The Battle of the Birds: Guest Post and Cover Reveal by Virginia King

Today I’m welcoming Virginia King to talk about how she chose the title and cover for her latest book. So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Virginia.

Many authors say that in the process of creating a book, the writing is the easy part. It’s choosing titles and covers where the real work begins.

Title Torture

I was writing a collection of stories re-imagined from the folktales that inspired the modern prequel to my mystery series, Laying Ghosts.

Laying Ghosts 70 KB

A strange message. A deserted beach house. A shocking incident from the past …

When a text message from a long lost friend lures Selkie Moon to Crystal Cottage, the chilling events from a house-party four years earlier wrap her in ghostly fingers and turn her life upside-down.

The folktales form a standalone collection but also a companion to Laying Ghosts. I was going through the usual torture of choosing a title when my mystery author friend Ellen Seltz offered to help. She asked for details of the stories in the collection. One involves the 250-year-old murder ballad ‘Pretty Polly’. Ellen found a phrase in the following stanza from the original ballad:

He pierced her body till the blood it did flow,

Then into the grave her body did throw.

He covered her body, then home he did run,

Leaving none but birds her death to mourn.

Ellen suggested None but Birds for the title of the collection and I was thrilled. It had the right amount of mystery and suspense, while hinting at the dark themes in the stories. But because the collection is a companion to Laying Ghosts, I settled on a variation that gives both titles a similar word pattern: Leaving Birds.

Yay, I had my title. Hurdle one vaulted – with panache. Next came the cover. That should be easy given I had my subject on a plate: birds. Then followed the battle of the birds!

Photos or Illustrations?

Covers guide readers to the genre of the book. All the books in my Selkie Moon Series contain mystical clues inspired by folklore, but the mysteries are modern so the covers are a compilation of photographic elements to reflect this. Leaving Birds is not strictly part of the series and it’s a mix of traditional and modern stories, more closely linked to folklore. Should I use an illustrative style of cover so that the reader would recognise the ‘folktale’ genre?

Conducting a Cover Poll

To get other opinions, I polled the subscribers to my Myth Mystery & Mayhem newsletter. Showing them the following two stock images, I asked: Do you prefer a photographic or illustrative cover for Leaving Birds, a folktale companion for Laying Ghosts? These images are samples of two different styles of cover, not the final cover. The theme of the collection is the loneliness of death, and the cover will be black and white.

Bird Cover Concepts

How Readers Voted

The almost 100 votes were 65/35 in favour of the photographic image. Then I worried that the pop of red had skewed the vote. If I’d removed it from the illustrative cover, the samples would have been more equal. But the red had an unexpected role to play.

Photographic voters liked:

  • Herons, because they’re regal and mystical
  • The drama of the spooky mood
  • The sense of eeriness and mystery
  • Imagining a great black bird surveying a graveyard
  • The single bird and lack of colour being barren and solitary like death
  • Crows, because they’re linked to death

Illustrative voters liked:

  • Hummingbirds!
  • The pop of red against the stark background
  • The colourful bird suggesting a ray of hope in the loneliness
  • The bird’s wings suggesting a soul soaring away
  • The handwriting feeling personal, dated and creepy
  • The celebration of a life departed instead of the gloominess of death

Taking Care with Stock Images

The two concepts are both stock images which could be used as they are. But Joel Friedlander from The Book Designer says that a good cover is not just a stock image with titles added. It is the compilation of images and graphic effects that create a design. Also, if you use a stock image as it is, you’re likely to see it on other covers.

Playing with Cover Concepts

Taking into account the mood of the folktale collection and the feedback from readers, I briefed my cover designer. We tried a different photo of a lonely bird – a seagull on a chimney – as well as the original heron image. And we blended some handwriting into the background like the illustrative sample.

Leaving-Bird-1

Leaving-Bird-2

As much as I loved the lonely seagull in the stock photo, when I saw it as a cover it just didn’t evoke the powerful mood created by the hunched heron. The handwriting also didn’t fit as well with the gull. The battle of the birds was over. We had a winner. And although I was committed to a black and white cover as a companion to Laying Ghosts, I asked my designer to try out some red on the handwriting – for that pop of colour some of my readers had liked in the illustrative sample.

