Archive for the star blaze Category

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.

Johnny Mackintosh and Harry Potter down under

Posted in Harry Potter, reviews, star blaze with tags , , , , , on July 18, 2010 by keithmansfield

When you’re a writer you have a clear idea of your story in your own mind, but inevitably you wonder how much of that your readers will actually “get”. I’ve been so lucky with the Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze reviews so far, because everyone who’s looked at it seems to have picked out different elements that delighted me.

The latest is Danielle Mulholland, whose written a detailed and thoughtful piece for the Australian website Media-Culture Reviews. The way she summarizes the story at the beginning of her article shows how perfectly she’s grasped it, before going on to say:

“This is a well written book with wonderful descriptions, exciting new concepts for the young adult mind and set in a futuristic world where space travel and various gadgets are common place for Johnny Mackintosh, the protagonist and albeit unrecognised and unknown saviour of the world.”

Danielle stresses that anyone reading a book series should start with the first one, and of course that’s absolutely right. I worked very hard to make Star Blaze work as a standalone book and some reviewers have picked up on that, but it’s absolutely the case that someone’s enjoyment will be deeper if they follow the story from the beginning. A paragraph follows that:

“Having been compared to J K Rowling, Mansfield has certainly used her tried and true double life technique to justify his main character’s peculiarities. In his ‘normal’ life, Johnny has Mr Wilkins to give him grief like Harry Potter had the Dursleys making his life miserable. In his alternative life, Johnny confronts other enemies, similar to the Potter versus Voldemort saga.”

There are plenty who’d claim to be Jo Rowling’s biggest fan, but I’d put myself forward as a contender for the label, and may at least be her number one author fan. It was a great honour to be able to write the Sunday Telegraph’s Harry Potter quiz a couple of years back. Until I read the Potter books I’d only written for adults, but I fell in love with her story and knew I could be passionate about writing for a similar audience, in a way that wasn’t reflected so well in my more grown up scribblings.

I think to really love a book you’ve got to be able to empathize with its characters. That’s why I didn’t write Johnny Mackintosh as “A long time ago in a galaxy far away”. I’m delighted Danielle’s review has picked up on Johnny’s double life, and the problems he has at his children’s home, of course compounded by goings on at school. That’s because I want my younger readers to be able to put themselves in his shoes (or maybe trainers) so they can relate to half his life, while wishing the other half is something that may just happen to them. Personally, I never found myself longing to be a wizard, but as a child I always dreamt of being whisked off into space by aliens.

It goes without saying that any review of Johnny that also mentions the Harry Potter books is going number among my favourites. As a writer, the most impressive thing about Rowling is the architecture of her story, over all seven volumes. If you re-read her books (and I’m a great re-reader) you’ll be amazed at the clues planted in the first couple that point the reader all the way through to the end of the story, without giving too much away. It’s a balance I’ve tried to follow.

I’ve heard Rowling say her early drafts practically gave the whole story away and she had to rein in some of the narrative to keep us all guessing – I’m so glad she did. Another technique she used was to write everything from Harry’s point of view and that’s something I’ve followed for Johnny. There are plenty of times I’d like to describe what Clara’s doing when she goes off on her own, or what’s happening on the other side of the galaxy, but so far I’ve stuck rigidly to showing everything through Johnny’s eyes. The review ends by saying:

“Each chapter begins and ends rather dramatically. This technique keeps the young reader constantly engaged and eager to read more. It has all the ingredients sure to capture the young adult mind which is the target audience: betrayal, uncertainty, loyalty, courage, adventure and a thrilling ride into the unknown.”

It’s great to hear when Johnny Mackintosh has been well received outside of the UK. I hope Aussie readers will be pleased to discover that Johnny pays Sydney a visit in the third book in the series. It’s several years now since my own one and only trip down under, but I plan to race my young hero to see who’ll get there first.

More Reviews as The Empire Strikes Back

Posted in reviews, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2010 by keithmansfield

Another week and two more reviews. I’m still waiting for someone to say something bad about Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze, but so far so good.

It was really touching that The Bookbag didn’t want to read the second book because they enjoyed Johnny Mackintosh and he Spirit of London so much. The Book Zone (for Boys) said exactly the same thing. I might have said before that I pitched Johnny Mackintosh to Quercus, my publisher, as “Harry Potter meets Star Wars” so it was wonderful to read The Book Zone’s description of the dilemma as to whether or not to read the second book:

“Ever since reading (and being disappointed by) Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator I have often felt a little pessimistic before reading sequels to books I had thoroughly enjoyed – will the author manage to recreate the magic with their second book? … However, with Star Blaze my pessimism was totally unfounded – in the same way that The Empire Strikes Back improved on Star Wars: A New Hope, so too does Star Blaze improve on its predecessor, and that is praise indeed. And the parallels don’t end there – like Empire, Star Blaze is also a much darker book in places than the first in the series.”

