Who, Where & When – revised edition

Following my involvement with Blackpool Remembered and Blackpool Revisited, I have given my 2011 Doctor Who ebook, Who, Where & When a short, personal account of growing up with the show in the 1980s and beyond.

I’ve given the front cover an overhaul with some recent illustrations and the existing articles have undergone some minor edits where needed. However bringing the book up to date, are four new pages at the end, which I hope you enjoy.

Download Who, Where & When for free at sevenzero.net

Cover art: Gardens of Earth

Gardens of Earth by Mark Iles is the first book of The Sundering Chronicles, coming soon from Elsewhen Press. 

Elsewhen contacted me to illustrate the cover, as they knew it would be a good match for my style, having worked together on several previous occasions. Gardens of Earth literally spans several genres – the story tackles alien war, a future that may be considered either dystopian or utopian, a protagonist dealing with personal demons, the remnants of Earth’s inhabitants now living in a sparse society under the watchful eye of the strange plant-like Spooks, and returning human colonists intent on reclaiming the Earth.

While you might primarily consider Gardens of Earth to be a science fiction novel, elements of myth and magic fantasy are also present. So how do you represent all this in a single cover image?

You don’t even try! A cluttered book cover with too many elements fighting for attention never looks good. We knew this of course, so the challenge for this cover was to come up with an image that would set an overall tone for the book and draw the reader in via a single snapshot.

An email conversation between myself, Mark and Elsewhen resulted in a couple of concepts being discussed. The first was the view of a greener Earth with some of the Spooks closing in. We also looked at the idea of our protagonist and female humanoid companion staring out over a vista of forestry and simple human settlements, again with the Spooks looming on the horizon.

Initial concept sketches for Gardens of Earth

I worked up rough sketches for both, and we agreed the version showing the two figures was the right approach – however Mark wanted to see a city backdrop rather than forestry. Cityscapes have long been a recurring theme in my artwork, so it was a concept I was immediately comfortable with. 

Mark had also gone over some specific, minor details – such as the insigia we see on the female’s left shoulder or the pilot’s commando knife at thigh level. Their coveralls were also to be dark green, which for me, set the colour palette for the overall scene. I wanted some atmospheric, hazy light that could be either sunset or sunrise, and chose a palette of turquoise through to yellow – the green tones in between also linked back to the greener world featured in parts of the story.

The team at Elsewhen had already chosen a typeface for the series, so we worked together to agree on the most effective layout. I suggested having the title in a dark blue to contrast the illustration but also match the darkest colours present – this little touch glued it all together. My original illustration extended beyond the cover format, so we were able to extend it around the spine and on to the back of the book.

Gardens of Earth is available to pre-order as an eBook on 6th August, and will be out in paperback in October. Keep an eye on the Elsewhen Press website or social media pages for further details!

Talking cover design

I’m pleased to have a guest blog interview over on the Just Write Right website, about cover art and design, my creative process and working with self-publishing authors.

https://justwriteright.co.uk/2021/07/26/talking-cover-design/

Best of British Science Fiction 2020

The Best of British Science Fiction 2020 anthology from NewCon Press, edited by Donna Scott, is due for release on 27th July and can be pre-ordered from the NewCon Press website, in paperback and limited edition signed hardback formats.

I am delighted to see my digital painting Daybreak featured as the cover to this collection, which genuinely contains an illustrious selection of science fiction writers.

Daybreak is one of my personal favourite pieces, so it is particularly rewarding to have it used on this anthology.

I often create artwork with the possibility of cover licensing in mind, but this didn’t happen to be one of them – it’s a landscape piece for a start. But when Ian Whates at NewCon Press sent over the proofs of the cover, I was pleasantly surprised at how well Daybreak lent itself to cover art – particularly on the hardback format, where the solid dark blue perfectly wraps itself around the dust jacket. I couldn’t wish for it to have a better home.

