3rd and Final Extract from Dust to Dust

Remember the blurb of my book, which tells you that ‘law and order begin to break down’? Chapter Seven is where the fray begins:

He was ashamed to admit it to himself, but he felt a craving to see chaos and disorder. He wanted to see a fight. He had not been in one since he was about eleven years old. He used to work in the computer room at school. Two boys would switch off his terminal at the socket to disrupt his work. One afternoon one of the pair’s smug faces had wound him up a notch too far. Dan did not have a reputation as a fighter at school. He had the element of surprise, something he used to his full advantage as he punched his bully in the face. He landed a clean shot before being soundly beaten up in return. Unconsciously he rubbed his cheek as he remembered that episode. No, he told himself, he wanted to observe, not take part. He would fight in self-defence only. If anyone were to ask why he was there, he would say he was looking for Laura. He hadn’t heard from her. It was a plausible alibi if the police asked him anything. Besides, it wasn’t illegal to be outside. Decision made, he grabbed his coat, scarf and gloves and took the stairs two at a time. His heart was already beating fast as he put his hand on the door handle. His better judgment put up one last fight. It told him not to be a fool; not to risk being arrested or hurt. He took a deep breath, silenced it and stepped outside.

He walked for a few minutes. The streetlights bathed the roads in an orange glow. The light flickered. A rubbish container was on fire. The lid was open vertically and smoke was rising from it. He followed the smoke upwards with his eyes and noticed a neighbour staring at it from a first-floor window between some blinds. She made eye contact with him and let the blinds fall. His nose twitched as a foul smell of burning cardboard and vegetables reached his nostrils. He stepped over some spilled rubbish, hurried on and turned a corner. A former public toilet stood on a little concrete square. It was a popular spot for graffiti artists, who periodically repainted it with the latest cause or fashion to catch their attention. At that moment the streetlight illuminated an oblique map of Britain encircled with barbed wire, with ‘Olof’ stamped diagonally from Wales to Newcastle. Yells came from his left. Dan turned to find his first participants in the night’s disorder. A group of half a dozen young men squared up to two door staff of a bar. One of the group took a step forward into the bouncer’s personal space. He held his ground. Sensing easier targets, the men moved on out of sight around the corner. He followed them in defiance of his instincts, which were warning him of danger.

He was stunned into silence. He had found the war zone.

This is the last extract I’ll be publishing. The Amazon link is here.

Thank you to everyone who has bought it.

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2nd Extract from Dust to Dust

Here is the second of three extracts from Dust to Dust, this time from Chapter Three. The main focus of Chapter Three is to learn a little more about how Dust came to be and the nature of their main rival, Ordi.

At that moment Hadi joined them. He had come in without any of them noticing, holding a glass of lemonade. “Congratulations, everybody,” said the new arrival, raising his glass. “To Dust, and to all our successes for the future.” Everyone echoed his sentiments and drank. A moment later Hadi realised the rest of the team’s eyes were still on him. His English was prone to falter when he felt at the centre of attention. He scratched at the scar on his arm. It was a ring of circular marks. “It has also been a month or so since Laura joined us,” said Hadi. He gestured to Laura, sitting at his right, and she blushed. “In that time our app looks much better than it did before. I almost wasn’t going to speak at the talk. Rajiya was ill that day. But I had already promised to be there, so I went. I gave my usual speech about Dust. Afterwards this young woman came up to talk about it.” Laura’s cheeks turned redder. “She asked whether there was anything she could do. She could code and did some design work as well, she told me. I said we already had three developers, but that none of us were much good with design. I told her to send me her some examples of what she could do, and we are a better team for it.” He took a sip of his lemonade. “It should not need saying; but I am very proud of you all,” he continued. “My recruitment techniques are unusual, I am sure, but I would not change either one of you.” He paused again. “We all know where we are with Dust. But we must not forget why we are together, here. I started Dust because of the apps that were already on the market. There was Toko with its terrible security.”

