mjhearle

The Evolution of a Book Cover Design

I was very pleased with the covers for Winter’s Shadow and Winter’s Light. Many readers and reviewers commented on how beautiful they were. My publisher did a bang up job at creating something that would appeal to the books targeted demographic. If I have a criticism, it would only be that they were a little too generic. Certainly, they weren’t the first paranormal covers to depict a girl against a moody backdrop .

I went out of my way to make sure the stories weren’t just generic paranormals – no vampires or werewolves (shirtless or otherwise) – so felt that maybe the covers should have reflected this. Perhaps sport a design that was a little more idiosyncratic. A little strange. Like the stories themselves. I raised my concerns, but in the end, deferred to my publishers judgement. This was the right decision.

Before I set out to write Claudette in the Shadows I decided I would take a more active role in the eventual marketing. I may have even mocked up some cover concepts before typing the first word. Blame my advertising background for this. In our industry we routinely put chickens before the eggs.

When Momentum agreed to publish the novella, I wrote an email outlining my thoughts on Claudette‘s cover – specifically the fact I wanted to design it myself. My publisher, to their credit, told me to have a crack at it.

I started with this sketch.

Claudette_in_the_shadows-cover-design_01As you can see, I’m no great artist. I’m definitely more comfortable with words than creating pictures. For one thing, I screwed up the clothing on the figure. A long slinky dress is far too contemporary considering the time period of the story (late 1800’s). However, I think I got the posture right. The attitude in her face and body feels like my Claudette.

After scanning the sketch into the computer I brought it into photoshop to see if I could add some texture. It was important that the cover have a very rough, imperfect aspect to it – partly to cover my lack of artistic ability, and partly because perfect art doesn’t interest me. I like my art to be messy. A technically perfect drawing leaves little room for the imagination to flex its muscles and I like to indulge my imagination whenever I can.

This is what I managed to create in photoshop:

Claudette_in_the_shadows-cover-design_02

All that was left was to add a type treatment. Normally, I would have liked to spend some time developing the typography, maybe offer a few examples, unfortunately I was facing a deadline so in the end had to just pick a font and run with it. The name of the font is ‘Nosferatu‘ which may have had something to do with my selection.

Here’s the the finished cover layout with the type treatment that I sent to my publisher.

Claudette_in_the_shadows-cover-design_03

I added the smoke thingy in the background at the last moment. If I spent a bit more time I might a figured out a way to incorporate it more creatively. Regardless, my publisher was very positive about my design and I left it in their hands to tweak or ignore as they saw fit. Secretly, I figured they’d scrap it and go with something like the other Winter covers. I wouldn’t have blamed them. It definitely would have been a safe marketing decision. You can imagine my delight when I received this in my inbox:

Claudette_in_the_shadows-cover-design_Final

Does that silhouette look familiar? The publisher’s designer took my initial sketch and created something that I think is fantastic. I love the bold use of red and the art deco influenced typography. It’s certainly going to pop on the iTunes/Amazon/Kobo page and by ‘pop’ I mean jump out and grab you by the throat. No matter what the commercial fate of Claudette in the Shadows I feel a great amount of pride when I look at this cover. It feels right. It feels like me. I hope you like it.

M.J.

Claudette in the Shadows

On October 4th I will be turning the ripe old age of 34. I’m a good deal grayer, wrinklier and softer round the middle than I was last year. That’s biology for you. Maybe this is why birthdays don’t excite me? What are they but an annual reminder of your bodies deterioration. I guess some people dig being the focus of attention and unwrapping presents. Not me. Well…not usually. You see next Fri I will be receiving a very special birthday present. My novella, Claudette in the Shadows,  will be available internationally on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Kobo through Momentum Books and I can’t help but feel excited. Even with the extra chub, wrinkles and gray hairs.

I think I’ve written a pretty cool book. Winter’s Shadow and Winter’s Light taught me plenty about storytelling and style and I’ve taken everything I’ve learned and poured that knowledge into Claudette. It just might be my thesis on the paranormal genre. Or at least until Winter Book 3 rolls around. There’s romance, mystery, magic, a liberal sprinkling of the supernatural and murder. Claudette Duchamp is most definitely not Winter Adams. She is no innocent naif, no lost lamb in the wild woods. She is the wolf in the dark. The monster in the shadows.

