Tag Archives: drones

Thank you, reader from Oz

Very pleased with this review on http://www.darkmatterzine.com/

A review by Nalini Haynes.

Dan Langley is your typical 16-year-old geek except for his affinity with code. He goes down the rabbit hole to get an adrenaline rush from hacking, escalating his exploits on a dare from Angel, another hacker he only met online. Before he knows it, Dan has hacked the US military network and might be complicit in the theft of a strike drone.

From script kiddies to the dark net, Counter Strike to Starcraft II, Tracy Alexander knows her stuff. Like in other hacking movies (Wargames, Hackers) the mechanics of hacking is glossed over. The current era of wikileaks and US extradition with threats of Guatanamo Bay-style treatment of prisoners is prevalent with mentions of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange among others.

Hacked should be compulsory reading for all teenage computer geeks, many adult computer geeks and all parents of teenage geeks. Because one book speaking the language trumps lectures from a “dinosaur” every time. When my son was at school, script kiddies regularly dumped the school printers’ ink, which was hilarious until you need to print an assignment and all of the printers are out of ink. [My son knew if he was one of those script kiddies and he was caught, he was banned from the computer for the rest of high school. >:-]

I’m giving Hacked five stars for voice, plot, pacing, relevance and currency. Read it. Pass it on. Make sure it’s in all the libraries in all the schools. Kgo.

A review of my school visit – Tracy Alexander Visits Hans Price Academy

During the literacy celebrations in the lead up to World Book Day Tracy Alexander, author of HACKED, visited Hans Price Academy and talked to the whole of year seven about literature, creative writing and being an author as well as holding a question and answer session and reading an extract from her brilliant book.

The students were gripped from start to finish and bursting with questions for Tracy about everything from writing habits and getting a book published to computer hacking and just exactly how a professional author would know about “aimbots” in computer games?

It was amazing to see an author at school and Tracy Alexander was really interesting and really funny. I already like to write but it inspired me to think about writing a book! Amelia

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 It was amazing and I liked talking to her about what inspired her to write a book. I asked who inspired her and she said that she gets inspiration from her children. After school that day I started writing my own book. Becca


I found Tracy Alexander’s visit very interesting, especially talking about military drones and hacking. I asked whether there was going to be a sequel to HACKED and there is and I’m excited about it. I suggested another book and Tracy Alexander said it sounded like a great idea and maybe I should write it myself. We learnt what makes up a good story and found out what happens in HACKED without spoiling the ending so we can read it and find out ourselves! Alistair

 I enjoyed finding out how authors get their inspiration and learnt that it is good to plan out a story, not just rush into writing it. I’d love more authors to visit the school! Ethanial

I knew from the second Tracy Alexander started talking that it was going to be really exciting! We learnt so much and Tracy Alexander was really lovely. I bought HACKED and had it signed and I can’t wait to read it and then write a review which I can send to Tracy Alexander for her website. Lottie

Writing The Villain

My next book – ALIAS – is the story of Angel, the shadowy character from HACKED. My publisher, Piccadilly Press,  likes it – huge relief. That means there’s some downtime while I wait for the copyedit. I need it.

It was a tricky book to write because the protagonist is usually the hero, whereas mine was the villain. Or maybe not. ALIAS is written in the first person, so I had to be in Angels’ head and of course that meant I had to believe the same things. A terrible thing happens to Angel, and all the people that you think would help . . . the military, the government, the police, your MP . . . they all do nothing. So Angel does something. Does that make Angel a villain? Or an activist?

ALIAS is set in the here and now, starting off in Buckingham and migrating to Leeds. I used real events to influence the journey. Angel looks back at the Civil Rights Movement where peaceful protest was met with violence, at the ANC’s struggle in South Africa and at the sufragettes. In the present day Angel follows the march of the US Predator drones across the skies of Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan . . . pilotless weapons incinerating people based on grainy images and unreliable intelligence. Right and wrong aren’t opposites. They merge. What’s right for the drone pilot, is wrong for the villagers massacred without a trial, a judge, a voice. The ‘war on terror’ is on the side of right unless you’re a farmer, midwife, baker caught in the crosshairs because a ‘known insurgent’ is nearby. Wrong place, wrong time and all that.

Step back from Angel’s story and it’s clear. Bad things happen to good people – that’s the way life is. Get on with it. But get close, get inside and the world is a different place. In Angel’s world, horror will win out unless the victims rise up against the enemy. The enemy is American foreign policy.

No one likes to think that violence is the answer, but as Angel would say, “They started it.”

Can’t move for drones

When I had the idea – or rather when James the hacker had the idea – that my character might hack a drone, I had a very rough picture of what a drone was. A thing that flew around snooping, or a toy for a well-off kid. It didn’t take much research to realise that drones are crop-sprayers, wildlife trackers and, much more menacingly, killers. Quite how they kill is fairly brutal, as is the number they accidentally kill. The writers’ cogs started to whir.

The Avon Gorge – from a quadcopter

While I was writing, drones appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme  every week – flying over football matches, nearly colliding with aeroplanes, delivering Amazon parcels, annoying the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority). In Alabama, you can get a licence to hunt drones – if they dare to buzz over your land.  Gosh!

After I’d delivered the book – not by drone – and the proofs had been handed back, the new Homeland series started with (SPOILER) a drone strike on a wedding party in Pakistan. I mention a similar event in my book. Did we both happen upon the same idea? No. It’s a well-documented true story, that we both adapted.

The Suspension Bridge plus Bristol balloon

I’ve been visiting secondary schools with my new book, Hacked, talking about hacking and drones and hard decisions. Dan, my hacker, appears at first to be making poor choices, but – hopefully – the readers’ sympathies are firmly with him. Whether there is any sympathy with the drone pilots, pulling the trigger from thousands of miles away, I don’t know. They hardly feature. What I do know, when I describe the way the unmanned aerial vehicles roam, armed with Hellfire missiles, is that all the kids in the audience that like gaming (most therefore) think it sounds brilliant. Understandable, because it mirrors their own experiences. The pilots – despite the label – don’t leave the ground. They sit looking at a heads-up display full of data with a controller at the ready, coffee by their side I expect.

I’ve changed the way I talk about the ‘drone wars’ because of the reaction from the audience. Leaving any shred of an idea that a drone operator would be a cool job would make me very uncomfortable.

If you’re interested in reading a huge article:


Dan, my hacker, could have just as easily hacked the International Space Station, or his local cinema. But I didn’t want to trample on Mars and Dan isn’t that fussed about the whole film thing. That’s the trouble with characters, they do their own thing.

HACKED tour – starts tomorrow . . .

sweetsI’m running my first HACKED event tomorrow at Redland Green School and I have a secret weapon. Flying Saucers. It was the closest I could get to drones. There’s another link, actually. Gary McKinnon was nearly extradited to America because he hacked the US Military looking for evidence of UFOs. His experience got me thinking. What would the US government do to a boy who hacked a Predator drone carrying Hellfire missiles? The answer’s in the book.