How 10 Little Astronauts went from a MA with distinction to a book

Big Up Words are going to publish a series of blogs where writers talk about their publishing journeys. Damon L. Wake’s book 10 Little Astronauts is going to be published by Unbound.

I think there’s a moment in any academic project when you question everything you’ve done so far. For me, that moment came when I was sitting in a café with someone on the same Creative Writing MA as me at the University of Winchester. She picked up my work, read a bit, and said “Huh. So you’re handing in Agatha Christie fanfiction in space?” That was the moment I realised that I was taking a massive, massive gamble with my entire course. It was the moment I considered binning the whole thing and starting again, and it was the moment I decided to press on regardless. Partly that was because I was confident that the setting did work with the story, partly because I didn’t have time to come up with anything else.

 

Fortunately, in the end, it all went pretty well. As strange as it felt to submit a mash-up between And Then There Were None and Alien as a serious academic project, the novella was awarded a Distinction and, shortly afterwards, accepted for publication. But more on that later.

The thing about space is that it works extraordinarily well as a setting for a mystery thriller. In space, no one can hear you scream. In zero gravity, no one can hear your footsteps either. The truly colossal distances involved in travelling between stars—far enough that an S.O.S sent at the speed of light will still take years to be heard—guarantee that nobody is coming to help. The hostility of the environment itself means that the characters must work together to survive, even as paranoia threatens to drive them apart and a large part of the inspiration behind Ten Little Astronauts.

 

I’d thoroughly enjoyed ‘And Then There Were None’ but found it took a long time to get started. There’s a lot of scene-setting—several whole chapters—dedicated to explaining how the various characters came together and why they can’t escape after it becomes apparent that one of them is a serial killer. The tension only reaches its peak after a whole series of murders has whittled the cast down to just three or four.

By shifting the setting of my novella to interstellar space, I managed to move the discovery of the first murder to the very first page. Having been woken from suspended animation, chosen from a crew of thousands to respond to, a fire on board the ship, none of the ten astronauts knows any of the others. However, having discovered the body of an eleventh person at the scene of the incident—an incident that has also disabled the ship’s computer—they know that one of their numbers is an imposter who intends to kill them all. With no life support, and the masses of frozen crewmembers causing the air temperature to plummet, the ten astronauts have to split up to repair the damage despite knowing that anyone, in any group, could be the murderer.

 

Having sunk an enormous amount of time and effort into Ten Little Astronauts for my course, and since it had been well-received academically, I decided to submit it to Scott Pack—an editor at Unbound—as part of a one-to-one meeting at the Winchester Writers’ Festival this summer. He passed on my manuscript, and within a couple of weeks, I got an email back saying that they had decided to launch the book!

Unbound are a crowdfunding publisher—pre-orders from readers are what fund the initial run of first editions, with trade paperbacks distributed to bookshops by Penguin Random House after that—and they set me up with a video for the book. They let me pick the location, and since I’d done a good chunk of my research for it on board HMS Alliance at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, I got in touch with the museum staff to see if they’d be happy for us to film on board. Visiting the submarine while writing had helped me pin down the atmosphere of the spacecraft in the book, so I was thrilled when they agreed to let us shoot the video itself inside.

Damon L Wakes

HMS Alliance background to Damon’s Unbound video.

 

Since the crowdfunding campaign started, I’ve been doing everything I can to get the word out about the book. I’m hardly a big-name author, so the biggest challenge by far is letting people know it exists. Unbound recommended offering attractive rewards for supporters of the book, and because I’ve been making and selling chainmail jewellery for a few years now, I’ve been offering one reward option that includes a necklace. The necklace is made of anodised aluminium—the same material as the International Space Station—which I think helps keep it relevant to the sci-fi story even though the technique is a thousand years old! I take the necklaces themselves to craft fairs, which makes for a natural conversation-starter when it comes to the book.

Damon's speci

 

If you’d like to read some of Ten Little Astronauts now, you can find a sample over on Unbound’s website. And if it sounds like a book you’d enjoy, please consider putting in a pledge: as well as getting a copy for yourself, your name will appear in the back of every edition to show that you were one of the great people who helped make it happen.

1 killer
10 suspects,
10,000,000,000,000 miles from help
Support Ten Little Astronauts on Unbound today!

 

Beth needs help from Hampshire 27 writers.

IMAG5402So who is Beth and why does she need our help? Beth is our municipal liaison for Nanowrimo and she is the person who looks after England elsewhere on-line. When you sign into Nanowrimo you can sign up to a Nanowrimo Region. Currently Hampshire’s is England elsewhere. There is a group in Swindon and Southampton but not Hampshire. If 30 of us writers from Hampshire sign in then we can have it as our own region next year. So far we need 24 more people to sign up. So what do you have to do?

1) Sign up to Nanowrimo at http://nanowrimo.org/

2) Register your novel

3) Go Region on the top tool bar and scroll down the menu until you find Find a Region.

4) In the all regions search bar put in England and scroll down until you hit England elsewhere and hit the join this region button.