Track by track: The Ministry of Machine Building

As The Ministry of Machine Building is now available on Bandcamp, Spotify and Apple Music, here’s a quick run through of my initial thoughts behind each track…

Aparition Haze

I think of this piece like the opening titles to a film or series. The imagery in my mind was a mysterious city shrouded in a dark smog, under a veil of perpetual nightshade. This is the start of our journey into a mechanical underworld…

The Ministry of Machine Building

The epic title track was the first piece I composed for the project; a long and evolving track that takes you on a frenetic tour of The Ministry, from crashing steelworks and forges to production lines, this is where the action happens. I was imagining a huge, complex hive of non-stop industrial activity, computing, assembly and testing The . workers continually clock on and off their shifts as they work to build the machines.

Nightwatch

After such a dense and complex track comes a little respite, and a welcome gasp of night air. Part of the album concept was to follows the life of one of the workers, from days on end in the darkness of The Ministry to moments of contemplation while on the ‘night watch’. 

Assembly

As the title suggests, this is the first of several tracks which explore what is being created in the ominous depths of this industrial city. Much of this album is heavy; there are often two or even three drum tracks layered up to create a robotic, mechanical movement. Part of the challenge musically was to also create a catchy piece of electronica; something with groove and a solid beat.

The Hall of Machines

This track was probably the most diccifult to make and I worked through several iterations of it before it started to feel right. My original idea was for it to be quite a sparse, minimal composition with no or little drums, but – as is often the case – it found its own way, drifting from that starting point, although echoes of that idea can still be heard in the intro and outro. In terms of the concept, this is really taking the listener on a journey through the giant central hall of The Ministry, where the machines reside, awaiting activation and instruction.

Insomnia

I wanted to create a piece with a slightly delerious, dreamy atmosphere. Even though the work shift is over, sleep doesn’t come easily, and we find ourselves wandering the city streets from the darkest night to the early hours of morning.

Modularity

The follow-up to Assembly in some ways, this is the album’s heaviest and most powerful track. Here, we travel through the networks – physical and virtual – of The Ministry; the electronic networks of the computer brain and creation of artificial intelligence.

Escape Plan

The underlying plot in so many classic science fiction stories is the notion of escape; those dreams of leaving that will one day be fulfilled, in a frantic and tense adventure in face of all odds. This was an older demo track that was left unfinished – this provided a solid framework on which to build an energetic, groove-based track.

Reactor

I wanted the album to culminate in a dark and dramatic finalé. What is the reactor, or what – or whom – is reacting? This could be our protagonist’s reaction to his live enslaved by The Ministry – reaching breaking point and working to bring the whole thing crashing down… or perhaps this is the sound of the reactor itself; the deadly molten core and beating heart of The Ministry.

Undiscovered

A kind of epilogue. Fast forward many years, and The Ministry of Machine Building is no more; a relic of the past, consigned to history. But perhaps one day the old site will be unearthed. Still there after all this time. The machinery abandoned and rusted, the Hall of Machines a derilict shell. Or is it? Geiger counters crackle, and if you listen closely, what is that low drone, emitting from below the surface?

New cover art

My piece, Into Battle graces the cover of issue 24 of Shoreline of Infinity Magazine – Edinburgh’s finest science fiction publication. I had the pleasure of illustrating an interior piece in their first issue some six years ago, so it’s great to be back!

To get your copy or find out more, visit the Shoreline of Infinity website.

Another cover reveal in the same week – this time a brand new piece for Entangled, the latest instalment of Alice Sabo’s “Transmutation” space opera series.

You can keep up with Alice’s work over on her Facebook page.

Ministry of Machine Building – more previews and Glacier Heart video

Above is the second, short teaser for my conceptual instrumental album, The Ministry of Machine Building. I always create a digital booklet for my releases on Bandcamp – not only does this add a little value for money, but more importantly, the artwork and sleeve notes is, for me, an extension of the album. Even though I only release my music digitally, it’s important for me that each release has artwork and a ‘booklet’, just like a physical release would. Richard Hayes has written a special, short narrative that reinforces the album concept, and this is a short snippet.

The second full-length preview track from the album, Nightwatch, is now up on SoundCloud.

The Ministry of Machine Building will be released on 2nd July.

Finally, my recent collaboration with Ren Faye, Glacier Heart is now available on Spotify and Apple Music, and also has a new video.