Cover Reveal: Leaving Birds

Here’s the final cover of Leaving Birds, a standalone collection of creepy folktales with adult themes, and a companion to the modern ghost story Laying Ghosts.

Leaving Birds e-book 75KB

Leaving Birds contains:

  • ‘The Woman with Hair of Gold’ – retold from a Russian folktale
  • ‘Peig’s Place’ – a modern ghost story re-imagined from an Irish folktale
  • ‘Polly’s Folly’ – the possibly true events behind the murder ballad ‘Pretty Polly’
  • ‘Serendipity Rules’ – the newspaper report that inspired the plot of Laying Ghosts

If you like to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of books and how they’re written, Leaving Birds also contains insights into how each story inspired the writing of Laying Ghosts.

Laying Ghosts is available:

Leaving Birds is available:

Follow Virginia on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selkiemoonmysteries

Virginia King FB Nomad Portrait

 

In the Selkie Moon Mystery Series, Virginia King gets to explore far-flung places full of secrets where Selkie delves into psychological clues tangled up in the local mythology.

Before Selkie Moon invaded her life, Virginia was a teacher, an unemployed ex-teacher, the author of over 50 children’s books, an audio-book producer, a workshop presenter and a prize-winning publisher. These days she lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with her husband, where she disappears each day into Selkie Moon’s latest mystery. Bliss.

 

 

The Third Note by Virginia King

Being a big fan of the Selkie Moon Mystery series, I was delighted when Virginia offered to let me be involved with the editing of book 3, The Third Note. Of course, I said I’d love to. One of the great pleasures of editing is being able to appreciate a book on a deeper level. Watching the story develop and take flight was a privilege. Getting to read it again later, as a regular reader would, only enhanced the experience.

The Third Note Cover Final Art 01

My Review

There’s a pattern here—the losing and the finding take me on incredible journeys of discovery. Things I need to know about myself. It’s what happened when I lost my memory and had to travel across the world to get it back. I mustn’t forget what I discovered then: that the answers are in my own heart.

Virginia King weaves a mystical web of suspense, psychic intuition and self-discovery in The Third Note. With Selkie now attempting to settle in Hawaii, her great-grandmother Bridie’s much delayed parcel comes as a huge surprise to her.  Why did Bridie wait until 35 years after her death to send it to her, and what is the significance of her mysterious gift? While Selkie knows that Bridie was Irish, she doesn’t know why she left Ireland nor why she chose Selkie as the recipient.

When Selkie meets up with her old friend Davina, she asks Selkie to accompany her on a trip to Ireland—Davina’s birthplace. Davina has secrets of her own which need investigating. Selkie figures it’s the perfect opportunity to do some research into her own family history.  What she finds will both shock her and have far reaching repercussions.

Exploring the idea that our past affects our present far more than we realise, The Third Note is a chilling, yet thoughtful, page turner with a good dose of humour thrown in to lighten things up.

If you enjoyed the first two books in the Selkie Moon Mystery series, then you’ll love The Third Note. In fact, even if you didn’t read the first two books in the series, chances are you’ll be fascinated enough by book 3 that you’ll want to go back and read them too. Oh yes, and, did I mention there’s a free prequel available on Virginia’s website?

The Third Note is available from Amazon.

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XT31XD3/

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XT31XD3/

You can purchase the first two novels in the Selkie Moon Mystery series from Amazon.

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Virginia-King/e/B00K2N9AGK/

US: https://www.amazon.com/Virginia-King/e/B00K2N9AGK/

Download Laying Ghosts, the free prequel to the Selkie Moon Mystery series here: http://www.selkiemoon.com/laying-ghosts/

Check out Virginia’s website to learn more about the series and Virginia’s writing: http://www.selkiemoon.com/

Like her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selkiemoonmysteries/

Follow her on Twitter: @selkiemoonbooks

 

The Story Behind Laying Ghosts

For those of you who read my review of Virginia King’s latest story, Laying Ghosts, yesterday, I thought you might be interested to read more about the inspiration behind the story. Of course, even if you missed my review you might still enjoy hearing the story behind the story. 🙂

book-cover

And for those who missed it, just a quick reminder to let you know that Laying Ghosts is now available to download FREE from Amazon UK, Amazon US and other retailers.

