Author Archives: Adele

The Curse of the Mouse and Minotaur

The virgins have been sacrificed, the sage burnt the incense lit and the libations poured.

I am delighted to announce that having done everything except raise the mummy (more luck than judgement tbh), we are finally releasing The Tales of the Mouse and Minotaur, the third and final volume of our Bushy Tales.

This series started with Tales of the Nun & Dragon which is the book that started Fox Spirit and it is the conclusion of our original project. As always a mixture of genres, with humour and darker stuff featuring greek myths and rodents, sometimes both. 

Stories from K.T. Davies, Chloe Yates, James Bennett, Nerine Dorman, Jay Faulkner, Sarah Cawkwell, Pat Kelleher, C C D Leijenaar , Joan De La Haye, Andrew Reid, Ben Stewart, Catherine Hill, Jan Siegel and T.J. Everley 

Waxing Lyrical : On Covers

Waxing Lyrical is an occasional series of blog posts. If you are interested in submitting an article please contact adele@foxspirit.co.uk a small fee is paid. 
The images are added by Aunty Fox.

Waxing Lyrical :On Covers by Tabby Stirling

Hello Authors!

My name is Tabby Stirling and I am a book-cover designer and author.  I’ve been asked to jot down a few ideas about how to make your cover really stand out and look ultra professional.  So here goes!

It is true that everyone can design a book cover.  But it is also true that not everyone can design a ‘good’ cover?

What do I mean by ‘good’.  Well, of course, it is very subjective but I always try to design a cover that would sit well on a major bookshop’s shelf.   A design where font and graphics work together to demonstrate the themes of the book and something about the author too.  Where colour balances with everything and a few risks are taken in the spirit of artistic endeavor.

I don’t believe that you have to have been to Art school to get it right but an ‘eye’ is very useful and that, much like the ‘voice’ in writing, cannot be taught (in my opinion).

So how can you design a cover that will be the envy of your friends and appear professional and creative?

Here are a few tips that I’ve discovered during my time as a designer.

FONT

 

There are a rich variety of free fonts that are accessible to the designer so be bold and don’t just stick to the fonts that come with Word and I have put a couple of links down the bottom to start you off.

However, fonts can make or break a cover and just because you love the swirling, medieval capitals sprawling across the cover of your historical romance – it doesn’t mean they work.  

DESIGN PRINCIPLES

A good idea is to remember the old adage about women’s fashion.  You can show off your legs or cleavage but never both at the same time after a certain age.

This is also true of design.  If you want 1000-volt cover you can achieve this by using graphics that ‘pop’ with a plain font and colours that balance.

Experiment with graphic placing – sometimes a slightly off-centre graphic can distribute menace much better than those Horror Fonts that are great on a 40’s film poster but not much else.

Less is more.  Please go with your instincts.  Being bold doesn’t mean that you have to have outrageous fonts, colour and graphics simultaneously.  Experiment with colour and font. Always back away from something you are not quite sure of.  And don’t ever feel that something isn’t quite bright enough without the hot pink graphics (especially if it is a book on chemical engineering).

COLOUR

 

Probably the trickiest one to handle, at least for me.  I love colour and often find myself  cavorting with highly inappropriate pantone colours for long periods of times.  It’s good to experiment, this is how we achieve the final result, but don’t let your experiments get the better of you.  One of the easiest ways to spot an amateur cover is the colour scheme used (or not). 

Great roaring oceans of colour, spewing like a Finnish volcano is not always a positive thing.  Think about how it will be perceived by others.  Try to become less self-indulgent about what you like and what you think will sell. 

LASTLY

Be prepared to put time and effort into your design.  A full book-cover  may take me 12 hours just for the initial mock up before it goes back to the client.  And then the inevitable to and fro where ideas are discussed and the design begins to come to life.  This is one of my favourite bits – being creative with the client. 

What I start with is invariably nothing like the final, approved design and it can be frustrating at times.

I think it is important to treat the author with great respect because writing a book is no easy thing and their ‘baby’ deserves attention. 

However, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t gently point out an idea that I don’t think would work.  I will always try it, if the client insists, because book cover design is a collaboration and a journey.  A quite magical thing really. 

I hope this has been helpful.  Please feel free to email me with any questions – my portfolio can be found at tabathadesigns.tumblr.com  but not all my work is there by a long shot.

Tabby J

Free Fonts

www.fontsquirrel.com

www.dafont.com

Graphics Programmes

Adobe Indesign  (Paid)

Pic Monkey  (free)

Fennec gets Ghoulsome

The first title in our exciting new Fennec line for pre teens is released today!

Ghoulsome Graveyard by G. Clark Hellery

When the local graveyard is scheduled for redevelopment, journalist Catherine decides to help the residents. She decides to hold a fete and enlists the help of everyone living in the graveyard but with ghosts, zombies, witches and a werehuman, what could possibly go wrong? Come and join us for cake, games and more than a little magical chaos in the Ghoulsome Graveyard.

After accepting Ghoulsome and deciding to proceed with a pre teen line, we asked Geraldine Clark Hellery to curate the new line for younger foxes. 

Fennec will be an important part of the skulk moving forward as we get them hooked young encourage younger readers and make the kind of stories that we love here at Fox Spirit more accessible for those who are maybe not quite ready for our more adult content. 

Young adult novels will continue to form a part of the main Fox Spirit line so you can be sure anything bearing the Fennec logo, although still entertaining and awesome, will be suitable for readers as young as eight. 

Waxing Lyrical : Reading to Save your Soul

Reading to Save Your Soul
Alex Bean

A few nights ago I noticed a recent shift in my reading habits.  In a post on Facebook I mused that since the US Presidential election in November I had begun reading a lot more fiction than usual. My habit generally being rather massive works of non-fiction and history, this seemed notable. In the comments on my Facebook post a friend, himself a writer, told me to keep it up. “Read all the fictions. Fiction will save your soul, if not your life.”

That idea has really struck a chord with me, especially in a domestic political climate mired in the toxic racism and incompetent xenophobia of a populist demagogue. To that end, much of the fiction I’ve been consuming at a faster-than-usual pace has incidentally turned out to be the perfect antidote to the uninformed hatred and suspicion permeating from the White House.

In November, right after the election, I felt completely unmoored. My whole sense of the foundations that underlie my society felt undone. So I went all the way back to the source and re-read Gilgamesh. It’s always sort of awesome (in the Old Testament sense of the word) to go back and read texts from the very origins of human civilization. Glimpsing the formal and dramatic power of literature already being harnessed so far back in the fog of time is intimidating and impressive. I also couldn’t help but be amused that the city vs. country divide made so stark in the election can just as easily be found in the wrestling match between Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

As I finished the work, one particular passage stuck out and seems especially relevant in the pursuit of saving my soul via fiction.

“What you seek you shall never find. 
For when the Gods made man, 
They kept immortality to themselves.
Fill your belly.
Day and night make merry.
Let Days be full of joy.
Love the child who holds your hand.
Let your wife delight in your embrace.
For these alone are the concerns of man.” 

Those lines echoed through my mind as I reflected on two pieces of fiction by people being actively persecuted by the short-fingered vulgarian in the Oval Office. One of them is The Moor’s Account, a novel by Moroccan-American author Laila Lalami, which I first read a few years ago. The moor in question is Estevanico, a once-successful slave trader in Morocco who sells himself into slavery in Spain and eventually becomes the first recorded African to immigrate to the Americas. \

Seeing the arrogance and violence inherent to European colonization of the Americas from the eyes of a Muslim from Morocco fundamentally alters the whole American idea. It lets the reader re-imagine this country means by finding the stories in the gaps and ellipses of history. I’d like to imagine that reflection like that might be enough to save the soul of my country if enough people read it and took it to heart.

The other work of fiction, which I started the week that Trump signed his odious Muslim Ban, was Interpreter of Maladies by Jumpa Lahiri. The Pultizer-winning short story collection mostly focuses on Indian immigrants to the United States.  What struck me, again and again, throughout the nine stories in the collection, is how Lahiri uses her understated prose to sketch out characters with thoughts, hopes, fears, and dreams that are at once universal and highly specific. As with Gilgamesh, a quote (or two) may best illustrate her effusive powers.

