Monday, 2 March 2009

Back to writing

I am currently re-drafting the beginning of my next book and it has occurred to me how much of this self-publishing lark has nothing to do with the simple act of getting your thoughts down on paper. Or a screen. Or a digital dictaphone.

Assembling these often random ideas into a coherent story also takes a lot of time but I quite enjoy doing that - drafting and re-drafting until the story has a direction that and sense of purpose that makes it almost write itself.

Once I have that all important orientation in the narrative, the story assumes a kind of critical mass and I get carried away by it until it's finished. It always needs more polishing once I've reached The End but by then I can see the whole story, something no amount of planning can bring out.

So that's the writing part, the easy bit.

The self-publishing manuals are also telling me to do a whole lot of other things. Some of them I find easy, others I don't. And if I am to be a writer who actually writes - instead of being only a publisher - I've decided I'm going to have to ignore their advice and do what I like.

No change there then, some of you might think.

My point is that the To Do list for a self-publisher is endless and I can't do all of it myself. So I choose what I can and like doing and don't do what I can't or dislike.

I haven't had much success so far at getting reviews for my books. In fact, if just one review qualifies as a successful then I suppose I've been unsuccessful - so far.

"So far" is the balm that restores everyone's optimism. Who can tell what ripples i have created over the interweb? What out of the corners has my message reached? How long will it take for the ripples to bounce back to me as I sit like a spider at the centre of my far-reaching tentacles, mixing my metaphors and touching people's lives everywhere, sometimes without them even knowing it?

Unfortunately, publicity is critical and I would be delighted if my ham-fisted efforts resulted in some. Publicity is what publishing is all about but if newsapers and magazines have a policy of no reviews for self-published work then I have to look for otehr avenues for promotion. And thise 'ere blog is one of them.

I don't have the time to chase up media types with short attention spans. I don't have the time to tout my books around bookshops. And I am not a particularly good salesman, either.

I know conventional publishing wisdom dictates that I should have a book launching party for The Wormton Lamb but I have no idea of how to organise one.

Why bother about these negative character traits, though? I ought to be capitalising on my strengths, not worrying about my weaknesses.

So that's why I am writing again, and writing with a clear conscience. It doesn't matter that I haven't built up a media blitz yet. The long dark evenings are ideal for a little introspective fantasising. The next part of The Soul Trader Trilogy is taking shape.

Bob Blackman - never knowing overhyped - that's me.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, 16 February 2009

Bob Blackman beats slush pile

Here I am doing it!

Labels: ,

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Giving something back to the reader

Here is Mark George with his very own copy of The Wormton Lamb. That's my reflection in the window behind him with the camera and we are on the 0734 commuter service from Liskeard to Plymouth.

Why's he got a copy when it won't be out until Easter? Mark was one of the very first people to read The Wormton Lamb. Readers are very important for writers and now that I have copies of The Wormton Lamb to distribute to people, the first one has gone to Mark George.

Much of The Wormton Lamb was worked out on the commuter trains from Liskeard to Plymouth. Although I'm a confirmed piston-head I enjoy commuting by train in the morning. I'd already begun scribbling down my ideas in old diaries during the journey and it wasn't long after that I started to string together some sentences in Microsoft Word and printed them off so that I could correct them on the train. Whenever the train was late, out would come the early drafts.

On more than one occasion, this provoked comments from my fellow would-be passengers pn the platform at Devonport station, something along the lines of, "What do you think you're doing? Writing a book?"

When I explained that -- funnily enough -- I was indeed writing a book, some of my fellow would-be passengers expressed an interest in reading it. I think they were being polite and probably were a bit bored. However, after passing round some of my sheets, they wanted to see some more and, eventually, two of my fellow commuters got to see the vast majority of The Wormton Lamb. One of them was Mark George.

I encourage my readers to make comments and provide feedback and what I received proved invaluable. For instance, Mark would pencil comments in the margin. Sometimes he would say "I didn't understand this" or "I didn't see the point in that". At other times, he would say "I really like this!" or "This made me laugh."

This kind of feedback must have had a significant influence on my development as a writer. Eventually, my regular readers saw all of The Wormton Lamb apart from the very end. I did it on purpose. At a critical point in the narrative, I handed out a questionnaire and asked them what they thought was going to happen next. I wanted to see what sort of promise I had made to my readers and, using the results of this little questionnaire, I reworked The Wormton Lamb and made sure, as far as I could, that the ending delivered what I'd set them up to expect.

Unfortunately, both my readers stopped using the trains before I've finished the complete story. I had sort of kept in touch with Mark George over the intervening years. He had moved away to work and, although his family stayed at home in Roche, he was "up the line."

I e-mailed him to keep him abreast of developments with my writing but imagine my surprise when one day, a few weeks ago, I saw him grinning at me on the train. It was just like old times. He'd come back down West to work -- which is just as well because he has something like 15 children. It might be less but they seem to get about a lot.

The timing couldn't have been better.

And today I was able to give him the finished product, a signed and numbered copy of The Wormton Lamb. It's a small token of my appreciation for all the help he gave me in the creative process. He had a quick flick through and recognised some of the names but the last time Mark read anything of my work was three years ago.

Mark George is also a published author. He actually beat me to it for his dissertation for his Ph.D. came out a couple of years ago, although I like to think that I might have outsold him by now.

