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Barbara Copperthwaite

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May 2015

Cover story

Night CircusLouise PEnnyMoriarty

Now that editing FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD is all finished (hurray!) I’m working with my artist friend on the cover. After all those words, it’s fascinating to try to encapsulate the book in an image, and we’re working on several different ideas right now to see which will look the best.

Several times now I’ve caught myself gazing at my bookshelf, eyeing up the different spines and working out what is great and what isn’t; or suddenly walking over to the shelf to pull down and gaze at a full cover. It’s not just the image to consider, but the colours, the fonts, the size of the text – there is no right, but there are so many wrongs!

Have you ever bought a book on the strength of the cover? I’ve certainly noticed and been drawn to a novel because of its outer packaging (so much for not being able to judge a book by it). That’s actually how I discovered The Night Circus, Of Bees And Mist, and The Book Thief (my favourite was the one that is no longer available, of the figure of death dancing. Personally, I think it’s so much more eye-catching and evocative than the new cover of a girl hugging a book).

My favourite crime book covers vary from the softness of How The Light Gets In (which makes me want to walk into the cover!) to the stark simplicity of Gone Girl (though that cover has now been replaced too, thanks to the film! The original was plain black with bright orange strands of hair flying across it). Moriarty’s image intrigue’s and draws me in too. for me, something more abstract seems to work than a scene.

It’s going to be a tough decision on how the FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD cover looks. Wish me luck!

The book is dead, long live the book!

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The plummeting sales of paperbacks has finally levelled out, and the inexorable rise of the e-book has plateaued, according to a report from Sky News (click here to see the report).

I think this was always inevitable. I was never convinced by the scaremongering talk of e-book being the death of the physical book. Like most people now, I use both.

My Kindle is perfect for when I’m travelling; it’s light, takes virtually no room, and I have a whole library of books to choose from.

But a physical book is a wonderful thing to simply own. There is something special about sitting and reading a book, losing yourself within the pages, feeling its weight…and when it is on the shelf it looks beautiful. I once dated a man who hated my shelves of books as he said he found them ‘oppressive and ugly’. Needless to say he is no longer in my life but the books are – they are as ornamental as a vase or a painting, in my eyes.

As such, there are certain books I will only buy in physical form. Books with illustrations or photographs, but also those that I know I will read again and again and again. I have much-cherished books that I have read so many times a mere look might make them fall apart, and I have to handle them as I would a priceless ancient artefact. Whereas the Kindle is better for a quick read that will almost certainly only be read once – there have always been and will always be people who plunge through a book voraciously then move on to the next, with no interest of ever revisiting it; the intellectual equivalent of a locust. I hold my hands up to sometimes being one of those…

There is no right and wrong with the way of reading books. But what has amazed me is the way the discussion about e-books and physical books had become so very ‘black and white’. Some people who read physical books seem to think it has a snob value, while the e-readers write them off as old fashioned. Both are entrenched in the idea that their way is right, but fail to see that each has its own merits.

So far I have only looked at this news as a reader – but what does this mean for authors? Probably not a great deal. Ultimately, I believe a good story is a good story, and it will sell. When I wrote Invisible I had no clue about marketing, yet it managed to become a Top Ten bestseller on Amazon anyway (although good marketing will make a massive difference to sales!).

I can’t help but wonder though whether part of the driving force behind increased paperback sales is a return to quality. There are some really incredible indie authors out there, creating fabulous stories that are well-written, well-executed, and well edited. But, much as it pains me to say it, there are also some stunningly dire ones who cannot even be bothered to run a spellcheck before sending their manuscript off to Kindle or the like to be published. Perhaps the market is undergoing another reshuffle, and a little more room will be created for indies of quality. If that is the case, it can only be good news for authors and readers alike.

Crime: all the fun of the fair

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Crime fiction is one of the biggest-selling genres world-wide. For example Jo Nesbo has sold over 25 million books. That’s a LOT of books!

So what is it that people love about reading terrible crimes? I have a theory…

Imagine you are at a fun fair. You go on a rollercoaster, and you feel scared and out of control. Your heart is beating faster and adrenaline is pumping as you are thrown this way and that. What will happen next? What is around the next corner? You plummet, you corkscrew – but you know that in reality you are perfectly safe.

