magnificence of the movie far outweighs any negatives.

Let me know what you thought of Interstellar by commenting below!

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Time to write!

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IMG_1471.JPG I’ve been taking some time to plan a strategy for my writing, working on setting long-term goals as well as how I’m going to structure my regular writing sessions as part of my weekly routine. One of my main objectives, which crosses over the boundary between long-term and ongoing, is to write my first novel. The big question is, what do I write?

My plan for awhile has been to convert my short story Beyond Thought, part of my Resolutions collection, into a full-length narrative. I’ve started doing some planning, and have a good idea of the characters, plot, and setting. However, with the limited time I have to write at the moment, I’ve rediscovered another story that will work better as my first novel.

Time to Die is the narrative I will be working on in the coming months, drafting a novel based on this idea. Once again, this story began has one of short stories from Resolutions, Only Time Will Tell. I’ve already converted this story once before, running it as an interactive adventure via my StoryMechs project. This adventure was run whilst the project was still known Tweet RPG.

The beauty of using Time to Die as my novel template is that I already have a plot structure developed in the form of my game plan of the interactive adventure. This also contains unused content which was bypassed by the players, offering me options for extending or altering the narrative.

Want to know more about Time to Die? You can review the Tweet RPG adventure here, or purchase the Resolutions collection to read the original story.

Five Questions for Authors – Richard Holliday

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481351_10152410004100398_443573859_n - BW SmallThis post is the first in a series of interviews I’m conducting with authors. The idea is to ask the same five questions to a variety of authors and see what different kinds of responses are given. Hopefully it will offer authors the chance to introduce themselves and their work, and to also share some tips, hints, and experiences related to writing. Starting us off, my pal Richard Holliday!

How did you begin writing? Do you remember the first piece you wrote?

I sporadically wrote during high school as a means of passing time, but it wasn’t until 2010 that I finally took it “seriously”. At school, I never really felt I had a proper creative outlet – I’m not sporty, a particularly competent artist nor can I play a musical instrument more complex than a triangle – but getting into creative writing has definitely reassured me that my imagination does have an outlet.

There’s a little bit of backstory between my first actual piece and my first proper piece, though the latter would not exist without the former. In 2001 I was in English class studying the Titanic disaster; being a history buff on this subject for some years prior, I loved this topic and I wrote a piece of historical fiction based loosely around it (The story was ostensibly about the ship more than the people on it; a trait I probably maintain to this day). It was the longest thing I’d ever written (I was 11) at 10 sides of A4. I handed the story to my English teacher, who was a little confused but gave it the once-over – I got it back with an A+. I still have the original marked copy and Word document somewhere but I’m far too self-conscious (about the quality and, to a lesser extent, the niche subject matter) to read it, let alone post it online! But it was certainly a learning experience of unusual stead!

Later on I mulled over writing again and took part in National Novel Writing Month 2009 and churned out a 50,000 word manuscript for an alternate history adventure story that I want to revisit, but feel my skills at the moment won’t do justice to the story I want to tell; more successfully, the 2010 NaNoWriMo event was more successful, and I took a lot of lessons from the previous year and eventually produced my first proper finished novel Colonisation, which I’m redrafting. Definitely it was those two frenetic months of non-stop writing that cemented in my mind that I had an actual talent and should pursue it, though I’ve not done NaNoWriMo since 2011.

What have you written which makes you the most proud?

A few of my projects stand out to me as particularly good but one feels especially worthy at the time of writing, and that’s my post-apocalyptic short story The Cloud. This was my first venture into the genre and I really think I did a great job with it; I really enjoyed building up the ominous atmosphere of the dead city and showing the plight of the protagonist as he attempts to escape. I really love world-building and setting the scene in which a story takes place. My approach is to paint a picture in the reader’s mind as if they’re “watching” the story in a cinema. Plus, going back to The Cloud, I had some really great comments from some influential people who took the time to read my work and give me feedback which buoyed my self-esteem. The Cloud is the first piece of work I’ve deemed worthy of submission and the first short story of mine that I’d consider (and am planning) expanding into a full-blown novel.

It’s hard to really pin down specific works as I’m proud of all of my work, even if in certain circumstances the piece in question doesn’t quite execute the concept I was going for quite right as that puts that piece down as a valuable learning experience. I’d like to think that the work on my website shows a clear progression of my abilities as both a writer and in terms of grasping new concepts and running with them, to varying degrees of success. Certainly I have favourites, but if I can’t be proud of my work, why should people be proud to read it?

