Friday, May 16

Interview: Angela Oliver, Author & Illustrator

Today I’m interviewing the extremely talented Angela Oliver. And guess what? Angela and I went to the same High School, in a galaxy far far away—But I digress. Ahem.

Angela Oliver is both an illustrator and writer, with a long list of publications which include several children’s books and a unique tarot deck picturing the flora and fauna of New Zealand.

Last year she released Fellowship of the Ringtails an adult high fantasy novel set in Madagascar and starring lemur characters. She is a member of SpecficNZ and the ChristchurchWriters Guild. Angela was recently nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards for 2014 in the category of Best New Talent.

New Zealand Illustrator Angela Oliver
Angela Oliver holds a copy of her novel Fellowship of the Ringtails
Angela, when did you know you could draw?

There was never a time in my life when I thought I could not draw. There were, of course, times when I could not draw well, but from the start my parents always encouraged my brother and I to engage in as many creative projects as we so desired. I do remember being disappointed that his pictures were always better than mine, and it was not until early this century that I realised I was actually getting quite good at it, but I've always known I could draw – from obsessively drawing birds in my primary years, to doodling down the margins and on my subject dividers in High School and finally graduating to actual sketch books.

Who has encouraged/inspired/supported you the most with regards to your artwork?

My parents have always encouraged it, however it was probably the internet that truly got me hooked, beginning with online communities around 2001 in which art trades of characters were prevalent and I found myself offering to draw all manner of strange people and creatures for other people. I also began several Art Exchange communities: one competitive one (where everyone drew the previous winner's character) and then we voted on the best and one “secret santa” style one where whom you were drawing for was randomly assigned. My two spawned quite a number of other ones, some of which are still active today, although I gave up on them in 2005 when I discovered Artist Trading Cards.

Do you think being able to draw is a talent one is born with, or can anyone can learn given enough time?

I think it is a bit of both, although more the latter than the former. I think the main inherant bit is the desire to draw, and I suppose you have to have a vague eye for proportions. The rest is learned and practise, hours and hours of practise. I have a few people say to me “you're so talented, I wish I could draw like you” to which I reply “do you draw?” And they will inevidly reply “not since I was a child.”

Well, here's an example of something I drew as a child (age unknown, but could have been as old as 11 or 12, I was a late artistic bloomer):

 As you can see, I could not draw especially well as a child either, what it takes is practise, a lot of practise and encouragement instead of discouragement. 

You’re a creator of ATC (Art Trading Cards), can you briefly explain what ATCs are and how you became involved.

Artist Trading Cards are miniature pieces of art. There are only two rules when creating ATCs : 1. They must measure 2.5 x 3.5 inches (about 64 x 89 mm) and 2. They must be traded, not sold. Those that are made for sale are referred to as ACEOs, which stands for Art Cards Editions and Originals, if I recall correctly. There are numerous for sale on Ebay and Etsy.

I first discovered them in 2005, when I stumbled upon a forum site dedicated to their creation. That site closed a few years later due to poor management, but a new site sprung up in its wake. That site is ATCs for All – AFA as we call it and is probably the best organised, friendliest and most navigateable Art Card exchange site I have ever found. It is open to all comers, provided you are of appropriate age, no matter your skill levels. A lot of the members draw or paint their ATCs, collage and mixed media is also extremely popular, and you also see cross-stitch, origami and other techniques, provided it is within the specified size above.

My first ATCs were nothing to write home about, and I experimented with a mix of my art and collage (mainly shredded paper) with mixed results.

Here is one of my very early mixed media cards:

ATC by Angela Oliver
ATC by Angela Oliver

Finding people to trade with was never too much of a problem – most were willing to trade with even a complete novice and I have made numerous cards specifically for their new owners. I have now traded over 3000 cards (and assorted other pieces of mail art) and have managed to send my art into over 80 countries, including Madagascar, Guatemala and Luxemburg.

However, collage and scrapping leads to a certain amount of untidiness and overload of supplies, and I gave up on the collage and layered cards a few years ago to concentrate exclusively on my drawing.

