Oct 30, 2012

My Theme Song

Before I go into today's post, I just wanted to thank Dave O'Brien for putting in the winning bid for the first ever signed copy of Locked Within at this year's Gaelcon charity auction. That's €130 going to children's charities as a result!
As you've no doubt guessed from the posts I've been making this month, music is integral to my writing. I can't write if I'm not able to imagine what music would go with the scene I'm working on.

Likewise, I find I listen to certain types of music depending on how I'm feeling or, often, how I want to feel.

Sometimes I'll need to let out some painful feelings, so I'll listen to a song that helps bring those out. Other times I'll decide that no, I'm not taking something lying down, so I'll pick a song that inspires me and makes me feel like I can climb a mountain or swim across the ocean.

Since being offered the contract for Locked Within, there has been one song I've come back to, almost every single day. It's the song which makes me think of everything I've gone through, everything I've put up with, run away from, and overcome to get to where I am.

If I have a theme song, it's Meat Loaf's Alive.

Maybe it's fitting that after landing a deal for a book about a man who is reborn, life after life, to fight evil, I was drawn to a song which says, loud and boldly, go head and give me what you've got. Hit me, try to break me. Because no matter what you do to me, I'm still here. I'm still alive.

And this will not be the last the world hears of me.

Oct 25, 2012

Locked Within Soundtrack: Fleur Du Mal (Reprise)

We come to the end of my series of songs from my Locked Within soundtrack.

This is a short piece from the end of Sarah Brightman's album, "Symphony," a reprise of the song "Fleur du Mal," which opens the album.

I love the haunting opening, just a little bit sinister in a fairytale sense, which is interrupted by the triumphant march.

Fittingly enough for the last in my soundtrack posts, this piece belongs at the end of Locked Within, and was what I listened to while writing the very last scene.

I hope you've enjoyed these few samples from my collection, and also that they help you feel the same way reading Locked Within that I did when writing it.

Oct 23, 2012

Locked Within Soundtrack: Europa (Instrumental)

I like a lot of music. I have playlists from my music collection and on Youtube to make sure I have access to everything I want to listen to while writing.

Globus are the commercial front of a group called Immediate Music, who are one of many groups that produce stock music for use in movie trailers and tv promos. The track above is a version of their song, "Europa," with the lead singer's vocals removed.

I can't help but feel my heart race when I listen to it. It really gets my adrenaline going. Some music, when I listen to it, I feel like I need to write or break into a run just to let the energy out, or I'll burst.

This track quickly became my go-to piece for thinking of Nathan in his Big Damn Hero moments. As such, there's a particular moment in the novel where I like to imagine this track would be playing in the background if it were a movie. I think you'll know it when you get to it.

Oct 19, 2012

Authors Against Bullying - Reach Out and Help

I'm taking a break from promoting Locked Within today to join the Twitter campaign #AuthorsAgainstBullying.

I have spoken before about how I was a victim of bullying through almost all of my school days. It left its mark on me and made it difficult for me to break out of my insecurities. I wasn't beaten or subjected to violence. At least, not constantly. Violence was a part of it, but it was one tool among many in the emotional abuse I suffered from a small number of fellow students. I was skinny, not good at sports and I enjoyed reading. I was targetted for these reasons, and for everything else about myself from having different hair to the ranks of identically slicked-forward hairstyles, speaking differently to the standard accept in my town, to the tv shows I watched or the fact I used proper grammar.

Bullying takes so many forms, it's often difficult to identify, even when you're subjected to it. And it affects people in a range of different ways. Some become violent or withdraw into themselves. Others break down right there, while some wait until they're alone to let the pain out.

The one thing common to all cases is that the victim needs someone to turn to. Someone they can trust. Someone who'll listen, won't judge, and can do something to help. Maybe it's just the act of offering comfort. Maybe it's reporting the incident to a teacher or parent. Maybe it's standing between the bully and the victim and saying "no." Or maybe it's as simple as being a friend when no-one else will.

I was lucky enough to find friends like that, who helped bring me out of the protective shell I had constructed to deflect the things those few tormentors would say. It look a long time. Years before I was able to comfortably say "these people do want me around." Please, if you see someone suffering, do something. It doesn't have to be much. The victim doesn't even need to know you did anything.

There are all sorts of opinions on how to prevent bullying or how to even define what bullying is. If someone is suffering, the target of behaviour intended to belittle, humiliate, and intimidate them, they're being bullied. And it needs to stop.

