I’ve never met Karen King, but she’s one of those people you meet online and come to see as a friend. She is always amazingly supportive and I would be happy to give her space on my blog to promote her next book, pretty much whatever she was writing about. But she’s chosen a subject close to my heart at the moment: writing across genres.
I came from a background in writing for business – not something that most people think of as “writing” but actually one of the easiest ways to make money in this business. Once I started writing fiction, though, I was encouraged to stick to one genre – in my case, historical novels. Just lately I’ve branched out into contemporary fantasy, with books like Something Wicked. It’s interesting moving into a new field and having to adapt the way you write. Karen has a lifetime’s experience of this and her thoughts are well worth reading if you are an author looking for new challenges.
I’ve been a published writer for over thirty five years and whilst nowadays I mainly write romantic novels and psychological thrillers, I started my writing career working on teenage and children’s magazines. I was first published by the iconic Jackie teen magazine way back in the early eighties. I wrote several photo strip love stories and short articles and, as I had no experience on writing photo strips, I went about it by studying several issues and learning the format, how many frames per page, how many words per frame, etc. However, it was when I started writing for younger children’s magazines that I got my big break and was able to earn a living as a writer. I’ve written comic strips, short stories, activities and quizzes for a variety of magazines – Thomas the Tank Engine,My Little Pony, Winnie the Pooh, Barbie and Sindy – all things I had never done before, but each time I was asked to write something different I said yes and studied sample scripts to learn how it was done. And it paid off. Writing for children’s magazines earned me a regular income for several years.
Writing for a living sounds a dream come true to writers who are struggling to get published, but it comes with its own problems. Once writing becomes your job, your way of earning an income, then you stop writing for the fun of it and start writing what pays the bills. Which means that you accept – or try to accept – whatever work you are offered and focus on writing for the commercial market. One of my mantras is ‘never be scared to try something new’. I was always willing to have an attempt at anything, writing-wise. I’ve written picture books, story books, activity books, joke books, educational readers, young adult novels and even a folder of 27 plays – that was a tough one, especially the accompanying teacher’s notes, but I did it.
Whenever I write for a new market or genre my mantra is ‘know your market know your reader.’ I study the market, read other books in the genre I am writing to get a feel of the characters and story plots that are popular, and think about my reader. I ask myself questions such as: what are my readers expecting from the story? What age group are they? What are they interested in? This was especially important when I was writing for children, as the younger the age group the simpler the storyline and vocabulary, but it can also be applied when writing in different genres for adults because readers of crime thrillers, for example, will expect different things from the story than readers of fantasy. Nowadays I write romance novels, and more recently, psychological thrillers, but I still abide by the ‘know your market, know your reader’ mantra.
When I had my debut psychological thriller, The Stranger in my Bed, published last November, a lot of people were surprised at me going over to the ‘darkside’ after writing ‘sparkly’ romances for the last decade, but to me it isn’t that much different. The way I see it is that I write about relationships. My romance novels are stories of relationships that (eventually) go right and my psychological thrillers are about relationships that go drastically wrong, whether it be husband and wife, mother and child, siblings, etc. With a romance novel it’s all about the emotional journey of the heroine – and hero. The reader knows – and expects – a HEA (happy ever after) – even if only for now) and they read the story to find out how the heroine and hero get there. The twists and turns are the obstacles that get thrown in the couple’s path which they have to overcome to be together. Whereas at the core of the psychological thriller there is usually a mystery to solve – who is the abuser, who has kidnapped the child, can you trust this woman/man? etc – and the story is full of twists and turns. The reader should be kept guessing right until the unexpected and, if possible, jaw dropping ending. The thing I found most difficult about writing The Stranger in my Bed was timing the twists and reveals to keep them going throughout the whole story, which often meant I had to change the order of chapters about so that events happened earlier, or later, than I had originally planned.
My latest novel is once again a romance novel, One Summer in Cornwall, set in the gorgeous Cornish town of Port Medden where one of my earlier romance novels, The Cornish Hotel by the Sea, is set. The Cornish Hotel by the Sea became an Amazon bestseller both in the UK and USA so I was delighted to write a sequel featuring some old favourites, and bringing in some new characters too.
