Meet the talent behind Valerie Holmes eBook covers, Jan Marshall!

jan_in_hat_picI am delighted to share an interview with Jan Marshall, the talented book-designer who has created the Valerie Holmes eBook covers.

What inspired you to become a graphic designer?

First of all, Val, thank you for inviting me to take part in this interview; I’m so flattered you asked me.

I suppose the simple answer to your question is I didn’t really do much choosing; graphic design rather chose me. Creative pursuits – mainly drawing with a pencil – had always been in my blood. So, all I had to do was pin down a way of converting my creative obsession into a way of making a living, and graphics was my answer.

You have a vast experience within the industry. How did you learn the job?

Art college was a great starting point, and I’d recommend it to anyone embarking on a career in the business – it taught me how to ‘think’ like a designer – but, like learning to drive, as soon as your training’s over, although you’re qualified, you’re not necessarily good at it yet. My first job, in an ad agency, made me aware of gaps in my art college education – mainly technical skills. So I spent some years in the typesetting and pre-press industry, where I absorbed essential hands-on skills, some of which I still use today: typography, artwork, hand-lettering, proofreading. Learning doesn’t ever end of course; especially since the advent of computers and rapidly changing software, designers’ skills must constantly be reinforced and updated.

What have been your personal highlights so far?

Derek & Clive cover pinkThe most rewarding time in my career has to be the ten years I spent immersed in the world of movies, creating designed materials for mainly Universal and Paramount films, ranging from huge outdoor posters to video covers and film-based interactive teaching aids for schools. I was privileged (and extremely proud) to work on movies as diverse as: Babe, The Rugrats Movie, Apollo 13, the three Pierce Brosnan Bond movies, The Addams Family Values; Dragonheart, Twister, Twelve Monkeys, and The Mummy. On a more personal note, another highlight came in the shape of a short thank you message. It was from the late, truly adorable Peter Cook, who, having briefed the job to the team in a safari suit and pith helmet, later described my design for the ‘Derek & Clive Get The Horn’ video sleeve as: “…the best I have ever seen on a video pack. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am”. I was thrilled too.

If I may, I’d like to give credit here to the rest of the talented design team from those days, especially the lovely Lizy Thompson, my hard-working right-hand woman and loyal friend.

 Of the various styles and techniques you use, which is your favourite?

The movie work taught me how to use photoshop to comp images and type in intricate detail – large media can be unforgiving of less than perfect retouching; a tiny error on screen can be seen at ten feet tall on a supersite poster! And that attention to detail has stayed with me; I get a great deal of enjoyment out of combining images and type to make tight, detailed book covers.

What is the technique used for the beautiful Valerie Holmes ebook covers?

Thank you for your lovely compliment, Val. When we embarked on this big project – to repackage more than 30 titles plus some new stories – we decided between us that, for speed, economy and ease, it would be best to ‘keep it simple’.

Your covers are incredibly enjoyable to illustrate, not least because, in the same way that characters in a novel seem to take on their own personalities, the people I draw for your delightful Valerie Homes stories emerge, almost accidentally, from their scribbly beginnings into fully formed ‘human beings’ with their own individual characteristics.

What other interests/hobbies do you enjoy?

In my work life, I’m embarking on an exciting (to me, anyway!) new venture to run alongside the cover design, that of proofreading and copy-editing, a discipline I used to love so much while working in typesetting all those years ago; I’m presently working through a certification course.

And I have lots of hobbies and pastimes: I sew, make jewellery, up-cycle junk, grow bonsai trees, cook, paint, draw… And I walk miles every day. But the most important thing I’m doing in my free time right now is writing: I’m attempting my first novel. And it’s an amazing experience – it’s like nothing else I’ve ever done. Pure escapism. I can see why you love writing so much, Val!

Thanks so much for all your dedicated work and I look forward to seeing yet more original covers in 2014. Happy New Year!

Jan Marshall

I’ve been a graphic designer for many years more than the requisite ten thousand hours. Specialising in book cover design at present, I’ve worked on all sorts of graphic design projects in my time – some simple, and some utterly extraordinary, from key rings for the CBI Conference to supersite outdoor posters for Universal and Paramount movies. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m not even there yet!”

