An insight into cover creation for my books
plus the chance to download 12 free ebooks,
one of which is my short story collection Marry in Haste
The things that excite authors are not always the most obvious. Today for me it’s the imminent arrival of a package containing the wedding topper figurine featured on the cover of my short story collection, Marry in Haste.
To create the cover design I used a stock photo, which for me summed up the tone and attitude of both the title of the book and the tone of the stories in the collection:
proceed with caution
I loved the way the bride is apparently having second thoughts about tying the knot, leaning back from her husband’s over-enthusiastic embrace.
Wanting to freshen up the cover with a slight redesign of the typography, I discovered the proportions of the original image were too restrictive for what I wanted to do, and I wished I had the original statuette so that I could take my own photo.
Money for Old Rope
Then I remembered a conversation with my ever-entertaining hairdresser Tasha in which we established that you could find anything on ebay – she regaled me on how she’d won a bet that you could get “money for old rope” on ebay by finding lots of “old rope” for sale.
I’d pursued this avenue once before, buying a handful of vintage metal toy soldiers for the cover of my single-story ebook, The War of the Peek Freans Light Wounded, about a child at the start of the Second World War. They’ve lived on my desk ever since, alongside three small plastic gold Daleks and dwarfed by a three-inch-high Snowy dog from Tintin. I’m still awaiting the inspiration to bring them together in a story.
Ten minutes later, I’d found not only the precise statuette featured in the original photo, but also a companion piece to use for the cover of my planned sequel, inevitably entitled Repent at Leisure. I’m not ruling out a Happy Ever After to turn this into a trilogy in due course.
We Meet At Last!
I can’t wait to get my parcel and meet what seem like old friends to me now. It’ll be the equivalent of seeing Facebook friends in reali life for the first time, from all angles, in three dimensions, and finding out how tall they are.
It beats me, though, how anyone could want one of these less than enthusiastic plastic couples on their wedding cake. Neither of them look like the ideal representative of a happy couple.
A Model Couple?
The one on my wedding cake was nothing like either of these, having been handmade for me by my talented friend and wedding witness Jane at her pottery class. She’d been with me when we bought my dark green wedding dress, and I’d described my husband’s tartan to her, but his hat was a figment of her imagination. She also didn’t foresee the motorbike, on which he arrived at the Register Office, kilt flying as he tore down Chipping Sodbury’s high street. Nor did I.
We are still married, approaching our fifteenth anniversary, although the motorbike is long gone. (“It did the trick,” he told me later when about to dispose of it. “It got me the girl.”) I’m not sure I’d hold out much hope of the longevity of either of my little plastic statuette couples. I’m also now trying to erase mental pictures of Melania Trump leaning away from her husband’s embrace…
FREE EBOOKS – Marry in Haste plus 11 more!
If you’d like a free ebook of “Marry in Haste”, you’ve got till the end of today (Tuesday 28th February 2017) to download it via this offer, along with 11 other free books by some of my author friends.
WHERE TO BUY
It’s also always available to buy from the usual places – order from your favourite local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223016, from ebook retailers, or order from Amazon.
An invitation to help yourself to 12 free ebooks between now and the end of February, including one of mine!
If you like reading ebooks, read on to find out how to take advantage of a special offer that includes a free download of one of my collections of short stories, Marry in Haste.
If you don’t like reading ebooks, or haven’t tried them yet, here’s a chance to convince yourself, without it costing you a penny! In case you didn’t know, these days you don’t have to own an ereader to read an ebook – you can download to your phone, tablet or computer a free reading app such as Kindle or Kobo, and away you go!
A couple of days ago, I was very pleased to be invited to join a group of eleven sparky women authors in a joint promotion of free books called “Free Reads for Smart Women“. Always a sucker for flattery, I was very happy to add my name under this banner, which, in classic Freudian slip mode, I had misread as Free Reads BY Smart Women”.
Of course, both interpretations apply – because what smart woman could resist the offer of twelve ebooks for free, when they look as intriguing and beautiful as this?
There’s a bit of everything here to appeal to smart women of all kinds, from crime thrillers to romance, from historical novels to contemporary humour.
