Churchill (the movie)

On a recent flight from Australia to the US I watched the movie Churchill which the logline describes thus:

96 hours before the World War II invasion of Normandy, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill struggles with his severe reservations with Operation Overlord and his increasingly marginalized role in the war effort.

An excellent performance from Brian Cox as Churchill but definitely not an action-packed blockbuster. Mostly I suspect it will appeal to history buffs like me as a worthwhile examination of a key period in history.

My recent novel Harry Seven deals (in more depth – a key advantage of novels over movies) with many of the same issues around disagreements between the American and British leaders on the best strategy for defeating Germany and British doubts about the prospects for success of an amphibious landing in northern France. On the latter note, because mine is a time travel story, I had the luxury of exploring multiple possible outcomes for D-Day and other elements of the Allied campaign.

But I made a deliberate decision not to have Churchill appear as a character in my story (other than by reference – the protagonist spends a considerable part of the story salivating at the prospect of meeting the British PM, but alas…). Churchill has been covered so extensively in film and print that I felt there was nothing original I could add. Nevertheless, several well-known historical figures are central to the story including  Eisenhower, Montgomery, and Brooke. I did a great deal of research on each of them and tried to always depict their actions, words, and personalities in a way that is consistent with the historical record.

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Harry Seven Released

My latest novel, Harry Seven, is now available on Amazon (ebook only – the paperback will follow in a few weeks.) For this week only it is available at the special introductory price of 99 cents ($4.99 or equivalent after that).

As my fourth novel I’m confident it’s my best yet. I really feel like I know what I’m doing now, rather than feeling my way forward through a process of trial and error.

Buy now at:
Amazon.com Amazon.com.au Amazon.co.uk Amazon.com.ca

Harry Seven Kindle Scout Campaign

My latest novel, Harry Seven, is finally complete.

Rather than going directly to self-publishing this time, I’m trying a program called Kindle Scout which gives Amazon customers the chance to vote on books to be published under Amazon’s own imprints.

Here’s the link. Check it out and vote away. Should it be selected, I’ll get a small advance (and major encouragement to keep writing) and you’ll get a free advance copy once the publication date is set!

Movie Adaptations

I’ve read many wonderful, original stories over the years that I thought would make great movies, while Hollywood continues to churn out remakes and formulaic ‘me-too’ dross. I always wondered why.

Now I understand at least part of the reason – movie adaptations of novels are hard. There are other reasons relating to the economics of the movie industry that are important too, but let me repeat: movie adaptations of novels are hard. Really hard.

While I’m waiting for the editors to be done with their work on Harry Seven, I decided to read up on the fundamentals of writing screenplays for feature films and then apply and test what I’d learned by adapting my own novel.

I’d always thought it would be fun to try writing a screenplay, and it was (though I ought to have known better – listening to the little voice in my head saying “it might be fun to write a novel” has changed my life over the past five years.)

I expected to do some work in translating all the internal monologue into visuals and dialogue, and that didn’t prove too hard. In some ways, the ability to rely on the actors to convey emotion, and visual settings to create atmosphere was quite freeing. There’s only so many ways to describe facial expressions without feeling like you’re repeating yourself.

What I soon discovered though is that an average length novel (Harry Seven is 91,000 words or about 350 pages) will be about two to two and a half times as long as it needs to be when translated directly into a script.

(As an aside, an average screenplay is 100 to 110 pages when formatted correctly giving a rule of thumb of one page = one minute of running time. BTW – violate the screenplay formatting rules and no one in the industry will even pick up your script, let alone read it.)

What I had to do was cut the story down dramatically by eliminating many secondary characters and most of the sub-plots, so that the focus was almost exclusively on the main characters (in this case Harrison and Alicia) and their core desires.

Movies also follow a much more predictable structure (especially if you’re targeting the mass market), so even the main plot had to be simplified and reorganized. For example, some of the twists that take time to build in the novel have to be revealed much earlier in the piece to fit the standard pattern. I found that challenging at first, but I think it’s actually given me a better handle on structuring a story for any format, so much so that I’m actually considering for my next novel writing the screenplay first.

Predicting the future in sci-fi

I recently re-watched Blade Runner, one of my all time favourite films (The much-maligned Theatrical Release for those who care about such things. I don’t mind The Final Cut, but I’m not a big fan of the Director’s Cut.)