Sometimes in my school talks I’ve polled the kids on their favourite Star Wars films and then re-enacted a key scene from The Empire Strikes Back, much my own favourite of the series, precisely because it’s so much darker. Real life isn’t often black and white and I prefer a level of ambiguity in the books and films I read and watch. I don’t like the goodies winning through too easily and, if they get there in the end, it shouldn’t have been straightforward – there need to have been some tough choices along the way. I had been thinking the third Johnny Mackintosh book needed to be a bit darker to reflect this, but maybe I’ve already got there if The Book Zone’s picked up on this.

There were some further gems in the review:

“There are so many things I loved about this book that I don’t really know how to start … the characters are very well developed…. all of them, not just Johnny … The world building is also outstanding … On top of this, there is also enough action to rival the glut of boy secret agent books we have seen in recent years, and the plot twists and turns so it is difficult to second guess exactly what will happen next.”

I’m not sure there’s any greater satisfaction for an author than when someone really gets your book, so a huge thanks to The Book Zone. The pressure’s on to make sure number three isn’t full of silly Ewoks like The Return of the Jedi!

Also this week, Justine Crow of the brilliant Crystal Palace indie bookshop The Bookseller Crow on the Hill gave Star Blaze a mention on p.10 of the latest Families London & SE Magazine :

“While we are on the subject of world domination, coming out this month is a new adventure for medium sized readers starring the space-buckling hero who thinks nothing of zooming off on his private spaceship, The Spirit of London, to save Earth, though clearly jetting round the galaxy is gonna play havoc with his GCSEs.”

It’s always been important to me that Johnny’s life is grounded here on Earth, facing lots of the same problems as his readers. I did cut a whole load of stuff out of Star Blaze that showed how Johnny learns the national curriculum, and am delighted Justine realizes those exams aren’t going to be plain sailing.

Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze is published

Posted in Book news, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , on January 7, 2010 by keithmansfield

I hope this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The second Johnny Mackintosh book has arrived. I’m very proud of Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze and enormously grateful to everyone who’s helped make this day possible. The cover copy reads:

Alien invaders have exploded a nearby star, turning it into a supernova, and only Johnny Mackintosh knows the Sun is next in line. Abandoning school and his football team, he and sister Clara travel to the galactic capital seeking help. Their mission stalls. After a decade missing, Johnny’s mysterious brother reappears, but what was he doing all those years away and whose side is he on?

So begins an epic adventure full of devious aliens intent on ruling the galaxy and killing Johnny along the way. Can he survive to save his brother, and planet Earth, in time?

Keith Mansfield’s explosive space adventure will wow fans of action stories and Star Wars.

If you want more of a taster, you can check out this site’s excerpts section which includes the opening page. The book’s published and should be in all good bookshops (snow permitting). Bookstores are having a precarious existence at the moment (witnessed by the demise of Borders), so it would be great if you popped into your local local to pick up a copy. If they don’t have stock, demand to know why not and ask them to order it. But, if you can’t wait, here are some links to buy online.

Star Blaze cover

12. Star Blaze

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2010 by keithmansfield

“Johnny knew … he had the best seat in the house to watch the greatest explosion in the history of the solar system.” p. 309

Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

First there was the big bang. By definition, nothing can match the initial outpouring of energy that we believe created the universe, but even today there are some pretty cataclysmic explosions. A supernova (the Star Blaze of the new book) happens when a large star reaches the end of its life. Stars fight a constant battle, the outward pressure from the nuclear reactions at their hearts counterbalancing the gravitational collapse due to all that matter being in one place. When the nuclear fuel runs out, there can be only one winner.

In that moment, the light from a single star outshines the rest of the galaxy that contains it. When you realize our own Milky Way contains at least 100 billion suns, we begin to understand just how bright and powerful a supernova really is. The image here is an artist’s vision of a supernova, based on Chandra X-Ray Telescope observations. Subramanian Chandrasekhar, who did more than anyone to enhance our understanding of stars and black holes, was one of the greatest scientists of last century. The telescope’s named after him, and I’m honoured that he called me his friend. At the start of Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze, I give the great man a name check.

It’s because of Chandra that we know our own Sun won’t, at some future stage, become a supernova, as its mass is less than the Chandrasekhar Limit. It’s also because of him that we know we can treat some supernovae as “standard candles”, which help us measure the scale of the universe. And it’s because of these yardsticks that we’ve recently discovered that the rate of expansion of the universe is speeding up rather than slowing down, accelerated by something called dark energy, the same force that powers the Spirit of London’s engines.

