Designing a Book Cover

I love telling stories, and I love writing stories. However, when I decided to try and sell my stories, I realised that I would need covers for my books. At first, I thought that the cover didn’t really matter, everyone has heard the proverb: “Don’t judge the book by the cover.” If the story was excellent, people would read it. Ah, how wrong I was!

In reality, people do judge the book by the cover. I have learned a few points about book cover design – mainly from Mr. P, the man who runs my local independent bookshop, as he knows exactly what will attract customers, and he has kindly spent hours educating me on all things book-sales-related.

One point is the spine of your book. If you plan to sell through shops, people will only ever see the spine of your book (unless you are a bestseller author in Waterstones, in which case, you don’t need to be reading this!) My first book had nothing but words on the spine, so I was advised to add pictures or colours, to make it more attractive. If you look at commercially produced books, most have more than just words on the spine.

Actually, looking at commercially produced books is an excellent way to learn. Another thing Mr P. told me, was that people buy books which look like books they have previously enjoyed. Is this true? Well, have a look at the covers of books next time you’re in a bookshop.

Lee Child (bestseller) tends to have a photograph of a lonely man on his covers. If you look, other publishers are now copying this.

In fact, some books that are in bookshops are barely discernible from each other, as the covers are almost identical.

Which means that I, as a lowly self-published author, need to take a look at popular books which are similar to mine, and copy their covers.

Now, Ploughing Through Rainbows is set on a farm raising cows. I therefore planned to use a photograph of cows on the cover.

After some honest feedback from family members (my family are not the sort who tell me everything is wonderful, they are very happy to point out my errors!) I realised this wouldn’t work. To begin with, there was nothing about the cover which linked with the title. My son then tried adding rainbows. I loved this, felt the cover was sorted. But then I mentioned the advice about having a cover that was similar to covers of famous books. We looked at a few.

Ploughing Through Rainbows is fairly similar to the books by James Herriot – it will appeal to intelligent readers who want a nice, feel-good book, and the story is about the people rather than action (no murders in this one). James Herriot books have a computer-generated drawing on the front, showing a pastoral scene.

When I looked at other books set in the countryside, they were similar. This was beyond my capabilities, so my son produced a cover for me. I think it looks great, I hope you agree.

 Thank you for reading. Do look out for my new book, it will soon be available from Amazon, and it tells the story of a mother learning how to parent four adult sons. It’s a book to make you smile, whilst also considering some gritty issues.

Have a good week.

Love, Anne x


Publishing a Book – Part Four


When your book has been written, edited, typeset, proofread (sweated over, prayed over, cried over….) it will be ready to send to the printer. Now all you need to worry about is selling it. This is, I think, the main (and massive) disadvantage to self-publishing. So, how to overcome the problem?

Son-the-marketing-expert had lots of advice (really, lots – many, many hours worth – I have summarised.) He strongly suggested that before I even thought about selling, I should listen to some focus groups. He told me to think about my target audience and ask groups of people some questions. This was not within my comfort zone, so I thought I would just email questionnaires to some friends. This apparently is ineffective, as when a focus group discusses, they remind each other of things, so the results are better. I was told that after listening (trying to not influence the discussion) I should decide where and how I would advertise and sell my book. Here are some of the questions:

Were they influenced by price? – So, would a very cheap or very expensive book make them more or less likely to buy?
Most people said they were unaffected by price, as long as it was within the ‘normal’ price for a paperback book. If it was cheaper, some people said they would be suspicious of the quality unless it was marked “special offer”.

Where do they buy books? Would they consider buying a book from somewhere different (for example, a charity shop or coffee shop or community hall.)?
Older people and avid readers tended to prefer shops to Amazon. If there was a display of books somewhere unusual, they would look at them and possibly buy one.

Before buying a book, do they read some of it first? If so, where would they do that? (Would they remove a book from a shelf to read it, or more likely to pick it up from a display on a table top?)
Definitely table top.

When did they last buy a new author, and why? (Was it recommended by a friend, seen in a review?)
Reviews in newspapers or on radio scored highly here.

