Book Covers: What makes a good one?

sbdp-email I’ve just read the excellent blog post, Book covers: Should we put people on them?, by Belinda Pollard. Belinda is an Aussie writer, editor, publishing consultant at Small Blue Dog Publishing, lover of dogs, the wilderness and things spiritual. In her post Belinda talks about what makes a good book cover.  This is very timely as I’m in the middle of developing a book cover  for my new crime novel (Killer Shoeshine) and eager for all the advice I can get.

As you would expect getting it right is not straightforward, what one person loves another hates. But there is some evidence to suggest certain covers sell more books than others.  In a nutshell Belinda says for a cover to work it has to immediately do three things:

  • stand out on a crowded shelf? (i.e. be distinctive)
  • be clear about its message
  • engage the reader emotionally.

And one of the best ways for a cover to achieve this is to place somebody on/in it. She quotes  from Derek Murphy of Creativindie who says:

Having a person on/in the cover creates intrigue and interest. But only if done right.”

Okay, “getting it right” may be easier said than done, but the message loud and clear is:

People sell!”

This was a shock for me.  You see, I personally hate seeing people on book covers, especially when they are generic photos of stock models. But what I have suddenly realised (in one of those rare light bulb moments) is that when it comes to covers what I personally like or don’t like doesn’t matter.  The important thing  is for the cover to do the three above things. It’s fascinating stuff and Belinda has convinced me. Now all I need to do is convince my publisher, AKA the long and suffering other half 😉

What do you think? Do you like seeing people on covers of books? Not convinced? Why not go over to Belinda’s  site and check out the full article? It really is worth a read. Plus, Belinda wants your help! She is running a straw poll on two possible covers for her new wilderness thriller, Poison Bay* (due out at the beginning of next year).


As you can see, one cover has a person on it, the other doesn’t. Which do you prefer?  Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to tell Belinda your answer and to see the results!

*Belinda briefly says of Poison Bay: My book is about a bunch of people with a shared secret who go trekking in the New Zealand wilderness. Let’s just say, they don’t all come home. ;-)




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Do you judge a book by its cover?

jpeg A friend gave me the award winning The Whaleboat House by Mark Mills (which started out as Amagansett before it was republished with the new title). This was lucky for me because I loved it but would have never picked it up based on either of its titles or the dreary brown cover.

Almost all the best books I’ve read have been suggested by friends. What about you? How do you chose a book? A friend’s recommendation? A review? The title? An award of some sort? Or do you judge a book by its cover? I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially as we’re now coming up to designing the cover for Killer Shoeshine 😉

Finally, a HUGE thanks to all for your thoughts on the title for my new novel. You’ve been very helpful. We are leaning towards “Killer Shoeshine” but this may change  before or even after it’s published! Meanwhile, as a thank you for your input we put your names  into a hat and Juliet Wilson’s came out!

Well done, Juliet (AKA CraftyGreenPoet)!  You win a copy of The Blue Suitcase or Food of Ghosts, paperback or ebook!

Front Cover food of ghosts cover final4


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what is the secret to being a successful writer?

yurt When we think of successful creative people we tend to think of artistic geniuses like Shakespeare or Michael Angelo or Wordsworth or Mary Shelly … you know who I mean, special people. However, research shows categorically that there is no specific personality type associated with creativity. In other words being creative is not just about special people doing special things. Turns out we all have creative abilities but we’re not always sure how to tap into them.

pat b One way we can  tap into our creativity is by working hard at something, keeping going regardless. If we persevere, nine times out of ten that eureka moment will happen. For us writers, this can mean setting out to write with little or no idea of how our story will finish. Possibly pegging away for what seems forever before a creative light bulb moment. You’ve heard that phrase, coined by the writing guru Robert McKee, “writing is a discovery we rarely know where we are going …”?  This is what we mean by it.

Now, pegging away is fine but it takes courage and blind faith to boldly keep writing when you’ve not sure where you’re headed, especially when there are no guarantees. After all, it’s not a foregone conclusion we’ll have our eureka moment every time. There will be mistakes. We may even end up with  something we’re never happy with. But you must not be discouraged. The acclaimed writer Pat Barker has three unpublished novels in her drawer. These unpublished novels did not stop her being a success.

So, what does this research mean for you, the emerging writing? It means there is no secret to being successful. You can be a success if you:

stop worrying about having a special writing gene (we all do it!) because there isn’t such a thing

have a little bit of courage

a lot of blind faith

and don’t give up!