The first step is for those of us who can speak out to make out voices heard. To let bullies know that their behaviour is not acceptable, and it only serves to make them look bad.

To anyone who has been, or is being, bullied, stay strong. There are people who love you. Go to them. Talk to them. The few fools who think they're big and clever by picking on you have no idea what the real world holds for them. In this day and age, where almost anything they say or do can be recorded forever online, they are the ones who'll come out the worse in the end. You just need to remember that no-one has the right to make you feel like you're anything less than incredible. And anyone who would try doesn't deserve to know you.

So turn your back on them and leave them behind, because you are one in a million.

Oct 18, 2012

Locked Within Soundtrack: We Don't Need Another Hero

The second installment in the soundtrack series for Locked Within is a cover of Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero," originally recorded for Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

I really like this cover. It adds a visceral rage, even despair, to the song. While Tina's original is a classic, it's rather more tame, more resigned and even accepting.

Northern Kings put a bit more energy into their version, adding a more resentful feel. It's not that they've given up and accepted the way things are, but rather than everything done in the past to change things has failed so horribly they react violently to any attempt to change things again.

I used this song to get me into the mood for the New York in which Nathan Shepherd lives. It's a city beset by supernatural predators, where the weak suffer, abandoned by those who were supposed to protect them. Now, those who can make a difference are gone, or choose to ignore the problem.

The old saying goes that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. In the case of Nathan Shepherd, he decides that things aren't good enough as they are. But if he's going to make a difference, he has to deal with people, good and evil, who would much rather he just kept to himself and forget the strange things he's seen.

Oct 16, 2012

Locked Within Soundtrack: Locked Within The Crystal Ball

Today I've got the first track from the collection of music I used as my soundtrack while writing Locked Within.

This song, "Locked Within The Crystal Ball," is by Blackmore's Night, a folk rock group headed by Ritchie Blackmore, formerly of Deep Purple and Rainbow, and his wife Candice Night. As you may have guessed from the name of the song, this is where I got my inspiration for the title Locked Within.

It was actually the following verse that caused the song to first strike a chord with me:

Fire and water, earth and sky
Mysteries surround us, legends never die

Apart from Candice Night's powerful vocals, the words resonated with me. The invocation of the four classical elements, prominent in most occult beliefs and the use of magic in the book. The suggestion of the unknown, and the immortal nature of the song's subject. The idea that those the singer is telling us about will never die. That fit so well with my idea of Nathan Shepherd as this reborn hero who had fought for good time and again. The more I listened, the more the words matched what I had in mind, not necessarily for the plot of the book itself, but for what it means that Nathan is regaining the memory of who he used to be.

At the time I had this idea that I would take the title of every book in the series from a song, and decided this would be the right one for the first book. The more I wrote, however, the more I realised that the title reflected the story in more ways than I'd first intended.

Of course, you'll have to read the book to know how.

Oct 11, 2012

Why New York?

If you asked an alien to look at the sum of western movies and guess what our most important city was, I'm confident New York would be in the running, if not the outright winner. Few American cities feature so prominently in fiction, to the point where you can almost consider New York a character itself.

I fell in love with New York when I was a kid. Superman was filmed there. So was Ghostbusters. New York was so ingrained into my psyche than unless a show or movie specified another location, I assumed it was set there. It was like New York was the spirit of America.

Of course as I grew up I learned just how incredibly huge America is, and how wonderfully varied are the cultures there.

But New York has retained a special place in my heart. To this day it's one of my favourite places in the world. My wife and I went there on our honeymoon, and we spent a week there earlier this year. We still haven't seen or done all the things we want to.

When I started writing Locked Within, I knew I wanted to set it in America. I was telling a story about a clash between past-life memories and a man's current life, taking the knowledge of the past and combining it with the present to create something more powerful than the mere sum of its parts. I needed a place that felt distanced from ancient myth on the surface, but with roots in ancient lore. I needed a place with almost mythic status. New York was my town.

So I started my research. I learned everything I could about the city. When I reached a point in the book that featured a new location, I stopped to learn I was describing and had determine whether its history could play a role in the story.

Much like the supernatural society which Nathan Shepherd uncovers, New York is a melting pot, a fantastic mixture of ancient cultures, popular trends and long-standing tradition smashed together and thrust into the modern world. The city and its people adapted and evolved over time. New Yorkers are a breed to themselves, protective of their own, welcoming to others. My favourite scenes in the recent Spider-Man movies are the ones where New York stands up and helps Spider-Man. "You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!"

