It’s What’s Inside That Counts: Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Clichés? Certainly. True? Certainly. Except we do judge books by their covers, don’t we? And we judge people too.

My new novel, Skin Deep, is published in June by Accent Press and addresses the sticky issue of outward appearance versus inner reality – amongst other things. But today I’m talking about the cover – because a brand new one is unveiled today and I couldn’t be happier. The team at Accent have done a fabulous job at capturing the tone of the book and as we all know getting covers spot on is hard. Very hard. But this is perfect. I LOVE it, and I hope you do too. Can you tell how excited I am about this new novel?!

So here it is – the Skin Deep jacket. And the blurb and a link should you wish to pre-order.

It’s what’s inside that counts…

Former model and art student Diana has always been admired for her beauty but what use are good looks when you want to shine for your talent? Insecure and desperate for inspiration, Diana needs a muse.

Facially disfigured four-year-old Cal lives a life largely hidden from the world. But he was born to be looked at and he needs love too. A chance encounter changes everything; Cal becomes Diana’s muse. But as Diana’s reputation develops and Cal grows up, their relationship implodes.

Both struggle to be accepted for what lies within.
Is it possible to find acceptance in a society where what’s on the outside counts for so much?

PRE-ORDER LINK

Laura x

Back to school for the kids; what about you?

BHWA logo reverse outToday, my youngest, and thousands like him across the country, goes back to school. Although he says he’s not looking forward to it, I just know that once he’s there he’ll have a ball. Despite what he says he enjoys learning – most of us do.

What about you? New term, new goals? Are you looking to expand your writing skill-set, or develop new ones? If your answer is yes, then you might be as excited as me about a brand new venture launched in Brighton this week; one which I’ve the good fortune and pleasure of being involved in: The Beach Hut Writing Academy.

We’re a group of published authors, based in Brighton, who’d like to share our knowledge and experience with new and developing writers through a range of high-quality, affordable courses.

With experience across a wide range of genres in fiction – from crime to YA to short stories – non-fiction and script writing we know what it takes in the increasingly competitive world of publishing. We build confidence and writing skills, we offer support and expertise gained from professional experience. Amongst our number we boast bestselling author and all-round 5:2 guru, Kate Harrison; Richard & Judy Book Club author, Araminta Hall; acclaimed short story writers Bridget Whelan and Erinna Mettler (who is also a founding member of live lit organisation Rattle Tales) and award-winning script writers Sue Teddern and Hannah Vincent. So many talented writers at your disposal, ready to share top tips from their professional writers’ toolkits. What’s stopping you?!

Do check out our autumn programme and spread the word to writing chums in the south east and beyond.

If you live near Brighton you’ll see our leaflets all over the place and for further information please visit our Facebook page HERE. Below you’ll find images of our autumn flyer which will provide a flavour of what’s on the menu.

Our beautiful logo and the flyer were designed by children’s author and illustrator Jules Miller. Do visit her site for more examples of her fantastic work.

BHWA A5 Flyer FrontBHWA A5 Flyer Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another journey begins

I thought little could top the total amazing-ness of 2014, but I was wrong.

After much discussion with my editor, Greg, and managing editor, Rebecca, I am delighted to announce that last Monday I signed a two book contract with Accent Press.

Nothing is set in stone regarding release dates but provisionally, Redemption Song will be released in late 2015/early 2016 with a possible e-book release this summer, with Skin Deep following hot on the heels of Redemption Song in summer 2016. I’m excited at the prospect of working with Greg and all the team at Accent again – they’re such a dynamic, dedicated and talented bunch, and they work their socks off.

So, what are these books going to be about? Love, Redemption and Beauty.

A dilapidated pier balustrade

A dilapidated pier ballustrade

Redemption Song is about faith and forgiveness, an old pier ballroom, and the redemptive power of love. A rough blurb might go like this:

After a tragedy, twenty-four-year-old medical student Saffron de Lacy and her mother, Rain, move to a remote Welsh resort to heal. Riddled with grief and guilt, Saffron is angry and confused.  Faith is the key to Rain’s redemption, if only she can admit the truth.