The story begins in Amsterdam on the eve of the 20th century. Claudette and her family have been living under an assumed name to avoid notice of Victor Bonnaire and his villainous Bane. Despite this fugitive existence, Claudette is happy or as happy as any sixteen year old girl can be. She has met a young man named Simon Fontellier and is experiencing the rush of first love. And then the nightmares begin…

Here’s the official blurb to wet your appetite:

Claudette Duchamp was born into a life shadowed by fear. Ever since she can remember her family has been running. Running from a man named Victor Bonnaire and the men in his employ, the Devil’s Bane.

Her family has a secret. One her parents refuse to tell Claudette or her twin brother, Blake. It has something to do with why Victor pursues them. And something to do with her dreams…

For Claudette has begun to feel a strange stirring in her heart. A wildness that is both thrilling and frightening. Soon, she will uncover the truth of her family’s haunted legacy. She will discover the world that lies on the other side of midnight. She will take her place in the shadows and embrace the darkness within.

As readers of the Winter novels may have guessed, Claudette in the Shadows is a prequel to Winter’s Shadow. This means you need not have read the other two books first. In fact, I specifically designed Claudette to serve as a standalone story and hopefully entice new readers to the Winter universe. However, fans of the books will recognise the characters Ariman and Madeleine, not to mention Blake. I suspect the large role he plays in Claudette will come as a welcome surprise to those readers who missed him in the sequel.

Over the coming week, I’ll be blogging more frequently – sharing the book cover along with a few cool things like videos and chapter excerpts so be sure to check back regularly. And please circle October 4th. The best birthday present I can think of would be for Claudette to find her readers. And to share with them her nightmares.

M.J.

Lune Diary: Stitchwhistle

Chapter Four of LUNE introduces the character of Stitchwhistle. Often, I struggle with names. Especially, names for characters from fantasy realms. I guess I didn’t play enough Dungeons & Dragons when I was a kid. ‘Stitchwhistle’ came easily though. So easily, in fact, that I had to check online to make sure I hadn’t heard it before. It’s a real danger when creating imaginary worlds that you’ll accidentally plagiarize another author’s work. My imagination is sometimes a lazy beast and would rather dredge up some half-forgotten word rather than put the hard work into creating a new one. I constantly have to challenge myself while I’m writing, asking the question ‘Is this mine? Or have I stolen it?’

That said, Stitchwhistle is not some shockingly original character. He’s a cousin to Dicken’s Artful Dodger and Rictus from Barker’s Thief of Always.

Watercolour of The Artful Dodger from Oliver T...

Watercolour of The Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist by ‘Kyd’ (Joseph Clayton Clarke) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And I think he would have felt quite at home living in Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree. Or maybe not? There’s an edge to Stitchwhistle – a cynicism that Blyton’s characters didn’t exhibit. When he first meets young Lune he’s very charming, but that facade soon drops the moment he learns he’s made a mistake and Lune isn’t the boy he’s been sent to find. We catch a glimpse of the real Stitchwhistle. Someone who’s crafty and mischevious and more than a little desperate. But not wicked. No, I don’t think Stitchwhistle is wicked. Then again, I have only the vaguest notions of how the story will progress so maybe Stitchwhistle is a villain? That’s one of the exciting parts in not plotting your story too tightly and letting the characters take on a life themselves.

So Stitchwhistle arrives to take Lune to the world he comes from which at the moment is called Tira-Vale. This is a placeholder name until I can come up with something better. Tira-Vale owes its genesis in Tir na nog which according to Irish mythology is where the fairies live. I don’t hate ‘Tira-Vale’ – it just doesn’t feel quite right. Tira-Vale could almost be a suburb in Sydney. It’s not ‘otherworldly’ enough. I’ve put my imagination back to work on the problem so we’ll see what the lazy bugger turns up.

We learn through Stitchwhistle that there is a prophecy about an October Child who will lead the Silver Dragon’s army against the Witch Boy. Is Lune this October Child? Hmmmm….no. I find the prophecy device to be incredibly hackneyed so have included it in the story only so I can tear it apart later on. Every fantasy novel seems to have a prophecy in it – sometimes unnecessarily (see Harry Potter). The whole concept bugs me because it predisposes that we are victims of fate. Or pawns in some cosmic chessboard of the gods. I think we are completely responsible for the direction our life takes, specifically the way we surmount the varied obstacles placed in our path. One person may fall, while another struggles on. It comes down to character and choice. And luck. Not fate. I hope LUNE will serve as something of a secret thesis on this subject. Or at the very least an interesting exploration on the notions of fate and freewill.