ATCs are a great way to improve your artistic skills: they are small, quick and relatively easy to make, extremely easy to store (I have numerous binders of them) and if they are unsuccessful then it does not feel like you have wasted too much time on them. However, the size does limit what you can do. Overly complicated images are all but impossible, and it can be hard to force some subjects into the rectangular format.

Other forms of mail art I have engaged in are: 4' x 4' (sometimes called “chunkies” as they are supposed to be 3-d), 6' x 6', 8' x 8', postcards (6x4 inches), twinchies (2' x 2') inchies (1'x1') and various other projects, most of which are designed to fit into the regular sized mailing envelopes for ease of posting.

Who is your favourite ATC creator?

As I am very active in the ATC circuits, I cannot name a favourite creator, for fear of overlooking someone, or hurting someone's feelings. For the most part, I collect hand drawn and hand painted cards, and I have acquired some real beauties over the years. One of my favourite challenges is asking people to draw Hemlock, the goblin hero from A Midsummer Knight's Quest based entirely on a description.

Many of the highly skilled ATC creators can be found on this site: 
It is a closed and juried forum, but the gallery is open for public admiration, if you do a search for “Hemlock” or “Lemur” you will probaby find a number of cards now residing in my collection.

Which Illustrators past or present do you admire the most? 

One of my favourite New Zealand illustrators is Dave Gunson whose footsteps I wish I could follow in! He has done postage stamps, picture book illustrations, wildlife posters and non-fiction books, all focusing around things that are dear to my own heart – our native wildlife.

Another favourite is Ursula Vernon, an American artist and writer with a zoological/scientific leanings (like me) and a really wacky sense of humour.

Tell us about your latest project, what are you working on the moment?

I am somewhat in the middle of several projects – as is usually the case! – but the major one is my Animal-A-Day project. On October 15th, 2013 I started working my way, alphabetically, through an animal encyclopedia and releasing a piece of animal art (with information) every day via social media, specifically twitter, tumblr and blogspot. I have recently passed day #200 and am still on the Es, so it is predicted that it will take me at least 3 years to complete. Each letter is being turned into a little hardcover book (printed via ArtsCow) and I intend there to eventually be an App and possibly a card/board game (once I have figured out the game play).

Illustration by Angela Oliver
Angela Oliver: Animal-A-Day project

Each image is an Art Card, measuring the specified 2.5 x 3.5 inches and done in the same style. Individual cards can be purchased for $10, although I will trade them as well. Requests of future animals can also be made (F and onwards).

The project's “official” home is on tumblr HERE

The second project is, of course, the second book in my lemur series: Tail of Two Scions. I am currently in the stage of having the first draft roughly finished and going through it with a butchering knife to work on into a more concise, more fluent plot. It is proving to be something of a struggle.

A third project, which is almost reaching fruition, is an anthology for the Christchurch Writers' Guild. It is entitled Reflections and should, with any luck, be available via Amazon in late June or early July. It is a collection of poetry and prose from our members, and contains some excellent pieces from independent, up-and-coming authors.

What has been your favourite illustration project to date?
Probably my tarot cards, which are based on New Zealand Ecology. Not only was it fun to come up with images to suit the card definitions, but it has also proved to be my most profitable project to date. Decks are available via The Game Crafter:  or if you live in New Zealand, you can purchase them directly from me (NZ$30 + shipping) and I'll autograph the Signature card too.

Ecology tarot cards by New Zealand illustrator Angela Oliver
tarot cards, which are based on New Zealand Ecology

Which is your favourite animal to draw?
I do not really have a set favourite persay. I love a bit of variety in my wildlife art, and challenges can be fun! However, my top favourite subjects would probably be birds and lemurs. I love the colours of birds, and since I have been more-or-less obsessed with birds as long as I can remember, I can almost draw them in my sleep (although some species are trickier than others).

Bittern Illustration by Angela Oliver
And, of course, there are lemurs.

My passion for lemurs began later in life, when I did volunteer work at Orana Park and fell in love with the cheeky, pixie-faced ringtail lemurs. This passion led me (and my husband) on an amazing and eye-opening expedition to Madagascar in 2007 and also, finally, into the creation of the Lemurs Saga.
Someone has challenged me to draw a lemur for every letter of the alphabet, and with around 100 species, I shall certainly make a good effort at it! Here is one of my interior illustrations from Fellowship of the Ringtails.

