The Bear’s Claws – Writing a Different War

The Bear’s Claws is an unusual book for me. I guess it’s an unusual book full stop, a story of a war that never happened, concerned as much with the politics and traumas of that war as with its action. It’s picking up the “what if World War Three comes?” genre that was popular during the Cold War and running with it, even though we know that war never came.

So where did this book come from? And what did we do to make it stand out as something different?

The Origins of the Story

This story starts out in the real world, with my friendship with co-author Russell Phillips. Russell and I have known each other for over twenty years now, ever since they came to Durham to visit their partner, who was part of the same live roleplay club as me. We got to know each other through games and student socialising, then went off our separate way, as often happens.

Years later we reconnected over writing and became accountability partners, meeting online once a month to check in on progress, celebrate our achievements, and push each other to write more. Russell has done a lot to keep me motivated over recent years, and I like to think that I’ve done the same for them.

Russell and I write in very different genres. While I’m away in my imagination creating worlds of fantasy, steampunk, or science fiction, they’re grounded in reality, writing non-fiction about military history and technology. But we were keen to collaborate on a book and so Russell came up with an idea.

We would write a story set during the Cold War, using the technology and tactics he was familiar with, but altering history, creating something that headed away from reality. We’d both enjoyed Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising, the best-known story about a Cold War turned hot, and it was the sort of story we were both interested to tell. Between Russell’s technical knowledge and my creative writing, we felt we could create something cool.

The seeds of the story came from Russell. While there’s a whole sub-genre of books telling Cold War turned hot stories, they wanted to do something different from the rest. They wanted to tell the story from the Soviet point of view instead of the Western one. It would give us a different angle and a unique hook with which to entice our target audience.

And so a story was born.

Writing Differently About War

Both Russell and I have an unusual perspective for people writing war stories. We’re lefty, liberal, pacifistic types who would rather everybody just stopped shooting each other, but we were also raised on war stories and feel the thrill of those tales. Personally, I’ve never been near war but I know plenty of people who’ve served in the military, and respecting their perspective and experiences is important to me.

This creates a difficult balancing act. Writing a war story that will show the skill and courage of individual combatants while trying not to glorify the war itself, trying to get away from narratives of good guys versus bad guys, is difficult, especially in a conflict as ideologically charged as this one.

To that end, The Bear’s Claws tries to show different sides of its characters’ experiences. There are moments of skill and daring, but there are also more troubling ones. There’s sudden and arbitrary death, soldiers struggling with the trauma of war, problems of discipline and corruption. Most of all, there’s the experience of war as an ideological challenge.

As Vladislav Rakovich and his men head west, they find that neither the world nor the war they’re fighting in is as they were promised. While the outcome of the war is a central question of the book, so is the outcome for Rakovich. Can he hold true to his beliefs as his world is shaken? Should he?

The Other Side of the War

When Russell sent me their first draft for the start of The Bear’s Claws, I found something surprising – a scene away from the war. Following Rakovich’s sister Anna, this showed reactions to the war back home in Leningrad.

When I started expanding out a plot from those starting scenes, the strand around Anna grew. She provided an interesting contrast with her brother, as well as a different perspective on the war. After all, wars transform nations, even away from the fighting front. Politics, industry, culture, it’s all affected. The history of a war isn’t just military history.

Anna’s strand is about rebellion and resistance. Looking back, we know that the Soviet system was on its last legs in the 1980s, but at the time that wasn’t clear. Speaking out against the government was dangerous, and that’s the risk that Anna eventually takes.

Writing this section let me get into one of the great issues about how societies respond to war. There are many examples that show nations pulling together, with an external threat used to distract people from internal dissent. But other examples also exist, most notably in the latter half of the First World War, when the strains of war encouraged revolution. So do wars inherently pull people together, with only defeat undermining this effect, or can they go the other way? Can war become an opportunity for dissent?

We decided to go with the path of revolt. This was partly a storytelling choice, to create drama in the home front chapters. But it’s also a reasonable speculation based on the state of the Soviet Union in 1982. The strains of a broken system were starting to show. It’s not impossible that people would have taken a great disruption as an opportunity to push for change.

A Different Take on World War Three

The Bear’s Claws is an unusual war story in a lot of ways. It’s co-authored. It’s about a war that never happened. It walks a delicate line in its treatment of war. It’s a war story that’s also about the civilian side.

It’s not a book that’s going to be for everyone, but if any of this has intrigued you then you can find it as an e-book in all the usual stores or as a print book from Amazon.

I’ve Written a Little Code – a flash science fiction story

The rebel ship Small Necessity hurtled through the hollow sea of space, engines constantly accelerating as she ran from the Imperial pursuit ship. Somewhere in the darkness, missiles were hurtling past, their guidance systems foiled by the Necessity’s shield of countermeasures – programs that jammed targeting systems, misdirected rockets, and preemptively detonated warheads.

Russ’s fingers darted across the keyboard. The pursuit ship’s e-war team had locked frequencies with receptors in the Necessity’s computing network. Their hacking codes were worming into the system, trying to bring down the shields, while he fought to repair, rebuild, and fend them off.

A few unprotected seconds were all it would take for a missile to hit.

“How are we doing?” Captain Tuer stood at his shoulder, peering at his system admin screen as if she could understand what was happening. Maybe she could – they’d been here plenty of times before.

“They’re good,” Russ said. “They got through the first firewall. But I’ve written a little code to-”

“Last time you wrote a little code it was to diagnose our systems,” Tuer said. “It brought everything to a halt.”

“That’s because it was missing an iteration limit,” Russ said distractedly, trying to code while monitors showed how close the missiles were coming. “This time – shit!”

A brute force attack had carried the hackers into the guidance-baffling software. The ship shook as a missile hit the port bow.