M.J.

Why didn’t my book sell?

Last week I wrote a post detailing my thoughts on having the unsold copies of my novels, Winter’s Shadow and Winter’s Light, liquidated by the publisher. I went to great pains to establish that I wasn’t seeking pity, that I was grateful for the luck I’d had as an author so far, and the same disclaimer goes for this post as well. The experiences I’ve had in the publishing world have been nothing but positive. I’ve met some amazing people who I hope to keep working with in the future and overall feel incredibly blessed.

To repeat myself, this is not a pity piece.

It is, however, an opportunity to explore some thoughts and theories as to why Winter’s Light , the sequel to Winter’s Shadow, didn’t sell as many copies as the first book. I would also invite any readers out there to put forward their own theories in the comments section. I’m genuinely curious.

Theory 1: The book was rubbish

Obviously, I am in no position to argue against this point objectively. I did receive enough positive reviews though, to suggest the book wasn’t terrible. In terms of notices, Winter’s Light had roughly the same amount of good reviews as the first book. My personal feeling is that Winter’s Light contains much stronger writing than Winter’s Shadow. Not only was I a more experienced writer when I attempted the sequel, I also didn’t have to worry as much about clogging the story with boring exposition because I’d already established the characters and world. The narrative moves faster and from a language point of view, the prose feels tighter and more stylish. This is, of course, open to debate.

Theory 2: Poor publicity

A lot of writers complain about their publisher not supporting their book enough. Not me. I was blessed with an incredibly passionate PR agent (Hi Charlotte!) on Winter’s Light and did even more radio and newspaper interviews than the first time round. Granted, I was not always the best interviewee (it’s damn nerve wracking being interviewed) but I warmed up as I went along and by the end of the junket could actually string a couple of sentences together without stuttering. I didn’t get the subway and bus side posters that some authors get, but I honestly didn’t expect to. Winter’s Shadow wasn’t a huge bestseller so there wouldn’t have been much financial sense for the publisher in spending money on a massive outdoor print campaign for the sequel. Would I have sold more copies of Winter’s Light if there’d been a bigger advertising spend? Yes, but I don’t know how many more. It would have been a gamble and in these tight economic times, publishers are less likely to roll the dice. You can’t blame them.

Theory 3: Generic cover

This theory actually holds some water. I was never overly fond of the cover for Winter’s Light. It looked far too similar to other YA paranormal novels. Absolutely, there is marketing sense in targeting a specific demographic with familiar imagery but I think we didn’t do enough to stand out from the crowd.  Another potential issue was that while the Winter’s Light cover looked the same as other paranormals, it deviated considerably from the style and colour palette established with Winter’s Shadow. Most book series (see Twilight/Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Grey, etc.) retain visual similarity from cover to cover to identify them as part of a set. Browsing the shelves of a book store, a casual fan of Winter’s Shadow wouldn’t necessarily recognise Winter’s Light as a sequel as there aren’t enough consistent visual signifiers. If the publisher wasn’t interested in continuing the style of Winter’s ShadowI would have preferred they went in a completely direction. Do something quirky and unexpected rather than try and follow a visual trend. The Winter books aren’t like other paranormals; their covers should reflect this.

Theory 4: The story wasn’t YA paranormal-y enough

And now we get to an issue that concerned me even before the book’s publication. When I wrote Winter’s Shadow, I was well aware of the YA paranormal genre conventions and how I was honouring them with my story. I had the wide-eyed ingenue, the handsome and mysterious stranger, the tragic love story, the teen angst, the supernatural paraphenalia – all elements I knew fans of the genre would gobble up with relish. Unfortunately, I did something stupid with Winter’s Shadow – I killed my love interest. This meant, Winter’s Light, couldn’t contain a strong romance element. It also meant the book was shot through with a very real sense of melancholy and grief. Not the most commercial of themes and certainly not the sort of story material the YA paranormal genre is popular for. I tried to compensate for the lack of romance by ramping up the thriller and mystery elements of the book and in the process think I created a much more compelling narrative, but still the romance element was missing. I hoped that readers would respond to a different kind of YA paranormal, something a little darker and weightier than the traditional fare. However, even some of the most favourable reviews mentioned their disappointment at absence of romance in the story. YA paranormal fans are some of the most passionate in the reading community, but they also know what they like, and it seems, are wary of stories that stray too far from the established model. Ultimately, I feel like this was the main the reason Winter’s Light  wasn’t as popular as Winter’s Shadow. It was too different. Too unusual. Not romantic enough.