Services

Cover design: I’m not the cheapest designer you’ll find, but I do go the extra mile to provide a premium service: I’ll send you a questionnaire/brief sheet about your book, read your manuscript, produce concept after concept until we find the one we both like the most, then hone it (in high resolution) until it’s perfect. And I guarantee we’ll end up with a cover you’ll love.

Cover critique: Creating your own cover design? Why not get some expert advice to help you along the road. Send me a jpeg of your cover design at any stage in its completion and I’ll give you an idea of how you’re doing. Critiques start at £20/$35 for a 10-point ebook cover checklist. Contact me for a quote if you’d like an in-depth report or if you want help with a particular aspect of your project.

Proofreading and copy-editing: Please contact me at thecopyeditor@btinternet.com. Although this service is available now, my formal training and certification will be completed late Spring 2014.

You can follow me on Twitter here: @Jan_Marshall and visit my website here: jan-marshall.wix.com/thebookdesigner. There’s a contact page on the website or you can email me at bookcoverdesign@btinternet.com – I’d love to hear from you.

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Christmas Giving

Nicola and Rochester

Here is a lovely picture of Nicola and Rochester

I have been fortunate to meet some amazing people in my life. I find the most inspirational are those who either live with an ongoing condition, disability or have overcome it. Or those who generously give their spare time to help others.
Nicola Cornick is not only a successful author but also a Guide Dog Puppy Walker. I asked Nicola about how she became involved in the charity and her love of dogs.
You do work for the Guide Dogs for the Blind. Could you explain how you became involved with this charity?
Years and years ago when he was a child, my husband saw an item on Blue Peter about guide dogs and from that moment he wanted to become a puppy walker. We sponsored a guide dog a number of years ago but of course walking and training a puppy is a big time commitment and so for a long time we couldn’t do it. Finally, when we were both working in flexible jobs, we signed up. It is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things I’ve ever done; we were so proud when our most recent puppy, Rochester, qualified as a working dog last month! I think the dogs are amazing in what they can do and it is extraordinary to look at pictures of the tiny little dog that comes to you at 6 weeks old and then see them fully trained and changing people’s lives.
A puppy is not just for Christmas – but a guide dog puppy can be sponsored as a Christmas gift at http://www.guidedogs.org.uk

December

Merry Christmas!

December is such a busy month for all.

I’m delighted to welcome the prolific and talented author and entrepreneur Freda Lightfoot as my guest this month, who shares her vast experience with us. Thank you Freda for a lovely, entertaining interview and an insight into Christmas is Spain!

For a break away for the festivities and an adventurous escape in seasonal fairy-tale themed story, you could try my latest eBook Discovering Ellie. This can be gifted as a present through Smashwords.

Ellie Promo

I’m also excited having received my lovely covers for Roses are Dead. The large print edition will be printed in January and the eBook will follow in February.

Whatever you are doing this month – have fun!

Val

Death Came to Chatsworth

SAM_0573One of my highlights of 2013 was calling in at Chatsworth House. I had been to a very interesting and fun gathering of romance writers at the RNA conference in a heat wave at Sheffield University.  Although Chatsworth was open they were still filming scenes for the Christmas adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberley. This I found fascinating to watch and admired the patience of actors and technicians as they reset and acted each take needed, especially in costume in the unusual heat. The amount of attention to detail for each take was admirable especially as much of it is edited for the final version.

Chatsworth House is a magnificent place with a fascinating history of political cunning, fortunes won and lost and a family who strive to keep the place in all its former glory through the Chatsworth House Trust.

PD James sequel to Pride and Prejudice was a very bold and skilful adaptation of one of the most popular classic romances still appreciated today, by using her vast experience as a crime writer to change it into a darker mystery. Elizabeth and Darcy’s matured love is challenged as their connection to Wickham threatens their good name and fortune.

As a member of both the CWA and the RNA I loved this bold move as love and hate fuel both genres.

