Friday, 27 September 2013

Book Covers

Tom Tivnan has been talking about Book Cover designs as important selling tools. If you want to read the full original article, here’s the link:

Publishers, book shop retailers and authors – including me – are interested in covers. I have jotted down a few notes regarding the psychology behind them and will keep them in mind when I next design a cover. For example, research suggests that human faces on a cover trigger a positive reaction. Pink is popular.  We know little girls like pink, but surely the adult woman outgrows pink?
Neuroscientist Barbara Sahakian, professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at Cambridge University believes  “It’s clear that our instant reaction to a book cover can be the difference between picking a book up and not picking it up.”  In other words, the cover is the first hook to a sale.

There are two sorts of response to a cover. Cold Cognitive Decisions (CCD) are rational ones: no emotional component and no conflicts between rewards and punishment. You might decide between two holiday guides books, or two manuals on how to pass your driving test in a CCD way. CCD take place in the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex, towards the top of the head.

OTOH, Hot Cognitive Decisions (HCD) involve an emotional response, perhaps a conflict between reward and punishment. “In terms of books, it means choosing much more on the basis of appearance,” says Sahakian. “It’s a risk because the reward may be great but so might the punishment. But once we have had an emotional response to a book jacket, it can be hard to resist.” HCD are made in the orbital frontal cortex, right behind the orbit of the eyes, and this emphasises the visual basis of many such decisions. It has close links with the amygdala, the most emotional and primitive part of the brain. “A disturbing or arresting image such as a human face can trigger a powerful fight/flight response in the amygdala.” 
But if the amygdala senses danger, why would we go then go ahead and buy the book? The fact that we do suggests we like a bit of controlled, risk-free excitement. It is why we watch horror films, and read thrillers.
A HC reaction to a book cover may get a customer to pick a book up, but then “cognitive dissonance” can kick in. The blurb and  the opening pages must confirm the initial “hot” response to the cover, or the book goes back on the shelf.

Online research found that 79% of readers said the cover of a book played a decisive role in their decision to purchase. Book cover designers claim it’s never going to be an exact science.

 The novel Before I Go to Sleep has received various covers world-wide. Chck out the link to see some of them:
and decide which would make you pick up and buy the book.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Downton and other TV Blues

The Black Bull at Matfen
Like 9.5 million other people, I welcomed the return of Downton Abbey at the weekend, but I have to say it had better pull its socks up because the first episode was very close to boring. The most exciting thing to happen was O'Brian disappearing into the night leaving only two notes behind on the mantelpiece. Not that she's a loss, really. I never liked her, and she is the one who spoilt the Granthams' last chance of producing an heir.

But the programme didn't sparkle. Perhaps it is hard to sparkle when there are widows and relatives in black all over the house and neighbourhood. Lord Grantham is being absurdly dictatorial and instead of giving stick-thin Mary a shake or two, he continually urges everyone to let her be; let her grieve in peace. Silly man.

New Tricks is not what it once was, either. I cannot warm to Nicholas Lyndhurst, and James Bolam was right when he complained some time ago that the story lines were getting decidedly stodgy. I miss Alun Armstrong. Dennis Lawson is OK but he has little to work with scriptwise or colleague-wise. Lets hope Tamzin Outhwaite can inject a bit of life into the show.

And then there's Doc Martin. I loved this series and have watched the old series more than once. But this time the stories have lost their originality, and Louisa has become a nag. The focus could well switch to Ruth Ellingham if they're not careful. Penhale is still a delight in well meaning stupidity, and Bert and Al are as good as ever. Even Morwenna raises a smile. But I wish Martin would give Louisa a taste of his usual medicine sometime soon. Very soon.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Snakes in the grass?

Glorious sunshine for the second day running -
and it is September!

