Friday, 24 June 2016

The UK has voted to leave the EU

I don’t write much about politics on this blog, preferring to mess about with fantasy and sci-fi, history and videogames. But today might well be the most momentous political event of my adult lifetime, and the article I had pencilled-in (videogames of E3) seems a bit limp given what’s happened overnight.

Instead, here’s a concise, hopefully objective, rundown of what has happened and what the future might hold.


Around 2014 UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party, which focuses [or focused...] on leaving the EU) was doing very well in the polls. It had enjoyed two defections from the Conservatives (MPs Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless) and went on to win the European Elections in the UK.

To help counter this threat, both at the General Election and in terms of stopping more MPs defecting, Prime Minister David Cameron chose to include a referendum on the country’s membership of the EU in the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto [NB an earlier referendum had been promised by both major parties over the Constitution, which became the Lisbon Treaty. This referendum was never held, and Brown signed the Treaty anyway].

The Campaigns

There were various Leave and Remain campaigns. Almost all were characterised by exaggeration, misleading statements and ill-humour. Importantly, the traditional party lines were worthless. All parties were split, the governing Conservatives more than any other party, and the polls (after a very inaccurate 2015 set of forecasts) were viewed with some suspicion.

The prime advantage of Remain was the economy. For Leave, it was immigration. Other areas such as security/defence were more evenly split.

Foreign intervention during the campaign (for Remain) appears not to have worked well, with many taking Obama’s claim that the UK would be ‘at the back of the queue’ as insulting. However, such interventions were rare and did not play a major role.

[NB the first MP in a quarter of a century, Labour’s Jo Cox, was murdered about a week before polling day. This led to a suspension of campaigning for a few days. Opinion is divided as to the polling impact].

The Vote

On polling day there was extensive rainfall, initially in Essex (mostly Leave) and then in London (strongly Remain). Turnout was generally high, around 72% (highest for a UK-wide vote this century, I think) but a little lower in Scotland than elsewhere.

The turnout in England was 73%, with 53.4% voting Leave.

The turnout in Scotland was 67.2%, with 38% voting to Leave.

The turnout in Wales was 71.7%, with 52.5% voting to Leave.

The turnout in Northern Ireland was 62.9%, with 44.2% voting to Leave.

So, England and Wales voted to Leave, Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to Remain. The overall result was 51.9% for Leave.

What Now? Part 1 – the EU

Leaving the EU happens by triggering Article 50. This is done by the PM (more on that role below). When triggered, a 2 year formal negotiation period occurs, at the end of which either a deal is agreed (it may be interim or permanent, I believe) or not. If not, the UK still leaves the EU but trade occurs under WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules. [Edited extra bit: the process of negotiation may be extended if both the UK and EU agree to it. Cheers to the comments for that].

More widely, pre-vote polling suggested if the UK voted to Leave a majority of Swedes (in the EU but not members of the single currency eurozone) would also want to leave the organisation. There are also significant numbers in France, the Netherlands and other EU countries who are sceptical or wish to leave.

A problem for the EU is how to react. If it tries to be harsh to the UK to deter other departures, that would substantially harm the Irish economy (Ireland has more trade with the UK than the rest of the EU combined). Not only that, the UK is a massive net importer from EU countries, so making trade difficult would hurt the EU a lot as well.

However, if a more lenient approach is taken and the UK does well, other countries may conclude that leaving the EU may work for them. That said, very few countries are in the EU but outside the eurozone, so we may see non-eurozone countries leave and eurozone nations integrate further (the latter is already underway).

A final note on Ireland: the particular political history here is fraught. Currently, the Northern Ireland/Irish Republic border is open. This may or may not be the case, depending how the exit negotiations go. It will almost certainly make the political situation even more turbulent.

What Now? Part 2 – party politics

David Cameron resigned the morning after the night before. His speech was dignified and statesmanlike, and I can’t help but feel had he spoken that way during the campaign Remain would have won handily. He anticipates a new Conservative leader (and therefore Prime Minister) being in place by October of this year.

There are various candidates. Boris Johnson is the first name that springs to mind, but, personally, I feel he will not get it. The single issue of British politics now is the departure from the EU, and whilst Boris is seen by many as a likeable man, he is seen by few as a hard-headed negotiator with a head for details. Teresa May, who kept largely out of the fray, must be a strong contender. Others such as Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan and George Osborne seem unlikely (respectively: don’t want it, not sharp enough, too disliked).

Cameron has said he will not trigger Article 50 (see above), and that it is a matter for his successor.