Do you have a particular process or approach when writing?

In terms of workflow, I’ve developed an amusingly-anachronistic approach. I work on my drafts in Scrivener, which is a wonderful program designed for writers that I feel helps a great deal in terms of getting out of the way when it comes to writing and supporting me when it comes to important structural stuff. Once I have a draft, I literally print it out and work on annotating a hard copy in red ink pen. It’s amazing how the “disconnect”, as it were, by reading the work on paper helps me to see it from a different angle and scribble all over it. One problem I’ve encountered so far, especially when it comes to my full-length novel Colonisation which I’ve been editing for ages this way, is getting the marked up pages back into a digital realm. I’m a pretty hard-going tech geek so, funnily enough, I find solving these problems part of the fun of writing!

Sometimes the hardest part is getting in the chair and putting one finger in front of the other. I usually try to aim for relatively low word count sessions fairly often, between 300-500 words a day. I’ve recently been trying to adopt the Pomodoro technique of work sessions broken up by very short breaks. Of course, when inspiration strikes at 4AM, this can be a little hard to manage so it’s best to just go with the inspirational flow while it lasts!

Do you have a current project you’re working on or promoting?

I’m keeping myself rather busy at the moment! There’s a couple of projects on the back burner as it were; I’m still editing my novel Colonisation that I released briefly in 2013 on the back of some useful feedback for an eventual re-release on Kindle. I’m working on an expanded release of my short story collection Rememories, which is a compilation of all of my short story work from 2013 in an edited and enhanced form. After seeing your success with releasing Resolutions on Smashwords I’m eager to take some lessons away when Rememories hits Smashwords in early 2015 and really get my work out there as best as possible. I’m also pretty active in writing some new short stories and I’m hoping to have at least a couple new entries to my list before the end of the year!

Interestingly, I’m also writing my first short film! My script is titled Doors and is a science-fiction/psychological horror set in the near future where one man is invited to test a new piece of wearable technology. Unfortunately, some of the side-effects are agonising visions that only he can see… until they transcend into reality itself. I know a couple of independent filmmakers as friends and they’re mentoring me on the script side of things and are also looking to put Doors into production sometime in 2015. I’ve already had some good feedback on the script so far and it’s a really cool way of developing as a really versatile writer.

What do you hope to achieve with your writing?

I’d like to continue developing my skills with my writing; I really do believe it’s a journey of continual improvement. Definitely, part of the journey of being a great writer is being a great reader and if I get to experience some really good work I otherwise wouldn’t have then that’s a success. Generally, I want to give people some good stories to get involved in and care about first and foremost – what’s the point of doing this if no-one is enjoying it? In the medium term I want to work on building a network of fellow writers to get my work out there and get a profile. I’ve had a bit of an underlying goal that’ll tell me that I’m where I want to be: I’d like for one person to honestly say that I am their favourite writer. That may sound egocentric but it would be incredibly awesome if that was the case!

Richard Holliday is a writer from South London. His main areas are epic space operas, gritty cyberpunk and atmospheric post-apocalyptic. A fan of an eclectic mix of 70s prog-rock concept albums, naff 80s Doctor Who and fizzy drinks. He’s currently embarking on an English Literature and Creative Writing degree with the Open University.

Website – http://richardholliday.co.uk/

Facebook – http://facebook.com/richardhollidayauthor

Twitter – http://twitter.com/rjpholliday

Armour – an allegorical short story

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IMG_1545.JPGThe officers shift uncomfortably in the gloomy chamber, the hostile glow of the strip lights drawing harsh shadows on their faces. Battle report holograms flutter across the expansive circular desk in the centre of the room, rising and collapsing like sandcastles made of light. The men and women study them intently, or at least they pretend to, avoiding the prospect of having to make conversation.

The door slams open and General Huss enters, flanked by two low-ranking blank-faced goons. The assembled officers stiffen to attention as the diminutive leader approaches the desk, the garish gold braid on his jacket gleaming, copious amounts of medals clinking conspicuously. The General leans forward on the desk, eying the people surrounding him with hateful distain.

“Status report.” He spits the words out of his mouth like a curse.

The room is silent. The officers glance at each other, passing the buck around the room with their eyes.

Colonel Avar steps forward. Her jagged features give her a haughty look, a kind of insulted beauty. Her lips are tight, grim and full of bad news.

“The eastern quadrant has all but fallen,” she states impassively. “We are holding the line across the valley region, but we have outrun our supply chain.”

“What of the north? Are you failing there as well?”