You know what? I don’t care too much about the book’s lack of commercial success. Sure, I feel bad for my publisher that they didn’t make more money but I like Winter’s Light. It’s the best continuation of Winter’s story I could have written. And I think it sets up what’s promises to be one helluva third book.

M.J.

What happens to unsold books

I received a letter from my publisher last week. Usually these letters are cause for excitement – royalty statements and what-not. Not this one, though. It was informing me that all the unsold copies of my books, Winter’s Shadow and Winter’s Light, were being pulped unless I wished to purchase them back from the publisher at a reduced rate. Looking at the book figures quoted in the letter it seems I sold about eight-five percent of my first run of Winter’s Shadow. That’s a big win in today’s publishing climate. I sold a considerably lower percent of Winter’s Light. I have a few theories as to ‘why?’ but that can wait for a later post. 

First of all, I’d like to assure you dear reader that this is not a pity post. I am not seeking consolation or sympathy. I have had far too much good luck to feel hard done by. As most struggling writers know getting published at all is something of a miracle. Plus, the many beautiful emails I’ve received from fans of the book series are more than enough to keep me from getting maudlin. So no, this is absolutely not a pity post. Instead, I hope it merely serves as a sobering insight into the current publishing climate.

Winter’s Shadow was in bookstores for two years. Winter’s Light has been out for just one. During that time it has not found a big enough audience for my publisher to risk keeping it on the shelves longer. In the past, books were given more time to build an audience. However, with big chains like Borders closing and shelf-space in independent stores limited, it seems publishers and (more to the point booksellers) simply can’t afford to give titles that much of a chance anymore. They either sell or they don’t and if they don’t then they’re pulped to make way for new books. It’s as simple, and as sad, as that.

And I understand the fiscal sense behind this model. People are buying less books so publishers and booksellers have to be ruthless in their business decisions. Why throw your support behind a sequel to a book that wasn’t financially successful to begin when you can gamble on something new? Something that might be the next Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games or – god forbid – Fifty Shades of Grey.

So, where does that leave the Winter series? After all, readers will know that Winter’s Light ends on something of a cliffhanger. Rest assured, I will be writing a third book which, if everything goes according to plan, should be ready midway next year. Whether it is published conventionally remains to be seen. If I can’t find a publisher I may float it as an ebook or publish it myself. Whatever happens the book will exist and it will be available. If nowhere else, then on this very site. That should hopefully comfort those concerned readers out there who were fearful I was going to leave poor Winter and Blake’s story unfinished.

In the meantime, I have my novella Claudette in the Shadows, coming out as an ebook later this year through MOMENTUM. The story isn’t so much a prequel to Winter’s Shadow as it is a character study of Claudette Duchamp, Blake’s troubled sister. There’s lots of magic and mystery and a healthy dash of romance as well. I’m very proud of it and can’t wait to see what the fans think.

I’m also nearly halfway through LUNE and it’s shaping up to be something special. I’ve shown what I’ve written to a few folk I trust and the feedback has been universally positive. Whatever I’m doing seems to be working. Hopefully, I can keep it up.

As for all those copies of Winter’s Shadow and Winter’s Light waiting to be pulped? I’ve decided I’m going to buy them back. Every single book. I just can’t bear the thought of them being destroyed. The plan is I’ll sell the recovered books on this site at a reduced rate. On the surface, this might not seem like a fiscally responsible decision but I feel like if you’re gonna gamble it might as well be on yourself. I’m gaining new readers every week. At least some of them might be curious about picking up the first two Winter books. Especially, after Claudette in the Shadows and the final Winter novel are released.

