Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Queen’s Oranges- A Cover! A story in Itself!

Good day to my growing legion of devoted readers.  First off, before we start this instalment of Red Ned’s Tudor blog, I would once more like you to take a moment to continue to think of those around the world undergoing threat or privation.  Disasters happen, and then all too soon our attention is drawn away by some other media event.  However the effects of the Japanese Tsunami and the continuing spread of nuclear radiation contamination doesn’t vanish when you change channels.  I ask you that if it is possible please donate or support a local/international charity of your choice.


Now on to the latest Red Ned news!  The Liberties of London novella is now almost across the complete internet spectrum firstly here at Smashwords, then secondly via their affiliate program through Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Diesel so far.  According to their updates, Kobo and Android will soon follow, with Sony, and Apple lagging a tad.  Right now you can acquire this (‘ahem’ to quote Lady Dellingham) magnificent piece of Tudor period fiction for the trifling amount of 99c!  In the meantime it is definitely available on Amazon Kindle at this link.  For those of you who have continued to ask for a hard copy, sorry, I fear that will still have to be much, much later this year.  But thank you for your interest.

Now on to the second book in the Red Ned Series—The Queen’s Oranges.  Within the next few days it will be live on Amazon and I will attach the link to this blog page.  In the meantime I thought we’d look at the cover art process for this novel.  In keeping with the theme of the last book, The Liberties of London, we have used a composition of the story elements.  I believe this is much better than the headless bimbo theme currently in vogue for almost every piece of historical fiction.  A wonderful article on that theme can be found here or my satirical version on Prognostications and Pouting.  As inspiration we’ve looked towards the wonderful early Dutch still life paintings of the mid 16th to 17th century.  As you can see in Claesz’s Still Life with Overturned Jug, Glass of Beer, and Food, an oil on canvas painted in 1635,it is fantastically full of life and colour. 
 Now after all that lofty discussion and inspiration we return the humdrum of real life. It came time for us to get the work done.  As Indies we have only our own resources to draw upon.  Though rich in talent and in theory, wealthy in experience, we have only the most basic tools available for graphics.  Thus improvisation is … well for us it is everything as you shall soon read.

Plan the First
Alex was to colour his excellent pen and ink sketch in Photoshop via the wonderful graphics tablet his loving parents had scrimped and saved for.  Well two weeks into this process and next to nothing had happened.  Alex, it seemed, had vastly overestimated his skills in Photoshop illustration, and fearing the undoubted wrath of his enraged parents, (here read me), had stayed silently reticent on his progress (read here very, very little).  The final editing was in its last flurry and we were almost ready to put it all together and…we had nothing, no maps, no cover and only the pen and ink sketch.  At this stage you can understand my hair pulling which achieved new levels of exasperation as soon as I discovered that Alex had also packed his not–so–well laptop so full of…ahh teenage stuff that only the odd miniscule kilobyte had room to squeeze through and run the poor thing.

A peremptory instruction finally had Alex grumblingly burn all his …ahh stuff onto a box full of discs.  Apparently he’d been under the impression that the magic backup fairy in size seven and a half boots (again once more you should read me here) was going to wave his wand and it would all be solved.  Not this time! 
All that took yet another day. Then four hours later the battery on Alex’s laptop, having staggered gamely along seriously depleted, promptly keeled over.  For its effort we awarded it a posthumous VC for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.
So after all this we were still up that infamous creek with only the very beginnings of a sketch of a paddle.  The editing had been finished but we lacked the essentials for an ebook, i.e. cover and maps.  At this stage Lady Fortuna cast us her smile Alex’s way, and a spare mint condition netbook with all the required programs was offered for use.  Well actually it was given to Alex to use by the school and it was dragooned immediately into service.  At last we had a graphics program, now for the maps et al.

Plan the Second
Initially Alex being a teenager wanted to use Google maps and then snapshot, filter, overlay, highlight, colourize and…well I’m sure you get the drift.  His ‘client’ felt this would result in another very long exercise where much play and fiddling on the netbook programs could ensure little actual progress.  The ‘client’ then made an executive decision and curtly instructed the following ‘get a pencil and a pad and draw the damned thing off the screen!  That process took less than an hour, and within two days after a ‘little’ further supervision and checking, we had scanned the excellent inked final versions ready for use. 

Now for the vexing problem of the cover.  Meg had offered to colourise the pen and ink and for a little while this was tempting.  She does have outstanding skill with colour as you can see in this example.  However we were still stumped for a cover.  Then as inspiration does, it struck in the strangest of circumstances.  At three in the morning I suddenly woke up with a Eureka moment.  Photograph an arranged still life and then Photoshop it.  Yes it could work!  I explained my idea to my dearest Uber editor, who to my chagrin was firstly already awake, and secondly had sketched out the idea on the back of an envelope about ten minutes earlier.

Plan the Third
A photographic studio was not at hand, so once more it was time to improvise.  The laundry (a rather small room on the eastern side of the house) was the least cluttered and had the whitest walls for light reflection.  So this was cleared and my Turkish carpet was tapped to the wall and draped over the freezer to provide a setting similar to that in Holbein’s Ambassadors.  Then a quick search of our re enactment gear pulled up a turned ash bowl, a Tudor period style pewter tankard and my twist pattern long dagger.  All this was artfully arranged as I said earlier to match the style of an early Dutch still life.  Easy, just go mad with the camera at variety of angles and light levels, a piece of cake!
Well no it wasn’t quite.  All this activity and moving carpets around had naturally attracted the interest and attention of our cats, who it transpired all wanted to help and none were so keen or so ‘helpful’ as my muse Myrtle.  Every couple of shots we had to pause and lift off cats, rescue other cats from knocked off daggers, stop them from climbing up their new vertical play gym (my carpet) and so on. 

In the end we had some hundred shots to pick from, and on the advice of my Uber editor two were selected for treatment via basic effects on Photoshop. 
As with every stage of this ‘simple’ project we ran into another snag.  The font we’d used for title upon the cover for The Liberties of London was perfect for this.  However it was currently locked away in Alex’s hors d’ combat laptop.  Now did desperation take hold and Alex was ‘requested’ to search through whatever options were available to him as to text styles.  The result was four choices.  One was discarded pretty quickly as way too modern while the other three scrutinised for both period character and also importantly legibility.  After a quick post around to a few of our beta readers one stood out as the most favoured and the winner is…

All that process is for now concluded, but we feel that the still life theme is worth continuing, so we will field some preliminary ideas for our up coming novels The Trade of the Thames and The King’s Counsel both to be released towards Fall.

In the meantime, as a shameless self publicist, check out my Tudor frolic The Liberties of London.  Download a sample.  If you like it splurge that 99c and help support ‘indie’ authors so that we, the crafters and wordsmiths, can directly supply you the reader with the best fiction possible as soon as possible.
Regards Greg and in conclusion the shot we had to put in!

Still life with Myrtle

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