Although a supernova marks the death of a particular star, it’s part of the continual process of rebirth in the universe. None of us – not even Earth itself – could exist without the first stars exploding. We’re all made of different types of atoms, the basic elemental building blocks of the universe. The big bang only produced the two lightest elements, hydrogen and helium, with a minuscule amount of lithium (the next one up). All the other, heavier elements have had to be made since and the place they are created is in the heart of stars. Only when those stars die, becoming supernovae, can those atoms be spread across space and come together to form such things as people and planets. Carl Sagan first said, “We are all made of starstuff.”

Today marks the end of the Twelve Days of Johnny Mackintosh, but only because tomorrow sees a new birth.

11. Titan

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , on January 5, 2010 by keithmansfield

“He landed on a rocky outcrop which looked out across a vast … plane.” p. 292

Credit: NASA/JPL/Michael Carroll

Only two days of Johnny Mackintosh to go. I’ve jumped to much further on in the book, taking us to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and the most planet-like of all the solar system’s satellites. Apart from Earth, it’s the only other body we’ve found that has permanent liquid features on its surface – oceans, lakes and rivers. Only, on Titan, the surface liquid is thought to be complex hydrocarbons.

We know a reasonable amount about it because it’s the body furthest from Earth on which a spaceship has landed. On 14 January 2005, the Huygens probe (carried by its mother ship Cassini) descended through the moon’s thick orange atmosphere and touched down safely on Titan’s surface. The joint ESA/NASA/ASI mission (ASI is the Italian space agency) was an amazing feet, and there’s a rather odd video of the descent at the NASA site. It’s like watching the landing through a fish-eye lens and only really comes into its own towards the end of the movie, but worth sticking with it. It’s a shame that the probe wasn’t able to carry a more regular camera so everyone could have been captivated by extraordinary pictures from the surface of another world.

Titan’s unique as the only moon in the solar system with a notable atmosphere. It’s so thick that, with the lower gravity, humans could strap on wings and fly through the air, soaring over the plains like the one above. I started the Twelve Days of Johnny Mackintosh by saying the first place I’d visit, if I had my own spaceship, would be Saturn, but I’m sure I could take some time out from the majestic rings to have a bit of a play on the solar system’s second-largest moon.

It’s the final day of Johnny Mackintosh tomorrow and we’re going out with a bit of a bang.

8. Alnitak

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , on January 2, 2010 by keithmansfield

“Alnitak is a binary system that, from Earth, appears as the left-most star of Orion’s belt.” p.91

Credit: Digitized Sky Survey, ESA/ESO/NASA FITS Liberator; colour composite: Davide De Martin (Skyfactory)

For me, the star of the winter night sky is the constellation Orion. The three stars of its belt, coupled with the hunter’s sword, make it one of the most recognizable objects in the heavens. Alnitak, the leftmost star, is actually a binary system made up of two blue suns, one a supergiant and the other a large companion star. Both of these are known as “type O” by astronomers, meaning they emit large amounts of radiation and so produce especially strong stellar winds. Perhaps if we took yesterday’s solar sail there, it would fly especially well.

I like to imagine a sunset on a planet orbiting Alnitak, perhaps the beautiful blue blaze reflected in a calm ocean, a line leading all the way to the observers on the sea shore, with the many nearby nebulae appearing in the sky overhead.

Tomorrow we’re back to Earth with a vengeance – it’s off to New York!

7. Solar Sails

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2010 by keithmansfield

“scientists think you can fly a spaceship with the stellar wind, the particles a star gives off when it shines. If the sail’s big and light enough.” p. 83

Credit: Rick Sternbach, The Planetary Society

Happy New Year!

One of the biggest difficulties in spaceship propulsion is having to carry your fuel on board. The more mass your ship has, the more energy it needs to accelerate to faster and faster speeds. Scientists have come up with an ingenious solution – not carrying any fuel. Instead, a solar sailing ship has been proposed to surf the currents between the stars. When the Sun shines, it gives off a steady stream of subatomic particles called the stellar wind. Individually these are insignificant, but add up all their effects and they can become quite sizable.

When solar sails were first mooted, it was thought that this “radiation” pressure might be enough to fly a ship on its own. Nowadays, scientists calculate that we have to give a solar sailing ship a helping hand by firing lasers into the sail to push it along. The Planetary Society have been at the forefront of solar sail research and launched Cosmos 1 back in 2005 to demonstrate the theory. Sadly, a rocket failure meant the first ever space-bound sailing ship never reached orbit.

Undeterred, Lightsail is a new initiative from the same organization – they plan to launch the first prototype before the end of 2010 (and you can even send your name or a message into space with it). Lightsail 1 will be restricted to flights in Earth orbit, but ships 2 and 3 will be more ambitious.

