Interview with Dan Ladle, author of ‘Jump’

dan ladle jump science fiction interview independent author self publishing eco terrorism

I first began corresponding with Dan little over three months ago (well, ish), which was the beginning of a fairly lengthy conversation about his self-published debut novel. That, eventually, became this; and so I present unto you my interview with Dan Ladle, author of Jump.

So, first of all, can you tell us a little about how Jump was written? From when you had the idea, to the process of writing the book, and then the eventual publication, were there any major changes in terms of characters or plotlines?

The problem with time travel is that it can get extremely complicated very quickly, so I needed a way of getting my ideas in order. I discovered a thing called the Snowflake Method, devised by a guy called Randy Ingermanson. It is a way of planning your novel from start to finish and takes you through a number of steps to create a finished manuscript.

You start off with a single line summary of the whole story, then slowly expand it again and again. The most important part, for me, was the character profiling. I wanted the characters to be central to the storyline and this allowed me to write the plot around them, as opposed to slotting them into situations. The planning took me around six months. I actually started writing the novel in April of 2012 and finished it eight months later. I only wrote during my lunchtimes at work!

Apart from swapping a few scenes around here and there the story stayed pretty faithful to my original idea.

What would you hope is the main take away from Jump, for the audience? What are the most important themes and messages of the novel?

My family are a big influence on my life. I grew up with biology, archaeology, engineering and chemistry being discussed in the house. My wife is training to be a primary teacher and has worked in ecology and environmental management. We have a son who is mad on dinosaurs. All of these things influenced the creation of Jump.

I hope that my interest in, well…everything, comes across in the book and gets other people thinking about the way the world works and how the human race effects the planet we live on. I don’t think we need a time machine to make things better.

You’ve made twitter accounts for several of the characters in the novel [Peter James, Andrea James, Emily Harrison, Michael Cooke, and so on and so forth]. Do you think this sort of multi-media engagement with characters is going to become more prominent in future, with all novels?

If you are a new author and are thinking about creating Twitter accounts for each of your characters, my advice would be to book about six months off work to do so. I wanted the accounts to be as real a representation of the characters as possible, which meant I gave them different foibles. For instance, Jonny is not too hot with technology, so all his tweets have no capital letters or punctuation (some might argue, I wouldn’t have too much trouble mimicking this behaviour).

Of course, it also meant I had to Tweet (convincingly) about quantum physics, paleontology, saving the Earth, mechanical engineering and Information Security as well as the softer interests such as fashion, music, and art. Some of these were easy, some not so much, but a couple of the accounts have over 200 followers and they get retweets and references in online magazines, so they must be doing something right.

It’s a fun way to do marketing, but can easily take over your life.

[Just to note – you need to scroll down a little bit see the ‘in character’ aspects, as recently Dan revealed to the followers of those accounts that they were, in fact, fictional characters. Presumably that came as something of a shock to some people, but really, half the population of the internet is fictional to some extent]

Were there ever any points at which you attempted to have Jump published traditionally?

I would suspect that most authors, upon finishing their first book, think – “I’ll just send this to a few publishers and see what happens”. And this is, in fact, exactly what I did. There are several obstacles when you try to do this. The first of which is that the number of publishers accepting unsolicited electronic manuscripts is higher than zero. But only just!

Some of the publishers also take a long time to review the work. So long that, by the time I finally received any response I had already decided to try doing it myself.

Can you tell us a little about the process of self-publication? Merits vs drawbacks, and what led you to go down this route? Is there anything important about it you think aspiring authors should know?

There are obviously some positive things about self-publishing, not least of which is the fact that you can take a hundred thousand word document, upload it, then start selling copies almost immediately. It was a very positive thing from my point of view. When I came to create a paperback version of the book it was a little more difficult. You need to follow specific formatting guidelines, but again there is so much online help available that it didn’t really cause a problem.

The difficult parts are probably the ones that come afterwards, promotion has been an uphill struggle and I’m still doing my best to get the book noticed.

How do you feel about recent developments with Kindle Unlimited, and the way this changes the amount of money authors receive?

