Letters from Mars (Blog)

The Emperor of Mars: ARCs and First Pass Pages

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The Emperor of Mars is on his way. He’s been planning this for a long time, plotting, scheming. And now he is one step closer.

Yes, he has made it to Advance Reader Copy (ARC) status and First Pass Pages.

Here are *my* ARCs looking excessively handsome.

And here is our new cat, Pebbles, tolerating (just) being put in charge of a copy.

So what does it look like inside? Well, I’m glad you asked! Here it is. This is the first page, along with a new character, George Rackham.

If you can’t read that first page, this is what it says:

Chapter 1: The Trouble with Vine-Mining

I was twenty feet underground, surrounded by glowing blue sandfish crystals, with my head jammed in a beetle-vine warren, when I realized that vine-mining wasn’t for me.

I had seen the notice pinned up outside the local office of the Imperial Martian Airship Company:


Perfect, I’d thought. What a great idea.

I had never been so wrong.

You might have thought that living in the middle of Mars’s biggest desert would mean that you never got wet…

* * *

I’ll post the rest of the first chapter closer to publication day (which is on July 18, 2017, since you asked).

I’ve been working on the First Pass Pages (basically, a printout of the ARC), fixing up any last errors, tweaking the odd bit, smoothing things a little, but the ARC is pretty close to what the published book will be. There are typos and a few other minor errors, but the story is the same.

While we’re all waiting for the final, finished book, if you want a chance to win a signed ARC, keep an eye open. I’ll be posting a giveaway in a few weeks time.

Until then!

(Note: cover and the internal illustration above are by Jeremy Holmes.)

2016 Year in Review

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Apparently, this is the end of 2016. I didn’t see that coming! I’ve only just got used to it being this year. I must have done something during the year, right? Right? Right.

Here’s my writing-related stuff from the year:

Published my first novel!

Yes, at last. I’ve been wanting to be a novel-writer since I was a teenager, and despite not really writing during my 20s, I never gave up wanting, and this year, my first book finally, finally came out (I actually sold it at the end of 2012, but it’s taken this long to be published).

SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB, in case you don’t know, is a “modern pulp” science fiction adventure for kids, and I love it.

Published a linked novella

I also published a novella set in the same world as SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB. THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS takes place a year before SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and features different characters, and it’s aimed slightly older, but it’s still the same mixture of humour, action, adventure, mystery, and over-the-top ideas.

Revised the sequel

The sequel to SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB will come out in July 2017. It’s called THE EMPEROR OF MARS, and it takes Edward and his family on an even more outrageous and deadly adventure. I did a pretty big rewrite of it over the summer, and then the copyedits this autumn. I’ve also seen the internal illustrations for it by the intensely talented Jeremy Holmes, and they are amazing!

Wrote a new book

The book that will be going out on submission in the new year is (currently) called THE MYSTERY OF FIRELAKE HALL. It’s set in 1932, in England. My agent, the wonderful Jennifer Laughran, described it as “A little bit Agatha Christie meets Clue meets St Trinian’s meets WW1 meets MAGIC!” It also has wolves, because, you know, why not?

I actually wrote a version of this quite a few years ago, but it didn’t work, so I ripped it up and completely rewrote it this year, which is the first time I’ve ever done that with a book, and I think it worked!

Pitched a third SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB book

To be brutally honest, this book probably won’t happen, but I have an outline and an opening in case it ever does, and the first two books tie everything important up, I think, if it doesn’t. One day, maybe!


Okay, when I put it like that, it makes it seem like I really did manage some stuff this year despite having young children (the younger of whom is only in school 2-1/2 hours a day).

Now, I need a new book or two to write in 2017!

What did you do this year?

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb – New Cover

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Hey folks. Fantastic news. SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB will have a new cover when it comes out in paperback on July 18th, 2016. I liked the hardcover version, but I think the paperback catches the book better. No need for me to waffle on about this. Here it is:

As with the hardcover, the art here is by Jeremy Holmes.

Find out more about the book here.

Book Review: Congress of Secrets, by Stephanie Burgis

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The year is 1814, and the Congress of Vienna has just begun. The Emperor Napoleon has been defeated, and the great powers of Europe have gathered in Vienna to carve up Europe among themselves. Along with them have come the powerful, the deposed nobility of old Europe, and the opportunistic, hoping to grab power and wealth for themselves. Amid glittering balls, parties, and salons, the great of Europe meet, plot, and position themselves.

