New book cover ‘Cruel Tide’: I think it’s pretty good

At last! I’ve worked out how to add an image to my blog – the front cover of the new book. I think it’s an arresting image, and pertinent too. See what you think..  It’ll be available from  around the end of November 2015, from any good bookshop, from Amazon as a paperback or Kindle ebook, or from me direct via If you’re in Cumbria, your local bookshop should have copies. If you’re in Canada, go through Portage and Main Books in Winnipeg. If you’re in New Zealand, order through Unity Books in Wellington.

The ISBN is 978-0-9929314-0-7


Remembering what really matters

A good friend and colleague of mine died yesterday. She was an inspirational educator and only fifty two. An aggressive cancer killed her, just over a year after the first diagnosis, despite surgery and chemotherapy. I did what I could to help her, but it could never be enough. In the end she slipped away with frightening speed while I was on the other side of the world. There was nothing I could have done, but I wanted at least to be there, and I wasn’t.

And here I am now in New Zealand, on a glorious spring day, trying to distract myself with trivia about the new book, but in the end the only things that really matter are friendship, love and kindness. I’m remembering my friend, and wishing she had lived a little longer to realise some of the plans she had made for a brief spell of happiness.

How much does price matter?

This week I designed a poster to promote the new book ‘Cruel Tide’ in bookshops around Cumbria. I used a template provided by an on-line printing company, which was generic and didn’t prompt you to include a price. I uploaded the cover image and some text and the ISBN number and sent it off for printing without including the price of the book.

In the middle of the night I woke up, realising what I’d done, or not done, and cursing my own carelessness, as I often do. In the more rational light of day I reconsidered, and wondered whether the lack of a price on the poster would seriously affect anyone’s willingness to order it. I’m not sure it would.

For a start, there have been three previous books, all at the same price of £8.99, and a potential buyer might correctly assume that the price will stay the same, which it will. Second, if readers who tell me that are waiting for the new book are really keen to buy it, the price is not as important as the publication date. Some people have been pestering me for the next one since about two weeks after the last one came out. I’m not sure they understand how much work goes into writing and producing a book. Some of my readers may wait to buy it from me direct at one of the many meetings or events I do, and I usually offer a discount for direct sales.

Amazon offer a cheaper price, as usual, but the shortfall is consumed by the cost of postage and packing, so there’s no advantage of cost or even of time, as we fufil our own orders, which normally takes a day or two longer than Amazon’s immediate turn-round. The Kindle version is slightly cheaper than the paperback, but the pleasure of a well-produced book is still a factor for many people.

If you don’t want to pay for a book at all, there’s always the library. If you do want to buy one, it will cost in this case the same as fish and chips for two or four cups of coffee. For the pleasure they can give, I reckon books are still a relatively good deal.

So instead of price being the key factor I have decided to use the cover image as the come-on. After all the agonising I did about this image, I’m really pleased with it now. It’s mysterious, arresting, relevant, and adds in a quite extraordinary way to the pathos of what lies between the covers. By next week the posters will be printed and arriving in the many bookshops served by my distributors, Hills of Workington. And as soon as I get home I’ll be taking them round to outlets where my books have sold before. It’s been nearly 18 months since the last book, and I hope previous readers haven’t forgotten about me. I also hope that I can pull in new readers too. I want this book to be widely read, because it makes a contribution to the current media storm about historical child abuse and is a timely reminder of how things were only a few decades ago.

When I can work out how to include the cover as part of a blog post, I’ll share it, so you can see what you think. Watch this space. Maybe I could offer a deal for the first five pre-orders, or something. I’m new to all these ‘sales techniques’ but I might be able to work out how to manage them, before I get back home from my trip and launch into thinking about the next book. That should keep me busy through the winter months.

Fads and fashion in the book business

We know how fashion works in clothes. Someone – usually one of the big fashion houses – decides that the coming season’s colour will be ‘ecru’ or orange, or whatever. Or that women’s hemlines will be high or low, trousers wide or narrow, or whatever. The new ‘look’ is pored over by the fashion writers and ready-to-wear clothes manufacturers and the word goes down the supply chain: after a few weeks the shops are full of the latest look, and the sale rails full of last year’s stuff.

