That Difficult Second Album

In the days before streaming, MP3s and such like – when proper music came in vinyl that they called ‘long players’, there was something called ‘Difficult Second Album Syndrome’.

An album was another name for a LP (long player), being a number of audio recordings issued as a collection, which after vinyl’s heyday was then also used for both tape cassettes and CD collections – gosh, it’s like a history lesson!

And the ‘difficult second album’ was what they called the follow-up LP a band or singer had to bring out pretty quickly after the initial success of their debut. Usually with the record label pushing them hard! The problem referenced the fact that recording artistes had, apparently, often used up all their best ideas on that impressive first record.

Now, novels having been around a lot longer than LPs (did any classical music composers have ‘that difficult second symphony syndrome’?)  you would think more would have been written about ‘Second Novel Syndrome’. Of course it must exist, after all Margaret Mitchell never managed another book after ‘Gone with the Wind’. J D Salinger rather dried up after ‘Catcher in the Rye’. Maybe it’s more success related than the actual writing?

What then can be done to get over this problem? And did I ever suffer from ‘Difficult Second Novel Syndrome’ when writing ‘The King of Elfland’s Little Sister’ (KELS)? This being the second adventure of the ‘#1 Kindle Bestselling’ Master Detective Nicely Strongoak. (Not exactly ‘Gone With The Wind’ or ‘Catcher in the Rye’ fame I know!)

The answer is no. And not because I’d already published ‘The Resolution Show’ with David Alter in between, because chronologically  that was actually written a lot later.

The explanation, and the way to get round ‘Difficult Second Novel Syndrome’, is to start the second novel before you finish the first! Well, that’s what I did with KELS.

What’s this all about then? Simply put, when writing Nicely’s first adventure ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf’ I found that there was a lot of material being generated that just didn’t fit in that first book. It was either connected to events, or characters, which just didn’t belong in ‘A Dead Elf’. They were too good to waste though and I put them elsewhere (in my fester box) and gradually KELS began to take shape there.

Bottom line, I had half of this book finished before I had completed Nicely’s first adventure. This meant I had none of that ‘blank page’ problem when it came to writing KELS for real. There were a lot of other problems of course, but not to do with the actual writing.

And, guess what?

While I was getting the rest of KELS together the elements of Book 3 of Nicely’s adventures were taking shape. Now, on ‘The King of Elfland’s Little Sister’ publication day, I am delighted to announce that the first draft of Book 3 is also complete. It’s called …

Sorry, you’ll have to wait for that treat, but in putting that book together the basis for Book 4 began to take shape as well. But that, as they say, is another story.

Continue reading That Difficult Second Album

The Further Adventures of Commander Cold – ‘Putting the Science in Fiction’

 

To help celebrate the forthcoming publication of the inspirational ‘Putting the Science in Fiction’ (PSF) ten of the contributors are providing further contributions and story prompts based on their field of expertise. Before I became a comedy writer, playwright and scriptwriter I had another identity – I was Commander Cold and you can read about problems associated with freezing biological material, for preservation and reanimation, in the mighty tome that is ‘Putting the Science in Fiction’.

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) coming up you might find some stimulus and (frozen) food for thought here in:

The Further Adventures of Commander Cold

Chemical fixatives – the agents used for immobilising the constituents of cells and tissues for structural studies – act too slowly to get more than an ‘averaged’ view of the biological material. Cellular events, like secretory activities, muscle contraction and nerve transmission, are far too rapid to be caught as they take place. That is why ultra-rapid freezing provides a viable alternative for the initial immobilisation of the parts of cell involved in fast processes.

Freezing, particularly using ultra-pure copper cooled by liquid helium, has been successful in capturing even very rapid events like synaptic release. However, helium is not cheap. Other cryogens, like refreezing Freon and liquid nitrogen slush (liquid/solid mix) have their place, but better and more convenient alternatives are always worth looking into.

This helps explain why I was jetting high pressure liquid nitrogen at small lump of muscle, but not why I needed the stockings and the thermal insulation against the gas that got me dubbed ‘Commander Cold’.

On a general point – a lot of this relates to how science is actually done, rather than how the layperson may think science gets done. If you are considering how a scientist might act in your story, do consider a place for improvisation and thinking outside the box .

A company that I had connections to had a good idea. They realised that liquid helium was expensive while liquid nitrogen was cheap. Liquid nitrogen is not actually a good freezing agent though because of something called the Leidenfrost effect (reference book for more information). It is concerned with the small range between liquid nitrogen’s melting and boiling points. This means that if you put something warm into liquid nitrogen you get an insulating layer of gas formed that then slows the freezing rate. One way round this, which doctors use for wart removal, is to direct a high-pressure jet of liquid nitrogen at what you want cooled and the insulating gas layer is thereby striped away and fresh liquid exposed to do the cooling. This is exactly the way you might well see somebody (or something) being frozen in a film or on TV and it usually results in them being frozen in seconds or even milliseconds. This would not be the case – it would be an incredibly inefficient and painful way to kill somebody probably involving them going blind first and stumbling around in agony. The chances of recovery would be zero.