Carpenter Joe Jones lives a solitary life on the edge of town. Joe is also hiding; he’s not all he appears and he’d like to keep it that way.

When Joe rescues Saffron after her car breaks down he is drawn into the women’s lives. Saffron is trapped by her past; something Joe understands all too well, though he plans revenge. To move on, they must learn to trust and forgive. Love could redeem them, but will they risk it?

It’s set in a fictional seaside town inspired by Llandudno on the north Wales coast. Here are some pictures of Llandudno on my last research visit there. A rock shop also features in the story, as well as an old Standard.

Beautiful Llandudno in north Wales

Beautiful Llandudno in north Wales

Skin Deep is a darker read. It’s also a contemporary novel, set in Manchester and London, and is told through the eyes of beautiful artist Diana and interwoven with the story of Cal, a deformed boy. Both of them are seeking love and purpose, trying to find acceptance and their place in a world fixated with image. The novel follows their journey to professional success and personal happiness across two decades, and explores love, beauty, and the legacy of parental exploitation.

An early draft of the novel was in the final seven of a national competition with a glitzy awards ceremony held at the O2 and was almost picked up three years ago – but the novel’s near-misses journey is an involved tale, with plenty of advice and warning for new writers, and best left for another post. Since then, Skin Deep has been sitting in a virtual drawer, awaiting a rewrite. It’s a story I haven’t been able to let go of, or the characters, and I’m more pleased than I can say that Diana and Cal will finally get to tell the world their story. There’s a lot of work to be done first, of course.

And on that note, I’d better get on with it. My first deadline is the end of the month. Yikes.

A review of The Girl on the Pier – and some blathering

Girl on PierAs a rule, I don’t review here on my blog. Doing so would imply posturing as a critic, something more serious than the often casual, personal but considered, thoughts I leave on Amazon, Goodreads and Waterstones’ online presence. However, rules are meant to be broken, and regular visitors will note that I do review from time to time, and the observant amongst you will notice that such reviews tend to cover books by indie authors or those published by smaller houses; the theory being they might need more of a boost. So, today, I’ll talk briefly about a debut novel from acclaimed sports writer, Paul Tomkins, The Girl on the Pier.

I might never have met Paul or read his novel but for a confusion of Brighton addresses, and I am grateful for that minor administrative error. Let me explain. Alongside my fiction, I work as an editor/mentor for developing writers – freelance and for literary consultancy, Cornerstones. Paul hired Cornerstones to look at his novel but a mix up at Cornerstones HQ meant that I received the manuscript instead of another Brighton editor, Araminta Hall. As it happens Araminta is a friend of mine (and author of the best-selling Everything and Nothing and more recently, Dot). Anyway, I was working on another manuscript and had to pass on Paul’s, but the incident connected us. The novel’s intriguing and promising premise stayed with me, and I was delighted when, months later, I received a copy of the novel.

First off, it is an object of great beauty. Cleverly designed with high production values, it is a book to cherish. I have fetish-like tendencies when it comes to books and I love stroking this one – it even has flaps (ahem). So beautiful is it that it came as a surprise when I discovered it is self-published. I emailed Paul to find out the story behind his decision to go down the indie route because I knew there was agent interest in the book and because, bluntly, I’m nosy. But that’s a story for another post.  Possibly …

I rarely read self-published work, not unless it comes highly recommended or I know the author’s work from short-stories or other published work in reputable media. I know that there are some fantastic self-published books out there, but the harsh truth is that there is an awful lot of rubbish and life is too short to wade through the proverbial. This sentiment is shared by many and I might incur the wrath of many for saying this, but hey-ho, it’s only my opinion.

