SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST #NewRelease

It’s a delight to take part in Jacqui Murray’s Blog Hop for her latest novel, ‘Survival of the Fittest’!

Her previous books have taken us from the modern subterranean world of nuclear submarines and terrorism to an era over 1.8 million years ago at the very start of mankind’s development.

‘Survival of the Fittest’ is set 850,000 years ago and centres around five tribes with one leader as they face a treacherous journey across three continents in search of a new home.

As the blurb succinctly describes:

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind a certain life in her African homeland to search for an unknown future. She leads her People on a grueling journey through unknown and dangerous lands but an escape path laid out years before by her father as a final desperate means to survival. She is joined by other homeless tribes–from Indonesia, China, South Africa, East Africa, and the Levant—all similarly forced by timeless events to find new lives. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that this enemy doesn’t want her People’s land. He wants to destroy her.

As with all fiction writing, there is often an overlay of fact but with a book set so far back in time one wonders how much is artistic license, how much can be based on true fact? I put this question to Jacqui with regard to one angle in the book.

Survival of the Fittest hints at a spiritual side to man. Is that accurate?

Scientists have no idea when man’s spirituality started. Because 850,000 years ago (when Xhosa lived) is considered prehistory—before any sort of recorded record—there’s no way to tell. Survival of the Fittest offers one speculative theory of how that could have happened.

Finally, below is the beginning of ‘Survival of the Fittest’ and I as read the whole chapter kindly forwarded by Jacqui I found myself hooked! The story is thoroughly captivating and I was drawn immediately into Xhosa’s world, feeling her pain, fears, her strength! The writing is superb, taut, fast-paced whilst not rushed and the upcoming themes and plot lines are clearly outlined! Will you be as tempted by this extract as I was … a copy of the book is now on my kindle and I can’t wait to read it! Purchase links are below.

Her foot throbbed. Blood dripped from a deep gash in her leg. At some point, Xhosa had scraped her palms raw while sliding across gravel but didn’t remember when, nor did it matter. Arms pumping, heart thundering, she flew forward. When her breath went from pants to wheezing gasps, she lunged to a stop, hands pressed against her damp legs, waiting for her chest to stop heaving. She should rest but that was nothing but a passing thought, discarded as quickly as it arrived. Her mission was greater than exhaustion or pain or personal comfort.

She started again, sprinting as though chased, aching fingers wrapped around her spear. The bellows of the imaginary enemy—Big Heads this time—filled the air like an acrid stench. She flung her spear over her shoulder, aiming from memory. A thunk and it hit the tree, a stand-in for the enemy. With a growl, she pivoted to defend her People.

Which would never happen. Females weren’t warriors.

Feet spread, mouth set in a tight line, she launched her last spear, skewering an imaginary assailant, and was off again, feet light, her abundance of ebony hair streaming behind her like smoke. A scorpion crunched beneath her hardened foot. Something moved in the corner of her vision and she hurled a throwing stone, smiling as a hare toppled over. Nightshade called her reactions those of Leopard.

But that didn’t matter. Females didn’t become hunters either.

With a lurch, she gulped in the parched air. The lush green grass had long since given way to brittle stalks and desiccated scrub. Sun’s heat drove everything alive underground, underwater, or over the horizon. The males caught her attention across the field, each with a spear and warclub. Today’s hunt would be the last until the rain—and the herds—returned.

“Why haven’t they left?”

She kicked a rock and winced as pain shot through her foot. Head down, eyes shut against the memories. Even after all this time, the chilling screams still rang in her ears…

‘Survival of the Fittest’ is available at: Kindle US Kindle UK Kindle CA Kindle AU

Jacqui Murray can be found on the following social media:

Linkedin: http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

Blog: worddreams.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/WordDreams

https://jacquimurray.net

Twenty-four Days – A Thriller by J. Murray

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I am delighted to be part of Jacqui Murray’s book launch of her latest exciting thriller, Twenty-Four Days.

It is only nine months since Jacqui Murray released her first book, To Hunt a Sub, which I featured hereTwenty-four Days promises to be an even more intense and thrilling read.

Some familiar characters return in this sequel novel including the ever popular albeit quirky Otto,  a sentient artificial intelligence robot. Along with its handler, Kali Delamagente and brilliant scientist, Zeke Rowe, the unlikely team becomes America’s only chance to stop a terrorist attack that threatens the nation.