Reading a good crime story is like that. As you read the details, the hairs prickle at the back of your neck, tension builds along with your heart rate. There is a growing sense of unease. As your imagination takes you into the heart of the action, you desperately try to guess what is going to happen next. You grabble with the knife along with the victim, you plot someone’s demise along with the killer, you try to figure out clues alongside the detective. Yet you never leave your armchair. You are perfectly safe.

Busy, busy, busy!

I dream of having time to put my feet up, watch a good film, and eat lots of chocolates. Fat chance!
I dream of having time to put my feet up, watch a good film, and eat lots of chocolates. Fat chance!

Day off? What’s that? That is what I ask myself as yet another weekend dawns with the prospect of me working through it. I haven’t had a day off in weeks – a whole day where I do absolutely nothing work-related at all.

But I really can’t complain. Everything seems to be taking off at the moment. My wildlife website, Go Be Wild, is picking up more and more followers all the time. Taking photographs for it is a truly wonderful and relaxing thing, so I definitely don’t feel as if I am working when I’m busy doing that! I make notes for my nature blog as I go, too, on a voice recorder app on my phone, so that I am using my time as efficiently as possible. During the whole month I am also coming up with ideas for the big feature I will publish on the site on the first of the month (I do one large, in-depth feature every month) and doing research when I have a spare moment. Plus, I am thinking ahead to what will be coming up in the next month for nature’s diary in the Wild Times section of the site. At night, I settle down to read one of the books I will be reviewing in the Wild Reads section.

The thing keeping me busiest currently, though, is editing my second novel, Flowers For The Dead. I’m trimming it down, perfecting it, and ensuring that it is in the best possible shape ready for publication next month. I’m lucky enough to know a very talented designer who did the cover of Invisible for me, and now we’re working on ideas for the cover of Flowers For The Dead. It’s fun, as it gets me thinking about the book in a whole new way.

While doing all of this, I am, of course, still very busy as a journalist. It has been a roller coaster of a week, with some truly uplifting stories such as a woman who discovered she was pregnant just six days before she gave birth to a child doctors said had a mere 20% chance of survival. Her beautiful little girl, Ava, beat the odds and is now eight months old. Then there was Pepe, whose horrifying story I blogged about earlier this week. And finally there was an interview with a mum whose 12-year-old son was murdered within minutes of him leaving the house – that tragic tale shall haunt me forever.

I have also picked up a new role writing short fiction stories for a women’s magazine called Love It! It’s a whole new world for me, as I had never written a short story until I had to submit my first one at the start of this week. Luckily, they really liked it – phew! The brief is to come up with erotic fiction with a surprising twist in the tale, and it’s been great fun coming up with ideas for it. Once the magazine has published my first story, I will share it with you and you can let me know what you think.

So although I am constantly busy there is such a wide variety to my work that it doesn’t feel too stressful. When editing my book gets too much, I do some nature stuff; when nature stuff feels too stressful, I move on to journalism; when journalism feels too weighty, I write a short story. And then, to relax, I grab my camera, take my dog for a walk, and get some nature shots – which counts as work too. So it’s not so bad never having a day off right now!

When evil shapes us

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One of the fascinating things about being a journalist and an author is when real life and fiction blend together. This weekend I had one of those startling moments.

I interviewed an incredible woman named Pepe, who was raped at gunpoint in her own bed. She woke in the night with a shadowy figure standing silhouetted in the doorway – and from that moment her nightmare began.

Think that sounds bad? You haven’t heard half of it. Because in bed with her were her two kids.

She managed to get her ten-year-old daughter to run to safety, but Pepe’s son, Richie, was only two at the time. The attacker held a gun to Richie’s head while he raped Pepe. The whole time, she stared into her son’s eyes to try to keep him calm.

After that incident, Richie developed mutism. He disappeared into a world of his own for years and refused to communicate even by written word. The trauma of what he had experienced completely overwhelmed him.

Eventually, aged six, he suddenly decided to talk one day. From that point he came on in leaps and bounds, although his imagination has a dark side – the eleven-year-old loves to write fantasy novels with themes of darkness and violence. Richie has used his dream world of escapism in a positive way, though. He has poured it into creativity, taking the terrible memories and feelings of fear and, against all odds, turning the life-changing, traumatic event into a force for good.

But it did remind me a little of the main character in my latest novel, Flowers for the Dead. Adam suffers trauma that sends him into a world of his own making; one of fantasy and fairy tale, where he can feel safe. He, too, lacks the ability to communicate the complex feelings that overwhelm his childhood. But for him, his quest for love becomes tragically warped.