What’s the Catch?
The closest thing you’ll find to a catch is that to get your free books, you have to submit your email address. Obviously, that’s so that InstaFreebie, the service that’s hosting this promotion, can email the ebooks to you.
Also the authors would like to send you information about more of their books – but don’t worry, you can unsubscribe from their mailing lists at any time, no questions asked.
InstaFreebie would also like to send you more free book offers, if you’d like them – but again, just unsubscribe if you prefer.
And There’s More…
Interestingly, when you download each free book, InstaFreebie immediately shows you three other free ebooks it thinks you might like. Our team of twelve was bemused to find bare-chested men on the covers of many of these books. But so far we’ve had no complaints…
Men Also Welcome!
By the way, you don’t have to be a woman to enjoy any of these books. In fact, one of my favourite reviews of Marry in Haste is by a gentleman who described it as “A book for women that all men should read”!
Men are of course very welcome to help themselves to our freebies too. (I’ll be very interested to hear whether Instafreebie offers you same books featuring bare-chested men!)
How to Download Your Free Books
Hoping I’ve whetted your appetite to download one, some or all twelve, here is the link to claim your free ebooks:
It’s a landing page hosted on Helena Halme’s website, and you just click on the book cover of your choice to claim your free download. You can revisit the page and keep clicking for more as often as you like – and if you’d like to share the page or this post with your friends to help them do the same, please do.
***Please note that this promotion is running 24th-28th February only – so get in quick before the end of the month!***
Why Are the Books Free?
By the way, if you’re wondering why the twelve authors involved are not only smart but so generous – all the books being offered are still on sale commercially elsewhere – it’s because it’s every author’s wish to build up a mailing list of people who are interested in their books, so that we can email readers directly whenever we’ve got a new book about to launch or a special offer coming up.
This campaign is coming at the perfect time for me, as I prepare to launch my first Sophie Sayers Village Mystery in April, and I’ll be sending to my mailing list details of a special launch price offer in March. Exciting times!
If you’d like receive news of that offer without getting involved in the InstaFreebie promotion, that’s fine too – you can sign up here. It won’t get you a free book, but you will have the option to receive a free short story, The Alchemy of Chocolate, as a thank-you.
My friend David Penny, who writes historical novels set in Spain, has just been accepted to appear on A Place in the Sun. This television programme helps weather-weary would-be expats find a new home in the foreign country of their choice.
Authors make great candidates for the programme because as people who spend their days imagining themselves in different places, they’re good at walking into a house and picturing what it might be like to live there. Relocating to the place that’s the setting for their books must feel like a dream come true.
Tempting though it is to pitch for a spot myself, not least because the show’s guests get a free week’s holiday out of it, it wouldn’t work for me, because the novels I’m writing now are set in a small fictitious Cotswold village called Wendlebury Barrow, inspired by Hawkesbury Upton.
All characters and incidents are entirely fictitious, not only because I don’t want to be sued. It’s also because events in Hawkesbury are often so funny/bizarre/surprising that you couldn’t make them up if you tried.
And that’s another reason I’m glad to be living here. At this time of year especially, it may be cold, wet and grey, but life in Hawkesbury Upton is certainly never dull.
This post includes the text of the speech I gave at a local secondary school about the importance of reading
Although I spent thirteen years (a figure which still astonishes me seven years on) working at Westonbirt School, the pleasure of visiting the stunning Grade I listed house and grounds never wears off, and I am still in contact with many of the staff and girls (past and present) as a member of their alumni organisation, the Westonbirt Association, for which I publish their annual news magazine.
I was therefore swift to accept an invitation from the school’s excellent Librarian Mrs Bomford and Head of English Mr Mew to visit one evening in January to judge the school’s Inter-house Reading Competition. In any school, rivalry between houses can be a great spur to achievement, and in the case of a school like Westonbirt where so many pupils are boarders, house spirit is usually especially strong.
That’s certainly true of Westonbirt School.
The Role of the Judge
My duties were straightforward and enjoyable, though I must say it is a weighty responsibility of judging between which house and which girls gave the best performance, reading from their chosen piece of poetry or prose.