It won’t necessarily be easy, all that pegging away takes time, so you’ll have to find some, but as long as  if you have the guts and the will to do it, you can be a successful writer.

‘One of the great secrets of success is “pegging away.” No disappointment must discourage, and a run back must often be allowed, in order to take a longer leap forward.’          

Amelia E Barr

Have you ever  struggled to finish writing a story? What made you carry on? Or did you stop?  Are you struggling to finish something now? What is the hardest part about “pegging away”? I’d love to hear from you, so do leave a comment 🙂




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Help, new crime novel needs a title!

Food of Ghosts:Kindle,-2 I have finally finished the edits to the second DS Louisa Townsend mystery. The first book in the series is called Food of Ghosts. Here’s what Liane Adam, a recent Amazon reviewer, said of Food of Ghosts:

“A gripping thriller which I couldn’t put down. Marianne’s writing is accessible and well observed and characterisation convincing. I can’t wait for the next installment of this classic whodunit! At times it reminded me of The Killing as at various points you become convinced of who the killer is. Highly recommended.”

The new novel is tentatively called:  Killer Shoeshine in Suva

Does this title interest you, even just a little bit? Does it suggest a cosy read or a gruesome read or neither? Does having Suva in the title attract your attention? Do you know where Suva is? Do you care? Do you like a title to be obvious or mysterious? Do you like one word titles, such as REDEMPTION, or long literary  titles like The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night? Do you have any title ideas of your own? Yes? I would love to hear them 🙂

By the way, shoeshine boys feature heavily in the story, which is set in Suva (Fiji), and there is a killer and DS Louisa Townsend needs to find him, or her.

Why do I need help with this? I am terrible when it comes to titles. I can forget them as quickly as I notice them. I even forget the names of authors, which is why I often buy the same book twice. (Have you ever done that?) So any thoughts will be much appreciated.

As a thank you for leaving a comment and/or sharing this post on facebook or twitter or gmail or Linkedin etc one lucky person will win (yes, I said WIN!) a free copy of either Food of Ghosts or The Blue Suitcase, your choice.

If you do share the post, do make sure to tag me so I know to include you in the draw! The winning name will be drawn on the 3rd October.

PS: On a completely different note, as requested, here are some pics from our recent stay in la belle France, including the renovated bathroom and some oysters. Why oysters?  I had for them very first time. My verdict of the oysters? Not nearly as bad as I thought. A fresh sea taste and actually quite nice 🙂



lavander veggiwa

winefest man





brambles2 quince


lazing about

Vive the good life in France!




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Only in France …

photo 1-1We are still in France. On the way to the dump with our DIY rubbish we came across the above. The sign says ‘trolly of wooden off-cuts for sale, 9 euros!’ Well, apologies to all my French relatives and friends, but only here could you buy a shopping trolley full of landfill – those off-cuts were not wood!  The stuff we were dumping was better than the stuff on sale so, no, we didn’t buy it ;o)

Luckily there are lot of other lovely things about being in France which more than make up for some of the more unusual stuff. Such as the view of the collared dove from our bedroom window …


the vines …


and the flowers …




and not forgetting the donkeys, of course ;o)

donkey 2


ps:  btw the bathroom is almost finished, the big unveiling coming soon!

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Gone plumbing in France …

I am in France for the next wee while with the other half. The plan is to give the bathroom and kitchen in the house we inherited many years ago a bit if a make-over. We’ve started with the bathroom. If you know anything about French plumbing, you’ll know that this will be challenging  – French plumbing is old fashioned and tricky and downright complicated, and don’t even get me started on paint! – but we’ve brought some stuff  with us to make the job easier.  BTW the blue bath and sink are going not coming!


french plumbing

blue bath

plumbing But, hopefully, there will also be time to do a bit of  this …


and this …

sunbathingrbear1 and this …


and this …

cyclehome and this …

nachamps sign

and this …


and this …

P1030959 and this … P1040268

and this …


and this …


and this …


and this … pain raisin and this …

cafetaba and this


Bonnes vacances 🙂


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Review of Trish Nicholson’s Inside Stories – a great addition to the writer’s bookshelf!

I am a fan of books on writing, whether they talk about the writerly life or deal with the nitty gritty of how to hone your writing skills. I even reviewed some of  the ones I found most helpful (see Books On Writing in the tool bar above), although I ran out of steam at number 19 – didn’t even get round to writing about Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way or Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones! No matter. The thing is, I was recently given a copy of Inside Stories (for Writers and Readers) by Trish Nicholson and asked if I’d like to review it.


