Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Two New Covers

This week I've completed a couple of new covers for ebooks, so I thought I'd blog a little bit about the idea and process behind these covers.

Scattered Among Strange Worlds - by Aliette de Bodard.


If you read modern science fiction at all, you can't have missed the impact that Franco-Vietnamese writer Aliette de Bodard has made in the last couple of years. Not only has she been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Campbell awards, and won the British Science Fiction Association award, she has also had published three 'Aztec Mystery-Fantasies' novels to much acclaim.

This ebook consists of two recent short stories by Aliette: Scattered Along the River of Heaven, and Exodus Tides.

A book cover needs to give a potential reader the immediate impression of the kind of book it is, and what a reader can expect when they open it. It doesn't, however, need to illustrate a particular scene or character from the book.

The two short stories in this collection are both science fiction, the first a far-future space opera, the second a set in near-future France. Both address the theme of immigration. Aliette's writing also is more literary than pulp (although it's certainly not slow or dull!)

The initial concept was to combine a clear space opera image with a group of Asian characters walking into the fading, unknown distance, to illustrate a diaspora scattering to the strange, distant worlds.

However, it is enormously important that an ebook cover in particular works at a thumbnail size. That means it certainly needs to be clear at a height of 115 pixels (the standard height of an image on the Amazon search results screen). Illustrating that group of people walking away in the small amount of the cover that is given over to that part of the illustration would mean it would be impossible to make out what was going on at thumbnail size.

So, I made the group of figures standing closer together, as though in a group.

The photos of the figures all come from Flickr, incidentally; it's an excellent source of photography that you can use in covers. You need to choose photographs released under a Creative Commons Attribution license (and, of course, you need to provide the credits for the photos in your ebook).

The textures that I've used in the grey section of the cover are designed to give that impression of uncertainty and unfamiliarity that people emigrating (not always willingly) can experience.

Scattered Among Strange Worlds is due to be published as an ebook at the end of July. Look out for it. The stories are excellent!

Revenge of the Homecoming Queen - by Stephanie Hale


By contrast, Stephanie Hale's Revenge of the Homecoming Queen is a sharp, funny YA novel with elements of mystery and romance . Here's the Goodreads description:
All that matters is what's long as there's a tiara on the outside.

The flawless Aspen Brooks was born to be Homecoming Queen. Naturally she's dating the most popular guy in school, and she's blessed with stunning good looks, excellent style, and mega brains. She's got the crown in the bag.

So why is the tiara being placed on the skanky head of cheerleader Angel Ives? The confusion only grows after ultra-dork Rand Bachrach is crowned king. To Aspen's shock and horror, Angel actually accuses her of being behind this. Whatevs!

But then something goes terribly, terribly wrong. Strange things start happening--even stranger than Angel beating Aspen. Now someone's leaving her threatening messages and slashing her tires. She's sure it's that beyotch Angel doing these things. And if Angel wants war, by Dooney & Bourke she'll get one.
Revenge of the Homecoming Queen was first published in 2007, but it has never had an ebook edition until now.

Stephanie came to me with a really strong concept for the cover. She wanted this particular photo of a young woman, but she wanted a chain necklace with the word "Revenge" on it added to the photo, as part of the book title. She also wanted a fun, 'girly' font to contrast with the more serious, high-impact photo.

I'm really pleased with the way the necklace (and the whole cover) came out. The hardest part of drawing something like the necklace onto this particular photo is that, if you look closely at it, you'll see that the photo is strongly focused on the lips and face. The neck is actually slightly out of focus, so to realistically add another element to this part of the photo, the other element actually has to be de-focused too.

That means slightly blurring the chain, and increasing the blur on it as it curves around the back of the neck.

For realism, the word "Revenge" should have been blurred too, but it also needs to be readable at various sizes, so I chose to only add a small amount of blur to the word on the chain.

Revenge of the Homecoming Queen is available now as an ebook from and


A Couple of Tips

If you're designing your own ebook cover, here are a couple of random tips from these two covers.
  1. If you are adding a cut-out photo of a person to an image, try to avoid including the feet. It sounds weird, but the absolute hardest part of the figure to make realistic is where the feet meet the ground. Unless you are very, very good, your person will look like they are floating in the air. You can avoid this problem altogether by just not showing the feet. Note how on the first of these covers, the feet and lower legs of all four figures are hidden.
  2. Take a very careful look at the direction the light is falling on a photo. In the second of these covers, the light is coming from above (and a bit in front) the model being photographed. That means that every single other element added to the photo must have the light (and the shadows) fall in the same direction. If you don't do that, it will never look right.
Okay, that's all for these covers. I really didn't mean to go on so long, I promise!

