Friday, 31 August 2012


Like a magpie to glittery things I am drawn to books...

We were on holiday for two weeks this month. The first week was spent in Yorkshire in a farm cottage near Scarborough and the second week with in-laws in Leicestershire but also spending three days in the Peak District. Whilst naturally sampling the local scenic delights, ice-cream, fish 'n' chips, and partially sunny climes, it was also a good opportunity to scour all the local charity shops and secondhand bookstores because - frankly - it's not possible to own too many books.

The Yorkshire holiday started off well with my partner Sophie setting herself on fire (I'm so dramatic, but hair and gas hobs don't mix - thankfully it was quickly extinguished). The charity shops and bookstores in the Whitby/Scarborough area however were a great disappointment. In the week we were away I bought the total number of 0 books! Sophie only picked up one. Still, I had taken something to read. An excellent collection of short stories by Joel Lane:

The first few days of the second part of the holiday were spent with my in-laws near Leicester. The week started off well with myself descending down their stairs head over heels in pitch blackness at 4 in the morning having mistaken the black opening of the stairway for the bedroom - and having decided not to turrn on a light as I didn't want to wake anybody up. Thankfully, despite bruises everywhere, I remained unscathed. One day we headed out to the ever reliable Astley Book Farm and between us picked up this little lot:

Once in the Peak District just outside of Ashbourne the charity shops were much better stocked than those in Yorkshire, with some eclectic reading to be had other than the obvious 'holiday' reading pap thats good for more or less nothing. Within a few brief days, and including a visit to the excellent discounted bookstore that is Brierlow Bar, we had this lot between us:

Some gems there. But when will I read them? As well as these pictured, we picked up a few others in Leicester and returned with around 31 new titles between us. My reading list - not counting books Sophie has that I want to read - currently stands at around 240. With that amount of choice, we've devised the best way to select new titles is to maintain a numbered list and Sophie picks a number at random for me each time I need a new book. Which is why I read this on holiday which I've had for years but never got round to reading (and might never have got round to reading based on choice alone, even though I thoroughly enjoyed it):

Thankfully, other than hair-burning and the stair-falling there were no other accidents other than me reversing into a post and the passenger side electric window failing on the car effecting a £250 repair. Blow! Especially when that amount of money would have been better spent on books!

For those interested, you can follow my reading habits and reviews on: Goodreads

Friday, 10 August 2012

Do The Bandicoot

Nope - not a new dance, but a suggestion for a long-snouted animal from my beloved.

Bandicoots are a group of about 20 species of small to medium-sized, terrestrial marsupial omnivores in the order Peramelemorphia. They are endemic to Australia. The name roughly translates as pig-rat.

But - and of course more importantly - just look at the length of that snout!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Judging Book Covers

They say don't judge a book by its cover, which usually means if someone is physically ugly that doesn't mean that they are not pretty inside. Of course, the reverse is also true. The pretty can be ugly. But for this post I'm not really talking about people. I'm taking it literally. I'm talking books.

And of course, with books, most of us will judge the content by its cover.

Now, I don't know about you, but condensing the quality of around 100,000 words into one cover image which encapsulates the contents seems like a tough task. Yet its essential for publishers to achieve this to get the book from the shelf into someone's hands. Once there, other things can come into play: like the actual quality of the writing. But the springboard for the sale is the cover. Which begs the question, why are many of them so bad?

Branding comes into it, of course. Take the world's current obsession with "Fifty Shades of Grey". A novel which almost doesn't need a cover in order to be sold (copies are 'literally' walking out of the stores), but something ambiguous is needed rather than graphic for this subject matter. And it helps that all three covers of the trilogy look the same:

Oh! See what I did there. It isn't actually the Fifty trilogy, but it could be. It's certainly designed to appeal to the same audience, and with the Gemmell book if you bother to click to look inside on Amazon you'll see that the book originally had a different cover. It's no doubt been re-branded to appeal to the Fifty Shades of Grey audience. The publishers no doubt hope it might be confused with that book too. How similar the contents actually are I have no idea, but the intention is homogenisation which seems successful.

I'm hoping to use a similar design when I write my expose of corruption in the dog racing circuit: "Fifty Shady Greyhounds". But that's another story.

Independent publishers have limitations when it comes to budgets, of course, and many independent press book covers leave a lot to be desired. Considering most of their authors are unknown, the book cover is perhaps even more important than dealing with big name authors. For example, from 2002 until 2009 I ran Elastic Press, a publishing company dedicated to unknown writers' short story collections. We prided ourselves on our covers - most of which were interesting, if not all of them worked. My favourites are below:

Each of these tried to encapsulate the contents of the book. For example, "Milo & I" was a book of quirky crime stories, and the cover illustrates the title story yet also the theme for the book. Nick Jackson's collection illustrates how it's always worth asking a designer if they are happy for an image to be used. The central image in "Visits To The Flea Circus" is by Mark Mothersbaugh (lead singer with Devo, film soundtrack composer - including The Life Aquatic - and artist in his own right). Devo were one of my favourite bands, and browsing his website one day I fell in love with this image. Not only that - and more importantly - I knew it was perfect for the book. A quick email to his agent secured the image at no cost, other than a few copies of the book (which Mark later confirmed by webcam that he read on the toilet - fame at last!). Incidentally, the wallpaper background is just that - a scan of the wallpaper my parents had on their living room walls in the 1970s.

Of course, paying for artwork is always preferable for the artist, but in independent publishing there's usually not a lot of money around. And to reiterate, it's always worth asking. Perhaps serendipitously, similar to the Mark Mothersbaugh incident, my partner's favourite band is New Found Glory and we found that the lead singer, Jordan Pundik, does a bit of art and again there was a piece she bought which we then realised would be perfect for Fur-Lined Ghettos (our new magazine).

Again, it summarises the contents for us. And again, we were thankful Jordan was happy for us to use it. It goes to show that 'famous' folk are just as human and willing to share the outcome of their endeavours as the rest of us. And sharing art in this way brings both the books and their artwork to a wider audience.

I guess the crux of this blindingly obvious blog post is that the cover art really matters when getting someone to pick up the book. And this thought was kick-started today by Dean Harkness who has designed some of my own book covers and who now has some of his designs for sale as t-shirts here:

Right, I'm off to grab me an "And God Created Zombies" t-shirt. Another design that perfectly encapsulates the story within. Oh, and I mustn't forget to commission him for Fifty Shady Greyhounds...