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Noel's Blog

Thuvia, Maid of Mars/The Chessmen of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs, Frank Frazetta

After the pummeling my nerves received from John Carter’s ego in Warlord of Mars, I approached this book with trepidation. Fortunately, I enjoyed it a lot more than the previous installment. Firstly, the focus isn’t on John Carter, but on the eponymous Thuvia of Ptarth and John Carter’s son, Carthoris. They come across as more rounded, likeable individuals. The villainous Drusar, learning from the mistakes of others, try something more subtle than kidnapping Dejah Thoris  and inviting John Carter to slaughter them. Thuvia, destined to be married to one of her father’s allies, is kidnapped and, in trying to help find her, Carthoris becomes the number one suspect for her disappearance.


Of course, yet again, there’s another region that nobody ever leaves: the ghostly city of Lothar. The inhabitants are an archetype I’ve come across in later novels, and their intriguing nature is never fully resolved.


While there’s a big war brewing, the focus is firmly focused on Thuvia and Carthoris. As soon as their story comes to a close, the novel comes to an abrupt stop. Even if you found A Princess of Mars a bit off-putting,  you might still enjoy this novel.

The Warlord of Mars - John Bolen, Edgar Rice Burroughs

Okay. This one is a bit spoilery. So be warned.


The villains, Matai  Shang and Thurid, in this book have to be the stupidest so far. Have they learned nothing from the destruction their peoples suffered in the last book? Just give Dejah Thoris back to John Carter and he’d stop his hunt for you from pole to pole and go back to Helium and leave you alone. But no, that would be too easy.


Dejah Thoris again suffers from literary laryngitis for pretty much the entire story.


At this stage, the pattern is pretty set. John Carter arrives in some land nobody sensible ever goes to, makes friends with a local and sweeps away any evil tyrant who might be troubling his new acquaintance. At this stage John Carter has an ego the size of Green Martian’s egg and revels in every fight. I found it a bit wearing to listen to him.


The climax of the story is pretty good. However, to me, it seems a bit of an odd choice to install someone who delights in fighting as Warlord of Mars ‘to keep the peace.’


Just a quick note to let everyone know that my short story, The Fate Healer, is free on Amazon this week until Friday 9th May.


A short story where the quill proves to be more dangerous than any sword.


The genealogist Draston is charged with the impossible. His master, Hamvok the Merciful, craves a royal ancestor or two to legitimize his tyranny. But every avenue of Draston’s research comes to a dead end. Nobility has never sneezed on Hamvok’s ancestors, much less married into them. And now Draston’s time has run out.

To save himself from Hamvok’s violent displeasure, Draston promises to prove the tyrant is descended from a god. In doing so, he commits himself to a path of forgery and sacrilege. His enterprise will risk the wrath of gods. But, far worse, it will draw him to a shadowy figure more terrible than all the gods combined, the Fate Healer.

The Gods of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs

I found the  start of this book is actually more disorienting than its predecessor but it passes once a familiar face turns up. The book gives you the impression that the author wasn’t into organized religion, though that’s maybe reading too much into it. We discover that Mars is in fact layered like an onion with hidden races of cannibals and false religions. We encounter the white Therns and the black  First Born and their relationship to each other and the rest of Barsoom.


John Carter spends the novel either trying to escape one or other faction, or trying to rescue his princess from them. Dejah Thoris appears but hardly even speaks a word. Though John Carter only has eyes for her, nearly every woman he comes across falls for our hero. The exception is the villain Issus who is actually the strongest female character.


John Carter has a viking’s love of fighting and fortunately there is plenty of that. There are aerial battles aplenty. Whole armies are slaughtered.


If A Princess of Mars has a somewhat ambiguous ending, The Gods of Mars ends on quite a cliffhanger.

A Princess of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Seelye

John Carter, a veteran of the American Civil War is prospecting for gold when he and his partner encounter Apaches. He escapes them by entering a sacred cave but immediately succumbs to a strange drowsiness. When he wakes up, he’s on Mars, a dying world known to the locals as Barsoom. There, he is a kind of a Superman in reverse, with super strength and super agility, able to leap a thoat (10 feet high green horse) in a single bound, etc. He encounters a tribe of fearsome six armed green humanoids led by Tars Tarkas. They capture a Red Martian princess, Dejah Thoris, whom John Carter spends much of the novel trying to protect.


