Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Miles and Miles of Crocodiles

On February 19th, 1945, more than one thousand Japanese soldiers retreated into the fetid swamps of Ramree Island, off the coast of Burma. Days later, only twenty were found alive. It remains the deadliest crocodile attack on record. In the passage that first piqued my interest in the incident, British marine (and naturalist) Bruce Wright wrote:

“That night of the 19 February 1945 was the most horrible that any member of the M.L. [marine launch] crews ever experienced. The scattered rifle shots in the pitch black swamp punctured by the screams of wounded men crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles, and the blurred worrying sound of spinning crocodiles made a cacophony of hell that has rarely been duplicated on earth. At dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left...Of about 1,000 Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about 20 were found alive.”

That compelling testimony has been hotly disputed over the years. Ramree natives maintain such an attack never took place, while others attribute the high number of casualties to enemy fire, disease, scorpions, and various other perils indigenous to the island. But in many Indo-Pacific regions, saltwater crocodiles are feared even more than sharks. Indeed, they eat sharks! And they do, on occasion, attack people. Ramree Island is itself not far from the Burmese coast. It stands to reason that such a large number of crocodiles, when disturbed and confronted with a widespread smell of blood, would react with deadly force. Further, crocodiles like to feed at night. The Japanese troops spent three nights in the swamp. There is therefore much circumstantial evidence in support of Wright's account. Exactly how many men were killed by crocodiles, rather by than the myriad other perils, can never be known. But Wright's testimony has endured, in all its nightmarish glory.

So, how to adapt these horrific true events into a story that people would find compelling and not nausea-inducing? Not an easy task. Crocodile attacks are unimaginably vicious. And war—equally so. So I decided to shift the focus to two men, one a musician in civilian life, the other an owner of a men’s fashion store, and reveal how they came to rely on each other through the unspeakable events. It became a tale of friendship and survival.

Privates Nakadai and Kodi were never meant to be soldiers. As for many young Japanese men, Imperial duty was foisted upon them under pain of death. Nakadai is a musician without music. Kodi’s love of fashion and cleanliness is buried under layers of black swamp mud. But something clicks when they’re together, and each substitutes the other’s dwindling humanity. It is the strongest kind of friendship there is—a life-or-death bond between ordinary men in extraordinary times.

To delve the reader headlong into the swamps of Ramree, I decided to tell the story in first person present tense. It added so much immediacy that I was literally breathless after writing certain passages. I also gave each chapter a musical title, reflecting the memory of home kindled between the two friends.

Here are two brief excerpts from Sunset on Ramree:


Lance-Corporal Hokuto Mayazuki has always been one of the luckiest soldiers in the Japanese Imperial Army. The scars of no less than six shrapnel cuts and bullet wounds tattoo the left side of his neck, all the way from ear to shoulder. So many miraculous escapes over a three-year tour of duty in the Pacific. Yet he will be among the first to die this evening—according to the medical officer—though not from any wound. Today is February 19th, 1945, and he is succumbing to a strange, horrid fever. If one so tough can fall easily, I tell myself, what chance have any of us, retreating into these deadly marshlands of Ramree Island?

It is 16:45 and the British forces have outflanked us. Word spreads throughout our battalion that there is no escape. The mangrove swamp—a thick, stifling, fetid place of only damp reprieve—suddenly provides our only protection. And it is here, in the coming hours, that from the jaws of our defeat, Nature will try to snatch us for Herself. There are a hundred unseen ways for a man to die. We can never give in and time must therefore be the grind of the blade, that by our own hand we draw death—an honourable death. What end waits for me, I wonder? My name is Shigeatsu Nakadai. I do not want this sunset to be my last.

The water I pour onto my neck to drown a dozen large ants is drinking water. I curse the decision. From here on, saltwater is all we’ll find. When my canteen runs dry, I’ll start to die of thirst. The thought occurs to me to pilfer some of Mayazuki’s—he’s almost dead anyway—but the reasoning proves double-edged. What if he contracted his disease from that water? Is it worth the risk? Thirst or fever: in prolonging life by one means, might I not simply protract death by another? I decide to leave him his flask and take his can opener instead.