I first came across the concept of solar sails in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s 1974 novel The Mote in God’s Eye. Nowadays, I remember little else about the book, but think it was trying to use the same “science in fiction” approach that I’ve attempted with Johnny Mackintosh. After you’ve all read Star Blaze and while you’re twiddling your thumbs waiting for me to finish the third instalment, you may want to take a look at it. Jerry Pournelle also wrote A Step Further Out, which was a manifesto for investing in space travel.

Tomorrow we’re taking one of those steps, travelling to a star in the constellation of Orion the Hunter.

6. The Battle of Trafalgar

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, History, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2009 by keithmansfield

“The British fleet would cut across the line of enemy ships … the name ‘Trafalgar’, the Spanish cape off which the battle would be fought, was sure to go down in history.” p. 73

Image:  Battle or Trafalgar, 21st October 1805 – Situation at 1pm (Nicholas Pocock, 1740-1821)

The twenty-first October, 1805 saw one of the landmark battles in naval history. At the moment of his greatest triumph, it also saw the death of Horatio Nelson. It’s the kind of thing people would find hard to believe if you were making a story up, but the truth can be as dramatic as fiction. I had a lovely day out at Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum making sure the details of the battle and Admiral Nelson were as accurate as possible.

Through history, it’s interesting to note the times when the great naval powers were different from the most powerful armies. I first remember it from my history lessons about the first Punic War. The Roman legions were masters on land; the Phoenicians from Carthage ruled the waves. There was an impasse until the Romans learned to sail and devised an ingenious means for turning a sea battle into something similar to land-based warfare. Later, in the second Punic War, the great Carthaginian general Hannibal took the fight to the Romans on land. He subjugated most of Italy, but hesitated when it came to sacking the great city of Rome and his moment was lost. When the Romans regrouped they showed Carthage no such mercy.

At the start of the nineteenth century, Napoleon was the master of continental Europe but Britain dominated the seas, following Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. In 1805 the French attempted an invasion of Britain via Ireland, but were defeated and forced back to Cadiz in southwest Spain. Villeneuve, the French admiral was reluctant to engage the British again, who blockaded him within the port. Finally, under orders from Napoleon, Villeneuve emerged, with a larger fleet of bigger, more powerful ships than Nelson’s. However, Nelson rewrote the rules of naval warfare, cutting through the combined French and Spanish lines rather than sailing parallel to them. While twenty-two of Villeneuve’s ships were taken or sunk, no British vessels were lost.

Tomorrow, there’s a picture of a completely different type of sailing ship.

5. Carina Nebula

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2009 by keithmansfield

“move the First Fleet to the Keyhole Nebula . . . and the Third Fleet behind the great star Carinae itself”, p.70

Credit: NASA, Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)

For day five of Johnny Mackintosh, I’m giving you an amazing photo from the Hubble Space Telescope. My hope is that it shows the enigmatic star, Eta Carinae and the Keyhole Nebula, all embedded within the wider Carina Nebula. Sadly I’m forced to confess that, unlike Johnny, I haven’t seen it close to so am not quite sure what’s meant to be where! The Hubble Heritage Team has a separate labelled map that looks a little different, so you might try to superimpose one over the other.

The Ancient Greeks called the stars “fixed” (while the word planet means “wanderer”), but the heavens aren’t always as unchanging as they believed. Eta Carinae is classed as a hypergiant, about the biggest star there is – around a hundred times bigger than our own Sun. Its behaviour is unusual for how quickly it changes .

We should be grateful that astronomers have left meticulous records of their observations for hundreds of years. In 1677, Edmund Halley (who the comet is named after) classified Eta Carinae as “fourth magnitude”. Fifty years on, astronomers were surprised to record it as much brighter than this – perhaps Halley had made a mistake?

Yet, over the next fifty years, the star dimmed back down to where Halley had categorized it. Then, in the early 1840s, Eta Carina flared suddenly to become the second brightest star in the sky after Sirius, despite being a thousand times further away – scientists wondered if they were watching a supernova, the great explosion when a star tears itself apart. Yet the star remains in place. It quickly faded and by the start of the twentieth century had become invisible to the naked eye.

Late in 1997 Eta Carinae brightened again, so we can now see it without the aid of telescopes. There are only a very few stars in all the Milky Way of comparable size and there’s a rule – the bigger the star, the faster it burns its fuel. This means there’s a chance this giant is near the very end of its life, so we think it is one of the best candidates for a supernova in our galaxy in the near future.

Tomorrow we’re travelling back in time, to the early nineteenth century. It’s one of my favourite sections of the book.

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