Anyway, he's now got a copy of my book with my thanks.

I hope he likes the ending.

What I want to do before Christmas, is find my other reader. I know he lived in St Germans and maybe next weekend I shall make enquiries a post office and turn up on his doorstep with something he probably isn't expecting but I hope that he'll like.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, 1 December 2008

Death of a lap top

My trusty old laptop is no longer so trusty. After switching on and the appearance of all the menus, neither the wireless mouse and touch pad work. It doesn't respond to any of the keys on the keyboard, eitehr. I think it's something to do with the McAfee Security system. There is a limited period of time when the mouse does work erratically and I can click on some of the icons but as soon as the McAfee symbol appears everything grinds to a halt.

This Acer laptop is coming up to 3 years old but, as you can see, I have used it so much in that time that I've worn away the silver finish on the leading edge. I added numerous pieces of software to read to allow me to build my own website and create my own videos. I also added a PCMCIA card and a wireless mouse and keyboard. But about this time last year it was apparent that I had found the limits of what this machine could do so I replaced it with my desktop. It was still useful to have the laptop around that, in addition to not processing videos images or not producing PDF documents of a sufficiently high quality that Lightning Source could use them, my laptop became more and more erratic.

After months of nervous and irrational behaviour, my laptop has become frozen with terrified inactivity. It's withdrawn into its shell and it's looking progressively less likely that I'll ever be able to communicate with it again, let alone anything sensible out of it.

I've used it as a backup but now it seems that I can only pull out one or two menus before the McAfee logo kicks in and the mouse and keyboard become inoperative. The files still exist but I just can't get them.

Now, before you say that I should've backed everything up to a separate server, I must point out that I had indeed backed up the most important files already. Inevitably, I was only part way through that process so I would still like to access some of these files on the old laptop but it is not such a loss if I can't get to them ever again. The only thing of any significance than I'd like to hack back into is the address list in Microsoft Outlook. This was forming up as an embryonic mailing list that I could use in the (cue ironic satire) pre-publicity media blitz for The Wormton Lamb

I still think of it as my new laptop. It's the only laptop I've ever had and will probably be the only one having found their capabilities so restrictive. In the same way that I treat my old cars, I would have liked to have kept this old thing going, almost indefinitely. But that's not so easy with It and it's looking like it's shortly become just another bit of WEEE - Waster Electronic and Electrical Equipment.

For the time being, I will keep it by me. A future opportunity may arise when it can be revived from the silicon equivalent of cryogenic storage.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Two big boxes of The Wormton Lamb

I know that I keep going on about it but I'm still very excited about the look of The Wormton Lamb. A large batch from the printer has arrived here at Anarchadia Publishing and soon I can start sending them out.

Although two boxes full may not sound much, when I look at them I can't help but think about what it must be like to have a whole garage full. That would have been the result if I'd had a conventional print run. This is the first batch of pre-publication copies of The Wormton Lamb and I'm going to have to think very carefully about to whom I send them.

Several obvious recipients are the national libraries for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Every book that has an ISBN must by law have a copy lodged with each of these national libraries. It seems like an expensive business at the time that is a consequence of having an ISBN. Personally, I think the benefits of having an ISBN outweigh the costs of sending out library copies but I know some self published authors who haven't bothered. Somehow they get by without having any cataloguing reference like an ISBN. Once you've got one, any bookshop can find your book and order it. To me, it seems a small price to pay.

Around the time of the launch date, I'll order another couple of cartons of The Wormton Lamb. These will be the collectable, numbered, pre-release copies that will one day be worth a fortune. I did a similar thing with The Horsepower Whisperer. Each book was numbered and signed and I made up a stamp, which, when used with a red ink pad, marked them out as one of a numbered edition of 40.

The stamp was carved out of the end of an old Pritt stick tube and was a vague representation of the Cornish cross at Perran Sands. Wheel head crosses are not uncommon in Cornwall but the one at Perran Sands is rotated slightly by about 45° so that it appears to be not so much across as a spoked wheel. I've adopted this as the Anarchadia logo and am convinced that there must have been an interesting story as to why this cross was marked out in this way but this tale is now lost in the mists of time and all we can do now is wonder about it.

My fictitious saint, St Bendix, who appears in my Anarchadian fantasy novels, is the patron saint of engineers and is also known as the Great Smith. I will cross such as this would be just ornament set up to commemorate St Bendix if he had ever existed so I find myself wondering if there really was a proto-engineer who lived at the same time as St Piran (after whom Perranporth was named). Or maybe somebody like St Bendix came along a bit later and invented the dune buggy during the Dark Ages.

The next time I visit this cross -- for it fascinates me -- I will examine it even more closely for any hieroglyphs or references to Dune buggies and sand rails.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, 24 November 2008

I've approved the proof for The Wormton Lamb

I had a pleasant surprise on Friday when I return from work. The proof for The Wormton Lamb had arrived. Here is, resplendent in its new cover design. I've been checking it through over the weekend and on Sunday night was delighted to be able to send Lightning Source a message accepting this proof.

I had a couple of e-mails from Lightning Source today confirming the dispatch of two separate orders of copies of The Wormton Lamb. A carton of 20 will soon be arriving at my door as well as a solitary copy but I must ordered for some reason months ago. It serves to remind me how long this process has taken and what a milestone I have reached.

