Tuesday, 27 November 2012

I've moved

Following a few issues with the blogger app eating my posts I've decided to jump ship to Word Press.

You can now find me here


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

How to design an ebook cover - the evolution of Multicide

I don't claim to be an expert on this by any means but having recently designed a cover for my latest story that I'm very happy with I thought others might find my experiences useful.
The final cover owes a lot to a number of people but most of all probably Felix Scholz who provided the original image and Anne Billson who provided a number of useful suggestions.
Incidentally, and to show you what a complete amateur I am, the only software I use is good old PowerPoint.

The starting point for the cover was a photo Felix took of pasata spilled on a wall. As soon as I saw it I knew it would end up on a book cover at some point.

The first step was to crop it to book cover dimensions and add the title and my name. This was my first attempt at turning it into an actual cover.

That just looked far too "ebooky" so I tried playing around with the colours and design to make it stand out a bit more.

That was punchier but just too damn dreary so I played some more and ended up with these variations on the first two covers. These also added the definition of multicide to sell the book a little better.

Those two are both kind of okay. They look like the cover of a self-published ebook designed by someone with no real artistic talent. Early on in my career I would have been happy with them, What I've realised recently though is just how important book covers are. So I went back to the drawing board and started again.
First up was this effort.

Definitely more distinctive and professional feeling but it got away from the feel I was trying to get for the story. Multicide is a full on, slightly silly, very gory pulp horror story. So I decided I needed to add Felix's photo back in. What I discovered them (amateur alarm going off again) is that there are photo filters on PowerPoint...

I shared the cover with a few people and the feeling was that it was good but not perfect. I had my basic concept and design though,, what I needed to do next was refine it. What followed was a series of slight tweaks to layout and font style and size. I added shadows to some of the words to make them stand out more and played around with the colours. Basically I just kept fiddling with each part until the whole worked. Here is the evolution.

I was happy with it now....almost. There was still something missing, something that marked it out as an ebook and lacked the fun vibe that the vintage paperback covers I love have. I did a bit of Googling and looked at book jackets I liked and thought about things. 
Then on my ride home from work I realised what was missing. The thing that "real" books had that mine didn't. A publisher's logo. 
So I created one. The name for the brand came quickly, Bastian Books (my son's name is Sebastian), the idea for the logo followed quickly on. 2 Bs back to back shaped to look like a skull, fitting for the kind of nasty horror and crime I churn out. I set to work (again in PowerPoint) and after a bit of a trawl through the different fonts available came up with this.

The final step was to add it the cover. This required a slight layout change and gave me the chance to add in a nicely pulpy strapline at the top. Job done!

The Next Big Thing - MULITICIDE

Anne Billson tagged me in the 'Next Big Thing' blog chain game (is it a game? I suppose so, but one with a fun purpose).

"The scheme is simple. You write a blog post answering the below questions, at the end you then tag another five people who will do the same".

So here goes (the book I'm talking about by the way is a short story rather than a novel):

1) What is the working title of your next book?

'Multicide'. It's a title I think will stick. It has a certain pulpy ring to it and fits the story well.
As I frequently do I've ended up designing the cover before finishing the story. Appropriately enough with a few tips from Anne Billson (among others) along the way.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I've wanted to do this style of story for some time. It's in the "a group of strangers find themselves somewhere weird and scary" sub-genre. I can't remember exactly what triggered the thought process (which is worrying as it was within the last month) but I had the idea that it might be interesting to write such a story where all the characters were ones from other stories of mine. It was that thought that kicked the book from one I'd like to write at some point to one I was actually writing.

3) What genre does your book fall under?
Very firmly horror. Most of my books have elements of the genre in them but only one ('Dear Suzanna') is what I'd call pure horror. That's strange because horror is probably my favourite genre as a reader.  I suspect 'Multicide' is the horror story I've been building up to for a while. Pure, scary, gory, body count as high as I can make it stuff.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
George Clooney or Michael Moriarty as Curtis Merryweather (depending on the budget I guess, although I think I'd prefer Moriarty)
Famke Janssen or Alex Kingston as Jill Teague
Steve Buscemi as Marty
Matt Smith as Alexi
Emma Stone as Jackson
Clint Eastwood as Sam
Tobin Bell as the monster
Plus me in a cameo at the end :-)

Oh, and directed by Dario Argento please. 