We rarely go out on a weekend these days. Now that we're at leisure seven days a week, it is so much better to go out visiting places during the week when people are at work and kids are at school. The difference we notice during the school holidays is enormous!
But we did drive up to Kielder Forest on Saturday, thinking it might be the last fine day of the year. As we drove north and west, the sunshine got fainter and the clouds grew bigger, and by the time we arrived, it was a warm, grey day. The big advantage was few people, and Tim scampered along the trails in great delight, sniffing here, there and everywhere. He even went down to the water and plodged, but we thought he probably shouldn't as it is a reservoir and we all drink the water in it. As usual, there was plenty and the water was being released on a slow and steady spume. They do say that Kielder is the wettest place in England. A good place to build a reservoir, then.

Tim has a talent for the dramatic. As we turned for home, he bounced into the undergrowth and must have stood on a dead thistle, for he yelped, sat down and held out his injured paw. I couldn't find anything - no cuts, no thorns, no stones wedged - but while I was  examining his paw - difficult at the best of times, and not easy when said paw is covered in wet grit and mud - he flopped down on his side in the long grass and moaned. For a moment or two I wondered if an adder had bitten him, but had seen no sign of anything whipping away into the grass. He got up and limped  for a while, complaining bitterly, but his paw didn't swell, and he didn't look sick. Then suddenly an interesting smell caught his attention, and he forgot to limp. within  fifty yards he was trotting along normally. Sighs of relief all round.

Saturday, 21 September 2013


Reading this piece, published in the Guardian recently, is a warning blast across the bows of would -be writers:

It seems writing the book is not enough - you have to publicise it as well. That means attending launches, doing readings, possibly opening supermarkets for all I know - all in the name of getting readers to a) buy and b) read your book. I have the strangest feeling that to anyone but the writer, a) is the more important aspect. How many you sell determines the next contract.

Today I heard from a friend who has been asked to write a short story in the style of her latest book and have it published for free in a national newspaper. Bravely, she turned them down when they refused to pay any fee or donate to a charity of her choice, and went on to sell the story to another publication. Why is it that something taking hours of work should be snapped up and swallowed whole, for free? Are writers so desperate for any kind of publication that they will settle for such deals? The newspaper would no doubt argue that the exposure would attract many readers - but can they prove that? It may do the newspaper or magazine some good, because the story would be worth reading - but there's no guarantee that the reward will come via a bookshop sale for the author.

People say that  free book on Amazon acts as a taster and lets people know if they like the writer's style. I'm sure that's true, but again, stories take time to write and surely the author should be paid for that work? A book can be on sale on Amazon for under a pound (or a couple of dollars) and if people can't shell out that amount for something that took weeks to create, then words fail me.

(The picture is a winter picture of leafless trees and a scatter of snow across the grass - a taste of things to come)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Twitter and Downton

Sometimes I feel things are getting out of hand. I have 134 followers on Twitter, yet I see streams of posts from people I  don't know, and have no interest in. Consequently I whizz down the lists looking for the icon of those I do know and am interested in. If it goes on like this, using Twitter will soon be a complete waste of time.

Yahoo gets no better. I'm on two Facebook groups now, and think I'd do well to come off the yahoo groups altogether. I'm almost at the end of the most recent edit on To Capture a Queen and I've been thinking it is time to re-vamp the blog pages that display my books. Surely I could make them more interesting than they are? I suppose this is where being an ex-copywriter or a journalist pays dividends and ex-library managers fall by the wayside. I have been exploring new ways of promoting my books but have not found anything startling except hordes of people like myself! Everyone, but everyone is writing a book these days!

At home, I'm starting the Big Clean, as we expect guests from the other side of the world in a few days time. One of them dislikes dogs, ("I prefer my animals rare and on a plate") and the other is allergic to them, so there are going to be happy times ahead. No doubt Tim and I will be relegated to the proverbial doghouse, but hey! he lives here! So, the Hoover (or should I now say the Dyson?) is creeping out of the cupboard, the Dettol impregnated wipes are standing by waiting to be opened, and the lavender scented spray is on the bookcase in my study. This is where a house the size of Highclere Castle comes in handy, for it must contain rooms where no dog has ever got his nose over the threshold.