I was intrigued to hear their choices, which ranged from set exam pieces to popular children’s books, and from timeless poetry classics – Kipling’s “If“, Shelley’s “Ozymandias” to up-to-the-minute authors and books that had not yet entered my radar. I am kicking myself that I didn’t think at the time to congratulate the poetry readers for choosing poems written so long ago but still so relevant in 2017. (Indeed, the girl who read Ozymandias inspired me to write this short story a few days later.)
For privacy reasons, I won’t name any of the participants here, but suffice to say, as I told them, they were all winners for being avid readers and sharing their love of books, though I did ultimately have to single out one house and two competitors for awards. They were also competing from very different backgrounds, and with different natural levels of ability. For some, reading before a crowd came naturally – they were clearly born performers – and others had to conquer stage fright and other challenges such as having to read in their second or third langauge.
I was impressed not only by the plucky readers, but also by the audience of fellow pupils who listened, rapt, to their friends read, at the end of a long day, on a cold dark night. Their good manners may be a testament to the standards of the school, but their unbroken attention was surely down to the excellence of each individual’s performance.
All in all, it was a wonderful way for me to spend the evening, and I’m delighted, with the school’s permission, to share a photo of the winners at the top of this page, and the text of my speech below.
My Speech at Westonbirt School’s Inter-House Reading Competition
Thank you, Mrs Bomford, for inviting me to come and judge the Inter-House Reading competition tonight. What a wonderful way to spend a chilly January evening, listening to you share aloud some of your favourite books.
There are lots of great settings for reading books – in a hammock in the garden, curled up under the duvet with a torch, in the home-made den I made when I was a child out of an old dog kennel – it was a big dog – but there can’t be many settings to beat the wonderful library of Westonbirt School, built by a man who loved and valued books and reading. Surely if Robert Holford is up there somewhere listening now, he ought to be feeling very pleased.
I too love reading, and though my little cottage down the road is nowhere near as grand as this, my life revolves around books. I write them, I review them, I help other authors publish and sell their books, and I talk about them at events and on the radio.
I’ve written three collections of short stories, some non-fiction books, and now I’m writing mystery novels, the first of which, called Best Murder in Show, will be published in April.
I’ll be launching it at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festivalon 22nd April – the festival that I founded to share my love of books and reading with the local community. We’ll have lots of authors there, holding events and readings and workshops, and if you’d like to come and join the fun, I’d love to see you there.
But why do I love reading so much and why is it so important?
There are lots of reasons, many of which I only really became aware of when I went to work for the children’s reading charity, Readathon.
Firstly, there is lots of research that tells us that people who read books are more successful in every aspect of their lives – not just academically or at work, but in their relationships with other people and how happy and contented they are.
I expect some of you have heard of George RR Martin, who wrote the Game of Thrones. What he says about reading is:
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”
That’s because reading allows you to travel to places you’d never be able to go (including made-up ones – I bet I’m not the only one in this room to have reached to the back of an old wardrobe, hoping to find Narnia!) It allows you to meet people you’d never encounter in real life and to be in situations that would otherwise be outside of your experience. It enables you to pack so much more into your years than if you didn’t read at all.
Reading helps you find answers to questions, not just to facts that you need to look up for your prep, but to answers about problems in your life.
Reading allows you to escape from your worries and to switch off by entering a whole different world. Books are like comfort blankets, and I bet you all have your old favourites that you like to go back to when you’re feeling down.
Sometimes the comfort to be found in a good book can be especially valuable, for example for refugees in camps waiting to move on to their new lives and homes, for people who are ill in hospital, bored, anxious, and maybe in constant pain. The Readathon charity I mentioned, for which I’m an ambassador, takes free books into children in hospital exactly for that reason: even when you’re poorly, life seems better with a book.
And even if you’re hale and hearty, but your life is feeling a bit dull, an exciting adventure story or a brilliant travel book can be just the thing to help your imagination take flight.
You may be thinking, “It’s all very well for her to bang on about how we should be reading for all these reasons, but how do we find the time, when we’ve got prep and assessments and matches and parties to fit in?”
I would say to you that you should make the time – and once you start, you won’t want to stop.