I was excited at the thought of reading a new book on my favourite subject. However, it’s a tricky thing agreeing to review a book by someone I don’t know. After all, there are some pretty poor books on writing out there too. What if Inside Stories was one of them? I worried unnecessarily. Inside Stories is one of the better books I have read on writing recently, and below is my review.

trishprofilenew First of all, who is Trish Nicholson? Briefly …

Trish is an anthropologist, photographer and writer of short stories and creative non-fiction. A compulsive scribbler, her writings included a monthly magazine column; newspaper features in the UK (The Guardian, The TimesThe Times Educational Supplement) and in Australia (Melbourne Age), and three non-fiction books on anthropology, staff development, and responsible travel.

Trish has done many things but at the moment she lives on a hillside in the Far North of New Zealand along with a few thousand native trees. To find out more about  this extraordinary woman, you can visit her website Words In The Treehouse, where I discovered that Trish and I have more in common than just writing as we have both lived in Papua New Guinea! (You can read an earlier blog post on PNG here ).

PS: Trish is running a series of writing workshops in the UK in September and October, for more info check out the home page of her website.

Inside stories (for Writers and Readers)

In the How To Use This Book section of Inside Stories, Trish says of the book “it may not make you rich and famous but it will inspire you to better writing and more perceptive reading.” Absolutely. Writing is not just about getting published and making it “big”, not that Trish would be against that, I am sure. As writer Anne Lamott says, “Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up …”

What I most like about Inside Stories is that it looks at stories from the perspective of both the writer and the reader. This reading/writing combo approach is refreshing and insightful. In much the same way as writer John Cheever believes “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss – you can’t do it alone,” Trish maintains “a story is not complete until a reader has experienced it.” The reader is as important as the writer and Inside Stories is a “celebration of readers and writers of stories”. According to Trish, understanding how and why writers write and readers read can help make us better writers and readers. Having now read her book, I believe her.

Each chapter of Inside Stories is themed and looks at specific aspects of the writing or reading process. The chapters are followed by stories and/or articles written by Trish, which illustrate some of  the reading and/or writing techniques referred to in the preceding chapter. Trish discusses the writing process behind the creation of these stories and generously shares the feedback she received for some of them. This makes for fascinating reading and is as helpful as the technical advice Trish gives in the chapters  – and the stories (and articles) are great reads.

You can read the book as a whole or dip in and out as you wish. Either way, it is full of sound, helpful advice, presented in an accessible way. The focus is on the short story because as Trish demonstrates in the book, the form has a great deal to teach us. There are exercises and quotes from the great and the good. My favourite is one by Mark Twain, who once said he didn’t like reading novels or stories. When challenged that he wrote them himself, he said,

“Quite true: but the fact that an Indian likes to scalp people is no evidence that he likes to be scalped.”

This makes me laugh every time I read it. My second favourite quote is by Chekhov, who said,

“Brevity is the sister of talent.”

The book is also littered with Trish’s own lovely tidbits, such as:

“The muse doesn’t make deliveries, she only has pick up points, we have to go and meet her.”

“Our heads are like wheelie bins.”

“There is no magic inspiration in moleskin.”

There are also tips on entering competitions, a history of the Short Story, including one of Aesop’s fables, a reference to Pliny The Younger, some Celtic story telling and the world’s oldest short story, and more so much more.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Inside Stories and thoroughly recommend it. It is a great addition to any writer’s (and reader’s) bookshelf and worth temporarily breaking one of Trish’s only two writing rules for, which are: keep writing and keep reading.

Inside Stories (for Writes and Readers) is published by Collca and you can buy it here: 


a Highlander (plus a newspaper rollie cigarette) from Papua New Guinea

a Highlander (plus a newspaper rollie cigarette) from Papua New Guinea

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How much should it cost to enter a writing competition?

Here are the  details of a writing opportunity for unpublished women memoirists. The entry fee for this competition is £25, which may seem steep, but it is not as steep as the entry fee for the new Bloomsbury Children’s Author Prize, which is  £30. What do you think about writing award/competition fees? Would a high fee put you off entering a competition or award? What is too high a fee? What would be fair? The Museum of Words Flash Fiction Competition is free, should all writing competitions and awards be free to enter?


Mslexia are looking for memoirs written by previously unpublished women memoir writers. Submissions must be in prose, and narrate actual events in the writer’s life.