An that’s it. If you are having trouble pop into our at Andover library this Saturday between 2-3.30pm and we’ll guide you through the process.

And what will I get? Our support to help you write a novel in less than 30 days. Oh and an invitation to our party at the end. The last one was great, we have themed food and bats.

What do you get from National Novel writing month?

Our new secretary was having trouble understanding what we won if we took part in National Novel Writing month.

“How do you win?” he says

“You win by writing a 50 thousand word novel.” I said.

“How do you get prizes?” he says.

“By registering. If you win you get discounts and cool writing stuff from people like Scrivener. If you don’t you still get discounts,” I said.

“How do they choose a winner?” he says.

I am beginning to see a problem here. Is he thinking its a competition when its actually a huge support group?

“Well you win when you upload your novel to the Nanowrimo site before Dec 1st, they’ll declaire you a winner” I said

“Do they read the novel?” he says

“No,” I said

“So I could just copy out a Sun newpaper into the registration and I’d win,” he says.

“Yes…you could but THE POINT IS you write an orginal amazing novel with a bunch of people who will help you finish,” I said.

“Ah its a support group,” he says.

“Yes but with fun things like cakes and blankets. No loneliness of the long distance writer for us this year. That’s why we have the ‘Come write in sessions AND a night of writing dangerously,” I said.

“What do you do get when you write danerously?” he said.

At this point we will walk away dear reader. Remember our goal is to help you write your first draft of your novel. So pop down to the library every Saturday between 2-3.30pm so we can help you win! (And have loads of support)

Nanowrimo sheildCat Randle is Chair of Big Up Words. She’s had loads of poems published in NZ and the UK and children’s short stories published by Scholastic and Random House. Her novel for Nanowrimo is Martial Arts Mama. 

Come to Andover Library and plan your novel

How do you start a novel? Is it an idea you have like “What if Batman and Superman had a bake off? Do you have a character in your head who just keeps going round and round like Rincewind? Or do you need a little help?

This weekend from 2-3.30 pm Beth and I will be co-running a planning or pantsing workshop to help you get ready for your Nanowrimo run.

I will be basing the workshop on the Nanowrimo’s workbook ‘Ready, Set, Novel!’ Craig Batty, Lindsey Grant and Travia Stewart-Street have put together a fantastic kick starter to making sure your ready to start novel on November 1st.

We will look at 3 areas, what am I going to write about, who am I going to write about and how do I plot the story. I’ve created those 3 sections as I’m sure some of you will come with an idea already formed. We’ll work on writing excises. Bring pens, scrap paper and laptops and pad if that’s the way you write. I’ve checked and you can bring your work back next week to finish!

Oh and Beth has these totally cool story generator dice if you’re really really stuck. So come along to the library a bit before 2 so we can get you settled down so you can be ready to get that novel going.

Cat Randle is Chair of Big Up Words. She’s had loads of poems published in NZ and the UK and children’s short stories published by ScholasticNanowrimo sheild and Random House. Her novel for Nanowrimo is Martial Arts Mama. 

What is National Novel Writing Month?

Nanowrimo sheildNational Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. 

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

It doesn’t matter if you finish and it doesn’t matter if you’ve never written before. Beth Hanson has founded Hampshire Scribblers to help you reach your goal.

On October 17th at Andover Library between 2 and 3.30 Beth and our chair Cat Randle will be holding a workshop on how to get ready to write your 50K words. Practical advice, fun games and demonstrations on how to register. All for free.

So come along and find out what its all about….

Summer fundraising Burbage fete

It’s the time of the year where we pack up the Travelling Bookstall and go out to the villages. Saturday 18th at Burbage Village Hall, SN8 3 AJ

Gavin Ketchen, editor of Burbage News, invited us along to a Saturday Market. All month the good folk of Burbage have been donating money from their activities as part of the ‘Burbage Super Month’. The aim is to raise £1000 for Prospect Hospice.

We said “Yes!” and teamed up with local Burbage author Barbara Townsend, and will be selling her wonderful books, ‘The Savernake Big Belly Oak’, ‘The Oaks of Savernake and the Lengendary Ghosts’, and ‘Harriet’ for a discounted price of £6.00, on the day. She is donating £2.00 of every book sold to the hospice. It will be nice to have another children’s book next to Ken Towells The Adventures of Anthony Ant.

We’ll also be having our popular book tomola. People like taking a punt on finding a book they’ve never read before. If you are thinking of going to Malborough Jazz festival, pop in, have a cuppa at the vintage tea room and say hi to us at our stall.

All the fun to be had at Burbage this summer.

All the fun to be had at Burbage this summer.

 

 

Andover Celebrates Young Writers with a book launch at The Lights

It's a monster of a book

It’s a monster of a book

You’ve been invited by Test Valley Arts Foundation to the launch of their first anthology, “Celebrate Youth Writing 2015”. The new book is full of poems, short stories and initial chapters of novels written by young writers aged 11-21. The launch will take place on June 16th starting at 7.30pm at The Lights. Everone who buys a ticket will receive a free copy of the e-book.