Strapped into his seat, Russ hit the key to lock off that part of the mainframe. A back-up guidance-baffling program stirred into life.

He’d known that this would happen. He’d just hoped it would take longer.

Sirens screamed. So did a voice over the intercom. People were dying in engineering, but there was nothing he could do about that. All he could do was to stop more missiles hitting.

Somebody swore on the other side of the bridge. The hackers had broken into the navigation system. Two crews were now fighting over the ship’s course. Even as Russ countered that, weapons control went down, then the program for detonating pursuing missiles.

Every time he fixed a glitch in the code, two more popped up. The hackers were all the way in.

He wanted to fix the beautiful, broken programs he’d written to run the ship. But as he kept fighting fires, more were springing up. He needed to put out the dragon lighting them.

“I’m going into their systems,” he said.

“What?” Tuer asked with a frown. “Couldn’t you have done that before?”

“Not while maintaining ours,” Russ said.

It was easy to reach the pursuit ship’s network. He just piggybacked the two-way signal they were using. Moments later, his screen was full of data as his console got to grips with what it was seeing.

The Necessity shook as another missile hit. Across the room, the rear gunner bellowed an obscenity as his targeting system went blank.

“Do something,” Tuer said, pointing at the furious gunner.

“Can’t,” Russ said. “Not while I’m doing this.”

“Then stop doing that and do your job! This is your stupid little code all over again.”

Russ grinned. She was more right than she knew.

The pursuit crew were busy attacking. They’d only just realised that he was in their system. He opened their diagnostic software and dropped in something of his own – a copy of the little code he’d tried to use on the Necessity.

The one with the unending iterations.

On his screen, data usage stats soared. The other ship’s systems started grinding to a halt.

He flicked back to his own network and reactivated the rear gun systems, then the targeting bafflers, then the code that detonated pursuing missiles.

“They’ve stopped accelerating,” the helmsman said.

“They’ve stopped firing,” someone else announced.

“We’re losing them,” Captain Tuer announced, gazing in incredulity at a monitor.

Russ grinned. He imagined the fury of the pursuit ship’s system administrators as they tried to work out what was wrong. They would be looking for hostile worms, not a friendly little diagnostic program. By the time they found it, the Small Necessity would be well away.

The crew cheered. Tuer patted Russ on the shoulder. The Small Necessity hurtled on through the hollow sea of space.

* * *


This story exists in large part as a thank you. My friend and fellow writer Russell Phillips is always helping me out with website problems, as well as offering other IT help. His catchphrase, “I’ve written a little code…”, symbolises the casual calm with which he can do things with computers far beyond my ken. Thanks Russ. I hope you like the story.

And if you, dear reader, enjoyed this, then please share it, and consider checking out my collection of sci-fi stories, Lies We Will Tell Ourselves.

Tears for a Yeramba – a flash historical story

Yeramba_spg_(AWM_p04301_007)“They can’t take her,” Alf said, sticking out a petulant lower lip. “It ain’t fair.”

Bernie looked from his mate to the half dozen other artillery drivers stood around the yard, waiting impatiently by their vehicles. Yeramba self-propelled howitzers were ugly buggers, squat boxes on tracks with a gun protruding from the front. Like their crews, they were showing the wear and tear of the past seven years. And like their crews, he wouldn’t have traded them in for all the rest of the Australian army.

But it wasn’t his choice.

“They’re obsolete, Alf,” he said, taking off his beret and scratching his head. “Sorry, mate, but we’ve got to let ‘em go.”

“Who you calling obsolete?” Alf glared. “This girl and me, we’ve got a few years in us yet.”

“It ain’t about you, Alf. It’s about her.” Bernie laid a hand on the sun-warmed metal plates of the Yeramba’s body. “You’ve got to let her go.”

“Shan’t.” Alf clambered in through the hatch and squatted there, staring out.

“Orders are orders,” Bernie said with a sigh. “We’re taking them to the depot to be dismantled. Do you really want this to be our last memory of the regiment, you crying like some little girl?”

Alf’s lower lip trembled. Tears welled in the corners of his eyes. Bernie looked away, embarrassed.

“We’ve had some good times, haven’t we?” Alf asked, his voice heavy.

“We have,” Bernie agreed. “We were a fine regiment, and these were damn fine girls to drive. But unless you’re planning on setting up your own one-man army, it’s time to let go.”

He looked back at Alf just in time to catch a glint in his friend’s eyes. Was that tears, or was it something else?

“What’s that look for, mate?” he asked.

“Oh, nothing.” Alf laid a hand on the hatch.

“Don’t you go doing any-”

“Are we going yet?” someone shouted impatiently from the other side of the yard.

“In a minute.” Bernie strode over to the rest of the drivers and lowered his voice. “Look boys, I know you’re all impatient to get this over with. I ain’t enjoying it much either. But Alf needs our help right now.”

“I’m not sure that’s true, chief,” a man said.

The clang of a steel hatch shutting was followed by the low rumble of a twin diesel engine.

“Alf?” Bernie hurried back across the yard. “What are you-”

“Saving her!” Alf’s voiced was clear even through the walls of the Yeramba and the engine noise. “Going to be an army of our own.”

With a crunch of treads in the dirt, the Yeramba rumbled towards the entrance of the yard. It smashed through the barrier pole and out onto the road, building up speed past a mighty twenty miles per hour.

“Who’s obsolete now, you bastards?” Alf’s shout filled the air as he disappeared.

“Shit,” someone muttered. “He’s bloody lost it.”

“Shouldn’t we stop him?” someone else asked. “I mean, this is mutiny, right? He could get in all kinds of trouble.”

Bernie shook his head. Sadness and frustration turned to laughter. Maybe this was the perfect way to see the regiment out – strong, defiant, and a little futile.