Two very different outcomes. But both share at the core the idea that horrifying events out of your control can shape you – for good or ill.

Extract from bestseller INVISIBLE

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As my new novel FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD nears the end of the editing process, I thought I’d share an extract of my debut novel, INVISIBLE, which was an Amazon Top Ten bestseller. I’m sure there are still plenty of people out there still unfamiliar with it 🙂

It is a psychological crime thriller about a woman who thinks her biggest problem is deciding whether or not to stay in a boring marriage. Then one day she and her husband are arrested and she becomes the most hated woman in the country through no fault of her own. Does she have the strength to survive?

JANUARY

Tues 15

There really isn’t a thing to say. A year ago I’d have tried to say something. I’d have wracked my brain to find some inane comment to make. Probably about the programme we were watching. We’re both sitting here watching the news, maybe I could say something about one of the stories…another soldier killed in Afghanistan, a big company announcing job cuts, the Prime Minister visiting a school somewhere or other… Not exactly light, chatty topics.

The newsreader’s voice drones on, but I’m finding it hard to concentrate. I wonder if Daryl will get curious about this diary and decide to have a sneaky read. I hope not, but it wouldn’t surprise me; he hates secrets, likes to know everything that’s going on in my head. Just the thought of him reading this though…damn, I’ve crinkled the paper, my hand clenching at the corner just at the thought of what he’d say. He’d be furious. But I’ve got to get my thoughts out somewhere, haven’t I? I can’t, simply can’t face talking to him about this. Not yet.

From the corner of my eye I can see Daryl glancing at his mobile, thinking I won’t notice. Or maybe he just doesn’t care any more whether I noticed or not, in the same way that I’ve stopped caring about filling the silence between us. So, is it just me he doesn’t have anything to say to any more? Are there other people out there that he actually bothers communicating with properly?

Funny how I have so much to say to myself. In my head I can’t shut my internal monologue off. Is this what happens to all marriages? Slowly but surely you just run out of interesting stuff to say and slide into the mundane, and finally into total silence. Like those couples in restaurants, who are clearly only there because the woman has insisted on a romantic night out or she’ll kick off, so the bloke’s given in for a quiet life. And they sit there, opposite each other, one more dressed up than the other because the evening means more to them, and each making polite conversation.

‘How’s your food?’

‘Great, very nice. The sauce is just right. How’s yours? Looks nice…’

‘Mmmm, lovely…’

Then silence. An awkward glance around the room, trying to find something to comment on. The waiter surreptitiously looking over, fighting a smirk at the desperate atmosphere at the table. The clink of cutlery on plates filling the pause that grows longer and longer. A throat clearing. ‘It really is very nice food…’

So I’ve started this diary, just so I have somewhere I can air my thoughts. Then I realised I’d nothing to put in it but the humdrum. Still, maybe that will galvanise me to actually do something to change my life, because on the very first, pristine page I wrote a little something, a sort of mantra I suppose, to try to focus myself.

If you’re not happy with something, change it; if it won’t change, get rid of it.

Doubt I will though– haven’t so far have I? Let’s face it, the vast majority of us start off in life thinking that we’re going to do something amazing with our time on this planet – didn’t Shakespeare or Oliver Wendell Holmes or someone say something about how ‘nothing is so commonplace as the wish to be remarkable’. Life kind of sucks you dry of those feelings though.

Actually it’s not even that dramatic, it’s just that all the other stuff of life gets in the way of really living; you know, the falling in love, getting a job to pay the bills, even watching telly, it all just conspires to stop you thinking about the big picture, and before you know it you’re married to a man you barely say two words to, in a house that’s all right but nothing special, in a job that’s…beige. Bland, nothing special or inspiring about it. That’s what happened to me anyway. Sometimes I think if something exciting doesn’t happen to me soon I’ll go mad.

Beside me, Daryl grabs the remote and switches over without even asking me after a report about some horrible rape up in Manchester pops up on the news. Sounds like she only just got away with her life. Do I pipe up, say something to Daryl about turning over, given that I was watching that? No, of course not. I can’t be bothered. How am I going to motivate myself to do the extraordinary when I can’t even be bothered to speak to someone sitting right beside me?

What is it with men and remote controls anyway? Why do they feel the need to keep hold of them? He’s sat there now, holding it, finger running over the buttons absently. I wonder if cavemen only had clubs because they were remote control substitutes?