Would they look at a book that came with a ‘special deal’? For example, ‘buy the book, get a bar of chocolate for free’. {I told my son this was silly, no one would buy a book just because it had a bar of chocolate attached! He told me ask anyway, so I did. One of my friends told me that in China, a new author did exactly that – if you bought the book, you got a free mobile phone! The author made a massive loss, but her book rose to the top of the best sellers list. Her subsequent books made a profit and she is now a well known author. Interesting…}
Everyone I asked agreed this was silly!

What types of cover attract your attention?
Some looked at books with scenes from the television. Many liked people or ‘cosy scenes’ on the front.



I dutifully asked the questions and thought about the answers. This guided the types of places I decided to advertise and display my book.

If you persuade local bookshops to stock your book, they will want to receive a certain amount per book (between 35% and 50% mark up, depending on the shop. So, £2 or £3 per book.) You also have to deliver the books to the shop and collect them if they don’t sell, as shops tend to be willing to take them on a ‘sale or return’ basis. If it’s a bookshop in your town, that’s easy.

If you decide to sell through a big London shop (say Foyles or WH Smith) then you will need to factor in travel/delivery costs. Large bookshops (like Foyles) will sell self-published books. Each shop has different criteria, and you may need to use a wholesaler, which is expensive. For Foyles, you have to write a submission, much like when trying to find an agent, and they decide whether your book is suitable for their shop. You need to decide if it’s worth the time/money. You can find all the details online (sometimes it is hard to find – try clicking on the ‘contact us’ button, it’s often there.) I will explain about wholesalers in my future blogs, as there’s a lot to say.

Amazon also charges to sell. If you use Amazon, you can either use ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in which case, they will store (for a price) and send out (for a price) your book. Or, you can post the book yourself. For my size of book, an envelope cost 35p, UK postage was £3:35 and US postage cost £7:80. If you aren’t a US resident and you want to sell on (to US customers) you have to register for US tax. You need to think about if you are away/ill – will someone else send out your books for you, or will your customers have to wait a few weeks?

As can be seen, even selling the book is expensive and relatively time consuming. The basic cost of your book depends on how many you print (which should depend on how many you think you will sell.) As a rough guide, if you print 500 copies, your costs are likely to be as follows:

Indemnity Insurance : £175
Formatting : £302
ISBN (for ten titles): £149
Editing : £750
Printing : £1,051
Barcode: £35
Cover Format: £35
Cover photo : £50
Proofreader : £300

If you add the amount a small shop requires for selling the book, this comes to roughly £7:99 per book. This is the price of the average novel. So, if you want to make any profit at all, your book will cost more than the average book on the shelf. You need to listen carefully to your focus groups. If people in your target audience (and this will depend on the type of book you have written) are affected by price, then consider carefully how many books you will print.

If, realistically, you are only going to sell to your close friends and favourite aunty, then probably price matters less but you will need fewer books.

If you are trying to launch a new career, you hope your book will become popular, that your friends will recommend it to their friends, will buy a second copy for their mother’s Christmas present, then I would recommend keeping the price of the book down. Try to cover your costs, but don’t expect to make a profit. Not even a penny. None. If you give books to your nearest and dearest, they are not ‘free’ books, they are a gift, which has cost you £6 (not that this should deter you, but you should be aware.)

If people help you, if they recommend your book, if they buy a copy as a gift for someone you don’t know, if your market place grows, then you can do a second print of your book. Then, all your fixed costs (editing, formatting, etc) will already be covered, then you will make a profit. You might turn out to be the next JK Rowling – making 50p per book on a couple of million books, is not to be sniffed at. But probably you shouldn’t plan for that. Probably you shouldn’t start looking at new cars just yet….

I will let you know how my own writing career develops in my regular blogs. Next week I’ll let you know how I get on in the ‘big’ shops (going to Waterstones tomorrow – very scary!)

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Thank you for reading.

Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson will be available to buy very soon…….(Which is both exciting and terrifying.)


Publishing a Book – Part Three


So, after you have had your manuscript edited, have proofread it about a million times, and are fairly sure that you have picked up as many typos as is humanely possible, it is ready to send to a typesetter.