All I have to do is publicise it so -- tell your friends!

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Another go at submitting revised files

My earlier blog about submitting files to Lightning Source prompted a comment from none other than Aaron Shepard, doyen of self publishing authors and the man behind Aiming at Amazon. Aaron has tried just about every alternative when it comes to producing books over the Internet and is a regular contributor to the self-publishing and print on demand discussion groups on Yahoo. If it hadn't been for his book I would still be metaphorically banging the rocks together and going "Ook!" instead of already having the first part of the Soul Trader Trilogy available on Amazon. I was so impressed with Aiming at Amazon that I gave it 5 stars when I reviewed it on Amazon. You don't believe me, click on link.

Aaron must be cruising the Internet, righting wrongs and fighting corrupted files wherever he can find them for he found my blog entry soon after it was published and left a comment.

His advice was to stop messing about with Open Office Writer and to use Adobe Acrobat to generate a PDF for The Horsepower Whisperer.

I didn't do this earlier simply because I haven't loaded Adobe Acrobat on to my new PC. I had used Open Office Writer to successfully upload my textblock files before. On that occasion there had been no problem about the images of my maps, which seem to be causing the problem this time around. Anyway, having used Adobe Acrobat to make a new PDF, I noticed that the file size was much smaller than before. Using Adobe Acrobat has produced a PDF of 1.7 MB, whereas before it was 9.7 MB.

This made me wonder if the file size was too big to upload via the Lightning Source website. The last time I tried this I received an IO failure message and when I queried this with Lightning Source I was told that my files were too big and that I would have to re-submit them on a CD.

So tonight I tried uploading via the Lightning Source website again. Over several goes, the upload got as far as 62% on one attempt at 2% on another. I think there is more to it than just a question of file size. It looks as if I will have to resubmit by posting a CD once again.

On a brighter note, I have been able to order the proof for The Wormton Lamb via my customer area on the Lightning Source website so that's working alright.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Corrupted file at Lightning Source

Last night, I checked into the customer area on the Lightning Source website to check the status of my uploaded files for The Horsepower Whisperer and The Wormton Lamb. The proof was ready for The Wormton Lamb but today I had a message from my customer rep to tell me that the text file for The Horsepower Whisperer was corrupted on pages 5 and 6. These pages are the ones that feature the maps at the beginning of my books. They consist of layered drawings and if any part of the pdf was likely to become corrupt this was it. However, all my files at home look okay so I can only assume that the CD that went to Lightning Source in the states was damaged in some way.

I would've uploaded a new file for The Horsepower Whisperer and ordered a proof for The Wormton Lamb tonight but the Lightning Source website is being maintained at the moment.

I regenerated a text file pdf for The Horsepower Whisperer just to make sure there were no problems but notice something odd in the process. Each text block must be divisible by four. It's something to do with Lightning Source's printing processes. Checking my new pdf for The Horsepower Whisperer in Adobe Reader for my text block file came to 423 pages whereas before it was 424

To cut a long story short, I noticed that the Open Office Writer file featured a jump in page numbers close to the end of the block. It seemed to be related to a changing header format. Deleting any page breaks removed the jump in page numbers but also caused the header format to flow from the text right to the end of the document where I really wanted completely blank pages without any header or footer.

In the end, I got around this problem by adding a new page to the Open Office Writer file. When I exported this, the resulting pdf had the correct page count.

I have an open mind about what causes this. The Open Office Writer software that I am now using is a later version than the ones I used to generate my original textblock files. I believe this is causing formatting changes and I'm optimistic that if I was generating a textblock from scratch again, then none of these problems would arise. It does show, though, that generating the pdf for uploading onto Lightning Source's system is the trickiest interface of all between what I'm doing and what the printer needs.

Tomorrow, when the Lightning Source site is available again after maintenance, I'll have another go at uploading my text block. This didn't work before because I was uploading a revised text block as well as the new cover file. With just the text block to upload, there shouldn't be any problems with file size.

Needless to say, both for cover files that Becky produced have been accepted without any problems.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Excitement mounts

As you can probably imagine, I am very excited by the prospect of seeing my new covers in real life.

Lightning Source got back to me today to confirm my instructions. They just wanted to check that I really wanted to revise the files for The Horsepower Whisperer. Those for The Wormton Lamb we obviously a resubmission but as The Horsepower Whisperer was already in production they wanted to make sure that I wanted to revise it before they leapt into action.

I'm glad they did this. I find there's never any harm in checking and I can only assume that they have found this out as well.

Now that they have my confirmation, I can already see from my customer account area on their website that The Wormton Lamb as its new cover and a proof copy is already available for ordering. The Horsepower Whisperer, which has new files that both the text block and the front cover, is still in pre-media.

The immediate timetable works out something like this. I should be able to order proofs of the revised books early next week so might have received them by next weekend. Assuming that they come up to standard -- and I'm really hope they do after all the hard work that is being put into them -- I will then approve the new proofs. New copies of The Horsepower Whisperer will then be available immediately. The Wormton Lamb is due for release at Easter but before then I need to order a batch of books for pre-release publicity purposes. I will also need to do a few fiddly things like upload new cover images on Amazon.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Titles in revision

Both The Horsepower Whisperer and The Wormton Lamb are now in revision at Lightning Source. I can enter my account area to monitor progress and once the revisions have been accepted I will order proofs. It's a case of checking every day now. Once that stage is complete, I should get proofs in a couple of working days.