“With all his fussing, Alf didn’t get to filling up on fuel,” he said. “He’ll have run out within a mile. Lets go pick him up before he wanders into the outback.”

They got into their Yerambas, revved the engines, and headed out the ruined gate, running towards one final mission at a stately twenty miles per hour.

* * *


The Yeramba was used by the Australian army between 1950 and 1957. You can find out more about it from this article on Russell Phillips’s blog. And if you’d like to read more flash fiction, often with historical and military themes, then why not sign up to my mailing list at this link – you’ll even get a free e-book and a story straight to your inbox most Fridays.

A Ray of Light by Russell Phillips

ray of lightMy friend and writing support Russell Phillips has a new book out this week, A Ray of Light. Normally, when I’m writing about a book by someone I know, I just say “hey, here are the things I like about it, maybe you will too”. But this time I’m going to go further. This time I want to encourage everyone to go pick up this book, or at the very least read up about the events it describes. Because this book exists to help us remember terrible things from the past, and to hold out hope through the way we respond to them.

In June 1942, Nazi troops occupying Czechoslavakia destroyed the mining village of Lidice. The men were killed. The women and children were taken away, many of them to die. The village was so thoroughly destroyed that nothing remained to mark where it had been.

This atrocity came in response to the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Gestapo and one of the leading planners of the Holocaust. That Heydrich had acted monstrously, leading the murder of millions, is beyond doubt. The value of his assassination, on the other hand, is more questionable. Thousands of Czechs died as a result of his death at the hands of British-trained Czech agents. When Lidice was mistakenly linked to the killing, the village was wiped out. While Heydrich’s death was celebrated among the Allied nations, many in Czechoslovakia questioned whether it was worth the cost.

Lidice’s memory did not die. As Phillips discusses in his book, people around the world were shocked by the atrocity and acted to preserve Lidice’s memory. In particular, miners from Staffordshire in England strove to remember Lidice and help in its rebuilding. Out of the darkness came a ray of light.

Phillips’s short book describes Heydrich’s career, the planning of the assassination, the atrocities that followed, and how Lidice was remembered. It’s important that we remember events like this, not just for how terrible they were, but for how terrible moments can emerge from such seemingly innocuous beginnings as the childhood persecution of Reinhard Heydrich and the legitimate desire of Czech exiles for vengeance on the man persecuting their people.

You can find links to buy A Ray of Light from Phillips’s website. If it’s not your sort of book, then please instead take a few minutes to go and read about Lidice. It’s something we should all remember.

Learning Fiction Technique from Non-Fiction – PC Lock in Operation Nimrod

Operation_NimrodAs a fiction writer, I often turn to non-fiction for ideas, details I can snatch from reality to fill my imaginary worlds. But well-written non-fiction can also provide lessons in narrative technique.

Take Operation Nimrod by Russell Phillips. It’s an account of the 1980 incident in which terrorists seized the Iranian embassy in London, leading to a five-day siege and finally the storming of the embassy by the SAS, live on national television. It’s a fascinating incident in its own right, and Phillips’s clear, restrained writing provides a detailed account of events. What’s more surprising is the example of characterisation shown here.

It’s a common feature of Phillips’s books that he doesn’t speculate about the mindset of the people involved or try to draw conclusions about their characters. We’re presented with the facts and left to interpret them as we see fit. The tools fiction writers usually use to make us care about characters – exploring their home life, their backgrounds, the inner workings of their minds – these are absent. And yet I found myself caring deeply about one of the characters in this book, feeling so invested in him that I was on edge reading the account of the assault, waiting to find out if he would survive.

That character – or rather that person, as he’s real – is PC Trevor Lock. The reason I cared so much about him was that I saw his character revealed through his actions.

True, we get a little insight into Lock’s motivations early in the story. He was the police officer on duty at the embassy and was worried that, by stepping inside for a cup of coffee at just the wrong moment, he had failed in his duty just as the terrorists arrived. But Phillips doesn’t dwell on this. Instead, he shows us Lock’s actions as the siege unfolds. How he acts to alert the authorities. How he helps with the other hostages. The lengths he goes to hiding a weapon about his person, even knowing that this puts him at great risk. And finally, how he responds when the siege reaches its violent climax.

Despite the deliberately distanced narrative style, I felt like I knew PC Trevor Lock, this brave and determined officer who stayed calm in the most extreme circumstances and who risked his life helping others. Phillips didn’t need to tell me that Lock was brave or determined, or what sort of person he was – instead he showed it through Lock’s actions.

There’s a lesson here for writers, and it’s a variation on the classic “show don’t tell”. If you want readers to care about a character, the best way to do that is often to show who they are through their actions. That way, the reader does their own work understanding and investing in the character. Yes, there’s a place for getting directly into the character’s head. But actions are so powerful, they are often the best tool.

Creating Book Apps With AppOpus – a guest post by Russell Phillips

Digital publishing has opened up a wider range of options for authors than ever before, but few of us are making the most of them. Today I have a guest post from Russell Phillips, on a format with exciting new possibilities, and one few authors are considering – book apps.

Over to you, Russell…


This post will explain how to create book apps for Android phones and tablets, which can be uploaded to Google Play and the Amazon Appstore, both of which pay 70% of list price per sale. The apps are created using an application called AppOpus Builder. At the time of writing, this costs $99, with a 30-day money-back guarantee. You’ll also need to install the free Java Development Kit (JDK).

AppOpus Builder creates apps that are effectively an ebook with a built-in ebook reader. The reader software includes a search facility and text-to-speech (TTS). It’s not as fully featured as some ebook reader apps, but it has all the essentials, and TTS is a nice addition. My only complaint is that the user has to tap a button to turn pages, instead of swiping. The developers have said that they’ll consider adding swipe page turns in a future version.