The typesetter puts your book into the right format for the printer. You can assume a cost of about 90p a page. It depends on print size, but a 100,000 word book is about 300 pages. They will send you examples of different text, ask if you want the first letter of a new chapter written as a capital, or the first word, or the whole of the first line. These were all things I had never noticed before (and I am an avid reader!) I think I only notice if something is ‘odd’, if a self-published book has strayed from what my eye is used to seeing. I was therefore grateful that my typesetter knew more than me. He had done this many times before and could tell me what a ‘normal’ book looked like. I had to keep running to my bookshelves to check things.

You also want someone with experience so the margins are the correct size – you don’t want the words running into the fold of the book, nor do you want massive margins because that means more pages, which will cost you more money.

Some people choose to have a running header, with either the author name, or the chapter title on each page. Some people like the page numbers in the centre, some prefer them at the top. I didn’t have strong opinions on much, I was mainly just keen that my book didn’t look odd : that chapter one began on a right hand page, that the starting margins were full width and all others indented, things like that. This was all learned while I was answering questions and checking inside other books.

I was told that pages are bound in batches of 16 (I think it depends on the size of your book.) This means there might be some empty pages, at either the front or the back. My typesetter suggested that this would be a good place to put some ‘tasters’ of my other books, to encourage people to buy them, a ‘free’ advert.

You might also like to think about the copyright page. There is fairly standard wording inside most books, but you can adapt it to suit yourself. In England, copyright is automatic, if you have written something, you own the copyright. Proving that you have written something might be difficult, so it is possible to register your copyright – there are details of how to do this in the Writer’s Handbook. It does not mean you now own the copyright (you did already) but if someone challenges you, you have proof of when you registered it.

It is usual on the copyright page to name the publisher and to put their contact details. If you use a self-publishing company, they will, I presume, put their address there. We weren’t using a company, we were doing it all ourselves and I wasn’t keen on having my own address in the book. We therefore made a company name, The Cobweb Press, and made a website. This gave us an email address that we could use in all the books. (I am sort of hoping no one ever looks at the website, as we made it in a rush, and it’s not going to impress anyone. But it serves a purpose and means strangers can contact me – to order books – without knowing my home address.)

You might decide to have an ISBN number. These are usually included on the copyright page and also on the back cover. It is not essential to have an ISBN number, but shops like them (some shops will refuse to stock the book unless it has one) and it makes it easier for people to find your book if they know it. You buy them. I bought 10 numbers for £149. There was some paperwork to fill out (husband did that for me) and then they were issued, to use as I wished. The ‘cover guy’ had to leave a white space in the correct place so the barcode could be added (my printer did that.)

We also needed to register the book with the British Library, and send them a copy when it was published.

You need a cover for your book. Go and look at some. I wanted something that would stand out, but not something that looked odd. Find someone who has done other book covers. You need to consider how thick the printed book will be, because that changes the thickness of the spine (and the cover is designed as one long, -front/spine/ back – file.) My typesetter had also done other book covers, so he also did my cover. For the front, you can look online and find many different photographs that are available to buy to use as book covers. These range from textures to use as backgrounds, to full pictures. I opted to have a person on my cover, as the book is about people. The ‘cover guy’ came and took lots of photographs and I chose the one I liked best. He then added the words, designed the spine of the book, suggested ideas for the back. I included the ‘blurb for the back’ in the file I sent to the editor, so that was ready to use. I think you need to allow £35 for a cover, plus a price for the photograph.

We also discussed choices with the printer. We used cpi (if you look at books you have bought, it usually says who has printed them; ‘cpi’ have printed many of the paperback books that you find in the bookshops.) They were very helpful and gave us a menu of options. We could, if we had wanted, had just a single book printed. If anyone has a book they want to see in print but they don’t plan to sell, they might like to have one copy made. Obviously, the more books we had printed, the cheaper the cost per book. It cost about £2 per book to print 500 copies. If you want to add a barcode then add an extra £35 to the overall printing costs.

They asked us which thickness of paper we wanted and what size of page. I didn’t have a clue! They kindly sent samples of books they had printed, so I could ask all my family and friends to turn the pages and tell me which thickness they preferred. Made a change from talking about the weather.