The Ministry of Machine Building

I’m pleased to announce a new electronic album, The Ministry of Machine Building.

Starting points for musical projects often come in the most unexpected places. 

Back in 2019, I watched HBO’s excellent – if harrowing – miniseries, Chernobyl. Arguably one of the most gripping and unsettling depictions of any real-life event I’ve seen, as well as being interesting, technically and politically. I still remember the Chernobyl disaster happening – in April 1986, I was eight years old, and recall how it dominated the news. My young mind couldn’t quite comprehend the reality of what was going on in that other part of the world (I’d witnessed enough tragedy already that year with the Challenger explosion in January), but I knew it wasn’t good. I was hearing certain words for the first time, such as “Reactor” and “Radiation”… and when you learn words that way, they stick forever.

I was so compelled by the dramatisation, I immediately bought Serhii Plokhy’s detailed book on the subject, Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy for some long overdue education on the matter. An absolutely fascinating read, but it was in Plokhy’s book that I first saw reference to The Ministry of General Machine Building – an impressive title if ever there was one! The ministry was a Soviet government organisation based in Moscow and was responsible for overseeing all aspects of USSR space exploration. Another ministry, the Ministry of Medium Machine Building, was country’s secretive bureaucracy which supervised the Soviet nuclear industry, hence the link to Chernobyl.

Sometimes the words or phrases on the page of a book will stand out, and I’ll repurpose them into a song title, but on reading about the two ministries, I knew there and then this had to be an album title! Of course, making an album about a nuclear disaster would be neither cheerful or tasteful, but a slight shortening of the title gave way to a whole new creative scope and allowed me to reposition the Ministry into a science fiction context. Thinking back to the scenes in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, I was soon imagining a dystopian factory-city in a state of perpetual nightshade; shift workers clocking on and off as they collectively work toward the creation of huge machines and sentient creations they did not understand. This needed to be like the soundtrack for a science fiction film yet to be made, and carry a story through the tracks.

So this was the spark that led to the composition of The Ministry of Machine Building over the past couple of years. The title track was one of the first pieces I worked on, but it laid dormant for many months before being resurrected, once I found a suitable direction for the album. While generally dark and moody, I wanted there to be a balance of heavy, layered industrial electronica, evoking assembly lines and thundrous mechanical processes, alongside some lighter contrasting pieces, almost like  a brief moment of repose from the immense factory world.

When called upon to write some sleeve notes for the album, Richard Hayes has delivered a fantastic piece of writing – not sleeve notes in the traditional sense, but almost a short story; or an excerpt from a diary, leaving the reader curious for more…

I was not free.  I knew that well.  Building the machines that dominate our world was the focus of my life, and there could be no escape from that role.  The machines of the modern age would bring coercion to our society, which was no less a constraint for those who constructed them.

The Ministry of Machine Building will be released on Bandcamp on 2nd July 2021. Previews to follow!

Glacier Heart – streaming and video

“Glacier Heart” is now available for streaming on Spotify, and a new video has been created for the song.

The track was recorded remotely – commonplace these days, but perhaps moreso during Covid times.

I have recently been composing tracks for potential songs, as it suddenly felt like the right time to test the water in this direction – but it had to be with the right kind of vocalist. Then I heard one of Ren’s tracks on SoundCloud and really loved her voice – we’ve been in touch for a while, but never discussed our music – I sent my demo over and asked if she would like to record some vocals for it… and in no time at all, she came up with these beautiful, enchanting lyrics and amazing vocals to go with it. It was one of those ‘perfect fit’ moments.

As an instrumentalist, I had never mixed vocals before, so this was an interesting new challenge, but I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound and the kind of cinematic atmosphere it should have. Having worked with other musicians in the past, I know how rewarding creative collaboration is, whether you are in the same room or working remotely – if you’re on the same wavelength, exciting things always happen, and that was definitely the case here. Ren and I are delighted with the finished track, and that has encouraged us to work on more pieces together, hopefully with a view to releasing an EP in the near future.

Here’s the video for “Glacier Heart”…