In the meantime, I've been working on the next part of the Soul Trader trilogy. The title for this is The Grey Ones. This is also the title of a short story by J B Priestley, which I really enjoyed. The story is completely different but if anyone challenges me about it I'll say I'm paying "an homage" to it.

I probably mentioned this before, but I raved about this story on a car club forum a few years ago. Everyone was griping about the growing police state and the sense of big brother watching you and slowly grinding our spirits down. I recommended J B Priestley's story to those in need and many years later at a meeting in Edinburgh I met an Australian who was visiting this country. He had been one of those gripers. And he'd taken up my recommendation, bought the Fontana collection of ghost stories in which it had appeared (why ghosts? it was more horror) and hadn't enjoyed it.

The lesson for me wa sthat this story offered no hope. It was agreat idea but it didn't point the way forward. That's the target I've set myself - a positive resolution, or at least the promise of one with the concluding part of the trilogy.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Uploading the new cover for The Wormton Lamb

I've had a few problems with uploading the new cover for The Wormton Lamb. First of all I couldn't log into the Lightning Source website. It seems MacAfee didn't recognise it as a secure site and I had to create an exception report to gain entry into the customer area with my log in name and password. As I'd used the Lightning Source site before when uploading files for both The Horsepower Whisperer and The Wormton Lamb so had no qualms about this.

When it came to uploading the pdf file for the new cover, the process was interrupted three times. Each repeat attempt completed less of the process, I started at 17% and ended up at 2%. A pop up box gave the following message.

"An error has occurred processing your upload: An IO error occurred. Please try again or contact technical support for assistance."

So, I'll have to do that tomorrow. This is the first time I've tried uploading a new file with my new computer.

The last time I uploaded a revision I got charged twice but my customer rep sorted that out. I hope I don't get charged twice again.

Labels: , ,

Friday, 24 October 2008

New book cover for The Wormton Lamb

The Wormton Lamb now looks like this. I came to the conclusion that the original illustration was dominated by the cars in the foreground. Now the lamb is much more prominent and the cars look more dynamic. As well as the 2CV kicking up its heels you can just make out Hob on Nosferatu riding dangerously close to its cloven heels. I have abandoned the use of marker pens - although I'll continue to use them for website drawings - and after flirting briefly with oils and acrylic inks have adopted gouache as my medium. I'd like to experiment with oils more but oils take so long to dry. It's a whole technique, too, but the paint feels fantastic on the brush and I really like the smell (although not enough to dream of eating a tube of cadmium yellow, as owner of my mates did once.)

Beck said she liked the graph qualities of the clouds in my original drawing and after a great deal of trial and error I am reasonably content with them. I think they make the Giant Lamb look much bigger. She has her head in the clouds and they give depth to the drawing.

It uses the same template as for The Horsepower Whisperer so subsequent books will look similar but without slavish conformity. I want a clear brand identity and I reckon I've got one that has scope to develop as I produce new books.

I'm going to have a break from painting for a bit but one thing I've learnt is that I really must keep my hand in. It's like my guitar. Or using one of my old cars or riding my motorbike. I don't have time to do it as much as I'd like but a little and often keeps everything from seizing up.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Book covers

It's been a long journey bit the new designs for my book covers are nearly ready. I can't show them to you yet. This isn't any attempt at showmanship - it's just that I don't have them in format that Blogger will take as an upload.

The Horsepower Whisperer was pretty good out of the box. Beck and I were pretty happy with that one but Beck suggested breaking up the cloudless sky with some, well, clouds. She said she liked the original sky that I'd created because it was more graphic. So I had a go at some clouds and found that clouds are hard.

I can't remember drawing or painting clouds realistically before. I feel I've come on some way since the time when I drew the first illustration of The Wormton Lamb. To cut along story short i messed up the original painting with sub-standuard clouds. Fortunately, I subsequent attempt produced clouds that looked more cloudy and Beck, who has the technology, was able to splice my new clouds behind the dancing lamb. It's amazing what she can do with her IT.

So now the cover illustration for The Wormton Lamb exists only in cyber space.

Beck and I now have a few minor tweaks to make. It's something you can get dangerously anal about she said. I never considered the dangers of being anal before but have to concede that this could be a possibility. If I am to live with these cover designs then I have to be entirely happy with them and not see improvements every time I look at them. I know nobody else will look at them so critically and that most people thought the originals looked okay. But I want them to be as good a s I can possibly get them and not have these niggling little faults for a long time from now. I suppose i want future compliant covers, even though I can feel my standards are constantly on the rise.

Once the minor tweaks have been made, Beck'll produce some jpg files for uploading onto Amazon but I'll previe wthem here first. Watch this space.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Red Snapper - a professional makes a difference

I had a good graphic design session with Rebecca Morton at Red Snapper last night. You'll have heard of Beck before on this blog. Dammit - you'll have eaten yoghurt from the pots she designed for Rachel's Organic Yoghurt and seen her work on the Milk Marque lorries. Here she is in action, pointing out something important I hadn't spotted. Of course, as soon as she'd shown me what was wrong it was obvious. She also showed me the amazing things the full verison of Photoshop can do. Well, some of them anyway.

"Look how easily I can get rid of the blemishes," she said.

