Friday, 2 December 2016

Review: The Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides

I re-read this history (which is nearly two and a half thousand years old) recently, and it’s still amongst my favourites. The edition I have is published by Penguin, with translation by Rex Warner and introduction/notes by MI Finley.

Thucydides wrote an account of most of the Peloponnesian War, which occurred in the 5th century BC between Athens and Sparta, and their respective allies. It lasted decades and was rather complicated. Unlike some other ancient conflicts there weren’t persistent strong characters who defined the war (the exception might be Alcibiades, but only to an extent) which may be why it’s not quite as well-known as the Second Punic War or Alexander’s campaigns.

The author himself was an Athenian who played a brief role in the War before being exiled. He then spent years writing of the conflict, but appears to have died before he could finish it.

Thucydides wrote in a precise, factual manner. Although some elements are guessed at (the specific wording of speeches, for example) most of these are guided by speaking to witnesses or documentation. Although sometimes coloured by personal views (he was not a fan of Cleon), he does not appear biased in general terms for or against Athens, Sparta, Syracuse or any other player in the game, and is not afraid to condemn his own side when he felt they were in the wrong.

His approach (contrary to many ancient historians) of including specific numbers where possible and giving detail as to battle and siege where it existed enables a more lively and accurate account to come out. Whilst written with a cool, calculated hand, Thucydides does a great job of portraying success and plight as the fortunes of war ebbed and flowed.

As he himself wrote, this is intended to be an objective account of what happened that will stand the test of time, and on that score it’s a clear success.

The sometimes dry style and willingness of the writer to use an eight clause sentence if that’s what it takes to write what he wants to write may mean this isn’t ideal for a beginner to classical history (that said, I got it fairly early on and didn’t have particular problems). The footnotes and appendices do a good job of explaining what needs to be explained. There are also several maps in the back (perhaps a few more would’ve been helpful, though maybe I’m being picky).

The only real downside is that the book is unfinished, but it is still substantial, covering over two decades and 600 pages.

I’d advocate reading this after Thucydides, but can also strongly recommend the excellent single volume history of the Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Kingdom Asunder – out today

Kingdom Asunder, the first part of The Bloody Crown Trilogy is out today, huzzah!

It’s available at a discount (60% of the full price) for the first week of release, so do snap it up now.

The story revolves around the civil war between (and tempestuous relationships within) the Houses of Penmere and Esden. It’s brimming with ruthless she-wolves, scheming traitors and grim knights, dripping with gore and betrayal.

As it’s release day, there are no reviews yet on the retail sites but there are a few early ones here, on Goodreads.

Kingdom Asunder can be purchased in many places (if you buy through Amazon UK you may wish to use this affiliate link, which gives a small commission to the cancer charity Macmillan):


Sunday, 20 November 2016

Kingdom Asunder – out this Thanksgiving

What crime is more unforgivable than treason?

Princess Karena is all that stands between the House of Penmere and ruin. The King, her brother, was gravely wounded in a failed assassination attempt, and once-loyal followers are flocking to the treacherous Usurper's golden embrace.

But Karena knows the surest defence is attack, and will stop at nothing to destroy any rival to her brother... or herself.

Against her, the Usurper musters a vast army to crush Penmere once and for all, but in a war of treachery those closest to you can be the greatest threat.

The above is a description of Kingdom Asunder, which releases on 24 November and is available for pre-order. It’s a fantastic story of the civil war between (and tempestuous relationships within) the Houses of Penmere and Esden, brimming with ruthless she-wolves, scheming traitors and grim knights.

Buy KA at Amazon US 
Buy KA at Amazon UK

Buy KA at Kobo
Buy KA at Barnes & Noble

Kingdom Asunder is also discounted for the pre-order and first week after release, down to just $2.99 (after which it’ll rise to the standard price of $4.99).

Pre-order reviews aren’t permitted on Amazon, but there are a few here on Goodreads.

It’s a great book, people. It’s going to win big, so big, because it’s written by a winner, a guy who knows how to win. It’s got the best words, folks, we all know it. We’re making a trilogy here, the best trilogy you could ever dream of. And the readers are gonna pay for it.

So, if you want some escapism from the world of politics, there’s no better time and no better price than Kingdom Asunder, an epic fantasy a million miles away from 2016.


Thursday, 17 November 2016

Colour Psychology and Anatomy of an Advert

I’m quite good at knuckling down and churning out words, but when it comes to marketing, the other side of writing (which involves 1% of the time but is as important as the 99% spent writing), I’m a bit less fluent.

This time, I decided to try and make a bit of use of the old psychology. A few years ago now but I do have a degree in it, and have vague memories of colour psychology (McDonalds has red and yellow in its advertising because the colours influence you to feel hungry and want to impulse buy). It’s worth noting that colours can and do mean different things in different cultures. Red is not always bad. Green is not always good.

In addition to considering colour, there’s the contrast versus complementary aspect to consider. Colours close to one another on the spectrum (yellow and red, for example) often go smoothly together. However, a stark contrast (black and white’s the most obvious) can create a stronger visual impression. The most important thing is to avoid clashing colours. Purple and green are not your friends. And don’t festoon the screen with every colour of the rainbow. Clarity is useful because the reader’s eye gets drawn the way you want it to, and the reader won’t get annoyed with having a face full of rainbow vomit.

For impulse buying, which books generally are, it’s better to use warmer colours. There is a notable exception, which is blue. I have no idea why the coldest of cold colours might encourage impulse buying, but there we are. If you’re selling a car, I’m not sure why you’re reading this for advice, but you want to take a more functional approach (green or blue, and black might work).

It’s also important to avoid the bullshit factor. I saw an ad a couple of years ago for one of those card games that are based on a TV series. “It is a life-altering experience!” the narrator enthused. Now, for a five year old, maybe it would be. And that’s the target demographic. Someone with the power to nag their parents to buy something. But if it were aimed at me, my response would be concise and Anglo-Saxon, and would not involve me spending money.

Use language that fits your book. Try and use a font that either fits well or at least doesn’t clash (using military style fonts for a romance or sci-fi lettering for an alternative history of the Roman Empire would just look wrong).

Anyway, I’ve wibbled about this for quite some time. But the point of an ad is to be seen, the information digested easily and (if it’s a low cost impulse buy) attract someone into buying it in short order. Below I’ve got the advert for Kingdom Asunder, currently up for pre-order on Amazon, with annotations explaining why I included each element.

I also did a smaller banner with some of the same elements (because slapping a whacking great advert in the middle of every blog would be obnoxious). I went for red rather than blue because I felt it stands out more (I considered red for the large banner but blue seemed a better fit for it. The two ads take a different time to read, and whilst the red is more arresting the blue feels a little easier on the eyes).

So there you are, a basic guide to making a banner ad. Remember, focus on colours, have no bullshit, include a call to buy and, most important of all, click and pre-order Kingdom Asunder.


PS If you’re a chap going on a date, try a red shirt. As well as ruining your life expectancy in Star Trek, red shirts make men more attractive to women (to a statistically significant degree). Unfortunately, ladies, the colours you wear make no difference to how attractive gentlemen find you.