I don’t look at writing as a career. I look at it as a journey. I’m just at the beginning now and I have no idea where this twisting path will lead. Let’s find out together.

M.J.

Lune Diary: The Haunted Piano

I had piano lessons from the age of seven till I was about thirteen. That’s a solid six years of music study. If you sat me in front of a piano now I wouldn’t be able to play much more than the opening bars of In the Hall of the Mountain King from the Peer Gynt suite. Don’t worry mum, those years of piano lessons weren’t wasted. If nothing else they gave me a solid grounding in musical theory which helped me pick up the guitar later on in life. They taught me how to actually appreciate music rather than just listen to it. And they provided the inspiration for this chapter of LUNE.

Peer Gynt Suite No.1, Op.46, thème a'2 de In t...

Peer Gynt Suite No.1, Op.46, thème a’2 de In the Hall of the Mountain King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you recall, the last chapter ended with the mysterious arrival of a piano in the Lune household. This chapter begins with young Lune being awoken by someone playing the piano downstairs. The same eerie melody over and over again. Lune is alone in the house (his mother has gone out for the night) so is understandably a little unnerved by this phenomenon. Nevertheless, he gathers the courage to go downstairs and investigate. After completing a kind of musical puzzle on the piano, Lune accidentally conjures a magical creature named Stitchwhistle who then invites Lune to partake in an adventure. Or something like that happens. I’m being purposefully vague so as not to spoil the surprises in the story.

Piano

Piano (Photo credit: esc861)

I’ve written posts in the past that advise writers to always challenge their story ideas. Just because something feels fresh and innovative to you doesn’t mean it is. Case in point: originally I thought Stitchwhistle might come down the chimney in Lune’s room, or even travel through an old wardrobe. In retrospect these ideas are pretty obviously hackneyed (not to mention legally dubious – the C.S. Lewis estate probably has the whole magic wardrobe thing copyrighted) but at the time they occurred to me they felt brilliant. It’s scary not being able to trust your own creative instincts.

Still, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having to actually work at arriving at a creative solution. A million years ago, I was a young guy trying to make it in advertising. I had no idea about the creative process but I was working with an art director who knew his stuff. He taught me a lot about challenging and second guessing those initial ideas. To stretch myself to come up with most creative solution to a brief rather than the easiest or most obvious. That the process of being creative was as much a reward as the end result. Despite, never making it as an ad man, those lessons have held me in good stead. Just like the piano lessons.

M.J.

Lune Diary: Chapter Two

I’d like LUNE to have evocative chapter names.

The Hobbit does this extremely well with names like ‘Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire’, ‘The Gathering of the Clouds’ and ‘A Thief in the Night’. Chapter One of Lune is called ‘The Boy in the Tree’ but I have yet to name Chapter Two. It would help, I suppose, if the book was structured like a collection of short stories with each chapter serving as an almost self-contained narrative episode. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it sounds. Chapter Two is full of largely connective tissue which I feel is essential for character development but doesn’t necessarily rocket the narrative forward. Which is probably why I’m having trouble naming it.

After getting into a fight with some bullies, Lune is called to Principal Wadkins office to explain himself. His mother attends as well and we get a glimpse into Lune’s not very pleasant family life. Both the principal and his mother don’t listen to him and seem annoyed by his very existence. The ‘cruel guardian’ figure is a pretty familiar fairytale –not to mention Dickensian – trope and I questioned myself before including it. Originality should always be the goal in writing but I find genre conventions are a useful shorthand in quickly communicating ideas to the reader. In this case, I need the reader to understand why Lune might be so eager to leave this world behind.

Lune’s mother is not a monster. She doesn’t beat him or force him to live in a cupboard under the stairs ala Potter. We learn that she had Lune when she was very young. Sixteen. This would make her approximately twenty-nine when the story begins. If she resents Lune for holding her back from enjoying her late teens and early twenties then I think that’s an understandable, if not condonable, human reaction.

It’s important that the world of LUNE is described in shades of grey. Frankly, I find the notions of absolute good and evil to be boring and dramatically inert. Like Lune’s mother, I want the perspective of the villains to be clear and relatable. That doesn’t mean they need to be sympathetic. In fact, villains are much more frightening if we at least partially know where they’re coming from.