The more I listen to agents and publishers talk about the book business, the more parallels I can see. I used to think that what mattered was ‘quality’ and all would be clear when I understood what ‘quality’ really meant. Old and cynical as I am, I wonder if the real ‘quality’ that creates and perpetuates the fads and fashions of the book business is mostly about money. There are two levels, it seems to me. First there is the definition of quality that engenders a Booker Prize shortlist, for example, which in turn guarantees relatively healthy sales. And then there are the outsiders, who for whatever ‘unliterary’ reasons are picked as potential best sellers and hyped vigorously enough to make them so. Different definitions of ‘quality’ apply to these two categories. Let’s face it, some of the ‘bestsellers’ are pretty bad by any literary standard, but if they boost the finances of a hard-pressed publishing house, who really cares? The publisher of the ghastly Dan Brown, for example, could brag to his/her peers about sales figures however embarrassed he/she should be about the absence of any literary merit. It’s like admiring Donald Trump just because thousands of people turn up to hear him ‘speak’.

Once a ‘best-seller’, however poor, has established itself the rush is on to replicate it as quickly as possible. If it’s an 800 page doorstop that’s what we’ll see more of; if it’s ‘chick-porn’ there’ll be more, God help us. If the hero is a dysfunctional depressive alcoholic similar miserable protagonists will rise up everywhere: the next fad has been established and the bandwagon rolls on again down a different track.

There will be exceptions, of course, but not too many as the financial risk is now too great. No wonder finding an agent feels like such a lottery, and the criteria remain notoriously vague. The book business seems to demand that the agent finds a few offerings from the thousands on offer that resonate with current fads, has a good look at the ‘marketability’ of the writer as well as their work, and brokers a deal with the publisher in terms of potential sales. The publisher then invests as much as possible in promotion, persuades the other authors in their ‘stable’ to write the come-on reviews, and prays they’ve backed a winner.

Tell me I’m wrong about this. Persuade me that the book business is not dominated by fads and fashion. Please. In the meantime, writers can avoid the whole sorry business and have the guts to publish their own work, which can hardly be worse than some of the stuff that makes it through the commercial publishing process.

Can you think straight at 3am?

Here’s the thing. I’d been in New Zealand for a couple of days and was feeling quite emotional when I fell asleep, then woke up at 3am. I thought the iPad by my bed was on mute, but the volume was just loud enough for me to hear the ping of an email as it came in. So I lay there and thought, should I just turn over and forget it, or do I need to turn the volume down so I’m not woken again? And if I have to turn the volume down, I might as well check the email at the same time, right?

Not the best idea: attached to the email was the first draft of the cover of ‘Cruel Tide’. I say the first draft, but actually this was after I’d already thought about and sent the brief to Kevin the cover designer. I had an image in my head and it was this that he’d incorporated into the cover that was staring back at me now in the middle of the night. I knew it would be powerful but it blew me away. Then I started having doubts. Was it too graphic, too haunting, too strong? What would readers of my previous books make of it? Would there be howls of protest, and was I risking my current readership for the potential larger potential audience of crime/thriller readers? These are not good thoughts to grapple with in the depth of the night, far from home, after three hours sleep.

Too late. I was hooked now and sleep evaporated. I’d already said I wanted the cover sorted out as soon as possible so we could get on with promotion, posters, and so on. So in I dived, and the emails zipped to the other side of the earth and back again. Maybe email was better than a phone call, as I couldn’t hear the frustration in the voice at the other end who was liaising with Kevin. ‘More of this’, I said, ‘and less of that’. You know how it goes, picky, picky.

By the time that exchange was over, light was dawning in the New Zealand sky and the tuis had begin their wonderful squeaky croaking chorus to welcome the day. If you’ve never seen or heard a tui, check it out. I love them, but perhaps not so early and after a disturbed night. Welcome or not, the new day and the early birds reminded me that the world goes on. Angst about a book cover is nothing, relative to the real issues of our world. A mere pimple on the cheek of life. Get over it. Yes the image is powerful, and maybe some people will find it disturbing, but the content of the book is disturbing too. I knew that from the start, and I haven’t backed away from it, so now’s the time to stay strong. ‘Staunch’ is the Kiwi word for it. If you can’t take some risks and follow your instincts when you self-publish, why bother?