I mention Highclere because I understand the new series of Downton is about ready to roll across our TV screens. I wonder if it will be as gripping as the previous episodes? Actually, some of them were not gripping. I could have dispensed with the long-drawn out scenes of Bates in prison looking like no woman's romantic dream. Instead it would have been entertaining to watch Sybil getting to grips with life as the chauffeur's wife in Dublin. Lady Mary, of course, will be seeking another spouse, but now her blue-eyed husband is dead (darn - I've forgotten his name!) who will inherit Downton? The chauffeur's child, I suppose. so who he marries next is going to be of great interest to the Crawley family. The simplest thing would be if he marries Lady Mary! They're not related by blood, it possible?

Monday, 16 September 2013

Autumn and the young Montalbano

Many people seem to be leaving Yahoo and setting up groups on Facebook. I've had a look at the FB page for one of my groups and no doubt I'll get used to it as I once got used to Yahoo, though at the moment I don't see how to upload anything to anyone. It will be interesting to see what Yahoo does in response to the general voting with feet that is taking place.

Autumn is setting in here. There's no doubt about it. Our central heating has tripped in for a couple of mornings now, and the leaves are starting to turn. Acknowledging the seasonal change, I've booked our usual autumn short break away on the west coast of Scotland late in October. We've been to Crinan before and the hotel is right on the edge of the sea with wonderful views and a great seafood restaurant. It will be Tim's first trip away, but I'm sure he'll cope. Dogs are allowed everywhere in the hotel but the dining room.
Meal times might well be the only problem, as I'm not sure how he'll react to being left while we eat.

Autumn tv is good at the moment. There are plenty of good things to look forward to, and one of the best is The Young Montalbano. This is a spin off of the first series with Lucca Zingaretti as the charismatic Inspector Montalbano. It is a real joy - slow-paced but with intriguing stories
and enjoyable excursions into the comedy and tragedy of Scicilian life. There
are many aged actors playing smaller parts with  gusto and integrity. For those who speak Italian the series must be a joy, and even for those of us who rely on sub-titles, the voices and the rhythm and speed of the dialogue is great fun.

The scenery makes me want to go to Scicily, particularly Ragusa, where the cathedral  perches on its hill like a wedding cake on its stand. There's great attention to food, since Montalbano, in both incarnations, is a foodie, and he visits people who live in ancient farmhouses, pig pens and crumbling mansions with wonderful courtyards behind blank facades. Above all, the allure is the slowly unfolding of characters and the minor happenings of everyday life add moments of pathos and comedy.

The younger Montalbano is Michele Riondino, and he has captured many of Zingaretti's mannerisms - including his thoughtful grunt on being given information. He's taken up swimming in the Med, which always opened the programme, and he has found his beautiful house on the beach. Fazio has appeared, so now we have to meet Livia, his long time girlfriend. All the actors have changed, but the characters are the same and it is delightful to see how the friendships were formed in the years before the Zingaretti series. I'll be watching, and hoping for more than a series of six.

The same cannot be said for What Remains, which aired it final episode on Sunday. The programme descended into stupidity with almost every occupant of the house having murdered someone. If you haven't watched it, don't bother catching up on it.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Yahoo troubles and Tim's first look at the sea

Failed to communicate yesterday - apologies all round. Several things cropped up -- I spent most of the day either walking the dog or  preparing a three course dinner for guests that evening. DH spent the day hoovering and dusting to ensure all was shipshape. Writing didn't get a look in, but we did have a splendid evening with a first course of salmon mousse in crisp pastry cups, duck breast with a redcurrant sauce followed by apple and blackberry crumble with a dollop of clotted cream on top. The blackberries have been amazingly good this year - in fact all the fruit has - the apples came courtesy of our neighbour whose trees bore so many they gave some away, and the blackberries I've foraged when I've been out with Tim. I rarely see anyone else gathering them, and I think it's almost an insult to nature to allow such beautiful fruit to rot away unused.