But, I will shout about The Girl on the Pier because it deserves to be heard above the noise (din?), because it is a work of serious intent, well-written and with a fabulous central conceit. Here’s my brief review, and if you’d like to buy the book there are links at the bottom.

Forensic artist Patrick is charged with the reconstruction of the skull of an unidentified girl found on Brighton’s famous West Pier in the 1970s. As he painstakingly reconstructs the girl’s face, memories of a childhood crush surface, blending with obsessive thoughts of a magical night spend on the pier with Black, a beautiful photographer, in the 1990s. An accident means that Patrick loses Black’s telephone number and is unable to trace her, yet he never forgets her or the incredible night they spent together. Abandoned as a boy by his parents and successive lovers, Patrick is an intelligent but damaged man, and as we follow the two mysteries, the lines between fact and personal fiction become increasingly blurred.

Reflective, atmospheric, and written in gorgeous prose The Girl on the Pier is a literary thriller about ghosts from the past, art, disappointment, obsessive love, and the slippery nature of memory. In Patrick, Tomkins has created a seductive and beguiling narrator, one so smooth it takes a while before you might begin to question his version of events. Set mostly in and around Brighton, the now destroyed pier is exquisitely evoked and the story is choc-a-block with intelligent insights. ‘The hardest thing in human existence is to accept that what’s done is done. Death is final. But so too are our actions, each and every last one of them. We can seek to alter the course of where the present is heading, and we can apologise, and try to put right that which we have got horribly wrong. But none of it can change what actually took place.’

It’s common in reviews, especially nowadays and by marketeers, to liken books to others, but I can’t do that with this novel because it isn’t quite like anything I’ve read before.  And this is a very good thing. Commonly, I lean towards faster-paced works but I really liked this book and it made me want to improve my own prose. And what I will say is that if you enjoy well written stories which require a little thought and leave you thinking, then you should enjoy The Girl on the Pier.

Buy the book on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Girl-Pier-Paul-Tomkins/dp/1784621048

Find out more about Paul and his work here: www.paultomkins.com

Guest author: Debz Hobbs-Wyatt

Never Give up the Dream

Debz and RosieFirst of all I would like to thank Laura for having me over here on her blog! I’m Debz and I not only work as a full-time writer, having abandoned the regular day job, but I also work as an editor, professional critiquer and a small publisher. I also edit for the e-zine CaféLit and I am a partner in the small press, Bridge House Publishing, which is how I met the lovely Laura when her debut novel BloodMining won the first and only Bridge House Debut Novel Competition.

No dream worth pursuing is not without its hard work and sometimes that all too painful rejection. But, finally, 2013 is the year I got to see my debut novel in print. It was a long time coming.

Like so many writers I know, I have always written in one form or another but the obsession (and I think you need it!) finally got me close to ten years ago when I started work on the first novel (ignoring the one I wrote aged nine!) and I guess you could say have never looked back.

While No One Was Watching, published by Parthian Books this October, was actually the fourth novel I’ve written. And as I’m sure Laura will agree – we have to read, we have to write and we have to learn the craft. There’s no short cut.

I suppose as aspiring writers what we seek the most, or certainly what I seek, is validation. So when my first short story was published five years ago that marked the real beginning. I completed my MA in Creative Writing from Bangor University in 2010, read everything on writing, attended as many courses on writing as I could and I guess became like a sponge – because I wasn’t good enough and I wanted to be.

When the obsession became too strong I gave up the day job to live the dream – that was four years ago – to an uncertain future, but I just knew I had to. And since that first success I have had close to twenty short stories in collections and this year saw me short-listed in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize with only one other UK writer and I WON the Bath Short Story Award. Now that certainly validates giving up the day job!

But, and while I continue to write short stories, it was always about the novel and in fact it was my fourth that finally made it. Richard at Parthian Books phoned to say they loved my novel, While No One Was Watching and so put the icing on the proverbial cake for 2013. What a year! And I have to say that I believe writing short stories really honed the craft, and working in editing and especially critiquing made a huge difference – you have to know it, to teach it. But learning is a continual process and I have another three novels in various stages of rest, one almost ready to submit.