The year finished with a chance to watch and enjoy the finished televised drama.

Val

Happy, Healthy and Successful 2014!

2014 is already over a week old. New Year resolutions have been made. If starting a creative writing project is one you are considering. Enjoy your writing, whilst experimenting until you find your own voice within your chosen genre.

To get you started here are some top-tips given by a selection of my author guests of 2013.

Margaret James: Stick at it and believe you have something interesting to say. There will be times when the going gets hard and you’ll need to be able to convince yourself that it’s worth going on. Make friends with other writers face to face and online, via Twitter, Facebook and their blogs. Read other people’s novels because then you will absorb good practice and realise there are many different ways in which you can tell a story.

Freda Lightfoot: I put my heart and soul into my stories, which is absolutely essential. You must lose your inhibitions and be entirely sincere, but yes, it does take hard work and dedication. I’d say it demands the three p’s, which stand for practise, persistence, and passion for your craft.

Trisha Ashley: There’s too much temptation now to rush out your first novel yourself as an e-book, so if you take that route I’d advise you to have your novel independently edited, and consider the constructive criticism you receive very carefully.  You want your novel to be perfect and whole, not some poor, half-formed creature, and with a first novel you aren’t going to spot what’s wrong with it yourself.

Jean Fullerton: If it took me three years to become a nurse, another two to qualify as a district nurse and a further three to become a lecturer, why on earth would I think I could learn the craft of writing overnight?  Very few first books are of a publishable standard. Mine wasn’t. Learn your craft and persevere!

Gwen Kirkwood also stresses the need to persevere: Try to write a little every day, even if it is only a couple of sentences. Keep a notepad handy. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of your characters, or improve your plot, while you are travelling, ironing, peeling the vegetables. Thinking time is important too. Listen to the advice of agents and editors, not friends. If you do self-publish pay a reputable copy-editor to check your work first.

Whilst Gwen advocates writing a little every day, Christina Jones, points out it is not essential: Don’t feel you have to write every day. Write the way that suits you. Some people write 10,000 words a day, others write 500. Some (like me) know that if the words aren’t there then it’s best to forget writing until they are and go and scrub the kitchen floor or go for a walk or chat with friends or read or watch telly, whatever – be yourself and do what’s right for you. Just don’t feel pressurised to be like everyone else.

Linda Mitchelmore, the author of many short-stories and now novelist advises: The same premise of ‘person, problem and plot’, with a ‘beginning, middle and an end’, is the same for short stories and novels. The only difference is the time it takes to tell the story. Whilst Valerie-Anne Baglietto reminds us: You can never please everyone, so above all please yourself and write something you feel passionately about. It will show if you don’t.

More advice is offered within the interviews.

If you love creating fictional worlds, have a strong desire to commit them to paper and share them with others, then enjoy the whole process and good luck!

An Interview with Cindy A. Christiansen

Photo - Cindy A. Christiansen (1)

My first guest of 2014 is Cindy A Christiansen. To work as an author takes dedication and determination. Cindy appreciates this more than most as she has had to overcome life-changing illness to achieve her ambitions. She has kindly taken time out of her busy schedule to share her experiences with us.

How dramatic was the illness that caused you to change from your original profession to becoming an author?

It was devastating and confusing. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I got sick all the time and was missing way too much work. I kept falling asleep at my desk. I was a programmer/analyst and I soon found that I couldn’t follow the logic of a simple piece of code. I was sick for my bridal shower and during my honeymoon. I finally ended up in the ER with an enlarged liver and spleen, Mononucleosis and Epstein-Barr virus. The doctor said I had to make a life-changing decision about my future. He said I needed total bed rest.

However after a month of following his instructions, I was even worse. Despite seeking the help of thirteen different doctors, no one could tell me what was wrong with me. I finally had to quit my job. The illness continued to progress. Six or seven years later, I was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and Chronic Epstein-Barr virus. Since that time, I’ve been diagnosed with over thirty other health-related illnesses that affect me physically and cognitively.

