Awen Rising

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of working with author O.J. Barré, who shall soon release her debut novel Awen Rising, the first in a series. As I continue to work on more and more book covers, I meet more and more amazing authors, and I’ve loved working with Olivia. Since commissioning me to work on her cover, we’ve exchanged notes on each others blurbs, she’s read the first three chapters of my book, and I’m reading through hers, readying a review for release. And more still, we’ve offered support when the other has needed it. So, without further fuss or sentimental typing, I shall reveal the cover!

In 2042CE, Earth is besieged by storms and geologic events. The fight for the planet is about to begin. Only Emily, the druid heiress, is missing.
In her Venice Beach hideout, everything is going wrong for Emily. She’s lost her fiancé, her nerve, and her job as disaster specialist. Now she’s stalked by an omnisexual shaman sorceress. She needs a new identity and somewhere to run.
When a registered letter arrives from Atlanta, Georgia, dreams of an ancient past begin. Emily is the druid priestess Awen and must save the planet—by snatching a young William the Conqueror from death.
Could this druid identity be the answer to Emily’s current plight? Or will Awen’s destiny spell Emily’s demise?

Guys, I’m a history and science fiction fantasy nerd. How could I not be super excited by this book? Plus I love cats.

Working with Olivia on this cover was fab. She had a clear view of which finer points needed to be conveyed, while also giving me free rein artistically. And I love the outcome!

Here’s what Olivia thought:

I’d like to thank my design artist, Lauren Willmore, for taking my cover idea, creating this beautiful artwork, and making it shine. Without Lauren, my cover would’ve ended up looking like an afterthought. Or like an amateur’s design. And who wants to buy a book with a cover like that?

Not I.

Besides providing a professional finished cover, Lauren was (and is) a delight to work with, providing several revisions, along with expert advice and feedback. Lauren is a prolific reader and author herself, so her suggestions are relevant and timely. I’ve asked her to design the covers for the other books in the trilogy/series and look forward to working with her again in the future.

I’m so excited to begin work on the next books in the series, Awen Storm and Awen Tide (along with reading them!). Keep an eye out for my review of the book 🙂


To return to my blog, I thought I’d say something first of my absence.

What a tough year it’s been (understatement). In April last year my second son Walt was born, and days later we found out my mother-in-law had leukaemia. She spent most of the year in and out of hospital for chemo treatments, with the seriousness of her condition fluctuating from doctor to doctor. By November she was in remission, yet by March of 2019 the cancer was back, prognosis 2-3 years. As we all struggled to come to terms with this, attempting to make the most of the time remaining, she had further results. At the start of April she was given weeks if not days, and a week before Walt’s first birthday, she passed away.

Fran, the day Alex and I told the family we were pregnant. She already knew.

It’s something commonly said, but my mother-in-law, Fran, was a truly incredible person. She was born in Durban in South Africa, to a black mother and white father (who had to renounce his white status in order to marry). Depending on which parent she was with she would be treated as either black or white, and both she and her many many siblings have stories to share about this that are both heart warming and heart breaking.

Now I say many many siblings, because I’m never completely sure how many there are. Just when you wrap your head around those you would class as blood relatives, you learn there are more and more adopted. It was her family’s way to take in any who needed a home or a mother, something that Fran continued through her life. My brother and I lost our own mother very young and have no family in the area. In all but paper work, we were adopted by Fran. You could expect this treatment for me, I married her son and gave birth to her two grandchildren, but how common is it for the daughter-in-law’s brother to be so accepted too? When a home was needed he and even his girlfriend were given a room in Fran’s house, no questions asked. When he was saving for a house, she helped. One of the recurring compliments made during Fran’s funeral was how much of a mother she was to everyone, feeding (excessively), clothing, and housing all the waifs and strays she came across.

A little snap of some of the extended family. That’s Fran at the back doing her own thing.