Into Vienna come Lady Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy English widow, and charming con man Michael Steinhüller. Both of them have secrets. Caroline was born Karolina Vogl, daughter of a radical Viennese printer. Caroline’s father was arrested by the secret police and her childhood was cruelly stolen from her by dark alchemy in the cells of the secret police.

Michael, meanwhile, was once the apprentice of Caroline’s father. Neither has seen the other since their childhoods were shattered, and both have returned to Vienna with plans of their own, Caroline’s to save her father, and Michael’s to pull one last con before he retires. Neither of them expect to encounter the other, and when they do, both their plans will be in danger, and so will they.

I’ve said before that a really well-researched piece of historical fiction can be as full of wonder as the most inventive fantasy or science fiction novel, and this historical fantasy proves that. Every scene comes alive with wonderful, vivid, and sometimes alien detail that make you feel like you’re really there. I lived for six months in Vienna, and in Congress of Shadows, I really felt like I was back there, strolling around the first district or through the royal palaces. This is lush and all-enveloping.

The characters, too, are incredibly involving and well-conceived. From the moment you first meet Caroline, Michael, and the third main character, Peter Riesenbeck, you are swept into their stories, their fears, their desires, and their plans. But it’s not just the main characters who are so believable and enticing. There is also a whole array of historical figures – from the quipping Prince de Ligne and the paranoid Emperor Francis to the manipulative head of the secret police, Count Pergen – and fictional counterparts who leap off the page.

The story is fast paced and increasingly tense as Caroline, Michael, and Peter’s plans begin to crumble in the face of the dark alchemy wielded by Count Pergen.

This is a fantastic book and I have no hesitation in giving it five stars. I loved Stephanie Burgis’s previous historical fantasy, Masks and Shadows, but Congress of Secrets is even better.

5 stars!

Buy Now: Indiebound | Book Depository (international) | Amazon U.S. | Amazon UK


- 2 comments - Events

I’m going to Bristolcon tomorrow (Saturday 29th October, 2016). This is the first convention I’ve been to for quite a few years (Rare Appearance of Reclusive Author!), due to having little kids, but our wonderful niece, Freya, is coming down from Manchester to babysit for the day, so we actually get to go to a con for once!

Here’s my schedule (I’m doing a panel and a reading):

Panel: Under the Covers

4pm – 4.45pm

We all know how important covers are to books. Whether or not you judge a book by its cover, marketers assume you will, and cover art is a key part of how a book is marketed and received. Our panel reveals the process by which cover art is commissioned, from writers and publishers selecting artists to the challenges of rendering the writer’s vision artistically, with reference to examples of the good, the bad and the ugly of cover art.

With Terry Jackman (Mod), Jaine Fenn, Fangorn (Chris Baker), Kate Turner (KS Turner), Patrick Samphire

Programme room 2

Reading: Secrets of the Dragon Tomb

4.50pm – 4.55pm

Programme room 2

The rest of the time I’ll be either in the bar, the dealers’ room, or watching one of the other panels or readings. Say ‘hi’ if you see me!

Randomly, a Recipe: Scrambled Tofu

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I don’t normally post recipes because, well, I’m not a particularly great cook. But this is my go-to for a quick (vegan) meal. It has a great flavour and it’s really, really easy (and healthy).

I found the original recipe here but I thought the flavours were a bit anaemic, so I changed it around a bit. Here’s my version of the recipe:

Scrambled Tofu

Serves 2 – 3 people

Time: 20 – 30 minutes, depending on how distractible you are

  • 14-ounce / 400g package firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder (choose heat to match your taste!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 4-6 tortillas, warmed
  • Fresh salsa
  1. Remove the tofu from its package and set down on a plate lined with paper towels.
  2. Cover in another layer of paper towels and press and blot well to remove as much moisture as you can (this will help the tofu absorb the flavours).
  3. Place in a bowl and mash well with a fork. You’re looking for a crumbly consistency.
  4. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion then, a minute later, red pepper and cook until soft, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Stir in the coriander, cumin, chilli powder and salt and cook until just incorporated and fragrant, 1 minute or so.
  6. Stir in the mashed tofu and the turmeric along with the 3 tablespoons water, and cook until the mixture is warmed completely through. 2 minutes should do it.
  7. Warm your tortillas then scoop in a generous portion of the scrambled tofu and garnish with fresh salsa, or, you know, whatever other weird stuff you like.

You could make the fresh salsa yourself, of course, but I just buy it, because I’m like that.

