Category Archives: Books

Cover reveals, releases, info about books, etc

Blog image for Anne Goodwin's post on Inspired Quill

Victims, Villains and Vulnerability

Over a decade ago, the children’s charity, Barnardo’s, ran a controversial advertising campaign aiming to raise awareness of the damaging impact of being born in poverty. The Advertising Standards Authority received almost 500 complaints about the ads, which showed shocking (photoshopped) images of babies, such as one with a cockroach in its mouth and another apparently drinking from a bottle of methylated spirits. As a result, the campaign was subsequently banned. While the complaint that the pictures could be demeaning to the poor was justified, I believe the public revulsion also stemmed from our discomfort at the juxtaposition of innocence with delinquency.

We like our villains villainous and our victims virtuous.

The image that struck me most strongly could have been a stereotypical “junkie” holding a syringe, except that the drug user was a baby, not an adult. Was it a portrait of a villain or a victim? Or the vulnerability common to both?

I’ve long been interested in the vulnerability that lurks under the skin. My debut novel, Sugar and Snails, is about a professional woman whose entire adult life has been structured around keeping her vulnerability hidden from view until a new relationship threatens to expose it. While Diana’s vulnerability – if not the reason behind it – is evident from the first few pages, Steve, the narrator of my second novel, Underneath, presents initially as a straightforward villain. Of course, he has to be: he’s keeping a woman captive in a cellar.

As I descend the concrete staircase, I can’t see my feet for the cardboard box I’m cradling in my arms. Nudging the banister with my elbow for balance, I duck to avoid the underbelly of the main staircase and catch a whiff of chocolate sponge filtered through the fragrance of your freshly laundered clothes.

The stairs shunt left and left again. I count the last three steps beneath my breath. A short walk down the corridor and I’m setting down the provisions on the chequerboard lino alongside the panelled door.

I put my eye to the peephole and flick the switch on the wall. Inside the room, the ceiling light beams on the grass-green carpet dotted with daisies and on the three hundred and sixty degree mural in fiery sunrise hues. It picks out the lidded bucket in the far corner and, directly opposite the door, the double mattress marooned in a sea of discarded food packaging and dirty underwear. It traces the curve of your back where you lie beneath the duvet.

The duvet veils your torso, your hands, your head, your hair. But it can’t disguise the spasm in your shoulders as the light comes on. The flinch. There’s an echoing jolt through my own body, and I have to back away for a moment while my pulse quells. When I look again, you’re frozen in the same teasing posture: camouflaged by the quilt apart from one foot peeping out the bottom, the enamelled nails a regal lapis lazuli.

The bolts squeal as I drag them one-two-three into their casings. I shoulder your box of goodies and shove through the cream-coloured door.

But turn over the page and he’s anxious about making a good impression on a woman he’s just met in the hospital canteen. A little later, he’s struggling to resist the demands of the sisters who have controlled him since childhood. Later still, in flashback, he’s a lonely little boy unable to connect with a mother who is grieving the death of her husband, the father who died before Steve was born.

Similarities and Differences

Steve’s vulnerability is different to Diana’s; it doesn’t lead him to self-harm. It’s different to that of the babies in the Barnardo’s adverts; although he smokes cannabis, he’s not an addict living only for his next fix. In the beginning, he is how he sees himself: a perfectly ordinary guy. He might well have stayed that way if Liesel hadn’t threatened to leave him, and he hadn’t bought a house with a cellar he needed to put to good use.

Unable to bear his own vulnerability, Steve locates it in others: in his mother’s dementia; in the psychiatric patients at Liesel’s workplace; in her childhood trauma. When his own vulnerability threatens, he pushes it down as deep as it can go into the underground prison.

In exploring Steve’s vulnerability, I’ve no wish to condone his criminal behaviour. But the novel is narrated from his point of view and he certainly doesn’t see himself as a bad guy. Yet, the more he tries to justify himself, the more deluded and dissociated he becomes.

The mentally disordered offender disrupts our desire for a clear demarcation between victim and villain. Is he mad or bad and, if the former, can that explain, or even excuse, the crime? I’m hoping that different readers will come away from Steve’s story with different answers.

A clear reason?