Many people dismiss romance novels as being unrealistic escapism but I disagree. Romance novels are about the complexities of human relationships, the highs and lows of being in love, which most people can identify with. Most of us have been in love at least once in our lives so can relate to the experience. I wrote an article about this for Women Writers, Women’s Books called The Realism in Romance. You can read it here if you’re interested: https://booksbywomen.org/the-realism-in-romance-by-karen-king/
When I sold my article to Jackie magazine all those years ago I’d never have guessed that I’d have 120 children’s books, two young adult novels, several short stories, nine romance novels (with another two in the pipeline) and a psychological thriller published. So if you fancy writing in a different genre, go for it. You never know what you can do until you try!
One Summer in Cornwall
Escape to Cornwall this summer…
A gorgeous feel-good read, perfect for fans of CATHY BRAMLEY and PHILLIPA ASHLEY.
When Hattie is made redundant and evicted from her flat in one horrible week, she needs time to rethink. Her Uncle Albert left her and her father each half of Fisherman’s Rest, his home in the Cornish town of Port Medden, so this seems the perfect place to escape to until she can figure things out.
As Hattie stays in the cottage, clearing it out, tidying it up and getting it ready to sell, she starts to find her feet in Port Medden and making a new home here begins to feel right. If only her dad didn’t need a quick sale and things weren’t complicated by her unwelcoming neighbour Marcus . . .
Karen King is a multi-published author of both adult and children’s books. She has had nine romantic novels published, one psychological thriller with another one out later this year, 120 children’s books, two young adult novels, and several short stories for women’s magazines. Her romantic novel The Cornish Hotel by the Sea became an international bestseller, reaching the top one hundred in the Kindle charts in both the UK and Australia. Karen is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. Karen now lives in Spain where she loves to spend her non-writing time exploring the quaint local towns with her husband, Dave, when she isn’t sunbathing or swimming in the pool, that is.
Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290) lived during a period of great castle building particularly in Wales. However, what is not so widely known is that a reason she may have been considered a She-Wolf Queen is because her contemporaries often thought her greedy and accumulative. The truth is, Eleanor suffered greatly during the Barons’ War which opens The Damask Rose. Simon de Montfort, leader of the anti-royalist baronial faction, won the Battle of Lewes and took the King, Henry III, his son Edward and Eleanor prisoner amongst other royalist supporters. They were all held at separate locations and Earl Simon famously ruled England through the King for more than a year. Eleanor was impoverished and incarcerated at Westminster or in the Tower for the period prior to The Battle of Evesham which the Royalist faction won following Edward’s escape from captivity. Read The Damask Rose in which these events are dramatized to find out what happens next.
Once the monarchy was restored, encouraged by Edward, Eleanor began to accumulate property in her own name. Sara Cockerill, Historian, has written a superb non-fiction about Eleanor of Castile which has informed many of the events of The Damask Rose and which inspired me to write Eleanor’s story in fiction. Sara describes Eleanor’s property acquisitions which were accelerated once Eleanor was crowned Queen in 1274. She writes: ‘Eleanor, more or less uniquely among English queens, managed to combine her day job as queen carrying on another full time professional job as a business woman dealing in property.’
Eleanor worked incredibly hard with a well-selected team under her which she managed. She would not ever be flouted. This indicates her determination and indeed sometimes ruthlessness. She would never be poor again, so poor that during her nightmare year she had to borrow funds from her tailor to purchase firewood and pay her staff. Eleanor was extremely intelligent, competent and a passionately hands-on business woman. She travelled around the countryside visiting her castles and manors choosing them with care.
On occasion she borrowed money from friends to finance castle building works and without doubt she needed large sums of money to finance her great household. This would cost her around eight thousand pounds a year. Her properties helped finance her lack of income. By 1290, the year of her death, her estates provided her with around two to three thousand pounds annually. A ditty from the time went like this:
The King would like to get our gold The Queen our manors for to hold.