Music Monday: Cover Versions that are Better than the Originals (Arguably)

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Don’t you wish you could sometimes write cover versions of books, in the way that bands cover each other’s songs? I was listening to a bunch of cover versions on Youtube and all I could think was that it would be way easier to do that than to have to come up with anything original. And, yes, I am trying to write a new book. How did you guess?

Well, rather than get on and just do the new book, this seemed like an excellent excuse to write a blog post about cover versions of famous songs, and in my personal opinion, these cover versions are better than the originals. You can disagree of course. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. 😉

Nights in White Satin, by The Moody Blues, covered by Rock Goddess

Rock Goddess were one of my favourite heavy metal bands from the 80s. They never hit it really big, but they are still going and they are still awesome. This is their live cover of Nights in White Satin, done originally by The Moody Blues:

How can you not love that rough, powerful vocal?

And, for comparison, here is the original:

I’m right, right?

Diamonds and Rust, by Joan Baez, covered by Judas Priest

Of course the original is absolutely brilliant, but I love how Judas Priest kept so close to that original while making their version entirely their own. (Priest were enormous fans of both Baez and Bob Dylan, of course.)

Here’s the cover version:

And the original:

Rasputin, by Boney M., covered by Turisas

Okay, this time I’m not going to claim the cover is actually better, because I have a big soft spot by Boney M., but Turisas are, well, they’re Turisas, and I love the idea of blood-soaked Vikings covering a Boney M. song.

Of course, Boney M. were a bit of a fraud in that the male ‘lead singer’ didn’t actually do the singing because he wasn’t a good enough singer, but.

Here are Turisas:

The original:

That’s it for now. I have proved myself entirely right, and I’m glad you admit it.

Now off to write that damned book.

Header photo from Dark Rider on Unsplash.

Book Quote Wednesday

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So, some writers (including me) on Twitter have been doing “book quote Wednesday” (#bookqw), where each week we post a quote from one of our books that includes a particular word. (Thanks to Mindy Klasky for running this.) It occurred to me that not all of you actually follow me on Twitter, so I thought I should post here too. (I’ll actually do it on the right day after this.)

Here are the ones I’ve done in the last couple of weeks.


Here’s my quote using the word “might”, which comes from my novella The Dinosaur Hunters.


And for the word “work”, from Secrets of the Dragon Tomb:

I have no idea what the word is going to be next week, but maybe I’ll chose one of my forthcoming books instead.

Now, go check out everyone else’s quotes. There’s some fantastic stuff there, whatever type of books you like.

The Quantum Internet

- One comment - What?

Have you ever gone online, read something, and then wondered why someone else who has read the ‘same’ thing seems to have apparently read something completely different?

In general, you might think that this is because other people read carelessly or with different assumptions (or that they’re stupid…), and of course that could be true, but it’s not all there is to it.

The truth is that you experience an ever-so-slightly-different version of the internet to everyone else. In fact, everyone experiences their own unique version.

This is a relatively recent development that has come about due to quantum computing.

As some of you know, I have a PhD in Quantum Field Theory, so I thought I would try to guide you through the basics behind this cool new development. (This is my thesis, if you really must know, but don’t read it; no one else has…)

To understand how using quantum mechanics in computing has led to such an odd outcome for the internet, we need to understand a few basic things about quantum mechanics. (Follow the inline links for far more detailed and complicated explanations.)

The Science-y Stuff

Firstly, let’s talk about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. What this tells us is that you can’t completely know everything about a pair of properties of some thing. For example, the more you know about the position of a particle (for example, an atom) the less you will know about its momentum, and vice versa. The particle is basically a bit fuzzy. You’ll know stuff about it, but you can’t know everything.

The second, related, thing you need to understand is the Schrödinger equation. Back at the beginning of the 20th century, experiments proved that particles (atoms and suchlike) actually behave like waves. They weren’t like, say, a tennis ball, that you could pin down exactly. Schrödinger came up with his equation to tell you mathematically how likely at particle is to be at a particular position.

The final things you need to know about are Wave Function Collapse and the Observer Effect. Basically, if you observe or measure a particle (or set some instrument or machine to do it) then the uncertainty in the Schrödinger equation for the thing being measured disappears. The wave “collapses”. Before you observed it, the particle was in a lot of different places. When you observe or measure it, it is just in one place.