P.S., if you want to see more of my ebook covers or if you're interested in hiring me for your covers, you should check out my ebook design website.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Flora's Fury

It could sound like an exaggeration, but in this case it isn't: I have been looking forward to this book for years.

Now, this isn't a book review. I haven't got my copy yet, but I can't wait until I do.

You see, back in 2007 I think it was I was at Wiscon, the science fiction and fantasy convention, and everyone seemed to be talking about this astonishing book, Flora Segunda. Being a tad contrary and far more grumpy than my age justifies, I humphed and didn't take much notice, proving not for the first time that I am my own worst enemy.

 Anyway, not so long after, my wife, Stephanie Burgis, pressed a copy of Flora Segunda into my hands, and I actually read it, and I realized that everyone had been right. It really was an astonishing book.

Here's the goodreads description of Flora Segunda:
Flora knows better than to take shortcuts in her family home, Crackpot Hall--the house has eleven thousand rooms, and ever since her mother banished the magickal butler, those rooms move around at random. But Flora is late for school, so she takes the unpredictable elevator anyway. Huge mistake. Lost in her own house, she stumbles upon the long-banished butler--and into a mind-blowing muddle of intrigue and betrayal that changes her world forever.

Full of wildly clever plot twists, this extraordinary first novel establishes Ysabeau Wilce as a compelling new voice in teen fantasy.
But it really doesn't do justice to the fantastic, alternate-world version of California that Wilce created, nor the incredible adventures that engulf Flora.

The second book, Flora's Dare, came out in 2008, and it was just as good. And then ...

Well, publishing has its own reality, and it's not for the likes of you or me to explain or even understand them, and for some reason, the publisher then sat on the final book in the trilogy. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, the final Flora book was released. Flora's Fury: How a Girl of Spirit and a Red Dog Confound Their Friends, Astound Their Enemies, and Learn the Importance of Packing Light is now out.

You can find out more about the book, and the other two books in the series, at Ysabeau's website,

I will declare an interest here (other than the fact that I am an enormous fan of Ysabeau's work). A few days ago, Ysabeau contacted me because she needed her old website updating. Unfortunately, the website is old and cranky, and we've decided that it really needs an overhaul from scratch. So, I've put up a new, temporary homepage with links to where you can buy the book and where you can find out more about Ysabeau and her books.

Hopefully, over the next few days we'll have more stuff up there (including, with permission of her publisher, the opening of the novel). But, in the meantime, here's a screengrab of the temporary front page I've put up.

Enough of that. Now go and buy this awesome book! You won't regret it.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

And today...

Back, oh, all the way in 2001, I was living near Bristol in the U.K., and I was training to be a science teacher. I'd just quit a job as a publisher/editor of scientific journals, and I'd taught abroad before, so I figured I'd give it a go.

The truth is, I would have been a terrible teacher. I'm a bit of a control freak, and really, that's not exactly a great qualification for dealing with a room of 30 bored teenagers. Oh yeah. Believe me.

Anyway, I was bored and I was flailing around for something more meaningful in my life. And, completely by accident, I found it. I'd finally got back to writing after many years (the benefits of a profoundly tedious job...), and I was spending a fairly high proportion of my 'work' day on Critters, the online writing workshop, critiquing other people's work and having mine torn to bits in return.

Sometime in that period, I heard of Clarion West, the actual, real, live, in-person, face-to-face, six-week, bootcamp of a writer's workshop which was held in Seattle each year. I didn't have much expectation of success, but I fired off an application anyway, and pretty much forgot about it.

Then, suddenly, out of the blue, I got a phone call from one of the administrators of the workshop saying that I'd been accepted. Wow. I don't think I came off very well in that phone call. When I'm surprised or shocked I tend to revert to a very neutral, calm, unemotional facade. Here I was, getting incredible, exciting news, and I reacted like I was being told I was due a eye appointment. Man, I'm so cool...

I'd wanted to be a writer since I was 14 years old. At 14, I'd been absolutely sure I would sell and publish a novel by the time I was 18 (ha!). Every day after school I scribbled away in pencil in my notebook, blatantly ripping off Terry Pratchett and thinking how awesome I was. Then I went to university, and other things took over, but I never stopped wanting to be a writer. Now, here was my chance.

But there was one problem. The workshop began two weeks before the end of the teacher training course I was doing, and there was absolutely no way they were going to let me leave early. (I still have issues with this: I had finished and passed all the assignments and the teaching practice, and the last two weeks had no formal classes; I'm sure we could have figured something out to make up the attendance requirements. Still.)

I decided to go to Clarion West anyway, and screw the teaching qualification. So I did.

It really was the best decision I ever made. Not only did I meet my future wife, Stephanie Burgis, there, but I learned more about being a writer than I did in all the years before or since. And two of the stories I wrote in those six weeks were subsequently published. I loved it there. I loved the writing and critiquing late into the night. I loved hanging out in people's rooms chatting and laughing and throwing ideas back and forth. I loved wandering Seattle.