Chapter Two ends with the arrival of the piano. Ah, yes the piano. One of the first truly fresh concepts I’m bringing to the story. So far everything might feel a little familiar. The piano will change that. Perhaps a good title for this chapter would be ‘An Unexpected Piano’. A nod towards The Hobbit‘s opening chapter ‘An Unexpected Party.’ I like it.

On to Chapter Three.

M.J.

Lune Diary: Chapter One

And we’re off and racing.

Well, maybe not ‘racing’. More like walking at a brisk pace.

Subtitled, The Boy in the Tree, Chapter One begins with our hero, Howard Lune, unsurprisingly in a tree. Why is he in a tree? He’s hiding. Lune, you see, is not the most popular boy in school. In fact, he might just be the least popular boy. There’s nothing really wrong with him he’s just one of those unfortunate souls who has trouble fitting in. Perhaps if he’d been born a year later or earlier he would’ve found more accepting peers. Perhaps, not. Sometimes an individual just has a way about them that marks them as ‘other’ and if there’s anything that can make school a living hell it’s being different.

Growing up I was lucky enough to experience the full gamut of the school social strata. I was never bullied to the same extent as poor Lune, but I was definitely teased and made fun of. When the tides turned and for whatever reason I found myself shunted several rungs up the popularity ladder, I never forgot what it was like to be on the outside looking in. Pain shapes us in unexpected ways and there are few pains as acute as loneliness. Especially for an adolescent.

It’s important to me that Lune is in no way charmed. In the opening pages, he’s persecuted, mistreated, punished unfairly. He is by no means a golden boy. To a degree, this is a well trod Dickensian conceit – readers need to be invested in a characters fate and starting them off at a low point is a good way of doing this. Empathy is a powerful bonding agent. Typically, a Dickens character begins in the darkness and the drama comes from watching them strive towards the light. Pip and Oliver both end their stories in much happier circumstances than where they began. I don’t know if Lune will though? Nothing’s guaranteed.

English: Detail from photographic portrait of ...

English: Detail from photographic portrait of Charles Dickens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lune is attacked by a gang of bullies early in the chapter. I’ve changed the lead bully’s name three times already. He began as Corbin, then Morley, before I settled on Crawley. I went to school with two guys named Morley and Crawley. Both had a reputation for being tough and mean. I never really had a run in with either of them but they definitely made me nervous. I’m sure they’re lovely blokes now. It’s a little ridiculous how much time one can spend agonising over names, especially, over secondary characters, so I try and steal from life when appropriate.

So the chapter begins with Lune hiding and ends with a fight. Initially, I planned on the story beginning with Lune drawing in his bedroom on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Why change it? Pace concerns. I want this story to move faster than the Winter novels which were (justly) criticised for dragging in places. This is a book aimed at younger readers so I need to be mindful of holding their attention. I don’t need to spend paragraphs establishing atmosphere and delving into psychology. In some ways this is a more complex story than either of my first two novels but I think I’m a better writer now and can achieve what I want with fewer words. Less waffling.

Speaking of words, I think I’ve got a handle on the book’s voice. A kind of sophisticated-fairytale style, not dissimilar to that found in Barker’s The Graveyard Book or Gaiman’s The Thief of Always. I’ve been listening to Gaiman’s audio recording of Fragile Things on the journey to and from work, so his voice is clear in mind. If I can imagine him reading my words aloud then I know I’m doing something right.

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My main concern with this chapter is the lack of magic. There is no element of the fantastic, no real hint of the kind of adventures ahead. Harry Potter begins with the odd appearance of owls, The Thief of Always has Rictus float in through the window – I have a boy in a tree drawing monsters. I suppose that’s something but I’m hoping something else will occur to me.

Until then, it’s on to Chapter Two.

MJ.

Lune Diary: What’s in a name?

The title ‘Lune’ first occurred to me somewhere between Fethiye and Efes in Turkey. I was on a pre-wedding honeymoon with my soon-to-be wife and the weather was apocalyptically hot. With skin paler than milk, it’s hard enough for me to endure the Australian summer let alone endure the middle east’s seasonal heat, so I was spending a lot of time indoors. While my wife was off exploring, unbothered by the malignant orb in the sky, I took to writing.