“I remember the Topocalypse,” said Jacob casually. “My ex-girlfriend was one of the people whose photos and chat histories were leaked.”

“While you were going out with her?” asked Melissa.

Jacob smiled wryly and shook his head. Without realising it he had come uncomfortably close to a personal experience of Dan’s. Toko used to be the messaging app of choice in Britain. At its peak it had more than nine million users. Dan and his friends used it to use it at university to meet up, keep in touch on holiday and to distract each other in dull lectures. By the time he graduated in 2012 it was a fixture of the life of young people in Britain. That changed one evening when the chat histories of eighty million users worldwide were leaked online without warning. The hackers uploaded the files to a website with a search function to find your friends, enemies and lovers. American law enforcement closed it down swiftly, but not before a dozen imitations had sprung up elsewhere. Dan vividly remembered searching for himself in a panic. He frantically scanned the chat histories that featured the name of Dan Wallace. He was there, among some of his namesakes, but he could find nothing embarrassing or incriminating. The following day, he received a call from his sister. Sarah was distraught. He could barely make out her words as she sobbed that revealing photos and chat messages were up on the copycat websites from a previous relationship. He did not want to pry into his sister’s personal life but from what she was telling him he understood that she was still in touch with a former boyfriend while seeing someone else. By the time he saw his sister some weeks later she had straightened things out with her boyfriend. But that could not undo the hurt she felt at seeing some of her most intimate thoughts and expressions available for anyone to browse at their leisure. His sister was shy, and like him, had passed through school unsure of how to handle what little attention she received from the opposite sex. Sarah and Callum were now married and living in a village in Scotland. Friends described their marriage as idyllic and a fairytale. To him it felt rushed, as though his sister was so grateful that Callum did not leave her that she committed herself to him prematurely. Had her privacy not been violated, he was sure, she would have taken things more slowly.

The Amazon link is here.

1st Extract from Dust to Dust

Thank you to everyone who has bought my book so far.

For those of you who haven’t (yet), here is an extract from Chapter Two. We rejoin Dan at home and meet the rest of his colleagues:

First light caught him awake as it seeped through the blinds. He often woke early. The nights were dark in the Shropshire countryside of his childhood. From his flat on the third floor he could make out the constellations of Orion and the Plough on clear nights, but he had yet to adjust to the dull brown haze that encircled the city after the sun went down. Outside it looked to be the sort of grey skies that came every other day in spring.

“The Prime Minister is in Rochester today as the election campaign begins,” announced the radio presenter.

Dan sat up on the edge of his bed. He was just starting to get his flat the way he wanted it. He liked the exposed brickwork that ran down two sides of his flat. He liked the wooden floorboards with innumerable scratches that felt cool underneath his feet. On the brickwork hung prints of industrial Manchester and Salford. A desk stood in one corner by a window. Above it was a motorbike calendar and a picture of an American desert scene. It showed enormous rocks that towered over cacti that stood like thorny scarecrows in dusty red-brown fields. One day, he had long promised himself, he would ride a motorbike along one of those roads that runs in a straight line to the horizon. His mountain bike lay awkwardly in the corner: he felt uncomfortable leaving it locked up outside.

“With the election weeks away, the other party leaders are on the campaign trail. Tara Wilkinson is visiting a factory in Lancaster, while Oliver Shore is visiting a care home in Leicester.”