Ringtailed Lemur Illustration by Angela Oliver
Ringtailed Lemur

Can you explain your preferred illustration method?

I begin with a pencil sketch. For my Animal-A-Day project I use an A5 sized pad in which I have already ruled up the approximate size of the Art Card (I can fit four per page). I use reference material extensively, usually via google image search, but also my copious piles of animal books and bird calendars. Generally I will seek 2-3 sources, so as not to make my final piece resemble the original photograph too closely. With few exceptions, I work off photographs. For imaginery (including Pokemon) or extinct animals I will use creatures that bear similarities to the intended creation. I generally use an HB or 2B mechanical pencil for this purpose. I hate blunt pencils, so mechanical is the way to go!

After laying down the pencil sketch, I then ink it. For this I use an array of fibre-tipped pens, UniPin is my favourite, but I also have Artline, Staedtler and Tombow pens ranging in tip thickness from 0.05 to 0.8 mm. The fine tipped pens – 0.05 and 0.1 – are used for the fine detailing such as fur, feathers, shading and scales.

After that, I add in the background, which can range from heavily detailed to very lightly indicated, depending on the size of the subject. I do not wish my image to look too cluttered, especially since I work on such a small canvas. For my animals I will make it as close to their natural environment as I can find – again using reference images of the habitat.

Finally, colouring, which is the most time consuming part. I use colouring pencils extensively. My preferred brand is the American prismacolor, but these have very delicate leads and sometimes do not sharpen well. They are a wax-based pencil with very smooth consistency and great for blending. My second favourite, and what I used before I acquired my first set of prismas, are Fabercastell's Polychromos. These are oil-based and have a harder tip, but definitely lay on more colour than cheap-brand colouring pencils. I occasionally use markers to smooth over colours and blend it more fully.

Gel pens are then used for adding highlights. I am particularly fond of the Signo White gel pen.

illustration colouring process, before and after
illustration colouring process, before and after
Do you work entirely on the computer, or by hand, or a combination of the two?

The art piece itself is entirely traditional media, although I do use the computer – and a very dated version of Paint Shop Pro – to “clean-up” the image before it gets printed. 

Do you take commissions?

Yes, selectively. As you can see, I have quite a few of my own projects on the go at present, so am unwilling to engage into anything too time-consuming and complicated, but am definitely keen on small art commissions – I prefer working on sizes between Art Card size and the NZ standard A4. If you are interested in having an Animal-A-Day card drawn specifically for you, then please notify me – preferably before I pass the appropriate letter! Prices range from $15-$100 for non-commercial pieces, depending on size and complexity, and turn-around is from 1 week to 2-3 months, depending on communication (if you respond to my emails fast, then changes can be made and your piece will be finished sooner). Commission details: HERE

If you wish to purchase my art or skills for commercial purposes (including book covers, interior illustrations, luggage tags, labels etc) then a royalty scheme may be discussed.

Thank you so much for answering my questions and giving everyone an insight into your lovely artwork.

You are very welcome! Thank you for wanting to interview me.

For Readers looking for more of Angela's work, please check out these sites:

Wednesday, May 7

5 Rules for Designing a Retro Sci-fi Cover

I was just reading about the trope of the 'mysterious hooded figure' HERE that graces fantasy covers (a design of which I am a fan) and it got me thinking about when I had to design a retro sci-fi cover for Tropic of Skorpeo

So you also can learn the key elements that made pulp cover art so freaking awesome today I'm going over the 5 Rules for Designing a Retro Sci-fi Cover which I discovered while working on that fun project.
Kura Carpenter's 5 Rules for Designing a Retro Sci-fi Cover
Kura Carpenter's 5 Rules for Designing a Retro Sci-fi Cover
Do let me know if you use my rules when creating your own retro sci-fi cover, I would love to see what you come up with!