"What blemishes?" I replied. I'd been really careful not to get oily fingerprints on my work but there they were. And then there they were - gone. In the hands of an expert like Beck the results were frankly mind blowing - and so quick to make!

We've experimented with a couple of ideas but the favourite so far seems to be a refined version of that mugged together design that I cooked up. It's odd but anything with a larger picture seems to lose out in terms of impact. The white space around them seems to draw you into each illustration. That's how it works for me, anyway.

Beck said that we should be careful not to create any problems for the future. There needed to be sufficient space for longer titles and each cover illustration should follow the outline of a pyramid, which fortunately I seemed to be doing subconsciously. She really liked the new pictures - which pleased me no end since I really value her opinion - and said how much more coherent the pictures were. She neatly side-stepped my earlier problems with overlaying text on the illustration by simply separating them out.

We worked up cover versions(!) for both The Horsepower Whisperer and The Wormton Lamb and they looked really good. But Beck's only just getting started. She's going to work on them some more. I've asked to her to come up with some more suggestions. Go faster stripes are nice but not essential. It shouldn't take her long and I can't wait! All that patience I had when creating the illustrations has evaporated. entirely.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

New cover illustrations

Here's the new cover illustrations for The Horsepower Whisperer. As with any picture on this blog or the one known as Engine Punk if you click on the image you'll see a large image. I was happy enough with the earlier cover design for some time but as soon as I'd revamped my website it looked a little staid. I realized I could do better and ever since then my publishing adventure has been on hold while I embarked on a remembering-how-to-paint trip. I donned blinkers and stopped doing many of the other things I enjoy like writing and welding in my determination to add as much pizzazz as I could to my covers.

It became an obsession and I entered that dark tunnel where you strive for perfection knowing that it is really an impossible dream. I never really know what keeps me going during these times for there are no travelling companions but at last I have emerged, blinking in the sunlight, reconciled to the lack of perfection but reasonably happy with the result.

It’s been a trip down memory lane, too. The last time I’d used gouache or water colour was a t school. In fits and starts, I stumbled across the techniques I’d left behind nearly 30 years ago.

In the process of producing this picture for The Wormton Lamb, my whole house has become my studio. It looks a mess with materials, papers, PCs, scanners, printers, motorcycle exhaust awaiting fitment and piles of books everywhere. But really it’s a creative flux. All this jumbled up stuff has been doing my suede in for weeks but the juxtaposition of unrelated elements – like BMW zorsts and old ammunition boxes full of marker pens – sets my ideas off, like sprinting mad March hares. I have experienced a creativity explosion that is not over yet. I was determined not to stop until the illustrations for both books were finished.

I am now close to having a tidy up. The explosion has create a lot of fall out.

And fluff, too. Where does it all come from?

The next stage in this adventure will be to experiment with different layouts. Here's one I mugged up quickly using the old cover illustration for the The Horsepower Whisperer. I still have other ideas to try out but this one seems to work for me. One thing with which I've struggled is how the text and pictures fit together. The titles are different sizes and the visual focus or action is always in a different place. It's very easy to enter an endless loop of adjusting and re-adjusting elements. What colour should the stripes be? Should the text be black or a matching or complimentary colour?

But for now I've reached the "Sod it" stage. It's over the Beck at Red Snapper for her professional input.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Colour taste and cover versions

The new cover designs for The Horsepower Whisperer and The Wormton Lamb are coming on. Although I would have preferred to have finished them both by now, I'm enjoying myself. I haven't indulged in painting with oils or gouache since I was at Falmouth School of Art. I'd forgotten how much I like the smell of turpentine and the feeling of the paint on the brush.

I've forgotten a lot about technique but the most striking thing of all to come back to me is that profound sense of peace when I'm focussed on painting. It's taken a little while to return. I was hurrying too much to start with, treating the materials as if I was familiar with them and in control. I've been using sprit markers for year but they seem a bit unsubtle for illustrations, although fine for renderings of cars or motorbikes.

Another thing that's come back to me is how awful green tastes. If I'm doing a wash, inevitably I lick my paintbrush if it's too wet or carries too much colour. I now associate all colours with a bad taste in the mouth and green is my least favourite. The taste of green has changed. The watercolour taste of green used to be the taste that the smell of a chemical toilet suggested. Nowadays it's another nasty taste, no better or worse, just different. It's probably better for me. I've never heard of anyone dying from suspected green poisoning but having lasted this long I don't want to succumb from to it until my work is better known. Posthumous fame doesn't appeal.

Licking your paintbrush just isn't a problem with oils. I don't like the smell of turps that much.

As a child I used to wonder why they didn't make paints taste pleasant. I've concluded it's deliberate. At primary school there was a craze for raspberry or strawberry scented rubbers and they proved surprisingly appetising. Of course, somebody overindulged. There's always one. It wasn't me. Raspberry and strawberry flavoured rubbers were banned immediately but I can't rememeber if, at around the same time, paint boxes became unpalatte-able(!).

I've just re-read that last paragraph and realised that perhaps I should have used the term eraser instead of rubber but I'll leave it as it is.

Many years ago, in an episode of The Magic Roundabout, Brian the Snail found a paintbox and mistook them for sweets. He ate the lot and spent the whole episode feeling very ill. I still wonder what his snail trail must have looked like afterwards. A rainbow?