The main difference I have noticed with the new Kindle Unlimited payment scheme is that, about 90% of the Tweets from authors now say things like “read my super-fantastic wonderfully exciting bestselling (sic.) novel for free … … … on Kindle Unlimited”! Which just means that it isn’t actually free at all, as you have to pay a monthly subscription to access their books.

I suspect, like most changes, this new marketing model will be good for some authors but less beneficial for others. Only time will tell who are the winners in this, although my money would be on Amazon.

As a self-published author, what do you do to try and spread the word about your book? What have you found to be the most useful tool in promoting your book?

The internet is a big country, making yourself heard above all the racket is easier said than done. The best way to do it is to have constant updates on as many websites, forums and social networking sites as possible. The more you post the larger an audience you build up. But the posts have to be relevant and make sense, so you can’t go onto a steam engine appreciation society page and tell them how great your book about e.g. a horse named Phil is, unless it’s a horse named Phil who is intimately acquainted with steam engines.

Personally, I’m an active member of a number of online groups which celebrate the late great Sir Terry Pratchett. If you are part of communities like this, and the group rules don’t forbid such things, then it’s a great place to post links to your books and stories. You’ll also get feedback from people who share some of your viewpoints on life, which is incredibly helpful.

In what ways have you drawn on your own experiences when writing? I know, for example, you’re planning a novel called Pancreatically Challenged, which is about someone with Type 1 Diabetes – a condition you yourself have.

Pancreatically Challenged isn’t going to be a novel so much as a discourse on what it’s been like having Type 1 Diabetes for nearly forty years. The highs and lows (which may be the subtitle) as well as how technology and science have changed Diabetes management beyond recognition.

My life has actually been a very interesting one, growing up with three older brothers and parents who write, I’ve had jobs in science and technology and am interested in all sorts of things. As I built up a picture of all of the characters in Jump I assigned them certain traits or behaviours which were all, in some way, facets of my own personality.

Thankfully I have a really bad memory! So when I write I can’t draw on real-life conversations, experiences or arguments as I remember them wrong, so I have to create them all from scratch each time.

I know you’re a large Terry Pratchett fan. How would you say his writings – or those of other authors, like Asimov, Crichton, and Baxter – have influenced your own, if at all?

I’d say I’m more of a medium than a large!

Pratchett was and is my favourite author; I wrote a piece which explains a lot about what he meant to me when he died earlier this year. The one thing I would like to think his writing style has given me is an interest in creating multiple threads within a story, which all interweave and then come together to create a sort of oratory crescendo.

I also try to live by his writing advice which, to paraphrase, goes something like – “if you’re writing fantasy don’t read fantasy. Read about nuclear physics, read about basket weaving in the 15th century, read about breeding iguanas, but don’t read fantasy or you’ll just end up producing an inferior copy of what has gone before”.

Oh yeah, and I have a tendency to use too many exclamation marks!!!

If I had to liken Jump to any other particular author’s canon it would probably be that of Michael Crichton. Certainly the idea of a bleeding edge piece of technology causing catastrophic problems is a fairly standard plot device in his novels.

How do you manage to balance working on several different projects concurrently? I know from your Goodreads page that you’re currently writing three books (Devamped, Pancreatically Challenged, and the provisionally titled Getaway), so how do you make sure you balance the amount of attention you pay to them, as well as maintaining real-life commitments?

Sadly, the main project I have to work on is having an actual job. If this were not the case then I would be happily juggling my time between short stories, books and random posts on social media. However I do have a life and responsibilities, so I only really get to write during lunchtimes at work.

When I have the chance, I take my laptop, go sit in the kitchen and get on with whichever thing I am presently feeling inspired about. I’m just planning on restarting Devamped, which is going to be a comedy about a vampire who is involuntarily re-humanised. Getaway has changed into a short story called Pathfinder, which I have submitted for a competition. Pancreatically Challenged is going to continue whenever I’m not doing something more interesting.

I also have a number of other things buzzing about in my head, but when it gets to the start of lunchtime I just pick whichever one I’m in the mood for and run with it.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to the people reading this interview?