1st Prize: £5,000

Five other finalists will be offered free professional feedback by The Literary Consultancy

Judging Panel:

Julie Myerson (memoirist, novelist)

Jenny Brown (literary agent)

Jane Martinson (Women’s Editor, Guardian)

The six shortlisted authors will be invited to meet literary agents and editors at a special networking event in London.

Entry fee: £25

Closing date: 22 September 2014

Please note: To constitute a full length memoir, it must total at least 50,000 words.

Please make sure you read the competition rules before entering.

Enter the competition

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Win £500 and publication with the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award!

CWC-image  Win £500 and publication with the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award!

Aesthetica Magazine is inviting all writers and poets to submit their work into the Creative Writing Award.

The Creative Writing Award is a fantastic opportunity for existing and aspiring writers and poets to showcase their work to a wider, international audience: previous entrants have gone on to achieve success and recognition across the world. There are two categories for entry: Poetry and Short Fiction.

  • Deadline for entering the award: 31 August 2014.
  • Finalists will be announced on the 30 November 2014.
  • Winners will be announced on the 6 December 2014.


  • There will be two winners; one Poetry winner and one Short Fiction winner.
  • Each winner will receive £500.
  • Each winner will receive a selection of books from our partners.
  • Winners and finalists will be published in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual.
  • Click here to purchase a copy of last year’s Creative Writing Annual.
  • Winners and shortlisted finalists will receive a complimentary copy of the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual.

Entry is £10 +VAT and this permits the submission of two works into any one category.
You may enter as many times as you wish.

For more details and to enter go to


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Enter the New Children’s Author Prize 2015 and you could win a publishing contract with Bloomsbury!

National Literacy Trust In partnership with Bloomsbury  Children’s Books the NationalLiteracy Trust want to find talented new authors of children’s fiction.

Members of the public are invited to submit stories for eight to 12-year-olds to be in with a chance of winning a publishing contract with Bloomsbury, including advance payment of £5,000 for your work.

Diana_Children_s_third-1 At the National Literacy Trust we work to take books and reading for enjoyment to children in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK. Exciting, engaging and inspiring literature and books are vital to our work, which is why we have launched this competition with Bloomsbury to help find existing and developing talent for children’s storytelling.

Early rounds of the competition will be judged by our experts, with the winners selected from the shortlist by a panel of judges, including children’s author Katherine Rundell and author and critic Nicolette Jones.

All proceeds from entry fees will help the National Literacy Trust continue our vital work improving literacy across the country. Every entrant will receive exclusive tips on writing for children from Katherine Rundell.

The prizes

First prize:

  • A publishing contract with Bloomsbury, which includes an advance of £5,000 and a print run of your work
  • Use of  “Winner of the New Children’s Author Prize 2015 from Bloomsbury and National Literacy Trust”
  • A prize ceremony in your honour, with press, authors and publishers in attendance

Shortlisted authors:

  • Use of “Runner up in the New Children’s Author Prize 2015 from Bloomsbury and National Literacy Trust”
  • Signed book bundles
  • Plus all shortlisted authors will be invited to attend the prize ceremony with the opportunity to meet agents, editors, press and others.

How to enter

  • All entries must be submitted by email, using the official template. A link for this template will be emailed to you once you have paid your entry fee.
  • Entrants must be aged 18+, a UK resident and must be previously unpublished
  • Entrants must submit a 20-40,000 word children’s story, targeted at children aged 8 to 12, with a 350 word synopsis and a 1,000 word passage highlighted for judging in the early rounds, as per the format of the template.

Entries must also be:

  • Written in English
  • Typed in font Arial, 12pt, black
  • Double spaced
  • Not include the author’s name anywhere in the story other than the first page of the form
  • Submitted using the template provided on receipt of your submission fee and saved as “Author_Name_Title_of_Story”, e.g. “P_L_Travers_Mary_Poppins”
  • Emailed to by 5pm 30 September 2014.

Entries are £30. Additional entries by the same person are £15. You will be given a code for this discount once you have made payment for your first entry. All proceeds go to the National Literacy Trust.

The competition will be closed for entries on 30 September 2014.

*EARLY BIRD OFFER* All entries before 30 June 2014 are half price at £15.

Enter code EARLYAUTHOR when paying for entry to qualify for discount.

The judging

Round one: all entries will be initially judged by a team of experts to create a long-list.

Round two: the editorial team from Bloomsbury will select the short-list.

Final round: the winners will be selected from the short-list by a judging panel of Katherine Rundell; Nicolette Jones;  Ellen Holgate, Bloomsbury editor; and National Literacy Trust Director Jonathan Douglas.

Read the full terms and conditions

Enter now

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