Mars is a dying world where, surprisingly, the megafauna are the last to go. The Green Martians feel alien, the Red Martians less so. It’s a world where everyone is constantly at war but the survival of all life on the planet hinges on two guys running a single atmosphere plant. It’s morally uncomplicated world or rather John Carter sees it as such. All in all, it’s best enjoyed by following his example and adopting the attitude of when on Mars. The most important lesson from it is don’t mess with his princess!

I have published a new short story, The Fate Healer, on Amazon.

The genealogist Draston is charged with the impossible. His master, Hamvok the Merciful, craves a royal ancestor or two to legitimize his tyranny. But every avenue of Draston’s research comes to a dead end. Nobility has never sneezed on Hamvok’s ancestors, much less married into them. And now Draston’s time has run out.

To save himself from Hamvok’s violent displeasure, Draston promises to prove the tyrant is descended from a god. In doing so, he commits himself to a path of forgery and sacrilege. His enterprise will risk the wrath of gods. But, far worse, it will draw him to a shadowy figure more terrible than all the gods combined, the Fate Healer.

The cover was supplied by The Cover Collection. Here’s something that may interest those interested in typography. The H is a different font from the rest of the title as the original H looked too much like a small h. The change really suits the theme.:)

March Update

I spent most of this month working on the Tank project. I was somewhat distracted by the release of The Unconquered Sun. Finished the Rev. 0 Draft (about 32k). A lot of work still to be done on it. There's a lot of reshaping and rethinking to be done for sure and I'm not sure it is going to be a novella or a novel. Generally, my projects increase in size every draft, so it might reach novel length yet. But the main thing for me is that the story achieves the length necessary for its telling. I'm under no obligation to meet X thousand words. 


At the moment I am working on a short story which probably illustrates what will happen with Tank. The Rev.0 was 5k words and the  Rev.1 is now at 6.5k, but there's probably not one word that hasn't been changed at least once. I like short stories because everything usually clicks into place so much faster (if they click at all). You can see the whole thing taking shape very quickly. 


As soon as the Rev. 1 of this story is finished, I'm going to start the Rev. 0 of another project, Diary, a horror novel (hopefully in genre, not execution.) If it gets too dark I might switch to the light fantasy project, Knife. I'm also hoping to complete the Rev. 2 of the short story I am currently working on. This month I will be also releasing the paperback version of The Unconquered Sun.

A General History of the Pyrates - Daniel Defoe, Manuel Schonhorn

This book, originally published in 1724, recounts the misadventures of several famous pirates including Blackbeard, Ann Bonnet, and Black Bart. Actually, Blackbeard, despite his fearsome reputation, came across as less bloodthirsty than for example Captain Spriggs or Captain Roche.


There is some debate as to who wrote the book. Some cite Daniel Defoe as the possible author. I’ll stick the guy named on the title page. :)


Many of the stories are fascinating. The book contains incredible detail, including lists of ships and their captains, and transcripts of trial testimony and judgments. At times the book became so dense with detail, I struggled to follow it in places and had to resort to Wikipedia to fill in the gaps in my understanding. Also, the narrative on occasion pauses to give a local geography lesson for a couple of pages. However, overall, it is well worth the effort to read it and is a must for anyone with even a passing interest in pirate lore.

February Update

So, at the start of January, I was working on one project (Spaghetti) and by the end of the month I was working on a different novel (Tank). So what happened? I enjoyed writing Spaghetti. I had a fairly good outline. I liked the characters. The writing needed a lot more fleshing out but that’s the nature of first drafts. I was over 20k through the story when on the morning of Friday 22nd I began to question whether the story was original enough. I knew that under the bonnet, there was something new, but I worried it would become evident too late in the story. By 10 am, I decided to park it. I worked on a second draft of short story for the day while I mulled what to do next.

On Monday, I started work on Tank, because I finally figured out how to overcome the POV issues the story posed. I’m very happy with the direction the story is taking. While I don’t have an exhaustive outline, I have most of the key events already written in some rough fashion. In a week, I had four and a half chapters completed (8k words). The writing felt solid, though obviously it needs polish and there are plenty of burrs to be planed away. Research held up writing a couple of times. Sometimes, it’s easier to wait to learn the questions before looking for answers. You can waste a lot of time on superfluous detail only to find it’s a waste of time because there’s some underlying fundamental flaw in your basic premise.