Whilst re-exploring the sensory associations of colour, I tried alternative layouts for my cover designs. I wanted my book cover template to match the look of my website. It was the re-vamped website that prompted this cove re-design in the first place. In the end I've gone for something similar to the originals.

I've made the go faster stripes smaller but kept the chequer strip. The drawings will now be portrait format because in landscape they create a lot of dead space. They will also be drawn out and painted on A3 sized paper and scanned in on my sparkly new A3 scanner. This should make them look far slicker. And my name will be at the top rather than the title because I am the brand instead of the book.

I've also given a lot more thought to how later titles will look. Actually, I hadn't considered this before. I hope to avoid any awkward formatting problems with a suitably flexible layout that anticipates their cover illustrations and the size of their titles.

I still haven't settle on the medium for the illustrations yet. So far I've dabbled in marker pens, pastels (or chalks to our American cousins), oils, water colour, gouache, colouring pencils and acrylic inks. These last weeks have been multi-media experiences but I wouldn't say that entirely comfortable with any of them. Marker pens are probably my favourite medium but the more illustrations that I do, as opposed to renerings, the more I feel drawn to gouache. With a bit of Acrylic ink squirted in for good measure.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, 1 September 2008

Another milestone - my first return

My local bookshop in Liskeard is the only one so far to take The Horsepower Whisperer on a "sale or return" basis. This week they rang me to say, to say, to say - well, they want to give me my book back. It hasn't sold and the owner is selling the bookshop.

I went in on Saturday and picked it up. The book shop in Liskeard is called The Book Shop so you can't really miss it and it does exactly what it says on the shop sign. Except that they hadn't any luck with The Horsepower Whisperer.

Funnily enough, people have told me that they'd seen my book on sale in The Book Shop but they obviously hadn't bought it.

The shopkeepers, though, had done a very good job of looking after it for it looked like new and wasn't at all shop soiled.

The Book Shop is changing hands since the lease is up and the current owner reckons she's too close to retiring age to renew it. So I'll introduce myself to the new owner when the time is right and show them The Wormton Lamb when that's ready. With their new covers both books should prove irresistible.

But for now I have a collector's item in the form of my first return. It's a very early version of The Horsepower Whisperer, without the red stripe down the spine and with the original cover illustration depicting Nick Hob with rather red raw hands. I realised that he looked like he had dermatitis and re-drew him with more flesh coloured hands.

So I'll sign this very early copy of The Horsepower Whisperer and pass it on to some deserving soul who will be able to sell it in 10 years and pay off their mortgage. All those people who looked but didn't buy have missed an investment opportunity.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Real life follows fiction - again!

It's happening again. First there was the giant lamb born to one of Caroline's ewe. In fact, they're Jacob's sheep but belong to Caroline. This means that as sheep they are usually quite modestly sized.

Then there's been all the soul-destroying influences we've been subjected to. We can't do anything fun because it damages the environment. We have to think about everything before we do it, audit our actions and ensure they stand up to scrutiny. Whose scrutiny? Why the Conformorians of course! Did you ever doubt they didn't really exist?

And now here's Monika-Sandra, a third instance of real life following my fiction (although I suspect the Conformorians have been around for years before I ever wrote about them). You know the character called Heidi in The Horsepower Whisperer had a pet bat? A friend of mine called Heidi has rescued this little person. Unfortunately Monika-Sandra the Pipestrelle bat had a broken wing and died a few days after these pictures were taken. Julian was found off the coast of Anarchadia waterlogged and close to drowning but is still with his fictional keeper.

I'm a bit spooked. What else will happen in real life that has
already happened in my books? I'm going to have to really careful what I write from now on.

From now on, the weather in my stories will be brilliantly good. All I have to do is get cracking with The Grey Ones - as soon as I've finished doing my book covers.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Under the weather

I've been a bit under the weather recently. I don't think it was the rain at the Calstock Bike Show because I was in the tents and enjoying the company and facilities. (See the Engine Punk blog for more on that if you're into pedestrians aquaplaning.) But it was there that I noticed that I hard a sore throat and here I am, a fortnight later, having had some days off work and with the tail end of a persistent cold to get rid of.

I have the feeling that I've made the most of the rotten weather. First there was the website re-vamp (indoors work) and more recently there's been the re-design of my book covers (more indoors work). Meanwhile, motorsport events and traction engine rallies have been cancelled and farming friends are going to have to pickle their corn crop with acid because it's so damp has little prospect of drying out.

But here's a re-vamp of the cover for The Horsepower Whisperer. The jury is still out on the white space around the illustration but for the moment I like it. The drawing will change but I feel good about the new layout. This has taken a great deal of thought. Maybe it was the drugs - the Tixylix and the Lemsip. Perhaps they altered my perceptions. Maybe it was sniffing my marker pens. Whatever - the go faster stripes are less dominant and better use is made of the available space to give an idea of what sort of story can be expected inside. It keeps the kind of corporate look that I want, too, with a couple of visual references to the website. The viewpoint in the drawing will come down a bit so that the gremlin is more in Hob's line of sight. Hob will also take up more room in the drawing. There's too much irrelevant stuff around him and getting rid of it should add to the impact of the book cover.