After escaping a South African convent (yes, this actually happened), she undertook the boat ride alone to come to the UK to work as a nurse, soon joined by her sisters. There are too many stories of their time in London together for me to write, or to be believed. They involved birds and motorcycles and penis shaped puddings. There are always so many new stories to hear, I’m just sorry I can no longer hear them from her.

She worked as a district nurse when I met her, and had both the best and worse bedside manner I’ve come across. If you were sick she’d be on hand straight away to baby you and make soup (luckily she gave me the recipe for her amazing leek and potato!). After having surgery following my second son’s birth, she gave me all my injections, with words of what a poor baba I was, as if she’d not just been diagnosed with cancer. Yet she also once told a patient she couldn’t find a vein to take blood because this patient was far too fat. Yikes.

Fran taking care of Dara after he fell at nursery

Fran was the queen of back handed compliments. She’d ask if I had a new conditioner because my hair didn’t look nearly as frizzy. Different make up as I looked much better than usual (I don’t even wear makeup…). But never nastily done. She also loved innuendos, a love we share. Like the time her husband Jeff emptied his sack. She meant bin bag, but… well, she knew what she meant. And her favourite medical treatment was to have a poo. Tummy problems? Have a poo. Sore throat? Have a poo. Likely the cure for a heart attack is having a poo too!

Fran, Nanna, baby Dara, me and Alex. Nanna also loved a good back handed compliment!

After a false start at retiring, Fran finally gave up work when her first grandson was born, taking care of Dara three days a week so I could go back to work. She didn’t want to be known a Gran or Grandma or Nannie; she thought that all sounded too old. During one debate on what to call her (she just wanted Fran), she said she’d happily be referred to as Arsehole, which we decided not to teach our then one-year-old son to say. In the end we settled on Franma, which he still calls her. I’d always chuckled at the idea of a twenty-year-old man talking about his Franma. Perhaps that will still happen. I hope.

Fran with a baby Dara

Dara still talks about Franma all the time. Not only did she child mind for him those three days, but she was here every day. As I look out of my study window, I can see what was Fran’s front room. This is how close we lived, hers is the house opposite. Most mornings we’d hear the front door open (there was never a knock, I’ve been interrupted on the loo countless times!) and Dara would shout, “It’s Franma!” He’d run from the table and give her a hug. Even while she was ill, even in the last few days, she’d look for excuses to take him to her house and bake or play or draw on her sofa. (I say excuses as I was concerned she’d tire herself looking after him). Looking back now I’m glad I always let her get her way, the time spent with both Dara and Walter was precious. I hope Dara remembers it well, though I know Walt will be too young.

Fran and Walt

If you ask Dara where Franma is now, he always gives the same answer, which will make those unready for it cry. “She’s on her island in my heart.” (The island part comes from Benji Davies Grandpa’s Island, a children’s book we began to read to Dar in the hopes he’d begin to understand what death meant.)

A week before we found out about Fran’s final diagnosis, we went to Centre Parcs. She and Dara shared a bedroom. She was too ill to get about much, but even time spent in the cabin was great. Her daughter Gabby visited for a day. She’d even brought a swimming costume, but in the end they stayed cuddled on the sofa all day.

Gabby was due to get married in November of this year, and it was a date Fran was desperate to reach. After the chemo we were able to go wedding dress shopping. In part it was a celebration that Fran was in remission too, but we weren’t to know what was months away.

I mention this because as soon as Fran’s diagnosis was changed to days, the wedding was brought forwards. We thought this would be a trip to the local Guildhall, we could never have expected what followed. As marriage licenses are location specific, they could only marry in the venue book for November, Kilworth House. In two days–TWO DAYS!–a wedding was planned.

