Tag Archives: Thirty Seconds Before Midnight

riding a tiger book cover

My Cover Story

I was recently asked to write a guest blog post for The Writer’s Guide to e-Publishing website about how I created the covers for my books and used them to create a brand – which as you can imagine I was delighted to do. You can read an excerpt below, and see the full post here.

Every author’s story is different, but here’s how my covers came about. I’d written nearly three novels (that is, two were complete and one was in progress) when I decided to independently publish. I’ll not go into much detail about how I made that decision as it’s a complex one for any writer to make, even now, but I will say it was based on professional feedback on the quality of my manuscripts, my observations of the publishing market at the time and a desire to take control of my own destiny. I also decided to publish a volume of short stories as a ‘taster’ of my writing. So I had four books to take to market.

I gave myself a six-month window to hire editors (and go through the various editing processes and finish writing the third novel) and cover designers, research and plan routes to market and devise an initial launch plan. I wanted to go to market with print (both paperback and hard cover) and digital (to as many stores as possible) as I felt this was important to reach the widest market available – and build a scalable platform should the books take off (here’s hoping!). I’ve always seen this as a long game and this was my strategy for writing as much as publishing. I don’t write to genre – I write books that I hope tell new stories in new ways, and I decided this was an important part of the way that I branded them. And publishing them in all formats added to the challenge (for an ebook you need one image that works as a thumbnail, for print books you need to start thinking about spines and back covers and flaps). READ MORE

world turtle day

World Turtle Day is May 23rd

It’s 24 hours of all things chelonian on May 23rd and, being a giant land tortoise, I am uber excited. So excited in fact, that I talked Helen into letting me run a competition to give away not only a signed copy of her book, Thirty Seconds Before Midnight which features me, Herbert, but also a $50 Amazon gift card. How gigantic is that? She did ask that I ask you to help support her favourite charity too – the Galapagos Conservation Trust. Here it is:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Fairy Tales

10 New Tellings of Classic Myths and Fairy Tales

1) ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey

This magical novel takes a Russian fairy tale and sets it in 1920’s Alaska. I found it a bit slow and ‘wagons and homesteads’ to begin with but was drawn in and, like everyone else, fell in love with Faina. Wonderfully snowy, this is my book club‘s January read and I am expecting it to be very popular. It also has a very beautiful trailer that you can see here.

2) ‘The Penelopiad’ by Margaret Atwood

My favourite from the Canongate myth series from one of my favourite authors, this one tackles Penelope’s experiences during the Odyssey and deftly handles double standards between the sexes. Atwood also wrote ‘The Robber Bride’, the title of which references the Grimm fairy tale ‘The Robber Bridegroom’. Other titles in the myths series included ‘Weight’ by Jeanette Winterson, ‘Girl Meets Boy’ by Ali Smith and ‘The End of the Gods’ by AS Byatt.

3) ‘Gods Behaving Badly’ by Marie Phillips

I loved this very hilarious book so am super excited to find that it’s being made into a film starring Christopher Walken and Sharon Stone! Here’s an interview with Sharon on set! Bookmarks Magazine say: “Reviewers almost unanimously praise Phillips’s daring, high-concept premise and the wit and cleverness with which she recycles mythic tales and gives them a postmodern twist.”

4) ‘Tender Morsels’ by Margo Lanagan

A dark, dark retelling of the Snow White, Rose Red fairy tale, be warned, this is not a novel for the faint of heart, with rape, bestiality and sodomy as themes and no Disney style ending, it’s a book that lives with the reader for a long time after. Publishers Weekly said: “Writing in thick, clotted prose that holds the reader to a slow pace, Lanagan explores the savage and the gentlest sides of human nature, and how they coexist.”

5) ‘Oh My Gods’ by Phillip Freeman

Oh My Gods is a contemporary retelling of some of the most popular myths by Philip Freeman, a noted classicist. These tales of errant gods, fantastic creatures, and human heroes are brought to life in fresh and modern versions. Powerful Zeus; his perpetually aggrieved wife, Hera; talented Apollo; beautiful Aphrodite; fierce Athena; the dauntless heroes Theseus and Hercules; and the doomed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice still inspire awe, give us courage, and break our hearts.

6) ‘New World Fairy Tales’Cassandra Parkin

I first stumbled across Cassandra when I discovered her acerbic and incredibly hilarious explanation of everything that is wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey. I had an inkling then that I was going to enjoy this, her first published book of prize winning short stories from Salt Publishing. And I did, enormously. These are very, very modern retellings of various fairy tales – beautiful, sexy and compelling.

7) ‘Thirty Seconds Before Midnight’ by me

This is a contemporary retelling of the classic Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice set in a menagerie in a rundown country estate in Sussex which turns upside down with the arrival of a new family of rock stars set on change. Readers love Herbert – the main narrator of the book who is a giant land tortoise. You can be friends with Herbert on Facebook here. You may also find him blogging on this site quite regularly.

Fairy Tales8) ‘Grimm Tales – For Young and Old’Phillip Pullman

Well the title says it all really! I bought these for my six year old niece for Christmas. Unfortunately I’ve been in the French alps (poor me!) over the festive break so I am yet to have a read of them but am looking forward to it very much. I love Pullman’s writing, in particular the Northern Lights trilogy – me and my cat were likened to Lyra and her daemon by a friend once which made me smile a lot. He is also very good friends with Neil Gaiman from what I understand who deserves a mention here for his masterful ‘Stardust’.