“Arteria is under fire but we have a barrage trained on the Mercury Pass,” replies Col Avar, ignoring the barbed questions. “Nothing can get through, but only whilst supplies last…”

The General grips the edge of the desk.

“This is unacceptable,” he yells, throwing back his head in a snarl. The officers flinch at the sudden outburst. “What is your excuse? How is the enemy making a mockery of you? Explain. Now.”

“It’s the armour,” stutters Major Weeking, a ghostly thin man. The General peers at him. Weeking shrinks back, clearly regretting his utterance.

“If you’ve got something to say, spit it out,” says General Huss. Maj Weeking moves forward, hands quivering as he operates the controls on the side of the desk. The holographic battlefield focuses in, displaying a dry canyon, desolate except for a couple of gnarled trees and some wiry bushes. A column of troops move cautiously along the canyon, armoured Rapytr support vehicles trundling along beside, turrets rotating, scanning the terrain.

A shadow looms over the soldiers. With a whooshing crunch, giant metal feet slam into the dusty ground. The troops scatter as the G-Armour unit straightens up, a metal humanoid machine, towering above them.

Before the soldiers can regroup, the G-Armour unleashes its firepower. Shoulder-mounted cannons spray out bursts of energy, scything indiscriminately through the fleeing men. The Rapytrs and some of the more battle-hardened troops return fire, but to no effect. The G-Armour brandishes its phase blade, the melee weapon extension bursting out of its right arm, cutting the nearest Rapytr in two.

The image freezes, the scene flickering on the desk in front of the officers and their leader.

“The voy-bot was knocked offline by a stray shot,” explains Maj Weeking in a sheepish voice. The General stares at the image, scrutinising the enemy armour unit.

“We dont have anything that can match this tech,” Weeking continues. “In terms of firepower, defences, manevourability; well, you can see how it cut through an entire scout battalion. Put two or three of those on the battlefield and, well…”

“I know you don’t want to hear this, sir,” says Col Avar, taking the lead, “but these G-Armour units could cause a situation as desperate as the Sun God campaign.”

“Enough,” screeches General Huss, plummeling the desk with his fist. “Do I have to do the thinking for all you clowns? Are you all too simple to comprehend the one clear weakness of this armour?”

The officers avoid looking at the General, shuffling their feet and glancing at each other nervously.

“The pilot. Without the pilot, the armour is useless. Infiltrate their training centres and sabotage them. In fact, launch strikes against any target that is identified as a centre for education, military and civilian. Attack their launch bases; don’t give them a chance to get a man into G-Amour. Link up with the propaganda ministry and develop a campaign decrying the use of this technology. Undermine it with accusations of unethical practice and crimes against humanity.”

General Huss looks around the room, awaiting a response. The men and women nod their heads vigorously. Someone starts to clap halfheartedly, but falters into silence.

“You have your orders,” says the General, turning away from the desk and marching out of the room, his minders following.

The officers begin to discuss plans in mumbling voices, congregating into smaller groups as they determine their strategy. Although slightly bolstered by the General’s instructions, they all know the truth. No matter how many battles they win, or how many attacks they repel, the outcome of the conflict is written.

The enemy has already won.

Ephesians 6:10-17:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

I hope you enjoyed the story – please comment below with your thoughts and share via social media!

Resolutions is now available to buy!

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Resolutions cover - Final - 02082014The day has finally arrived – Resolutions is now published! It’s taken a while, but I wanted to get it right. You can purchase the Resolutions ebook from:

Amazon UK (£1.24)
Amazon US ($1.99)
Smashwords ($1.99)

Resolutions is a collection of science fiction short stories about ordinary people facing extraordinary situations. The narratives within explore questions about the future of technology and humanity. Resolutions is all about the way things end. By the final conclusion, you will have smiled, shuddered, and will take away some food for thought.

I would love to hear what you think of the collection. You can comment below, tweet me or post on my Facebook page, and also leave a review on your retailer site of choice. If you’re a reviewer and would like a review copy, please feel free to get in touch.

Enjoy the collection!

The end is nigh: my launch plan for Resolutions

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800px-BookshelfThe time has almost arrived for Resolutions, my science fiction short story collection, to hit digital bookshelves. I don’t want to be too specific at this point, as a spanner could easily enter the works, but I am hoping to have the collection available to purchase and download by the end of next week (Friday 26th Sept). I’ve never electronically published a book before, so there could be some unknown hurdles still in my pathway, but I’ll keep you posted if there is a delay.