* INVISIBLE is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.

GIVEWAY! Claxton, by Mark Cocker

Claxton

There is something magical about Claxton: Field notes from a small planet. On the surface of it, it is another ‘year in the life’ book, detailing natural life around the village of Claxton, in the Yare valley of Norfolk. The magic comes from the fascinating and vivid detail with which Mark Cocker describes each month, accompanied by peregrines, thrushes, long tailed tits, otters, foxes, moths and spiders to name but a few.

In a single twelve-month cycle of daily writings Cocker explores his relationship to the East Anglian landscape, to nature and to all the living things around him. Packed with observations, his breathtakingly in-depth knowledge is shared with love, whilst not shying away from tackling climate change or the devastating decline of species such as swifts.

The wood carving illustrations are a lovely touch, too. But it is the words which will stay with you.

WIN! WIN! WIN!

Love the sound of this book? You could win it and others in a giveaway running on www.gobewild.co.uk

The books  were all shortlisted for the Thwaites Wainwright Prize 2015, an annual award that showcases the best books in UK nature and travel writing. Celebrating the legacy of renowned British nature writer Alfred Wainwright, the prize reflects his core values of inspiring people to explore the outdoors, whilst engendering a love of landscape and respect for nature.

TO ENTER THE PRIZE DRAW VISIT WWW.GOBEWILD.CO.UK FOR DETAILS

GIVEAWAY! Rising Ground, by Philip Marsden

Rising ground

We’ve all looked at a beautiful scene, be it on top of a mountain, on a beach watching the waves crash ashore, or the waving of grasses in meadows, and felt serenity wrap us in its warm cloak. But why? These are the questions Philip Marsden asks and attempts to answer in Rising Ground: A search for the spirit of place.

It’s a fascinating subject, and not one which can ever be definitively answered, but Marsden dives in and puts some clever points forward. He uncovers the life and work of other ‘topophiles’ before him – medieval chroniclers and Tudor topographers, eighteenth-century antiquarians, post-industrial poets and abstract painters. And all the time he is moving through the landscape of his beloved Cornwall, bringing it to life and questioning why it makes others feel so alive at the same time – from the Neolithic ritual landscape of Bodmin Moor to the Arthurian traditions of Tintagel, from the mysterious china-clay country to the granite tors and tombs of the far south-west.

As he consistently ponders why people react so strongly to certain places, and layers of mythology build up around particular features in the landscape, the reader is drawn to philosophise too. It made me think about the landscape in a different way, about the link between physical and spiritual. This is a thought-provoking and very different book about nature and landscape.

WIN! WIN! WIN!

Love the sound of this book? You could win it and others in a giveaway running on www.gobewild.co.uk

The books  were all shortlisted for the Thwaites Wainwright Prize 2015, an annual award that showcases the best books in UK nature and travel writing. Celebrating the legacy of renowned British nature writer Alfred Wainwright, the prize reflects his core values of inspiring people to explore the outdoors, whilst engendering a love of landscape and respect for nature.

TO ENTER THE PRIZE DRAW VISIT WWW.GOBEWILD.CO.UK FOR DETAILS

GIVEAWAY! Running Free, by Richard Askwith

Running Free

A love letter to running, with a glorious Northamptonshire countryside as a backdrop, Running Free, by Richard Askwith is both eloquent and inspiring.

Previously, Askwith was a self-confessed ‘kit’ fan, needing the latest equipment in order to feel he was pushing himself in his training. This book is about how he stripped it back to the bare essentials, and in the process felt closer to nature in its raw form. From running through muddy fields and up rocky fells, running with his dog at dawn, and running because he’s being (voluntarily) chased by a pack of bloodhounds, to running to get hopelessly, enjoyably lost, running fast for the sheer thrill of it… Whilst running as nature intended, he is also observing wildlife and celebrating the joys of nature.

WIN! WIN! WIN!

Love the sound of this book? You could win it and others in a giveaway running on www.gobewild.co.uk

The books  were all shortlisted for the Thwaites Wainwright Prize 2015, an annual award that showcases the best books in UK nature and travel writing. Celebrating the legacy of renowned British nature writer Alfred Wainwright, the prize reflects his core values of inspiring people to explore the outdoors, whilst engendering a love of landscape and respect for nature.

TO ENTER THE PRIZE DRAW VISIT WWW.GOBEWILD.CO.UK FOR DETAILS

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