Another epitaph written by the Dunstable annalist after Eleanor’s death in November 1290 said ‘A Spaniard by birth, who obtained many fine manors.’ Her property acquisition was well-known during her lifetime. Sara Cockerill points out that Eleanor was associated directly with her estates in surviving correspondence. She made decisions and dealt with administrative detail, enclosures, land tract issues, confirmation of conveyances and even allocating wine from to vineyards for shipment. Letters show how staff were reporting to her. She was personally involved in her business empire and paid attention to detail.
During her time as Queen, her husband, Edward I ordered the royal apartments in the Tower of London redecorated. Today one can view the thirteenth century royal apartments in the Tower including the replica of Edward’s bedroom. The chamber appears to have been decorated in Eleanor’s favourite colours, red and green with a sprinkle of gold. They give a sense of what Eleanor’s favourite manors would have looked like inside. Close to where I live, is the village of Brill, to which Eleanor had title. The palace at Brill, which she sometimes occupied, was situated in the middle of Borstall Woods, part of Bernwood, a forest covering much of this part of Oxfordshire. Now the woods have dramatically shrunk and the palace has vanished. Eleanor loved to hunt and I am convinced I sense her presence when I walk through our local Piddington wood, a remnant of the royal ancient hunting forest owned by Queen Eleanor.
Carol McGrath is the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves Trilogy, which began with the hugely successful The Silken Rose and continues with the brand new The Damask Rose. She was born in Northern Ireland, and fell in love with historical fiction at a young age, reading children’s classics and loving historical novels especially Henry Treece, The Children’s Crusade, and, as a teenager, Anya Seton’s Katherine and everything by Jean Plaidy. Visiting the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace aged eleven was thrilling for her. Exploring Irish castles such as Carrickfergus introduced her to wonderful stories. At only nine years old an archaeological dig in Donegal was inspirational. Carol came away with a few ancient mammal teeth. While completing a degree in history, she became fascinated by the strong women who were silenced in records, and was inspired to start exploring their lives. Her first novel, The Handfasted Wife, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards, and Mistress Cromwell was widely praised as a timely feminist retelling of Tudor court life. Her novels are known for their intricacy, depth of research and powerful stories.
For more news, exclusive content and competitions, sign up to Carol’s newsletter at: www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk. Follow her on Facebook: /CarolMcGrathAuthor1 and on Twitter: @CarolMcGrath
The Damask Rose
1266. Eleanor of Castile, adored wife of the Crown Prince of England, is still only a princess when she is held hostage in the brutal Baron’s Rebellion, and her baby daughter dies. Scarred by privation, a bitter Eleanor swears revenge on those who would harm her family – and vows never to let herself be vulnerable again.
As she rises to become Queen, Eleanor keeps Olwen – a trusted herbalist, who tried to save her daughter – by her side But it is dangerous to be friendless in a royal household, and as the court sets out on crusade, Olwen and Eleanor discover that the true battle for Europe may not be a matter of swords and lances, but one fanned by whispers and spies . . .
There can be very few people who by now have not heard of or viewed Bridgerton, the Netflix series based on Julia Quinn’s book, The Duke and I. Some people love it and some people hate it, certainly everyone seems to have an opinion on it.
As someone who read the book several years ago, I was looking forward to seeing what it would look like on screen, and I have to say that I was not disappointed. Like the book, it was a light, frothy, escapist romance with an undercurrent of more serious and darker matter. It was certainly not an historically accurate representation of the period generally known as the Regency. I’m amazed that anyone expected it to be.
Reading the book was my first foray into the modern and mostly American authored genre of Regency romance; that is, stories set in a Regency-type England. These are stories that are not generally historically accurate but which reference enough details of the social life of the time to pass as accurate by readers who are not bothered by such things. As a historian, and someone who regards Georgette Heyer’s stories as the pinnacle of the Regency genre, I was at first shocked by the liberties taken by the author in her depiction of British upper class life in the early 19th century. Her characters had modern thoughts, expressed themselves in modern ways, even when bound by the conventions of the time. But importantly, I did not stop reading; the story drew me in with its humour, witty dialogue, and clever plot. Yes, I enjoyed it – so much so that I went on to read the others in the series.
