Author, Patrick G Cox, is a veteran of the indie publishing scene and I've had the pleasure of working with him a few times, most recently when custom-designing the cover for Pat Cox's latest book, Harry Heron: Midshipman’s Journey.
Q: What is Harry Heron: Midshipman’s Journey about?
The basic story is about two boys from very different social backgrounds growing up, but there’s quite a bit more to it than that. To start with they’re Irish, and though Harry’s family have some connections, they aren’t in possession of wealth and ‘office’. Ferghal, Harry’s companion, is the son of his father’s Head Groom and a Roman Catholic in a period and a place when being a ‘Papist’ barred you from a lot of things.
As a ‘younger’ son, Harry knows his inheritance will be limited, so he faces the choice of Law, Army or Church for his future. He chooses the Navy, and Ferghal is determined to follow. Thus their ‘growing up’ takes them to London, where Harry must first find a patron and sponsor, then to a ship. With the Peace of Amiens, they transfer to another ship and find themselves sent to Australia and thence to India and Arabia. Adventure is lurking for them at every turn until the ship turns for home again and a resumption of war with France.The story is also an ‘introduction’ to a future world Harry and Ferghal could not have imagined. In the final chapters the reader is given a hint of that future when they meet one of Harry’s descendants, now the Captain of a Starship as he contemplates a replica of the memorial brass dedicated to the memory of Harry and Ferghal.
Q: What sort/age of readers would most enjoy it?
I would really like to think there is something here for readers of all ages, but realistically, I would guess, since it is the ‘introduction to a longer story arc that takes us (and Harry and friends) into the far future, that it will appeal most to Young Adults, those who like ‘historical’ settings and science fiction - because that is where this story is going after this book.
Q: The Napoleonic 1800s is a popular era for historical writers, what is it about this time that draws you as a writer to it?
Probably because it was an era in which men achieved massive feats with only their own muscles, ingenuity and resources to help them. It was an era in which the ‘reach’ of authority vanished at the horizon, once you were out of sight, you were own your own.
Reading the journals of Captains and officers from that time, you get a real sense of the freedom of action they enjoyed. They didn’t have some politician in constant contact trying to micro-manage world shaping events on the other side of the globe. Each Captain was, in effect, a ‘king’, the ruler of everything and everyone on his ship, and he had to be a diplomat as well, representing King and country in distant lands.
Communications were slow, it took almost six months to send a letter to India for example, and almost the same to Australia. By the time someone in Whitehall or Westminster heard of some event on the other side of the globe, some local commander had either dealt with it, or fallen victim to it. I sometimes think things worked far more effectively than they do now as a result.
What draws me to it, and I suspect other writers, is that it is so rich in larger than life characters. Many of them not from rich and powerful families. A lot, like ‘Captain’ James Cook (his actual rank was Lieutenant), self-made men in command of small handy ships that kept the trade routes open, carried orders to and from the grand fleets and in between achieved some remarkable feats of navigation.
Q: I understand this novel was released some years ago, but has now gone through a complete rewrite and edit. What gave you the push to take on such a big task?
It started out as an attempt to get the original available to readers on Kindle and other e-formats. It was one of my first attempts at a novel and, as Janet Angelo, my editor and publisher, quickly pointed out, it had a number of ‘structural’ problems. She felt, and I’m sure she was right, that the combination of the longer science fiction sections with the historic parts created a number of problems for readers. Those who like ‘historic’ settings and stories would not identify with the ‘scifi’ bits and vice versa. She also pointed out that, though there was a good story, it lacked any purpose other than to be an introduction to a future story.
So she persuaded me to write a new start to the book, going right back to Harry’s childhood. Which took me back to Ireland in the 1790s and all the unrest and upheaval of that period that culminated in the two failed French invasions and the bloody uprising that paved the way for the ‘troubles’ still plaguing that beautiful country. With that done, it was time to look hard at the ‘scifi’ element, and in the end I retained only a fraction of it, right at the end, to link this story to the books which follow it in the series. The result is, I think, and I hope readers will agree, a very good story and a good book.
