Monthly Archives: September 2015

How I made the book covers


Essentially, the cover for Simon and MacGuffin is a woodcut print. I used a craftwood placemat of the kind sold in hardware or craft shops for painting with folk art. I carved away the design using ordinary wood carving tools. Then I rolled it with black ink and printed it in my homemade press.

The carved away areas stayed white while the raised areas printed black. The image is also reversed, which means the original image, especially the lettering, has to be drawn and carved in reverse. I’m getting better at this now. I managed to make four covers without any back to front letters.

My best prints were scanned and touched up and then coloured in Photoshop. Lynn helped. She has to help me with most computer things. OK, I admit it. Lynn did all of the Photoshop.

We made covers for the first four books like this. They should make a nice set. After that I will try doing covers based on my paintings. I have a painting done for The Black Marquee and an Idea for The Vietnam Cold-Turkey. That should give me an idea of what works before I get round to publishing the five part saga. I think books in a series should all have similar covers so I will probably do all of those in one go.

Fire Dance will be the sequel to The Black Marquee so it will have a painting on the cover and One Year and a Day is the sequel to Chironex so it will have to have a printed cover.

That, for what it’s worth, is my thoughts on book covers. I have been warned that the covers are essential for effective marketing and I should have them professionally done. They may well be, but I’ve never been one to take good advice, especially when it would require the outlay of more cash than I realistically expect to make from the project.


Canoeing with Crocodiles

freshwater croc on river bankone metre freshwater croc on log

About three years ago Lynn and I bought canoes so we could get more exercise and maybe lose some weight (ha, ha, that old one). We soon found that we didn’t know the first thing about canoeing. The result was that we didn’t go canoeing, didn’t get exercise, didn’t lose weight and didn’t have fun. So, earlier this year, Lynn booked us in for a series of lessons. A good idea except my appendix threatened to burst at the thought. I went to hospital and Lynn did the course on her own. Now I’ve recovered from the operation and it’s my turn. Unfortunately my balance isn’t as good as it once was and I fall out as often as not. This doesn’t worry me. I’ve never been afraid of water. It does worry other people though and I’ve gained a reputation for being a danger to myself.

This has been made worse by my passion for photography. I love to take photos of the wildlife in the river. (My camera is waterproof. I’ve proved it.) This includes some fresh-water crocodiles. Alas, now I seem to be trying to drown myself in crocodile infested water. Lynn never had this problem, but then, she didn’t take a camera in the canoe.

So here is a short discussion about the differences between Crocodylus porosus, the estuarine or salt water crocodile, and Crocadylus johnstoni, the freshwater or Johnstone’s river crocodile.

Salties are big and aggressive. Although females are smaller, typical adult males are over four metres long and can grow to over six metres.

Freshies are smaller and timid. They rarely grow more than three metres long and there aren’t any that size where we go. They are much more scared of me than I am of them. Most of them are also smaller than me.

So, confident that I am the biggest and meanest critter in the river I intend to keep canoeing, keep taking photos and (probably) keep falling out, especially once summer sets in.

There’s more where this one came from

Well, I was right. I got the first book, Simon and MacGuffin, up to Amazon on Sunday, a whole day before I got my blog up, on Monday night. That is to say, Lynn did these things. I am quite incapable of doing anything but the simplest things on the computer. The blog could have been up long ago but I didn’t want to waste a moment of time that could be spent on my book.

I suppose I would be expected to be satisfied now that it is done, but the plan was never just to publish one book. The plan is to publish thirteen books in five years, before I turn sixty. I have six books written and edited ready to go when we can find the time. I even have finished covers for four of them. I also have sequels to two of those books started and three and a half of a five book saga written. So I need to write another one and three halves books in a little under two years.

It’s ambitious, I know, but I’ve always been ambitious, even if that hasn’t always been apparent to a casual observer.

I have decided to publish the first chapter of each book for free on this blog as they come online so here is chapter one of Simon and MacGuffin. I hope you like it.


Simon’s father must have had a real sense of humour. He named his son Simon Samson Sebastian Smith despite, or perhaps because of, his mother’s harelip. He capped off his joke by filling in ‘name of father’ as ‘unknown’ on the birth certificate and leaving no forwarding address.

Amongst his mother’s papers Simon found a pile of envelopes all sealed and stamped and marked ‘Mr. R. E. MacGuffin’. There was no address. Simon opened one from the top of the pile.

Dearest Dick,

                        Why have you never been in contact? I miss you so much. Our son is three years old now and quite the little man. You would be so proud of him. I have decided to buy a house. There is a government scheme that allows single mothers to get a loan and the repayments are low so I should be able to afford it. Our son deserves some security in his life. My only fear is that once we leave the flat you won’t know where to contact us so please write soon. I have so many letters for you now so all I need is an address.