“While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have travelled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.”

“In those moments Mr. Kapasi used to believe that all was right with the world, that all struggles were rewarded, that all of life’s mistakes made sense in the end.”

We may be doomed to live in interesting times and I still find myself full of worry and outrage. But reading those lines made the whole sad, fearful displays which dominate the news shrink from my mind. Fiction, perhaps more than any other format, has the power to cut through the noise and make you look at yourself and the world in a new light. We’re all seekers like Gilgamesh and strangers in a strange land like Estevanico and ordinary people whose achievements are beyond imagination. No one man, no matter how foolish can steal that from us. That’s what will save our souls and that why I’m reading fiction right now.

New Vulpes Title

It’s an exciting day here at the Fox Den and our tails are extra floofy. We are pleased to announce the release of our second Vulpes title. A quick reminder, Vulpes is our HEMA line of books, historical european martial arts. Swords figure massively in all this.

So without further ado, we introduce

Check it out, it’s a fantastic translation of a great fencing manual.

A quick reminder the first title in our Vulpes line is the lost second book of Giganti, missing for four hundred years before Josh and Pim identified and translated it.

 

Save

Respectable Horror Cover Reveal

Well what more do we need to say? Coming very soon a wonderful collection of creepy tales to enjoy with the last tendrils of winter mist. 

Fool if you think it’s Over!

The last installment of the Elkie Bernstein trilogy by Jo Thomas is here! 

As far as Elkie’s concerned, it’s all over and her happy ending is just around the corner. She’s on her way back to Wales having freed Ben from the clutches of the controlling Dr Olsen and ensured that Dave, her ex-everything, will never be in a position to kill again. She’s even managed to find herself a (somewhat unwilling) father figure in Conn, the one werewolf in the world who seems to have his shit together. All she has to do is say “thank you” to the Valemon, a company so at odds with Olsen they were willing to support her, then get on a plane for home. Easy, right?

cover art by Sarah Anne Langton

Available now in paperback! 

Editing Round Table

I reached out to a whole bunch of my favourite editors with a few basic questions around short story collections and the editors perspective.  For today’s session I am delighted to welcome Jonathan Oliver of Solaris/Abaddon, Mhairi Simpson and Margret Helgadottir who have edited for Fox Spirit and Farhana Shaikh who runs Dahlia publishing. 

When you put a call out do you already know exactly what you are looking for?

Jonathan Oliver : I start with a theme, so generally I know what I’m looking for, but when I put together submissions guidelines, I always say to authors ‘here’s the brief, but play with it, stretch it to its limits.’ So, I want to give my writers as much room as possible to explore within the theme I’ve given them. After all, I don’t want to end up with an anthology of similar stories.

Mhairi Simpson : No. When I did my first call I had a very specific idea in mind. By the end of it I realised I knew nothing and was just happy to be astonished at the wide variety of tales even a relatively narrow prompt can produce.

Farhana Shaikh: I try not to be too clear about what I’m looking for because I don’t want a piece of writing to fail before I’ve had the chance to consider it properly. This is especially true for an anthology because the breadth of style tends to be so broad and different writers respond to themes in such different ways.

What I’ve realised though is that a short story is successful as long as it does what the writer set out to do. In the simplest of terms, I could try and break down what that success often looks like. For example it might mean strong characterisation and a refreshing voice, but I find those terms can be reductive because it might also just be a beautiful story told in the simplest of ways. 

Margrét Helgadottir : I have only put out an open call one time, for the Winter Tales anthology. I knew then what kind of stories I wanted – a strong voice, an interesting plot, atmosphere, and also a more unspoken chill of the dark and cold winter season – but other than this I tried to be very open both in the call and when I read the submissions. As for the monster books (working on volume four now), they are invitations only. I am hunting for monster stories. They can be written in all genres but they have to have something monstrous about them and they have to be dark. I am very clear in the invitation what I am not looking for (satire, erotica etc).

 

What things will make you discount a story quickly?

