The hidden hero in Game of Thrones


Who, ultimately, is the true hero of Game of Thrones?

I have a controversial offering to put forward, and it’s none of the usual candidates. Indeed, all those other characters we’ve been following might turn out to be the bad guys after all. Yes, even handsome Jon Snow and the pretty blonde with the dragons.

Because the hero I have in mind brings messianic hope to the world of Westeros. Like certain other saviours I could mention, he possesses the ability to raise the dead, Lazurus-like, back to life. Unlike the red witch and Beric Dondarrian, however, he is not picky and partial about who he revives. It’s not only the elites, the nobles, the ‘high’ folk that he reanimates. He saves the ordinary, the ugly, the maimed and rotting.

He looks evil, but don’t judge a book by its cover…

More than that, he embraces true forgiveness. He gives breath back to his enemies, the soldiers who have fought against him only moments before.

Who among us could be so merciful?

Throughout the series we have seen the corruption, selfishness, callousness and violence of the world of men (and women too). This hero intends to sweep it away. Like all revolutions, it will bring immense change. It will be painful for many.

But if he is victorious, and at the end of it all the Night’s King purges the sins of humanity and sits upon the Iron Throne, it might just count as the most unlikely happy ending of all.

‘Ancient Quarrel’ – book 4 of the Koriba series, out now

Koriba, News

The fourth book in the series ‘A Tribal Song – Tales of the Koriba’, a prehistoric adventure set in the deep stone age, is out now and available as an ebook on Amazon. It will be available as an ebook on other retailers at some point during 2018, and will be released as a paperback soon, hopefully this side of Christmas, if all goes well.

The book works as a standalone story, so if you’ve not read the others, you could dive straight into this, although it clearly contains lots of spoilers.

This tale is a love story. When Temfe goes to visit the elders of a tribe that blocks their progress, hoping to plead for safe passage, he takes along his friend, the impetuous, handsome warrior Arom. While in the camp of the Peult tribe, Arom sees the beautiful young woman of the Peult tribe, Lajula, and is instantly infatuated.

Luckily, she feels the same way about him. But her father is less impressed. And the rules of her tribe forbid her to be bonded to an outsider. And as we all know, the course of true love never runs smoothly.

It is, of course, Romeo and Juliet back-dated into prehistoric times, but with some fresh twists, especially around the ending.

You’ll find the book here

book cover - prehistoric fiction

Book trailer… an experiment

News, Writer Tech

Adobe has launched a new(ish) free(ish) service called Spark – providing a simple but limited way to create videos, social media posts and web pages, along with assorted bits of graphics you could use in various ways.

As an experiment, I decided to try making a book promo video for ‘Lost In Thought’ . The graphics are almost non-existent so far, with the emphasis all on the text. You can see my efforts here.

A novella released, a first draft completed, a plan hatched


News this week of a new novella, a fourth book in the Koriba series (at last), and plans for future projects.

Cult Following (No Faith To Lose)’ is a prequel novella to the ‘Capgras Conspiracy’ series. It introduces some of the key characters and fleshes out the backstory, but can be read on its own as a free-standing crime thriller.

There’s more here, or an Amazon. The book is Amazon and ebook only at present.

The second full-length novel in the series, Cold Monsters (No Secrets To Conceal)‘ was launched last month with an appropriate stealth-release designed to throw the secret services off the scent.

Fans of my prehistoric adventure series ‘A Tribal Song – Tales of the Koriba’ will be pleased to hear that book four is finally on its way. The first draft of ‘Ancient Quarrel‘ is complete and the book should be ready to launch in the Autumn, fingers crossed. If you want to be the first to get a copy, I’ll send a free ebook version to the first person to correctly identify the source of the title. Let me know in the comments.

I have plenty of editing to do on the Koriba book, but my typing fingers are itching to get started on a fresh project, so I’m currently involved on lots of planning around a new novel and series. More news on that to come once the plans are a little more advanced: the truth is, I have four or five potential projects to pursue next, and haven’t yet decided which one to go with. One possibility, of course, is book 3 of the Capgras series. I already have a rough idea of the story, and the title is in place (which for me is half the battle), but story ideas are still percolating, and I might leave it a little longer before getting started on that book.

Finally, if you’ve read and enjoyed any of my books, I’d be immensely grateful if you would leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever you hang out – but Amazon most of all. It doesn’t need to be long or  detailed. Even a few words would help, and getting reviews is both harder and more useful than you might imagine.