                        I will wait for you forever,


 Simon concluded that there were worse things than being abandoned at birth. He might have been forced to put up with that bastard every day of his life. He pushed aside the papers and went through to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. He didn’t really want a cup of tea but he needed a break from sorting through his mother’s personal effects.

Life would be so much different without his mother. She had always been there. At first, she had cared for him, and then he had cared for her. When she had needed full time care, he left school and went straight on to the carer’s pension. Now he was twenty-three and he had never had a real job.

In some ways her passing had been a blessing. She had been in such pain for so long that it would have been almost cruel to wish her a longer life. She’d had one regret only. Her greatest ambition in life was to pay off the house, to truly own it. She had scrimped and saved to make extra payments every month, and in the end there had been two thousand dollars still owing. If only she could have had a few more months.

Perhaps it was for the best. Mum had always wanted to have a big party and invite all their friends when the house was finally paid off. She didn’t seem to realize that they didn’t have any friends. They never went out, they never kept in touch, and all their friends had faded away years ago. They couldn’t have had a party because there was nobody they could invite. At least she had been saved that realization.

Simon rubbed his sore eyes. He was tired, and his head was starting to ache. He took two aspirins and went to bed without even touching the tea he had made. He should be able to sleep, if the neighbour’s dog didn’t bark all night. Tomorrow he would have to start cleaning out the back shed.


The shed was built to house two cars, but Simon had never known even one car to reside in it. His mother had never owned a car in his memory. For most of the past decade she would have been incapable of driving anyway.

The big front doors of the shed had sagged and probably couldn’t be opened. Certainly if he did manage to get them open he would have an even bigger job getting them shut again. The fibro sheets were already cracked and he didn’t want to break them altogether. He entered through the little door on the side.

For as long as Simon could remember the shed had been the repository for anything that was no further use. Mum had never thrown out anything. His old cot was in here somewhere. She always hoped that his father would come back. Then there would be more children. Then they would need the cot again.

Except that Dearest Dick was never coming back. Dick the prick had gone for good and Mum had never accepted that. No Dick meant no more babies and no reason for a cot. Except that the cot was still here somewhere, unless it had totally rotted away or been eaten by termites.

Simon found himself becoming angry about the injustices of the world. Daddy Dick was probably still seducing anyone desperate enough to fall for him and then leaving them destitute. Simon probably had a huge family of half-brothers and half-sisters scattered across the country and all imagining themselves to be only children.


The neighbour’s dog had gotten into his yard. It rushed up to the shed barking and growling.

Simon picked up a broken table leg from among the rubbish and rushed out of the shed. He swung his improvised club at the dog. “Got out of it, you mongrel,” he roared, glad to have a target for the anger he was feeling.

The dog raced back to its own yard.

“Don’t you threaten my dog,” the neighbour yelled at Simon.

“Well, keep him in his own yard,” Simon yelled, still holding the table leg like a club.

“He thinks there’s a snake in that shed, that’s all,” the neighbour said. “He’s good on snakes. That’s why I called him Caesar. Once he seizes them in his jaws its all over.”

“I don’t care what he thinks,” Simon said. “I don’t want him in my yard.”

“What is wrong with you?”

“Only two problems, mongrel bloody dogs and their dickhead owners.”

“Come on, Caesar. Don’t listen to the nasty man.” The neighbour led his dog inside.

Simon threw the table leg on the ground and went back into the shed, feeling that he had won that pointless little spat.

He’d had a bicycle when he started in primary school. Mum had a full time job then. Later, when her increasing spells in hospital had disrupted her ability to keep even a casual job, he always took the bus. He found that old bike now, still with its trainer wheels, still where he had parked it. Its rubber tires were so perished they glued it to the concrete floor.

He couldn’t move the bike, and he couldn’t do anything with it even if he did. The only thing for it was to take the lot to the dump and without a car he had no way to get it there unless he hired a skip, and they were expensive. He might as well just leave everything as it was.

He sat down on the concrete floor, too depressed to move, until he heard something moving above him, on the toy chest he had plastered with pictures of cowboys. Probably rats, he thought. The shed was infested with them. He turned to see how close the rat was.


Simon jumped back. “A snake!” His back slammed into the child’s bike. He was trapped by the junk all around him.

“Yessssss.” The snake’s head was level with Simon’s.

“You can speak.” Simon tried to remember all he knew about snakes. He guessed that this snake was a python and pythons weren’t venomous.

“Sssso it ssseemssss.”

“I didn’t know snakes could speak.” Simon wondered what else he didn’t know about snakes. He hoped he was right about it being non-venomous.

“All sssnakesss can ssspeak. Mosssst ssstay sssilent.”

“So why do you condescend to speak to me?” The snake didn’t seem to want to bite him. Simon found himself feeling bolder.

“You sssaved sssnake from ssssavage beassst.”

“Oh, yeah, nasty animal,” Simon said, “And so’s his dog.”