Much as I enjoy tales that accurately reflect the period, I think that there is room for stories that have only a veneer of history. People, especially in these trying times, are seeking escapism in literature, films, and television programmes, and I for one, can’t see anything wrong in that. If escapism of this sort helps people cope with the challenges of everyday life, surely that’s a good thing?
Other criticisms about Bridgerton concern the casting, costumes, and hairstyles… and I haven’t even mentioned the sex! Yes, the casting was colour blind, depicting a black Queen Caroline and black members of the aristocracy, but what does it matter? It is a fantasy past being depicted. Besides, it always annoys me when people claim that there were no black people living in Britain in the early 19th century… of course there were. People of all ethnicities have lived here for centuries, although usually not as members of the aristocracy. One exception to this is heiress Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804), natural daughter of Sir John Lindsay, who was brought up by Lindsay’s uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. Although not fully accepted by society, Dido Elizabeth was brought up as part of this noble family.
Back to the costumes…on screen they were colourful, flambuoyant, and constructed in fabrics probably not invented at the time the story is set. But again, what does it matter? They were a visual treat for the eye, conveying a sense of the styles of the time and not an accurate depiction.
I’ve even read a criticism of one of the sex scenes – where Lord Bridgerton is enjoying himself with a maid up against a tree – his rather nice bottom was on display, pumping up and down energetically. Not accurate, someone complained. His breeches wouldn’t need to come down, he would just unbutton the front falls to achieve congress. Yes, that’s right, but this is television and fantasy and titillation, so we get to see his bum.
Romance is so often denigrated, as if it’s something shameful or only for women. There aren’t as many complaints or snobbery about what I call ‘boys’ own’ stories, in which the hero defeats the villain, drives the fastest car, and the girls are always willing to jump into bed with him. Whenever the latest Bond film comes out, there is usually a flurry of fawning articles about the wonderful special effects and car chases. Why is it that when a romance fantasy aimed at women is released, there are snobbish and condescending articles about ‘bodice-rippers’ and historical accuracy? Double standards?
Well, I hope you might realise that I thoroughly enjoyed Bridgerton and I’m eagerly looking forward to the next series. If nothing else, it has generated interest and discussion about a genre of writing that I love. It’s not pretending to be history – it’s escapism, romance, and telling a good story. And for a short time, it took my mind off the dreadful state of the world today.
A Bachelor’s Pledge
If you enjoyed Bridgerton but might like to explore a more historically grounded (but still fun!) book set in the period, you might considerA Bachelor’s Pledge.
The woman who haunts his dreams
Secret agent Phil Cullen is upset when he discovers that the young woman he rescued from Mrs Newbody’s establishment has absconded from his housekeeper’s care without a word. Thinking he has been deceived, he resolves to forget about her… something easier said than done.
The man she wants to forget
Sophia Turner is horrified when she is duped into entering a notorious house of ill-repute. Then a handsome stranger comes to her aid. Desperate that no one learns of this scandalous episode, Sophia flees to the one friend she knows she can trust. With luck, she will never see her mysterious rescuer again.
But fate has other plans…
Months later, Phil is on the trail of an elusive French agent and Sophia is a respectable lady’s companion when fate again intervenes, taking their lives on a collision course.
Traitors, spies, and shameful family secrets – will these bring Sophia and Phil together… or drive them apart?
Heart-warming romance combined with action-filled adventure make this third book in Penny Hampson’s Gentleman Series a must-read for all lovers of classic Regency fiction.
Penny Hampson writes mysteries, and because she has a passion for history, you’ll find her stories also reflect that. A Gentleman’s Promise, a traditional Regency romance, was Penny’s debut novel, which was shortly followed by more in the same genre. Penny also enjoys writing contemporary mysteries with a hint of the paranormal, because where do ghosts come from but the past? The Unquiet Spirit, a spooky mystery/romance set in Cornwall, was published by Darkstroke in 2020.