I’d been toying with the outline for a children’s fantasy story – a story I had initially called Sebastian Wolf and The Clockwork King until I discovered there were a million books with ‘clockwork’ in the title (not the least Cassandra Clare’s bestselling series) – and needed a title. Some writers can work without titles. I can’t. Even if it’s going to change, I need a title to hang the story on. And there ‘Lune’ was. A title that suggested the mystery and magic I hoped my story would possess.

Would ‘Lune’ have occurred to me in Australia? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Travelling has a stimulative effect on my imagination. It has something to do with being outside my comfort zone and breaking up the usual routines. Nevertheless, I don’t think the word was directly inspired by my travels. No, if I think deeply about ‘Lune’ I can identify a couple of clear antecedents. 

Dune2

The first one is Frank Herbert’s, Dune. I’ve always found this an enormously evocative title. ‘Dune’ spoke to me of otherworldly vistas and adventure. Phonetically, I like the way ‘Dune’ sounds. There’s no real explanation for this. I simply dig that particular combination of vowels and consonants. Swapping the ‘D’ and ‘L’ doesn’t change that. If anything, ‘Lune’ sounds even more melodious in my head. 

Going back further, I think I can spot another signpost on the neural pathway leading to ‘Lune’. When I was a kid, I was mad about video games. I didn’t actually have a computer until I was eleven or twelve but I was well into video games before then. I used to pour over video game magazines in the newsagency and visit video game stores where I would spend hours staring at the box art, imagining the most stunningly crafted games inside. Games that were far beyond the processing power of nineteen-eighties computers. One of the games I never played, but whose box art has lingered with me over the decades, is Loom

loom-fmtowns

It’s so strange. Who is that figure in the hood? What power does he possess? Who are those odd looking characters suspended in space? I could probably find the answers to those questions somewhere online but I’d rather not. I want the game to remain in my imagination. Unchanged. Perfect. Magical.

Dune. Loom. Lune. Seems like a pretty obvious progression. Or maybe I’m just imposing logic on something that is defiantly illogical.  

Whatever the case, ‘Lune’ felt right the moment it occurred to me. It would refer to the magical land I intended to have my character, Sebastian Wolf, explore. But before I could go ahead and lock ‘Lune’ down there was something I needed to check. You see, I’m a bit of a storytelling magpie, constantly stealing bright and shiny things from the various different media I consume. Sometimes I’m aware I’m recycling someone else’s idea, other times my thievery comes as a complete shock to myself. It’s always depressing to discover you’re not as clever as you think you are.

Fearing this, I jumped onto Google and did a search for any other books called ‘Lune’. Google didn’t turn up any. What it did reveal, however, was that ‘lune’ was most definitely not a word of my own invention. For one thing, it’s both French and Latin for ‘moon’. This shouldn’t have surprised me but it did. I guess I’d never drawn the connection between ‘lunar’ and ‘Lune’? Everyone has blind spots. I’ve got plenty of them.

Delving deeper into Google, I discovered ‘Lune’ is also the crescent-shaped portion of a plane or sphere bounded by two arcs of circles. So, not only does it mean ‘moon’, it’s a mathematical term. Apparently, it’s also a river in England. Sorry, two rivers – one in Cumbria, one in Durham. Oh and, the character, King Lune, appears in The Chronicles of Narnia. Discovering this, I no longer felt comfortable using ‘Lune’ as the name of my story’s magical lands. The ‘moon’ association in particular bothered me. I kept imagining the confused expressions of French children as they read the book – how could the characters breathe in space?

But still, the title felt right…

When I closed my eyes and imagined the cover of my book, it remained Lune. I had to figure out a way to justify the title. So, I looked to my own work. Winter’s Shadow was named after Winter Adams, why couldn’t this book be named after its lead character? I wasn’t married to ‘Sebastian Wolf’. It had always struck me as a little mannered. Of course ‘Lune’ was a weird first name for a thirteen year-old London boy, but I saw no problem in it being his last name. It emphasised his ‘otherness’. Most boys at school call each other by their last names so it wouldn’t be strange if he was referred to in the story as ‘Lune’, though he needed a first name too. I settled on ‘Howard’. It’s got a nice rigid formality to it that contrasts with the oddness of ‘Lune’.

