Sunday, 18 May 2014

Spotlight + Author Interview: Netwars by M. Sean Coleman #BasteiLübbe

Netwars: The Code. A high-tech serial thriller from the dark side of the net. Episode 1.

Welcome to the Deep Web. Those parts of the internet no search engine explores. The place where you can buy anything. Drugs, children, weapons. 
Anyone can do it. And get away free. 

Anthony Prince, head of PrinceSec, a firm which provides high-tech security for the government and major corporations, dies in a plane crash when crossing the English Channel. Responsible for Prince's death is a hacker named Strider. His real name is Scott Mitchell and in his day job at the National Cyber Crime Unit he uses legitimate means to get the bad guys. As Strider, his means are less legal. On the same night, PrinceSec is the target of a cyber-attack. When the NCCU is called to assess the damage, a link is found between Prince and a criminal hacker group called Black Flag. The race is on for Mitchell to protect his identity as Strider and to stop Black Flag before it's too late.


Hello, and welcome to Roxy’s Reviews.

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in the UK and raised in South Africa, and now I have settled in the UK again, after a bit of travel around the rest of the world. I live in London with my partner and our dog, and a three-legged cat who doesn’t really like any of us. I’m a bit of a geek, having always been interested in technology and computers, even when games came on cassettes and took an hour to load! I have been writing for a long time, but last year was the first year I dedicated myself to it full time. Look what happens!

2. What inspires your writing?

Well, that’s the joy of writing for me – anything that tickles your fancy can be the subject of your next story. I read a lot of newspapers and cut out all of the strange little stories that pique my interest. I keep them all in a bright notebook, and I spend about an hour on each of them scribbling notes and brainstorms. When I need a new idea, I turn to my notebook. There are so many ideas still to write. Perhaps it’s because I never really figured out what job I wanted to do when I was at school – I was a little bit interested in everything – and that is excellent if you end up being a writer. It’s an open ticket to be anything you want, through your characters, just for a little while. I am fascinated by big questions, and why people believe what they believe, or do what they do. I’m especially interested in questions of morality, faith and the stranger posibilities of science.

3. Where did the idea for the project Netwars – Out of CTRL come from?

I was approached by filmtank – the German production company responsible for the whole cross-platform project. They were making a documentary about the threat of cyberwar and cyberterrorism, and they wanted a fictional element to go with it. They already knew that they wanted to do a graphic novel, and they asked me to come on board as the writer. We had a big meeting of everybody involved in the project in Berlin and we workshopped possible ideas, and then I went away and wrote up some of the options. At first, my ideas were wild and Bond-like and a bit silly, really. It was all conspiracy theories and urban myth. But, because the graphic novel was going to tie in with a documentary feature and a web documentary, I worked with the cyberwar and cyberterrorism experts that were feeding into those pieces in order to come up with something plausible for the graphic novels. Then, when the publisher came on board for the graphic novels, they asked if I could write a novel too. I was thrilled, but I knew that the story had to stand alone, and yet feel like it was part of the same world. At first, I tried to tie the stories together more, but I quickly figured out that it wouldn’t work. I want people to get a complete story, whichever part of the project they find. In the weeks that preceded the commission from Bastei Lübbe, I had been reading a lot about the Deep Web – that place underneath the World Wide Web that isn’t scanned by regular search engines and on which you can openly and (almost) anonymously buy drugs, weapons and even hire a killer. It’s a crazy place, and one which most people still believe is in the realms of fantasy. I knew I wanted to set my story in that world, and so I came up with the idea of a character who works for the authorities as a specialist, but has a dark past, and an even darker present. Because I had done so much research for the graphic novels, I had a good base to start from, but the novel involved a lot more work. It’s a classic crime thriller in a dark and terrifying place. I’m sure that, thanks to my research for this book, I’m now on some kind of government watch list! In fact, at one point I was convinced that the government had bought the house next door just to spy on me – but that could have just been the stress of hitting the deadline for the publisher!

4. What can fans of your Netwars = Out of CTRL Interactive Graphic Novel series expect from the standalone novel, published by Bastei Lübbe.