This isn’t just a philosophical principle. You can actually prove it with experiments. No doubt most of you have heard of Schrödinger’s cat, where a cat locked in a box is both simultaneously alive and dead until you open the box and find out which. Physicists are not (in general) horrible enough to actually experiment on cats, but you can do the same thing with atoms or electrons and prove that this is something that really, really happens.

Want more on this by someone much smarter than I am? Watch this video:

So What?

By this point, you may well be wondering what the hell this has to do with anything, particularly the internet.

Well, quantum computing makes use of exactly the same principles. The information on the internet is saved in quantum states. Until they are observed, these quantum states and the information in them exist as a waveform. The information could be anything. When you observe it, it collapses into a fixed form.

How do you observe ‘the internet’? Well, you simply connect to it using your computer or phone or whatever. That very act of connecting (observing) collapses the waveform of the information on the internet into a single, fixed, measurable (readable) form. The exact nature of the information on the internet was previously a bit ‘fuzzy’ (remember the Uncertainty Principle?). Now it has been observed, it is exact. You can read it.

Of course, the wave function of the internet, is quite a narrow one. Remember, the wave function is basically the probability that something will have some property, that an atom will be in a particular location, for example. The probability that the information on the internet will be a particular thing is actually very high, but it’s not 100%. There is some uncertainty.

Now, of course if you collapsed the entire internet, you would lose those important quantum mechanical properties that quantum computing relies on to be so powerful. Take those away, and the computing power of the entire internet would be massively reduced just by someone connecting to it, which would be crap.

So what do the quantum computers do to avoid this problem? Well, it’s quite simple. They generate a ‘child universe’ that isn’t part of our universe at all, but is connected to it through a wormhole. Now, these child universes are not massive things like our universe. They are absolutely miniature. All they contain is the information in the collapsed version of the universe. (This isn’t difficult to achieve; the universe is basically just information, and you can argue that our universe is simply a quantum computer.) Like all observed quantum systems, they maintain their state until they are no longer being observed (or connected to, in this case), after which they decay.

So the quantum computers that run the internet keep their waveforms intact, and your particular version of the information in the internet exists in its own child universe that your computer is connected to. The next person to access the internet then causes the waveform to collapse again into another child universe. But this time, because of the uncertain nature of the waveform, it collapses to a slightly different form.

In other words, the new user of the internet experiences a slightly different internet to the one that you are experiencing.

The difference could be tiny. A comma missing, for example. Or it could be massive. An article that says a completely different thing. And, because of the way probability works, there is an infinitesimal chance (which may occur only once in billions of years) that the internet you experience is 100% different to the one that someone else experiences, causing great confusion.

And this is why, when you read something on the internet, you genuinely may be reading something completely different to what other people are reading. It’s not just they are stupid (although they almost certainly are).

Achievements Unlocked

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Today I got to finish writing two books in one day. How often does that happen?

Okay, I’m spinning this a little.

I finished my last major edits of THE EMPEROR OF MARS, which is the sequel to SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and sent it off to my editor. There’s still the copyediting and the proofs (and possibly more proofs…) but that’s it for any big changes. Basically, the way the book is now is the way it is going to be when it’s published, other than the odd fix to sentences here and there.

THE EMPEROR OF MARS is set eight months after the events of SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and features more deadly danger, thrilling adventures, and terrible peril.

As a celebration, here’s the opening sentences of THE EMPEROR OF MARS:

The Emperor of Mars

Mars, 1817

I was twenty feet underground, surrounded by glowing blue sandfish crystals, with my head jammed in a beetle-vine warren, when I realized that vine-mining wasn’t for me.

I had seen the notice pinned up outside the local office of the Imperial Martian Airship Company:

Volunteers Needed!
Root Out Beetle-Vines! Save Lunae City!
Sign Up Today!
Before it’s too late!

Perfect, I’d thought. What a great idea.

I had never been so wrong.

The book is out on July 18th, 2017, but advance copies will obviously be out sooner. Keep an eye on this blog if you want to know when you’ll get a chance to win one. :)

My Work-In-Progress, which I have also “finished”, is the first draft. That means, of course, that it’ll have to be rewritten many times, and so it could be completely, utterly different when it actually is published (and, of course, it might not get published at all). But here is a very brief taste of the opening. This may or may not be in the final version.

The Mystery of Firelake Hall

London, England, 1924

On the day that Miss Wellington was given the job of governess to the Stone children, she learned two absolutely unshakeable rules.

Firstly, nobody – absolutely nobody – talked about magic in the Stone household.

More on this one if and when it progresses!