Characters and what they look like #amwriting #Scottishromance

I don’t know what my characters look like. That sounds daft, I know, but my idea of them is vague. Rough height and the space they take up is there, but the rest is hazy. Eye colour, hair texture, shape of face and all those other physical characteristics refuse to make themselves known.

It was interesting, therefore, when a graphic designer created a cover for me for Highland Fling. I described the male love interest as resembling Jamie Fraser, aka Sam Heughan, of Outlander fame, but I still didn’t know what he looked like. And as for my protagonist, I knew her heart and head but little else.

cover picture of Highland FlingAs you can see from the cover, Enni Tuomisalo of Yummy Book Covers fleshed them out for me. If you read Enni’s blogs on cover design, she explains the ‘rules’ of chick lit design thoroughly. Illustration is most commonly used, as photographs unless in the hands of an arty designer will scream self-published (though props often work well). But another rule is that faces aren’t shown—unless the book is turned into a successful film or series and then the cover is re-released with the actors’ faces in place.

‘No face’ rule

Enni has drawn my heroine with her back to us—a common convention in chick lit because of the ‘no face’ rule. Why is this rule in place? The argument is that romance readers want to imagine the main character themselves. Seeing their face imposes someone else’s interpretation of the character. And if you’re writing chick lit in first person as I tend to do, then I want my readers to be able to imagine themselves as my main characters. Easier if they don’t have a picture of what her face looks like.

And the male character? Again, it’s common not to show his face. Years ago, I remember watching the TV adaptation of Jilly Cooper’s Riders book and being disappointed with the actor who played Rupert Campbell-Black as he looked nothing like I’d imagined. Many of the books that do choose photos for front covers use ripped torsos with the head cut off—perhaps for that reason. Put your own blond, dark-haired, red-head interpretation on top*.

Enni’s cover shows a rough approximation of my main characters and I’m delighted to find out what he looks like. That isn’t contradicting all I’ve just said because as an illustration and one in the background, he’s still vague enough for people to let their imaginations run free.

Highland Fling is due out summer 2019. To keep up to date with launches and giveaways, please consider joining my mailing list – pinkglitterpubs@gmail.com. Thanks!

*One thing I’m conscious of here is the lack of diversity on covers. White men and women—and usually young and very glamorous ones—dominate, which must alienate an awful lot of people.

My Cover story #amwriting #writersworld

D’nah! The big reveal—may I present the cover to my next book, Highland Fling, coming soon to an online book store near you…

cover picture of Highland FlingAnd behind every cover, there’s a story. Literally, of course, given that this is a book, but I’d like to share with you the story of Enni, Eric and me, a weird and wonderful coincidence the universe in her wisdom gave me. Blessing be upon you, mamma.

Firstly, Enni. So, there I am on Wattpad, bumbling along posting up stories, attracting a few followers and reads (though nothing like the numbers the popular guys and gals get), doing the odd thing that gets attention (hello Wattys2018) and creating my own niche genres such as plus-size vampire erotica*. All in all, Wattpad isn’t all it promised from the outset. I think about leaving and concentrating my efforts elsewhere.

Graphic design

And then I find myself a new follower who starts adding a lot of comments to my stuff. Highland Fling’s protagonist is a graphic designer—so is my new follower. Highland Fling includes a character from New Zealand—my new follower is also a Kiwi, albeit an adopted one. She fills me in on the practicalities of graphic design. My Kiwi slang is right in parts, wrong in others. She tells me outside of Auckland, the nickname for Aucklanders is Jafas. I leave it to your superior imagination to guess what the acronym stands for. You can leave your answers in the comments if you like, though please use stars for the F-bit.

Fast forward a bit, and the Wattpad commenter and I take our conversations off Wattpad and onto email. Reader, I have done this a lot over the last six or seven years and I heartily recommend it. I’ve done this with folks I’ve met through LinkedIn (hello Eric, Gordon, Russell and Ann-Louise!), Upwork (hello Caron, Sharon and Jenni!), and now Wattpad. My new NZ friend is thinking about setting up a side hustle as a book cover designer and she volunteers to use my book as her guinea pig. She’s read it too, so unlike most book cover designers, she knows the story inside out. She sends me the cover and I’m overwhelmed. What a stroke of luck.

You can find her website at yummybookcovers.com

Beta readers

My other stroke of luck is Eric, of LinkedIn fame. He volunteered to beta read my story; and he’s a retired editor with many years’ experience. I told him not to get too bogged down in correcting my dodgy grasp of the English language because I didn’t want the task to take up too much of his time, but he did so anyway. A professional editor read over my book and offered tonnes of useful suggestions**. Eric tells me he’s thinking of a side hustle too offering beta reader services, and if you are in the market for such critiques why not give him a shout? Eric’s beta reading service will:

  • offer feedback on your plot and characters, and opinions on clarity
  • make suggestions for plot developments you might want to consider
  • tell you the words and phrases you overuse, and pull you up on cliché use
  • point out which physical actions your characters take are impossible.