Fran, Gabby, Ed and his mother Fiona

Gabby contacted Courtyard Bridal where she’d ordered her dress, in the hopes she could have her veil (the dress was long off arriving). And they insisted she have one of their wedding dresses, loaned for the day, at no charge. They even paid for it to be cleaned afterwards. The wedding was tiny, only Gabby, Fran and the two of her sisters that live in the UK, my husband Alex and I, Gabby’s fiancee Ed (obviously), his parents and two brothers. Yet rather than any uninvited guests get offended, they all helped make the day memorable. Bridesmaids organised hair and makeup, a cake, and a flower display at the venue. I made the bouquet, and without conferring we all managed to get the flowers to be a perfect match. Bottles of champagne were brought out constantly, with more and more absent guests calling the hotel to purchase them. Ed’s parents footed the bill for a meal, and his father doubled as photographer. These are the lengths people went to to ensure Fran could make her daughter’s wedding, and that the wedding be truly amazing.

Fran passed away eight days later.

To any who have read this blog, this was my cathartic way of trying to sort how I feel about all of this. Every day is different, and has different challenges. I’ve lost one of my best friend, my children have lost their grandmother, and my husband has lost his mother. I guess we’re muddling through.

Now I need to go and find myself a tissue.

What We Want

So life and work have all caught up with me recently, and I’ve been a little absent from the blogging world. Off to a good start, eh? But what perfect timing to get back in the game, today, on the release of What We Want by Eliott Griffen!

A cover of bold contrast, it’s one of the more graphic ones I’ve done, and I loved doing it! This simple cover contains so many little nods to the characters, from the connection of the three Ws, to the jigsaw pattern on the tie. Want to know the relation to the characters? That would be telling, wouldn’t it. You’ll just have to read the book!

Here’s what Eliott had to say about the cover:

For months, I was afraid how the whole thing with the cover would go. I met Lauren on Twitter and let me tell you: from the first contact I knew she was the right person for the job. My cover looks exactly as I wanted it to look. Lauren is my own personal magician, she knew what I had in mind, and she made it happen. It goes without saying that she will do covers for my books in the future. I’m one of her greatest fans. Go, Lauren!

What happens when you meet the love of your life in your mother’s kitchen, while helping your aunt to hide from her ex?

Rob’s life finished five years ago. Now he’s just waiting for it to end. Safe in his little cocoon, disconnected from everyone, he’s living out the rest of his days. And he’s content with that. 
Until one February day life decides to smack him over the head. Again. 

Zach’s life is exactly what he thinks he wants it to be. But Mom knows better. Now he just needs to wrap up this funeral business and be on his way. ASAP. 
But you can’t run if a broken leg is involved. And would you really want to? Really? 

Rob has a secret to tell. 
Zach has a kitchen to paint. 
Can they figure out what they want before it’s too late? Or will the baggage they lug around end up burying them both? 

Oh, and there is a cat. A spoiled, opinionated cat. After all, what is a book without a cat?

Reinventing Hannah

There are a collection of writers who were so much help when it came to building up my book cover portfolio. One of those writer’s is Jack A. Ori.

Jack already had a good idea of what he was after in a cover for Reinventing Hannah, having a photographic version already. But as we discussed the book, we felt the best route would be to illustrate the cover. Knowing the subject of the book, I did some research and found that the wristband for sexual assault awareness is teal, so we used it on the cover. It so happened that yellow and teal were also the colours of Jack’s website. And the different fonts painted demonstrate Hannah’s reinvention, her desire for change.

Everyone sees Hannah as a smart, driven girl who doesn’t have time for anything but schoolwork and the community service clubs she leads, but she secretly longs for something more…

The fateful decision to help her best friend Sierra leads to her being roofied and raped at the kind of party no one expects a girl like her to go to, and she awakens the next morning at Sierra’s house with no memory of her assault and a bunch of injuries she can’t explain.

After Sierra’s brother insists on taking her to the hospital, the truth of what happened to her slowly begins to sink in, leaving Hannah humiliated, angry, and extremely aware that playing by the rules didn’t protect her from a brutal attack.

Hannah wants nothing more than to forget she ever went to the party, but her silence brings nothing but trouble, as friends, family, and enemies alike believe she is a hypocrite who got drunk while encouraging others to abstain and the pain she’s keeping secret leaves her afraid to move forward with cute, mischievous Brad even though his support of her makes it obvious he likes her back.