A cracking good page turner! Hopefully. There are common elements, but it was important to me that no one felt left out. I don’t want people to feel they have missed something by not reading or seeing one part of the whole project – all parts shoud stand alone. There is a character who links the web documentary, the graphic novels and the novel – he’s only really central to the web documentary, but he appears in each of the other parts. He’s a kind of broker on the Deep Web – The Salesman. He’s a pretty evil guy. Anyway, fans of both the graphic novels and the novel will see links through him. Hopefully all parts of the project will make people think about how exposed we are, and how trusting we are of those around us. Knowing that anything with an (electronic) pulse can pretty much be turned into a weapon and used against you, not to mention the ease with which your data can be used, stolen and misapproriated – it’s all pretty scary. I hope that fans of the graphic novel will be interested in the other side of this multi-facetted coin that the novel tells. I hope that they find the world an interesting one, and realise that it is one that we are all part of.

5. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Treat every project like a race that you are preparing for. Get in shape by practicing every day (apart from break days). You’ll be amazed at how toned that writing muscle becomes when you do it every day. Do warm up exercises before starting – like summarising your favourite novel or film in 25 words (or 4!), or writing a letter to yourself from one of your characters. These playful ways of kick starting your writing day can be very useful and are never wasted. It’s important to have a schedule and a deadline. I have a wordcount every day that I have to hit. I am realistic (usually) about how much I can achieve, but like an athlete pushing for a better time, I don’t cut myself slack. This is a job, and if you take too long over it, you work will be flabby and uninteresting. Also, shut off the internet and put your phone on airplane mode. Honestly – you don’t need to go online while you’re writing. Have a notepad beside you and note down anything you need to look up later (place names, job titles, etc) and look them up when you’ve hit your count. Otherwise you waste time. Anything that beeps an alert at you must be silenced while you work. I use a $10 piece of software called Freedom which overrides my internet connection for however many minutes I tell it to. Somehow, psychologically it keeps you at your desk too. Also, important is having faith in the story you want to tell. It wont be the story everybody wants to hear, but don’t let those rejections put you off. If you want to tell it, chances are, someone out there will want to hear it. So don’t be tempted to change your idea halfway through because somebody suggested it needs a boxing theme. It’s your story. Tell it.

6. Who are some of your favourite authors?

I read a lot, and I love it. It’s very hard to pin down favourites. If it’s recommended by a friend, I’ll always give it a go. I love a good crime thriller, so John Grisham,  Robert Harris, Ian Rankin, Jeffery Deaver, Harlan Coben, Jo Nesbo all feature on my kindle.  Some books really stood out with me, like Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts, or Niffenegger’s The Time Travellers Wife. I like almost everything Christopher Brookmyre has done. I like a lot of the classics, and have recently begun re-reading many of the old favourites: Dickens, Hardy, Shelley, Austen, Wilde. And of course, I love sci-fi and fantasy, so I can’t leave out Philip K Dick, HG Wells, Tolkien. Too hard!

7. Tell us a bit about your time spent as a producer.

I never set out to be a producer, but back in the day, when I started out in work, many of the roles crossed over. I had done a batchelors degree in Scriptwriting, and had left university with lots of plaudits and a high expectation that Hollywood would be calling any minute. Hollywood did not call, but then, I didn’t give them my number. I got my first paid writing job thanks to my university lecturer, Neil Richards, who had given up lecturing and returned to writing himself. He got me in as a writer on Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy online. Which was brilliant fun to work on. While there, I realised that there was an audience out there, online, who were engaged and ready for drama and entertainment to be broadcast to them on different platforms. This was the mid-1990s – a time when people were still accessing the internet via 56k dial-up – so it was a tough sell, but over the next couple of years I moved into writing and producing projects for the web. I took some jobs as interactive producer at various UK television channels and production companies and before I knew it I was a producer, and not really writing anymore. It took me a while to realise I didn’t really like it. I took a break for a while, ostensibly to write, but in the end I just travelled the world and taught scuba diving. When I returned to the UK, I returned to producing, but this time, I wrote too. So I ended up making a couple of very successful web dramas which were great fun and made me realise that what I really wanted to do was write, and not produce. So I took an offered redundancy package and haven’t looked back since. Sure, I don’t make as much, but I sleep at night, I enjoy my crazy dreams and I have time to take my dog for runs. 