I’ve tried to be methodical with the preparations for publishing, and thought you might find it interesting and useful to see my plan for how I have gone about this.

Phase one – create content

Draft text meta-data – anything that the retail site(s) need to create a profile for your texts, generally a short description, an optional long description, and content tags. Follow guidelines precisely (character limits, etc) and take advantage of the opportunity to sell the product.

Draft launch blog post – this will be the foundation of the promotion, as it’s the place where the most data can be shared about the text. Make sure to include (and make prominent) links to the retailer(s) where the text can be purchased, a clear description of the text (can be reworked from meta-data), and a call for readers to feedback on their experience of the text in a variety of ways.

Draft press release – this will be useful to send out to any mailing lists you have for supporters or other contacts (work, church, hobbies, etc), and for any relevant media contacts who might be willing to promote your text. For a guide to creating an effective press release, see the free Smashwords Marketing Guide.

Draft social media content – don’t assume you’ll know exactly what to say on the day. You’ll have various links that you’ll be wanting to drive traffic towards (retail sites, your blog, launch reviews, etc) and you need a plan for how to manage these links. You’ll also have a variety of networks to utilise (Facebook, Twitter, email, message boards, etc) which all demand a specific method of engagement. One size doesn’t fit all so work on the style, timing, and frequency of messages.

Phase two – publish!

Upload your text – even if this isn’t your first time publishing online, block out some time to get your text uploaded. Who knows what kinds of technical gremlins will pop up at this point, so it’s good to have some time to deal with them. If possible, ‘soft launch’ your text prior to full promotion, so that you can test that everything works as it should.

Phase three – promote!

Change your online profiles – add the appropriate links to your text, upload any promotional images you may have. Don’t forget the simple updates like your email signature!

Send promotional/supporter emails.

Put your social media plan into action.

Phase four – PROMOTE!!!

Once you are certain that the process of purchasing your text is working smoothly and buzz from your initial launch has died down (even if it is a small buzz with just a few sales and reviews), work on innovative ways to promote your text. Here are some ideas:

  • Write a blog post detailing all the ways you can obtain and read the text – some supporters may not have the technical understanding how to use the retailer sites you’ve chosen, so guide them on how to do this.
  • Organise ‘interview swaps’ with other authors
  • Arrange a competition to drive sales – source a tasty prize, write an engaging press release, draft the rules of your competition
  • Plan a discount promotion – or give your text away for free for a limited time

I hope these tips are helpful – I’m currently at the end of phase one, not long to go now! If you have any suggestions of your own, questions about my plan, or if you downright disagree with my ideas (you’re allowed to!), please comment below.

Same-sex attraction – engaging with the eternal

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The subject of same-sex attraction and Christianity isn’t a new one, but the news of singer Vicky Beeching coming out has recently brought it back into the forum of public discussion. A disclaimer before I go any further; I will not be sharing in this post my personal stance as to whether acting on same-sex attraction is a sin according to biblical truth. If you want to find out my view, get in touch with me offline.

The big question that has been going around my head since Vicky Beeching opened up regarding her same-sex attraction hasn’t been what should she do, but rather what should I do?

Whether or not you believe same-sex attraction/relationships are compatible with biblical principles of sin and morality, the most important thing is that people accept God’s offer of salvation. A relationship made possible by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, who conquered death and paid for our sins.

The big questions: am I a person who can share this message with someone who has identified themselves as anything other than heterosexual on the spectrum of sexual identity i.e. gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, etc? Would a person feel they could be honest and open with me? Do I realise that as a heterosexual male, this subject currently has no major impact on my life, and therefore is something I should approach with a full measure of grace and gentleness?

Christians, I’ll leave you with a question. It’s a question for me too. Will you engage with a person’s eternal condition before you engage with their sexuality identity? Yes, there may be issues to be dealt with, but let’s support people to get their hearts right first. Whether you believe God wants to free someone from same-sex attraction or free them to embrace same-sex attraction, let Jesus worry about changing their perspective and behaviour.

One final thought. When we talk about same-sex attraction and engaging with people who identify as other than heterosexual, bear in mind that people don’t wear badges to let you know their sexuality. Some people might wear it on their sleeves, but others might not be extrovert with it at all. There may be people in your social circle who are struggling with their identity and it could be completely unknown to you. Therefore, make every effort to be a person who can be trusted, who someone can open up to. This person could be a Christian already, and could be terrified of the response they’ll receive if they open up. We need to cultivate environments where people are praised for honesty and surrounded with love and biblical guidance. You never know who could be struggling and how isolated they might feel.