Penny lives with her family in Oxfordshire, and when she is not writing, she enjoys reading, walking, swimming, and the odd gin and tonic (not all at the same time).
Thank you, Tom, for your blog post about my new thriller, The Stranger in My Bed. I appreciate you taking the time to do this. As you mentioned, I normally write romance novels, where love wins in the end and everything goes right. Whereas The Stranger in My Bed, is a portrayal of a marriage gone badly wrong.
You commented in your blog that ‘Like many men, I had my suspicions that coercive control was mainly an invention of militant feminism and that, if it happened at all, it happened to weak women who were, to a degree, complicit in their abuse. Since then two separate friends of mine, both strong, confident women, have fallen victim to this sort of relationship.’ A lot of people think this, unless they are involved, or know someone involved, in this kind of destructive relationship and this is one of the reasons I wrote this story, to raise awareness of the issue.
Both women and men – although it’s mainly women – are affected by domestic abuse – over 2.4 million according to the 2019 Crime Survey for England and Wales, it’s a big problem that is often misunderstood and pushed under the carpet. Someone who has never been in an abusive relationship, or never known anyone in one, can find it difficult to understand why the abused person doesn’t run for the door when the first incident occurs and say things such as ‘why didn’t she get out sooner?’ or ‘why does he put up with it?’ These comments suggest that the victims of domestic abuse are partly to blame for it, that it’s their fault for ‘allowing’ it to happen. I wrote The Stranger in My Bed to try and dispel the myth that abused partners are weak doormats and to try and show how insidious the emotional impact of domestic abuse is, how the abuser gaslights their partner into believing that they are imaging the abuse, or that it is their own fault, they cause it to happen. Also, these kinds of abusers aren’t abusive all the time, they are sometimes kind, loving, the life and soul of the party. This can be confusing for their partner who hangs on in there waiting for the abuser to return to the person they know they can be, the one they fell in love with and who loves them.
In The Stranger in My Bed, both Freya and Phil have their faults – as all people do. Freya is no doormat. She is outgoing, strong, a career woman who fights her corner determined not to put up with the things her mother put up with from her father, who was a serial adulterer. Phil is intelligent, loving, kind, charming if a little overbearing, they seem the perfect couple. One night Phil storms out and Freya packs her bag ready to leave him when he is involved in a serious car accident. When he comes out of his coma he can’t remember the past two years – all their married life – his last memory is of them returning from their happy honeymoon. Freya is faced with the dilemma of whether to still leave him or give their marriage another chance. It’s evident that some kind of abuse has gone on in the marriage, but the story changes POV so that the reader isn’t sure which one of the characters is the abuser and which one the abused.
It’s a story that, I hope, will make people think. That nice couple next door could be going through this, your sister, brother or friend. Did they really get that bruise on their arm by walking into the door frame? Do they always wear long sleeves for a reason? Would they tell you if something was wrong or cover it up? And when they finally do confess to you what’s going on will you believe them or say ‘but he/she seems so nice?’ As you say in your blog, Tom, ‘it can be difficult to believe that there can be a real threat lurking in an apparently normal home’.
No one knows what goes on behind closed doors. Even the victims of domestic abuse often don’t realise what’s happening to them and question whether they are really the ones at fault, if they are causing the abuse. If my book helps just one of them to open their eyes and reach out for help then I’ll feel that I’ve achieved something.
The Stranger in My Bed
‘We have a patient who has been involved in a serious accident. We believe he’s your husband.’
When Freya first met Phil, she thought he was the man of her dreams. He bought her roses every week, booked surprise trips to sun-soaked destinations, and showed her affection like she’d never experienced before. But over time the dream had become a violent nightmare. And now Freya is packing her bags, knowing it’s time she escaped their increasingly broken marriage.
But then Freya gets a visit from the police. Phil’s been in a horrific car crash and – as he comes around – it becomes clear that he remembers nothing since their blissful honeymoon two years before, back when their relationship was perfect. All he wants is to be happily married again.
Freya knows giving him another chance could be dangerous. But now he’s the one who needs her, it’s a chance to turn the tables, and to change the outcome of their relationship once and for all. After all, he will only know what she chooses to tell him…
But what really happened during those two years of marriage? And as they start over again, who is safe? And whose life is in danger?
