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The Story Behind My Fave 5Senses Story

It’s subjective, I know. But my most favourite of all my five stories in the Falling into the Five Senses anthology is ‘The Diamond Taster’.

It is, obviously, my story about taste, or rather, the sense of taste. Originally, I was stumbling my way something very different. A much more orthodox story that I can’t even really remember any more. I know it was going to feature my favourite spice cardamom in some way – and I know this because I couldn’t find my jar of cardamom and had to buy another one.

In the end, the new jar of cardamom wasn’t needed for my ‘taste’ story. Because I picked my copy of Neil Gaiman’s View from the Cheap Seats. It is a collection of his non-fiction writings – his introductions, prefaces, reflections, papers presented, thank you speeches and anecdotes – about other authors, about comic books, interviews, writing and other things. I dip into this book frequently. Pick it up, pick up a random page and read. It will always be interesting.

For my ‘taste’ story, it also proved to be inspiring. Again, I can’t remember exactly what I read in View from the Cheap Seats. I honestly don’t think it was anything in particular. I think I was just inspired by the vibe – by how effortlessly and magically Gaiman seems to wield words. I was inspired to turn my back on a plodding idea and to find something magical, bold, different.

I started with the words which are still near the start The Diamond Taster.

Facts, rumours and outright fictions followed Mr Glass like the magnificent tails of sparks and lights attached to the giant clockwork peacocks in Hyde Park – bright, fast and ever-changing.

It was said that he travelled to London on the airship, Regine Roua, (first-class, of course) from Prague (via Berlin and Paris); that he travelled light, with only one carpet bag with a design of tessellated geometric flowers in black and white; that he spoke the languages of the countries he was in; that he carried a cane which held a compass; and that he wore a traveller’s cape the colour of dried blood. These can be accepted as essentially factual statements.

There were other, more colourful reports about his immediate actions upon arrival. He traversed London via an unauthorised single-person gyro-copter. He dined on bowlfuls of eels and artichokes and drank only Astigone’s Absinthe Elixirs. He booked out the entire top floor of Abbess Ermentrude’s Turquoise Salon for days at a time. He garrotted numerous (the number kept increasing) nameless persons in back alleys. These reports remained unconfirmed.

I had no idea what the story was going to be about, or where the story would go. Even my style is different – flippant. It had to be flippant in tone otherwise it would slide into earnestness and that would kill any progress right there.

I don’t know why, but I started slipping in hints of steampunk. A little sliver of magic glowed beneath my fingertips. Grab the magic (but do it flippantly). Did I know much about anything steampunky? Nope. But it felt right. Keep going. I gave Mr Glass, Diamond Taster, hints of a most wonderful back story, that I want to come back to and explore more one day.

I built a moment in time in a story, in a flippant-unlike-me style I loved. Now I just needed to turn it into a story.

I struggled.

I couldn’t just describe the scenes in the moment in the story. I needed something like a climax. Or an ending. I re-wrote the beginning. Several times. I chucked it aside. This was a fun side-writing inspiration-diven thing, and I really liked it, but it wasn’t a story. I re-dipped into View from the Cheap Seats. Again, whatever piece I landed on convinced me to keep going. Magic. Find magic. Make Magic. It wasn’t going anywhere on the screen. I started scribbling on paper. Did I need to include a snippet of his childhood? Ye-es. Did I want to? Ye-es. Was it necessary to building a full story. I don’t know. Did it go at the beginning? I. Don’t. Know. Did it need someone else? Ye-es. Where and when should they come into the story? Dunno. Ooh, I liked this new character. Keep it, but where? And how? Did I need to start with their backstory? OMG, I DON’T KNOW I DON’T KNOW I DON’T KNOW.

I persevered.

I remember when I hit the thing that made the story become a story with an ending. I was in the kitchen perched on the edge of a chair, scribbling on a hard copy on my knees. (No sitting formally at the screen. That would kill the flippancy). I remember how I punched the air with a delighted grin.

I had my ending. I could now re-work the beginning and slip in the bits and moments to get my ending just right. I knew which backstory bits to keep and which ones couldn’t stay. I slipped into attempts at pretty descriptions of the backdrop.

In many ways, the story is the start of a story. But I love that about it too.

