Meet the new Johnny Mackintosh

Posted in Battle for Earth, Book news, eBooks, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2013 by keithmansfield

Spirit-of-London-eBook-(webStar-Blaze-eBook-(web)Battle-for-Earth-high-(web)

With the kindle version of Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London topping the Amazon children’s chart (across all media) recently, I was horrified to realize I’ve not announced the existence of the eBooks on the site. They were published in December 2012 and I think they look gorgeous.

Each time one of the print books was published I thought the cover superb, but my favourite is probably Battle for Earth. It’s tremendous now to have a standard look that clearly identifies the series to date, even if that’s only for the eBooks at present, and I’m delighted Quercus picked JMB4E as the model.

Of course eBooks exist in myriad different formats for all the various devices. I’ve had to make a choice here, so if you click a cover it will take you directly to the Kindle store. If anyone from Kobo/Nook/etc wants to email me and request I switch the links to a different eReader for a while, I’d be happy to do that.

Top of the Pops

Posted in Book news with tags , , on May 8, 2013 by keithmansfield

Top of the Pops

Johnny Mackintosh at number oneHow exciting. As I write, Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London is, for the second day, the number one title on Amazon’s list of Children’s book bestsellers, having displaced Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay from The Hunger Games series. Further down we find Percy Jackson, The Hobbit, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and even Key Stage Three Mathematics Revision Guide. No photoshopping has been done on this screenshot (honest!).

One of the biggest hurdles for many writers is showing their work to others. When I’ve been in writing workshops, a point I sometimes make to shy authors is that, if you want to be published, your work will be read. People will begin to comment on it, and it stops being your personal story, instead being owned by your readers. That’s tough because there’s no more personal, individual work of art than a book. Compared with a movie where hundreds of people can be responsible for the creative vision, with a book it’s a single person.

But we write because we love telling stories – we can’t help it –  and most authors want their work to be read by as many people as possible, even if it’s a little humbling and daunting. It’s great that more readers are being introduced to Johnny’s story, and encourages me to get moving on book four!

Amazon UK Kindle deal of the day

Posted in Book news with tags , , on May 6, 2013 by keithmansfield

Hurrah! It’s great that all three books are now available on Kindle and now, for one day only (May 7th 2013), Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London is one of five books on Amazon UK’s deal of the day. Buy the book before 11.59pm tonight and you get it for a bargain 99p.

As an author, you want your stories to reach as many people as possible, so this is a terrific opportunity for that to happen. Feel free to spread the word and, if you enjoy this story, remember the next two in the series are already published.

Johnny Mackintosh: The Movie

Posted in Movie News, television with tags , , , , , on May 2, 2013 by keithmansfield

I wrote much of Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London while working for the British Film Institute and, probably inevitably, many sections ended up in quite a cinematic style. Scenes such as leaving Earth in the space elevator, or when the Spirit of London unfolds over a drowning Atlantis, or Johnny being chased through prehistoric jungle by a tyrannosaurus rex, were all very visual in my mind’s eye.

Johnny runs from a T-RexAs a lover of film, it was always my hope that the books would one day be transferred to the big screen, but it still came as a surprise when I was approached by a production company, keen to make this happen.

When you’ve worked in film and television as I have, you know it can take forever for a movie idea to become reality, and most will fall by the wayside, but it’s still tremedously exciting and the production people have a track record of getting things done. I’ve taken a few day’s holiday to think about how the film would work, and script a few key scenes, to help the process along.

Johnny Mackintosh lands on Mars

Posted in Battle for Earth, Book news, History, Science, Space with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2012 by keithmansfield

This morning at 6.31 am (British Summer Time), Johnny and Clara Mackintosh (and their Old English sheepdog, Bentley) made history: thanks to NASA and its Mars Curiosity rover, they became the first literary heroes to literally land on another world. And all broadcast live in Times Square – wow!

Johnny, Clara and Bentley, lowered to the Martian surface on the back of Curiosity (courtesy JPL)

The descent was scary (I wrote a piece about it for Bookzone4Boys) – even NASA had described it as “seven minutes of terror”. Eventually the Mars Science Laboratory landed by “skycrane” in Gale Crater, a perfect location to examine millions of years of Martian geology in one go. Onboard was a microchip onto which had been etched the names of some of the people of Earth, the very first ambassadors to land on another planet. And among those names were:

  • Johnny Mackintosh
  • Clara Mackintosh
  • Bentley Mackintosh

I confess I’m delighted to say “Keith Mansfield” was also included.

Some great fictional stories have been set on Mars, but the paper or celluloid that tells them remains firmly grounded here on our island Earth. John Carter may have disappointed in cinemas lately, but Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of “Barsoom” books are classics. A film that brought the red planet properly to life saw the now-Governator of California star as Doug Quaid in Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s 1990  masterpiece, Total Recall. Why anyone feels the need to remake a movie that was originally so stunning is a mystery, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen Len Wiseman’s remake.