It seems Yahoo Groups are causing major frustration worldwide. Without any warning I saw they changed the way their groups function and in doing so have made them virtually useless. It isn't a simple front page change, but the whole system. Things don't work. I wonder why they have done it? Critique group members in particular are tearing their hair out in handfuls, and unless Yahoo gets its act together quickly, people will stop using them.

if you look at the last entry, you'll see Tim running happily towards the waves coming in. (The sea was like a mill pond that day, so we had no fears for him.) When he realised the sea was coming to him, he wasn't so keen, and when it almost reached his toes, he turned tail and ran.

He had to be coaxed back towards the water, and still wasn't sure. You want me to go near THAT?
So we walked along the beach towards  the port of Blyth, just visible as a dirty smudge on the picture., and he loved running on the sand. He loved meeting all the other dogs out for walk on the beach, too and there was ample space for them all to tear around like lunatics.
A couple of miles along the beach beside the sea  and his confidence improved. He dared to go near the water again. This time he got his front paws wet, but I'm not sure his back paws ever felt the chill of the North Sea. We'll save that for another day!

On some of the pics, if you click and expand them, you'll see a ghost foot, or a ghost tail - Tim was never still, and the camera in my phone has picked up the movement!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Stuck my nose out of bed this morning and hastily stuck it back in again. Cold! The air was cold, and so was my nose. Autumn, it seems, has arrived. Yet by midday, I was hot while walking the dog. Now, as I write this an hour later, it threatens to rain and it might be a good afternoon for working. We had a wonderful morning walk at the beach this week. Tim's first exposure to the sea....he trotted toward it, full of curiosity, and then......(see later this week!)

I have plucked up my courage and sent off two partials submissions on Capture a Queen, aka Matho's story, in the last month. Now comes the nail biting time of sitting and waiting for a response. Meanwhile, I have gone back to work on my next Viking story Blood Feud. Suitably exciting title, don't you think? It will pick up the character Oli from Far After Gold, when he has reached sixteen, and tell his story.  So far it is exciting, but I have to keep stopping and think how characters are going to get out of the difficulties I have given them. Usually I'm stuck for a day or two, and then the idea pops into my head while I'm asleep, or nearly asleep. Sometimes I forget it by the time I've woken up next morning, and Yes, I know I should keep a notepad and write the idea down, but really, that's just too much fuss when dh would be grumbling about the light being switched on, and the dog would wake up and come nosing around - and his nose is even colder than mine was this morning! If the idea is good, it will come again, or I'll remember it half way though the day.

So far I have seven books published, which surprises me sometimes. They all sell, some better than others, and the one with the most sex sells better than the rest, so I know what I have to do. They are all listed on the My Titles page on this blog. All historical, but for Shadows, which is set in contemporary France.

As I anticipated, it is now sheeting down. Good thing I didn't do any washing today!

Saturday, 7 September 2013


Not sure if I should take this as an omen, but yesterday I planned on sending off a partial submission to an agency in London. Spent the morning preparing the cover letter, the synopsis and printing out the required pages, addressed the envelopes and noted the postcode matched my initials. Nice one, I thought. Maybe this time, all will go well.

Went next door to do some ironing before going to the post office. Managed to get several items done while defending the to-be-ironed-pile from Tim's repeated raids. After the sixth chase across the landing and halfway down the stairs, I yelled at him and he trotted mournfully away to lie down in a quiet corner. 'It won't be long,' I promised him. 'We'll go for your walk SOON.'

Went back to ironing, and five minutes  later became aware of ripping sounds.Walked to the door, looked into the adjacent bedroom and there was Tim, on the bed, which is forbidden, his jaws clamped around my newly done partial submission. Wah! I saw red. Shrieked at him, yanked it from his sharp white teeth and he shot off the bed like an Exocet missile. The outer envelope was ripped to shreds, but thankfully there was no damage to the other stuff barring a few faint teeth marks on the back page of the submission.