So without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Virginia King:

A Ghost Story Needs … a Ghost

(A version of this post first appeared on ‘Hey Said Renee’  in May 2016.

vasilisa

Vasilisa the Beautiful at the Hut of Baba Yaga, by Ivan Bilibin 1899, public domain image, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasilisa_the_Beautiful#/media/File:Vasilisa.jpg

My psychological mysteries have a mythical twist so I’m into visionary mirrors and mystical graveyards, suspect stalkers and symbolic objects. I’ve never sidled up to a ghost. But the idea to write a ghost story – as the prequel to the Selkie Moon mystery series – crept up on me, especially in the middle of the night – just like a … ghost.

Click here to continue reading: http://www.selkiemoon.com/la-bloguette/a-ghost-story-needs-a-ghost/

 

Review of Laying Ghosts by Virginia King, a new #FREE short story ebook

book-cover

Having read and enjoyed both of Virginia King’s novels in her Selkie Moon Mystery Series—The First Lie and The Second Path—I was both excited and flattered when Virginia approached me back in February asking if I’d like to read her 10,000 word short story prequel to the series, now titled Laying Ghosts. Of course I said I’d love to.

At the time that Virginia approached me she was still in the process of developing the manuscript and wanted my honest opinion on what I liked/didn’t like as a fan of the series.

One of the things that instantly struck me about the story was how well-developed Virginia’s characters are—I instantly recognised Selkie from the novels and could picture her friend Rina well. And, of course, the story as a whole was strong and required very little work from an editorial point of view. In fact, my desire to publicly offer my services as a development editor partially arose from my experience of working on Laying Ghosts with Virginia.

When Selkie Moon plays sick in order to get out of attending husband Andrew’s business conference in Vanuatu, she finds herself with a full four days to herself. She decides to settle in with a glass of wine and have an early night. But that all changes when she receives a mysterious text message on her phone, ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina.

While Selkie and Rina were once best friends, they’ve not spoken to each other since attending a sinister house party nearly four years ago, at a remote beach house called Crystal Cottage. When Selkie responds to the text, she receives the same message back. ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina.’ Uncertain as to what’s happening, Selkie decides to drive up to Crystal Cottage to meet her friend, and see if she’s okay.

When Selkie arrives, however, the house appears to be deserted. Or is it?

In Laying Ghosts, Virginia King slowly and tantalisingly reveals the mystery to her readers. As is usual with Virginia’s work, there are many layers to this story. A fantastic tale in its own right, it also provides a fascinating backdrop to Selkie’s later adventures.

Whether you’re interested in exploring the series, enjoying a great (free!) ghost story or have already read the novels but would like to know more about Selkie Moon, you’ll love Laying Ghosts.

“A strange message, a deserted beach house, a shocking incident from the past … Selkie Moon’s life will change forever.

When a text message from a long lost friend lures Selkie Moon to Crystal Cottage, the events from a house-party four years earlier wrap her in ghostly fingers and turn her life upside-down.

A prequel to the Selkie Moon Mystery Series plus your bonus first chapter of The First Lie.”

Laying Ghosts is available FREE from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Laying-Ghosts-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01LAFOIRE/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Laying-Ghosts-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01LAFOIRE/

It’s also available from Barnes and Noble, Kobo and iBooks:

https://books2read.com/u/38DEy6

And from Virginia’s website: http://www.selkiemoon.com/laying-ghosts/

You can follow Virginia King on Twitter: @selkiemoonbooks

Like her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selkiemoonmysteries/

Check out Virginia’s website where you can also subscribe to her newsletter to be the first to hear about Selkie’s latest adventure: http://www.selkiemoon.com/

 

My review of The Selkie Moon Mystery Series by Virginia King

Virginia King - The Second Path Cover

The Second Path

When Selkie Moon wakes up naked and disoriented on a Hawaiian beach, two weeks after last being seen by anyone, the authorities have given up on trying to find her. They figure if she were alive, she would have turned up by now. But Selkie Moon is very much alive, and it’s lucky for her she has such good friends who have kept a constant vigil for her on the beach.

While her friends take care of her physical needs, Selkie tries to remember where she’s been and what’s happened to her. The last Selkie remembers she went to visit her mother’s gravesite at the famously accursed Bantry’s Bluff. To find the answer Selkie will have to do more than just search her memory, she’ll have to piece together a mystical puzzle which will take her to the other side of the world in her quest for clues.