If you read all the terms and conditions that the printer sends, you might find that one condition is that you have indemnity insurance. This was quite a hassle to arrange, and I don’t think actually it will cover much should anyone ever sue me, claiming I have stolen their ideas. But if you read all the small print (husband is good at that sort of thing) it was a condition of being published, so we did it. We had to estimate my probable earnings for the year – the insurance company then told us they didn’t go that low! It cost £175 for annual insurance.

I really want to tell you about the things we did to market the book, why I had to register for US tax, and how much shops will want to make when they sell your book; but this is too long. I will include it in Part Four. Why not sign up to follow my blog so you don’t miss it?


Thank you for reading.


Hidden Faces by Anne E Thompson.
When did you last buy your Mum a gift that made her laugh?

Hidden Faces final cover 6 July 2016


Publishing a Book – Part two


All the characters in my book had the same names as my cousins. I have a lot of cousins. This was completely unintentional. When I write a story, it’s like watching a film, I see what is happening in my head and write it down. When a new character arrives, I pluck a name quickly from the air and continue. Obviously somewhere deep in my subconscious, my cousins’ names popped up. I didn’t even notice until reading the manuscript a few weeks after I had finished it. None of the characters were like my cousins, they just shared names. I changed them (the names, not my cousins.) I now use the internet to find ‘the most popular names in’ a certain year, and choose a surname from the telephone directory. It is safer.

My point is, it is difficult to always see what we have written. We are too involved. This is why I think an editor is an excellent investment. Someone unconnected with the book can point out that you use ‘that’ five times in a sentence and that it isn’t always that essential. Plus all those split infinitives that want naughtily to creep into your writing.

Finding an editor was not altogether easy (nothing was, to be honest.) To begin with, anyone can call themselves an editor, so how do you know who is worth employing? It will be a major outlay before you can even think about recouping any money – about £750 for a 100,000 word manuscript. If an editor is worth having, they will be busy, so sending them samples of work as a ‘test’ is unlikely to be possible unless you intend to pay them for that. You can of course ask which other books they have edited and buy them. However, how do you know if the splattering of unnecessary commas and the split infinitives are because the editor didn’t spot them or because the author/publisher rejected their editorial points? We decided on two editors eventually, one for Hidden Faces and one for Counting Stars. We figured that whichever one we preferred could then edit my other books (which had now grown to four, as I had finished writing Joanna, my story about a psychopath.)

One person (who had better remain nameless) was an editor by trade, did a lot of work for mainstream publishers and was very busy. So busy in fact that we had to wait three months before she would start work on my book. This was annoying, but I felt she was ‘a professional’ and therefore worth waiting for. The other editor we chose, was a writer himself, a writing lecturer and had edited various other books.

I think you need to decide what you want the editor to do. I thought I wanted them to simply proof read my work. This is a confusing term. A proofread is the final thing that happens, after the work has been edited and type-set, before it goes to the printer. What I actually wanted is called ‘copy-editing’.

My use of English is not terrible, I have taught English, I know most of the ‘rules’ about using possessive apostrophes, using fragments of sentences, all the usual stuff. I also knew that it is very difficult to notice mistakes in my own work. I tend to read what I meant to write. I also tend to miss things if I have rewritten something, and perhaps the tense is now different, or the possessive comma is now in the wrong place because I have changed to a plural noun. There is also lots of formal English that I do not know. I am hazy on when you need an Oxford comma, when to use “had -plus -verb” in past tense, when “leant” should be “leaned”. I would guess that most of my readers would also not know, however, I find badly written books irritating to read. I did not want my book to irritate someone who was better educated than me. I did not want to be embarrassed by my book (letting strangers read my work is embarrassing enough as it is!)

Editors will also check for continuity. It is easy to lose track of days in a story, and then you find that you have a nine day week. Or a character enters a room wearing a blue sweater and leaves wearing a red one. The editor should spot these mistakes. I also wanted to be told if the book was too long, or had boring parts, or was confusing. It is difficult to know yourself, because you have written it, you know everything about the story, someone else has to tell you if you have communicated it effectively.

The final thing an editor will do, is prepare the file for the type-setter. So, when everything is edited and all the words are perfect, they will prepare a file that shows where the time breaks are, which paragraphs should be indented, things like that.