I flung the remains on the highest shelf in my study - the envelope had been on the four and a half foot high bookcase when he found it - and stormed downstairs and took him out for a walk. (I remembered to switch off the iron first, I assure you!) I walked him on the longest walk he's had so far, in the rain, by the river, and for the first few minutes I was so annoyed and so tired (a lethal combination) I almost cried. No one would have noticed tears in all that rain, but the further I walked the less tragic it all seemed. His tearing it to shreds wasn't really an omen. I could soon replace the outer envelope. In fact, when I took two out of the folder - one for the SAE - a third fell out onto my desk. Looking back, it's almost as if the fates knew what was about to happen.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Taken Dead or Alive

"David Brawn, publisher for estates at HarperCollins, said: "Agatha Christie was—and still is—the world’s bestselling novelist. The stories she wrote and the characters she created have withstood the test of time and been successful on film, television, audio, stage, and online.
 But as we approach what would have been Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday, I am delighted beyond measure that Hercule Poirot will live again in the pages of a book, and take readers back to where it all started."

I can't help but feel that if Agatha Christie were still alive, she would not be pleased to have another author steal her character Hercule Poirot and make him the centre of a new story. I didn't like the spin off books using Jane Austen's characters. I haven't read them all. The P D James Death Comes to Pemberley I found boring, but it is said to be a best seller. I suppose James has many fans who bought it, but perhaps like me they were not in love with the book. The tale with a modern girl stepping through a cupboard and swopping places with Elizabeth Bennet was amusing and perhaps more permissible because the central character was the modern girl and Austen's characters only bit players.

It can only be because the fans want more of the characters. They may have thought that a vain hope until modern authors saw a way to make money. Fan fiction probably has a lot to do with it, too. Then the film makers jump on board, and of course, people are happy, money is made. I don't deny that. But is it right that characters are hijacked like this? What if someone began writing about Ian Rankin's character, Rebus? Would Rankin stand and silently applaud? I doubt it. Would Dorothy Dunnett's fans be happy if someone began writing novels featuring Francis and Phillippa? Is there any author writing today who would like someone else to pitch in and take their character?
Again, I doubt it, So how can it be morally right to swoop in and take a character just because the author is dead?

Monday, 2 September 2013


Does anyone enjoy promoting their own books? I'll admit to a certain fascination with it, but it can soon become a drag. But it seems that without  some solid PR, then book sales slide and dwindle to very low figures.  There is a school of thought which says have something up for free on Amazon all the time - and think of it as a PR item, or maybe a loss leader. Right now, after the way Yahoo has gone through its groups with a dose of salts, the idea is unappealing to say the least.

I aim to write for my blog three times a week, and more often than not I keep to it but I rarely talk about my own work and still less do I promote it. I have a separate page for My Published Titles, but I suspect few people ever go look at it. I have a Facebook  page, so my posts go up there on a regular basis plus any other comments I make direct to Facebook. I'm on Twitter, but I'm not a natural Tweeter and find it a struggle to be amusing and interesting in 140 characters. Some people seem to do it so easily! But at least I'm there. I think those people who are articulate and can think and speak at the same time are the winners at PR, but I suppose, like many other things, it's partially a learned skill.

I'm thinking of writing a short story and putting it up for free. I read an American blog where the author aims to write 1,000 words a day, therefore a new book every three months. Allow for editing etc and that means 2 new titles for sale a year. Well, I can manage the 1,000 a day (most days) but then I want to edit and edit ... I must be one of those authors afraid to let the book go.

In case you're wondering, the pic is a close up of heather!

Lost dog!

Sunday 8 th May Slow start to a sunny day with a promise of high temperatures. Bill took Perla out at 7.30 as he has done all this month ...