I am hoping to have the first draft finished by St. Patrick’s Day. In the meantime, The Unconquered Sun will be finally released on 11th February.

Plans For 2016

People are asking me about my new novel will be out (The Unconquered Sun which will be released on Amazon on 11th February 2016), but my focus has already moved on. Before Christmas, I mapped out five new projects. I gave them all generic working titles for the moment. Will all of them hatch into novels? I don’t know yet. Even the calmest waters can hide rocks to sink the unwary. But each idea has its own merit.

The first and foremost I am working on is called (note this is not the finished title) Spaghetti. I hope to have the first draft finished by St. Patrick’s Day. Considering my first book took 12 years and my second book technically  took 14 years, this is ambitious for me. The book is fully outlined and *cough* is the most straightforward of the five projects. The biggest challenge is that it is essentially a science fiction story where fantasy sensibilities predominate.

The second, Knife, is a light fantasy set in a secondary world. The main characters are pretty much there as are the main plot twists. I’ve done some exploratory writing to map it out and have about nearly a quarter of the first draft already written.

Tank is a science fiction colonization story. Again, a quarter is already written but the mechanics of the POV have yet to be worked out. I am planning to write this in the present tense.

Diary is a dark fantasy/horror. Like Tank, there’s a few viewpoint issues to decide plus some research to do, but the basic plot is advanced and I have a chunk of the first draft written.

Photocosm 4 (Photocosm 3 being The Parting Gift) is a sequel to The Golden Rule and kicks off a new series. Some of the survivors from The Unconquered Sun may appear but the focus moves westward to the city of Formicary. The first half of the story is pretty much worked out but the second half needs a bit of work.

Oh yes, I will be also working on some short stories.

In short, I will be sitting in front of a screen A LOT this year. :)

I plan to do a monthly update on progress to keep you all up to date.

The Development of The Unconquered Sun

The Unconquered Sun - Noel Coughlan The Parting Gift - Noel Coughlan

When I started back on The Unconquered Sun, I already had a fully written draft. I thought it would be easy to knock it into shape. I simply had to apply the lessons learned from A Bright Power Rising. It did turn out to be a bit easier but it wasn’t easy. It certainly took longer than I expected.

As I reread the draft, my heart sank the way it does when you reach the top of a ridge on a mountain only to find another, steeper one ahead. I had gotten used to the lovely edited prose in A Bright Power Rising. The Unconquered Sun seemed a mess in comparison. But I had already finished a book once and I could do it again. I plowed on.

The most urgent issue was the start. I had to pick up the threads from the first book, but in a way that The Unconquered Sun felt like a complete book, not merely the second part of a serial. I had to summarize the key information from the first book without (a) an actual summary or (b) long indigestible paragraphs of explanation stuffed into the story.

Complicating this further was the re-introduction of NoName (AscendantSun’s twin) into the book. When we last saw him he was going on his not-exactly-merry way to Sunset. There were a few nervous days when excluding his thread from the first book felt like a mistake but in the end it clicked into place. It took a great deal of effort to balance his thread with AscendantSun’s, given the latter also contained the POV’s of Grael and Garscap.

A second ‘hangover’ from the first book was a secret about AscendantSun’s past. It’s hinted at in a couple of places in A Bright Power Rising, but as far as I know nobody has yet put the clues together. After some deliberation. I dealt with it in the first chapter, knowing there were of plenty of twists to come later in the novel.

The book turned out longer than A Bright Power Rising by about ten thousand words. But there was a lot of winnowing of POV’s both before and during the editing process. Excluding the prologue, there were ten POV’s in A Bright Power Rising, several of whom were only used for specific scenes where the three main characters weren’t present. Quite a few didn’t didn’t survive the first book. In The Unconquered Sun, there are only six POV’s. They all don’t survive either.