Fans of The Girl on the Train, Behind Closed Doors and Date Night who are looking for a dark, gripping psychological thriller, with a final twist that will leave their jaw on the floor, will love The Stranger in My Bed.
Karen King was born in Birmingham and has always enjoyed reading and writing. She’s been published for over thirty years, in a variety of genres for both children and adults. She loves writing about the complexities of relationships. She is published by Bookouture and Headline. Her first three books for Bookouture were romances where relationships came right, she has turned to the darker side of relationships for her next two books, writing two psychological thrillers about relationships that go badly wrong. Karen now lives in Spain where she loves to spend her non-writing time exploring the quaint local towns with her husband, Dave, when she isn’t sunbathing or swimming in the pool, that is.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know how much I enjoy. Jennifer Macaire’s writing. So I’m delighted to have her here talking about her next book.
A Remedy in Time
Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog! I’m here to talk about my newest time travel book, ‘A Remedy in Time’, and what inspired me to write it.
I’ve had a passion for time travel ever since I found out about dinosaurs. I admit I’ve watched the Jurassic Park series about a hundred times. The dinosaurs never get boring for me. When I was in kindergarten, I stood at the blackboard and drew huge dinos. A t-rex chased a triceratops, a stegosaurus lumbered across a swamp, while a huge brontosaurus (now known as apatosaurus, which is a pity, given that brontosaurus meant “thunder lizard”) grazed on high tree tops. One of my teachers discovered my obsession, and she would take me from class to class so I could draw and give a talk about dinosaurs.
Then one day I happened on a Reader’s Digest that featured sabretooth tigers. In the illustration, the tigers are attacking a mammoth that has somehow gotten entrapped in a tar-pit. I stared at that illustration for hours, trying to imagine how the sabretooth tigers could hunt and eat their prey with such massive canines.
That was that for the dinosaurs. Suddenly I was fascinated by a time when woolly mammoths, huge cave bears, and even sloths the size of small houses, roamed the frigid plains of the ice-age tundra. The sabretooth tiger, with its out-sized canines became my spirit animal – I read everything I could about them, and spent my time drawing pictures of extinct mammals. Needless to say, the sabretooth tiger was the beast that really caught my interest.
Years and years later, I stumbled on a blogsite that featured fossils, and it amused me to try and guess the mystery photos the author posted. And then one day, lo and behold, there was a sabretooth tiger! I recognized it right away. In the blog post, the author admitted that scientists still argued about how the animal hunted its prey. I started imagining a trip to the past to film a documentary about sabretooth tigers.
Of course, the trip would start at Tempus U, where my time travel books all start from. And the heroine this time would be a single-minded young woman who not only specialized in paleolithic animals but infectious diseases as well, because when I started writing the book, there had been a breakout of an especially virulent form of typhus in California. And so I wove a story about corporate greed, vaccines, man-made diseases, and a trip to the far, far past. A Remedy in Time is available for preorder, and will be published January 7th, 2021!
And here is the fabulous cover my publisher, Headline Accent, made for it!
To save the future, she must turn to the past . . .
San Francisco, Year 3377. A deadly virus has taken the world by storm. Scientists are desperately working to develop a vaccine. And Robin Johnson – genius, high-functioning, and perhaps a little bit single-minded – is delighted. Because, to cure the disease, she’s given the chance to travel back in time.
But when Robin arrives at the last Ice Age hoping to stop the virus at its source, she finds more there than she bargained for. And just as her own chilly exterior is beginning to thaw, she realises it’s not only sabre-toothed tigers that are in danger of extinction . . .
Jennifer is an American living in Paris. She likes to read, eat chocolate, and plays a mean game of golf. She grew up in upstate New York, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. She graduated from St Peter and Paul High School in St Thomas and moved to NYC where she modelled for five years for Elite. She went to France and met her husband at the polo club. All that is true. But she mostly likes to make up stories.