Dan wiped the mist off his bathroom mirror after his shower and ran hot water in the sink. His brown eyes stared back at him. Crow’s feet were sinking more deeply into the tight skin around his eyes. They were a reminder that he was getting older. He had recently turned twenty-seven years old. He had probably less than twelve months of mileage from the term ‘mid-twenties’. The small chicken pox scar above his left eyebrow had been with him as long as he could remember. His face was supported by a strong jaw with a beard a shade darker of brown than his hair. He removed the stubble from his cheeks and chin and hurriedly threw on a red T-shirt, jeans, faded trainers and his hoodie that he retrieved from the floor. The streets were quiet outside. The graffitied shutters of the cafés and shops were still pulled down. The early buses had the roads to themselves. After a brisk ten minute walk the handsome building that housed the Dust offices came into view. The former warehouse was built in that self-confident Victorian style that assumed the building was going to stand forever. The frames of the rows of arched windows were painted dark green. They were ringed by darkened yellow bricks, standing out from the red that had once built the entire city. The name of the original occupant was emblazoned in the middle of an oval plaque – J. T. Archer & Son, 1895. The Archers had long since left: the only other company in the building was a trendy architectural firm on the third floor. Dan pressed the code to get in and took the ancient lift with its iron grille to floor above. The stale air in the Dust corridor did no favours to his lungs. His feet echoed on the tiles as he crossed to the door.

“Sorry I’m late,” said Dan, finding the rest of the team already working.

“Sit down Dan, don’t worry about it,” replied Hadi.

It sounded as though his boss was in a good mood. Hadi Ghazzali was not an easy man to read. His accent, distinct as it was, had a way of disguising feeling, and he was not a man prone to swings of emotion.

“We are close to one hundred thousand users,” said his boss. Hadi was a stocky, muscular man. He wore his tight-fitting T-shirt, black jeans and boots like a military uniform. He appeared to live his life according to a similar sort of discipline. That at least was Dan’s impression – his boss rarely disclosed details of his life beyond work. Hadi was older than him, older than the rest of the team in fact, but he had the enthusiasm and drive of a much younger man. His age only showed in the flecks of grey that were beginning to collect above his ears. His eyes remained jet-black, soulful and pensive.

The Amazon link is here.

Self-Publishing Renders Worries about ‘Cultural Appropriation’ Obsolete

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Reused under CC from this user

Her question was — or could have been — an interesting question: What are fiction writers “allowed” to write, given they will never truly know another person’s experience?

This was the the talk that Lionel Shriver should have given, according to Yassmin Abdel-Magied. She writes that she walked out of Ms. Shriver’s talk entitled Fiction and Identity Politics in Australia last month.

She was opposed to the argument adopted by the author of We Need To Talk About Kevin -which was that she hoped ‘the concept of “cultural appropriation” [was] a passing fad‘.

You don’t need to seek permission

The short answer is that fiction writers have always been – and should always be – ‘allowed’ to create characters in whichever guises we wish.

My book, Dust to Dust, features a young American woman, Melissa, and a Middle Eastern man, Hadi. I can’t pretend I have any direct experience of what it would be like to be either Hadi or Melissa, in Britain or anywhere else, but that didn’t stop me inventing those characters and weaving them into my story. I didn’t have to seek permission from those groups of people before writing my book.

It’s fine to acknowledge and respect the fact that people with direct, or ‘lived’ experience of something will bring a perspective to that situation that an outsider can’t. But it’s wrong to assume that the opinion of someone with ‘lived experience’ of something is inherently more valid and valuable than those around them. It’s quite possible, likely even, that it will be, but it isn’t automatically. So it’s wrong to tell people that they should ‘stay in their lane‘ and not write about people different from them. We are capable of imagination and empathy. Our minds are capable of imagining something of what it must be like to live in the Sahara Desert without requiring our bodies to burn in its heat.

Cultural appropriation

The buzzword for this topic is ‘cultural appropriation’. According to the definition quoted by Ms. Shriver, this is when people of one particular ‘culture’ borrow from another ‘without permission’, with the implication that they shouldn’t.

The doctrine of ‘cultural appropriation’ assumes that ‘culture’ is immutable when it isn’t. It ignores the fact that societies have been borrowing and adapting stories, legends and practices from each other for as long as they have existed. It assumes that somebody, somewhere, can be the arbiter of which cultures exist and who belongs to which one.