We’ve been rushing for hours. Our battery stronghold is now miles to our rear. Colonel Ojihoru is a determined man, but determined to do what? If we are not permitted to surrender, and there is no way through the British lines, what is his hurry? Suicide now or suicide later, it seems academic. Stoicism is my only refuge. It’s as much a performance as those I give each night in my dreams—in the orchestra of Chadwick Hall in Canberra, where I play the clarinet—except this performance is to myself. Of all the ways to leave this swamp, suicide is the most impossible, at least to me. I’m quite sure that when the time comes to die with honour, I’ll cry in front of the whole regiment. Will I be the only one?


I try to conjure a memory of before the war—something, anything to distract me—but draw a blank every time. I purse my lips to whistle a familiar tune, but nothing comes out. I shut my eyes tight and roll them inward until they ache and release a heavy pulse. The screams and shots and calls for surrender are still there. Kodi and Sobiku are still there. I imagine the reed of a clarinet between my lips and the long, sustained breath given to making sweetly aching music. But nothing comes out. No tune, no melody, no woodwind to soothe the mangroves. Just the damp, cold harmonics of the night. I’m lost without music, and there is no music on Ramree.

Sunset on Ramree was released on July 7th at Eternal Press as an eBook, priced $3.95.

The paperback version is available from Amazon.

And finally, here are a few facts I learned about saltwater crocodiles:

*The largest and deadliest reptile on the planet, the saltwater crocodile lives in northern Australia, eastern India, and southeast Asia.

*Its average life span in the wild almost equals that of a human male (70 years).

*Its average length is almost three times that of a human male (17 ft).

*'Salties' (as they're referred to in Australia) occasionally reach a length of 23 ft and a weight of 1,200 kg.

*They are extremely good swimmers and have been spotted quite far out to sea.

*The female crocodile lays up to 60 eggs at a time, though only a very small number will reach adulthood.

*The saltwater or estuary croc cruises through the water at around 2-3 mph, but can sprint-swim at speeds of up to 18 mph.

*On land, its explosive acceleration can almost match a human runner, though only in very short bursts.

*It will generally bask for much of the day and feed at night.

*It is what is known as an apex predator, as its natural position is top of the food chain.

*It rarely attacks humans, mostly because the saltwater crocodile is fiercely territorial, and we have learned to avoid its domain. In regions where human precautions are poor, however, reports of fatal croc attacks are far more common.

*The controversial mass crocodile attack on Ramree Island, 1945, remains the deadliest recorded attack by wildlife on humans.

Learn more on my official webpage:

Visual Arts Junction Writing Contest Goes Live!

All aspiring writers should check out the following link:

The VAJ monthly contest is an excellent opportunity for budding writers to gain exposure. This month, the challenge is to write about a piece of art titled Valle Pintado. The deadline is Nov 15th. The winning entry will be posted on each of the three VAJ-affiliated websites, as well as on the many supporters' blogs/websites. That's a lot of publicity!

What are you waiting for? Head on over to VAJ and show what you can do.

Best of luck!

Saturday, 24 October 2009


As you can see, Samhain Publishing are pulling out all the stops for Impulse Power, their space opera anthology due for release in February 2010. The cover artist is Kanaxa, and she went truly stellar for this amazing tapestry of book covers. The three novellas are Hearts and Minds (by J.C. Hay), Metal Reign (by Nathalie Gray), and my own outer space adventure, The Mythmakers.

I've had great book covers before but these are just extraordinary! If the rest of the project turns out this well, Impulse Power will be the space opera book of next year, no question. Each novella is to be released as a separate eBook in Feb, before the paperback anthology later in 2010.

Here's an early blurb for The Mythmakers:

The last will and testament of a forgotten Earth...

For Captain Steffi Savannah and her crew of deep space smugglers, life has become little more than a dogged exercise in mere survival. Their latest disastrous heist ended with another dead crew member—and no place left to hide. She’s even finding it hard to dredge up any excitement over the giant, crippled ship that appears on their radar, even though it’s the salvage opportunity of a lifetime.