First here is some information about the book itself before Jacqui kindly answers some questions that came to my mind whilst reading this and the sample first chapter.

‘World-renowned paleoanthropologist, Dr. Zeke Rowe is surprised when a friend from his SEAL past shows up in his Columbia lab and asks for help: Two submarines have been hijacked and Rowe might be the only man who can find them.

At first he refuses, fearing a return to his former life will end a sputtering romance with fellow scientist and love of his life, Kali Delamagente, but when one of his closest friends is killed by the hijackers, he changes his mind. He asks Delamagente for the use of her one-of-a-kind AI Otto who possesses the unique skill of being able to follow anything with a digital trail.

In a matter of hours, Otto finds one of the subs and it is neutralized.

But the second, Otto can’t locate.

Piece by piece, Rowe uncovers a bizarre nexus between Salah Al-Zahrawi–the world’s most dangerous terrorist and a man Rowe thought he had killed a year ago, a North Korean communications satellite America believes is a nuclear-tipped weapon, an ideologue that cares only about revenge, and the USS Bunker Hill (a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser) tasked with supervising the satellite launch.

And a deadline that expires in twenty-four days.

As America teeters on the brink of destruction, Zeke finally realizes that Al-Zahrawi’s goal isn’t nuclear war, but payback against the country that cost him so much.’

To the interview – Jacqui’s answers are in italic.

Firstly, I am interested in the research you must have undertaken for this book? It is technically, scientifically and militarily detailed. What did your research entail? Do you have a background in the Navy/submarines/AIs? Have you any personal experience of submarines?

I have been onboard a submarine, but (of course) couldn’t visit many of the parts I had to describe because they are classified. For that sort of info, I turned to working submariners. They shared what they could without crossing the security line. I also did a ton of Googling under the assumption that if I could come up with it in a Google search, it probably wasn’t classified. Any time I worried I might step over the line of revealing secret details, I stepped back, either obfuscated or deleted. This was true not only for those few sub scenes, but the many cruiser scenes.

Next, I’m interested in your writing process? What is it like writing a fiction book as opposed to your factual tech books? Did you write it whilst still editing the first one? How long did it take you to write this?

My first effort at fiction (called Born in a Treacherous Time–it will come out next year–it has been a long long process) was inspired as an effort to humanize dry facts. I wanted to present real-world events in a way people would enjoy rather than a textbook which tends toward the pedantic. So, I used fiction’s traits of developing characters, story arc, and crises-resolution. This is typical in historic fiction and creative non-fiction, but I didn’t know that when I started twenty-five years ago. I am a devotee of that approach now. 

This book is the sequel to To Hunt a Sub. When I finished that book, I sent out query letters, waited, got nibbles and waited some more. To keep myself busy, I wrote Twenty-four Days. I finished it before the query process for the first book ended. That’s frightening to think about. When I went through the same slow, tedious process (which included acquiring and losing an agent) for Twenty-four Days, I decided I’d prefer to self-publish. The material in Twenty-four Days (a partnership between North Korea and Iran, a North Korean nuclear weapon, and an attack on a US warship by North Korea) is somewhat time-sensitive and spot on for today’s geopolitical events–I didn’t want to miss that opportunity!

Following a discussion with another blogger, do you prefer to write straight on the computer or in longhand first? Do you think it makes a difference?

I have rheumatoid arthritis so I definitely must type. I’m looking to the day when I’ll replace typing with speaking. Anyone out there write their book entirely with vocal commands? I’d love to hear how that goes.

How do you find the editing process? Did you write many drafts first?

I like the editing process. I probably read through the entire book a dozen times, to be sure of flow, pacing, that sort of stuff, but in between, I edit in chunks. I find it very effective to have my editing software (I use Autocrit) identify pieces they have a problem with and then dig into it to fix it. There will be thousands of those–too many passive sentences, repeated words, or any number of other reasons. 99% of the time, after I’ve fixed these and then reread the entire draft, I am much happier with the story.

I was wondering if this book can be read as a stand-alone or best after To Hunt a Sub? Are you planning a sequel to Twenty-four Days? Are you working on any other fiction book?