At the time of writing (12.39pm on Friday), Labour MPs are rumoured to be laying down a motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn. We may have an unprecedented degree of disunity and leadership elections in both major parties.

A General Election is scheduled for 2020, but it is possible the Fixed Term Parliament Act could be repealed and a snap(ish) election held in the next 6-12 months. It is possible UKIP could do very well at such elections, although they’ve flattered to deceive in both 2010 and 2015.

It’s just over a year ago that Cameron won a shock majority in the 2015 General Election.

What Now? Part 3 – end of the UK?

In 2014 Scotland voted 55% to remain within the UK. A second referendum north of the border looks very likely. It is not certain, however.

There is a possibility the new PM may opt for a close relationship with the EU, whereby free trade and movement of people continues to occur (this would necessitate, in all likelihood, a second UK-wide referendum as migration was such a critical concern in the vote just gone). If that were the case, and it were accepted, an independence vote in Scotland seems unlikely.

However, it is more likely than not that within a few years Scotland will have another vote. Some serious issues from last time remain unanswered (what currency to use?), but Scotland’s strong showing for Remain will be seen by many as reasonable grounds for another vote (although it must pass in the Holyrood Parliament).

Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland, has stated today that she would want the referendum to be held within the 2 year negotiation period following the instigation of Article 50. The timing is interesting as, if held then, it would mean Scotland may not actually leave the EU but continue inside it, but also that Scotland would be voting whilst negotiations between the UK and EU were ongoing.

There are also (as above) potential difficulties in Northern Ireland, with a possible resurgence in republican sentiment that may cause a corresponding rise in unionist feeling.

But, apart from the UK’s position regarding the EU, the next Prime Minister, the next Leader of the Opposition, the continuing existence of the UK and whether other EU nations may elect to leave it, everything’s looking pretty stable.


Friday, 17 June 2016

The Writer’s See-saw

Perhaps the biggest challenge of writing, from my perspective, is keeping your head in the right place. It can be easy to get giddy when things go well or downcast when they go badly.

There’s also the writing equivalent of mid-term blues. Halfway through a first draft the initial enthusiasm will have faded but you’ll still be miles away from the light at the end of the tunnel (and the redrafting).

Not unlike gambling, staying cool is the way to go. Keep yourself in check, not unlike being the other person on a see-saw. If you’re in danger of getting cocky/giddy, just remind yourself you’re not JK Rowling (NB this does not work if you are JK Rowling, in which case use JRR Tolkien).

If you’re feeling a bit lost, just take a break, assess where you are, what you need to achieve in the short term, and set about it [if you’ve previously written a book, remind yourself that you’ve been through this before and dealt with it then]. If you’re wracked with self-doubt, remember that every writer has felt that way.

If in doubt, just keep buggering on. Write every day, even if only a little. As the Chinese say: don’t be afraid of walking very slowly. Only be afraid of standing still.


Friday, 10 June 2016

Interview with Nathan Hystad

I’m joined today by Nathan Hystad, known on the Chrons forums as Ratsy, and a new entrant to the publishing game. [Disclosure: being a writer, I have submitted short stories for consideration in anthologies, and have a short story in The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel].

Thaddeus White: You’ve recently set up a small press, Woodbridge Press. Given how challenging things can be for small publishers, what drove you to establish your own firm?

Nathan: That is a very good question. I’ve been a reader my whole life, and always had aspirations of being an author growing up. While other kids wanted to be hockey players, firefighters, and astronauts, I wanted to tell stories. Then the reality of it hit and I became an adult. Fast forward to a few years ago when I decided to give my passion a try. I have worked hard at the craft, and have been blessed enough to see my short stories being published in some books, online, and in magazines. I learned a bit about the business from being on the other side of the anthologies, and for the most part, it was a hard one as a writer. For most of them, you get a rough theme, a word limit, and a deadline. Then you send a story in, try to fight your way to the top of the 500 submissions, and months later get a form rejection email. It can be disheartening but it also motivated me. I had an idea of doing some shared world collections, through invite only, and wanted communication to be key. I was going to be totally transparent to the authors about how many copies were selling, where, and all marketing details. I started Woodbridge Press, even while hearing about other niche genre presses going under, with high hopes and faith that if I put the work in, it will be successful. So far I have nothing telling me this won’t be a thriving business.

TW: As you’ll be aware, there are a hell of a lot of writers and would-be writers, so you must be swamped with submissions when anthology slots appear. How do you go about whittling down the number of submissions to a final list of stories to publish?