Jon : Badly presented and with obvious errors. The other thing is if the story has completely ignored the brief. So, if I say this anthology has to be about a haunted house, and I get a submission that’s about a mutant spider or something, with no haunted house in sight, then that will be pretty quickly rejected. Fortunately it’s not something I have to worry about a lot as all of my anthologies are invite only.

Mhairi  : Condescension on the part of the author. A pushy author asking if I’ve made a decision yet when the submission period is still open. Any mention of sexual assault which doesn’t feel right in the story.

Farhana : My pet hate is writing that is cluttered with adjectives or flowery language. I tend to steer away from writing that is trying too hard or clever, or where the writer clearly hasn’t worked out what the heart of the story really is. Having said that, I do like to re-read writing (this is especially true for short stories) because I don’t like to make too rash a decision about whether something works or not. Editing is after all, hugely subjective and sometimes I have to challenge myself to work with writing that is not necessarily to my taste.

Margrét: Except for not following the guidelines and the idea of the book, I will quickly put a “no” on any story that uses racism, rape, violence, discrimination of gender or sexual orientation, when it is clear that it doesn’t do anything for the plot. I don’t discount a story because of bad grammar or language if I see a potential—a core in the story that will shine if the story is polished in the edits. I have had 2-3 stories in all the volumes I have edited that required more work from me and the author than the other stories but I am very satisfied that they are part of the books today.

 

Would you consider taking a story that doesn’t quite fit the idea behind the call and whatever your answer, why?

Jon: I like to be pleasantly surprised by submissions. So, for example, we all have an idea about what constitutes a haunted house and a haunting, but I also like to see new takes on such traditional subject matter, new twists on the formula. Sure, I’m a sucker for a traditional ghost story, but more so I love the possibilities that new fiction explores.

Mhairi: Yes. I’ve initially said no to a story which didn’t seem to quite fit the call. I had something else in mind. Then as more stories came in I realised I had an opportunity to show ideas which weren’t in line with my own thinking, because none of the stories quite fit the call, certainly not what I’d been expecting to get. It was a learning experience – I learned not to make assumptions about what did and did not fit. It broadened my mind and was a tad humbling, too.

Farhana: I’d be reluctant to accept anything that was too far from the initial concept, purely because I think collections have an odd way of working in that the stories once ordered have their own life and rhythm. I’d be reluctant to upset the balance of that. But as I’ve said, the scope for an anthology tends to be quite wide, so it’s rare that such a thing happens. Where this has been the case, I’ve simply asked the original contributor to submit something else.

Margret: No and yes. If it’s far out from the book idea, no. If the book is about Europe I will not include a story that takes place on the Moon. However I can include a story if it plays with the boundaries of the sub call but still has one foot inside the frame. I have done this a few times but only when the stories were so excellent in both language and plot that I just couldn’t say no. Often they can be shaped a little bit in the edits so they fit the book better.

How do you approach running order?

Jon: You want to start with a belter right out of the gate. You want something substantial in the middle and you want to end on a story that packs some sort of punch. In between you can get the reader settled and explore all the wonderful variations on the ideas your authors have sent you.

Mhairi: I try to find a thread or arc which links all the stories together and then decide where each story falls along that arc. For Tales of Eve it was a genre thread, varying from hard sci-fi to high fantasy so I started with the hardest sci-fi and ended with the highest fantasy. It was actually really difficult!

Farahna: By the time I get to a running order, I’ve probably read the work separately a good few times and something will be emerging about how I’d like to start and where I’d like to begin. Of course, a reader may choose to go in whatever order they wish, but sometimes as an editor I think such things are important.

Margrét: I try to put the strongest stories up front and in the back. You need to catch the readers right away. A short excellent story as number one is a very good tactic. It sets the tone of the rest of the book quickly. The last two stories should be the after thought of the book, something to make the book live a little bit longer in the readers’ minds, make them reflect a little bit about the book theme. Other than this I am concerned about putting the stories in anthologies in a natural flow, vary it a little for the reader. This goes for both the length of the stories, style and theme. I don’t put two vampire stories next to each other of the other ten stories are about were wolves for instance.

