Thursday, 9 November 2017

Cover Story

Okay, so it's been a while. Sorry.

However... I have an excuse for my long absence. Amongst other things, I've been writing a new book. In its way, it's a sequel to 'The Written World' (i.e. 'Unreliable Histories' and 'The Endless Land'), except that it involves none of the original characters. Oh, and the world they inhabited has changed beyond all recognition. I don't know if that meets any of the formal criteria for a sequel - possibly not - but I don't suppose it really matters.

Anyway, I've just sorted out the new cover. And here it is.

So yes, as you can see, it's called "Shelf Life: the book of better endings." It's the story of a young bookseller named Cathy Finn who gets dragged off to a strange new world on the day that someone rather unhelpfully tries to kill her. She doesn't want to be there - she wants to get home to save her family - but over four centuries of history tells her that no one ever gets to return. It's a world of evacuees, you see; a place set up for the specific purpose of homing people who were supposed to die in their own original narratives.

And yes, people here are consciously talking about 'original narratives'. They've recognised that all worlds are fictions, and they've made it their job to 'extract' innocent victims at the moment of their deaths.They can hop between literary worlds, sneaking around everything from crappy romantic novels to the finest works of Shakespeare, but they must always operate in secret. After all, for those still inhabiting the original tales, death is supposed to be pretty final.

A whole nation has built up around the industry of extraction and it's into this cultural melting pot that Cathy is unexpectedly cast. But with a killer at large in her own world, she's keen to make her way back home, even if that means keeping some very strange company on the way.

Oh, and there's a deranged killer making life a bit difficult, too.

So it's basically a tale about tales; a book about books. An adventure in which our young protagonist gets to run about in different genres, poking fun at the clich├ęs and generally peering behind metaphorical curtains. It's been fun to write.

Originally, given the fact that everyone in this world was meant to have died in some other story, I intended to call it "The Other Book of the Dead". Countless emails have sped between me and my many indie writer friends, all with the subject heading "TOBOTD". I quite liked the comic undertones of that, but one or two commentators, including the ever-helpful Corben Duke, made the point that a title like that might easily suggest a horror / straight fantasy. My original cover design did little to dispel such misapprehensions.

The biscuit in the bottom corner is a sort of comic motif associated with one of the main characters but does the cover as a whole scream 'comedy'? Probably not.

So, for a fresh perspective, I turned to a long-standing friend ('long-standing' here being used as a more acceptable alternative to 'old'). Her name is Kath Walker, and Kath draws people. All kinds of people. Beautiful, interesting, famous, and notorious. There's often a whimsical feel  to her drawings and she has a cartoony style that I thought would be far better suited to conveying the book's comic tendencies.

Kath knows her stuff. She trained in Fine Art at Oxford University and, after a time spent as a graphic designer, decided to become an illustrator. She's worked for numerous publishers, as well as clients such as Google, Sainsbury’s, The Sunday Times and the Scottish Government. Here's her website:

We decided that we could hint at the interconnected worlds with an Escher-style maze of staircases and floating doorways, and reflect the literary allusions within the story by substituting hardback books for landings. The result is better, I'm sure you'll agree, than a skull, and old book and a Jammie Dodger.

So here we are, with the cover finished and the manuscript going through its final proof reading stages. All I have to do now is name the chapters and come up with some witty and engaging blurb. That's going to be the hard bit, I think. One problem with these daft 'high concept' stories is that they're a bugger to distil down. That's the next task on my list, so I'll leave you now while I work on it.

I may be some time...

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