Cold Monsters live on Amazon, reduced price for a few days only


Crime, spy and political thrillerMy latest novel, Cold Monsters (No Secrets To Conceal), which is the second book in the ‘Capgras Conspiracy’ series, is now live on Amazon.

The official ‘launch’ date is 17 May 2017. (It’s something of a stealth launch… keeping it secret from GCHQ and the NSA!) But the book is now live on 16 May. It will be priced at 99c and equivalents around the world for the next few days, so if you’re keen to get a copy, please go here. (The link should take you to the Amazon store in your country).

The ebook version will be exclusive to Amazon for 3 months. The paperback will be out hopefully within a week. See here for more information on the book itself.

Stories break the rules

Story Simplified

As a working first principle for this book / series of blog posts, I’m adopting the basic attitude that all of the various competing theories on how stories should be written and structured and why people like to read them and why authors fail if they don’t conform to certain rules – all those theories have something valid to tell us. But none of them are complete, or apply to all stories.

This does need saying – because there are many, many people writing ‘how to’ books for authors and writers and would-be novelists and screenwriters who adopt that ‘authoritative’ tone of voice and insist that they have the answer: their theory is the one that works and if you don’t comply with it, your book will be a failure. You will be a failure.

It is possible, however, there is no one master-key to all stories. There is no one structure that all great stories conform to. There isn’t one formula or design principle that works across the board. There are many types of stories. People read for many different reasons. It may just be that stories are too varied, too complex, too alive to ever be completely categorised and explained.

So, in these posts and in this book, I’ll be exploring what works and what is insightful. But none of it is the final word, or a hard and fast rule. Stories cannot be contained. They live, they breathe, they change, they deal with human nature and emotions and actions. They are as varied and as complex as we are. They cannot be shoved inside a straight-jacket of a theory without losing their essential essence.

Stories break the rules.

People read for the endorphins, and the cortisol and for ’emotional exercise’

Story Simplified

Are stories a kind of emotional gym, where we can do a workout and so strengthen ourselves, improving our problem solving and ability to endure stressful situations?

Or are they all about the glorious state of relaxation that washes over us once the story is over, and the stress and tension are relieved?

The answer appears to be: both.

In a blog post (which unfortunately seems to have been deleted – but is mostly still available here) author David Farland puts forward the theory that the reason story telling is so popular is that it activates not one but two of the three possible strategies for dealing with stress and problems. The three options are:

  • Direct action to get rid of the stress – for example, if we have money problems, go out and make money.
  • Escape – take your mind off things with a holiday, a night out, through booze or drugs etc.
  • Rejuvenation –  coping with the stress through the use of emotional exercises.

Story, Farland says, “lets you escape and rejuvenate simultaneously.”

“By reading a book or watching a movie, to a degree you escape from your own life, your own world, and become immersed in a fictive universe. You take an emotional vacation. Typically, this is most true in the opening of a story where the author spends a good deal of time establishing the setting and characters. There, the conflicts may be less significant and may appear more easily resolvable than at the end.”

As the story progresses and conflict intensifies, this triggers the rejuvenation:

“Your subconscious mind does not completely recognize the difference between your real experiences and those that occur only in the imagination. So, when you become Frodo Baggins walking the road to the Crack of Doom, chased by dark riders, the subconscious mind responds to some degree as if those incidents were really happening.

Indeed, the more completely you become immersed in a fictive tale, the more totally your body will respond.”

The body will respond initially with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. The body then seeks to restore balance and helps you to cope with the (fictional) stress by releasing endorphins. These are naturally produced opiates which control and diminish pain.

So, when we are reading stories, we are, in a sense, like a drug addict, taking stimulants one moment, and ‘downers’ the next. But there’s one big hit still to come:

“At some phase of the story, you reach the “happy ending,” and your brain rewards you for a job well done—by releasing large amounts of serotonin into the brain, which makes you feel happy. It’s the same chemical released to the brain when you eat delicious foods. Only in this case, it’s the reward for defeating the “Dark Lord,” or overcoming a similar problem.

You’ve just performed an emotional exercise, very similar to a physical exercise. Reading is to the mind as aerobics is to the heart and lungs. Because you have performed this emotional exercise, you will be better able to handle the little stresses in your day-to-day life.”