Cover by S.L. Johnson

What are some of the things you think people underestimate in regards to the time/effort involved in the anthology editors role?

Jon: Coming up with the theme always takes the most time. You want something iconic enough that people will pick the book of the shelf, and bring some sort of expectation, but you also want something different enough that you stand out. In an invite only situation you know to some extent the strengths of your authors, so editing the stories is the easiest and most pleasurable part of the whole affair.

Mhairi: It’s not the typos – if a story’s got that many mistakes I’d send it back and tell them to run it through spellcheck or a beta reader. When it comes to figuring out what a story is trying to say and if it can be said better, however, that can take a while. It’s usually a clarity issue – I’m not sure what’s going on and the author makes some changes and through the various changes we get closer to the diamond at the heart of the tale.

Farhana: I don’t know if anyone does underestimate what an editor brings to a collection but of course, they bring a whole deal of experience and expertise. It’s the editor’s role to not only select the stories and collate these in some order, but often it can mean a lengthy battle with contributors to undertake revisions, and ensure these come back on time, as well as project manage the entire thing. It’s fine, if you have around ten contributors or so, but once you start veering in to the twenties and beyond it can become challenging. An editor may also be involved in promoting the book, and keeping all the contributors in the know, so it’s a huge effort with lots of emailing back and forth. If the editor is also the publisher, as in my case, then there’s lots more going on behind the scenes away from the anthology with regards to choosing the title, managing the jacket cover designs, and working with suppliers to ensure the project can be delivered on time and on a shoe-string budget.

Margrét: I think many don´t realize what the editor job is. If you are editor for books from small presses you must involve yourself in the book production and getting the book out there. In addition to the editing of the language and grammar, editing of the story flow and angles, proofreading and all that, I would say that at least 30 percent of my tasks in a book production is preparing the book production (researching the book, invitations to contributors etc) and all the work when the book is published with marketing, trying to get reviews and spreading the word amongst the thousands of other titles. I spend a lot of time researching what magazines and venues which might be interested in looking at the book. The monster books are a challenge since I try to reach book bloggers and media also in the continents we cover: Africa, Asia etc. It is hard work but it is so satisfying when you see results.

 

Website changes

Over the next couple of weeks we will be doing updates and changes to the website. Hyperlinks to pages should remain as they always were but we will be slimming down the menus to make navigation easier, particularly on mobile devices. Please excuse any disruption and if you do link to any of our pages it may be worth checking those links at the end of the month just in case. 

Many thanks for your patience. We suggest a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. 

Heading into a new year with books!

As we reach the end of 2016 and stumble blinking into a new year, I thought instead of the usual
‘what did we do, what are we planning’ round up, I would simply gather some recommendations of
books to take you into 2017. These came in response to a shout out on twitter for people to tell me
what books they want people to take with them into the new year.

We meander through many excellent genre titles, occasionally stepping out of speculative fiction
and even into non fiction as people share titles that have excited them and that you might want to
consider. There is a good mix of getting away from it all and getting ready for whatever 2017 brings. 

I have added amazon uk links where possible, in case you want to know more about any of the books or add them to
your reading for the new year.

Names and quotes included with permission.

My choice is ‘How to Be Dull: Standing out next to genius‘ by Basil Morley Esq (K.A. Laity).  The only self help book you will need in 2017 tells you how to be taupe in a world full of primary colours. 

Kev McVeigh (@kevmcveigh) recommends ‘Will Do Magic for Small Change’ by Andrea Hairston as a great fantasy read to start the year with. Loving the title so will be checking this one out myself.

Infomocracy’ by Malka Older is suggested by Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) as a cyberpunk novel to help us through the challenges of 2017.

Will Ellwood (@fragmad) recommends ‘2312’ a sci fi by Kim Stanley Robinson ‘because society can be better’ which seems a good starting point to me. Also the collected short stories of J.G. Ballard.

Zero World’ by Jason Hough is recommended by Steve Taylor Bryant (@STBwrites), SFF with super spies. 