They find that it’s no ordinary alien vessel. It’s a ship of dreams, populated with the last remnants of Earth’s mythical creatures. Including the blond, built, mysterious Arne, one of a race blessed with extraordinary beauty—and few inhibitions. Though he won’t tell her exactly what he is, in his arms Steffi rediscovers something she thought she’d never feel again. Wonder, love…and hope.

It isn’t long, though, before the Royal guard tracks them down, and Steffi and her crew are faced with a terrible decision. Cut and run. Or risk everything to tow the ship and her precious cargo to safety.

Editing on The Mythmakers begins soon, and I have the lovely Sasha Knight overseeing this one. Can't wait!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Cover Art for Godiva in the Firing Line!

Artist (and author) Julie D'Arcy just sent me the finished cover for my upcoming sci-fi war novella, Godiva in the Firing Line. This was one of the most interesting collaborations I've had with an artist. We had such different initial takes on what the image should look like, and I think we both got a little frustrated with that incompatibility. For my part, I was perhaps too specific in what I asked for; it didn't give Julie much leeway in finding suitable digital elements. One has to remember our graphic artists can only use images already available to them, and the more specific you are, the tougher it becomes for them to exactly reproduce your idea.

On the other hand, there has to be good communication throughout the process in case those ideas aren't reproducable. With Godiva, I asked for a blonde, beautiful female soldier dressed a certain way. Poor Julie spent ages trying to find the right girl, without luck. Instead, she went in a new direction and chose a sci-fi woman that, while blonde and sexy, didn't, for me, fit the story I'd written. Better communication at both ends might have saved her a lot of time and effort. We'll both be wiser next time.

In the end, we chanced upon a nice middle ground that more or less fulfilled all the criteria of my initial suggestions, while also being practical enough for Julie to work her magic. We're both very pleased with the finished cover. In fact, it's one of my new faves. I *love* the alien landscape. And that girl is definitely Godiva.

Thanks, Julie!

Godiva in the Firing Line is due for release on December 1st at Damnation Books. Here's an unofficial blurb and excerpt:

The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack! Join Godiva Randall, the beautiful daughter of a powerful politician, as she puts her paratrooper unit’s motto to the test. A delicate truce on Hoarfrost’s icy moon is about to explode, and blood will be spilled.

This is the moment Lupine Corps has trained for—combat against a nightmarish alien foe, light-years from home. But Godiva and her best friend, Dash Collingwood, are secretly in love. All mixed-gender combat units must take Celiba-C—a pill that suppresses sexuality—under threat of court-martial. Its performance record is amazing. The military swears by it. But it’s a lonely war so far from home. What if they skipped a dose, just this once? One night for themselves. What’s the worst that could happen?


So this was it.

There was an un-showy yet deliberate mobilisation, half-dressed figures she recognised trying their best to appear aloof while making their beds. No way were they so composed inside. Her abdominals tightened and she repeatedly unclenched her fists while straightening her sports bra, buttoning up her beige jacket, clipping her panties to the waist of her trousers and fastening the tungsten belt, tucking the trouser legs into her latex stockings, winding herself into the supple but impenetrable, thigh-length performance boots, and finally, combing her hair with damaged fingernails.

So this is it…

She closed her eyes.

No place to hide now.

Boys had always been wary of Godiva Randall. The beautiful daughter of a powerful politician, she was the gemstone lying in the middle of the pavement that every pedestrian would covet but think twice about picking up, fearful of the catch. But in Godiva there was no catch, no deviousness, no treachery, and that no boy had ever lasted longer than four dates was, it was rumoured, the thing that had ultimately driven her to a platonic career in the world of men—a paratrooper par excellence. It might have been the one place where, if you were brave enough to put your life on the line, politics had no dominion.