Having the snots delayed proceedings rather more than I would have liked. Although I was at home I slept a lot during the day. This was in addition to sleeping during the night, which was a bit more unusual because sometimes I have nocturnal habits. Anyway, sneezing and dripping all over artwork proved counter productive and now I'm back with all sorts of media - oils, water coolers, gouache, inks (I'd never tried inks before), pastels, biros, pencils and spirit markers.

As well as finding out some home truths about my pictorial orientation (I'm landscape and not portrait), I have also discovered that there are more differences between being an illustrator and being an industrial designer.

An illustrator illustrates and a designer designs. Nobody has seen what the designer has designed before. Only when he's drawn it is it revealed. Everybody's seen what an illustrator illustrates before he's even sharpened his pencil and have their own views on what a giant lamb should look like. With one you can bluff but with the other you can't. When an industrial designer (me frinstance) attempts to depict scenes of an agricultural revolutionary nature, you have to do a lot more preparatory work.

Not only that - an industrial designer only draw one thing at a time. An illustrator draws several together and they've all got to lie in the right plane and reflect a certain amount of light off each other. Some of the subjects might even be people.

At the moment it feels like individual elements work really well but don't work so well together. The sum of the parts doesn't quite add up.

That's what it's been quite handy having all this rotten weather. If it was sunny I'd be outside mending leaky roofs instead of wrestling with all this paper. My hands would be oily from the garage and various mechanical adventures an I'd get grubby paw prints on my hitherto pristine artwork. And, yes, I did consider oily finger marks as graphic devices for my new covers but, again, the results were not quite what I expected.

In a round about way, I suppose I'm trying to make an excuse for not finishing my new cover artwork for The Wormton Lamb but how good at you drawing anyway? When was the last time you tried to produce a book cover? Well, then. You can shut up.

The portrait/landscape thing is still difficult for me. I sit at a table, which is wider than it is deep. I feel that and easel might be better. It would allow me to see the whole picture and not something that tapers away from me.

I even considered making my book landscape in format but only fleetingly. I don't want to have to re-typeset it. Landscape format books don't sit comfortably in my hands. I have landscape format eyes but - like most people - have portrait format hands.

Or rather, they're portrait format hands when they pick up a book. Let them get hold of a pencil or a paint brush and they go all landscape on me again.

Here's how The Wormton Lamb looks so far. I remain content with the white space around it again. I've used earlier illustrations to rough it out but the lamb's not right. It doesn't dominate the scene enough and I reckon it's dislocated a shoulder as well. My latest drawing - it's still wet and too big for my old trusty A4 scanner - is better. The cars are proportionally smaller and the lamb much bigger. I'm still finalising some of the colours. I even went so far as to search for the right complementary colours on the internet and devised a palette of colours that were comfortable with each other. True to form, after all that colour preparation I've ignored it and done my own thing.

The size of my artwork has also grown. I am now steadily working my way through an A3 pad and have ordered an A3 scanner. The idea is that once my original picture is shrunk down to Royale size (156mm x 234mm) then any embarrassing smudges won't be noticeable.

Anyone who sees my book covers but hasn't read this blog will think I'm a creative genius and not someone who's been drawing at right angles to what he finds comfortable.

We'll see what Beck at RedSnapper reckons to these changes.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, 18 August 2008

Wormton Lamb doings

The Wormton Lamb is even more nearly ready than when I last typed this. After some jiggery pokery when the revised textblock didn't upload onto Lightning Source's site, I now have a corrected proof with the right maps in it - just like the one here. But having sexed up my website I think I need to do the same to my book covers.

I like the colour co-ordinated go faster stripes (even if some people call them chav stripes) and they look okay on Amazon as thumbnails. But okay isn't good enough. I want them to leap off the page into the face of the beholder and off the shelf into their hands. They should be irresistible. It's a tall order but I reckon that if I'm happy about them then most other people will be, too.

Obviously I'm ignoring Cousin Lisa's advice below. However, our policy here at Anarchadia Publishing is on of continuous improvement so that's what I'm up to.

And once I've done the new cover for The Wormton Lamb then there'll be a new one for The Horsepower Whisperer.

Already I've learnt that there is a subtle difference between and industrial designer like me and an illustrator like what I'm trying to be. I've been drawing things I've made up for years. Illustrating something that already exists is surprisingly different. They say that if you can do a rendering of an automobile with all its different surfaces and textures then you can draw anything. I am endeavouring to prove this old saw right. In the meantime, here's the new map of Wormton.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Be careful what you write

Last week I met the most extraordinary person – my editor. I’ve worked with Caroline Petherick on two books now over about two years but never met her before. It was only recently that I visited her at her clifftop home near Looe. I should have done this earlier for she’s full of bright ideas, is fascinated by the world in general and knows an awful lot of interesting stuff.

What prompted this get together was a rather surprised e-mail from her a fortnight ago. Caroline is almost over-qualified as my editor for in addition to being a damned fine proof reader she has a pilot's licence and keeps sheep. Recently her flock of Jacob’s sheep have had lambs and one of them was enormous. Having worked on my book The Wormton Lamb, she had to tell me and I had to see this phenomenon for myself.

Caroline lives in idyllic surroundings not far from the Monkey Sanctuary and with spectacular views of Looe Island. Her flock is a necessity. They keep her 35 acres under control. Their fleeces aren’t worth much and she gets too attached to them to eat them very often.