Hannah doesn’t want to let what happened to her change her into someone she doesn’t like and decides to reinvent herself her way. She’s determined to be someone different: someone bold and assertive who isn’t afraid to talk about what happened to her or stand up to the bullies who want to keep her silent — or spend time with Brad, who she is afraid to admit she has stronger than friendship feelings for.  But Hannah’s friends think Brad is all wrong for her and that her new attitude is unhealthy. She wants to be someone who doesn’t care what anyone thinks, but she doesn’t want to lose the friends she’s had since fifth grade either. Can she find the courage to overcome what has happened to her even if it means leaving her old friends behind?

Lake of Dreams

And now to show off the cover of the second part in The Spinner’s Game series, Lake of Dreams, written by Crispina Kemp. Like the cover for the first book, The Spinner’s Child, this cover merges what’s real with what isn’t, subtly capturing so many elements from the tale. While the colours work in contrast with the previous book, it establishes the style that will continue through the series.

Picking the spider for The Spinner’s Child was not even a discussion; for some books there was a perfect fit. For others, like this one, we had options. Here we could have gone for the tiger or the fox (those who’ve read it will know the importance of the choice!). Foxes have always been a favourite of mine ever since I read Fantastic Mr Fox as a child, and they were all I drew at uni (check out my Fox Hunt book where the fox gets his own back). But for the Lake of Dreams the tiger stole my heart. It had to be him. There’s so much more I’d love to say about this design. If you ever read my book you’ll know I can’t help but lather on the foreshadowing and symbolism. But in the words of River Song, “Shhh! Spoilers!”

In Lake of Dreams(Book 2 of The Spinner’s Game) the all-encompassing, oracular Spinner, has charged Kerrid with the eradication of the demon-snake that has stalked her since she was a child. To do so, Kerrid believes she must discover the truth of the Asars.

Thus when “big brother” Olun summons Kerrid’s husband to a family meeting with that express purpose, Kerrid jumps at the chance despite Olun never has liked her. Though her task is to discover exactly whatare the Asars, she knows her success depends upon gaining the approval of Olun and his brothers. This would be easier without her husband’s repeated efforts to undermine her, in part motivated by his jealousy of the second-born brother, Jiar. 

Set in the between-time when Ice Age gave way to warmer days, when nomadic hunter-fisher turned to settled agriculture, when spirits and demons morphed to gods, The Spinner’s Gamecrosses continents and weaves through ages fraught with floods and droughts to become the prototype of our most ancient myths.

The Spinner’s Child

As I said in my previous blog, Crispina Kemp is my amazing Critique Partner. Though we’ve completed our critiques on each other’s manuscripts (10k exchanged every Sunday), we keep in touch, with updates on our writing journey and life in general. Crispina will be self-publishing her five part series, The Spinner’s Game, and so talk turned to book covers. This was at the point that I’d decided to transition from greetings cards (transition/the entire company was made redundant…) to book covers. But I had no portfolio, nothing other than my word. So with the understanding that if my covers looked awful, they could be disregarded with no hard feelings, I took on the task! And as proof that I’m a gal of my word, they don’t look half bad. Actually, I love them, and most importantly Crispina does too:

I can praise Lauren for so many things: she’s great as a beta reader and critique partner, and has become a good friend. But words escape me when it comes to her book covers. This first was by way of sample. And she nailed it in one. But I needed five covers, and they needed to show these five books were part of a series. Could she deliver? She did.

Crispina Kemp

There’s so much depth in Crispina’s series, The Spinner’s Child needed a cover that reflected that. I don’t want to say too much in case I give anything away, but read the book (seriously you won’t regret it), and there’ll be so much you can pick out. For my part, I particularly love the spider’s legs, they were great fun to draw and the end result… well, see for yourself!