As a child I grew up reading the late, great Ray Bradbury, whose thoughtful Martian Chronicles helped inspire the stories I’ve written. In the first two Johnny Mackintosh books there are mentions of Mars and Johnny and Clara always intend to go there, yet somehow they never quite get round to it. In Battle for Earth they finally make the trip (I won’t spoil it for future readers by saying whether or not they find Martians).

David Bowie famously sang “Is there life on Mars?” and in a fun Doctor Who tribute, Steven Moffat christened the first fictional human settlement “Bowie Base One”. I’ve written a few pieces on whether or not there’s life of some kind on the red planet over at my Keith Mansfield website.

We’ve always found Martian exploration difficult. On page 3 of Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth we read:

“Johnny and Clara had been planing their first ever visit to Mars, with Johnny telling his sister about all the probes scientists had sent to the red planet, but which had mysteriously failed to arrive.”

and then, a little later on page 61:

“Early space probes had taken intriguing but inconclusive photographs of the Martian surface, showing what were called the Pyramids of Elysium, next to what appeared to be a gigantic human face gazing upward. Johnny had always meant to visit and see for himself. For his part, Alf was curious to hear about the probes that had gone missing, so Johnny repeated the conversation he’d had with Clara, in a little more detail. Given the great expense of space exploration, the failure rate for Mars was unusually high. It wasn’t only Beagle 2 that had bitten the dust as it neared the planet. Over the years, around half the missions launched had failed for one reason or another.”

Of course the “giant face” is no more than an optical illusion, but sometimes you can’t let details like that get in the way of a good story. I first came across the pyramids through Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and these don’t only feature in Johnny Mackintosh – Total Recall also centred around the mysterious “pyramid mine”.

Nowadays we know a huge amount about this near neighbour, not least because there are actually three satellites in permanent orbit around the red planet. In the 1970s we sent the twin Viking landers to search for life (you can see a third in the Smithsonain Air and Space Museum in Washington DC). These tantalized, but also frustrated. Given the track record of previous Mars missions, this one played it relatively safe so the spacecraft set down in what proved rather dull areas – and that’s where they remained. The great thing about Curiosity is that it’s mobile.

Mars rover family portrait showing Sojourner, one of Spirit/Opportunity and then Curiosity (courtesy NASA)

We’ve come a long way in a short space of time with Mars rovers. The first was Sojourner, a little add on to the Pathfinder mission that landed in 1997. It was the size of a remote-controlled child’s toy and could only travel a few metres from the main landing station, getting up close and personal with a few interesting nearby rocks. Sojourner started the ball rolling, and the momentum was magnificently maintained by another pair of twin landers, the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which set down early in 2004.

Mars panorama using composite images from Opportunity, showing the rover’s own tyre tracks (courtesy NASA)

Larger, more independent and mobile, it was hoped these two would function for around 90 days. Spirit lasted fully five years, becoming immobile on 2009 and finally ceasing communication in 2010. Opportunity is still going! These two have shown that we are more than capable, not just of landing on Mars, but traversing its surface.

Curiosity being put through its paces on Earth (courtesy of JPL)

Curiosity is in a different league altogether. Weighing nearly a tonne, it’s around the size of a small car. It doesn’t move quite as fast, travelling at what’s almost literally a snail’s pace, but wherever it goes, Johnny, Clara and Bentley will go with it. I hope they and I are able to move across the surface of this faraway world for many years to come.

Buy the first book in the series, Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London.

Buy the third book in the series, Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth in which Johnny and Clara visit Mars.

Battle for Earth is Published!

Posted in Battle for Earth, Extracts with tags , , , , , , on September 1, 2011 by keithmansfield

Hurrah! Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth publishes today (Thursday 1st September, 2011). To celebrate, here’s my first ever attempt at a computer-based audio recording . Click the “play” symbol and you’ll get to hear me reading from the opening of the book. On the days after publication I’ll follow it up with three shorter extracts, so keep coming back for more.

Chapter 1, Part 1:

Chapter 1, Part 2 (added 2nd Sept 2011):

Chapter 1, Part 3 (added 3rd Sept 2011):

Chapter 1, Part 4 (added 4th Sept 2011):

Congratulations if you’ve listened all the way through to the end of the fourth clip. I hope it encourages you to read on. It’s always good to support your local bookshop but if you’d prefer to buy the book online, of course that’s great.

Influences on Johnny Mackintosh: Harry Potter

Posted in Battle for Earth, Harry Potter, Influences, Writers with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2011 by keithmansfield

Most of the entries in this series of things that have impacted on the Johnny Mackintosh books have been either science fiction or science based. I have though saved the biggest influence until last and it comes from another world, but one which many readers will know well: Jo Rowling’s spectacular creation, Harry Potter.