WhileNoOneWasWatching_CoverWhile No One Was Watching started life as a short story, an experiment in first-person narratives; it came from a vision – a woman leans forward in a chair, thick black fingers wrapped around a child’s silver locket and says to the young reporter, “It belonged to a little girl. She disappeared the day the President was shot. She was never found.”

This whole premise of taking an iconic moment in history; the assassination of John F Kennedy, but looking at something that happened just off-set, fascinated me and seemed like a great premise for a novel. Eleanor Boone is standing on a grassy knoll, she drops her mother’s hand. Gunshots. Panic. When the mother turns around her little girl is gone. She is still missing fifty years on – so what happened?

I knew it begged to be more than a short story and so I developed it, at the time three years or more until the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination.

I had to do a huge amount of research as you can imagine, not only about Kennedy but using American narrators, the African-American certainly needed a lot of work, it had to be authentic. I have travelled extensively in the states and have a lot of friends on the west coast, so I had the background to hopefully do it justice. The publisher claims he was quite convinced I was American when he read it. Phew. I hope when it’s released in the US next spring American readers will feel the same. We will have to see.

Gary is a small time reporter for a local paper, divorcee, Sunday father, and Lydia is a larger than life African-American retired police psychic. I loved the idea of letting fact and fiction to brush up alongside one another; our reporter reviewing real evidence from that day, but this time not looking for a man in a crowd with a gun – but a little girl. Gone while no one was watching. Or maybe someone was?

I do err on the literary side in my writing, so while it’s a plot-driven mystery, I love to explore my characters. My publisher asked me, if out of all the characters I’d written –which would I most be friends with? Without hesitation I said Lydia Collins. And it seems most people love her as much as I do! Phew. It’s a strange thing sending your work out there, hoping people will look after your characters but so far, so good – the reviews have been amazing.

It felt as if the pressure was on, when you work with developing writers as I do, you kind of need to put your money where your mouth is – prove you do know what you’re talking about. Hopefully this is validated.

I am just thrilled it’s out there and it was out in time for the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination this November.

Find out more about me and my work here: MY WEBSITE

Find out more about the book on the publisher’s website here: PARTHIAN

Watch the book trailer I made here: (I even had song written and composed for the book!) YOUTUBE

And buy it here (note that the Kindle version is on special offer for 99p until the end of December 2013.) AMAZON

So I really hope you enjoy it!

And Laura – thanks for having me over here. So pleased to see how well your own writing career has developed since that first novel.

And, my usual sign-off, applicable to all, but especially to aspiring writers – remember – anything is always possible so never give up.

I wonder what 2014 will bring?

Thanks so much, Debz. What an inspiring story behind your novel and there are so many truisms here that I couldn’t possibly name only one now. Sounds like a fantastic read, and it’s still on special offer for Kindle so get downloading a copy before the price goes up. Me? I’ll be buying a paperback, because there are some books I just have to hold and this is one of them.

A rare review – Housewife with a Half-Life by A.B. Wells

My title is misleading because I review frequently; I mean only that it’s rare for me to post reviews here. You can check out my others on Amazon and Good Reads. I’m posting this one because I’ve admired the ‘other’ writer in A.B. Wells for many years (Alison Wells writes fine short stories and flash fictions, with novels currently out on submission) and also because Alison (aka A.B.) self-published Housewife with a Half-Life and I wanted to offer my support. To do my bit to spread the word. Self-publishing is not for the faint-hearted and the major problem authors face is how to be heard above the noise. This is my shout-out. A.B. deserves to be read, as does her alter ego Alison.