By the time The Unconquered Sun had finished editing, I had about fifty-seven thousand words of cut material. Most of it was fairly well written but no longer fitted. Separate to this chunk was a flashback chapter I chopped early on. This became the basis of The Parting Gift, a short story providing a little of the history of the eponymous object that plays a vital role in The Unconquered Sun. The story is set in the early days after the Light War when the Ors were the Sables’ slaves. Originally the first Auctor played a significant role in it, but I chose a different Or, Certamen to be the main character. I did this to inject uncertainty into the main character’s fate (A Bright Power Rising confirms Auctors are still around an Or millennium later) and to avoid Shrinking Universe Syndrome (where the same characters play a significant role in every major event till their imaginary world feels tiny). I think the story will surprise readers of A Bright Power Rising, as it shows a new facet to the Ors’ history.

One contentious issue was raised about The Unconquered Sun. I had always intended that The Golden Rule duology would be just that–two books. I outlined my reasons in a previous post. It was suggested that I should break The Unconquered Sun into two books. I gave the matter a lot of consideration, but in the end I decided to stick to the original plan. I worried I would end up adding unnecessary filler material and the story would lose the momentum. The ends of my stories are often set up in the beginnings so they become (a least in my mind) a ring. I wanted to keep that wholeness. Was it the right decision? I’ll only know for sure after The Unconquered Sun is released on 11th February 2016.


Development of A Bright Power Rising

A Bright Power Rising - Noel Coughlan

The best thing about not knowing what you’re doing is you are willing to attempt feats you would realize were difficult to almost impossible.

In 2004, I started the first draft of what would become The Golden Rule Duology. Back then, it had the snappy title of The Two-Thumbed Hand. (I don’t know why I changed it.)  The story concentrated on the Ors, one of the five races in the Photocosm setting I’d created. Up till then, the Sables (the myrmidons of the Dark Light) had been the focus of my efforts, but the Ors captured my imagination so much, I had to write about them.

The book originally began at the start of the second section of A Bright Power Rising. My original plan was to see the entire story through the viewpoint of AscendantSun and NoName (who were DayRise and SunSet back then) but their interactions with the (human) Mixies became quickly unwieldy to write. The Ors were alien to the reader, while the Mixies were alien to the Ors. Explaining things became quickly convoluted. The story quickly became an onion of aliening. I cried every time I had to cut through the layers.

The problem with writing the alien is you are merely three letters short of alienate. While readers might enjoy the alien perspective, emotional resonance takes time to establish. The readers need ‘rules’. They need analogies. They need to relate the Ors’ reactions to their own emotions.

To ease the reader into this world, the Mixies’ role was expanded into what became the first section of A Bright Power Rising. The Mixies’ society became fleshed out. In some ways, they, too, are alien but they are recognizably human.

The Two-Thumbed Hand eventually became The Golden Rule. It was so long, a printed copy filled two thick ring binders. My initial readers came back with three clear issues. It was too long, it wasn’t long enough, but the ending was really good.  Basically, I needed to slow down the pace to give people time to adjust to what was going on, and at the same time not inflict an excessively long story on them. I needed to split it into two volumes.

The initial problem was how to end  the first volume.  I wanted to tell a complete story, but I had to do so in a way that readers would want to read the next book. The third part of A Bright Power Rising was the result.

My beta readers loved it so I was soon off to get it edited. The first problem was where to get an editor. I must have looked at about thirty to forty different options. It’s an expensive decision, not simply in the initial financial outlay, but in time and morale. Picking the wrong editor can set you back. I wanted someone who knew what they were doing and would be brutally honest with the book’s issues. Fortunately, I lucked out by finding Finish The Story and Claire Ashgrove in particular.

I worked very hard through the editing process. I wanted the book to be ‘right,’ Ultimately, while it was at times painful, I learned an immense amount and the book improved beyond all recognition,

I had the book proofread a couple of times by Finish The Story and by Proofed to Perfection. One of the things always missed in the debates about errors in self-published books is that one proofreader is not enough to guarantee errors are minimized. My understanding is the big publishers use multiple proofreaders per book. Whenever I read a proofreader claim to never miss a mistake, I raise an eyebrow.

Everyone I’ve read talks of publishing for the first time as exciting. It is, but it is also nerve-racking. If I had to do it all over again, I would have first published a short story first to get familiar with the publishing process on Amazon, etc.