 

The books entries are varied and their themes range from playful comedy to poignant tragedy, from superheroes to the ordinary heroes of World War 1 trenches, from science-fiction-style alien invasions to animal stories.

The launch at The Lights will have a showcase of poems, sketches, and 4 short films by Testbourne School, monologues from Long Overdue theatre company, a dance from Ruby Slippers School especially made for the show and  orginal music, all inspired by the anthology.

 

“We want to have a fun, party-style feel to the launch. We’re very keen to show how exceptional these young writers are. The stories in our book are teaching us what’s important to young people in the 21st century.” said organiser Cat Randle

20 young writers aged 11-21 were chosen out of entries from all over Hampshire.

Tickets to the celebration are on sale at The Lights. The books will be on sale from 7.00 onwards. The event and anthology are sponsored by BeWiser and supported by Test Valley Arts Foundation, Cat’s Writing Room and Bees’ Nest Books.

 

 

 

Melodic comedy at Andover Afternoon Poetry Cafe

Two comic Hampshire poetry giants, Syd Meats and Ivor Bundell are the March guest for the Andover Afternoon Poetry Cafe.

Ivor Bundell former secretary for Big Up Words is the founder of Secret Poetry at www.secretpoetry.co.uk. It is a website which publishes free downloads, an occasional e-zine and sells poetry online. Ivor was M.C at the Poetry cafe pilot at the Bridge in 2012. He’s best remembered for his humorous poetry about carrots.

Ivor has produced three albums with his brother Kevan and a solo album entitled ‘Heart & Stone’. A poet, singer-songwriter and near novelist, Ivor hails from the Meon Valley and writes about the natural world and local history.

Guest musician Syd Meats is Romsey songwriter and poet.  In Syd’s early career he worked for the BBC writing songs for Nottingham BBC local radio.

In the 90’s he fronted surreal indie band Meet The Vicar, and also wrote and performed a one man show Meats Saves The Planet which was a mixture of songs and spoken word.  During this period his brushes with the famous included having a cup of tea in the same room as Barbara Windsor and speaking to Ernie Wise on the phone twice.

His musical Christmas guest spot at the Teapoet Collective was called a triumph. In a recent street performance in Andover, he re-wrote the town’s history to include a Viking founder with the unfortunate name of Eric The Hippopotamus. Not only have Syd’s songs been heard on local and national radio, but they have also been used to teach English in the Sudan and Natural History in the UK.

“We’re really excited to have such a fantastic talent coming to Andover,” said organiser Cat Randle.

Andover Afternoon poetry cafe is held on the second Saturday of the month at The Rendezvous Cafe, 8 Union St, Andover, SP10 1PA. The first half of the afternoon is reserved for local poets, entertainers and acoustic musicians. The guest spots are after a tea break with cakes supplied by The Great British Tea & Cake company.

“We picked the Rendezvous Cafe because it is has excellent disabled access. We are able to accommodate wheel chairs because it’s all on the level. I’m amazed at how well it’s doing. The big surprise was the special needs poets. One lady, Rosie, has come to every cafe and last time got up and performed a poem from memory. She even wrote us all our own copy so we could understand what she was saying. It was brilliant! “ said Cat Randle.

The cafe organisers are grateful for the support of  Pat West councillor grant and Hampshire County Council.

Andover Afternoon Poetry Cafe, March 28th from 1.30pm to 3.30pm at the Rendezvous Cafe, 8 Union St, Andover SP 10 1PA.

Syd Meats having a cup of tea.

Syd Meats having a cup of tea.

Ivor Bundell musing on Meon Valley

Ivor Bundell musing on Meon Valley

On the 4th day of Christmas…4 fantastic books

Sally Startup has 4 novels for young adults and FINALLY the 2nd in the Tree Speaker series Spice City has arrived. If you have a teenager who is into fantasy, the power of friendship, animals, or rock ‘n roll then Sally will have a book for you. You can buy these books off Smashwords or buy them from the R.A.W stall at the Rendezvous Cafe in Andover on Friday mornings. For more info her is her website http://www.sallystartup.co.uk/

A young child learns the value of friendship

A young child learns the value of friendship

A comming of age novel about a trials of starting a rock band

A comming of age novel about a trials of starting a rock band

Long awaited 2nd book in the Tree Speaker series

Long awaited 2nd book in the Tree Speaker series

Sally Startup's excellent fantasy novel

Sally Startup’s excellent fantasy novel

On the second day of Christmas…two poetry books.

s of Parkinsons

Bobbie Coleho’s first poetry collection to raise money and awareness of Parkinsons

The second poetry book by Bobbie Coleho.

The second poetry book by Bobbie Coleho.

Bobbie’s poetry books are perfect for people who don’t ‘get’ modern poets but know what they like. Any one who is a fan of Andover style of poetry will enjoy these poems. Bobbie has a way of connecting with the human condition and touching hearts.  Her books can be found at The Vinetrust bookshop in Andover, at the Travelling Bookstall and online.