The lamb in question was suffering from joint ill but had recovered sufficiently to be running around even if he was limping a bit. At two weeks old he was obviously bigger than his older siblings and was happily eating the feed for the adults when the other lambs seemed interested in only suckling. Seeing as he had such a head start on the others he’s probably going to be a bit of a monster.

It was great to meet Caroline at last. She’s into practically everything and full of enthusiasm. I had a very enjoyable evening kicking around wild ideas with her. She's convinced that those of us who can should get "off the grid." By this she means drilling bore holes for water and generating our own power through solar panels, heat pumps or wind turbines. This is because the grid won't survive the forthcoming changes in climate. Not everybody can do this of course but those who can are well advised to do so not only for their own benefit but also to help the masses who live in cities who have no obvious alternative. Sounds like an apocalyptic idea for another book.

However, it seems that I’m going to have to be careful what I write in future. My dystopian vision of Post Unification Euphobia in The Horsepower Whisperer is already happening if you are a farmer. Caroline tells me there is a fleece marketing board that effectively has the market monopoly and rigs the price of fleeces. Also DEFRA will come and remove the bodies of any dead sheep provided they die during office hours. Now The Wormton Lamb itself could be growing in South East Cornwall.

It’s a good thing my stuff is optimistic and generally positive in outlook. We could do with some happier endings in real life. Maybe that’s the problem. Too many people are writing about credit crunches and the collapse of the housing market and then lo! it all happens.

So I’m going to write – here and now – that Cornish choughs will return to the cliffs of Caroline’s home. How’s that for a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Playlist for The Wormton Lamb

Here's the playlist for The Wormton Lamb out Spring 2009. Like the last one for The Horsepower Whisperer, here's more high octane rock'n'roll for your musical edification (good word).

And out from obscurity it comes.

The Wormton Lamb

During the creation of The Wormton Lamb, I discovered New Rock'n'Roll. For too long had people been saying that the new rock'n'roll was gardening. Obviously it never was and this was a very silly thing to say. I just showed that these people didn't understand what the New Rock'n'Roll was. You can't dance to gardens. And it has nothing to do with cookery either even if you are always in the kitchen at parties.

On the recommendation from a friend, I acquired a few jolly good compilations of New Rock'n'Roll and a number of tracks from these albums had a significant influence on the final shape of The Wormton Lamb.

After carefully working out the running order, I found that this playlist for The Wormton Lamb began with several 30 second samples, since these particular songs are not licensed for playing any longer on the internet. Unfortunately, this made The Wormton Lamb's playlist sound like outbursts of raw noise. Some of you who already know of my taste in music might say, "So what's new?" To avoid this knee jerk reaction, I've re-ordered the playlist. It's still not easy listening but at least the playlist begins with complete songs. The story really begins with Temptation Island from Love As Laughter and when (note not if) The Wormton Lamb gets made into a film I'm sure the music execs will agree to these songs being include din full.

Anyway, these little bursts should tempt you into getting the full version. And the more obscure tracks are full length so I hope these bands drum up some business from you.

There's quite a Gothic feel to this list as well. Well, The Wormton Lamb does feature a Frankensheep, some mysterious blood sucking agencies and a weresheep that bleats at the moon.

I suppose the book ought to carry a warning for people of a nervous disposition, those who are easily upset and any other wets and weeds that might dip into it. To these people all I would say is "It's only a story." And, "Pull yourselves together."

To those who like to be scared I would lie and say "Believe me - nothing like this could ever happen in real life."

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Playlist for The Wormton Lamb

Here's the playlist for The Wormton Lamb out Spring 2009. Like the last one for The Horsepower Whisperer, here's more high octane rock'n'roll for your musical edification (good word).

And out from obscurity it comes.

The Wormton Lamb

During the creation of The Wormton Lamb, I discovered New Rock'n'Roll. For too long had people been saying that the new rock'n'roll was gardening. Obviously it never was and this was a very silly thing to say. I just showed that these people didn't understand what the New Rock'n'Roll was. You can't dance to gardens. And it has nothing to do with cookery either even if you are always in the kitchen at parties.

On the recommendation from a friend, I acquired a few jolly good compilations of New Rock'n'Roll and a number of tracks from these albums had a significant influence on the final shape of The Wormton Lamb.

After carefully working out the running order, I found that this playlist for The Wormton Lamb began with several 30 second samples, since these particular songs are not licensed for playing any longer on the internet. Unfortunately, this made The Wormton Lamb's playlist sound like outbursts of raw noise. Some of you who already know of my taste in music might say, "So what's new?" To avoid this knee jerk reaction, I've re-ordered the playlist. It's still not easy listening but at least the playlist begins with complete songs. The story really begins with Temptation Island from Love As Laughter and when (note not if) The Wormton Lamb gets made into a film I'm sure the music execs will agree to these songs being include din full.

Anyway, these little bursts should tempt you into getting the full version. And the more obscure tracks are full length so I hope these bands drum up some business from you.

There's quite a Gothic feel to this list as well. Well, The Wormton Lamb does feature a Frankensheep, some mysterious blood sucking agencies and a weresheep that bleats at the moon.

I suppose the book ought to carry a warning for people of a nervous disposition, those who are easily upset and any other wets and weeds that might dip into it. To these people all I would say is "It's only a story." And, "Pull yourselves together."

To those who like to be scared I would lie and say "Believe me - nothing like this could ever happen in real life."

Labels: , , , , ,