I was very happy with the final product. During editing, I weirdly get less satisfied with them when I haven’t read them a while, but when I reread them and get back into the story, my confidence in them returns. Fortunately, once they are published (unless some typo/error crops up), I just let them go as my brain starts work on the next book. It’ll be interesting to reread A Bright Power Rising in a couple of years. What will I think of it then?





The one issue I would change in a perfect world would be the pronouns for the Ors, given their genderless nature. I would have liked to use something like xe/xem/xyr for them. But as an unknown self-publishing my own book, I decided this would create a barrier for readers who were unfamiliar with the terminology. I couldn’t afford to come off as being willfully obscure.

A Bright Power Rising is now a B.R.A.G.Medallion Honoree!

Last week, IndieBrag honored A Bright Power Rising with a its B.R.A.G.Medallion! Only about 10% of submitted books receive it so I am really chuffed. :)

The Knowledge

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch - Lewis Dartnell


This is a very informative book with a lot of fascinating detail. It is basically a thought experiment. If most of humanity was wiped out in the morning and a handful of people remained, could they survive and rebuild modern technology? To determine this, Dartnell looks how these technologies were originally developed and any possible short cuts which the survivors could take.


The ‘apocalypse’ itself described in book was very clinical but this book is not meant to be a blow-by-blow instruction manual. I couldn’t see survivors sitting around it deciding what to do on Day 24. However, it does contain a lot of high level technological insight that a post-apocalyptic Edison or Pasteur might find useful and could spend years of their lives trying to leverage.


The book is apolitical. Its focus is the technology. If you need advice on how to hang on to your post-apocalyptic fiefdom, consult Machiavelli, Sun Tzu and other experts in such matters. Oh, it doesn’t cover killing zombies either.


Some readers might find the advanced chemistry section a bit of a drudge, but I can’t see how Dartnell could avoid that, given leaving it out would undermine the book’s purpose. On the flip side, it provides useful context for any fledgling chemistry students.


The footnotes throughout the book are consistently very interesting. I think any writer interested in world building would find the book very useful.


One thing to note is that the book is shorter than it appears. About the last 20% is filled with references, including a useful list of relevant fiction.


One final word of advice. If you want to tuck this away for the apocalypse, so you can amaze the other survivors with your scientific knowhow, remember to buy the paperback, not the ebook. Unless you’re really sure you can get those generators up and running.

Twitter for Writers (Writer's Craft)

Twitter for Writers (Writer's Craft) - Rayne Hall This book must have written for me because it chimes so much with my experience on Twitter. The writer, Rayne Hall, has about sixty thousand followers on Twitter. Really, to sum up her message in two words-be authentic. She describes the techniques that work best for her on Twitter, the pitfalls to avoid, and the mistakes she has made. She has tried out a lot of strategies/applications, which will save you a lot of bother and frustration if you listen to her. Her focus is on gaining real followers. She encourages conversation instead of automated spamming. I learned a few useful tidbits. If you are new to twitter, this book is essential reading.

The Food Of The Gods

The Food Of The Gods - H.G. Wells In The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth, two scientists (Redwood & Bensington) discover a ‘food’ which causes any creature that eats it to expand to gigantic proportions. Things go wrong at their experimental farm due to the incompetence of the couple charged with managing it. Exposed to the food, nature runs amok. However, one of the scientists commits a worse sin. Children are exposed to the Boomfood,either through error or deliberate experimentation creating a race of giants that ultimately comes in contact with disastrous results.

This book is at times satirical, whimsical, thrilling and tragic, but the transitions between these moods are sometimes jarring, and the jocularity sometimes undercuts the drama. It can be a little repetitive and drawn out, and the ending may not be to everyone’s tastes. From a modern perspective, it is hard to believe that Redwood would deliberately feed his son the Boomfood but it might have been believable to contemporary audiences given safety standards were less stringent back then.

I didn’t particularly enjoy Mr. Skinner’s lispy accent. It wath a bit thuffbcating at timeth to thtruggle through long paragraphth of ‘im thpeakin’. Fortunately, his dialogue is confined to the early part of the novel.

I was intrigued by the association of enormity with advancement. The idea had a certain quaintness about it. (It was written over a hundred years ago.) It certainly takes bigger and better to an (illogical) extreme. It puts me in mind of dinosaurs for some reason.

If you approach this book without too high expectations, you will find a lot to enjoy here despite its flaws.