Why a Book App?

If you know HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, it’s possible to make ebook apps that are far more interactive than standard ebooks. Depending on your niche, this might be a big advantage or it may be an irrelevance. In the Operation Nimrod app, it is possible to display the floor plans at any point in the book, which isn’t possible in the ebooks. This is a useful feature, which isn’t really feasible in a standard ebook, but it’s barely scratching the surface of what is possible.

There is another, less direct, advantage. The Google Play store offers A/B testing of descriptions, something that is not currently offered by any of the ebook or print book vendors. The results could be applied to the book’s other formats, with the caveat that what works for the app won’t necessarily work for other formats.

Ultimately, the only way to be sure whether a book app will sell is to create one and see. So far, I’ve sold very few of the paid versions of my apps. The ad-supported ones do better, but generate very little income. On the other hand, they don’t seem to affect sales of the print and ebook formats. I haven’t tried Amazon Underground yet, but it would be interesting to see how that compares.

KDP Select

It’s not entirely clear to me whether or not a book created with AppOpus is covered by KDP Select’s exclusivity requirement. The Terms and Conditions for KDP Select state that “During this period of exclusivity, you cannot sell or distribute, or give anyone else the right to sell or distribute, your Digital Book (or a book that is substantially similar), in digital format in any territory where you have rights.”An app is certainly a “digital format” and I suspect that it would be considered “substantially similar”, since it is effectively a book with a built-in ereader app. However, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t work for Amazon, so I may be wrong.

Source Files

AppOpus Builder is not a writing tool. Rather, it will take a collection of files (one per chapter), and turn them into an Android app. HTML files are strongly recommended for the source files, but it can also import RTF and plain text files. A basic knowledge of HTML is therefore useful, but not essential. JavaScript can also be included, and can be used to add a level of interactivity to book apps. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS. HTML Dog has some good HTML tutorials if you need them.

Images and JavaScript

Put all of your content files in a single folder. Images, JavaScript, and other media should go in a sub-folder. When referencing external files in the HTML, prefix the path with a “./”. For example, where you might normally have an image tag such as:
<img src=”foo/bar.png”>

In AppOpus Builder you should instead use:
<img src=”./foo/bar.png”>

Linking to Other Apps

You can include links to web pages or other apps in the app store. To link to an app, you will need to know its Package Name (see the Application section below). Assuming the app’s package name is, the link to the Google Play store would be and the link to the app in the Amazon Appstore would be

These links can be used in web pages as well as in apps.

Running AppOpus Builder

AppOpus Builder consists of two files, AppOpusBuilder_Commercial.jar and AppOpusBuilder_Commercial_Ads.jar, which are delivered in a zip file. Unzip them to a convenient location, then double-click on the relevant one to run the program. Both versions work in the same way, but AppOpusBuilder_Commercial_Ads.jar includes a small advert at the bottom of the screen in the finished book app. This gives the possibility of offering a free version with adverts, and a paid version without adverts. This is a reasonably common option with Android apps.

If adverts are not included, the book app will require no special permissions. If adverts are included, the book app will require some special permissions, so that the app can download and display adverts.



Chances are that you’ve already got a cover, and hopefully it was designed by a professional. You can use this in AppOpus, but there are other options. As you move your cursor around the display on the Cover tab, different parts are highlighted. If you want to just use your existing ebook cover, click when the edge of the rectangle is highlighted. In the dialogue box that appears, click foreground-image and select your file. Then, click foreground-scale-type and select either “fit” or “fill”. “Fit” will scale the image to fit in the screen without changing the aspect ratio. If the aspect ratio of the image doesn’t match that of the screen, there will be blank space around the image. “Fill” will stretch the image to fill the screen, avoiding blank space, but stretching (and distorting) the image out of shape if the screen’s aspect ratio doesn’t match that of the image. Remember that the user may turn the device onto its side, so that the width is larger than the height, so the distortion may be significant.

If you don’t want a fixed image that will either have blank space or be distorted, the cover can be configured to automatically adjust to the screen size and orientation. In this case, you can set images and text separately. Two images can be chosen, a background image (which will always be stretched to fill the screen) and a foreground image. In addition to the two scaling options mentioned above, there is also “center” and “pack”. “Center” will position the image in the centre of the screen. Any parts of the image too large to fit on the screen will not be displayed. “Pack” positions the image below the title text. The text can be split into header, title, and footer sections. Simply click on the relevant area, then specify the font, size, colour, and text to display.


Screenshot_-_ContentsRather confusingly (to me at least), the Contents tab does not define the table of contents for the book. Rather, it is used to determine how the table of contents is presented.

Click on the table of contents to see the options dialogue. Most of it is self-explanatory. If the disable-tts box is ticked, there will be no text-to-speech option in the finished app.

If the show-about box is ticked, an extra “About AppOpus” entry will be added to the bottom of the book app’s table of contents. When tapped, this entry will display a “Powered by AppOpus” screen. I disable this screen, but it includes a message at the bottom directing the user to for help and troubleshooting, so you may wish to leave it enabled.

If you wish to display ads in your book app, you’ll need an AdMob account, which in turn requires an AdSense account and an AdWords account. These can be created during the AdMob sign up process. In order to set up ads in your app, add the app under the Monetise tab of AdMob, then create an Ad Unit for it. In AppOpus, enter the Ad unit ID in the admob-id box in the options dialogue on the Contentstab. Once the app is available in Google Play, link the ad to the app on the AdMob home page.


Screenshot_-_ChaptersOn the Chapters tab, click the folder icon in the bottom-right corner. In the dialogue box that appears, select the folder containing the content files and click Open. All of the files will be listed in the table.

