Friday, 28 March 2014

Caravaggio's Angel - Available Now!

It's May 2006 and there I was, in the overwhelmingly ornate setting of St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, gazing around at totally over-the-top Baroque baroqueness, at paintings of holy knights with cynical eyes, of saints like wise and grizzled old men, and angels resembling pretty pudgy-faced teens without the acne, and a What If sneaked into my head.

What If one of those long ago artists - Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio, perhaps - saw an angel whose features were so far away from his accepted norm of male beauty he had to paint them.

What If, centuries later, a man - let's call him Paul - inherited that painting.

What If Paul saw a passing stranger in a crowd and that man had the exact same face?

It took a while before I fashioned the What If into a story, but that was the initial spark of an idea that eventually became Caravaggio's Angel, and this is the face that Caravaggio and Paul saw:

The unknown model hadn't been the plump-faced pretty androgyne so often featured in Caravaggio's work. By the standards of male beauty in the artist's time, the man was not handsome. But the proud-boned features framed in a shoulder-length tangle of black hair were real. Eyes so blue their color seared, gazed from beneath frowning brows arched like a falcon's wing. The level glare was fixed on a point above the viewer's line of sight, and Paul always fancied he could read accusation there. Why did you allow this… The full, perfectly shaped mouth was set in anger and sorrow. In his clenched fists he held a cream-colored robe, splashed with blood. Gilded by diffused light, wings of iridescent black feathers were mantled, protecting the robe or whoever had worn it.

This was no adoring angel, soulful and acquiescent to God's will. That fierce gaze challenged as well as mourned.

~ * ~

A seventeenth-century artwork, a portfolio of canvases and a gorgeous man no one seems to notice— Add in a jealous brother and a scheming stranger, and Paul has inherited trouble.

On General Release April 25th.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Great Cover Hunt

Limestone Cliffs of Malta

I've been cover-photo hunting. My two main sources are the Royalty Free site, Dreamstime, and my own photo files - of which I have far too many. This is the woman who, on her first visit to Malta, took a sea cruise around the island and photographed three-quarters of the coastline. If my new camera's battery hadn't run out, I'd've recorded the whole of it. The limestone strata of cliffs and caves and tiny inlets were fascinating… *Ahem* sorry - I digress. By the way, if you click on the pic you'll see a larger version...

A Manifold Cover by Fiona Pickles
Over the years, I've been amazingly lucky with my covers - or rather, my cover artists. Notably Reese Dante, Meredith Russell, and now Totally Bound's Posh Gosh. Then there are the distinctive and stylish covers designed by Fiona Pickles for my titles with Manifold Press. Because, let's face it, Covers Are Important.

A cover needs to catch the eye, reel in the potential buyer close enough for them to read the blurb - the bait and the hook [do I have to mention how much I, as a writer, struggle with those blurbs?].

Of course, there's sometimes an added complication. It's a fact of life that certain models are very popular and frequently turn up on other people's covers. I've occasionally had to regretfully turn away from what would have been the perfect set of features, to carry on the search.

A Kouros Books Cover by Meredith Russell

When it comes to my self-published titles under the Kouros Books label, Meredith Russell has created most of them. Others, where I've been able to find the perfect photo which didn't need any additional tweaking other than the title and my name in a generic font, I've made myself. That helps to keep the costs down, as it's always a gamble as to whether a rereleased book will sell enough to cover its expenses. But that bullet has to be bitten and every book, regardless of how many times it's relaunched into the unsuspecting world, deserves the best cover you can devise by whatever means.

My DIY Cover from a Dreamstime Photo

If you're lucky enough to find the image that perfectly reflects the story you've written, the way I did for my ghost story, The Camerman's Tale, then you count your blessings and buy it.
Of course, browsing through all those photos on Dreamstime has another purpose. Inspiration. There's far more on there - and the other Royalty Free sites - than just[!] a handsome face and rippling pecs. There are mystical places, atmospheric and beautiful places, fine animals, mythical beasts, other worlds and galaxies. You never know what scene, what face, will start a whole pack of plot ideas.

My own photo of Antinous

Sunday, 2 March 2014

A Special Place...

Hagar Qim Neolithic Temple
Malta first appeared on my horizon in books on the archaeology of the Mediterranean. Some of the oldest Neolithic temples yet discovered are there, including the Hypogeum, an underground ritual complex unparalleled anywhere in the world.  

Upper Barrakka Gardens and Bastion
Then I discovered Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles, a series of sweeping historical novels. One, The Disorderly Knights, was largely set on Malta, and played against the background of the Great Siege, when the Ottoman Empire besieged the Knights Hospitallers of St John. That was it for me. Not only was I hooked on Lymond, that flawed and fascinating character, I was also snared by Malta itself and the breathtaking spread of unbroken history of the tiny collection of islands.

Foyer of Asti Guest House

So, when I decided to spend part of my retirement lump sum on travel, Malta was right at the top of my list. An online search found the Asti Guest House, what looked to be a cheap and cheerful B&B on Valletta's St Ursula Street. Air Malta had a good deal on flights, so despite my deep fear of flying, I was off.

Old Yellow bus

Malta turned out to be everything I’d dreamed of, and more. Valletta, Marsaxlokk, Rabat and Mdina captivated me. The old, mostly individually owned and run yellow buses seemed to be held together by paint, rosaries and prayers, were driven with insouciant disregard for the mostly unsurfaced roads and other road users, and the Maltese were unfailingly cheerful and friendly.


When I returned to Malta the next year, walking through the gate in Valletta’s massive walls was like coming home. That was my last visit for some years. I went back for a third time in November 2012, to find some changes. By now Malta was part of the EU, the yellow buses had been replaced by a fleet of Arriva buses, some the bendy sub-species, and were in a rather drab blue and white livery, and most of the roads were surfaced. But the magic still remained. It still felt as if I was returning to a familiar and much loved place. I'll be going back, needless to say, when I can afford it and when I can screw up enough courage to walk onto a plane...

Marsaxlokk Harbour
Apologies for a travelogue of a post, I could rave for a long time about Malta. I'll spare the reader my overenthusiastic burblings, and just say that plot ideas leapt out at every corner. One of them was inspired by Caravaggio's paintings in the Oratory of St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta. The title appeared at the same time—Caravaggio's Angel. It took another six years for me to start working on the idea, over a year to finally finish, polish and submit it. Now, just short of eight years later, Caravaggio's Angel is to be released this month by Totally Bound.

It can be preordered from March 18th, will be available on their website on March 28th, and on general release from April 25th. Link HERE

 To finish up, if you want to visit Malta, and would like to stay in a basic and scrupulously clean B&B in an old Maltese house, I recommend the Asti GH. If you want something less basic, then try the Castille Hotel - it used to be a palace!