Nathan: I am only one man, and without hiring outside help I could not have the time to read through slush piles of submissions, so I have not, and may not, have an open submission call. For the two Woodbridge collections, I did open submissions to the SFF Chrons only, because that is the one place I want to give something back to. For Explorations I was so happy to have Ralph Kern on my team to help me read the submissions and make decisions on those last couple spots (which turned out to be four spots because the quality was just so high) Even the rejected stories were done with a heavy heart and some serious deliberation.

TW: I’ve seen the lineup of authors (selected rather than picked from general submissions) for the forthcoming sci-fi and fantasy anthologies. How many goats did you have to sacrifice to Apollo to get the likes of Julia Knight, Douglas Hulick, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Ralph Kern, Stephen Palmer and Jo Zebedee on board?

Nathan: With Lake Manor, I invited authors. Some I knew from the Chrons, others I knew from the horror world, and I was so happy with the results. For Explorations, I first approached Ralph about it, since he is an active Chronner, and I love his books. I’ve been lucky enough to beta read his last two novels, and it was easy to ask him if he would be interested in taking part in a shared universe collection. He was immediately on board, and with his support, I canvassed a group of awesome indie and small press published Sci-fi authors. It really was like a snowball, and before I knew it, I had an amazing list of authors who wanted to take part. The same thing happened with the third collection. It is a fantasy themed anthology with the journey or quest as the central focus. I asked Teresa Edgerton, an editor and writer whom I truly adore and respect, to edit and contribute to the collection, and as I started to reach out to authors, I was getting people saying yes, who I have bookshelves full of their material. It was surreal, and it really just drove me to make the end product even better than I ever thought possible.

I didn’t have to sacrifice goats, so far, just my time!

TW: What advice, in general terms, would you give to authors who are thinking of submitting to anthologies (whether yours or another publisher’s)?

Nathan: I think it is to follow the guidelines. Make sure you type the proper thing into the subject line, follow the manuscript format they are looking for. Each anthology seems to have different rules and they can be tricky to get just right. And don’t take rejection as a failure. I have been rejected so many times. It is entirely subjective. The story may be amazing, but just not fit in the collection because it is slightly off theme, or they already accepted one with a similar shtick. Keep your head up, keep subbing it, and eventually you may find a home, but while you’re doing that, move on to writing the next piece. I couldn’t tell you how many shorts I have just sitting in a folder at home. All were not lost causes, because I learned from each and every one of them.

TW: Early days, so this may be tricky, but what’s been the best moment so far from a publishing perspective?

Nathan: I would have to say I’ve had a couple. The first getting unread, unpublished material from authors I have read for years. I remember getting the email from Julia Knight with her short story for the fantasy collection. I was like a kid in a candy store, and that was when I knew Woodbridge was going to be something special. I devoured the story and just sat there looking at the screen. I’ve repeated this feeling a few times since, and I don’t think it will ever get old.

The second was getting the final printed Lake Manor in my hands. I had put so much of myself into it, and obsessed over getting it done for the previous few months, and when all the hard work and dust settled, it was done, and I could share Woodbridge’s first book with the world.

TW: Self-publishing has never been easier. Given that, what are the advantages offered by being traditionally published, and are there any downsides for a writer?

Nathan: This is a great question and one that I really don’t have a definitive answer for. Yes. Self-publishing is easy. It’s the rest of it that is hard. Anyone can write a book and self pub, but then they need to get people to read it. Most get dropped on to Amazon and sit there, gathering virtual dust, never getting visibility, and that is key. If they don’t get an eye-catching cover, professional formatting, and editing, let alone a story people want to read, they will have a hard time selling it. That is what a good publisher will bring to the table. That being said, there are many awesome indie authors who make a great business from writing and do all of these steps, and invest the money to bring the world a good product. There is a lot of bad rap to indie publishers but like anything, there are many levels to them. Just like there are good small presses and bad ones. I think an author needs to weigh their options before making a decision, but at the end of the day, many end up self-publishing because they couldn’t get that agent, or Big 5, then small press to pick up the book. And they can have success that way too.

All of these things are very time consuming too, so there are some authors who would rather just write than worry about the ins and outs of the business side.

TW: One thing I struggle with when self-publishing is deciding on a price tag (there are arguments for and against just about every number). How do you decide on this, and do you vary prices with early/intermittent discounts, or just keep the price fixed?