I’ve given my character a rationale for his crime that functions for him, until the strain of living a double life overwhelms him. I’ve tried to maintain an authorial neutrality, to approach him with the empathy and lack of judgement which are familiar from my previous professional role as a clinical psychologist. But that doesn’t mean ignoring the bigger picture of the harm he’s perpetrated, which I hope will be evident to the reader too.

I was going to end with the hope that readers of Underneath will feel, as I do, compassion for the criminal alongside condemnation of the crime. But that isn’t my greatest desire for my second novel. What I really want, is for it to be an engaging read.

What It Means To Me

I readily admit to not having the greatest memory in the world. I will forget what I said ten minutes ago. I won’t remember what I had for lunch three hours prior.

I have to begin with this disclaimer, because the following memory has stayed with me my whole life.

When I was in reception class (Kindergarten, for those outside the UK), my teacher Mrs Alton showed us how to fold an A4 sheet of paper into a little book. The task for the day was to fill this wee booklet with a short story.

I don’t remember if I’d demonstrated any love for writing before this, but I’d always loved books. I wrote my little four-year-old heart out. Thus was born The Dancing Tree, a weirdly grim fairy tale (heh) about a magical tree that lay deep in a forest. Every night, the tree would lift its roots and wave its branches, and dance under the stars. One night, the animals and birds of the forest joined in with its dancing, and the tree, feeling unimportant and unnecessary, vowed to never dance again.

The. End.

I had a happy and safe childhood, there was absolutely no reason for such a dark and bitter ending. Was it a lament for the loss of fairy tales? Or was it just that a four-year-old has no idea how to end such a story on three small pages when her drawings take up most of the space?

Either way, my love of writing, fairy tales, folklore, and magic was born that drizzly afternoon. Thank you, Mrs Alton, for suggesting I should consider becoming an author.

If I could go back in time and tell my four-year-old self that when she grows up, she will hold a copy of her very first (of many, hopefully) published novel in her shaking hands, she’d… probably wander off to play with Molly the Dolly.

(I’ve just been informed I was actually more interested in books than toys at that age. Go figure.)

But skip to about ten years later, and tell my fifteen-year-old self the same thing, and she’d either laugh or cry. Maybe both. I’d never experienced true love until I opened that first box of books and looked at that shining cover, emblazoned with a white stag, and the gleaming title, The Old Ways. I was engulfed with pride. I could barely breathe, let alone speak.

My first book signing was no better; I was shaking so badly, I could hardly hold the Sharpie. Nothing could have prepared me for how it feels to have a dream come to fruition. Of course, I got a little more confident as time went on, even had the courage to tell a potential reader, no, I am not from a cult, I just appreciate and respect the ancient legends of Britain. But thank you for your interest, and I like your hat too.

The support from my friends and family has been overwhelming. I never imagined how it would feel to have people say, although they don’t read much, or don’t particularly read fantasy, how much they loved it, how they couldn’t put it down, and how angry they were with me for killing off their favourite character. (Consider this my public apology! Things don’t improve in the sequels, I’m sorry.)

Things have gone by so fast, it’s now one year since the release of The Old Ways. Work on the sequel, Age of Magic, is steadily trundling along, with the storyline for the third one (gasp!) neatly laid out. One year of promotions, interviews, signings, newspaper articles, radio shows, and the high still hasn’t worn off.

But, and I will admit this now, I was young and foolish enough to think copies would fly off the shelves, and I would be on my way to Hollywood by now as Creative Consultant, and Tom Hiddleston would be flying in to play Erlik, and Peter Jackson would be praised for staying so close to the source material…

That, obviously, is not happening. Not yet, anyway.

But fame and fortune was never my goal. My dream for nearly twenty years was to see someone with a copy of my book in their hands. Now, my new dream is to see that same person with a copy of the sequel.

The Gateway is open. He walks free.

Blessed be,

RK Summers )O(

P.S. You can find more information about The Old Ways right here on the IQ site.

Cover Reveal – Wise Phuul

Sometimes, the fact we have to sit on something as amazing as this awesome cover really makes me twitch. It happens a lot – we can’t let you wonderful readers see the exact progress ‘behind the scenes’ – and I always feel a tad guilty for not letting you feast your eyes on truly amazing work until everything’s good to go.

First impressions and all that.