Tuesday, December 31

Dunedin Gasworks Museum Posters

With the year drawing to a close, I thought I might share some posters that I've had the privilege to create for events held by the Dunedin Gasworks Museum as part of their 150th celebrations.
Dunedin Gasworks Museum 'Gaslight Gala' poster designed by Kura Carpenter
Dunedin Gasworks Museum 'Gaslight' Gala poster
Dunedin Gasworks Museum competition poster designed by Kura Capenter

Events for the kids has included the above photography competition - which is open for another month. So if you've got kids and would like them to be in the chance to win a camera, or are just looking for a historic site to visit as a family, I recommend checking it out. More details HERE.

Friday, August 30

AetherCon 2013 - Wellington Steampunk Convention Poster

As the last couple of book covers I did won't be released until much later this year, & this blog is starting to look a little neglected I thought I'd share some of the other work I've being doing.

Below is the poster I created for the upcoming Steampunk convention 'AetherCon', which I believe is held annually, in both Wellington and Auckland.

Steampunk Poster - AetherCon 2013 - designer: Kura Carpenter

The theme this year: APOCALYPTICA - "You all appear to have survived the end of us how..."

So if you're near Wellington, go check it out. Looks like fun!

Friday, June 7

"Weekend in Weighton" - Terry Murphy

Earlier this year I was set a challenge by British author Terry Murphy. He was looking for a re-design of the cover to his quirky crime novel "Weekend in Weighton".
What cranked his challenge up to pressure-cooker level was Terry had already had the cover re-designed before, twice. Because while the previous designs communicated the crime genre, they did nothing to reveal the quirky side.
I came up with a few visual suggestions to impart the fun and both Terry and I were pleased with the result. But as they say, the proof is in the pudding, so when my copy of the book arrived in the post and my hubby saw it for the first time, he looked at the flag-gun, quoted aloud "Hi-ho Silver" and started to laugh, and that's when I knew for sure: job well done.

"Weekend in Weighton" : author Terry Murphy, cover design: Kura Carpenter

 Here's what Terry had to say about working with me:
I am writing to say how delighted I am with the cover you designed for my book ‘Weekend in Weighton’.
Not only am I very happy with the finished cover I also thoroughly enjoyed working with you during the creative process.I learned a lot going through your ‘patented’, step-by-step design journey.
I must also commend your patience, fast turnaround [especially given the difference in our time zones!] , amazing creative input, attention to detail and willingness to go the extra mile.
I am extremely happy to recommend you and I look forward to working with you again.
I urge people to please check out Terry and WIW on his Goodreads page HERE

Monday, May 6

Interview with Patrick G Cox author of 'A Baltic Affair'

Today I'm chatting with Patrick, whom I've had the pleasure of working with twice now.

Pat, Please tell us a little bit about yourself to start things off.

Patrick G Cox, author
I've always been a bit of a dreamer. Growing up in South Africa, on the Eastern Cape coast, I spent a lot of time swimming, sailing, boating, hiking - just about everything except homework for school. My father and his friends taught me about boats, boat handling, sailing and seamanship, and my parents and grandparents gave me a love of reading.
One of my teachers got me interested in history, another in drama and performing arts, yet another in writing - though he despaired of my abuse of commas and punctuation. So does my editor. I left school with a head full of vague ideas about becoming a priest, making a million, owning a yacht ... Still haven't managed any of those, but I did eventually find my way into the fire service and spent some 20 years in SA and a further 15 in the UK getting paid to do the best job in the world.

One day I'll write a biography, the title will be easy - Soot, sweat, blood and laughter about covers it. I started writing technical manuals in SA for training, continued in the UK at the Fire Service College writing study guides, teaching notes and my first book, Marine Fire Studies for the Institution of Fire Engineers. I've files full of magazine articles of techy stuff I've published and I always dabbled in fiction, mainly for my own amusement, but always with an eye on perhaps getting something published.

What genre, and what is your latest novel A Baltic Affair about?