As a separate point, do you know where paragraphs are indented? I thought a new paragraph was always indented. My editor pointed out that actually, the first line of a new chapter or after a time break, is NOT indented. I had never noticed that before! This is the sort of thing that makes paying for an editor worth the money. If I had simply printed my book (the “vanity press” label) then I would have started the chapter with an indented paragraph. Then, when someone pointed out to me that actually, ‘proper’ books do not have this format, I would forever be embarrassed by my book. (In case you haven’t noticed, this is a big fear of mine.)

Now, the actual process of editing was also unexpected. Editor 2 took my manuscript immediately and in roughly two weeks, returned it, with comments put in using ‘track changes’. This allowed me to read his comments and either accept or reject his advice. It was good advice, I accepted it. He told me things like, I had built up a lot of tension, and then immediately let it go, I should keep the reader in suspense for longer. Or, I had used “then” four times in a paragraph. Or, Max had put a drink into his bag but the next day he took out a snack. He pointed out split infinitives that I had missed, some dodgy spelling and suggested I lengthened some descriptions. All very helpful, well worth the money.

Editor 1 was a different experience. As a rule, I try to not criticise people on my blog – I think there is enough negativity in the world. But I want to warn you, so you don’t make the same mistakes. Some of her recommendations were valid, but many were just frustrating. She changed things that made the text clunky to read, changed the flow, made it feel like a school essay, not a novel. I spent many hours going through my manuscript, mainly changing her additions to what had been there originally. This is a definite bonus with self-publishing. If someone else was publishing my book, they may have accepted all her suggestions, changing my work into something which I myself would never want to read. I’m not sure how you would initially avoid this. People have different writing styles, so unless you have worked with an editor previously, you will not know if their style suits your own.

This makes choosing an editor difficult. If they do not actually write themselves, will they be aware of emotive writing, making the words flow easily, building atmosphere – or will they just plonk down full-stops where they were taught to in school? If, however, they are writers themselves, will they necessarily know what a split infinitive is? Will they have the discipline necessary to catch every error?

Then, when I returned the manuscript to editor 1 for the next round of changes, she informed me she had received a lot of work from Random House, she would let me know when she had time to pick up my script again.

This was a shock! I had expected that, having waited three months for her to start, my manuscript would then take priority. I felt like the person who hires builders, watches while they dig a lot of holes for foundations, and then doesn’t see them for months because they have gone to build something else. Please learn from my experience. If you hire an editor who works for mainstream publishers, those publishers are likely to take priority. If time is important to you, discuss that at the outset and put it in writing.

Also, someone who is using all their energy editing other work, will not necessarily be as thorough with yours. I found grammatical mistakes in my returned manuscript. True, I had missed them myself, but my misconception was that an editor would find and correct them all. This is not the case. I sometimes read books that have occasional errors in them. It doesn’t much bother me, they are easy to pass over, and I have always assumed they were printing errors. I now realise they might not be, they might be mistakes that neither the author nor the editor nor the proofreader picked up prior to printing. No one is perfect and three checkers do not guarantee perfection. When I queried this with the editor (and in fairness, she did lower her final bill accordingly) she said that no editor would expect to pick up every mistake, that is the job of the type-setter and author and proofreader. So, be warned, employing other people does not mean your own work is finished!

Eventually, your work will finally be edited. It has been back and forth several times until it is exactly how you want it and this takes time. It is a full book. A book takes a few days to read and every time it is returned you need to read the whole thing, from beginning to end. Hours of work. By the time I had read it for about the eighth time straight, it was beginning to lose some of its appeal. I was finding it hard to enjoy the story. This is where you need good family and friends. My sons pointed out that authors often dislike their own work when it’s first published, that actors and directors are renown for not wanting to watch the films they are in. This was normal. I should keep hold of my first conviction and keep going. (Sometimes my family are nice to me.)

After the editing, you also need to consider the cover, the blurb for the back, the type-setting, the final proofreader. Then of course, you will need to sell your book, which involves some marketing. Son the Economist has studied Marketing, he had a LOT of advice. I will continue this another time.

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Thank you for reading.