Read more!

And thus, the interview is concluded. I’d like to extend a massive thanks to Dan for taking part in this; you can find him on facebook, twitter and Goodreads. He also has his own blog.

You can find me on facebook and twitter as well; to check out some of my posts about writing, and hopefully eventually some more author interviews, check out the index of my blog

My review of Dan’s book, which I gave a 7/10, can be found here. You can also buy his book from Amazon here, both in print and electronic formats. 

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Books Index

Book Review | Jump (by Dan Ladle)

dan ladle jump science fiction interview independent author self publishing eco terrorism

Several months ago, I was contacted by Dan Ladle, a self-published author, who asked me to take a look at his book. As you can likely guess, I have actually looked at the book – in fact, I gave Dan about 6500 words of commentary on the book. And now I’m reviewing it! Later on in the week, I’ll actually also be posting an interview with Dan, so definitely check back for that, because it’ll be pretty interesting.

Jump, as a story, follows two groups of people. The first is the EARTH Force, a group of people dubbed to be “ecological terrorists” by the mass media, who go to desperate lengths in their attempts to cultivate, protect and preserve the environment, but are being torn apart by internal conflict over how extreme their methods are to be. The second is a group assembled by the military following the development of the Jump Box – a time machine. This group – including physicists Michael Cooke and Celia Jones, inventors of the box, linguist Emily Harrison, scientific specialist David Moulder, archaeologist Andrea James and engineer Peter James, married couple, as well as Colonel Robert Masterson, who leads the group – are instructed to use the machine to travel back and forth through time, gathering data that can help to save the planet, which by this point in time is in pretty dire straits.

Unbeknownst to Masterson and his team, however, they’ve been infiltrated by the extremist faction of the EARTH Force, who are using the Jump Box to change the past – in the hopes of, ultimately, removing humanity entirely.

It’s a very clever, and timely, premise – like the best science fiction, Jump uses the language and imagery of technology to give a story about very current and important concerns. Something I liked about the story was the fact that, actually, essentially everyone involved had pretty similar end goals: to save the planet. The conflict comes from how they approach the solution to the issue, and how extreme their approach is. It was refreshing to see the military actually focusing (at least initially) on the environmental potential for the time machine, rather than jumping (haha, “jump”) straight to the possibilities for weaponising the technology.

Throughout, I did get the slight nagging feeling that I’d seen a plot like this used somewhere else – I think it was probably a couple of episodes of ITV’s Primeval – but despite this, Jump manages to present it’s own spin on things, and keep a more or less distinctive feel to it. It’s a fairly inventive plot, with quite a few riffs on familiar ideas, which sets the book apart from others of it’s ilk. There’s a couple of twists throughout the novel – both of which I managed to guess, but only through paying attention to the occasional spot of slight foreshadowing threaded throughout. I think it’s entirely possible that the second of these twists would take many readers by surprise; it builds upon the earlier, more predictable one, and reframes the entirety of the novel in a rather different light. It’s certainly one of the cleverer aspects of the novel.

Jump is written in a very simple, clear style of prose – but that’s certainly not to its discredit. Given the style of prose, I think it’s essentially the sort of thing you could expect anyone to be comfortable reading, whether they’re young or old. The only exception, actually, is the occasional curse word (no more than four or five in the entire book, only two of which beginning with an F) and some infrequent-but-moderate sexual references.

Some people probably would find it lacking; you’re never going to get long essays analysing the sentence structure or imagery employed throughout, but you’re certainly going to get a group of people who read the book, and enjoy it too.