Genre. Hmm, that's a challenge. OK, the latest book, A Baltic Affair, is straight Naval Historical Romance. I'd like to think in the same sort of league as Reeman, O'Brien, Forrester or Kent. I plan a sequel to it as well, but it is still in the embryonic stages. My earlier books are part of a series, the Harry Heron Adventures and these really are a cross genre - one review called it Asimov meets Hornblower. A Hornblower type character thrust into a Star Trek or Babylon 5 universe. I really enjoy both good historical
fiction and believable science fiction. A Baltic Affair is straight historical, set in the final years of the Napoleonic War, in a theatre that was crucial to British interests and the economy, yet, probably because there was no major commitment of the Army - they were in Spain - and no major sea battles, despite the Royal Navy having a large and powerful fleet in the Baltic, gets very little attention. Hopefully this will change that.

What sort/age of readers would most enjoy it?

I'd hope A Baltic Affair would appeal to everyone with a love of sea stories and history, essentially everyone who enjoyed Master and Commander or any of the other historical naval stories would enjoy this one. I'm always wary of assigning an 'age group' to my readers. I started reading this type of story in my early teens and I know there are some young readers buying and reading it - but I also have readers in their late seventies reading my Harry Heron series which was originally aimed at the Young Adult market. It
all depends on an individual's taste. I write 'adventure' stories - so perhaps the audience is anyone who likes adventure.

Did you always know you would be a writer?

No, but as I said earlier, I've always been a dreamer, and most of my school notebooks were full of story ideas and attempts to write stories. I gave the fiction a rest for about twenty years while I wrote the 'Tecky' stuff and a few other things - like regulations for storing hazardous gases, a by-law or two and study notes for a Higher National Diploma course - but then began to scribble stories again when I first got access to a computer and word processing program. I've still got some on the big old floppy discs, the 5.25 inch jobs, but I no longer have a machine capable of reading any of them, and anyway, I cringe at how bad my dialogues and narratives were back then. It took me a while to get out of the 'technical/teaching' style of detailed descriptive in narratives and to work out how to write readable dialogue - with the descriptions conveyed in 'conversation' rather than narrative. Thanks to critiques, reviews and an editor or three, I think I've managed to get it, if not brilliant, at least very much better.

What’s your writing style, do you plan everything first, or write and see where the story leads you?

My style depends to an extent on what I'm writing. For fiction I find I map out an outline, then I create a timeline and plot in the historic events and facts that I must work the story around. I may be an odd man out in todays writing world, but I get really angry when I read something where historic events have been twisted out of their context or turned into something they weren't. I like the facts and the history straight, then let the
characters do their thing against that background. I do a similar thing with my scifi stories, you can't ignore the rules of physics or astronomy - apart from things like hyperspace and hyperdrives - you can't put a habitable planet in the orbit of, say, Venus or Mercury.
So, yes, you do need a map, but it doesn't have to be detailed, you can have spaces labelled "here be dragons" so you can spring some surprises and take a slightly different line from the obvious. it also gives the characters to lead you into areas or a storyline you may not have had in mind at the outset. Sometimes an incidental character can develop in an unexpected way - you have to be flexible.

Where did the idea for the story come from?

A Baltic Affair started as a challenge. I was challenged by my wife to write a 'romantic' story. The idea for the setting came from reading an article on the subject of Napoleon's "Continental Blockade" and the changing alliances involved. I wonder how many people today even know how important the Baltic Trade was to the British economy? Not many I would suspect, yet it almost brought Britain to its knees. If the
Tsar hadn't broken ranks, and the Prussians wanted revenge for Jena, or the Swedes actually engaged the British instead of declaring war and then carrying on trading as if nothing was happening ... And in the middle of it all was the quiet 'diplomacy' of a fleet of 'ships of the line' supported by many small craft who actually did most of the fighting. It made the perfect setting for a story which involved all the politics, all the struggles and the opportunity for a 'boy meets girl; overcomes lots of difficulties and finally marries her' type of story.

Which character do you most identify with and why?

Which character do I most identify with? I'll give you a clue, his name is the Cornish version of a well-known saint's name, and his surname is a colour. Funnily enough, the love of his life just happens to have the same first name as someone very close to me, and her 'home' is in fact a real place not unknown to my late father-in-law.

