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My New Writing Setup

I’ve been searching for a way to reduce distraction during my working day. I’ve always been someone to shoot off on tangents, particularly when ‘quickly’ looking up some research. This often involves crawling out of the wikipedia rabbit hole knowing a lot of things that I really didn’t need to know. I console myself with the fact that these little details might come in useful at some time in the future when I’m brainstorming out a new story, but…

That brings me on to my quest for distraction free writing. My requirements aren’t entirely straight forward. The main one is that I absolutely insist on writing on a mechanical keyboard. I prefer mechanical keyswitches so much more than the modern membrane style keys. Without wanting it to sound like a whinge, I used to get really sore fingertips after long writing days with these old keyboards, and I find them really unsatisfying to use for anything more than day to day tasks.

Blue switches – ones with an audible click and a firm ‘click’ when pressed are my favourite, although I’ve recently discovered their low profile version, which I think I like even more! The slightly lower amoung of key travel before the keystroke is registered seems to have really sped up my typing (which was already a reasonably speed – about 65 wpm on my regular blue switch keyboard).

Blue switches do make quite a lot of noise, so an alternative is needed for public spaces. I’ve not yet settled on this, but am investigating brown and red switches for the occasions when I might find myself writing in a cafe and don’t want to annoy the people around me. Death by teaspoon is not the way I want to go out!

I also use Macs, so there is a slight difference with some of the utility keys (option and command keys instead of win and alt keys). That’s not a deal breaker, but it’s definitely nice to have.

I decided that a full service computer was always going to provide an easy route to distraction, and that an isolated writing workstation might be the way forward. I quickly found some old tech that looked great – the Alphasmart Neo. However, it is old tech, and I just couldn’t get excited about it. The system offers broadly what I want, but not quite everything!

I found some more modern iterations, but they weren’t quite the right fit for me either. That brought me to the idea of making my own! I think you can see where this is going regarding moving away from distractions…

A Raspberry Pie in a 3d printed enclosure with an eInk screen (easy on the eyes and low power demand) and a mechanical keyboard of my choice built in seemed like it might be a good solution. However, what was intended to be an answer to my search for distraction free writing quickly turned into a very distracting project (albeit one that looked like it might be a lot of fun)! I moved on!

Finally it occurred to me that I was over-complicating things (as I often do), and that the solution was alrady easily available. An iPad, and a bluetooth keyboard. So we come to the elements in the picture above.

I’ve stripped away all the software on the iPad, so there is only a couple of writing apps on it (Scrivener and iA Writer). I’ve deleted email, messages, and bunged any apps I can’t delete in a folder that I have off the main screen. Habit and mindset is important here too. If I want to do something else like mailing or messaging, I force myself to move over to my desktop.

The keyboard is Cooler Master SK622 60% with low profile blue switches. I absolutely love typing on it, and the size is great, although the entire package is not quite perfect for my needs – although it’s pretty close – so I’m still searching for one that is.

When connected by bluetooth, I can’t get the software keyboard to drop off screen, which is not an issue I have with any of my other bluetooth keyboards. It seems the iPad doesn’t identify it as a hardware keyboard. If anyone knows how to solve this, please let me know! This a shame as I far prefer this one to type on this keyboard. I’ve found a workaround (having another bluetooth keyboard connected removes the software keyboard, while allowing me to type with this one).

Also, the small small shift key which you can just see in the right of the picture, and its proximity to the arrow up key has been causing me some problems. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but I don’t think it’s a longterm runner for me, as I use several different keyboards, and prefer the larger right shift key. I may try their larger ten keyless version, which isn’t too much bigger but has the full size shift key, assuming it addresses the software keyboard issue I’ve been having.

Overall, I’m pretty happy. In the ten days I’ve been using this setup, I’ve put out the highest daily wordcounts I’ve had since all the lockdowns started nearly a year ago. The setup – the keyboard in particular – still needs tweaking, but this for me is pretty close to perfection!

The Alpha Protocol Cover Reveal (and news)

The Alpha Protocol cover

Although I’ve leaked this out elsewhere, I forgot to reveal the cover for my new sci-fi novel, The Alpha Protocol. Tada, here it is! I’m very pleased with how it turned out, so I hope you all like it (even if you aren’t a sci fi fan!)