So without further hesitation, I am very pleased to reveal the cover for Dan Stride’s ‘Wise Phuul’ (out next month!)


Awesome, huh? The textures, especially, are going to look exceptional in the paperback version. And we got to work with the fabulous Venetia Jackson again – double points! We asked Dan to say a few words about the cover:

“One of the nice things about dealing with a small press is that you are more likely to have at least some say about the cover of your book (not guaranteed, of course, but if you want to avoid being turned into Fantasy Book #4317 with Generic Cloaked Bloke on the front, there’s a better chance they’ll listen to your concerns). In this case, I think Venetia Jackson’s work is simply gorgeous: Teltö looking out over the roofs of industrial Skeevereet captures the sooty setting and its dirty-handed protagonist very well. I also like the thematic aspect of the weather-vane, which I think says something about Teltö’s character and his role in the story (stop me if I get too analytical…). A beautiful cover all told, and very humbling for an author.”

And for those of you interested in the blurb…

Walking corpses and black-market liquor: the quiet life.

Teltö Phuul, Necromancer and Library Clerk, likes his days safe and predictable.  Not for him the intrigues of the Viiminian Empire, a gothic monstrosity held together by sheer force of will.

Until the Empire’s dreaded secret police come knocking. Caught in a web of schemes in the diseased heart of Kuolinako, the underground Imperial capital, Teltö can trust no-one. Not the Northern theocrats who abhor Necromancy, and certainly not the Grand Chancellor, whose iron-fisted rule has kept the old order alive that little bit longer.

When one false step means torture and disappearance, this journey will change our Necromancer forever.

If you’re interested in receiving a completely FREE eBook version of this title in return for a (totally honest) review on Amazon/Goodreads, please get in touch:

Cover Development: The Old Ways

Starting a New Cover Design:

The first step I take in the process of book cover design is to focus on the story behind the book. Of course, I also have to remember key elements from the brief that will make up the composition of the piece. For this particular cover, it included: “silver stag prominent on the front cover on the right-hand side, figure visible in the tree-line, scene continues into autumn on back cover, stone city in the distance, tree line gives way to a darkish sky.”

From this I sketched a rough composition that I sent off to the editor (Sara) to make sure it’s what the author is after. The trickiest part is making a singular image that can be made into two separate images (front and back cover, as well as the spine), while making sure all three make sense to the viewer. So, I decided to follow a very shallow ‘U’ shape for the perspective, making a path that leads from the stag on the right to the city on the left.


Drawing the central image:

Once I got the go-ahead I began to add detail – starting off in greyscale so that I could focus on detail and lighting first, without getting distracted by colour. For inspiration of style, I did research into a large amount of similar books and artistic pieces, making sure I didn’t stray too far from the original three art pieces that the author placed in the brief.

I started with basic shapes and a main direction of light, so when it came to adding detail I didn’t have shadows going in all directions.

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I wanted to leave the archer with less detail so his appearance would be left more to the reader’s imagination. So, I made the light beams stronger, putting him in the shadows.


Adding the colour:

The front cover starts with a forest scene in summer (so lots of bold, lush colours to contrast with the silver of the stag), which then fades into autumn on the back cover. I decided to stick to deep greens for the grass, contrasting with occasional purple flowers. It’s lit with a light but vibrant yellow for the summer sun.


Deciding on a font:

Most commonly anauthor will suggest a font, and I will always try to stick with that font. This is because the author would have the best feeling of which font would match the story the best. (Although there are some fonts that are a designer ‘no-no’ unless being used for ironic intent, Comic Sans for example. But as of yet, I haven’t had someone choose this font). In this instance I felt the author’s choice fitted with the rest of the image. I used the font, and had a lot of fun playing around with styles.

I made two that mirrored the glowing of the shimmering stag. One usedsimilar colours to the stag, and another that mirrored the sun’s glow and the back cover’s autumnal colours. The third had slight stone texture to match the castle, but using the same sun and autumn colours.

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Once I had created a selection of styles to the font, I sent it over to see which is preferred. I then worked on the image’s finishing touches  – including a further foreground to fit within the cover’s framings.