It is a stand-alone though I’ve peppered in details from the prior book where needed. I am planning the sequel. I want to feature Otto (the sentient AI) more centrally and move away from warships and submarines. I’ll know more in a few months!

I’m also working on a spin-off series that revolves around the ancient female Lucy who appeared several times in To Hunt a Sub. Her story of resilience, strength, and pain is motivating. This will be historic fiction rather than thriller. The first is titled Born in a Treacherous Time and is due June, 2018.

With reference to the title – Is there any particular significance of 24 days?

The story starts with the good guys having only 24 days to save the world. Typical thriller fashion, innit? I count down the days as the reader moves through the book, to build drama and keep the action centered.

What is the hardest part of self-publishing? Are there any elements in indie publishing that were easier than you originally thought?

The hardest part of self-publishing is believing I’m worthy. When an agent knocks on your virtual door and says they want to represent you, that tells you you’re a good writer, You’re worthy of being published. It’s difficult to do it without that cheerleader, to put my work out there because I believe in it (and my husband–he always believed in me). 

The easiest part of self-publishing is the second book. Once I built a template for how to do it,  all I had to do was replicate it for the second book. That’s not to say it wasn’t frightening, time-consuming, and stressful. But I did have a model to follow that worked once before. That made a big difference. 

Finally, here are a couple of extracts from Twenty-four Days to whet your appetite:
'Obeid was stunned. His gut said Run! He risked his future—his life—staying a moment longer with this crazed zealot, but Obeid did little more than croak a strangled, “If I succeed, I will also die!” His University friends called it a Sophie’s Choice.

The Kenyan shrugged. “But less painfully.”

…..

Across the yard, limned against the grey sky, towered the domed shape of the HMS Triumph, its deck slick with rain, sail glistening in the early morning light. The warheads it carried could reach the vast majority of the planet but the bustling sailors, some in oil-stained uniforms, others nattily dressed in white with jaunty officer caps, greeted each other, oblivious to the danger approaching them in the uniform of shipmates.

What had he done?

“Keep going,” the scar-faced Kenyan hissed between clenched teeth.

Obeid balled his fists to stop their shaking and forced his steps to be slow and measured as if in no rush to start what would be a three-month deployment.'

Jacqui, many thanks for your honest and informative answers in this interview. Tempted to read more,  Twenty-four Days is now available to purchase at  Kindle US,  Kindle UKKindle Canada,

The Loyalist Legacy: Book Tour

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I am very excited to be part of Elaine Cougler’s book tour for her latest historical novel, The Loyalist Legacy.

‘Historical fiction is flourishing as never before,’ declared the head the British Historical Writers’ Association recently and Elaine’s final book in her Loyalist trilogy is testament to the popularity and success of this genre.

Set against the backdrop after the American War of Revolution (American War of Independence) and the War of 1812, The Loyalist Legacy is an intimate, personal and realistic novel centred around William and Catherine Garner seeking to rebuild their lives admist the terrible hardships and ensuing political fallout.  Her book can be read as a stand alone but of course would be richer to read in sequence.

With realistic insights into the challenging lives of Ontario’s early settlers, Elaine Cougler once again draws readers into the Loyalists’ struggles to build homes, roads, and relationships, and their growing dissension as they move ever closer to another war. The Loyalist Legacy shows us the trials faced by ordinary people who conquer unbelievable hardships and become extraordinary in the process.

The following encapsulates the essence of the book and I cannot help but want to learn more about the two main characters, their struggle and the change created in both them and their country.

When the War of 1812 is finally over William and Catherine Garner flee the desolation of Niagara and find in the wild heart of Upper Canada their two hundred acres straddling the Thames River. On this valuable land, dense forests, wild beasts, disgruntled Natives, and pesky neighbors daily challenge them. The political atmosphere laced with greed and corruption threatens to undermine all of the new settlers’ hopes and plans. William cannot take his family back to Niagara, but he longs to check on his parents from whom he has heard nothing for two years. Leaving Catherine and the children, he hurries along the Governor’s Road toward the turn-off to Fort Erie, hoping to return in time for spring planting.

The wonderful atmospheric writing of the following excerpt immediately drew me in and transported into the nineteenth century world of William and Catherine.