So the boy who had been named Sebastian Wolf became Howard Lune and I got to keep my book title. Of course, once the book goes to the publisher that could change. Winter’s Shadow was called Shade right up until the final stages of publication, when it was discovered there was another book coming out at the same time with that title. This could happen again. There might be a book called Lune sitting in a publishing warehouse right now, waiting to be shipped to bookstores. For now though, ‘Lune’ belongs to me. 

MJ.

Lune Diary: Chasing Clive Barker’s Thief

On first sentences:

“The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.”

So begins Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always. It’s one of my favourite opening sentences. Both lyrical and menacing it perfectly encapsulates the dark fairytale tone of the book. This is what an opening sentence should do.

Cover of "Clive Barker's The Thief Of Alw...

Cover of Clive Barker’s The Thief Of Always

Here is my first attempt at matching Barker’s eloquence.

“A tree stood on a small hill overlooking the football fields of St Josephs Secondary School. It was an old tree with knotted grey bark and thick twisting branches and on the lowest branch of this tree there sat a boy.”

Not quite right. The main problem is ‘Lune’ doesn’t appear in the first sentence. It feels like he should – like Thief’s Harvey. He is our protagonist. It seems almost rude to hold off introducing him.

This is my second attempt:

“Of all the hiding place in St Agnes High School, the one Howard Lune favoured the most was the fig tree which overlooked the soccer fields.”

It’s better, though still a little unwieldy. I like the drama that ‘hiding place’ conjures. I’m not sure about including the school’s name but I can live with it. Another option will inevitably occur to me later on. I must have re-written the opening line of Winter’s Shadow a hundred times.

Originally, I had the opening scene begin with Howard sitting in his room on a rain February afternoon drawing monsters. I scrapped this when I realised I was emulating Barker’s Thief too closely. I want to write a book as good as Thief but not simply mimic it. There’s a particular timeless feel to Barker’s language I find particularly attractive. Thief could have been published fifty years or five days ago. Lune should be an easy read for a twelve year-old but no less enchanting for an adult. However, if I write too simply then I’ll risk alienating sophisticated readers; pop into too many flowery adjectives then younger readers will be turned off. 

It’s a tightrope act. 

So much of this is instinctual. Or feels instinctual at the time. It’s only in the re-write that any miscalculations reveal themselves. At the moment I should just push on ahead, get the story down and trust that the tone will work itself out. It usually does. I guess that’s the magic part.

On influences:

I do not want to give the impression that The Thief of Always is the primary influence on Lune. It is one of many. Some of the others are: Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, A Wizard of Earthsea, His Dark Materials, The Magician’s Nephew, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and The Graveyard Book. Enid Blyton will probably work her way in there as well, though I promise never to write the phrase ‘lashings of ginger beer’.

Re-reading A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin I was struck by its greatness. This is an important fantasy novel. Curiously, I remember being bored senseless when I first read it as a teenager. I can only imagine this was because the novel’s action is predominantly of a philosophical nature – Ged’s greatest battles are with himself rather than some external force. This is a much more exhilarating concept to me as a man, than it was as a boy. Le Guin’s poetic prose is frustratingly beautiful. I will never have her facility with words. Her description of Earthsea is evocative, the archipelagos easily imagined (I wonder if this was an influence on Barker’s Abarat series?) and I love the rich ethnic diversity of her characters. Earthsea is a benchmark of world-building. When I create my own fantasy world I will endeavour to do so with the same level of care and detail. 

The dragon Yevaud on the cover of Ursula K. Le...

The dragon Yevaud on the cover of Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Cultural Cringe:

Lune’s school is in London, though its name is taken from the one I attended in Port Macquarie. Why aren’t I setting the book in Australia? Moreover, why isn’t Lune Australian? Is this some kind of fundamental cultural cringe on my part or a sensible stylistic choice? I don’t know? I plan on writing stories set in Australia in the future. It’s just that this country has such a strong cultural voice. I feel like it would clash with the classic form of storytelling I’m attempting. Clive Barker, J. M. Barrie, Enid Blyton, Lewis Carrol, Neil Gaiman and C.S. Lewis are all English writers and their stories (for the most part) have a distinctly English feel. They are the the forebears of Lune so it follows that Lune should be an English story. Maybe I should worry less about my cultural heritage and just concentrate on the story. Let it be what it wants to be.

Back to the words.

M.J.

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