Cultural appropriation also overstates its own importance. It falls into a trap that has swallowed much of anthropology: focusing on human difference. In fact, at the most basic level, human societies around the world are actually very similar. Emotions such as joy, loss, disappointment, surprise and fear are universal, run far more deeply than culture and form the core of stories the world over.

Access to publishing

A more valid criticism could come from an access argument. I was lucky enough to have a relatively privileged, middle-class upbringing. That brings with it inbuilt advantages. Those advantages make it a lot easier for me to write about, say, life in Nigeria and for people to read it than it would for a Nigerian to write about life as a Briton. The cultural appropriation logic goes that if I wanted to do that I should ‘step aside’ and let a Nigerian write it himself or herself.

Self-publishing levels the playing field

I don’t think any writer should feel they have to step aside for anyone else. If they want to make way for someone else then fine, but there’s no obligation for anyone to do so. But self-publishing has changed the game. It used to be that publishing houses were the gatekeepers. They controlled what was published, who got to see their names in print and which stories were told.

The best argument against anything goes was that some voices would likely be excluded from a conversation, and that room should therefore be made for them. That’s no longer the case. So long as you have access to the internet and a word processor, your story can be told. The already flaky arguments about ‘cultural appropriation’ are now obsolete.

You Don’t Need A Kindle To Read My Book

You don't necessarily need on of these. Credit: Intel Free Press, using Creative Commons
You don’t necessarily need one of these. Credit: Intel Free Press, using Creative Commons

As the 1st October release date gets closer I’ve had more questions than usual about in which formats Dust to Dust will be available.

It’s only going to be available on Kindle. But you don’t actually need a Kindle to read ebooks through Amazon. You can download the Kindle app free from the App Store (iPhones and iPads) or Google Play (Android phones and tablets. There is also a desktop app for PCs.

In short, if you are reading this, you have a device that can read my book.

The 3 Big Mistakes I Made When Writing My Book

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I made three big mistakes when I was writing my book, Dust to Dust. I thought I’d share them with you in case you ever want to do it yourself. They are:

  1. Only writing one book
  2. Failing to plan properly
  3. Not researching the title

Let’s look at each of them in turn:

  • Only writing one book

I wish I’d read this post by Mike Cernovich earlier in the process. A best-selling author himself (whose book on mindset I am applying to my own life), he suggests writing two books at the same time, and give one away via your blog. That way, you’re already adding value to people’s lives without sticking your hand out asking for money. It also tests the water for your book idea. If it’s solid, you are already on the way to building an audience via your blog posts.

  • Failing to plan properly

I’ve already written about this before. Essentially, a book is a big commitment. You are investing a lot of time to write thousands of words before you ask for any money from anyone, which you may or may not get. You don’t want it to take any longer than it otherwise will.

  • Not researching the title

I put this one last because I think it’s the least important of these three. That doesn’t make it unimportant however. Google your title and search Amazon, iBooks or whichever platforms on which you want to sell eventually. If you can get a unique or nearly original title, it will help your SEO (search engine optimization) immensely. As you can see, there are a lot of Dust to Dusts.

If I could do it all again, and I might some day, I will be sure to avoid making these mistakes again.

Dust to Dust Is Available For Pre-order


I’m very happy to be able to share the Amazon link to my book, Dust to Dust. It’s currently available for pre-order ahead of its 1st October release date.

Once again I’d like to thank my colleague Dmitri Thompson for his cover design. If you have any design work you need done, you can reach Dmitri here.

Here’s a reminder of the blurb:

Dan Wallace is working on Dust, an app that enables secure communication in a Britain in which privacy comes at a premium. When the right-wing Olof party comes into power, law and order begin to break down. The government trains its sights on Dan, their charismatic leader Hadi Ghazzali and the beautiful new arrival Laura Taylor. In the face of this instability and hostility, it falls to Dan to carve out a future for their creation.