Drag and drop the chapters into the correct order. Click on a chapter name to edit it. The chapters will appear in the table of contents as they are listed on this tab. If a file is renamed, click the refresh button at the bottom of the screen to reload the list.

Note: if you re-open a saved file, the chapters may not be in the correct order. Make sure you check them before creating a new .apk file.



Signing and Keystores

Android apps need to be digitally signed. AppOpus Builder signs the app file, but it needs a keystore file in order to do so.

If you already have a keystore file, click on the Keystore… button to select it, then fill in the Keypass, Storepass and Alias boxes.


If you don’t have a keystore file, click on the Generate Key… button. This opens the Key Certificate Tool, which is used to create the keystore file. Click the Output As… button to select a file to save the keystore as. It is very important to keep the keystore file, alias, and passwords safe. If you wish to update an app, you will need the keystore file that you used to create it.

Fill in the text boxes using the following as a guide:

  • Common Name: Your name
  • Organizational Unit: Put something like “Apps” or “Mobile apps”
  • Organization: If you have a publishing company name, use that. If not, use your name
  • City, state, country: The city, state and country where you live
  • Alias: Leave this blank
  • Key password, store password: The passwords. You will need these if you have to update the app later

Click Generate Key to create the keystore file. The Keystore, Keypass (Key password) and Storepass (Store password) fields in AppOpus Builder will be automatically filled in.


To select the launch icon (displayed on the phone/tablet) click Launch Icon PNG… and select a .png image file. I use the same icon as in the Google and Android app stores. I haven’t been able to determine what the splash icon is used for, and so I use the same image file for that.

Title is the title that will appear on the phone/tablet, under the launch icon. I suggest you use the same title as you set in the app stores, but note that the Google Play store won’t allow titles longer than 30 characters.

The Package Name must be unique among your apps, and should be in com.domain.appname format. For instance, if your website is and your app is called Awesome Book, the package name would be If, like me, you have a domain, just use instead of com, eg

The Version Number is used by Android to determine if an app has been updated, so make sure that every time you update an app, you increase the version number before creating the .apk file.

Finally, click Output As… to select the destination .apk file and click Create App to create the app.

Testing the App

You now have an Android app, packaged as a .apk file. If you wish to install it on your Android phone or tablet for testing before uploading, you will need to go to Settings and tick the Unknown sourcesbox (depending on your device, that will be under Applications or Security). Once that is done, copy the file to your phone or tablet and tap on it to install.

If you don’t have an Android phone or tablet, and don’t want to buy one (a cheap one should be sufficient, as long as it’s running Android v2.3.3 or later), you can install an emulator. The Google and Amazon app markets both require screenshots to be uploaded when listing a new app, so you will need something to run your app on.

Both app stores have a facility for sending test versions to specific users before releasing the app to the general public. When uploading a .apk to Google, select the Beta or Alpha tab. On Amazon, select Live App Testing. For Google Play, the testers have to be members of a Google+ community or a Google Group. On Amazon, you simply enter a list of names and email addresses. In both cases, only the testers will be able to access the test version of the file. In both cases, you can add yourself as a tester. I strongly recommend doing this so that you can try the app on your own phone or tablet before submitting it for sale.

App Stores

To sell on the app stores, you will need to register. It’s free to register on the Amazon Appstore, while Google Play charges a one-off registration fee of $25. Once registered, uploading a new app is reasonably straightforward and similar to uploading an ebook to the various stores. I’ve found that the vast majority of my sales (over 95%) are from Google Play.

Both stores require certain images to be uploaded along with a description, etc. There is some commonality in the images they require. I suggest creating the following images, so that you have everything required for both stores:

  • Icon, 114 x 114 pixels. PNG, with transparency
  • Icon, 512 x 512 pixels. PNG, with transparency
  • Promotional graphic, 1024 pixels wide x 500 pixels high. JPEG or PNG, no transparency
  • At least three screenshots, JPEG or PNG.

Make sure that all of your screenshots are one of the following resolutions: 800 x 480px, 1024 x 600px, 1280 x 720px, 1280 x 800px, 1920 x 1080px, 1920 x 1200px, or 2560 x 1600px.

Both stores will accept videos, too. For Google Play the video will need to be hosted on YouTube, whereas for Amazon the video file is uploaded directly.

There are a few differences between the two app stores, explained below.

Google Play

Once an app is on sale at Google Play, it is possible to A/B test the graphics and description. Under Store Listing click Experiments to get started. The graphics (icons, screenshots, etc) and description can both be tested in this way. Although the test results are only directly relevant to the app, they also provide an indirect way of testing descriptions to be used on ebook and print book stores.

The Amazon Appstore doesn’t appear to have an equivalent of Amazon’s Author Pages, but Google Play does: Developer Pages. Once an app has been published, click Settings then Developer page to set yours up. A short description, developer icon and header image are compulsory. You can also enter your website’s URL and choose one app to be featured, giving it pride of place on the page.

Google Play doesn’t allow pre-orders, or initial app availability to be set for a future date. However, updates can be set to go live in the future (Google calls this “timed publishing”). If the app is initially published to the Beta or Alpha channel, timed publishing will be available for updates. So, if you wish to use timed publishing for a new release, make sure you publish an initial version to the Beta or Alpha channel, then publish an update to the production channel.

A recent addition is the User Acquisition Performance report, which gives details of the number of visitors to the Google Play store listing, and how many of those people installed the app.

Amazon Appstore

Neither store allows pre-orders, but Amazon does allow availability to be set for a date in the future. This does, at least, allow you to set a date for the app to become available, making it easier to release it on the same date as other formats.