 

What inspired you to turn around the situation into a positive step by entering the world of fiction?

Having been raised on a farm with a strong work ethic, staying in bed was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My self-esteem and self-worth plummeted and depression set in. My husband was working and pursuing hobbies. I felt alone, isolated and down-right bored to death. I needed something else with which to think of in my life.

I got a yellow writing tablet and started writing. Articles and stories soon turned into a book. Sometimes I could barely move my hand across the paper, but I felt such a rush of accomplishment. Then I rescued and adopted a Wire-haired Fox Terrier puppy and my life began to change in the most positive ways.

 

Did your childhood fuel your imagination and love for animals – especially dogs?

Absolutely! After twelve books, I still haven’t run out of life experiences to use in my books. Growing up on a farm but within a city, I’ve experienced the best of both worlds. Living in Utah, I have enjoyed the most beautiful diverse landscape that has made the setting for every book unique without leaving the state.

I haven’t begun to share all the wonderful experiences I have had living on our farm and loving and working with dogs. Just to give you an idea of my imagination as a kid, I’ll share that our old hay wagon made a very nice stagecoach and our two-horse trailer made an excellent jail for all those desperate outlaws of the west. Our mixed-breed dog, Poncho, quickly became Lassie or Rin-Tin-Tin on a whim.

When did you first break into publication?

Publication didn’t come quickly. I began taking classes, joining writing groups, and doing tons of rewrites on the same book. Although doctors said I would never have children, I found myself in a high-risk pregnancy. Motherhood took everything I had, and when my son was eighteen months he was diagnosed with learning disabilities and special needs. Another child followed three years later, and he was also special needs. My writing was on hold until one day when I read Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand and found out she had one of the illnesses I had. It totally inspired me to seek publication, and I began writing again and submitting to publishers.

I published three books with a publisher but later pulled my rights and published with Sweet Cravings Publishing. I have seven full-length books published with them, not including the two additional books in A Merchant Street Mystery series that will follow. I also have independently published three novellas, one novelette, and a non-fiction book on writing.

When starting a new novel do you begin with the title, plot outline or character profiles? Or just a blank page and the first word?

I start with a plot idea and have a whole batch of worksheets I fill out before actually beginning to write.

Could you describe what experience a reader can expect from one of your books?

I want readers to know exactly what they are going to get from one of my books, especially since I write outside the box. As part of my marketing plan, I developed a list and post it in as many places as I can. Here it is:

  • A clean read with no bedroom scenes or offensive language.
  • A tantalizing, fast-paced plot.
  • A story without a lot of boring description.
  • Down-to-earth heroes and heroines with everyday jobs.
  • A rollercoaster ride of emotions you face right along with the characters.
  • A special dog to steal your heart.
  • A few added facts, a good message, and that important happily-ever-after ending.

German shorthaired pointer posing in the field

What is next for Cindy?

I am right in the middle of my first series. Time Will Tell: A Merchant Street Mystery Book 1 came out in September 2013 and Hunting for Happenstance, the second book in the series, will be released January 6, 2014. It’s been exciting but also a challenging task with my health issues, my two autistic children, and an ill dog.

Hunting for Happenstance is about high-spirited Daniela Estrada. She is tired of waiting for life and love to come to her in her poppa’s butcher shop. She wants to open her own doggie grooming business on Merchant Street and get practical Duston “Buck” Cooper, who owns the Bird Dog Gun Shop, to step out of his shell and ask her out.

Instead, while her Uncle Benito is deer hunting, he ends up missing and the area is swarming with aggressive black bears which holds up the search party. Duston and his dog, Ruger, have helped the police on other cases, and he is training a Karelian Bear dog. Will he help Daniela find her uncle?

Duston adores Daniela but secrets about his brother prevent him from getting close to anyone. He believes that if something is meant to be, it will just happen. Is Daniela’s missing uncle just the shot in the dark the two need to find love and happiness?

I already have plot ideas for other books and plan to continue writing and helping abused and abandoned dogs.

More by Cindy:

Sweet Cravings Publishing – Amazon – Barnes and Noble