If even Barack Obama could find time to read for an hour every night while he was president, I think you can too. In fact, he said books were the one thing that helped him survive his eight years in the White House.
He said “At a time when so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify …is more important than ever.”
As Obama says, books bring people together too, and the act of sharing a story aloud, as you girls are about to do tonight, is one of the oldest forms of social bonding in history. Even before reading had been invented, and before people knew how to write things down, people loved to share stories aloud, and storytellers who could entertain their community by reciting stories aloud were held in the highest regard.
Of course in those days they had no choice but to do everything from memory, but even until a couple of generations ago, learning stories and poems off by heart was commonplace, because printed books were very expensive, before the paperback was invented early last century. My grandmother, who was born in 1900, used to do recitations as her party piece, and her daughter, my aunt, who is 80, recites poems silently in her head to entertain herself when she’s travelling.
You’re the first generation to grow up with all the advantages of modern technology for reading all around you. You’ve got not only affordable printed books but ebooks that you can read on your phones and tablets when you have an idle moment (or in bed after lights out! – you don’t so much need a torch these days). You’ve got audio books that you can listen to. You can write your own stories and print them out on your computer to share with your friends or post them on apps or blogs. The possibilities are growing all the time.
But for now, as seems so fitting in this splendid traditional library, I’m really looking forward to hearing you all sharing your favourite stories aloud, just as early civilisations will have done thousands of years ago. Thanks to all of you who have worked hard to prepare this treat for us.
I’m sure it’s going to be a difficult competition to judge, but to my mind, as readers, you’re all winners, and I hope you will enjoy the many adventures and the great wisdom that reading can bring you for many, many years to come.
My Young By Name column for the February issue of the Tetbury Advertiser
With 2016 behind us, and with it, we hope, the relentless string of premature deaths of national and international treasures, I was startled to spot on social media today what struck me as a desperate headline:
See Cliff Richard live through 2017!
Good heavens, I thought, are people now so paranoid that they’re publicly rooting for the survival of their favourite celebrity? Could such an appeal really enhance one’s chances of escaping the Grim Reaper until 2018?
I can think of more constructive tactics to keep a person feeling young and full of life, and I’m happy to share them here.
Age is Relative
First, hang out with old people. By old people, I mean anyone who is at least twenty years older than yourself (because we’re all in our prime, aren’t we?) Accompanying my eighty-year-old aunt to my 100-year-old cousin’s funeral not only reassured me of my family’s strong genes but made me feel positively youthful.
Secondly, marry someone older than you. My husband will reach his three score and ten a year before I have to start to wonder whether, in Paul McCartney’s immortal words, whether he’ll still need me when I’m 64. (Which echoes point #1 – hang out with Paul McCartney.)
Thirdly, if you plan to change your name when you marry, pick a spouse whose moniker offers subliminal powers of rejuvenation. Theoretically I’m now forever Young, at least till the next time around. Just joking, Gordon, honest – but any Mr Old who has me in his sights should give up now. (My fictional idol Lord Peter Wimsey got crossed off my theoretical “marry” list when I discovered one of his middle names was De’Ath. What were his fictional parents thinking?)
All in the Mind
Finally, if you’re a writer, on the same principle that you can put someone in a novel and kill them, you can assume a younger persona and, in your head at least, spend quite a lot of your life pretending you’re them. I’m currently writing a series of novels, the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries (yes, the name’s a tribute to the late great Dorothy L Sayers, creator of Lord Peter Wimsey), in which the eponymous heroine is 25. The stories are narrated in her voice, and I’m rather enjoying being 25 again. Naturally her love interest is 32. (The first book, Best Murder in Show, will be launched in April.)
By the same token, do you think Ian McEwan, who in his latest novel Nutshell has made the central character a foetus, has a secret whim to rewind his own age? Whatever next – a novel starring the glint in the milkman’s eye?
From one extreme to the other, back to Sir Cliff: I now realise that the slogan I saw was not an appeal to spare Britain’s answer to Elvis, but an advert for the singer’s new year concert tour, with “live” to rhyme not with “give” but with “hive.
All the same, I bet his promoters have got their fingers crossed…