9) ‘The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories’ by Angela Carter

Ian McEwan (and I love his writing) described this as: “Magnificent set pieces of fastidious sensuality”. These are fairy tales retold and interwoven by a master of seductive, luminous storytelling – The Times said: “She can glide from ancient to modern, from darkness to luminosity, from depravity to comedy without any hint of strain and without losing the elusive power of the original tales.”

10) ‘Beauty’ by Robin McKinley

“The best-known and best-loved of Robin McKinley’s books is also one of the best of the fairy-tale retellings — “Beauty,” a more enlightened, fully-drawn version of “Beauty and the Beast.” There’s a depth and a richness to the story and characterizations, as well as a beauty of atmosphere and writing.” E A Solinas – Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer

Do you know of any more to add to the list?

Vote for these books on Listmania and Listopia.


10 Books for Grown Ups with Animal Narrators

1) Bird Brain by Guy Kennaway
I found this book immensely funny. Banger is almost as daft as my dear Digby and whilst poacher turned gamekeeper might be one of the oldest plots in fiction, Kennaway gives it a good dust down in this modern yarn that’s also a murder mystery with a vast cast of hilarious animal characters. One of my top reads of 2012.

2) Flush by Virginia Woolf
Woolfy I always have thought took herself far too seriously and apparently was embarrassed by the immense popularity of this, her biography of Elizabeth Barratt Browning’s eponymous spaniel. Some say it’s a criticism of the unnaturalness of city life, but I wouldn’t know about that being a country boy, but anyway, it’s a book about a dog.

3) Timbuktu by Paul Auster
Ahh, Mr Auster, one of the Great American Writers, white, middle-class, middle-aged (well, getting on a bit now), this is definitely not one of his ardent fans’ favorites though it should be noted they are particularly susceptible to literary snobbery. I rather enjoyed this witty, sad saga from Mr Bones.

4) The Last Family in England by Matt Haig
“This country’s going to the dogs!” – sounds like Bob after one too ales many down The Ship of an evening but this was another dark and quirky tale of family life from Haig. Although I have to disagree with Prince’s pact: “Remain Loyal to Your Human Masters, Serve and Protect Your Family at Any Cost”. Every tortoise for himself I say.

5) Felidae by Akif Pirrinci
And just before you think it’s all about the canine, here’s a feline! Another anthromorphological murder mystery, this remarkable literary thriller from a German (Turkish born) writer was a best-seller back in its day – and so it should have been with Francis’ unquenchable thirst for knowledge and refusal to accept the banality of death. A cat after my reptilian heart.

6) Firmin by Sam Savage
Where there’s cats there’ll be rats! In this metropolitan adventure of a low-life our hungry protagonist is forced to eat books to survive (I’d go for a nice clump of grass any day) and discovers along with the paltry nourishment he has gained knowledge! Thank goodness for my encyclopaedic shell is all I can say.

7) White Fang by Jack London
This 1906 classic is free on kindle! (Click the cover to the left). This novel set in Canada’s about a wolf that becomes a dog – domesticated fool. It’s a companion novel and a thematic mirror (whatever that means) to London’s best known novel ‘The Call of the Wild’. Some good commentary on the violence of humans though; I liked it for that.

8) The London Pigeon Wars by Patrick Neate
Another funny murder story! We are most amusing us animals, you know. Set in London not by London this one features performance poetry, Trafalgar Square’s only fried-chicken induced battle, hat selling, bank robbery for the middle classes, love (and other social ailments); as well as pigeons – lots of crazed, angry thinking pigeons.

9) The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa
Set in contemporary Angola (I haven’t been there, but I’d like to) the charming, witty narrator is a reptile – just like me! Living in his house is a chap called Felix who sells pasts because, as I have often noted, not many humans like theirs and are wishing they could change them. Like the mentalist Dave Palmer who took over Bestwood and tried to dry himself out and exorcise all his demons. Hah! Fat chance of that.

10) Thirty Seconds Before Midnight by Helen J Beal
Which brings me nicely onto my personal favorite also featuring a charming and witty reptile narrator – ME! My name is Herbert and I am a giant land tortoise with a heritage in the Ecuadorian Galapagos archipelago. I tell you mine and Stella’s story in this book, which I was surprised to find myself, bears a great deal of resemblance to the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice. Thirty Seconds Before Midnight was published on December 1st 2012.

Further Reading – check out these lists on Listopia on Goodreads:
1) The Cat’s Meow
2) The Dog’s Eye View


Well hello there! This is my new blog launched in line with the announcement of the availability of my first three novels and a book of short stories – you can buy them from December 1st – and the short story collection – Half a Dozen Star Jumps – will be free as an ebook! Read more about my books here.

I will be accompanied initially on this blog by a protagonist from each of my first three novels (and more may join us in time):

– Herbert Trimble: the giant land tortoise who narrates much of the action in Thirty Seconds Before Midnight from Bestwood and the surrounding area, Herbert’s specialist subjects are zoology and evolution and film. You can also be friends with Herbert on Facebook – find him here.

– Melissa Lavender: the hedge-fund trader from Rich in Small Things, a gambler and an adventurer; her specialist subjects are poker, botany and being green. Be friends with Melissa on Facebook.

– Rachel Lassetter: the failed biochemist and super-yacht stewardess who spent most of Riding a Tiger aboard and captive off the coast of Somalia; her specialist subjects are reading, travel and Scrabble. Rachel is very gregarious and would love to be your friend.

We thought we’d kick off with a rather lovely short film of a murmuration – a flock of starlings – that inspired the ending of one of the scenes in the first chapter of Riding a Tiger. Enjoy!

Murmuration from Islands & Rivers on Vimeo.