I’ve set up a separate website for my sci-fi novels. It’s taken quite a bit of work to get up and running, but it’s finally live and functional (I think!). There’s a link up in the top right of the menu bar above, or you can click here to check it out:

dmhamilton.com

While I’ll post some updates about how that work is going here, most of the new information will be over there.

The Alpha Protocol is a space opera/military sci fi style, but is very much my usual writing style, but this time set in space!

With all that work done on the sci fi website, I’ve become painfully aware of how messy and dated this site looks. With that in mind, I’m planning to do a revamp of it over the next week or so. That means it will be a work in progress for a few days, so please bear with me on that. I hope to get it all done as quickly as possible!

Finally, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year! With a little luck this year will see us all out of the crises the world finds itself in. I hope everyone is keeping safe, and staying healthy!

Duncan

The Squire – Blood of Kings 1

I’m finally ready to officially announce my next book, titled ‘The Squire’. It’s the first part of my new Blood of Kings trilogy. I sent it away for its first proof read today, so it’s pretty far along in the process!

I’m aiming for an April 2021 release for The Squire, and so far everything is on track for that. I’ve teamed up with Audible Studios to produce the audiobooks for this trilogy, and I’m really excited about working with them.

The story is set in my Middle Sea world. Although it’s a stand alone tale with new characters, it builds on the history of that world that has been established in my other books. It’s a perfect starting place for new readers, but returning readers will recognise quite a bit!

I don’t want to give away too much about it just yet, but will be making regular announcements here when I’ve something new to share!

I hope you’re all keeping well!

Duncan

The Story Behind the Books – The Tattered Banner

The Tattered Banner, Huntsman's Amulet, and Telastrian Song book covers.

After receiving a couple of questions on this topic, I thought I’d write up a series of posts about the inspirations behind my books. To start with, I’m going to talk about my first trilogy, Society of the Sword, and The Tattered Banner in particular.

At the time, I thought that The Tattered Banner would be the only book I ever published. It started as a piece of historical fiction, set around a made up military school set in early Renaissance northern Italy. At the time, I really only wrote historical fiction, and always hit up against the same obstacle. I wasn’t willing to take liberties with history to help my plot along.

I was fascinated by the changes in technology, art, and the rapid growth of the economies around the European trade centres of the time, and the changes that brought to society. Gunpowder was becoming a thing in Europe at that time, but that was something I wanted to avoid in this story. I wanted to keep the focus on swordplay. This is the society of the sword, after all! How to make this world seem plausible without one of the major technological advances? Easy. Magic!

That presented me with something else that might draw attention away from this society’s veneration for swordsmen, so I made magic illegal. That gave rise to all sorts of things, like the Intelligenciers, and also some of the major plot points for the two following books. I placed some aspects of magic into a bit of a grey area. They were things that this society grandfathered into legality as they were just too convenient for society to do without. It was a hypocrisy that intrigued me, and one that I think works well in a society that is mercantile and ruthless.

I wrote the book on and off over the course of about a year, circling what I knew was ultimately going to be a dead end. Then, one day, the I finally realised the obvious. If I make it a fantasy story, I can hold true to the history and societies that fascinate me, but create my own history and events to suit my story.

From that moment, things happened quickly. Starting over, I rewrote the story with a new fantasy setting, and did all the world building that entailed on my lunch breaks at work. I had my new manuscript complete in about six months. I then forgot about it for a while!

When I came back to read The Tattered Banner’s manuscript, I thought, ‘this is actually pretty decent’. I’ll never make the claim that I thought it was going to change the face of fantasy – that really isn’t what I set out to do with my stories – but I thought it could certainly stand with its peers. I bought a copy of the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook and started giving thought to querying agents.

At that time, self publishing was really taking off, and that started to catch my attention. I never thought I’d have a career writing, and I was working very hard to make a success of the career I did have, so the self publishing route became an ever more attractive option. In the end I decided to take that route, to get the book out there, tick it off the bucket list, and get back to my day job. I decided if I was going to do this, I had to be able to stand over every aspect, for it to be something I could be proud of. I researched editors, proof readers, and cover designers, embarked on that process.