The Amazon Appstore now has Amazon Underground, which is similar to KDP Select for ebooks. Users install the Amazon Underground app, which gives them access to the apps enrolled into Amazon Underground for free. Developers are paid for the time that users spend in the app, currently at the rate of $0.0020/£0.0013/€0.0018 per minute.

Amazon Underground doesn’t require exclusivity, but it does require some slight changes to the app. It must have a unique package name. Amazon recommends appending “.underground”. For instance, an app with the package name would have the package name on Amazon Underground. The app must also have the Amazon Underground branding added to the launch icon. The Migrating Your App to Amazon Underground page has full details of all the required changes.

About The Author

Russell Phillips is a computer geek and an award-winning author of military technology and history. Born and brought up in a mining village in South Yorkshire, he has lived and worked in South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cumbria and Staffordshire. His articles have been published in several magazines, and he has been interviewed for the American edition of The Voice of Russia. He currently lives in Stoke-on-Trent with his wife and two children.

Penguins in the Minefield – Fitting Animals into Stories

“This land has learnt kill humans. Now it will be ours. Forward for the Penguin Empire!” – “135 – Cap Virgenes – Manchot de Magellan – Janvier 2010” by Martin St-Amant (S23678) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –


The Falklands War wasn’t good for many people, but it turned out to be excellent for the penguins.

I recently read A Damn Close Run Thing, Russell Phillips’ short history of the Falklands War. During the conflict, Argentine troops seeded minefields across the islands. Clearing mines is hard, dangerous and expensive, so most of these areas remain impassable to human beings, whose weight can trigger a devastating anti-personnel explosion.

Penguins are a lot lighter. Light enough not to trigger mines.

So now there are parts of the Falklands where people can’t go, and the penguins have reclaimed them. These undisturbed nesting grounds have proved a huge boost to the local penguin population. The Falklands War was brutal and arguably pretty dumb, but at least it had an up side.

Apart from Russ’s book, I mean. It’s a good book.

By coincidence, I’ve also been reading about medieval warhorses. I say by coincidence, but I’m freelancing for a military history website, so it’s no coincidence I’ve got a heap of books about old wars on the go.

Horses have featured in war since around 1800 BC, when some Asian nomad tied a wheeled platform to his pony and forced the poor beast to drag him into battle. They’ve featured in fantasy stories at least since Homer described another dumb, brutal conflict.

Because seriously, if you’re fighting for honour you’re probably an arsehole,* if you’re fighting for a woman then you should let her make up her own mind, and if her face is comparable with a dry dock then maybe you don’t have the best taste.

Despite featuring so regularly, horses are usually just props in fantasy stories – a way to get from A to B, or to run someone down. I’m as guilty as the next author in this – what I know about horses could fill that one article I was paid to write last week. But like the penguins, horses have their own desires, fears, longings, and quirks of personality. Acknowledging that could add some depth to stories from time to time.

After all of this thinking about animals, and how we neglect them in history and fantasy, I got to pondering something completely unrelated. Just some casual world building for a fantasy project I want to start next year. As I was mulling over how to make a nation distinctive, and how to make its economy work, I got kind of stuck. I want it to be evocative of late medieval to renaissance England, but more covered in trees. England in that era was very reliant on wool for export – could my imagined farmers keep sheep in the forests and still have a functioning economy? I had doubts.

Then it struck me. I’d done it again. I’d forgotten that animals can be treated as more than just dumb props.

If I got stuck for how to fit in the characters I wanted in a fantasy setting, I’d probably change the rules of the world. Why not for animals? If my fantasy can have alchemists, wizards and heroic arseholes** then why not add a fantastical animal too? Something that’s wool bearing and lives in the woods. Or provides some other product to fix this broken forest economy.

There is a point to all this. Aside from how amazing penguins are – you knew that already, right? That point is not to forget the poor animals. From now on I’ll try to think about how the human parts of my stories affect them. Are my characters messing up the local ecosystem, or inadvertently saving it by making it safe for penguins? Have I remembered that war is horrible for horses, and how this will affect them? Am I including the animal equivalent of elves and goblins?

And throughout writing this, one other animal has been playing on my mind. Elmo the kitten is nibbling at my feet. I should go pay him attention.



* Many of my characters are arseholes. There is something perversely appealing about honour.

** One of this story’s lead characters is pig-headedly patriotic as well as obsessed with honour. He’s all the things I don’t admire in reality, but find fun to write.

How To: Large Print Books

Today’s post is a guest post from indie author Russell Phillips. If you like what you read, or are interested in military history, then please check out Russell’s site.

Over to Russell….

How To: Large Print

Some time ago, I decided to release a large print edition of A Damn Close-Run Thing. It’s not necessarily something that I would recommend to other indie authors, unless you have reason to believe that there is a market for a large print version. In that case, this post should help you create something that is genuinely useful for those people that struggle to read standard print.

Font and Font Size

Obviously, large print books need a larger font size than normal. 16 point is generally considered a minimum size, though 18 point is recommended if at all possible. Having decided on a minimum font size, there should be no text in a smaller size. Page numbers, copyright information, etc should all be at least as large as the main body text. Headings should use a larger font size, as with normal print, but nothing should be smaller than the minimum size that you choose.


It is also important to consider the font face. A sans-serif font should be used, and if at all possible, avoid using italics, underlining, or blocks of capital letters. I recommend the Tiresias LPfont. This font has been specifically designed for use in large print documents, and can be freely downloaded from the Tiresias website. (Note that the contents of the Tiresias website is in the process of being moved to theRNIB website).

White Space

In general, plenty of white space makes a book easier to read for those with sight issues. Single spacing can make it difficult to find the start of the next line, so use 1.25 or 1.5 spacing instead. Similarly, indented paragraphs can make it hard to find the start, so use block paragraphs instead of indented paragraphs.