Q: As someone who is a pioneer in self-publishing, what recent changes have you seen that benefit the self-publishing/indie author?
Funny should ask this, I was just reading something about the way the whole publishing industry is changing. It has certainly changed since I first published this book - under a different title I must add. Self-publishing isn’t an ‘easy’ option. For one thing you are venturing a substantial investment in your work, and secondly, selling isn’t just a question of putting the book online or even, if you’re lucky, into shops. There are a lot of sharks in the self-publishing ocean as well, and you do need to make sure you know what you’re buying into when you sign a deal with someone.
Something else to be aware of is that ‘Print on Demand’ cannot compete with traditional printing in terms of pricing. Typically a PoD book will be priced at twice that of a traditionally printed copy. That means your book is unlikely to compete on the shelves of a book store with a Best Selling author’s book from a Traditional publishing house. But, this is where e-formats help. In electronic formats every playing field is level.
A word of caution though - if you want to sell further books, make sure the formatting, editing and presentation is first class. There are a lot of badly written, badly edited and badly formatted ‘books’ available - and they drag everyone else down.
What has improved, in my view, is there is now more awareness of the pitfalls among would be authors, and there are resources and services available to ‘independent’ authors to get their books polished, edited and hopefully ‘sold’ to a publisher. I have benefited from having an editor with a publishing background on my side. Plot problems, typos, gaps in the story are all things a good editor flags immediately, and as an author, I can address them. This is something that is lacking in many ‘packages’ sold to self published authors.
Ironically, as self-published authors are cleaning up their work, polishing it and making sure it is ‘quality’, many of the traditional publishers seem to be slipping. Maybe it is because I am now conscious of the problems in my own books, I find I’m spotting typos, grammar errors, and other problems in traditionally published work. I’ve even seen glaringly mislabelled captions, entire pages repeated and passages misadjusted in books by famous authors. I’m told this is because many publishers now don’t employ separate ‘proof readers’, but leave it all to an ‘editor’ who may be engaged in dealing with four or five books at the same time.
Q: What tips would you give to others considering self-publishing that you wished you knew when you started?
Get an editor. Listen carefully to what they say about the problems, and the improvements they suggest.
If you’re using a historic setting, research it. There’s nothing more irritating to many readers than inaccuracy when writing about historic events. Even details of uniforms and ranks are essential, and even modern ships take weeks, not days, to cover long distances, and sailing ships a lot longer. Many years ago I was completely put off the writing of a very good author, by one simply glaring error - he had a sailing ship cover a distance of some four thousand miles round the Cape of Good Hope to reach an island in the Atlantic in a few days.
Write the story, and then edit, edit, edit. Sometimes you really do need to ‘kill’ some beloved part of the narrative you’ve created, simply because it is too long, or not relevant. Then choose your publishing package very carefully. You’ve invested a huge amount of time and effort into creating the book, invest some money into getting the best package - and then be prepared to ‘market’ it. That takes a lot of time and effort, and sometimes money. There are something like 2 million new titles published each year, getting noticed takes a lot of effort, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
Q: Can you tell us in on your next writing project?
With pleasure. I have three in hand, two complete - one, also set in the 19th Century and twenty years after Waterloo is with my publisher at the moment - and two more being edited and polished. The book currently going through the pre-publication process is set against the background of the Thames, and the trading barges that carried the goods and some would say the wealth, of Britain to and from London and the crowded shipping in the Port of London. It has crime, corruption, hardship and courage. The research for it was an eye-opener in many ways. I’m hoping to follow this with another 19th Century set novel also revolving around the Thames and the East End of London.
Q: Where can we buy your books?
The books are on sale through any good bookstore, Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble and other online outlets. In electronic formats, it is also available from iTunes, Kobo, and Google Books. A full list with the links is available on my website harryheron.com