Born of a fisher-hunter clan, fraudulent seer Kerrid holds two false beliefs. That in her supernatural abilities she is unique, and as Voice of the Lady she’s exempt from Plaited Woman’s fate. The arrival of nine boats from the east shatters both these beliefs. Forced to make an unwise judgement there follows a trail of death. Questions plague her: Why does she dream of babies burning? Why does a voice in her head—Suffer the loss, suffer the pain—taunt her of some dire deed? What has she done? And what is she that no matter how lethal the wound, she does not die?

In The Spinner’s Child(Book 1 of The Spinner’s Game) Kerrid explores and develops her supernatural powers, gains a glimmering of what she might be, discovers the source of the accusatory voice in her head, and sheds her fraudulent status to become a fully trained wise-woman, able to enter the all-encompassing otherworld Web. But this is only the first step on her journey.

Set in the between-time when Ice Age gave way to warmer days, when nomadic hunter-fisher turned to settled agriculture, when spirits and demons morphed to gods, The Spinner’s Gamecrosses continents and weaves through ages fraught with floods and droughts to become the prototype of our most ancient myths.

Once Upon a Time…

It feels only right that my first blog post starts at the beginning. I’m sure for so many writers the story starts the same: they’ve written since childhood. I recall sunny afternoons sitting in my bedroom, drawing endless pictures of the stories I created. Pantsing in pictures, you might say. By the time I was a teenager, I still used art to create the story, so many of my ideas came as I sketched characters or scenes. But I now wrote the stories. Terribly, but I wrote them.

A collection of all my old sketches and notebooks.

For a long time I put writing aside, concentrating on my degree in Illustration for Children’s Publishing. Perhaps I thought publishing a novel an unachievable goal. Yet I stumbled across an old story and fell back in love with it. I thought– just for me–I’ll get this printed and keep it on my book shelf. Yet if I do, I’d best fix the typos. And that’s when I realised how bloody awful it was. So I’ll rewrite it. How hard can that be?

A double spread from my children’s book Fox Hunt, which was Highly Commended in the Macmillan Children’s book Prize.

Flash forward to 2018. The story is entirely different, but I have a first draft. I say first draft loosely, who knows what actual draft I was on, but for the sake of ease I’ll call it a first draft. Likely it still read like one. From time to time I thought perhaps I should search for an agent, but every time the chest tightened. Wracked with crippling doubt, I knew it wasn’t ready. But I’d come as far as I could alone, what to do now?

Anyone out there who thinks Critique Partners and Beta Readers aren’t necessary is a bloody idiot. I say that with confidence, knowing that I was once one of these idiots. For my strengths, I know I’m good at developmental edits. Some beats were still missed, but I’d taken a messy first draft and refined the story. But that was all I’d managed alone. I joined a website where I hoped to find a Critique Partner and I found… sod all. I had people who got in touch then vanished, even better when they vanished after I sent them their critique, and even, even better when I was all but receiving ‘dick pics’. And so I got angry. I would not be deterred by all the negative experiences. I would find someone! I blazed onto the forums, opened the very top post searching for a Critique Partner, and wow. Kind of fell in love with the synopsis. I got in touch with the author, and amazingly, I got a response.

Enter Crispina.

I don’t think I could ever fully express how grateful I am to Crispina Kemp. She once told me people had called her bossy (a trait I too have been accused of, and can’t fault in her). She never held back, was brutally honest, I may have needed a few strong cups of tea, but with every piece of advice shared, I know I improved. You can watch as many Youtube tutorials, read as many blogs and books, study till your eyes are sore, but there is no substitution to having your work critiqued. And for my part I hope I helped with her series. Seriously, check out her blog.

Now I have a manuscript I’m proud of. The heart palpitations lessened, I was able to send it out to several Beta Readers, and though I still enjoyed a strong cup of tea when I read their feedback, it wasn’t a necessity. I enjoyed it!

And that takes us to now. I’ve received all my beta feedback and–sweeping declaration!–this is my last round of edits. That thought still scares me a tad. Now when I finally see those two little words ‘The End’, I will actually be finished. And I must query. Holy crap…