Margins should be wider, at least 25mm (1 inch) wide. If you have footnotes, move them to the end of the chapter or to a section at the end of the book, so that they do not clutter the page.

Left Align

Most print books use full-justified text, so that the right side of the text is lined up along the right margin. However, this leads to uneven gaps between words. For this reason, left-justified (or ragged-right) text is more readable, and so should be used in large print books.

Headings should also be left-aligned rather than centre-aligned. This makes them easier to find.

Images should be aligned to the left for the same reason, but there should be no text to the right of the image. A partially-sighted reader may not realise that there is text next to the image. The image should be clear, and any text inside the image should obey the same rules as the rest of the text in the book. If possible, move the text out of the image. If this isn’t possible, ensure that there is good contrast and that the text is on a plain background.

All text must be horizontal, including things like labels on diagrams and images.

Keep Things Together

It is important to keep related items connected, without large spaces. If your contents page doesn’t already have a row of dots between the chapter name/number and the page number, add them. Tables should usually have lines around the cells. It is also important to avoid widows and orphans (single lines from a paragraph at the top or bottom of a page).

Don’t use hyphens. If a word won’t fit on a line, put the whole word on the next line rather than splitting it with a hyphen. Hyphenated words (eg u-boat) should be on one line, not split over two lines at the hyphen.

Use a Clear Layout

Hopefully your books have a consistent layout already, but this is particularly important when designing books for the partially sighted. Headings should be clearly different to the body text. It’s a good idea to include chapter names on page headers if possible, as it allows the reader to easily determine where they are in the book.

Mark it as Large Print

Finally, make it clear that the book is a large print edition. In Createspace, make sure that the “Large Print” box is ticked on the Description page. This will allow Amazon and other retailers to categorise it as a large print edition. In order to make it clear to human readers, however, the title should be modified. This need be no more than appending “(Large Print)\” to the end of the title. The cover should be marked to show that it is a large print edition. This can be as simple as a coloured band with “Large Print Edition” printed in it.


Further Reading

This blog post covers the essential points. If you wish to find out more, the following are likely to be useful:


Making a large print version of paper books isn’t too difficult, although a large number of images will make it more challenging. In my experience, sales have been minimal. That may be true for you too, but the only way to find out for sure is to try it.

Using Regular Expressions To Find Common Errors – a guest post by Russell Phillips

Today I have the honour of hosting another guest post from indie author Russell Phillips. Russell combines an insider’s knowledge of the challenges of indie publishing with a computer programmer’s awareness of how to get the most out of the tools available to us, and this post brings those things together to offer a technological solution to many of your editing needs.

Over to you Russell…

Using Regular Expressions To Find Common Errors

I have a great editor, but I understand that she is human, and therefore she makes mistakes, and misses things, just like I do. Therefore, I like to try and make my manuscript as good as I can before I hand it over to her. The trouble with editing your own work, of course, is that all too often, your brain sees what is supposed to be there, not what is actually there.


One tool I use for finding errors is regular expressions. Regular expressions are like search and replace on steroids. Instead of finding simple strings of text, regular expressions provide a way to find patterns within the text. This makes them ideal for finding certain types of error that can occur all too easily when writing a long piece of text. The use of copy & paste, deleting, etc, can mean that even simple grammatical mistakes or typos can slip in and not be noticed.

Below I have listed some regular expression searches that I currently use on my manuscripts before sending them to my editor. To use one of them, simply copy it into the “Find” box in your word processor, just as you would type in a word you wanted to search for in the text. Note that they are formatted with a different background colour because spaces at the start or end can be important. It is possible to use regular expressions to replace text, but I haven’t included replacement expressions because I prefer to be cautious and make corrections manually. I’ve tried to order them in increasing complexity, and I’ve included some explanatory text for each one.

The expressions given below should work in LibreOffice and Scrivener version 2.4 or later (earlier versions don’t support regular expressions). Microsoft Word also supports regular expressions, although the syntax is rather unusual, so you’ll need to check the documentation for help. Whichever software you use, you will have to tell it that you’re doing a regular expression search, rather than a normal text search. In LibreOffice Writer, use the “Find and Replace” function (not “Find”). Click “Other Options” in the dialogue box, and tick the “Regular expressions” tickbox. In Scrivener project search, select “RegEx” from the operator section of the magnifying glass icon menu. In Scrivener document find, select “Regular Expressions (RegEx)” from the “Find Options” drop-down menu.

Note that, when copying and pasting from your browser into the search box, make sure that the quotation marks are correct – they sometimes get mangled.

Punctuation And Quotation Marks

This is a simple expression, but there are two versions. In British English, the convention is to have commas and full stops outside quotation marks, whereas in US English, commas and full stops are placed inside the quotation marks.

Expression to find commas and full stops inside quotation marks (use this if you write in British English):


Expression to find commas and full stops outside quotation marks (use this if you write in US English):


These simple expressions match a quotation mark followed or preceded by a full stop or a comma. Square brackets are used to group characters, so that if any character in the square brackets is present, a match is found. In this case, the square brackets are used to match a full stop or comma, but nothing else.

“a” instead of “an”

This expression will find words that begin with a vowel immediately preceded by “a”, instead of “an”:

a [aeiou]

The first three characters are simple: space, lower case “a”, space. Then square brackets are used to group all five vowels. Note that the “Match case” option must be selected in LibreOffice for it to work correctly.

Oxford Commas

At school, I was taught not to use Oxford commas, but I use them in my books because they can avoid ambiguity. Unfortunately, because I didn’t use them for so long, I frequently forget to add them. Consequently, one of the first regular expressions I wrote to check for errors in my writing was to spot missing Oxford commas. Note that this won’t find every sentence that is missing an Oxford comma, but that’s why you have a human editor 🙂

w+, w+ and 

If you have the opposite problem, and you don’t want Oxford commas, the following expression should find them:

w+, w+, and 

“w” matches a word character, ie any character that can be part of a word (letters, numbers, etc). The “+” means at least one of the preceding characters must be present, so “w+” matches a word.