What was your favourite and least favourite part in researching for the novel?
I don't think I have a 'least favourite' part in the research for this novel, it was all fascinating and opened up some insights I hope I've been able to put into the story accurately. I love history, and in particular, I love the naval history of the 18th and early 19th Centuries.The sea was the prime enemy for the men who, as the psalmist wrote, "... go down to the sea in ships, and do business on great waters ..." There are many accounts of 'enemies' risking life and limb to save each other from storm or shipwreck. On the coast of Denmark there are memorials erected to men lost in British ships wrecked there during the Napoleonic war, and men saved from those same wrecks by the Danish 'enemy' often settled there. As I said, it was fascinating, I wish it could be taught in our schools.

Why did you decide to venture into self-publishing?

The vexed question. Why 'self-publish'? It certainly isn't an easy choice. A Baltic Affair was rejected by two major publishers and I'm still waiting for responses from a couple of agents. That may be my fault. I'm no good at 'selling' myself and I sometimes find the 'submission requirements tricky or even restrictive. I know why they have them, after all I'm not the only author bombarding them with the next 'best-seller'. 
Janet Angelo, an Independent Publisher spotted the work and wanted to work with me on it. Our agreement
is more a 'Joint Venture' than a 'self-publish' affair. Yes, I've paid for the editing and for some of the publishing costs, but I have to say, it is worth the effort.

I doubt I'll ever see the sort of sales of, say, Sir Terry Pratchett (I won't be sorry if I do!), the book is finding a niche and logging sales. This is the fifth book I've published myself, the other four are my Harry Heron series, but that is another story. It would be true to say that I ventured into 'self-publishing' the first of those because I was terminally naive, and honestly believed I had found a way to get published and sell books. It was quite a learning curve from there, and though I wouldn't do it quite the same way again, I would still, in all likelihood, go down that same path - but differently.

What tips would you give to others considering self-publishing that you wished you knew when you started?

I think the first part of that is never ever publish your first draft. It'll be rough, even if you don't see it, it will have silly glitches in the plot and lots of grammar and other 'little' problems. My own experience with the first story I published makes me cringe now. The basic story was good, but I'd told it like a technician. I eventually withdrew it and republished a completely revised version, but I hate to think what I did to my credibility as a writer with it.

The second part is two fold. Always get a critique of it by someone who knows about writing fiction. Then revise the story to address all the criticisms. A good critique will tell you what's missing as well as where you've got too much or perhaps introduced something which is at odds with the plot, or lost something that breaks the continuity. The other half is get a line editor to go through it and make sure all the typos, all the stray apostrophes and commas are round up and put in the right place. One of my tricks is to read my manuscript aloud. That very quickly shows up my penchant for 'run-on' sentences, or sentences where I've managed to lose the subject or object. It also shows up where there are problems with punctuation. When I've done that and fixed the problems, then I send it to my editor ... and she invariably finds a whole lot more.

With self-publishing you, and only you, are responsible for the final product. Proof-reading is a painful process, and again it needs someone really good at spotting the little things that go adrift, and most authors are so involved with their work they miss them. I certainly do. One of the more annoying things is that different versions of Microsoft Word often have small differences in their code - and these introduce spaces where there shouldn't be, or remove them where they should be, when you transfer your manuscript from your version to the publisher's type setting version. In one of my books the Galleys went back and forth six times to get those sorted out - and there are still some I and the proof-reader missed.

Finally keep the expectations realistic. A lot of new authors seem to think they are about to become millionaires now their book is in print. In truth, with self-publishing, you're lucky if you recoup your outlay. There certainly are people who have made it into the 'big league' but they have almost all of them started out with the capital to buy in promotion on a scale most of us can't. I was recently told that one self-published author spent $120,000 promoting his book before he was 'noticed' by a traditional publisher. Even so, it will be several years and a number of books before he recoups that outlay.