8. When you are not busy writing and producing. What can you be found doing?

Apart from running with my dog, I love cooking and entertaining. Either cooking or being cooked for. We are lucky to live near some very close friends and have a very casual, but incredibly epicunarian approach to entertainment at each other’s houses. As I get older, I think good friends are more and more important. There aren’t many people in the world who know as much about you, and will still put up with you. Nothing beats those relaxed weekend days of laughter, silence, good food, wine and banter.

9. What is the best advice you received in life? And what is your secret to success?

While I was travelling, a man in a bar told me that if you’re going to learn one phrase in every language, it should be: “My friend is paying.” It’s silly, but true – it can buy you enough time to get you out of a lot of scrapes. Needless to say, I ended up buying his drinks that night.

I don’t think I have a secret to success. I’m not sure that I’m that succesful! I think I have become less idealistic as I have got older, and less naïve. At least, I hope I have. I think the best thing to understand is that no-one is going to suddenly discover you. If you want people to know your work, you have to a) do the work and b) not be scared of telling everyone you’ve done it.

10. Are you currently working on any special projects, writing or other? Can you tell us a bit more about them?

I’m working on a series of stories for pre-school children. It’s called Milli, and it’s about a young snail who is the only snail in Apple Tree Hill and sets out on a quest to find out what snails do best. The stories are a series of allegorical tales to help kids understand the value in just being you. Milli’s adventures are intended as interactive story books for iPads and android tablets, picture books and an animated television series. The first app will be released in the summer of this year. The original idea came from the phenomenal illustrator Jana Schell, and her illustrations are what make Milli stand out. She’s exceptional. We recently completed a successful kickstarter campaign to raise awareness, and a bit of money, to complete the app. It looks incredible. It was quite a departure for me, writing playfully educational works for such a young audience. I basically channelled my nephews into the characters. Milli’s best friend is a ladybord called Miro. He spends most of his time clarifying that he is neither a lady, nor a bird. Throughout her adventures, Milli helps all of the wonderful creatures on Apple Tree Hill to get over a small problem, and be better at being who they are, and on the way, she learns what makes a snail a snail. It’s a lot of fun, and a world away from cyber assassins!


Filmtank is an award-winning production company that creates documentaries and crossmedial content.


Marissa Curnutte


With finesse in digital publishing, the company shares stories across various platforms

After more than 60 years of success in the European literary market, German publishing giant Bastei Lübbe is venturing into brand new territory and launching projects in the United States for the first time.

The revolutionary publishing company is expanding with the introduction of new book series and digital apps beginning this spring. Making its American debut, Bastei Lübbe has a strong reputation for issuing popular fiction titles by esteemed authors and up and coming writers.

Bastei Lübbe has proven to be a master of innovation by taking on projects beyond traditional publishing. The company is rolling out its fact-based, cross platform project “Netwars – Out of CTRL” starting this spring, which includes a graphic novel app simultaneously made available in five languages, an e-book series, audio book series and several interactive video documentaries for television and the web. Netwars will be available on IOS, Google Play, Amazon and Samsung.

“These are exciting times for digital publishing and especially for our team at Bastei Entertainment,” said head of international sales Colin Lovrinovic. “Netwars is a great example of how we work. It’s a gripping story told through various channels, which gives you the possibility to dive incredibly deep into it – or to just choose your favorite medium.”

A successful IPO and tirelessly working to develop engaging cross vertical products puts Baste Lübbe in a unique strategic position regarding the early digital capture of new markets.

Bastei Lübbe is the publisher behind “Cotton FBI,” the most successful crime series in Germany with 1 billion copies sold. And after only 11 weeks, its e-book series “Apocalypsis” by German author Mario Giordano hit the 1 million mark for downloads in China. Its “Laura’s Star” app for children hit No. 1 in iTunes in three separate categories.

Bastei Lübbe is based in Cologne, Germany but will be launching several hundred foreign language titles over the next months through its digital publishing arm Bastei Entertainment. The company is the largest independent trade publisher in the country and a major player in the audio book industry.

For more about Bastei Lübbe's current and upcoming releases go to the JKSCommunitcations Virtual Tour Page  

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