The snake put its head on one side like it was puzzled by something.

“That was a joke,” Simon explained.

“I ssssssee.”

After the initial excitement of meeting a talking snake Simon found that he had nothing much to say. “Well, if you don’t mind I’ll get on with tidying this place up.”

“Thisssss plassse harbourssss ratssss.”

“That’s the idea. Clean up the rubbish and get rid of the rats.”

“Ssssnakessss sssnack on ratssss.”

“You eat rats?”


“You want me to leave the rubbish to harbour the rats for you to eat?”


That would annoy the neighbour, Simon thought, and was sorely tempted. What did it matter if his old cot had been birthplace and nursery for generations of rats? He was having a conversation with a talking snake. “What type of snake are you, anyway?”


“You’re an amethystine python?”


“But they’re huge. You must be just a baby.”


“So you get a safe place to live and plenty of rats to eat. What’s in it for me?”

“Sssexual ssssymbolissssm.”


“Ssssize mattersss.”

“If you want to be some sort of surrogate penis I might call you MacGuffin, after the biggest prick I know about.”

MacGuffin stared at him unblinking.

Simon realized that he was talking to a snake and he couldn’t think of a thing to say. Somehow that seemed wrong. A talking snake must be a magical beast. Simon should have any number of questions. “I’ll just shut the door so the dog can’t get in.”


Simon went outside, pushed the door closed and slid home the bolt. There was a talking snake in his shed. Simon felt that he should be excited. All sorts of magical things should suddenly start happening, but somehow, his life didn’t seem to have changed at all.


*          *          *


Still kicking, not screaming quite as much

I’ve been trying to produce an e-book, and it has been a huge task, probably because of my lack of understanding of the technology. I have instructions (a series of short how-to videos) on one computer, and I’m trying to follow along on the other. Even so I would never attempt to do it on my own. I need Lynn to help me. Those of you who know me will already know that I rely on Lynn for most things, especially things to do with computers.

I think the most frustrating thing about setting up this e-book is that it shouldn’t really be difficult. None of the steps are difficult. Knowing which steps to do in which order is the hard part. Sometimes I think I am a two-year-old at heart. I never got over asking why. I write my books as a single document, but this program insists that I break it into separate chapters, so the machine can put it all back together. Why? Nobody can tell me. That’s just how it works. There is no why with computers. I just need to accept that.

Another thing I’ve been working on is this blog. Apparently I need an online presence if I hope to ever sell my books. The problem is that I need as much help getting the blog up as I need to do the e-books. I have to wait until Lynn has time to help me and then do what she is ready to work on. The book might come out before the blog. Or we might get the blog out in a day or two. I can’t guess. One way or another it is all going to happen in its own time.

Dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century

When I was a kid I was afraid of telephones. We didn’t have one at home, so I never got used to using them. I still don’t like answering other people’s phones. What should I say to somebody I’ve never met and who doesn’t know me? I guess that means there are two things I don’t like; technology and social interactions. In a way they are the same fear.

The faceless men who write computer programs expect me to understand what they consider intuitive, regardless of how much cocaine they snorted before deciding on the most logical process or layout. There is no way to work out logically how to do anything on a computer. I can’t even use the help unless I know the exact term the particular program uses for what I’m trying to do. I feel that I am expected to psychoanalyze the anonymous programmers to work out what they think is logical. When I was in Uni I spent weeks trying to work out how to produce error-bar graphs. Finally somebody told me that in that program they are called mini-max graphs. Why they should be called mini-max graphs when they don’t show either the minimum or maximum possible values is quite beyond my comprehension.

I’m not on Facebook or twitter and I’ve never attempted to write a blog until now. I guess I’ve always been a very private person and I’ve always been prepared to allow other people their privacy. But the world has changed while I haven’t been watching. Recently I was accused of being arrogant for not wanting to bore the world with the inanities of my mundane existence. I’m sure that’s the opposite of what ‘arrogant’ used to mean.

I use a computer to write my books, but I don’t have any internet connection on this one. Writing is serious work and I like to avoid distractions while I’m working. We have another computer with a modem that my partner, Lynn, checks. I trust her to tell me about any emails I need to know of. It’s not a perfect system, but it saves me a lot of time. I suppose I need to change.

So I have decided to concede defeat and agreed to write a blog. If it is anything like my various attempts to keep a diary it probably won’t last very long. Diaries were always intended to be private. Reading somebody else’s diary was a serious offense, but somehow diaries have been superseded by blogs that are intended to be public. The world has turned upside down. I intend to treat this blog like a diary, full of my personal thoughts and opinions, and backed by the arrogant assumption that my opinions are valid, even if nobody else agrees with them. Then I will leave this diary open for anyone to glance through and console myself with the thought that, while anyone could read what I’ve written, most people won’t bother. Why, after all, would anyone care what I think?