Nathan: Well I am a sponge. I am new to this, but am a quick learner, and I keep an eye on what the big guys are doing, what the middle and small presses are doing, and what the indie guys are doing. I do know that it will vary with genre to an extent too. There are a few indie SF authors I keep a close eye on to see how they price, and what their marketing strategies are. You do need to think outside the box, and I have some stuff up my sleeves, but I also don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel. The good news is, I am coming up in what I call a change of guard out there for book publishing. The big guys, who deep discount their paperbacks in grocery stores, while indie and small press are taking market share in ebooks. Adapt and be reactive is what I think. Keep your finger on the pulse of what the market is doing. There is a lot of data out there saying that 3.99 US for an ebook is the sweet spot. I will let you know better in a year’s time 

TW: How difficult is it to decide how many books to release? Obviously you can take more care with fewer, but releasing more may help to build up a readership more quickly.

Nathan: I am taking it slow, and the reason for that is because I want each book to have my undivided attention. I have to commission cover artists, hire editors, format, and that is after the stories come in! There is a lot to putting a book together and then I have to promote, get reviewers, and work the social media angle. I do have a full-time job, which is my livelihood, so this is all done at 6am, after work or on weekends. So this year I have published Lake Manor, Explorations should be out late summer, and the fantasy collection will either be out in time for Christmas or early 2017. My goal is three books a year moving forward, but this may change as we go.

TW: Heart Blade by Juliana Spink Mills is Woodbridge Press’ first novel signing. What’s the premise of the story, and is it a stand-alone or part of a series?

Nathan: I am so excited about this book. Heart Blade is the first volume of The Blade Hunt Chronicles. I first beta read it over a year ago, and loved it instantly. When I started Woodbridge, I wanted to do some collections, and move into novels quickly. This is the book I thought of. When I asked Juliana what had become of it, we started talking and after another read, I had to make an offer on it. She is such a great person and author and I honestly feel so happy that she was willing to work with Woodbridge. Teresa Edgerton has been hired as editor, and this is going to be something special. Here is the summary:

The Heart Blade is the cornerstone of the myth-shrouded Blade Hunt prophecies. Once summoned, the sword will lead the way to light, or push everyone to the edge of a new Dark Age. Not many believe the stories, but those who do know the countdown has begun.

Two years ago, Del was gifted a demon’s blood on her deathbed. Now, pressured to sever the last ties with her lost humanity by making her first kill, the teenage half-demon escapes from her pack, the infamous East Coast Hunt.

Vanquisher Jimmy finds Del alone and penniless and gives her Sanctuary, despite having every reason in the world not to trust a demon. To complicate matters, Jimmy and Del are falling for each other. Soon Del is on the run again, except this time Jimmy is at her side and the demons and Vanquishers are on their trail.

But the pack has more than one quarry. For seventeen years the Brotherhood has done its best to hide orphan Lila from the demons. The centuries-old Heart Blade prophecy is supposed to take place any time now, and Lila is the key player.

The hunt for both Del and the Heart Blade is on, and when the threads tangle and demons, Vanquishers, and the Brotherhood converge, Del finds herself unwittingly in the center of things.

Heart Blade currently is scheduled for publication Late 2016/Early 2017.

To see more about Juliana, follow along her great blog at or twitter @JspinkMills

TW: The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel is out now and I mentioned Heart Blade above, but what else can we expect from Woodbridge Press in the next 12-18 months?

Nathan: Well as I said, Explorations: Through the Wormhole, is out this summer, then the still untitled fantasy journey collection, and Heart Blade on Valentine’s Day 2017. We plan on releasing the second Blade Hunt book later next year, and I have some ideas on other collections, depending on the success of these ones.

Thaddeus, thank you so much for having me on your blog, and if the world doesn’t know yet, your story Dead Weight will be in Explorations, making you the only author to appear in Woodbridge’s first two books! Pretty cool. I look forward to working with you more, and it’s been a pleasure so far. [TW: Very kind, although I do find your lack of goat sacrifice disturbing].

Nathan Hystad is an author from Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. He is the founder of Woodbridge Press, an avid reader, and a writer of words. He has stories in the upcoming Aliens, and Space: Houston we Have a Problem from Tickety Boo Press, and A Walk in the Park, is in the new Nine Tales, out June 22.
Please follow along with his news at and at and read his monthly serial at Kraxon Magazine Start with Arrival and work your way through them!
If you feel like trying Woodbridge’s first book, with Thaddeus’ awesome story, Forget Me Not, please click the link! [TW: at the time of writing Lake Manor is a #1 bestseller in 3 categories on Amazon UK]

Many thanks to Nathan Hystad for the interview, and keep tuned for Explorations and Heart Blade.