Blessing be upon you, mamma universe again.

*My most popular book on Wattpad to date. Who knew? It’s here, if you’re interested…

**Writing this with him in mind, and worrying about my terrible sentence construction habits.

Book + Main and plans, plans, plans

Books + Main on Emma Baird's blogPlans for this year included smarter social media use—y’know, instead of that jumping from platform to platform, creating accounts left, right and centre, updating all of them in fits of enthusiasm and then tumble-weed for weeks at a time.

Reader, that was me. Not any more; I now have a spreadsheet. Yes, yours truly has come up with the super-sad spreadsheet which outlines what platforms she will use and when. Lord, it’s a thing of joy. I’m tempted to upload it here so you too can marvel at it. It’s the Marie Kondo approach to organising my butterfly brain and getting rid of the clutter.

Honestly, I keep opening this spreadsheet and gazing at it, awe-struck. A double bonus is that I recently found out how to do strike-through font in Excel, so not only do I have my list but I CAN CROSS THINGS OUT WHEN I’VE DONE THEM.

So, bye-bye Pinterest and Google+, cheerio to random log-ins to accounts* and hello Book+Main and scheduled postings and checks. Book + Main, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a new platform specifically designed to connect writers of women’s fiction and romance in particular, with writers. It seems the ideal place to be. It’s predictably pink and hearts-like in design, but there we go. For the moment author accounts are free and you can showcase your work there.

I’ve posted up what they refer to as ‘bites’. Book + Main’s creator reasons book blurbs rarely give you a feel for the writing, whereas an extract will. Unlike Amazon, the writer gets to choose the extract so it doesn’t have to be the first few pages. I’ll report back—hopefully with news that my account has taken off, I’ve been bitten thousands of times and my book sales have soared.

I love the new and shiny, and every time I embark on something new, I tell myself this is going to work—hooray! As Winston Churchill once put it, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

I embrace that saying fully.

*time wasting, social media’s main role in my life so far.

Burns Night Book Group

The Fatal Tree book coverFittingly, given the literary connection, the January meeting of the book group I belong to took place on Burns Night. Bring on the haggis…

In deference to the vegetarians in our group, I made Felicity Cloake’s version of a veggie haggis which uses split peas, pearl barley and vegetables to add flavour to the oatmeal. All Spice and plenty of black pepper made it taste authentically haggis-like. For the neeps and tatties bit I went with the BBC recipe here mainly because it meant I could prepare the dish the day before. Haggis can be dry, so a creamy whisky sauce makes it more palatable. To continue the Scottish theme, the menu included smoked salmon, mackerel, a punchingly strong vintage cheddar and a Strathdon Blue with biscuits.

The Flash World

And the book? I chose Jack Arnott’s The Fatal Tree, as I read it last year, enjoyed it ever so much and wanted to know what others thought. The book is based on the real-life story of Jack Sheppard* told through his girlfriend, Edgeworth Bess. Sheppard was notorious for his repeated jail breaks in the 1720s, a period of history when crime rates soared through the roof as tends to happen when differences between the rich and poor yawn so widely. The book also featured the real-life characters, Jonathan Wild, the Thief-Taker General and a rank bad jin as we say in this part of the world, and the playwright John Gay, who wrote The Beggar’s Opera said to be based on Sheppard, Wilde and the Whig politicians of the time.

It explored the rich, underground world of London, social inequality, gay subcultures, criminality and poverty. I loved the canting vocabulary used throughout—the slang terms of the so-called flash world, the underworld of the time. Others, though, found it slowed their reading. The book included a glossary at the back but when we read the book many of us found it didn’t take long to get used to the language and work it out for yourself – Romeville for London, the flat world for ‘normal’ society, phiz mongers for portrait painters, caper merchant for dancing teacher, hempen widow, a woman whose husband has been hanged, and so on.

Our book group doesn’t spend most of the evening on the book—when you’ve all been friends for years and for some of us (me), the book group represents the bulk of our social lives so the night is an opportunity to catch up—but the consensus was… mostly in favour.

Thanks to the language and the descriptions, A Fatal Tree is terrifically atmospheric and something you can easily imagine being adapted for TV or film. Jake Arnott’s book, The Long Firm was televised some time ago. Last night, we spent some time trying to think up who could play Edgeworth Bess, Jack Sheppard, Jonathan Wild et al. If you’ve ever played the casting game with one of your favourite books, it’s much harder than it seems.

All in all, a great book and a great night.

Did you celebrate Burns Night? And can veggie haggis ever be as good as the real thing?!

 

*Co-incidentally, this week’s news included the story of man who fled the UK, and was then found guilty in absentia of the man-slaughter of his date. He has since handed himself into the authorities in Georgia. His name? Jack Shepherd.