HIDDEN FACES by Anne E Thompson

Available from bookshops and Amazon. Strong characters and light humour wrapped up in an easy-read novel.

Hidden Faces final cover 6 July 2016


Publishing a Book – Part One


Hi, how was your week? I have been working hard on my book. Getting it published as been an unexpected journey, so I’ll share my experiences so far with you in case you ever decide to go the same route.

The first (and most fun part) is writing the book. I love doing this, it feels a lot like acting – I sort of ‘become’ the characters, think about how they would feel or react and daydream them into interesting situations. Most books seem to fit into the 70,000 to 100,000 words range. Which means that after I have written the story, I usually have to go back and delete great swathes of unnecessary sentences. I found the book ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King to be a big help here.

Next comes the ‘not fun’ part. You have to decide how to publish your work. I wrote my first book soon after I realised I would not be returning to teaching (long story, won’t go into it here.) I gave the completed manuscript to Husband to read, who tends to be ‘constructively critical’ of most things I do. To my surprise, he loved it, said he had never realised I could write so well, and encouraged me to send it off to publishers. I did a Google search to find publishers and discovered that most (all of them really) do not accept unsolicited manuscripts from new authors. To get to a publisher, you first need an agent.

I bought the ‘Writer’s Handbook’ and found contact details for various agents. They were all different, all asked for very specific details. Each submission took most of a morning. I then settled back and waited for them to request my full manuscript. I waited a long time. A few replied with very nice, personalised letters, telling me that my book showed real potential but wasn’t something they felt “passionate enough about” to represent me. Several replied with a standard ‘no thank you’ letter. Most never replied at all.

I have since learned that a good agent already has many authors as clients, they only take on a few new authors each year. They receive however, about 300 submissions every week. In order to cope with that, and to not spend their entire working day reading submissions, they employ people – often work experience students – who read the submission letters and decide if they think an author is worthy of being viewed by an agent. The criteria for knowing if the cover letter is ‘good enough’ is vague and subjective. I think, unless you know someone ‘in the trade’, finding an agent involves a lot of luck.

During this time, I was writing book number two, Hidden Faces. I also began to talk to other authors. They informed me that rejection was normal. I heard stories of people who had eventually been accepted by mainstream publishers, but during the editing process, their book was changed beyond recognition, it didn’t feel like theirs anymore. Publishers need to make money. Some seem to almost have a formula for the types of book they can sell, things that are currently in fashion, and they ask the authors to fit into it. I feel it is a bit like an artist painting a picture, expressing how they feel, then daring to exhibit their work, and being told, “I would like to buy your painting, but please change the sky to green and add some people and take out that tree…” Would it still be their work of art?

I was now not sure I wanted a mainstream publisher. I began to look into self-publishing. This was confusing. It seemed to fall into two categories: the rather unflattering term of “vanity press” and “self-published”. But what was the difference? It seemed that shops were willing to sell “self-published” books, but not those that used “vanity press”. But it was hard to discover the difference. Both were what I would call “self published”, as the author had themselves paid for the book to be published and they only received money if people bought it. (Generally, my understanding is that for a first book, a publisher will pay the author about £800. All profit after that goes to the publisher. However, people are shy about talking about specifics when it comes to money, so that may not be correct. When I get to the relevant parts, I will tell you what I paid for things, so you know.)

I eventually learned that “vanity press” is when an author writes a book and immediately sends it to be printed. So, no one edits it, no one checks the spelling and punctuation, no one says, “this bit is confusing, you need to change it”, no one type-sets it. You can find sad stories online of people who paid a company to publish their book and then found it had no copyright page, or Chapter One began on the left-hand side of the book. They received books that ‘felt wrong’, often cheaply bound in very thin card, with pages that were loose.

My feeling is that if you have written a book that you are proud of, that you just want to see in print, to perhaps give to your family (but not sell to strangers), then why not? I hate the term “vanity press”. Writing a book takes time and effort, why not see it published? I much prefer the terms “home press” or “amateur published”.