Friday, 3 June 2016

Classical History for Intermediates

If you’re a beginner, check this post for some recommendations.

So, you’ve read a fair few histories, but what comes after the more obvious books, your Livy, Dodge and Norwich?

Here are some books, ranging from those I might have included in the first piece (Polybius) to the heavy reading (I’m unlikely to write an Advanced third part of recommendations, because I’m not an expert on classical history, but a second Intermediate part may come about).

First up is The Rise of the Roman Empire, by Polybius. The heart of this is an account of the Second Punic War, which is a little less easy to read than Livy’s but does have the benefit of being both more objective and more accurate. There is a glaring problem, though, in that we only have it to about halfway into the war (from memory, I think the account ends after Cannae). Despite that, and missing the Numidian shenanigans of Syphax and Massinissa, it’s well worth reading, and was one of the very first classical history books I read.

The Fall of Carthage by Adrian Goldsworthy covers all three Punic Wars (the first two were massive, the third was a superpower being surprisingly ineffective at crushing a single disobedient city). It lays out the history in a concise fashion (indeed, the relative brevity would be my only criticism) and allows a nice overview of Carthage’s waxing and waning fortunes. It’s also interesting to see how capable Hamilcar Barca (Hannibal’s father) was, and how Carthage as a city only really developed a backbone when it was too late.

The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan is a great book. It’s a thick volume which covers the war from start to finish, unlike Thucydides (although, in Thucydides’ defence, this was probably because he died). The book is festooned with great maps, which is handy when the places are in Greece/Asia Minor and have often changed names over time (Athens is the same, of course, but Corcyra has become Corfu, and so on). There’s a great level of detail but it doesn’t (from memory) require any especial knowledge of the time period.
Ghost on the Throne by James Romm is about what happened after Alexander the Great’s death. Whilst Alexander’s a fascinating chap, that same fascination has meant the dynamic, complicated and hugely interesting period after his demise is generally a bit neglected (NB click the link for my review to also see some other books that cover this period). Romm’s history is engaging and skilfully explains the complicated picture without either resorting to matter-of-fact tedium or swamping the reader with endless detail. Do not be put off by the unstable, dynamic and complicated picture, because this period of history was crammed with Alpha males (and females), all tussling for dominion of the known world. It’s rare to have so many capable, bold, sly, intelligent and personally brave leaders, but when Alexander died without a strong heir, the cadre of elite generals he’d built up gradually splintered, coalescing into (often temporary) alliances and fighting for the vast empire he’d conquered.

The Later Roman Empire by Ammianus Marcellinus is an engaging read. It covers much of the 4th century, with the lion’s share devoted to Julian the Apostate (a pagan who became emperor of what was then a Christian state). The book beings with internecine skulduggery and rumblings of civil war, before Julian (an academic plucked from obscurity to become Caesar [Deputy Emperor] on the basis he was the Emperor’s only surviving male relative) appears on the scene, tasked with protecting Gaul from perpetual Germanic raiding. The time period is lesser known generally but intriguing, as paganism wanes and Christianity waxes. It helps that the author is pretty objective, and that Julian, in particular, is a complicated and interesting character. I devoured this upon my first reading and will be going back to it sooner or later.

Perhaps the most difficult, but also amongst the most enlightening, of histories is Edward Gibbon’s 17th century classic: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It’s a beast of about 4,000 pages (six volumes, latter half reviewed here), and be sure you buy an edition with the footnotes, which are very extensive (the Everyman’s Library edition has them). As well as charting the title matter, the book includes substantial related areas, such as the rise of Christianity and Islam, and the Mongols. At times (especially the tediously peaceful Christian beginnings) the book can be a slog. But it also covers in extensive, lurid, and often riveting detail the Roman Empire, both West and East. This largely progresses in unbroken detail, but the last few centuries of the East (Gibbon perhaps realising he had too much to write) is condensed significantly. Although well worth reading if you have the stamina, this six volume collection is the reason Byzantine is used as a dirty word, and why the Eastern Roman Empire is something so rarely known about. Gibbon is not objective, but he is wry and sarcastic. The language is sometimes a little old-fashioned and stilted but it can also be old-fashioned and magnificent (“they enjoyed the uninterrupted contemplation of their own magnificence” or similar was used as a euphemism for two men who got fired from being consul).
[Edited extra bit: as an enlightened reader points out, Gibbon was 18th, not 17th, century. My mistake].