The title came to me very late. Originally I was going to just call this book the Society of the Sword. While I was having the cover designed, a scene near the end of the book presented the perfect name, and the book became The Tattered Banner. In April of 2013, I finally published it on a Thursday evening. When I woke up on Friday, expecting not a single sale, I’d sold 12 copies.

Within 3 months, I’d covered my costs of putting the book together and was starting to think there might be something to all of this. I was starting to consider a career change at the time, from being an independent practitioner (barrister) to working in house in a legal department. I thought I could probably risk a year’s career break in between the move to see if the writing might take off.

Shortly before I made that decision, The Tattered Banner featured on BuzzFeed’s Best Fantasy of 2013 in early December 2013, and everything changed overnight. Literally. There were so many mentions and alerts on my Twitter when I woke up the next day, I thought my account had been hacked. What had seemed like a possibility now seemed dangerously like a reality. I made my choice, and didn’t return to work the following January. It was a bit of a risk, but I’d planned to make that jump the following May anyway, so this was more of an acceleration of an established plan than a leap into the void!

I’m not sure what The Tattered Banner would look like if I were to write it today. I’ve learned so much as a writer in the 8 years since I wrote it, so it would probably be pretty different. Nonetheless, I still feel like I achieved what I set out to do with it – create something I could stand over and be proud of, which I am. The Tattered Banner is the book that started me on this journey. The people who bought it and read it allowed me to stay on that journey, leading to all the books I’ve written since.

Back in Lockdown:(

Well, we’re a week back into lockdown in this part of the world, which isn’t great, but I guess that’s the way things are now, and I think it’s important to do our best to keep the people around us safe and healthy. Only five more weeks to go! Hopefully!

My instagram debut has had to go on a bit of a hiatus, as there’s not a whole lot of interest to take photos of in my little office! Once we can get out and about again, I’m looking forward to taking some pics of the places around Ireland that serve as some of the inspiration for the stories I write.

We’re incredibly lucky here in terms of the visible remains of the history in Ireland. From megalithic structures like dolmens, to the remains of ring forts of the early Medieval period and earlier (several of which are within walking distance of where I grew up), and the tower houses of the High Middle Ages (kinda like castle keeps without the surrounding castle walls) a number of which are still inhabited, that dot the landscape, there’s a huge amount to discover and be inspired by.

As usual, this is all the type of stuff that I take a bit for granted when I have easy access to it, but times like these make me appreciate it so much more!

In work news, I’m making good progress on my next fantasy series, the first book of which I’m still on track to have out next Spring. I’m hard at work on an edit at the moment, so will post more details about that soon!

My sci-fi projects are also going well, but with fantasy being my priority, I’m probably going to push back releasing the first book of my space opera adventure until next year. You can find some updates on all of that over on my sci-fi site, which is here:

https://www.dmhamilton.com/

I hope everyone’s keeping well, and staying healthy!

Now on instagram…

Instagram link

I’ve finally taken the plunge, and signed up for Instagram. I expect it will be a slow and painful learning experience, as I’m definitely not the greatest fan of social media, but I’m there now, and will be playing around with it a bit, so please stop by and check it out! You can find it here:

https://www.instagram.com/duncanmhamilton/

‘Long overdue’ is one of my most used phrases on this website, and this update post definitely falls into that category. It’s been a pretty crazy year with all the lockdowns. Lockdown and working from home didn’t change my ordinary work practise much – this is how it is for me most of the time! The good news is that I’ve been reasonably productive and have some new work at advanced stages.

The main update on work is my next fantasy trilogy, the series title for which is ‘Blood of Kings’, will be out in the new year. I hope to have some news to share in that regard in the next few days!

The eagle eyed among you will have noticed a link in the menu bar above taking you to a sci-fi site under the cunningly opaque pen name ‘D.M. Hamilton’. To remove any possibility of doubt, that’s the variation I’m going to release the sci-fi work I’ve been playing around with for some time now. Fantasy will always be my main stay, but I love reading sci-fi, so love writing it too. It’ll be very much in the style of my fantasy novels, but set in space, with all that this entails! I’ve had a lot of fun writing these stories, so I hope you will enjoy them when they finally make it to release!