I lay with my face in the grass. I hadn’t vomited, but that’s only because I couldn’t take a full breath. I knew that as soon as my diaphram started working again I’d spill my guts. It didn’t take long. “Why, oh why, did I agree to this,” I said, between bouts of retching and paralyzing pain. Finally, I managed to get to my knees. “What if a sabre tooth tiger had been here? We’d already be eaten, or worse.”
He shook his head. “See how the air around us is faintly blue? We’re protected by the tractor beam for a good hour. Nothing can get in.”
I reached out my hand and touched the blue-tinged air. It was a little like being surrounded by a very faint fog. I poked. My finger tingled and stung. “Wo cao!” I said. As I watched, the blue shivered and began to fade. “It’s almost gone. Let’s go. We should send some vidcams out and see if there are any spots that look like a good campsite.”
Donnell looked at his comlink.
“What time is it?” I asked. “Is time here different, I wonder? It was nearly noon when we left the, um, future.” I glanced at my own comlink. “It’s one minute to one. Amazing. We go back ten thousand years in little more than an hour. A-fucking-mazing. Look at this place!” Mouth open in amazement, I gazed around. We were on the side of a grassy hill, and we had a good view of the surrounding area. I forgot about my pain, I was in the past! I was here! I staggered to my feet and looked around. “Wa cao! We’re really here! There is a ta me da giant armadillo down there. Putain, a glyptodon! This is amazing. Look at that! It looks like a walking igloo except it’s brown, not white. Donnell, look!”
Donnell didn’t look at the scenery. He looked at me, and said, “Robin, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I’m really very sorry. I didn’t have a choice in the matter.” He looked truly upset.
I hastened to reassure him. “No need to apologise. Look, I know you didn’t want to have me as a partner. I overheard you talking to the dean. It doesn’t matter. Let’s just make this trip a success. We have many lives depending on us.”
He made a strange noise. Then his face turned ashen, and he gagged like he was about to be sick. I thought he was still feeling the effects of the trip. I bent to help him to his feet, but he gagged again, then screamed.
“What is it? Donnell? What is happening?” I didn’t understand what I was seeing. His leg, hislegwas shrinking. He shrieked, grabbed his leg, and his hands sank into his, well, where his thigh should have been, and then he sort of slid and slumped to the ground, convulsing, his body moving as if waves were tossing it, as if he were made of liquid, and his clothes became wet, and the strongest, strangest smell assaulted my nose.
I think I started to scream then too. Then my breath ran out and all I could do was squeak, squeak, squeak, as I tried to drag air into my lungs.
He must have been in dreadful pain. He screamed until the end. Until all that was left was his chest and his head, then those too sank into themselves and all that was left were clothes and boots, and a pink, foamy gel.
I spun around and flailed at the air, at the faint wisp of blue that still lingered. I found my voice. “Help!” I screamed, “Help, help, help!”
No one came. Below me, in the valley, the glyptodon lifted its head and seemed to look in my direction.
I couldn’t stop shaking, and I couldn’t seem to be able to breathe. Black spots danced in front of my vision and I knelt down, bent over, and hit my head on the ground. “No. No. No! That didn’t just happen. It’s a hallucination. You’re still unconscious. You’ll wake up in a minute. Wake up, Robin. Wake the feck up.” I dug my fingers into the dirt and screamed again.
Burke at Waterloowas republished last weekend. There are some minor changes in the text but the biggest change is the lovely new cover. This has naturally led to thinking about book covers again – a subject that has come up on my blog a few times lately.
One of my readers, Paul Benedyk, turns out to be a bibliophile and previous posts on covers made him think about the covers of books in his own collection. His response is far too interesting (and long) to hide away in the comments, so here it is shared with you.
Confessions of a bibliophile
Much to the frustration of my wife, I was collecting books in a minor way when we met, and have continued since we married (to the extent permitted!). I now have something approaching 1200 books scattered around the house. To be fair to my wife, she lived for a time in the house of a family who ran a bookselling business from home, so even the smell of older books brings back memories from the 1970s that she would have preferred to leave there!
