Wednesday 27 July 2011

Anatomy of a Cover (or an idiot trying to use photoshop...)

I've been lucky so far. A talented friend did the cover for my short story collection and a professional cover designer did the jacket for my novel (with input from the wonderful Al Guthrie whose help was much appreciated).

I have a crime short story I wrote for a competition. I rather like it and there doesn't seem to be a huge market for shorts, so I thought it might be time to put a few single stories on kindle to generate some more interest in the novel. It turns out that the writing is the easy bit!

version 1

First off, I need an image. No problem - there are lots on google, aren't there? Well there are millions to search through and many have no known owners that I can find. A lot are tied down by copyright and creative commons licensing and it's such a minefield, I don't know where to start. I don't want to pay monthly fees for image downloads and I'm not very good at sifting through them all to find what I want.

So given that my short story is set in Liverpool, I thought I'd go and take my own photos. Hubby has a posh digital SLR and happens to work near Pier Head, so I sent him off on a mission to take me lots of photos of the Liver Birds, Pier Head, the Mersey Ferry and terminal etc. He came back with half a dozen Liver Birds.

Next I need software. I have an old copy of Photoshop that I bought some time ago (you can buy previous versions - mine is CS3 - quite cheaply when new versions are released). So I chucked the best photo in, cropped it a bit, resized it and added a title and author. I even managed to sample the colour of the Liver Bird and use that as the text colour. The result was version 1 - but the Liver Bird is so small, it will be invisible at thumbnail size (need to remember that anything shown on Amazon or used as a signature in forum posts etc will be *really* small, so the cover needs to be sharp with a lot of contrast and big type).

version 2
So I tried again. This time I cropped more of the image so the Liver Bird is bigger. This is an improvement, I think, although you don't get a sense of the sheer size of the building. Now you can clearly see the colour of the text matches the Liver Bird. I'm not sure what else I want to add to this image yet - might go and take some more photos of the ferry and I'm not sure where on earth I can find a royalty-free image of a rocket-propelled grenade (rpg) from as unfortunately I don't know anyone who can assist me there! Version 1 would be better to add secondary images to, but then the whole thing might look too complicated.

version 3
Version 3 and I've cropped the image so that the Liver Bird dominates the space. A different look again.

So what's next? Well I'm not fussed on the font. It needs to be something that's obviously not romancy-chick-lit, all the more so as the title itself doesn't say "crime" (it's a song title for those of you who don't know). I've exhausted the fonts within photoshop so I need to go hunt around the net for inspiration (and fonts seem as complicated as images...)

Sort the font, maybe add a couple of smaller images if I can work out how to do it without it looking tackily amateur. Format the story and upload it and I'm away!

Monday 25 July 2011

Anti-Social Networking

Much as I hate to admit it, I'm middle-aged. In the 45-54 age bracket on forms (turning 40 was a breeze, but that 45-54 was a killer). I've worked in law-enforcement for all of my career and in IT for a large chunk of it. So back in the very early 1990s - if not the late 1980s - I had an email account. Back then, I don't recall the internet existing outside of academia, but there were a very few ISPs around that offered email accounts if you bought a large and clunky Amstrad dial-up modem card that you stuck in a slot in your pc and plugged your telephone line into. Then there was a choice of basically CIX and one or two others whose names I forget. Not only did I get an email address, with a nice off-line reader (necessary to avoid tying up the phone lines while reading/writing emails), but also a set of community forums where you could chat to other account holders in various groups of threads - much like a non-pictorial version of today's Facebook.

For anyone who is old enough and/or nerdy enough to remember all of this, I was and I mostly used to haunt the threads where we discussed equally nerdy topics such as Star Wars. I recall a mass meet-up at somebody's house in Birmingham, where we watched lots of classic tv (this is before dvds and internet tv, remember - most of us didn't even have a video player), ate lots of food and generally had a good time. There must have been 50 or so people there (it was  a big house in Solihull), including an undercover journalist who promptly divulged the lot in the next day's national papers - claiming infringement of copyrights and public performances. 

But it shows the power of social networking 20 years ago. There were no other quick forms of communication - mobile phones had shoulder-bags to carry the battery and were strictly for the rich and businesses. Private telephones were still ruled by British Telecom and an expensive way to spend time. Stamps and letters still ruled the masses, but it's not the ideal way to communicate, especially with people you've never met in real life.

I moved on from CIX as the internet gradually grew and lost touch with a lot of the great guys (and girls) I met back then. And now we are spoiled for choice with Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter and now Google+ coming on line (I don't get Google - cloud computing? I mean what if it's raining?). I may be 47, but I love being able to keep in touch with old friends and make so many new ones all over the world, especially when they are people I choose to communicate and interact with, by virtue of the things we have in common - shared interests, hobbies or values.

Is it anti-social to be sat at a computer rather than talking to real people in real-time? Where are these real people? I live in a small village and have a family. I don't really have any friends who live close enough to drop in on - and these days, it's not really done, is it? These days you never call unannounced "just for a chat and a drink" like we used to. That's sad. But then I have all these people at my fingertips. They might be online and all over the world - but they are real people too and I know many of them would be there for me if I needed them. I've seen how they respond to others in crisis, whether that's financial, earthquake, fire or other disaster.

And friends like that are hard to find anywhere.

Thursday 14 July 2011

When Too Much Is (Still) Not Enough

Today I'm guest-blogging over at Steve Lockley's website. He has a different guest every day at the moment, and I think this month it's all women too. So if you want to know what us girls think about stuff, go check it out ...