In the past, Ellis Island was the gateway to the New World. When other ports closed up and refused immigrants, New York still welcomed them. Sure it wasn't always a pleasant journey, and life wasn't always the dream people expected when they arrived, but that wasn't the point. I can only imagine how it must have felt to leave your home behind, spend weeks or months on a cramped ship, then see the gleaming torch of the Statue of Liberty in the distance. New York meant something to those people.


My wife, Jen, commented about New York as a home for the supernatural. She said "when the Old World wanted to hide from itself, where else was it going to go?"

I think the idea of a place can have power. New York is as much a character in Locked Within as Nathan or his father, Mike, or his best friends, Cynthia and Ben.

I hope to tell a story that's about the city, one that will continue with the rest of the series. New York was once a city of hope. It's still a city of strength. In Nathan Shepherd's world, it's also a city of cruelty, controlled by supernatural predators who view the mundane citizens as chattel. In Nathan's story, we'll see whether he has the power to turn back those masters, and make New York a city of hope again.

Oct 9, 2012


In this second week of my Locked Within Focus Month, I'm taking a look at two of the major elements of my book.

Reincarnation is a popular trope in all forms of fantasy. Typically the young, untested protagonist is the reincarnation of a legendary hero, destined to save the world from the forced of evil. The idea that a person can be worthy enough that even death cannot keep their soul has been a compelling element of storytelling.

I'm specifically talking about a character dying and their soul returning in a new body. This isn't a character dying and then returning from death. That's resurrection, and a far more common trope in all forms of fiction.

Different belief systems have had differing takes on reincarnation, but most religions throughout human history have either included it as an integral part of their beliefs or had particular groups within them which include it in their teachings. The belief goes as far back as the Iron Age, possibly originating in Greek and Indian philosophy. Deriving from Latin, the word "reincarnation" literally means "entering the flesh again," and the concept survives today in New Age mysticism, druidic teachings, Buddhism and Hinduism, among others.

No two religions or mythologies seem to agree on how reincarnation works. Hindus believe the soul always returns in human form. Jainism teaches that, upon death, the soul travels through four states - animal, hell-being, human, and divine - based on karma. Among the Ancient Greeks, it was believed that the dead drank from the Rive Lethe in the Underworld, which erased their memories. Only after this was done could they be reborn into life. The Celts believed that they would be reborn a set amount of time after dying, and used this belief to instil great courage into their warriors, as they knew death was not an end.

Which such a varied range of sources, it struck me as unusual that the main examples of reincarnation in fiction were so limited. Stories tend to feature either the long lost mythic hero reborn into a new age, or the star-crossed lovers who could not rest after death separated them and return to new life to find each other once again. Tyically, reincarnation is treated as an unusual thing. A sign of the Chosen One in fantasy, or a paranormal element added to a mystery or romance.

Before I knew what form Locked Within would take, I knew I wanted it to be about reincarnation. And not just the Chosen One model. I wanted to create a world where reincarnation was almost the rule, rather than the exception. This created its own challenges, such as finding a way to balance my protagonist's inexperience with the fact he had lifetimes of memories to draw on, or keeping tension in the threat of death.

From this I decided that memories came to people in dreams or brief moments of inspiration. The reborn aren't born with their previous memories intact. They have to wait for them to return. Often the catalyst would be a similar emotional or physical stimulus as they experienced in one of their memories. Even that would not be enough. If they didn't have the strength of will to hang on to the memory, it would pass, and they might be none the wiser about their true nature.

The other element I decided on was how one's past lives would affect a current incarnation. I played with the psychological concepts of nature vs nurture, and decided that someone who was a warrior or an artist in a past life would have an easier time re-learning those skills and find themselves drawn to a lifestyle that allowed them to use that knowledge.

While thinking about this, I realised that, for the sake of tension and a sense of consequence, there needed to be factors which influenced the way a person would be reborn. If a person hurt you in a past life, you would have the impression of that on your soul in this life. If you died in pain or fear, your soul might be thrown into the afterlife unprepared, and take longer to find its way back. These factors would, in essence, scar the soul, requiring time to heal before a person could realise their true potential.

What scars Nathan Shepherd's soul bears, and how they will challenge him in his adventures, I leave you to discover when you read the book.

Next time, I answer, conclusively, the question of why I chose New York as the setting for Locked Within.

Oct 4, 2012

Who Was Nathan Shepherd?