On the whole…

It’s hard to say which was my favourite part of this project. The whole thing is at the top with a few others that I’ve enjoyed the most. If I had to choose a favourite part of the creation process, it would be the transition of the image going from black and white into colour. Seeing the small added touches really bring it to life and add feeling. However, my favourite part of every project is the reaction from the author, and this one was particularly nice!


Phew! A huge thanks to Venetia Jackson for giving us a wonderful insight into how much work goes into a cover here at Inspired Quill. What do you think of the cover and process shown here? Do you guys want more posts like this as more books are released? Let us know!

On being an elderly prima-authorista

This blog comes from the author Anne Goodwin, who is kicking off her Sugar and Snails launch blog tour.

I had to smile when I discovered, via Twitter, that a group of writers had set up a website to combat the invisibility of authors publishing their first book over the age of forty. Forty? I thought, echoing one of my characters’ consternation at a friend’s untimely death, But that’s so young!

I’ve been writing and composing stories all my life, but I was a little over forty before I began to take it seriously. While I won’t reveal my age to save my publishers the embarrassment of hosting an elderly prima-authorista, I can admit it’s taken a lot of years to refine my craft. So what’s it like to debut when I’m only a few years short of being eligible for a bus pass? Do I ever wish all this had happened decades before my hair turned grey?

Many of us write to explore alternative possibilities. My novel, Sugar and Snails, featuring a woman who opted for an alternative identity is testament to my personal interest in that theme. Just as my character, Diana, looks back on the life-changing decision she made as a teenager, I can trace my history to an early point where, in choosing one path, I turned my back on another.

As a student at Newcastle University in the late 1970s, I used to love scribbling stories cocooned in the mathematics department library. Although I was far too shy to show them to anyone, I did occasionally submit to competitions and magazines. One morning during Christmas holidays, too long ago now to recall the exact year (and, being pre the digital age, impossible to trace), I received a phone call from one of the Sunday broadsheets to say I’d been shortlisted for their student travel writing competition. Later in the day, they phoned back to say I’d won.

The entire family was excited. As I wondered aloud how I’d spend the generous prize money on another trip abroad, I pondered privately whether this might be a step towards writing as a career.

Like many families, mine had its share of craziness and it just so happened that this craziness erupted quite dramatically the following day. My good news was forgotten as the focus shifted onto the more troubled member of the tribe. While I didn’t make a conscious decision at that point to abandon my barely-articulated dreams of being a writer in favour of a more virtuous career in mental health care, I think I realised, at some level, that my designated role was to serve.

As luck – and hard work – would have it, I had a successful and satisfying career as a clinical psychologist in the NHS. Fiction was forgotten as I absorbed myself in the real-life stories of my clients. My work was emotionally and intellectually stimulating and, unlike writing, financially secure. But it was also draining in a manner it took me a while to acknowledge.

It took me a while to admit what I was missing by spending my time writing case reports instead of ideas for stories. Listening to the real people seated across from me instead of the characters in my head. Publishing papers in academic journals instead of short stories in magazines. If I didn’t make space to indulge my passion for words, I was likely to self-destruct.

Of course, my professional background proved to be useful experience when it came to making the switch. I understood about flawed characters and the lengths to which we go to protect ourselves from uncomfortable truths. I knew how to create a meaningful narrative from the fragments of people’s lives. I was used to the discipline of putting words on the page and working with editors’ feedback to sharpen my prose.

On the other hand, switching to creative writing was like going back to the reception class at school. Or like learning basic skills after suffering a stroke. I was surprised how clumsy I felt, how vulnerable to be a novice once more.

I’d like to pretend that maturity affords me some protection against the inevitable knocks and disappointments on the road to publication, but these hurt at any age. I delude myself that my greater length and depth of life experience puts me ahead of the bright young things, fresh out of university, so much more photogenic than me, until I read their dazzling prose. But I’m not here to compete. I’m simply glad that my story is out there, available to be read.

But there are genuine advantages to being a late starter in the writing business. With no retirement age, one can go on and on, as long as those brain cells keep firing. There’s not enough time for burnout; I envisage continuing my creativity and enthusiasm to my deathbed. I spent twenty-five years in clinical psychology; I hope to match that in my career as a novelist.

Sugar and Snails is available for pre-order from Amazon right now! Reserve your copy of the Kindle or Paperback version today!