Monday 11 July 2011

To Plot or Not

I often get involved in online discussions (Facebook, Authonomy, UK Kindle Users Forum, wherever) about the merits of plotting a novel. Or not, as the case may be. I read posts where people detail the level at which they plan their writing – in notes, in synopses, on index cards, post-it notes, wallpaper above the desk. They outline their characters: What would Joe eat for breakfast? What sandwich does Sally prefer? If Wizard Beerbelly went to the Auld Tavern, what would he order to drink?

I am so jealous. I would love to be that organised – so in control of what I am doing. Or would I? I once wrote that one of my characters was scared. I had absolutely no idea why he was scared, but I knew it was important. So I wrote it in. Ten chapters or so later, I realised what it was he was scared of, and everything fell into place. I became aware of it when the character did. Lazy plotting or inspired genius? Maybe I won’t answer that one! But the point I am making is that I can’t actually write if I know too far in advance what is going to happen. I might have an idea of a scene coming up, or that somebody will discover something important, but generally the plot is unfolding as the characters live it. If I know what is going to happen, then the magic is gone and it all becomes a chore.

This doesn’t make life easy. I have written myself into more corners than I can remember and so I have lots of pieces of work on the go:
  • Young adult contemporary fantasy – Edge of Dreams – book 1 of a trilogy. No elves, wizards, demons or vampires. It’s finished but requires a light edit. This nearly got accepted by a one of the big guys once upon a time, but got bounced at an acquisitions meeting. It was then e-published by a small press a few years ago, but I now have the rights back and want to put it up on kindle.
  • Another YA fantasy – Flashpoint – book 2 of the trilogy which is nearly completed.
  • An as-yet-untitled follow-on novel to my kindled thriller Hamelin’s Child. About 18,000 words in.
  • Blue Flamingo – another dark thriller with a touch more of the supernatural and a touch less of the sex (so far, anyway). I’ve only written 3 chapters of this, despite some nagging by people who’ve read it, and have no idea of where it is going.
  • An adult fantasy Blood Ties, which I started writing about 20 years ago, under the mentoring of an editor from Orion. Of course, she left the company, I moved up North, real life happened etc etc. It’s 70,000 words done and is pretty damn good, but I just can’t summon up any enthusiasm to finish it!

So what should I do? I have ideas for other projects, snippets of scenes and characters, but I feel compelled to tidy up some of my loose ends before I unravel some more. And yet in the rest of my life I am structured and planned to the point of OCD. I make lists of my lists, I tick things off, I finish everything I start and on deadline. Why can’t I apply this mentality to my writing? I need to be orderly, organised, finish all these outstanding bits and pieces and not leave my poor characters in a limbo lasting decades! But I don't want to lose the sheer excitement of writing-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, of discovering the story with my characters, having them whisper in my ear and tell me things they've just found out. So do I go with my thriller branding or go back to my fantasy roots? Both ways I can gain – either way I will lose something.

All suggestions welcome!

Sunday 3 July 2011

Sample Sunday: Beyond Rescue

Headlights were speeding towards them, looming out of the fog like the eyes of a huge monster. Yellow and unblinking, mesmerising, fixing their prey with a paralysing stare as the beast roared in anger, coming from nowhere out of the night. 

The car swerved, wheels locked on February ice as Mark leaned across from the passenger seat and instinctively tried to grab the steering wheel from Jenny’s rigid grip. But it was too late. Much too late. The hedges were towering giants on either side of the country lane and there was nowhere else to go.
        And in the fraction of a second before impact, Mark looked up and saw the lorry driver’s face with crystal clarity, frozen in a mask of absolute terror as the night exploded in a chaos of glass and fire.
Awake or asleep? Alive or dead?
        Images changing, blurring, reforming. Flick to the next one. No – too far. Back. Back!
        Wake up!
        Can’t. Gone too far. Can’t wake up! Help me!
The pain was gone in seconds, sliding away from him like a blanket discarded in sleep. Only he wasn’t in bed – was he? Was this all just an elaborate dream? A nightmare of fire and twisted metal? 
        No, it was too real. He could feel nothing, yet there was an overwhelming  stench of petrol and the angry crackle of flames.

No direction. Only a sense of urgency. Something important he has to do.
        What is it? Where am I?
        No time to think. Got to go. Find Jenny.

Mark sat up slowly. There was wet grass underneath him – he’d obviously been thrown some distance from the crash. Across the field the car was entwined with the lorry in an obscene embrace; a lover’s kiss of death.
        He got to his feet as the lorry’s engine exploded a rocket of glass and metal up into the night sky. The noise was deafening.
        The whole of the nearside of the car was mangled beyond recognition, embedded in the wheel arch of the lorry. Mark went round to the driver’s side and wrenched the door open, not feeling the flames licking at his hands. Jenny was slumped over the steering wheel, blood on her face and her blonde hair already singed. Mark unclasped the seatbelt.
        Hands underneath her shoulders, he dragged the girl out, barely pausing to glance at the body next to her in the passenger seat. Or rather what was left of the body. Then he lifted his wife gently in his arms – not stopping to wonder that he couldn’t feel the weight of her – and carried her away from the wreckage. She was still breathing.
        Mark put her down on the grass by the gate.

It’s done. Time to go. No place here any more.
        I love you, Jenny.

In the distance, there was the wail of a siren.