Your blog piece made me reflect on the development of covers through some of the books I have, and I’ll mention three I have that might be of interest to you :
Josephus – published before 1930, I think
I can’t lay my hands on this book at the moment, but I bought it only because of the book cover. The spine had become loose and it was clear that, under a fairly normal looking bland plain hardcover, it had at some point been bound in old sheet music! I’m unsure whether this was part of stiffening the original cover following a repair, or if using sheet music for this purpose was common at the time it was published. Maybe one of your blog readers has come across this sort of thing ?
Charles Dickens “Specimen”
I was interested in this book, not because of this book cover but because of the ’story’ it tells about the time it was published. It’s stamped inside “Feb. 12. 1907 Louis Chaplais”, who I guess may have been an itinerant bookseller or perhaps the owner of a bookshop (but that’s just my speculation). It’s not actually a Charles Dickens book, but a really nicely produced sales pitch by Cassell & Company for “the First Complete Edition of Dickens’s Works ever offered to the public by Subscription”.
Its forty or so pages are bound in book format with examples of the proposed binding, typeface and illustrations of the series, making it very clear that the series would be produced to a high standard and available only by subscription. On another page, not the one shown here, it reads – “Every care will be paid to the binding; the forwarding and finishing will combine good workmanship and taste.”
The covers of this special edition series, as illustrated within the specimen book, were clearly meant to impress from the bookshelf, rather than from the front cover itself.
Evan Evans – The Song of the Whip
This is the real link into your blog piece for me, as the cover of this paperback was produced by a distant relative of mine, who I never actually met. Abram Games (1914-1996) was a graphic designer, and became more widely known as a poster artist. He designed some iconic posters to help the war effort during WW2, as well as a number after the war for London Transport, BOAC, The Festival Of Britain and The Financial Times. He also designed postage stamps and was, in fact, featured on a stamp himself in 2014 in a series called ‘Remarkable Lives’. I was amazed to learn that he also turned his hand to designing the occasional stained glass window and even a Cona coffee percolator.
Going back to the book covers, as Art Director of Penguin Books, Abram Games ‘oversaw’ the first move into full colour covers for Penguin paperbacks, although only a few covers were his own work. I believe the management of the time were not thrilled with this evolution into full colour covers for paperbacks and discontinued the experiment after a year or two. I was inordinately proud, though, to find out that he himself designed the paperback cover for The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill !
His name appears on most of his work, printed in his own hand somewhere – in this case towards the bottom right hand corner of the cover, as opposed to the bottom left hand corner of the Evan Evans book.
So it’s interesting for me to see the evolution of book covers through books that I actually have on my bookshelves (barring one I can’t find at the moment !), and to know that the lovely new covers on your books follow a line of craftsmen with a number of skills going back several centuries.
Keeping in touch
It was lovely to get this from Paul. Writing is an inherently lonely occupation and there’s little direct feedback from readers. It’s not just with books, but with a blog. Although I invite comments on the blog (there’s always a form at the bottom of each blog post), I don’t get that many. But, as you can see, I do read them and usually respond. If you feel you have something to say (that links to the subjects posted on the blog) do get in touch like Paul did.
All three of the previously published books about James Burke are now available in new editions (all with covers by the estimable Dave Slaney).
Burke in the Land of Silver features the British attack on Buenos Aires in 1806. Dastardly deeds, wicked women, sinister spies – all set against a vivid (and historically accurate) background of international intrigue.
Burke and the Bedouin finds James Burke in Egypt as Napoleon’s armies march on Cairo. Can one man change the course of the war? Oddly enough, it’s quite likely that one man did (though you’ll have to read the book to find out how). Was that man James Burke?
Burke at Waterloo starts with a little-known (though very real) attempt on the life of Wellington in 1814 in Paris. Bonaparte is in exile on Elba, but his supporters are preparing for his return. Burke is sent to infiltrate the Bonapartists and save Wellington. As the plot fails and the Bonapartist leader flees, Burke pursues him from the slums of Paris to the aristocratic salons of Brussels until the final showdown on the field of Waterloo, as French and British armies clash in the defining battle of the age.