However, I did want to sell my book. I wanted a ‘proper’ book, one I could be proud of. I started to look online for editors, copy-editors, type-setters, printers. There were many publishers who offered a self-publishing service, and everyone seemed to have a corresponding ‘horror story’ on the internet. (If you Google search the name of the publisher and ‘scam’ it is quite scary what appears.) It was beyond me, so Husband took over (he is good at that sort of thing.) There was a lot of business stuff involved. He started by going into a bookshop and asking if they stocked any self-published books. He then looked to see who had printed them and contacted the printers. He got quotes for printing and asked for details of editors and type-setters, people they had worked with before who they could recommend. He then contacted various people, asked for examples of their work, quotes for prices, details of what they would do.

While Husband did all this research (made me remember why I love him) I rewrote a serial, Counting Stars, that had appeared on my website, making it a complete story. I now had two new books ready to publish. (I had given up on the first one and decided I needed to rewrite it.)

This account is getting long, so I will continue Part Two another time. I will explain about editors, and what exactly ‘proof-reading’ means (it is not what I thought!) and why you might need insurance…

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Thank you for reading.

Take care,


Hidden Faces is available in bookshops and from Amazon.

Hidden Faces final cover 6 July 2016


Letters to a Sister :38

Image (1)                                                                                     Dustbins and psychopaths…


Hi R,

Remind me to never go to a sushi restaurant with you. I think you are meant to put the food in whole, definitely no knives and forks allowed. I did take Mum once, to one of those bars where the dishes go round and round on a conveyor belt and you have to pick off the ones you want. It didn’t work very well as a mother/daughter bonding experience. She found perching on a high stool to be uncomfortable. And she doesn’t eat raw fish (which I didn’t know when I took her.)

My trip up North was okay thanks. Mainly I was just really proud of myself for driving that far! We went to Nottingham first. My SatNav did well in getting us to Nottingham, not so well at finding the right road (it is a really rubbish SatNav. It only takes the first four digits of a postcode, so directs you to almost the right place and then abandons you. You drive into a large industrial estate full of mass murderers and it helpfully chants, “You have reached your destination.“)

Son 2 had to take over and direct me to his road. I then used his loo – much to Son 1’s disgust (it only had single ply paper. Shocking) before we set off to Leeds.

Leeds was stressful. Son 1 was very good and kept me calm. Our conversation went along the lines of:
Me: “The road is splitting and I don’t know which lane we want. Aaargh, we’re going onto a motorway. We’re heading for York. York! I don’t know what to do.”
Son: “It’s okay Mum, Leeds and York are the same place really, they’re just different bits of the same town. Just keep going and I’ll tell you where to go.
And try to breathe.
And don’t clench the wheel so tightly, you’ll get cramp.”

Anyhow, we made it unscathed. (York is about 25 miles from Leeds, in case you didn’t know.) I managed the journey home on my own. The boys are good to me actually. As long as I don’t ask anything too unreasonable of them – like not leaving socks in the lounge, then they are very kind to me.

They are tougher on Husband (must be a male thing.) When they were home they commented on his car, which I do not think has ever been washed. Ever. We are surrounded by lanes full of mud, most of which now covers his car. One of them remarked, “Hey, like what you’ve done with the car Dad.” The other one asked why he had spent quite so long choosing the colour when he bought it, as all you can see is mud.

I think you are right about the fears of publishing a book. It is all so scary. I keep being reassured by hearing that books like The Martian and John Grisham’s first book were initially self-published because no one wanted to take a risk on them. Counting Stars is all ready now, so I am going to put that on Kindle as soon as it’s been edited. My book, Hidden Faces, should be published later this year. I am now busy researching for my next novel.

As I’ve mentioned previously, it will be called Joanna and is about a serial killer (well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, is more about making choices in life.) Anyway, I have been reading lots of studies about psychopathy. Did you know that most psychopaths are NOT killers? That actually the traits of psychopathy (being focussed, unemotional, charming, risk takers) enable them to often be successful politicians, CEOs of major companies, work in the media. It sort of makes sense when you think about it. If you are in the army and have to send boys off to fight, it wouldn’t do if you broke down in tears every time they were killed.