It is the one story I will unashamedly say I’m very proud of (modesty be damned!). It started and stayed so far away from my usual way of writing that it could so easily have been left to wither far from home. Instead, I found magic in it!

If you want to read it – and all the other awesome stories in the anthology – you can grab it here.

Uncovering the 5Senses Cover

This is the story behind the Falling into the Five Senses cover. I will unashamedly say that I made this cover, and that I love it and I’m very proud of it.

Falling into the Five Senses jpeg cover_final2

When I very first had the idea for the #5Senses project, I knew I also wanted to do the cover for it. I have … let’s call them aspirations towards doing visual-arty things. And doing the cover sounded fun and absolutely in line with what a DIY collaborative writing project should be about. But, by the time the writing part of the project was being wrapped up, the shoestring budget made a DIY cover a necessity.

The prospect of doing the cover suddenly became a whole lot more daunting. Especially as I began researching DIY cover-makers and advice on eye-catching cover designs. The recurring advice was invariably ‘if you can afford it, do not DIY your cover. Get a professional cover designer’. I have seen some fabulously-wonky and amateurish designs. I knew what the dangers were – including the giant danger of me being an utter beginner at photoshop.

Here is my (long) timeline of steps towards the final cover:

I know I want to have a face on the cover. A face represents the 5Senses more obviously and more eloquently than anything else I can think of. So, a face – and a hand for touch, obviously – it is. I visualise a photo collage assembled from different people’s features. Although… there are potentially-messy copyright issues tied up in using other people’s images.  Ooooh, maybe I could use the 5Senses’ collaborators’ faces? (But most of the 5Senses collaborators were a bit shy – or very sensible – about sending in photos of themselves to be butchered by a photoshop amateur.)

Maybe I should try drawing a face that I then turn into a jagged-edge, photo collagey effect. *Tries it* … The result?

face2 v3

Yeah, no, try again. Really, really try again. (Actually, the main thing I like about this is how I drew the hand. The hand was good.)

I turn to a lovely cousin of mine, who works in the digital art and photography space. She very generously agrees to help. She does a photoshoot with a friend of hers, Francesca Verga, and then begins composing the cover in photoshop using my vague, not-yet-thought-out guidelines as her only guide. When it becomes clear, I don’t quite know what I want or how I want it to look, she is not the least bit annoyed and gently says she can’t afford to put more time aside on my project and instead offers to send me all the raw photoshop files, including the individual .psd layers, and all the raw photos from the photoshoot just in case I can use them. No, she laughs, she doesn’t want any credit. I do abide by her no-credit wishes, but I give her all the credit in the world in my Acknowledgements at the end of the book.

So now I have a huge collection of raw photos. And although I still can’t photoshop, I can use PaintShopPro (PSP) without ripping my hair out of my scalp. Now, excrutiatingly slowly, I start to make progress. I find a couple of images that I run filters and effects over until the photos finally, vaguely, begin to resemble the vague idea I have in mind’s eye.

How to compile and layer them? There are ways to do this in PSP, but I’m not an expert. I have no idea even I’m even working with a doc that’s close to the correct size/resolution. I’m playing it safe and using a very large doc, so that the resolution will be high when compressed, but still. I know there are things called cover creators. Again, more online research. Buy this program, download that, pirouette eleventeen times at dawn while only facing the north, and other awkward options are on offer. Gah. Then I return to canva.com. Apologies for sounding like an ad, but it is a very easy platform to use. Free to sign up, get started, user-friendly and instant results. I start with some of their free book cover templates, just playing with ideas, fonts and colours. The layering bit, which is such a headache in PSP is easy in Canva. I use their templates, footle around with fonts, positioning of images and backgrounds.

On my second attempt, I get my first prototype of the lady’s-half-face-plus-hand-superimposed-on-water cover. I knock it out in 15 minutes one morning before Little One has woken up and before I get ready for work. My first thought is: ‘it looks professional!‘ It honestly looks like something you might see on a bookshop shelf. This is my first moment of confirmation in the whole cover-attempt process. This hasn’t been a completely nutty idea. I do have an idea and I’m starting to get there and the cover will look professional(-ish).

early cover draft 5senses antho

Then I over-think the female-half-face-plus-hand on the whole cover approach on the basis it seems like a popular idea that is already well-used. I play around with a polaroid idea. I use Canva to add a couple of extra interesting layers to the face in the polaroid. Then I try arranging several polaroids of varying degrees of transparency into a ‘Falling’ pattern. At this point, I’m hopping between PaintShopPro and Canva and am hoping I’m saving all the different layers and steps separately as I go – it’s a bit hard to keep track.