Here’s the review I posted on Amazon and Good Reads:

aw-hwah-cover-front-midFirst off, it took me a long time to read this book. Not because I didn’t enjoy it – on the contrary I enjoyed it very much – but because I bought an e-book copy when it was on special offer and therefore had to read it on my iPad. My youngest son constantly nicks the tablet and so I’ve had to grapple with him in order that I might finish this intelligent, intriguing and often hilarious book.

The second thing to make transparent is that this is not my usual reading material; I’m more of a women’s, literary, historical with some psychological thrillers thrown in type reader. I’ve not read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for example, so I have few points of reference for this kind of off-the-wall fiction. For this reason I’ve given four stars, though I was tempted to award five. I am familiar with the ‘other’ writer in AB Wells – Alison Wells – and have long admired her thoughtful, exquisite prose, and this crafts(wo)manship is evident in this book. It’s well written, but I’d have expected no less.

Given how late to the party I am there’s little point running over the plot, suffice to say it’s fun and quirky and rattles along at a healthy pace. Susan, the housewife of the title, is engaging and utterly believable and as a wife and mother myself I empathised with the ‘half- life’ she feels is her existence. All the characters  – even alien Fairly Dave – are fully imagined and serve clear functions in the story. There are laugh out loud moments as well as plenty that will raise a wry smile.

For me, what sets this book apart and makes it well worth a look at, even if it’s not your usual reading material, is the way that Wells injects scientific theories and observations into what is, at first glance, a light-hearted, fantastical romp of a journey of self-discovery. Give it go; I dare you. I bet you won’t regret it.

To find out more about Alison Wells and her fantastic work visit her blog here.

In the beginning there was…

LesleyToday, I’m delighted to welcome to my blog Lesley Cookman, author of the enormously popular Libby Sarjeant Murder Mystery series and co-founder of Accent Press. As some of you will be aware, I’m connected to Accent via my L.C. Wilkinson work. Here Lesley takes us through how it all began.

Ten years ago, Accent Press was born. It all began when Hazel Cushion and I decided to publish a charity book on behalf of Breast Cancer. We had met doing a Master’s Degree in Wales and the course members had published a book of short stories. Hazel had enjoyed that so much, we decided to carry on, with Hazel doing the business side and me hijacking authors. Luckily, I already knew several high profile authors whom I was able to force – sorry, encourage – into donating stories, then I threw the whole thing open to the members of The Romantic Novelists’ Association. My husband produced the cover, which was to become the template for the whole series of Sexy Shorts, we launched at The Groucho in London and set off on a grand tour, which included the National Library of Wales and the Guildford Literary Festival. Hazel then set up the business in her back bedroom and Accent took off.

SExy Short for ChristmasSexy Shorts became the inspiration for Xcite, the imprint which Hazel started a few years later. By this time, I was no longer connected with Accent in an editorial capacity but as an author, and although I can’t read or write erotica, I welcomed it – I knew it was a “coming thing” (no pun intended) as I’d watched its rise (oh, sorry) in the US, along with the rise of the ebook, and I knew it would bring great business to the company.  I did attempt an erotic novella when asked, but it sent my blood pressure through the roof and I haven’t stopped taking the tablets ever since. So I admire authors like Laura who can do it so well without becoming clichéd.

Accent, and indeed, Xcite, have now become established as one of the foremost independent publishers in the UK, and I am proud to have been in at the beginning. We celebrated a couple of months ago with champagne and cake in Accent’s new offices, and I’m looking forward to the next ten years.

Find out more about Lesley and her work here:

http://www.lesleycookman.co.uk/
http://lesleycookman.blogspot.com/
https://twitter.com/ @LesleyCookman

New MurderintheDarkFrontThe 12th novel in Lesley’s Libby Sarjeant Murder Mystery series is out now in ebook with the print edition following on 10th October.

Buy it here: Murder in the Dark

Thanks for popping by, Lesley, and best of luck with the book. I’ll be buying copies for a couple of relatives who adore murder mysteries come Christmas.