Last time I spoke about my initial decision to become a writer.

Funnily, when I created the character who would eventually become Nathan Shepherd, I didn't have any idea that such a thing as urban fantasy existed. I was certain that what I wanted to write was horror, because, in my innocence, I thought horror needed to have better-written characters than any other genre, otherwise you wouldn't be afraid for them.

But one of the things that always bugged me about horror was how weak the main character often was. If you saw the hero in a horror movie start to really fight back, it wasn't until the very end, and even then they were always afraid. Maybe if the character returned in later sequels, they eventually became stronger, but this was rare. All too often the bravest character, the mentor or the monster-hunter (usually my favorite character) would be killed off before the end.

I knew that I wanted to write stories where monsters got killed. My favourite horror movies as a child were vampire movies like Fright Night and The Lost Boys. So I settled on a vampire novel to start. But I still needed a central character who was different from all the scared, weak protagonists I was used to seeing.

I needed a hero.

His name was not Nathan Shepherd.

Back in those days, he was Nicholas St.Claire, a man who had watched a vampire murder his parents as a child, and now hunted any monster he found. He owned an apartment building in New York, which meant he didn't need to work and could spend his time hunting vampires. 

This would introduce the supporting cast, when the girlfriend of one of his tenants was targeted by a vampire. He would help them, teach them how to fight, and lead them against the vampire, killing it in a dramatic showdown.

The apartment building had a bar on the ground floor where a band would play and patrons could get up to sing. At the end of every book, one of the characters would get up and sing to one of the others.

At the end of the first, the vampire's victim was to get up and sing "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," to her boyfriend.

At the end of the last book in the series, after Nicholas had finally killed the vampire which murdered his parents, his love interest Linda was going to get up and sing "Simply The Best." 

I was 14. I thought this was ground-breaking stuff.

Thankfully, as time has passed I've matured (honest) and so has my writing. No longer do I want to end my books with cheesy karaoke acts, and I don't want to give them cringe-worthy  trademark-infringing titles like "Bat Out Of Hell." 

Nicholas became Nathan. The apartment building was forgotten. The traumatic past was removed. In fact, little of that character remains. But I have to acknowledge that the hero of Locked Within started out as a 14 year-old's fantasy for the kind of hero he wanted to see, even if he wouldn't have been a very interesting character to read about.

Next week I'll look at reincarnation, how it fits in the world of Locked Within, and how I chose New York as my setting.

Oct 2, 2012

Where It All Began

My first novel is being launched in Hughes and Hughes in Dundrum on November 8th.

People have already bought the Kindle edition and pre-ordered the print edition. Some have even told me they're getting multiple copies, and still showing up to the launch so they can get a signed copy.

This is so far beyond what I dreamed of when I was a 12 year-old boy thinking to himself that he wanted to be a writer.

My mind was made up, that being a writer was the only thing I really wanted to do, when my parents brought me and my sister down to Tramore in Waterford for a long weekend. While there, we went to Celtworld.

Celtworld closed long ago. It was a tacky place where you could go and watch animatronic re-tellings of Celtic mythology, then wander through a small gift shop and speak to a head hanging from a tree. Sure, the puppetry was awkward and everything was highly over-dramatic. But for a 12 year-old boy from Bray, jealous of the amazing things I saw people go and do in movies from America, this was the most amazing thing in the world.

I wrote the background for my first book that night on a sheet of paper, using a blue Bic pen. It was awful, full of cliches and stereotypes. My little fantasy world where the hero was told in the first chapter he was the son of a great hero who died a thousand years ago, and took it in his stride like it happened all the time.

But it got me started. From then on I spent most of my free time imagining different stories and characters to write about. I daydreamed in class. At dinner. Lying in bed trying to fall asleep. I started to look at everything around me, wondering how I could use different things in my stories. And I wrote. I wrote maybe a chapter or two, then got bored and moved on to something else. I wrote until my fingers were red and my wrist ached. Until my parents told me to turn off the light and go to sleep. I read books and watched movies, thinking to myself "I'm going to do that one day."

20 years later, and "one day" is now.

Welcome to a month of blog posts about Locked Within, the first of a new urban fantasy trilogy, telling the story of Nathan Shepherd. An office worker dissatisfied with his lot in life, Nathan ventures into the darkness he finds all around him, and has no idea what lies in store.

On Thursday, I'll talk about Nathan, and his more humble origins in my early attempts to write a novel.