5senses_polaroid eg

5senses_falling polaroid eg

Then I over-think using the stock Canva water background of the prototype cover. I don’t own the image of the water. What are the copyright and ownership issues in using a Canva-provided piece of art, especially for use in a piece of work which is commercial/ for-profit? The internet hums and haws and is doubtful. I decide not to risk it. I have my own water and ocean photos, taken with my good camera (i.e., not my camera phone). I set out to scour through these. But… it transpires in a fit of organisational neatness, I removed the photos from my camera’s memory and put them all on my external hard drive. The same external hard drive that has been so carefully packed away since we moved, that I don’t actually know where it is. (Aaaaarrrgh!)

I set my jaw metaphorically. I will make my background. Create one. From scratch. Again, hello, PaintShopPro, my old friend. I try various paintbrush settings. I find one that seems to work. I use the midnight blue colours I’m regularly drawn to. I come up with a slow graduation of midnight blue. I step back to look at the overall effect. There are suggestions of misty canyons near dusk blended in with night skies. Or they could be ideas of ocean songs at night. A few tiny – and lucky – lines of moonlight blue look as though I put them there on purpose.

background blue v1

I layer my face images against this background. Yes, but the background is a bit too… subdued.

I play with the hue settings. I can’t remember what combination of hue settings I use, but after several attempts (at least twelve attempts, going by various shades I saved), the midnight blue shades transform into the most beautiful, most perfect lagoon-esque shades of aqua, blue and teal. Cue the chorus of angel songs. Save it! Save it! Save it! It doesn’t seem to be a hugely popular colour in the vast stable of cover colours. And it’s a perfect lagoon and ocean colours to complement the ‘Falling’ title! Plus, you know, I’m an island girl who grew up with lagoons. Background achieved!

background blue v5

Next, I paralyse myself trying to decide which face design option to go with. I’m drawn more towards the larger, half-face-with-hand. But the falling polaroid is more full, it’s more clearly suggestive of the 5Senses and the ‘Falling’. And I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get the falling polaroids to fall just right.

Maria Carvalho, co-collaborator, co-contributor, co-editor, and the primary reason the anthology got finished, does an informal market survey amongst her network. She even switches the images around mid-survey to account for ‘first image bias’ (oh yes, dear reader, I learnt a big lesson there too!). The end result is too close to call. They are both well-received. I follow suit in my network, and again, the feedback is too close to call.

I end my prevaricating and go with the polaroid cover. My head says firmly it’s the best one. Decision done.

Some two weeks before the ebook goes live, I change my mind and I go with my heart. As you do. Decision again. This time, the correct one.

Falling into the Five Senses jpeg cover_final2

Oh. Obligatory plug on where you can buy the book – you know, if the cover actually makes you curious about the stories inside 😉

Falling into the Five Senses

Falling into the Five Senses jpeg cover_final2

This was the marketing tagline we went with:
Five stories each.
Four authors.
Three continents.
Two editors.
One anthology.

But there were other variations too, which worked just as well:
Five senses
Four authors
Three years
Two editors
One antho

Yes. This collaborative anthology project was three years in the making. Three whole years. Probably a bit longer, to be honest. That’s the same length of time it takes to write a doctoral thesis (apparently).

It took two years to write our stories, beta-read and work and re-work edits, and then the project lay fallow for many moons, while a certain project initiator went off to have a baby and change states and jobs and generally get all distracted. Then, after a few frantic weeks of pushing all the various elements around to get them to fall into place, the anthology launched into the world as an ebook on 31 October 2019 and as a print book on 25 November 2019.

I’ll blog some reflections about the many behind-the-scenes processes of self-publishing the anthology. A sort of Lessons Learnt mixed in with Remembering the Magic along the way.

And if you want to, feel free to grab a copy of the anthology on the way through 🙂