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A group of strangers wake up in an abandoned hospital; then the killings start. 

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Self-published, although it will be the final story in my long planned short story collection which I may try to find a publisher for at some point.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It's not finished yet but I'd estimate the first draft will take about 3 weeks,

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
'The Langoliers' by Stephen King springs to mind. I'm pretty sure Dean Koontz has done something in this sub-genre as well but I can't remember which one it was. And of course the Twilight Zone episode 'Five Characters in Search of an Exit'.
I suppose in some respects there are also similarities to the body count genre that's typified in Agatha Christie's 'And Then There Were None'.
The other thing that did occur to me when I first started planning the story was those great tease covers they used to (maybe still do) put on comic books saying things like "AT LEAST ONE X-MAN (insert your superhero team of choice) WILL DIE THIS ISSUE!!"

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think at its heart the story is about my experiences and frustrations as a writer. Without wanting to give too much of a spoiler a lot of people will die in this book and they're all people I've written about and grown fond of in the past. The stories of mine that I think work best are the ones where I really felt a connection with the central character. Putting that connection aside when you move onto the next book can be a little hard at times. (I'm concious that I sound like I'm talking about real people here and it's true that when a book I'm writing has me firmly in its grip the characters do feel very real). I suppose in a way 'Multicide' is my attempt to literally (pun intended) get rid of all my old characters and move on. It's certainly true that the central characters of 'Multicide' are all ones that I've tried and failed to write more stories about. Maybe this is my attempt to finally put aside those unfinished manuscripts and move on to something new.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Seriously, everybody loves the cat and he's in it.
Aside from that I think it'll be a fun read for anyone who has read my other stories and knows the characters and a good lead in to my work for anyone new. Plus lots of people will die horribly in it which is always fun, right?

I'll pass the baton on to Sam RollingsHeather SmithReina SaltDionne Lister and  Jenn Waterman who are welcome to have a go or leave it as they see fit.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Covers 2

The more I do this the more I find that I enjoy creating the covers for my stories. The most recent, for the unfinished story Multicide, might be the best one I've done yet, due in no small part to some great advice from various people. The time I spent tweaking and refining made me think I should revisit some of my old covers. That may well be something that happens in the next week or two. In the meantime here's a montage of all my covers to date.

Monday, 12 November 2012

A Cat Called Hope will return...

It's no secret that 'A Cat Called Hope' was written as a joke. An experiment in a different style of writing and an attempt to get away from the "nasty" stories I'd written until that point. On completing it I blogged about my feelings about the story here. That post pretty much sums things up apart from one thing, what happened next.
What happened was lots of people bought the story. Now lots is a relative term, I'm not talking E.L. James numbers here but since publication the cat story has consistently sold more than all my other stories put together. All 10 of them. I guess there are a lot of cat people out there.
I've been thinking for a while about writing a sequel, partly because of the success of the first story and partly because (as with most of my favourite characters) I'm quite fond of Marx - he's fun to write.
So, A Cat Called Hope will return, pen is being put to paper even now....

Here's the start:

Marx lived with the women and the girl for a while. Long enough for him to get used to it, this new way of being. Their names were stuck in his head and hadn’t changed. The older woman was still Walking because that’s what she did, constantly moving, doing, fussing. When he’d lived with her and Sleeping he’d thought that energy came from her need to care for the other woman. Now that Sleeping was gone the energy was still there and Marx realised it was just who she was.
Little One was as she had been since she’d found him cold and lost. She was kind and excited and sometimes Marx wished she’d leave him alone. Most of the time he didn’t mind though.
Little One’s mother, who Marx called simply The Woman, somehow managed to look after all of them without bustling like Walking did. She was always calm, sometimes a little sad, and made him feel safe.
So he lived with them, the three females, and enjoyed it. Then one day things changed. Marx found himself sitting at the window staring out of it at the grass and the birds. He remembered what that greenness tasted like and what it felt like under his paws and he realised that something out there was calling to him.
That was the start of it.

If you haven't read the first story and want to you can grab a copy here:
Amazon UK
Amazon US

The best laid plans...