The characters in Jump are something of a mixed bag, to be honest. They’re all rooted, essentially, in archetypes – you’ve got the soldier, you’ve got the linguist, you’ve got the physicist, and they rarely rise beyond the roles afforded to them. Certainly, they’re enjoyable to read about – physicist Michael Cooke is charming, and Robert Masterson shows a surprising level of depth at times – but equally, there’s plenty of moments where things feel rushed or underdeveloped. The big standout is where the main dissenting character quite literally says he “doesn’t respond well to authority figures”, with all the attitude of a Badass Who Doesn’t Play Well With Others™ – it’s a moment that comes out of nowhere, and seemingly only exists to signpost the fact that this character is the one who’s going to swim against the current. There’s also rushed relationships (they insist they don’t normally do this, but sleep together on their first ‘date’, and decide they love each other not long after, over the space of just a few days) and some cliche interactions between the female characters (the men really just don’t notice when someone is interested in them, do they?), but on the flip side, there are plenty of nice character moments for each individual. (With regards to the aforementioned relationship, one intimate scene wherein they discuss tattoos sticks with me, as does their eventual ending together)

(Having brought up the topic of those slightly cliche interactions, I realise I should clarify that there are four main female characters, and a few background ones, compared to 6 main male characters; I can’t remember if the book passes the Bechdel test or not. There’s not really any LGBT characters, but I don’t recall the ethnicity of any character being stated, white or otherwise. Draw your own conclusions from this; whilst the book is hardly groundbreaking in terms of representation, nothing jumped out at me as being notably offensive.)

I do want to single out the main villain, Darwin, who’s leader of the more extreme faction of the EF. Darwin is actually a genuinely quite threatening character when he’s first introduced, exuding a real air of menace, which is something that continues throughout as he blackmails the other, more moderate, EF members to support his cause, slowly wresting control of the group away from the far more hapless former leader, Jonny. One particular moment of actually quite horrifying blackmail revolved around Darwin’s possession of some “intimate” photos he shouldn’t have had – it’s a stand out moment, that really cemented the character as being quite foul. Admittedly, the end Darwin comes to does perhaps undercut the menace, but it does make him much more of a tragic figure.

Jump is, however, by no means perfect. The easiest thing to notice and pick on is the mistakes in editing and formatting; sadly, there are quite a few. On some levels, you’ve got to be understanding of the fact that proper editing is expensive, particularly for first time self published authors – but equally, when you’ve got near constant grammatical errors, more than a few examples of missing punctuation, the occasional spelling mistake, and some weird formatting, it does begin to remove one from the flow of the story,

Which is not to say the story does flow, exactly. Or at least not in the sense you’d expect.

Has anyone seen those “story rollercoaster” pictures? Like, you have however much buildup (going up the rollercoaster), maybe a twist (that’s the loop-de-loop), but eventually there’s a climax (the highest point of the rollercoaster), and then the eventual resolution.

If you’re following that analogy, Jump is essentially a “story drive” – ie one long, straight road, that doesn’t quite go anywhere. For a while, it feels like it’s something resembling a slow burn thriller, except that’s not exactly right; there’s not really any huge increase in tension, merely a forward plot motion. Details are revealed, and information is divulged, but there rarely feels like there’s much drive to plot – it feels very much like you’re just going through the motions. This isn’t true all the time (waiting to learn Darwin’s backstory was quite a page turner) but it is definitely something I was conscious of. There isn’t exactly much of climax either – for all the potential of the premise, the two groups are largely kept separate for much of the novel, and their eventual meeting is dealt with very quickly. From that point on, the novel feels like a very drawn out process of tying up loose ends and wrapping up different plotlines.

It is, essentially, a bit of an odd ending – in part because it takes so long, but it also feels like the book never quite began in the first place. There’s lots of drawn out build up, and then without any great change of pace, suddenly every character is in a relationship with another one, and they’re all walking off into their own respective sunsets. It’s something that does, ultimately, feel a little lacking.

This is, perhaps, a review that’s a bit at odds with itself. But then, so is Jump – there’s lots of good things, and lots of not so good things. It’s definitely enjoyable, but in some regards, it can also be a let down. A lot of things would probably come down to taste – I’d say that if even one of the things I described caught your interest, you should check out the book, because you likely will find things you enjoy. Just like I did really – it’s been difficult to properly discuss the things I really enjoyed without delving into spoiler territory, but hopefully what I have said is enough to pique your interest!

As it is, though, I’ll give this book 7/10.

Be sure to check back in a couple of days, when the interview with Dan will be posted! You can buy Dan’s book, Jump, here.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Book Index