I even loved the class's trip to see AI, possibly the worst SF movie I've ever seen.

Most of all, I loved my classmates and our instructors. In our very first week, we were taught by the great Octavia Butler (and she even liked my story!) Yeah, we had our tensions and our bust-ups. We ripped into each other's stories, and gritted our teeth when others ripped into ours. But despite it, we stayed friends. We went through that fire together.

Almost eleven years later, most of us are still in touch.

And today, we are launching an anthology of stories from eleven of the participants in Clarion West 2001. Best of all, right now it's free to download from Amazon!

Here's the table of contents:

Under the Needle's Eye

The Worry Doctor by Linda DeMeulemeester
Angelfall (novel excerpt from Book 1) by Susan Ee
Selling Short by Raymund Eich
Everyone Gets Scared Sometimes by Ari Goelman
Ruined Spa Day by Samantha Ling
Coyote Discovers Mars by Emily Mah
The Guy Who Worked for Money by Benjamin Rosenbaum
Everybody Stops at Boston's by Allan Rousselle
Rosamojo by Kiini Ibura Salaam
Lavender's Blue, Lavender's Green by Patrick Samphire
The Fire in Your Sky by Ibi Zoboi

The anthology was organized by the enormously energetic Emily Mah with Raymund Eich (equally energetic, no doubt, but in a much more manly way). My story is a reprint of a story that I published in Realms of Fantasy in 2005.

Download Under the Needle's Eye from | Download Under the Needle's Eye from

Under the Needle's Eye is free for just two days, so go get it! Even though it's from Amazon, you don't actually need a Kindle to read it; there are free Kindle apps for computers, tablets, etc.

Here's the book trailer, again made by the I-don't-know-where-she-gets-the-energy-from Emily Mah (who also publishes as E M Tippetts; check out her books). It's pretty awesome.

The anthology cover is a joint effort by Raymund Eich and Emily Mah. 

Go get it while it's free!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Book Review: Renegade Magic, by Stephanie Burgis

The year is 1803, the place, the elegant city of Bath, and Kat Stephenson is back.

Those of you who read the first in this delightful middle-grade fantasy series will know exactly what to expect: mayhem, magic, and an utterly incorrigible heroine determined to upset just about any apple cart to protect her family and secure her older sisters the loves of their lives.

After Kat's sister, Angeline, is publicly exposed as a witch, Stepmama knows there's only one thing for it: to whisk the whole family off to Bath and get Angeline a husband before everyone in society finds out. But Angeline has already found the love of her life, even though his mother has forbidden their marriage, and if she's going to be forced to search for a different husband, then she will choose the most inappropriate prospect she can.

And if Kat doesn't have enough to do protecting Angeline from the scandalous rake she has chosen and re-uniting her with her true love, her brother Charles has gotten himself far more serious trouble, and Kat herself has been expelled from the Order of the Guardians and forbidden from using her Guardian magic.

Meanwhile, in the Roman Baths, someone is summoning the wild magic from its source below, and no one will believe Kat. Once again, Kat is the one who is going to have to save the day.

I could probably going on forever about how great the Kat, Incorrigible books are. There's adventure, magic, humor, and a wonderfully realized and accurate historical setting (if you're ever in Bath, you could easily follow Kat's trail from the Royal Crescent to the Assembly Rooms and the Pump Room and Roman Baths). But what makes this book stand out from the crowd is the characters.

There's Charles, the older brother sent down from Oxford for gambling and drunkenness, Stepmama with her utter determination to present a respectable front to the world, Papa who retreats to his books at the slightest sign of conflict, Angeline who is stubborn to the point of self-destruction, and my new favorite character, Lucy, full of absurd romantic ideas and a surprising taste for adventure. And there's Kat herself, impetuous, loyal, and ready to leap into danger with scarcely a thought.

In another author's hands, these characters could be one-dimensional, but Stephanie Burgis handles them with love and gives them a complexity that makes them effortlessly likeable. Even Stepmama is sympathetic.

I won't claim to be unbiased in this review, but if you love fantasy and adventure, or a love for Jane Austen's novels, then you won't be disappointed by this wonderful series.

Renegade Magic is out now as a hardcover in the US and Canada and as a paperback (with the title A Tangle of Magicks) in the UK.

The first book in the series, Kat, Incorrigible, is out now as paperback in the US and Canada and in the UK (with the title A Most Improper Magick).

They are also available as ebooks, of course!

Order Renegade Magic:
From Indiebound | From Barnes and Noble | From

Order Kat, Incorrigible:
From Indiebound | From Barnes and Noble | From