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Monday, 13 April 2015

My First Novel

My first book was, actually, “Defector” which became my first novel and I began writing it when I was still flying, although by then I had transferred to the Tornado F3. My motivation was to take the reader into the cockpit to try to convey the atmosphere and experiences in words. An impossible task but one which few ex aircrew try to achieve. There are many factual aviation stories by former aircrew, often pilots, but there is a total lack of a latter-day “Biggles” character. I grew up on his exploits so why should it be too different today? Enthusiasts still flock to airshows and you will see the Spotter community taking photographs at every airfield in the country.

Set at the RAF Germany fighter base at Wildenrath in West Germany and more specifically on “Delta Dispersal” where I served on my second operational squadron, the book follows the fortunes of a Phantom crew who are pitched into the midst of a Cold War incident when a Soviet test pilot decides to defect to the West bringing the latest Su-27 “Flanker” fighter along with him. It would be remiss of me to write about the Cold War without including elements of the shady intelligence community which strive to manipulate events.
In the first chapter I wrote a description of a training sortie over the North German Plain which was typical of the many sorties I had flown. The sights and sounds returned in my mind’s eye as I bashed the keys. The plot and characters subsequently developed from a core of these flying sequences. It took two years to complete the book and with a new manuscript in hand I tried to find an agent or a publisher. After the usual raft of rejections the book simply sat on my hard drive for many years.

With two of my factual books already traditionally published I, eventually, decided to dip a toe in the water and try self-publishing. I dusted off the manuscript which had been languishing on my computer for years and gave it another harsh edit. Armed with a style guide downloaded from the internet I prepared the document for release, and put together a cover. It was a nervous time as I sent the draft for review but quickly received confirmation that it met the technical specification for Kindle. It was a struggle to find an appropriate category which highlighted to me the lack of aviation fiction on the market. Fiction/War/Military is so vague so I opted for the smaller Aviation History category where it joined my first book “Phantom In Focus” for company. Although the category was populated by principally factual works, I felt my novel had enough factual content that  a serious reader would still gain some factual satisfaction having read it. With trepidation I hit publish. The initial reviews were heartening and it sold quite well for a while. After I considered buying editorial support and admitted it openly, I received a couple of indifferent reviews which criticised a number of errors in editing style. Whether this was just coincidence or more sinister might grace the pages of a novel about the publishing world. Determined to eradicate the source of criticism I published an update fixing the minor problems and subsequent reviews were again positive. It proved to me that there are plenty of readers out there who love aeroplanes.

With the book out on Kindle and selling modestly but steadily I released it on other self publishing platforms, Lulu and Smashwords. Sales there were disappointing so I withdrew it to concentrate on Amazon Kindle Select. With the release of my subsequent novels “Defector” has hung in with sales every day.
The book was also the vehicle to try a few other projects. Createspace offers self publishers an outlet for releasing a title in paperback on a print-on-demand basis. Although the formatting requirements are more stringent, the process is similar so I released the book in paperback. Audiobooks are also a growing sector of the publishing market. The challenge of producing an audiobook version is a whole blog discussion in its own right.

For me “Defector” raises issues which I’m sure many authors face. My inspiration was probably Dale Brown with his stories set in the cockpit of a B52 bomber and his vivid descriptions in “Flight of the Old Dog” made the story stand out from the crowd. “Defector” is based on fact and contains a level of detail which many agents or publishers might want to “dumb down” for the commercial market. To do so loses the essence of life in the cockpit. I was first attracted to Tom Clancy because the story was technically accurate. A critic said of Andy McNab that the reason his fiction is so compelling is because it is based in the real world. For that reason, although “Defector” scratched the itch and allowed me to take the reader into the cockpit, my subsequent novels are still full of detail in the flying sequences.

Was self publishing the right move? I would say yes even though the publishing industry is still dismissive of self-published works. I will raise the topic of self marketing later but with limited exposure it is still possible to attract readers starved of aviation tales.

Check out the description of the book on my website. “Defector” is published by DeeGee Media and available on Kindle and in paperback.

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