The tunnel sloped upward and, as the light grew brighter, they left the water behind. First out of the hole, Lucy watched as Robert turned back to help William tug their father, blinking, up into the sunshine. Aaron pulled her to the waiting wagon, and parted the hay to reveal a hiding place. She crawled inside, John came after and then her sons. They were almost blind in the shadowy half-light, brown with the sun filtered through the layered hay.

A bright spot of light opened where they had crawled in and Aaron shoved a jug of water toward them. “Godspeed,” he whispered and was gone. She prayed his part in this would never be known. The wagon lurched and they were off, the three escapees and her, now just as guilty in the eyes of the law as her men, and whoever was driving the wagon….

John dozed beside her, his long legs reaching to Robert and William who sat hunched at their parents’ feet. She had lain down beside John to try to cushion him from the bumpy road and hold his head on her shoulder. How could he sleep? She was acutely aware of each rut in the road and every stone the wheels scraped against as the wagon carried them to what she hoped was freedom. The horses snorted and panted up every hill and she found herself holding her breath hoping they’d make it.

They hardly stopped on the way out of the village, but each time they did everyone held their breath until the squeaky wheels started turning again. But the ride was uneventful. No one followed them; indeed, no one seemed to know they had escaped.

The wagon bed was covered with a thin tick meant to ease their journey and she thanked the planners for their effort even though it didn’t help much. Nevertheless the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves created a kind of rhythm and gradually her thoughts subsided into the sound as she released her fear and her excitement. Her body relaxed against John’s. The last thing she remembered was putting a handkerchief over her nose to keep out the bits of fresh hay floating in the murky air.

 

Whispering woke her. And a sudden burst of cool air, which wafted into the tight space, now dark. She pulled the cloth away and sat up. John groaned beside her and she felt his fevered forehead.

“Mama? Are you awake?” William’s low voice caught and he cleared his throat. “We’re stopping for the horses.” He crawled through the opening and she followed after him feeling her way in the darkness.

“What about your father? He’s burning with fever.” Picking bits of hay from her clothing she looked around but could see very little. A few distant stars shone weakly and a slip of a moon hung over them like a curved sword. Two men switched the teams but in the dim light she couldn’t see who they were. Only the occasional glint of harness bits and wide eyes—both horses’ and humans’—bore witness to their task. Mr. Beasley had been as good as his word.

Robert went to help the men and Lucy turned to John. William opened up a larger hole in the straw so his father could breathe easier. Very soon the horses were hitched again, the spent team tied to a wheel for a moment, and its driver, spent also after six hours of driving, brought Lucy a package of food from under the wagon seat. They each found a brief moment in the bushes, William helping his father out of the wagon for the purpose, and soon stuffed themselves back into the tight space.

The plan was to drive all night, the new driver had said, but Lucy wondered how much more she and John could take. Her rheumatism pained her at the best of times but bumping along in the back of this wagon was pure agony although she uttered not a word to her family. William had kept the plug of hay out of its hole at the back of the wagon and she was glad of the air. She plunged her hand into the sack to find what their rescuers had packed for them.

Hours later the wagon stopped again. William woke and hastily plugged the hole against the dawn light but soon removed the hay and crawled out, Robert right behind him. John’s eyes were on her and she took his hand.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“Another stop for horses, I expect.” She touched his cheek. “Come. We’ll have a stretch.”

Robert helped his father from the wagon and took him into the bushes.

“Where are we, William?” Lucy asked. “Do you know?”

“We’re going to Burlington Bay. That’s all Aaron told me.”

“Beasley kept his promise.”

William squeezed her rough hand and she winced. “What is it, Mama?”

She forced a smile and took back her hand. “Look. The sun is just clearing the lake.”

“That’s the last we’ll see of it today.” Robert had returned from helping his father. “The driver says we’re still many miles from Beasley’s place.”

03_elaine-couglerA lifelong reader and high school teacher, Elaine Cougler found her passion for writing once her family was grown. She loves to read history for the stories of real people reacting to their world. Bringing to life the tales of Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and Rebellion of 1837 is very natural as Elaine’s personal roots are in those struggles. She lives today in the heart of Ontario, Canada, and is the descendant of Loyalists who lived through the times of which she writes.

Elaine Cougler can be found on TwitterFacebook Author Page, LinkedIn and on her blog.

The Loyalist Legacy is out now and available at  Amazon UK or Amazon US.

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