There was one really interesting study. A neuro scientist was studying MRIs of convicted killers, trying to find a physical trait of psychopathy (which he did.) The following week, he was doing research on Alzheimers, looking at MRIs to see if there was a link that could be used for early detection. He needed a control, so was comparing them to MRIs of his family. They were all anonymous. He noticed that one MRI strongly showed the same things that the psychopath’s had, so he checked the code, in case it had got muddled up with his previous work. He found that it was his own MRI. When he mentioned it to colleagues, they told him that he did display many of the traits of a psychopath!

Psychopathy is a spectrum, a bit like autism (though that seems to be the only similarity.) There is a list of traits, devised by someone called Hare. I have been busy checking people. Am pretty sure the dustbin men in Surrey are all psychopaths (they never move their truck to let people pass.) And the women in a nearby post-office show clear psychopathic traits (are always delighted to send you away because you’ve brought the wrong forms.) Will let you know if I discover any in the family……

Take care,
Love, Anne x


My sister’s letter can be found at :

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Letters to a Sister :20

I finished writing my novel. This is big and very scary. It is actually my second one. The first I wrote years ago but was too scared to do anything with it so I put it in a filing cabinet. I found it again a year ago, read it, decided it was good and tried to get it published. This is when I discovered that trying to get a first book published when you are a normal, non-famous person, is rather hard. It is, I assume, like trying to be an actress or singer. The ability seems to be a minor factor, who you know (nobody in my case) and your ability to ‘sell’ seems much more important.

No publishers in the UK will take manuscripts from new writers, so first you have to find an agent. The initial approach is a covering letter. This involves a lot of sweat, tears, many rewrites while you try to adopt a casually witty style. I clearly never got it right because my first book remains in the filing cabinet. I was something of a literary snob. I felt that if my work was good enough, someone would pay me to publish it, there was no way I would self-publish. I am less of a snob now, I just want my book to be read. If no one likes my covering letter (and it does seem to be this rather than the actual book that is important) then I shall publish it myself. I will let you know how I get on.

On a completely unrelated topic, have you ever cooked with quinoa? I keep seeing it on tele but have never actually tried it. Am thinking of having a try. This fills my family with dread. I do tend to have passions for things in the kitchen. There was the time my mother-in-law gave me a rather nifty garlic press, the sort where you don’t do any peeling or chopping, you just squeeze the bulb through the grill. Immensely satisfying. We had garlic, a lot of it, with everything for a while. That phase did not get too many complaints. The next one did.

I discovered couscous. It was when I was teaching, had three children at different schools, was stressed and exhausted. The thought of a carbohydrate that required no peeling of potatoes or straining of rice was wonderful. There is after all a limit to how many frozen chips you can serve in a week. So I started adding couscous to most meals. The family complained, but they tend to complain a lot, so I ignored them. Looking back, I did perhaps over do it a bit.

The real low point was when it overlapped with my chilli phase. I grew little red chillies from seeds on my kitchen window sill. They were very pretty and I felt rather trendy adding them to dishes. Again, I did perhaps overdo it. Anyway, the meal which has gone down in family history was a chicken casserole, cooked on a day that had gone particularly badly. Teaching had been stressful, collecting the family from their respective schools had been a hassle, I was tired, had reports to write, just wanted dinner to be cooked, eaten and forgotten. It has never been forgotten.

I added too much chilli to the casserole, it was completely inedible. Never mind, I thought, I will add some couscous, that might dilute it a bit. It did not, it was now just burning hot and thick. My next brainwave, one that I really ought to copyright, was to add milk. Please don’t ask me why, but I had this idea that adding milk would neutralise the chilli. I think I was getting in a muddle with adding it to tomato sauce to neutralise the acid (which DOES work.) Anyway, I served the family a sort of hot chilli porridge. They say they can still remember the moment, my angry eyes flashing, them all trying to not say or do anything wrong and being faced with a plate of hot (in the spicy sense) porridge. As I said, a real low point in my culinary experience.

Of course, when I sat down and tried it I realised it was ghastly, impossible to eat and announced we were throwing it all away. Much to the relief of my children. I cannot remember now what we did eat that night but I don’t think any of them will ever forget that dish. I bet Mary Berry has never tried it. Maybe I will write a recipe book next.

Take care,
Anne x