I'm told that 200,000 books are published each month. Unless you are already a 'known' author, getting your book noticed is going to be tough. Even the likes of Sir Terry Pratchett, Stephen King and Dan Brown have to work hard on the marketing of their books. Just having one in print does not mean its going to be in the bookshops or even reviewed in the newspapers. I recently discovered that one 'Booker Prize' nominee sold
a total of 140 copies worldwide. There are no guarantees of sales or even of success.
The 'publisher' is just what they said on the label, they'll prepare your book for printing and get it printed, no more. Yes, it will be listed on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Ingrams and so on, and yes, you'll find it listed in the W H Smith and Waterstones catalogues, but it's unlikely they'll stock it unless you can get in there and convince them that they'll not be wasting expensive shelf-space. Bear in mind that 'print on demand' also means the book will be more expensive then something printed in thousands, so there is a price disadvantage to overcome as well.

What has been the hardest part with promoting your work?

My toughest challenge is promoting my work. I'm not a natural salesman, I wish I was. I make use of the 'social media' and I'm building up a presence on a number of websites, I run my own as well - and I promote my work through my blogs, through writing technical articles for trade magazines and, whenever I have a chance, persuading a bookshop to give me a little shelf space on 'sale or return'. So far I've not had any books returned, but the trick is convincing them to re-order!

At present I try to follow up every lead I get for new ways to promote my work. I've finally managed to get a contact list of people who do newspaper reviews so I'm working my way down that and I'm also following up a suggestion that my books would make good movies or television series. It all takes up time, it takes a lot of courage - especially after the first fifty or so 'sorry, but ...' responses. It isn't easy, but then, each little triumph makes it more worthwhile and moves you one step closer to that magic moment when someone
says, "Hey. I read your book! Where can I get another?"

What else have you had published, and what is coming up?

I've a long list of Conference Papers, articles, technical notes and two books, Marine Fire Studies and A Guide to Fire Investigation in my professional role, but my 'fun' list includes my Harry Heron adventures. It is best described as a 'mixed' genre since it is mainly 'scifi' but with a strong historic twist in that the the three main characters are from the Napoleonic period Royal Navy. They are fun to write and, I hope, to read. The main thrust is an exploration of the way someone from the 1790s - 1800s would respond to a whole range of things. I got into 'self-publishing' through them, since most UK based 'trad' publishers and agents don't seem to like scifi with a 'military' theme - one actually told me that anything that made the military look good wasn't what the 'industry' wanted. I'd love to say I've proved them wrong, and I'm working on it. Sales are regular and, hopefully, building up. There are four titles so far -

Their Lordships Request, which introduces the characters, and let's the reader gain an insight into how Harry Nelson-Heron and his friends develop the knowledge and attitudes they have, while introducing the future that lies in store for them as a parallel story.

Out of Time, which sees Harry, Ferghal and Danny sucked into the future where they are subjected to a tussle between their relatives, 'research' interests and bureaucrats. In the process they are forced to adapt fast, meet aliens, are subjected to an illegal genesplice and develop some unexpected abilities - but it is, in the end, their old-fashioned approach which swings the balance ...

The Enemy is Within! takes the trio on a new adventure as they settle into a future that holds more challenges than they dreamed possible. They are still the target of researchers, but now, as part of the Fleet, must learn to become officers in that service. They get marooned on a strange world where the main predator is a vegetable, fight off enemies of the state and finally bring home a captured 'prize' on their own.

On the Run has the trio once again in the thick of an ongoing interstellar war, but Harry and Ferghal find themselves once again marooned a planet where the are saved by an alien intelligence and it's surrogates. Their actions, again influenced by their 'old-fashioned' approach to life, leads to the final climactic battle between the opposing forces and the near ruin of everyone's plans.

A fifth book is currently being overhauled and will, I hope, be published later this year. The title is The Outer Edge and once again the trio bring their talents to bear.

I've another historic book I'm working on. Based on the life of St Patrick, I'm revising it yet again to meet the critical suggestions I got from the last appraisal. It is one I really do want to see get a wide readership, but to do that I need to make sure it is as good as I can make it.

For the rest? I've lots of outlines and another Harry Heron taking shape slowly.

Where can we buy your books?

I've links on my website to the majority of sites selling them, but they can be ordered from any reasonable bookshop anywhere. Amazon has them all, and there are Kindle editions as well. Barnes and Noble list them and I know that Waterstones and W H Smith in the UK will order them in - might even stock them if enough of your readers rush in to place orders!