Some people might have heard the story of how I came to begin reading about the boy wizard from Godric’s Hollow, but for those who haven’t here goes. Of course as a publisher I’d heard about Harry and his creator JK Rowling, but I figured he was for kids and I had no interest whatsoever in books about witches and wizards and magic and broomsticks, even though the buzz about this remarkable creation wouldn’t go away.

I was working for a company called Addison-Wesley who were based in Boston, Massachusetts, so had been spending time over there. At the end of the week everyone from the office was out a party in a club (I think the House of Blues) and I would be heading back to the UK the next day. I was approached be someone looking a little sheepish who said she had something to tell me – that everyone in the office thought I was Harry Potter.

In hindsight it’s obvious. At the time, as you can see, I wore ridiculous round battered glasses, had black messed up hair, spoke with an English accent and (though I normally cover it under mounds of foundation) I do actually have a lightning-shaped scar on my forehead. Then there are all the mad things that seem to happen when I get angry, but that’s another story…

The next day I found and bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at Logan International Airport and read it on the flight home. Curiously, although I may have read all the Harry Potter books 20-40 times, I’ve still never read the Philosopher’s Stone version of book one where it all began. At that time Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was also published so I bought that at Heathrow Airport on the way home, and Prisoner of Azkaban soon followed. I loved this world that the woman who was to become my writing idol had created. It’s a tribute to her that she could even make things like magic and dragons and Quidditch sound interesting. But most of all it was what we call the voice of the books, and the cleverness of telling everything from Harry’s point of view, even when he got the wrong end of the stick.

It had never occurred to me to write the sort of books that children might want to read (as well as adults). I’d been trying to pen the ultimate cutting edge modern novel, a kind of cross between Iain Banks, Paul Auster, Tibor Fisher and Irvine Welsh (there’s a thought!) when one day, walking back from the writing class I’d been going to it hit me like a sledgehammer. Although I enjoyed reading authors like those four listed, there was nothing I loved reading more than Harry Potter. Just as it was books from my childhood that had left further, indelible marks on me. And that I felt that about Harry despite, not because of, the subject matter. How much better it might be if I could write the same sort of story, but replacing magic with science, and having aliens instead of goblins and house elves, and football instead of Quidditch, and pack it with fun gadgets and computers.

I began writing Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London. The other novels I’d tried to create had all been hard work – this was like reading my all-time favourite book, but it was up to me how it developed. It flowed so well. And, many twists and turns later, it’s remarkable that the third in my own series publishes tomorrow.

I have no doubt that Jo Rowling is the greatest writer and storyteller of her (my) generation and seriously underrated. I suspect a lot of it is due to jealousy of her success. Whenever I read other books aimed at the same market, often by lauded authors, I find myself picking holes in their writing and technique, but I can’t find fault with the writing behind Harry Potter. When I was first working on the Johnny Mackintosh stories I would actually read the Harry Potter books in a continuous loop to remind myself of the incredible voice I was trying to find. If a new book was coming out I might have to pause my own writing for a while so I could time it perfectly to finish, say, Goblet of Fire, the day before Order of Phoenix came out so I could carry straight on into the new book.

Sound a little obsessive? Maybe, but I am Harry Potter’s number one fan and don’t let anyone tell you different. In fact, here’s a Harry Potter Quiz I once wrote for the Sunday Telegraph magazine, just before The Deathly Hallows came out. They asked me to create something ungooglable. They also wanted me to include a fair amount of film stuff (as they didn’t realize fans cared about the last book being released, not the fifth film). Also, they wanted multiple choice and so I gave five answers to each question, but the final piece was printed with only four possibilities, so not all the questions work as intended. But I’m still proud of it. The STEWS setting was my idea too.

When I pitched the Johnny Mackintosh books to agents and publishers the 10 second sell I began with was “Harry Potter in space” (or sometimes “Harry Potter meets Star Wars in case they thought at this stage that Harry Potter alone hadn’t made enough money). People who know me will know that dreams are a big part of my life  and I suspect the same is probably true of JKR, because of the way she weaves Harry’s into the stories. I’ve done the same. The best bit about the Potter books is the way so many clues are hidden in plain sight. It’s wonderful trying to spot them – for instance, Chamber of Secrets is particularly packed full of clues that point to events into the far future, even including books six and seven. I’ve tried to do the same. Up until about draft 30 of Spirit of London (yes you read that right) I think my setting for Johnny was too similar to that of Harry’s, in that I had my own hero living with foster parents. Then, after a year of rewriting and plotting, I came up with the idea of Halader House and the children’s home in which my story begins.

I could wax lyrical about the boy who lived for days/weeks/months, but I’m sure you get the idea. Tomorrow my third book will be published and it’s a huge thank you to Jo Rowling for helping that happen. And now I might just pop out and see if I can buy a copy of and then start on a book I’ve still never read: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

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