She was five-seven, golden blonde, with a very pale complexion and a lithe, athletic physique. Men in her various squads quite rightly nicknamed her Lady Godiva. It had become the object of contentious betting that she would one day agree to pose naked for the Lupine Corps’ female calendar and that if she did, she would outshine all those gone before. Sooner or later, everyone knew who she was—rich, super-educated, the daughter of presidential candidate Rupert Randall. Corporals and colonels alike had taken on the conquest, until she’d dropped Daddy’s name and seen that same gulp of the eyes, that silent “Oh, shit! Where the hell are my car keys?” glance.

But now, no one else seemed to notice her, and she liked that nervous throb of anonymity.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009


Quite a busy month on the quiet! Two new eBook releases, a new contract signed, two short stories subbed, final stage re-writes on two novels, a family camping trip, and...other stuff.

Stayed at a campsite near Dumfries, southwest Scotland, for three days. There were eight of us in all, and only two tents. Boys in one tent, girls in the other, plus one labrador apiece. Needless to say we didn't get much sleep, but the location was great--right next to the beach--and the weather stayed uncharacteristically fine. One crazy excursion involved my brother and I clambering over coastal rocks to get back to our beach. Before we knew it, the rocks had become a cliff face and we were hanging on by our fingertips, unable to go back. After an hour of precarious Sylvester Stallone antics, we had no choice but to scramble down to the water and wade the rest of the way through freezing, chest-high waves. No, we weren't dressed for that.

But we'll never forget it.

My short horror story, Val and Tyne, was released by Damnation Books as part of their inaugural book launch on September 1st. They utilised a very unique pricing method. All prices started at five cents and, with each purchase, increased in five cent increments, until they reached the full list price. Most of them are still available for under a dollar, so you should head on over for some serious bargains. My story is a black comedy horror involving movie makeup effects, zombie re-animation, and plenty of macabre Hollywood touches. I had a great time writing it. Hopefully I can get around to doing a full horror novel soon. I have soooo many ideas waiting.

Uncial Press released my debut time travel novel, The Basingstoke Chronicles, as an eBook. My editor Judith B. Glad and I worked hard to find a balance between old-fashioned (Victorian) and modern style prose. I have to admit it was too wordy at first--as if I was trying hard to be Edgar Rice Burroughs or H Rider Haggard--but now it reads exceedingly well. Brisk and smooth. Jude deserves a huge thank you for that! Nice to see Basingstoke is selling well on Fictionwise. In fact, it's been in the top five sci-fi bestsellers for weeks now, something I've never achieved before.

The big news this month is my contract with Samhain Publishing. Their Space Opera Anthology submission call drew three times the expected number of entries. In the end they picked just four stories, one of which was The Mythmakers, my first attempt at space opera. It's not only a dream come true to be published at Samhain, it's a testament to how much I've improved as a writer since I started in 2007. And there's a long way to go yet.

I received the cover art and returned the final draft for Charlie Runs Rings Around the Earth, my short sci-fi novel due out December 7th at Lyrical Press. It's pure action adventure from the first orbital racing scenes to the startling climax on an alien planet. Not a great deal in the way of re-writes for this one--I must have turned in a pretty good first draft. My regular readers will eat this story up, and hopefully Charlie can make some noise around Christmas.

I submitted two new short stories to e-zines. The Gauntlet is provocative sci-fi, Happy Meal is a fun horror. Both were under 3,500 words. It felt good to bring a couple of long-in-the-offing ideas to fruition, and I'm curious to see how they do. Both have a more fast and loose style than I'm used to.

A sci-fi mystery novel I finished this summer, well, never quite lived up to my initial vision. I'd planned to make it a fun erotic romance in a sci-fi mystery setting. It became something else, though, when I chickened out of the steamy stuff. I really liked the end result--an entertaining detective mystery on a lunar colony--but that initial vision kept nagging me after I was done. So I've taken steps to rectify the problem...namely, bringing in my favourite erotic comedy writer to "sexify" the story. I'll make a real announcement when we're further along, but right now I'm pysched that she'd even consider my proposal, let alone jump in with both high heels. I can't wait to see what gems she comes up with!

Phew! No time to mention books read or movies watched this time. It's getting late. Promise I'll do a full-on end of year film post soon, before the awesomeness that is Avatar blows our collective minds in December.

Till then, be safe!