The Sorcerer to the Crown’ by Zen Cho, a sword and sorcery fantasy about English magic, wizards and breaking down barriers. Recommended by the wonderful Juliet E McKenna (@JulietEMcKenna).

Children of Time’ by Adrian Tchaikovsky which will have you siding with the spiders gets a shout out from Juliet E McKenna and Tade Thompson (@tadethompson)

On the Edge of Gone’ by Corinne Duyvis, young adult fiction, was recommended by Lynn O’Connacht (@lynnoconnacht) 

All the Birds in the Sky’ by Charlie Jane Anders recommended by Rob Haines (@Rob_Haines) it includes a witch who talks to animals and time travel. 

Image courtesy of Adrian Tchaikovsky

Shona Kinsella (@shona_kinsella) recommends ‘Blindside’ by Jennie Ensor, ‘The House of Shattered Wings’ by Aliette De Bodard and ‘The Good Immigrant’ by Nikesh Shukla

Alasdair Stuart (@AlasdairStuart) draws your attention to ‘Six Wakes’ by Mur Lafferty which is describes as a ‘note perfect locked room clone murder mystery in space’. (Sold!)

The Memoirs of Lady Trent’ by Marie Brennan is recommended by Margret Helgadottir (@MaHelgad) It has Dragons!

The Briefcase’ by Hiromi Kawakami while not spec fic also gets a big recommendation from Margret as does ‘Earth Abides‘ by George R Stewart.

Terrible George (@monster_soup) recommends the grim, violent reimagining of Alice in Wonderland, ‘Alice’ by Christina Henry. (I loved this one too!)

Alec McQuay (@Vampiricchicken) ‘Absolute Pandemonium‘ – Brian Blessed’s autobiography. ‘It’s the absolute nadgers’.

Mongrels’ by Stephen Graham Jones is recommended by Paul Michaels (@paulmichaels) as dark and wry.

The seasonal Jingling Nerdish (@whirlingnerdish) recommends ‘Geek Feminist Revolution’ by Kameron Hurley and ‘The New Jim Crow‘ by Michelle Alexander.

Das Kapital‘ by Karl Marx gets a recommendation from Damien Walter (@damiengwalter) for those leaning toward something a bit more serious for new year’s reading.

Lynda E Rucker’s ‘You’ll Know when you Get There’ a collection of stories, comes from James Everington (@JHEverington)

Shana DuBois (@booksabound) suggests ‘Desert Songs of the Night: 1500 Years of Arabic Literature’ edited by Suheil Bushrui and James M. Malarkey with the comment ‘Exploring the roots and beauty of other cultures is paramount today’. (Couldn’t agree more).

Mr Fox (@TJEverley) recommends ‘The Minotaur takes a Cigarette Break‘ by Steven Sherrill, a novel that sees the Minotaur working as a chef and living in a trailer. Also ‘All you Need is Kill‘ by Hiroshi Sakurazaka which sees the lead caught in a timeloop, reliving his death. 

V for Vendetta‘ by Alan Moore & David Lloyd makes it into the facing 2017 category with a call from Steve Birt (@EvilStevieB)

The seasonal Santa Runny (@runalongwomble) suggests ‘The Fifth Season‘ by NK Jemisin.

Beckett’s ‘Eden trilogy‘ or Walton’s ‘Thessaly trilogy‘. ‘I think we’ll need in 2017 the reflections they bring’. from C. (@solinthesky)

Chris Nguyen (@ChrisGNguyen) suggests Animal Farm by George Orwell and ‘All the Light We Cannot See‘ by Anthony Doerr

The Complete Worse Case Scenario Survival Handbook by Piven & Borgenicht because according to Chloe Yates (@shloobee) ‘we might fking need it’.

Recommended by Joyce Chng  Starhawk’s ‘Dreaming The Dark‘, a book on magic and spirituality.

From Dylan Fox (@foxie299) ‘Watership Down‘ by Richard Adams. ‘Teaches us to listen to our instincts, to believe, to fight, to keep fighting… and to accept death’.

So there you are, a few ideas to get you going as we head towards 2017, swords raised and flag flying and books stockpiled!