Cover Story: Hoofing It

Full cover

I had written the first draft of this book in 1997! It was ok and one major publisher was interested; from the twelve speculative letters I sent out. They continued with the interest and an inquired what the overall plan was. The plan was always to write about the main character Robert Knight at major points in his life; chronologically in time, and we would travel in real-time with him. I then informed them the next book would be set when he had finished University and journeys around the world. “Get on and write it then.’’ This I did, which is harder than it might appear because it was set a few years in the future around the turn of the millennium. It also required quite a lot of research as I had not been to many of the locations in the book. The signs were still good, “we are onto the next meeting, we are still very interested.’’ Then the bombshell, “we think it’s great, but it is not different enough for a debut novel!’’ After the initial excitement and hope; there was no more interest.

The good news was I had two first drafts in a series of novels. Then in 2009 I return to them – I had done the Stephen King device, but instead of leaving them in a draw for 4-6 weeks to lightly ferment – I done it for over decade! I continued writing intermittently; new derelict house to renovate, two children, full time teaching job, my partner retraining, running a junior football team, family gap year around the world – “life is what happens while you are making other plans.’’

The story of the cover

It took three years to get from this initial contact to the final graphic designed cover of both books, something Scott pointed out when it was finished – I literally (!) could not believe it! It had taken nearly sixteen years from the first tappings on a rudimentary computer in Rusholme, Manchester (in the shadow of the kippax) Then the computer fulled of memory; it crashed, burned and had a nervous breakdown – the latter being me. “Have you backed it up?’’ If I had £1 for everyone that asked me this at the time, I would have made £38! I had backed it up, but only at the half way point – remember when I started writing this I only had just got e-mail, we only had 3.5 inch floppy discs (insert your own joke) and if you wanted to download something, you needed to leave it, make your tea, eat your tea, wash-up and then come back! – stop laughing yowths! It actually sounds worse than it was, because I had just written it, I could remember most of it, especially the research mainly from Time Outs and Rough Guides. Having returned to the book much later I would say it is three times better than it was. From the original first draft I cut six chapters at the beginning and put in a much punchier start – Ok I stole the money, there’s no other way of looking at it; one minute I didn’t have twenty-eight grand, the next, abracadabra, I did.’’ – if you don’t get your reader on the first page you have lost them!  So if there is a word of caution apart from the obvious backing everything up, it is… allow yourself at least double the amount of time to finish every aspect of your book, or if you’re anything like me… add a decade on for good measure!!

Original painting I bought in 2007 in St Andrew’s.

In 2007 I saw a painting in a gallery in St Andrew’s by a local artist called Scott Carruthers (www.scottcarruthers.co.uk). It was about £700, so instead of buying it, I went away and thought about it. I decided that after a few days, I loved the painting, convinced the wife and arranged to purchase it.

Cover rough 3
The rough pencil sketch. We removed the Mercedes.

While working on the book and all the aspects it entails. I speculatively e-mailed Scott to see if he would be interested in designing the cover for `hoofing it.’ He was keen. We were backwards and forwards with ideas for a few weeks, then he made a preliminary sketch, which was much better than the one I had come up with.

cover rough 1
Scott’s painting of the cover…

Once I had an electronic copy of the painting. I then enlisted a friend and technical guru – John Keane (j_f_keane@hotmail.com) to implement some of the ideas I had to enhance the cover and draw readers in – yet again better creative ideas were suggested. Instead of the suspension wires of the Humber Bridge, most of the places visited are used and in the shadow of the two main characters (Robert & Spud – who are never described in detail in the books!) you have some key/pivotal words – in an attempt to make the shadows more interesting; you have to look carefully to work them out. On closer inspection of the original painting my name was removed and replaced so my first name was in shadow of my surname, in keeping with the tone of the rest of art work.

Cover rough 5
The first graphic design did not have the places as suspension wires and original painted name. Also quite difficult to see.
cover rough 2
Ah… now that’s much more like it!

It took three years to get from this initial contact to the final graphic designed cover of both books, something Scott pointed out when it was finished – I literally (!) could not believe it! It had taken nearly sixteen years from the first tappings on a rudimentary computer in Rusholme, Manchester (in the shadow of the kippax) Then the computer fulled of memory; it crashed, burned and had a nervous breakdown – the latter being me. “Have you backed it up?’’ If I had £1 for everyone that asked me this at the time, I would have made £38! I had backed it up, but only at the half way point – remember when I started writing this I only had just got e-mail, we only had 3.5 inch floppy discs (insert your own joke) and if you wanted to download something, you needed to leave it, make your tea, eat your tea, wash-up and then come back! – stop laughing yowths! It actually sounds worse than it was, because I had just written it, I could remember most of it, especially the research mainly from Time Outs and Rough Guides. Having returned to the book much later I would say it is three times better than it was. From the original first draft I cut six chapters at the beginning and put in a much punchier start – Ok I stole the money, there’s no other way of looking at it; one minute I didn’t have twenty-eight grand, the next, abracadabra, I did.’’ – if you don’t get your reader on the first page you have lost them!  So if there is a word of caution apart from the obvious backing everything up, it is… allow yourself at least double the amount of time to finish every aspect of your book, or if you’re anything like me… add a decade on for good measure!!