I hope everyone is keeping safe and healthy!

Space Marines – Emperor’s Spears

This week we’ve got a member of the Emperor’s Spears Space Marine chapter. I’ve been quite fond of the colour scheme for this chapter since first seeing it, and after having done it, I think it’s my favourite so far. The paints themselves had great coverage and were easier to work with than some of the less opaque ones (I’m talking about you, orange!). The result is one that I’m really happy with, not to mention a few sessions back painting has improved my brush control noticeably, and my ability to get paint where I actually wanted (most of the time!) is much improved.

Picture time:

Space Marine Emperor's Spears - 1
Space Marine Emperor's Spears - 2
Space Marine Emperor's Spears - 3
Space Marine Emperor's Spears - 4

I don’t have much to say about this guy other than I’m pretty happy with the end result. I used a grey basecoat again, but it worked much better with this colour scheme than it did with orange or yellow. I’m also happy with my whites, and I think this is a recipe I’ll use in future (although I’ll go a little heavier with the white highlight in future). The shades are subtle but visible, and it looks like white, rather than badly painted grey as I usually end up with.

I think I’m going to go for something a little different next week. For one, I’ve run out of Space Marine chapters that I want to paint – I’m open to suggestions as I’ve still got half a box of them left! The second reason is I’ve a tonne of fantasy minis that I want to paint, so one of them will be getting the treatment over the next few days!

Space Marines – Knights of Gryphonne

Kind of an odd chapter name for this week’s Space Marine, a member of the Knights of Gryphonne. I decided on these guys as I wanted to give orange a try, and I also had some old Bretonnian transfers, one of which looked to be a good match for this chapter’s shoulder pad decoration.

On to the photos:

Space Marine - Knights of Gryphonne 2
Space Marine - Knights of Gryphonne 1
Space Marine - Knights of Gryphonne 3
Space Marine - Knights of Gryphonne 4
Space Marine - Knights of Gryphonne 5

So, first off, I’m really starting to like these new Space Marine models. They’re nicely detailed sculpts, and I find them more enjoyable to paint than the old ones. The dynamic poses you can get with them, like this guy’s, are also really great.

I learned quite a lot from painting this guy, but most of those lessons were ones I should have learned back on the yellow Imperial Fist I painted a while back. With this model, I decided to prime with grey. I tend to use black, white, or grey as a primer, depending. Black was clearly not a runner for this colour. I thought white would show through too strongly, so went with grey. It was a challenge to get good coverage over it, even though my base colour has 6 or 7 layers. Even still it has a dark, dirty finish to it that I couldn’t get rid of despite the extra coats.

I tried to boost things a bit with the highlights, but getting a visible lift with the mid tone was challenging. You might not even be able to see it in the photos. I took things a bit farther with the highlight, choosing a golden yellow. It looks good in some spots, but is definitely overkill in others. Part of the problem here is that the colour values are going from quite an unsaturated ‘dead’ base, to a very saturated highlight. That creates a bit of a jarring finished product – kind of like the visual equivalent of the musical flat fifth interval. That Imperial Fists marine I mentioned earlier turned up the same problem.

I did a bit of research online, and by happenstance, a Youtube mini painting channel I watch from time to time had a recent video dealing with orange. Sadly I hadn’t spotted when I started this guy. It seems using an off white like ivory or a light beige is the way forward. I’ll give both this colour scheme, and the Imperial Fist’s, another try at some point in the future.

Artistically (cough) I wanted to go for a limited palette here, so kept to orange and black. Again, looking back, I should have used more blue-greys to highlight the black, rather than flat greys, to pull in that complimentary colour contrast. Next time…

In saying all that, I don’t think he looks all that bad. He looks pretty good next to his new school pals, the Crimson Fist and Space Wolf. I’ll have to take a group shot when the box is finished! The yellow highlight is definitely a little strong in places though, particularly at the back. Also, I’m pretty sure this guy’s backpack should be black, but, hey ho! The decal went on pretty well, so I’m pleased with that. I think I’ve finally got the hang of these, which is great. Overall, this model was a good learning experience, and was a lot of fun to paint, which is the most important thing!