I love it when this happens.
My most recent story, 'Only One Way Out' was supposed to be a ghost story. I've finished and published now and there's not a ghoul or a spectre in sight. Along the way it changed its mind. Instead it's a story (as many of mine seem to be) of a fairly ordinary man doing his best to get through an extra-ordinary situation.
It might still make it as a spooky tale, I have a continuation of it planned but whether or not that will ever be written is another story.

Anyway, if you would like to read it it's available now from Amazon.
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Only One Way Out

It's been a while since a story has got its hooks into me, got them in deep enough that I know I won't be able to shake it off until its done. This one has though so, in my tradition, I'm very happy to present the opening of my current work in progress, Only One Way Out. It's a ghost story set in an old people's home. With a fair wind it should be out later this month. Let me know what you think.

It started with a fire. Sam  was asleep in bed and he didn’t hear the crackle of the flames or smell the acrid smoke. If it hadn’t been for the nurse yelling at him to wake up he probably would have quite happily slept on until it overcame him and then none of what followed would have happened. Not to him at least.

But the nurse was there and he did wake him, Roberto the fat Italian pulling back his bed covers and urging him to get out of bed and down the stairs. As his eyes opened Sam saw one of the new girls whose name he hadn’t secured in his memory yet pushing poor May past his open bedroom door in a wheelchair. May was slack jawed and vacant looking as always, her frail old body clad in a nightie the pattern on which was a faded as her character.
“There’s a fire, Sam,” Roberto said. “in the kitchen. We need to get you out.”
Sam shook his head to clear it and swung his legs out of bed, he was old, 82 last birthday, but not nearly as incapable as some of them. Roberto held out one of his thick hairy arms and Sam pulled himself to his feet.
“Go,” he said once he was upright and steadied. “I’ll be okay. There are others that’ll have more need of you.”
Roberto hesitated.
“Go you bloody fool, I can get down the stairs, do it every morning.” He knew that there’d only be three of them on the night shift. The building was home to forty odd old buggers like him and probably only half of them could walk. If the fire was anything much worse than burnt toast setting off the smoke detectors they might have trouble.
“Go,” he said again and Roberto moved this time, heading to the door. He turned back when he reached it and looked at Sam. “Be careful,” he said, ”don’t try to be a hero, just get yourself out. The firemen will be here soon.”
Sam let out a short bark of a laugh and waved the other man away. Hero? he thought as Roberto left at last. Fat chance of that. Now that he was standing his bladder felt uncomfortably full and he worried that he might not manage to get to the front door of the building without pissing in his pyjamas. That wasn’t something he did, he might be old but he wasn’t hopeless. Still if he survived tonight he might rethink the time he had his last cup of tea in the evening. He could hear the fire now.The distant crackle of it. It was a long time since he'd heard that sound on anything other than the TV. In his youth he'd been a keen camper and expert maker of bonfires,  he'd loved the primal act of producing flames from nothing. It always felt to him like the simple process gave him a link back to his ancestors through the ages. That was all a long time ago though. Now he was practically an ancestor himself. An almost forgotten relic to be looked upon with polite curiosity by the younger generations.
He hadn’t been lying when he’d told Roberto he could make make it downstairs.  He really did do it every morning,  it was a matter of pride for him that he got himself up and washed and shaved and dressed and down to the breakfast table without any interference. Whether he could do it before the whole building was razed to the ground was another matter entirely. The journey from his bedroom door to dining room took him 3 minutes on a good day.  He timed it,  standing in his doorway until the sweeping second hand of his watch hit 12 before he set off. He didn’t do it when anyone was around, he didn’t want them to think he was losing it, but he did do it, every day, waiting until the landing sounded clear before he set off. When he got to the breakfast table and sat down he’d glance at his watch under the table and make a mental note of the time. He’d carry that number carefully in his head like a precious thing until he was sitting in an armchair with a newspaper later and then he’d write it in the margin while he was trying to do the crossword. The act of remembering the number for that 40 to 50 minute stretch was as important to him as any improvement he might make in the time that slow painful walk down the stairs took. Those two things together were the most important part of his day, they proved to him that he was still trying, still fighting, not giving in like some of the old farts clogging up the place. The day he gave up on that fight was the day they could carry him out of there in a box. When he’d first moved in there four years previously he’d kidded himself that it was just for a month, just some time to get back on his feet after the operation. The month had become two and then four and then six and now he knew he was there til the day he died. That was the only way out.