Thanks Pat, I'm sure everyone will really appreciates how helpful and generous you've been in sharing your insights. You're clearly dedicated to your craft, and I wish you lots of success.

Tuesday, April 30

5 top tips to making your cover look professional

Late last Year I published this interview over on BubbleCow:

Dear Readers,

When asked to write a guest blog post on “5 top tips to making your cover look professional” I was both thrilled and humbled to share my knowledge. Ok, truthfully I felt a bit smug. I thought, I can do this, I know this stuff. Easy-freaking-peasy. I cracked my knuckles and prepared to type up my 5 Top Tip Manifesto.

Tip One: Hire a Professional.

Tip Two… ah.

And there I got a bit stuck. I went and made a coffee. Played on Facebook and Pinterest for a while and then came back to the manifesto.

Tip Two…tip two.

You see, despite knowing in my heart Tip One trumped all other tips, I also knew that being a one-tip-wonder would not be accepted as gospel and that people would consider me biased. So I thought about my process and what I’ve learned, and I’ve broken it down into four parts:

Tip Two: Research.

Find as many books cover images as you can that: A) have been published within the last 5 years and B) are alike your novel in these aspects: genre, audience age group, audience gender.
The covers must be similar to your book so it’s no good gathering ‘How-to’ guides if you’ve written a futuristic Raymond Chandaler-esque zombie series for young adults.

Divide the images into 2 groups: Covers you love vs. Covers you hate.
Then pick out the key elements in common from each group. Some things to consider with be: colour schemes, typefaces, photo image versus illustration. What type of imagery dominates? Landscapes? Single character or groups?

At the end of this you should have a clear idea of you want and what you don’t want appearing on your cover and at the same time you’ve just analysed all the current trends in cover design. It’s not just about you after all, but what a stack of advertising professionals have devised will appeal to that particular audience. Your audience.

Tip Three: Images.

Similar to Tip One, because when it comes to using images on your cover, whether photographic or illustrated you should use a professional image library. Why? One, this avoid nasty copyright infringement, and 2, the simple truth is you will get much better quality images. Do not, do not copy and paste something you found on Flickr, unless, lean in close, I have to whisper this, that’s right, closer, closer. NO! Bad author! Bad, bad bad! How would you feel if someone plagiarised your writing?

Tip Four: Typefaces.

This is a little hard to explain if you’re not a design nerd like moi, but trust me, typefaces are important. The typeface you use for your Title should compliment the images and at the same time reflect and enforce the novel’s tone and style.

It will be helpful to understand that most people have preconceived ideas about fonts (whether they are conscious of this or not) and therefore it’s important not to muddle things up. For example, imagine a cursive script font, like old fashioned copperplate handwriting. Such a font would be suited to a Historic novel, but would be highly comically and plain old inappropriate if used on a modern novel following a jaded sports journalist who uncovers a ice-hockey scandal that goes to the heart of the---
You get the idea.

If you don’t, having completed Tip Two you should have a pretty good idea of the kind of font to use even if you don’t know the name of it, whether it’s san serif or slab serif or decorative. Give yourself a quick Google lesson in the basics san serif versus serif fonts and go from there.

Tip Five: Testing

The cover design you end up with, whether you did it yourself (bad!) or entrusted a dedicated, talented designer (*good*) to create for you, the proof is in the testing. So it’s time to round up a focus group (minimum three but more is better) of Readers. Your focus group should be avid Readers of your genre, and also the intended age and gender. Show them your proposed book cover along with a selection of those book covers you loved and get feedback on what they think. There is no point asking your 40 year brother Bob the accountant to give you his feedback if you’ve written a young adult novel sci-fi novel – even if Bob liked to read sci-fi when he was a kid.
Why? Because our life experiences influence everything. They bias everything to. Graphic Designers spend a lot of time learning to think first and foremost what their intended audience wants/needs.

So while Tips Two through Four are very important and should help you on your way, at the end of the day Tip One is the Tip to rule them all. Why? Because you get what you pay for: professional input equals professional output. This is common sense.