I very much enjoyed following Selkie on her journey. King skilfully manages the difficult feat of combining mystery, psychology and folklore to make for a beautiful tale of love lost, and found.

After having read, and loved, The First Lie, I had high expectations for the second book. King did not fail to deliver the results I was hoping for. The Second Path is every bit as intriguing as The First Lie, and while this novel could be read as a standalone, I’d highly recommend that readers enjoy them together. Once again, King managed to keep me riveted to the page as I sought to discover clues to Selkie’s missing memory. I love how she combined psychology and mysticism in the novel which makes Selkie’s journey feel both magical and everyday, as though what she experiences could happen to anyone, given the right set of circumstances.

Virginia King - The First Lie Cover

The First Lie

Virginia King paints a vivid portrait of life in Hawaii for the young Australian, Selkie Moon. Selkie has moved to Hawaii to escape her less than enchanting past: a husband she never loved and a father and stepmother who feel they would have been better off without her. Not to mention the memory of her seemingly beautiful and perfect, but dead, mother. Will Selkie’s past catch up with her? The tension in this novel means you won’t be able to stop yourself from reading on to find out.

A beautifully evoked, atmospheric, psychological mystery laced through with myth and the intrigue of the supernatural. Although the thrill of Selkie Moon’s adventure kept me turning pages, the characters and setting made me want to linger. King’s characters are true to life and easy to relate to. Her descriptions are both accurate and lush. Even the food is so brilliantly rendered that I only wanted to eat noodles and sushi while reading this novel.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good mystery, but also to anyone who loves a great character novel, as well as those interested in psychology.

Both books are available from Amazon.

In the UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/First-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-Series-ebook/dp/B00K1VC20Y 
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Second-Path-Selkie-Mystery-Series-ebook/dp/B0139IAN56/

In the US: http://www.amazon.com/Second-Path-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0139IAN56/
http://www.amazon.com/First-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B00K1VC20Y/

You can find out more about the series by visiting Virginia King’s website: http://www.virginiaking.com/

Updates

As some of you may have noticed, it’s been awhile since my last post. As my Creative Writing MLitt drew to a close I had to take some time away to focus solely on my final portfolio. Needless to say, this has now been submitted, which means I’ve completed my MLitt! Yay! Woo-hoo! 🙂

Of course, I have yet to graduate and receive my degree so perhaps it is a bit early to celebrate. Still, it certainly feels like a huge milestone to have submitted my final assignment. I’ve really enjoyed the programme at University of Glasgow and will miss both the courses as well as my tutors and classmates. Hopefully we will stay in touch via social media.

So…what was this ‘final portfolio’ and what did it consist of? Well, my second novel, of course! The subject of which will be revealed at a later date. For now, all I’ll say is that it is set in a completely different location to The Forest King’s Daughter and, although it’s also historical fiction, it takes place in a much more recent time period.

Right after submitting my portfolio I assisted with a children’s literacy event called Make a Play which was run by Artburst, a local arts and children’s literacy organisation (you can read about them here: http://www.artburst.co.uk/ ). Make a Play consists of an entire week where children from the age of eight to twelve design and write their own play, based on a traditional children’s story. The play was a variation on The Wizard of Oz, except that this version took place in Forest Gate, East London, the wizard was actually a superstar DJ wizard and the scarecrow realised that not only did she have a brain all along, but she was very good at math. It was lots of fun, and I think the kids enjoyed it too. 😉

I’ve also been reading some fantastic new mystery novels, including The Shoeshine Killer by Marianne Wheelaghan which is set in Fiji (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shoeshine-Killer-Scottish-Detective-mysteries-ebook/dp/B012TN8PM0 ) and The Second Path by Virginia King which is set in France (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Second-Path-Selkie-Mystery-Series-ebook/dp/B0139IAN56 ). I’d highly recommend them both. They’ve been the perfect books to take my mind off of all those university deadlines. 🙂

Oh yes, and I have a brand new Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kendra-Olson/1479392189025196 Do check it out and ‘like’ if you can. I’m still in the process of adding updates and finding my way around.

Until next time!