Missing Capital After Full Stop

I started using this expression after seeing this error in a book published by HarperCollins. If the big publishers can miss such basic mistakes, so can the rest of us.

Note that the “Match case” option must be selected in LibreOffice for it to work correctly. Acronyms followed by lower case letters, eg “The N.C.O. said” will not be matched.

[^.][^A-Z]. [a-z]

This expression introduces a new twist on the use of square brackets: if the first character in the square brackets is a “^”, it matches anything NOT in the group. So, “[^.][A-Z]” matches anything that is not a full stop, followed by anything that is not an uppercase letter. The next term is “.”, which matches a full stop. When not in square brackets, a full stop is a wildcard, but placing a backslash before it tells the regular expression engine to treat it as a full stop, not as a wildcard. Finally, it matches a space followed by a lowercase letter.

Missing Brackets

It’s far too easy to forget to close brackets, or to accidentally delete the closing bracket. This expression will find an opening bracket that doesn’t have a matching closing bracket.


Since parentheses have a special meaning in regular expressions, the opening bracket is prefixed with a backslash. This tells the regular expression engine to treat it as a simple opening bracket. The “[^)]” matches any character that is not a closing bracket, and the “*” means “match this zero or more times”. Finally, the “$” indicates the end of the line/paragraph.

Repeated Word

Repeated words crop up sometimes, and often aren’t noticed if the word happens to appear at the end of one line and the start of the next line.

b(w+)b b1b

This one may look rather odd, but is simple once you understand it. As above, “w+” is used to match a word. The parentheses are used to group the characters that are matched, so that they can be referred to later in the expression. The “1” matches the group in the parentheses. “b” denotes a word boundary. In this case, it is used to ensure that only complete words are matched. Without the word boundaries, it would match a term like “anderson song” as the “son” would be matched in both words.

Putting all that together, this expression matches a complete word, followed by at least one space, followed by the same complete word.

Want To Learn More?

If you want to learn to write regular expressions to find the mistakes that you find yourself making, is an excellent learning resource, and has a regular expression tester, which will also explain the elements of the regular expression. Finally, feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I will try to help.


About the blogger

Russell Phillips is an author of books on military history and technology. Born and brought up in a mining village in South Yorkshire, Russell has lived and worked in South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cumbria and Staffordshire. His articles have been published in Miniature Wargames, Wargames Illustrated, and the Society of Twentieth Century WargamersJournal. He has been interviewed for the American edition of The Voice of Russia. He currently lives in Stoke-on-Trent with his wife and two children.


Picture by Joanna Penn via Flickr Creative Commons.

An interview with Russell Phillips

Here’s the second in my series of interviews with book people. This time I’m very pleased to present an interview with Russell Phillips. Russell’s a self-published non-fiction writer who’s been a huge help to me in finding my own way into self-publishing.


Tell us a bit about yourself and your books.

I’m originally from South Yorkshire, though I currently live in Stoke on Trent, and I’ve had an interest in military history for as long as I can remember. I started writing articles for magazines in my early 20s, but never thought about writing a book until a few years ago. Once I’d written that first one, I realised that I wanted to write more.

Why did you pick military history, and in particular modern military history, as a subject to write about?

Initially, I chose the Falklands War. I’ve long thought that a lot of British people think the outcome was never in doubt, and the book gave me a chance to show at least some people that it could easily have gone completely wrong. The title (“A Damn Close-Run Thing“) is a direct quote from the commander of the British land forces, and was chosen to reinforce that point. All my subsequent books have been about modern military history because it’s what I’m interested in, and it seemed to make sense to stay within a similar time period. That said, I have vague plans to write books about other periods (particularly the Napoleonic Wars) at some point. So many ideas, so little time … 🙂

What led you to self-publish your books?

When I started writing A Damn Close-Run Thing, I wasn’t sure if I’d finish it, but I started reading about publishing options. Initially, I was thinking that I’d ask the History In An Hour publishers if they were interested, then look into self-publishing if they weren’t. By the time it was written, self-publishing had become my preferred option. I’m something of a control freak, and so having complete control appeals to me. I’m also a techie, so the technical challenges weren’t a barrier.

What have the biggest challenges been for you as a self-published author?

Initially, marketing was a major challenge, but resources like The Creative Penn and The Sell More Books Show have helped a lot with that. Self-doubt has been a constant challenge, though. I generally try to ignore reviews, because the bad ones bother me more than the good ones please me.

And what have been your biggest triumphs?

I’ve been interviewed by The Voice of Russia, which was a great, but odd, experience. Earlier today, I posted a copy of A Damn Close-Run Thing to the Argentinian Army Central Library. I was amazed that they’d even heard of it, but also very proud that had, and that they wanted a copy.

If you could give one piece of advice to other writers out there, what would it be?

If you want your books to sell, you will have to do some marketing, so look for ways to market that you’re comfortable with.

Last question – what book have you enjoyed recently, and what was so good about it?

The Blue Effect by Harvey Black. It’s the final part of a trilogy, and finished the story nicely. The trilogy is based on a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe in 1984. The author served with the British army during the 1980s, and it shows. Much of the focus on the NATO side is on British forces, which frankly makes a pleasant change, and it’s well researched, which is important to me. If I notice a technical mistake, it drops me out of the story, and if it happens too often, it spoils my enjoyment enough that I stop reading.


* * *

Thank you to Russell for taking the time for the interview. You can find out more about him and his books on his website, which includes some handy tools for self-published authors.