Category Archives: Blog

Taking The Punches & Fighting For The Books

Part of my job, after I’ve bought all of the books, is to work out what cover we want on them. Gotta wrap the text in a nice package that tells you something about the book and makes you want to pick it up, yes?

And this week, trying to do that has just knocked me flat.

I’m lucky that Rebellion has quite a chilled-out covers process; we basically just figure out some directions, have a chat, email around, have another chat, find an artist…. and fucking hell is it hard work. I feel like for every punch I’ve stood up from, another’s come and knocked me straight back on my butt!

The problem with book covers is that there’s usually multiple directions they could go in. What’s popular generally? What’s hot in the genre? What’s going to be hot in a year’s time? What do readers expect? What does the US like, versus the UK? What’s going to suit the book? What looks good, great, fabulous? What’s going to make people buy this?

You’re also doing that within time and budget constraints, of course. Nothing new there.

Every time I thought I’d got something figured out, someone hit me with a new idea or a new direction. For every decision I made, I encountered another point of view. Every time I tried to get out of the rabbit hole, another four passages opened up…

And it was hard: stressful, anxiety-inducing and plain discouraging. I’m doing my best, and I keep getting told I’m not good enough.

But actually, that’s not true.

I’ve got to remind myself that I am fighting for my books.

A mediocre cover won’t do. A “meh” cover won’t do. I am not letting these books that I bought and I love out there in the world with a cover that doesn’t represent them. I want people to read these. I need people to read these.

And every alternative suggestion, every “not good enough”, every critique – it’s not aimed at me. It’s going into making the cover the best damn cover it can be.

That said, I still have to filter and refine and work out which suggestions are worth listening to, and which are Michael Rowley being bloody irritating. (I do adore him, but Michael can talk for England. Keeping him on track and away from pirates/chocolate/new book ideas can sometimes be very hard.)

And I need to take the knocks – because they’re not aimed at me. They’re aimed at my books: I am championing something bigger than me. And I am damn well going to make sure everyone knows that they need to read these ones.

MAP MAP update MAP

More map!

Detailed map of fantasy land, showing a city with huge towers

So Tom’s comment when he sent it was “Is Meton ludicrous?”

Which…yes, it is! I adore it. I squeaked. And then I had to write a very sad email going “But it’s just…not right for what’s described. Sad Face.”

I love that castle. I want to live there. I want to climb the towers and walk through the tunnel and isn’t it so much fun?! I might have to write another story just set in that castle.

But… it’s jarring enough that it made me – and Otter, who was peering over my shoulder and has just returned from the depths of Grey Stone & Steel – pause. It’s not on the end of a cliff; it’s not a more medieval-style castle; the towers are proper towers. I just…


For most of the map, I’m more than happy for things to not ‘match’ – I don’t have a visual imagination, and so if something’s not as described – what the hell! I don’t care. There’s so many versions and visions that I honestly don’t mind. But Meton is the centre of the books, and the thing I’ve spent so much time with, and I found I had a slightly better imagination for it. So… slightly less ludicrous we go.

But hey, at least I have a setting for my next story!

(And isn’t the rest of the map AMAZING? I am loving this so much!)

A Thought About Voice – The Start

I had a piece of writing recently that I was editing, and it started with;

“Finally,” the young woman said-

What voice do you read that spoken word in? What tone?

Is it “FINALLY we have gotten round to THIS THING!” or “So, um, finally I get to say something?” or “Fiiiiiiinally in my very long list of shit…” or something else entirely?

It turned out, half a sentence later, to be a tremulous tone.

And so I did what editors do, and I crossed it out.

It’s too uncertain an opening. It’s a single word with too many different tones and meanings and phrases, and it brought in too much of an about-face in the reader if they read it the wrong way (“well FINALLY we’ve got to this point! HUMPH!”) and then suddenly had to switch to tremulous.

One of my core principles is that the reader shouldn’t have to re-read unless it’s a deliberate choice. If you’re pulling an abrupt switch or a big reveal, then a re-read is great! (One of my favourite parts of Skin Games by Jim Butcher comes after the reveal three-quarters of the way through, and you end up gleefully skipping back through entire conversations to get a hidden meaning.) But if you’re using dialogue and you’ve got a long conversation, I shouldn’t have to track back four lines to check who is saying what. I don’t want to have to return to the start of a paragraph to check when they actually moved location/opened the window/did the action. And I shouldn’t have to realise halfway through a sentence that my tone is completely (and I mean completely) wrong.

As an addendum to that; slightly wrong, I think, goes with the territory. No reader will read the characters in the same way that the writer hears them, and that’s fine. But you should be able to at least convey the general tone of the conversation: and that’s why “Finally” got a red line through it. There were other ways of conveying the hesitation and tremulous tone; in fact, all I actually ended up doing was suggesting the second half of the sentence went first, which conveyed the tone far better.

That said… you know this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, right? Maybe just a general suggestion to have a read of your openings, and check if there might be another way they could be read.

MAP map map map MAP!!

The world of Green Sky is getting a MAP! I am so ridiculously excited right now.

The amazing Tom Parker Illustration has been working on it for the past few weeks, and we’ve got to the inking stage…

So, this was the first inked sketch I had:

Part-inked Greensky Map

I have just been…WHEEEEE and there has been SO MUCH SQUEE. And, yes, a bit of grumbling, because I had to go and do my research again! I did start trying to get a map done a couple of years back, but unfortunately due to various things it didn’t work out. I did pull together some notes for that, but of course thought “Oh, I won’t need those…” and now have to remember exactly how many islands there are in Tao and ohcrap I forgot to put Torth on my terrible sketch and what even is in the desert?

Tom, bless him, took it absolutely on the chin and sent me a very rough sketch (thank goodness) with a huge bunch of questions and a very large amount of enthusiasm at getting to draw flying machines and machinery! And now we’ve got to inking and I am just blown away. It’s not Accurate because none of my world is – it’s all in my head and was never intended to have a Right Way, and I am absolutely loving Tom’s interpretation of it all.

And this is the latest one!

More detailed map

It’s going to go into Book 7 (as that’s pretty much about mapping) and Otter’s currently trying to convince me that I should put it into the previous books, too – so that’s something I’m going to look into. Also, Tom’s going to colour it so I can print one for my wall!!

It’s going to look SO GOOD!