Space Marines – Space Wolves

This week’s model is the first from my box of the newly designed space marines. and I’ve painted him in the Space Wolves livery. These minis are a bit bigger than the old style, probably about 4mm taller, and they’re a bit more detailed. Overall, I think they’re a nice update (although it doesn’t make up for GW discontinuing Bretonnians!) to the space marine minis, and they’re certainly fun to paint.

Getting a good match for the Space Wolves colours was a little tricky, but I think I’ve gotten pretty close with my Vallejo paints. What do you folks think?

Space Marines - Space Wolves 1
Space Marines - Space Wolves 2
Space Marines - Space Wolves 3
Space Marines - Space Wolves 4
Space Marines - Space Wolves 5

This is my first post-lockdown paint job, with about a 3 month break, and the time off has definitely set my progress back. My motor skills were less polished and getting neat lines was more challenging than I recall, and most of the detail work required quite a bit of cleaning up afterward.

I didn’t get a particularly good shot of the shoulder decal, but I’m happy that it seems to have gone on even better than the previous one on the Crimson Fist I painted last time (which you can find here). Hopefully I’ve got these down now, and will be able to keep getting good results with them going forward as I think they definitely add to the end result. Perhaps one day I’ll be good enough to paint these symbols on freehand, but I don’t think that’ll be any time soon!

I decided to go helmet off for this guy, as I wanted to do something a little different, and I thought the sculpt on this one was pretty cool. I’m not a 100% on the metallics approach I took on the gun, so I may go back to NMM for these on the next couple of minis.

I’ve also finally worked out how to make the images clickable and expandable, so you can now get a closer look, and even play a game of how many mistakes you can spot, if you’re really, really bored!

I haven’t quite decided what chapter colour scheme to go with next, so if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to drop me a line! My general approach has been to try painting each mini in a different colour scheme, or at least in a different tone. Perhaps something orange??

Space Marines – The Next Generation! Crimson Fists.

With lockdown easing, it’s time to get back to something we haven’t seen here for a while – badly painted Space Marines! Having finished the previous box up, this time they’re the new generation models, starting with an easy build one I got with a painting guide.

This space marine is painted in the livery of the Crimson Fists. I particularly like the colour scheme for this chapter of marines. I’d been playing around with the GW approach of edge highlighting a bit in the previous batch of old school marines, and wanted to follow that approach completely here. I was pretty surprised and pleased with the end result.

On to the photos:

Space Marine - Crimson Fist 1
Space Marine - Crimson Fist 2
Space Marine - Crimson Fist 3
Space Marine - Crimson Fist 4

I’m not sure why clicking on the images doesn’t allow them to be enlarged any more, but I’ll look into it and hopefully get that fixed for my next post.

Overall, I’m really happy with the way this turned out, and am going to apply myself to this method for the next few models in the regular box of this guys that I got. In the interests of full disclosure, I painted this before lockdown, so don’t remember any of the issues I might have had while painting it (it’s been 3 months – I’m lucky if I can remember what I did 3 minutes ago…).

Looking it over, I’m impressed by how quick this approach is (mainly in removing the time I spend agonising over where to place the highlights…), and how effective it looks. I think it’s definitely one worth practising and having in your toolkit of techniques. It involves 6 steps in its basic form:

  1. Laying down a base colour.
  2. Shading the recesses with a carefully applied wash.
  3. Painting in any details like symbols, equipment etc.
  4. Touching up the base layer for any mess made shading or detailing.
  5. A thicker mid shade edge highlight over all the edges.
  6. A thinner light shade edge highlight over the upper/light catching edges.

I also started using decals here, something I’ve never had much success with before. With the help of some youtube videos and a bottle of micro-set, I actually managed to get it on, pretty contoured to the surface, and not torn anywhere. Still far from perfect, but this is the best result I’ve had with a should pad transfer to date, so I’m hopeful I can get better again with the next one.

Next week will have a post-lockdown painted Space Wolf, and sadly 3 months away from the painting table have taken their toll. Hand steadiness and ability to be neat has definitely declined, but hopefully that’ll come back to its usually high (cough) standard quickly!