So, people read stories partly because they want to trigger these natural body responses, and at one level the body can’t really tell the difference between what is really happening in the world and what is only fictional, but happening sure enough in the imagination. It goes through a stress response and releases the appropriate chemicals, but then the ‘antidote’ kicks in – the endorphins and finally the serotonin.

But we are also reading to strengthen our emotional muscles. Stories are a work-out. They are preparation for life.


Stories are about problem solving

Story Simplified

A story is about a person with a problem, and how they go about solving it. In order to solve it, they will have to change something about themselves or their outlook.

We use story as a way of examining how others tackled a particular problem, so that we can learn those lessons without actually having to put ourselves through the experience, or into that kind of danger.

Readers unconsciously expect these elements to be present. This is probably due to the ancient origins of story, which, experts reckon, originated as a means of sharing information that was vital to survival. For example, those berries might kill you, or that river is infested with crocodiles.

Because we are a tribal species, our relationships with those around us were also a matter of life and death. If you get kicked out of the tribe, your chances of surviving or mating were severely reduced. So the stories also contained elements of how to navigate the turbulent waters of the social realm. We use stories to understand what others might be thinking and feeling, what motivates them and how they might react.

Stories are a way to learn about the world and in particular other people. Perhaps that’s why we tell stories to children to such a huge extent. We read to them when they are very young, and they lap it up. We are anxious that they should learn to read for themselves as soon as possible, so they can launch themselves into the ocean of story telling that is all around them.

Harvard professor Steven Pinker says: “Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalogue of the fatal conundrums we might face someday and the outcomes of strategies we could deploy in them.  What are my options if I were to suspect that my uncle killed my father, took his position, and married my mother?”

A story, then, is a way to watch someone go about solving a problem or tackling an issue, and seeing not only what they do, but also why they fail at first, and what they must change in order to finally succeed. Or, in the case of tragedy, why they can’t change, and how this leads to ultimate failure.


This post is part of a series called “Storytelling simplified” – which is intended to build, one day, into a book. For the introduction and idea behind the series start here

Fiction is about feelings

Story Simplified, Storytelling

One of the main reasons people read, listen to and watch fiction is to feel the emotions created by the story. This might mean that they identify with the characters, and share the emotions they are feeling. Or it might mean that they care for the characters, and feel emotions on their behalf.

For example, in a horror movie, we might feel fear when the character sees a monster and is terrified. Or, the character might be blithely unaware of the danger they are in, but we know the monster is stalking them, and we feel fear on their behalf.

Either way, people read for emotion. They want to be ‘moved’ – literally. The word “emotion” comes from the Latin “exmovere” meaning ‘to move” or “to disturb or agitate.”

The names of many genres are a clue to the importance of emotional content, since many of them speak directly to the emotions we feel while immersed in the story: romance, horror, thriller, mystery.

But don’t take my word for it. This is Dwight V. Swain in his seminal book “Techniques of the Selling Writer”:

“What should you as a fiction writer communicate? Feelings.

“A story recounts events. But those events can’t or won’t stand alone. They need to be explained, interpreted, evaluated, made meaningful. Above all, they must be translated into feeling.”

Karl Iglesias, in his book ‘Writing for Emotional Impact’  describes movies and TV shows (and we can add novels to the list) as “emotion machines”:

“Great storytelling is about one thing only—engaging the reader emotionally. Good writing is good writing because you feel something when you read it.”

He explains that to create a “good story, well told” we have to do two things:

  • We need to create the events, places, characters and imaginary world of the tale – this is the ‘good story’ part
  • And we need to create the emotional impact on the reader. This makes it ‘well told.’

He goes on to define three types of emotions:

Voyeuristic emotions – we use the story to “spy” on other people and their lives – in this case the characters in the tale. The emotions appeal to our “curiosity about new information, new worlds, and the relationships between characters.” This is probably the least intense of the emotional experiences, as we remain, in a sense, detached from them.

Vicarious emotions – this is when we identify with a character so strongly that we feel what they feel.

Visceral emotions – these are the ones that actually get the heart pounding. They are created when the techniques the writer uses are so effective, they have a powerful physical effect on the reader or viewer. The emotions might include: interest, curiosity, anticipation, tension, surprise, fear, excitement, lust. (Most of his book are dedicated to explaining how to evoke these visceral emotions. It focuses on script writing for movies and TV, but is highly recommended for all writers).

So, we need to remember when we talk about, plan and create stories that we need to create emotions in the reader. The emotions of our characters are what the reader wants to experience – and the events exist in order to create those emotions.