The story is set in 2019, just three years from now, and important events in the backstory are occurring right now, like Roy Batty’s “birthday.”

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The movie was released in 1982, just over thirty years ago (though the Philip K. Dick story on which it was based – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (best title ever) – was published in 1968). The conception of the future portrayed in the film was interesting, not only in terms of technology but also social developments.

There’s the proverbial flying cars, and Replicants who are almost indistinguishable from humans, but no cell phones or flat screens. People are moving to “off world colonies” but most of them still smoke!

As a science fiction writer I’ve been trying to decide what the lesson in this is. I think it’s that you should lay off predicting future technology and society unless it directly affects the story, i.e. don’t use tech as the literary equivalent of eye candy.

Even then, you’ll probably get it wrong. But you’ll at least have a shot at drawing out some plausible implications, and perhaps to make the reader question some assumptions about their present. What more could an author ask for than that?

Cerelia’s Choice is Finally Here!

My latest novel, Cerelia’s Choice, is now available in ebook format on Amazon (US, UK, Australia, and the other stores). The paperback should be available in a week or two.

I’m really proud of this book. It’s a mix of space opera and romance, and I feel I’ve done a decent job of being true to both genres, resulting in a story with a little of something for everyone. I have a picture in my mind of the scene in The Princess Bride, where the grandfather is explaining to the boy that the book has sword fights and pirates and giants and chases, and of course true love. Well there are no giants, and the fighting is all done without swords, but the rest is true!

Cerelias Choice Kindle Cover

 A beautiful princess.

A handsome space pirate.

It could be a match made in heaven—if they survive…

When the luxury spaceliner carrying Crown Princess Cerelia across the Galactic Empire is attacked by space pirates, she is forced to flee for her life in the company of the ship’s captain, Jefferson Rydel. Having left behind her home and family forever to marry Lord Veraney, the man she has selected to succeed her father as Emperor, her disappearance throws the Imperial succession into question and destabilizes the Empire.

As she struggles to adapt to a harsh and challenging environment completely unlike the refined, sophisticated, and comfortable world she has always known, she discovers again and again that Captain Rydel is not what she thought he was.

Has he really uncovered the secret of Earth, its location lost in the passage of time and regarded by most as a myth? It would be a discovery to rock the very foundations of the Empire, its fourteen worlds each having been selected and terraformed to resemble as closely as possible humanity’s supposed original home. Or is he nothing but an unprincipled charlatan exploiting the hopes of millions?

Whoever he is, she has no choice but to accept his help. As they fight to stay ahead of the forces trying so desperately to kill her, and to stop the plot against the Imperial throne, she begins to wonder if she has found what she always longed for but never believed she would find—a man she can truly love without turning her back on the duty she was born to fulfill…

Discworld Mourns

All of Discworld mourns today at the news that Terry Pratchett has had his final meeting with Death.

I love the Discworld novels far more than any other fantasy works I’ve read (I generally prefer my fiction with a little science). They are satire at its very best – laugh out loud funny wrapped around biting political and social insights.

It’s a close run for my favorite between Going Postal and Making Money, but the latter wins for its profound observations on that most ethereal substance – money – that we all seem to spend so much time pursuing.

Wherever Sir Terry is now, he can take comfort from knowing it’s turtles all the way down.

Ender’s Game

I just watched the movie of Orson Scott Card’s best-selling novel Ender’s Game.

The movie was enjoyable, but lacked the emotional impact of the book which is a sci-fi classic and one of my favorites, by which I mean that it still affects me when I think about it, even now several years after I first read it.

In the book we see the slow, deliberate process by which Ender is transformed from an innocent six-year-old boy into a ruthless military commander. How and why this happens is fundamental to the story and the skill with which Card carries it off is what makes Ender’s Game so unique.

In Fuller’s Mine, there’s a process of a character being broken down psychologically. My character’s transformation is nowhere near as dramatic as Ender’s–it doesn’t so much change her as simply force her to act against her wishes–and occurs over a period of only a month, but it still required nearly 15,000 words (45 paperback pages) to do it justice.

In the movie of Ender’s Game the transformation happens to quickly. We don’t see enough detail of the experiences which change Ender for such a dramatic change in his character to be convincing. They’ve also compressed the timeline, so rather than being six years old at the start of the story he’s more like eleven or twelve.

If you’ve seen the movie but haven’t read the book, you really must.