The company’s idea was to ramp up the pressure of the liquid nitrogen considerably and direct the biological tissue requiring freezing into its path. Very small amounts of biological material it has to be emphasised! They needed somebody to evaluate how well the material was freezing. It seemed an interesting idea and it was – in theory. The problem was that the jet that did the freezing tended to spray the biological material all around the room. I tried suitably arranged thermos flasks to catch it, but the jet made finding the sample very difficult.

Of course the room filled alarmingly with nitrogen too – and so ‘Commander Cold’ was born. Incidentally this activity was no more dangerous than what would happen upon filling up a Dewar from a large liquid nitrogen storage cylinder. ‘Health and Safety’ first – just because you may not freeze quickly it doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to kill yourself with coolants, asphyxiation being a prime example.

This is where the stockings came in. A single stocking over the whole jetting apparatus turned out to be the best way of catching the sample – in the stocking toe as it happens. They were flexible and actually thawed quite quickly.

The freezing rate of the jet freezer was never really good enough though.

The idea of jetting liquid nitrogen didn’t leave me though. Thinking about the properties of liquid nitrogen I remembered that you can also produce supercritical liquid nitrogen. A supercritical fluid is any substance at a temperature and pressure above its critical point, where distinct liquid and gas phases do not exist. In effect, if you can keep maintain the pressure of the liquid nitrogen above its critical point as you jet you will not get the Leidenfrost effect and freezing rates of biological material should be excellent.

So I designed the world’s first (probably) Super Critical Liquid Nitrogen Jet Freezer. And very neat it seemed, requiring no stockings at all! I found a company interested in prototyping it for me and all seemed great, until my university’s Business Department stepped in.

They thought a Super Critical Liquid Nitrogen Jet Freezer was going to bring great wealth to all concerned and outlined the various ‘cuts’ they would expect from any profits. At which point the company pulled out. As the company boss said to me, ‘there’s probably only a demand for a dozen in the whole world Terry and at the price they are anticipating it just won’t sell.’

And so the Super Critical Liquid Nitrogen Jet Freezer never did see the light of day, but Commander Cold lived to freeze another day. And always remember, the world of the very small can be just as exciting as the world of the very small. For example: nobody knows what this is!

So have you been having chilly thoughts in your writing? Here are some ideas to get you warmed up!

Story Prompt 1: A scientist thinks outside the box (just as I tried) and discovers a totally new method that allows cryogenically frozen plants and animals to be re-animated – until it all goes wrong of course.

Story Prompt 2: A company that has made a fortune out of fraudulently freezing the dead discovers that the departed have been mysteriously disappearing.

Story Prompt 3: A deep space colony ship has passengers in deep freeze. But is everybody really as inactive as they should be?

And if you want a chance to win a copy of ‘Putting the Science in Fiction simply enter the Rafflecoptor giveaway below:

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Continue reading The Further Adventures of Commander Cold – ‘Putting the Science in Fiction’

The King of Elfland’s Little Sister – the whole cover!

It seems only fair to now give you the full effect of the glorious cover for the new Detective Strongoak adventure: The King of Elfland’s Little Sister.
It’s already receiving very positive feedback I’m delighted to say and I should have the publication date very soon.

Continue reading The King of Elfland’s Little Sister – the whole cover!

The Elf with No Name

“I stopped a step or two from the top and weighed him up. The long straight blond locks were pulled back tight with a pin-stick slide-clip that flashed a sapphire or two as he turned his head to survey the night-time Citadel. A knotted plait hung over one shoulder. His two-button suit in midnight green was expertly cut in a style that did not impede movement. His hat was as cool as an ice-dragon’s undercarriage.

Elf with no name

Lean and nicely balanced and probably fast with it, this was one elf that would need careful watching.

Continue reading The Elf with No Name

Next book news – soon!

We’re all hoping to give you some news very soon about the latest Nicely Strongoak adventure. It’s all written and has a great title too, which of course I can’t tell you – battle axes might have to be hefted. What I can tell you is that it’s got even more dwarf detective shenanigan’s and wisecrackery – as well as some great new suits. You’ll learn more about the Citadel and Widergard too, but nothing more about surfing and very little about house prices on the Third Level, although they are extortionate now.

We all want to know!
We all want to know!

So, keep your eyes and ears open for word on the sequel to the Epic Fantasy #1 Bestseller – very soon, we all promise you.

Continue reading Next book news – soon!