Feelings should influence every story decision we make.

Story Simplified – introduction

Story Simplified

This is the first in a planned (very long) series of blog posts which will eventually build into a non-fiction book. I’m writing the book ‘live’ on the blog, and all the content is subject to change before going into book form. The blog posts themselves will also evolve.

But… why write yet another ‘how to’ book on story telling and fiction writing? There are literally thousands of books on these subjects out there already, and many of them are absolutely wonderful. I’ll be drawing on some of my favourites as we go along, referencing them so readers can check them out for themselves, and discussing their good and bad points.

So what will be different about this book / blog series? The clue is in the title: it will be ‘simplified.’

The aim is to reduce story telling to core ideas, which can be expressed in a few pages of a book  or in one, focused article or blog post, usually of less than 1,000 words. This will mean ‘chunking it down’ – breaking the fundamentals of story telling into bite size pieces which are easy to digest.

This will involve condensing everything I’ve studied and learnt about story telling down to basic first principles – to remind myself, to embed that learning, and to ensure I’ve understood it, by testing whether or not I can explain it clearly. The content will:

  • Provide a clear introduction to storytelling to anyone who is interested
  • Act as a refresher, reminder, cheatsheet and quick reference for writers and other storytellers.

The blog posts and book chapters will follow a number of key principles:

  • Make it simple enough that it acts as an introduction to the subject and one that can be read by a young person who wants to know more about how stories work
  • Make it complete enough to allow someone to start telling their own stories
  • Make it practical and useful – not a discussion piece, but a guide for those who want to write their own stories.
  • Make it true enough that even someone with years of experience telling stories, someone who has studied the subject extensively, can gain value from the material as a reminder or reference.

I also intend to refer to well known stories as we go along, because this is the best way to illustrate the ideas and information. Some of the stories that will be used the most include:

  • The Harry Potter series of books / movies
  • Star Wars (especially ‘A New Hope’ – the original movie and the 4th in the series)
  • The Silence of the Lambs – because of its superb structure, it’s a book and movie, it’s very well known and has been intricately dissected in The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.
  • Casablanca – because everyone has seen it. (You haven’t? Go watch, thank me later).
  • More … this list will expand in time.

Is Storytelling Insanely Complicated – Or Dead Easy?

Creating stories can seem like the easiest thing in the world: when you view a beautifully told tale, it can so inevitable, so perfect, it seems to have sprung into life fully formed. And indeed, some stories and the characters within them do spring from the sub-conscious with a life of their own.

And yet, there is so much to take into account: from climaxes and crisis, crucibles and conflict, character and complications through to narrative arcs and archetypes, plot points and protagonists, three, four and five act structure, theme, tension and show and tell.

Story is complex, but the same is true of so many things in life, such as driving a car, or hitting a tennis ball. These activities are also insanely complicated when you stop and think about. Indeed, if you start to think about your driving too much, you’ll probably be a danger to yourself and all those around you. Think about your tennis shots too much and you’ll fluff it, miss the ball entirely or end up with a bad case of the yips. The trick is not to think about. Your body and your unconscious mind know how to drive and execute tennis shots better than you do. Let them get on with, while you think about work, or love, or last night’s TV show.

The same goes for storytelling. Plenty of people have created brilliant stories without ever studying the techniques or reading a couple of hundred ‘how to’ books on the subject. One of the best ways to learn story is simply to read widely, internalise it all, and let your subconscious do its thing.

That may be all the advice you need: if you bought the book, you can return it now and ask for a refund. If you’re reading this on the blog, no need to bookmark it, your work is already done.

But there will be more advice to come, plenty of it, and much analysing of the techniques and craft of storytelling. Why? Because when we learn to drive or to play tennis, we could do it by watching someone else and copying what they do. We learn faster and deeper, and ultimately achieve higher performance, if we supplement that by also learning the ‘how to’. We need to know which pedal does what, what the controls do, the rules of the road, what the signs mean, how to behave in lanes in different situations. We need to groove our backhand and make slight adjustments as necessary. Only once we have developed the muscle memory can we go into flow and put our unconscious minds in charge. So there is a place for knowing the hows and the whys, the ins and outs, the methods, procedures, ‘rules’ and strategies.

So, ‘Story Simplified’ will be an introduction, a refresher, and a way of testing our understanding of how and why stories work, and how we can craft great tales that engross readers and fire their imaginations.