From Hook to Book

Archive for the tag “Ventura Press”

No Small Shame – Ta Da! A Cover!

I am so excited to be able to reveal the beautiful cover for my novel No Small Shame due for release 1 April 2020. Set in Australia, in the last chaotic days of WW1, Mary O’Donnell, a young Scottish immigrant must make an impossible choice that will change her life forever. No Small Shame is a tale of love and duty, loyalty and betrayal, and confronting the past before you can seek a future.

Ventura Press (Impact Press) and Christabella Designs have created such a beautiful cover! When I was initially sent three design concepts for my feedback, this one was the Ventura team’s pick and it quickly became my favourite too.

But first, I printed out the three cover designs, cut them to size and blu-tacked them onto three published books, of similar page lengths, to get a real feel for how they might look. I left the books lying around on the kitchen bench, the kitchen table, the coffee table and my desk, to test them out, but my eye just kept being drawn to the image of the bed, the beautiful wallpaper so evocative of the era, the crooked holy picture. Plus the suggestion had been made that a tear or crack could be added to the wallpaper. Combined with the title No Small Shame, it conjured so many questions and possibilities for the story. And that was for me, the author, who already knew exactly what the story was about! Of course, at the time, each of the three designs were only concepts and all needed tweaking: fonts, sizes, colours, etc.

Well, you can see the fabulous end result. I couldn’t be happier! And I’m thrilled to have already received some really positive feedback on social media, along with people saying they can’t to read the book. I can’t wait either until No Small Shame is out in the world in April 2020.


No Small Shame – The Dreaded Edit

The dreaded round one edit for my novel wasn’t so bad! After all!

I wasn’t sure what to expect for my first novel-length edit. My previously published work has either been short fiction for children that I can truthfully say had very few changes made to the words, or short stories published in anthologies and literary magazines that were all edited in-house with no input from me. So I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than that the publisher had said that the manuscript didn’t require a full structural edit.

I was still a tad nervous before the files arrived. What if the freelance editor had different ideas? What if she wanted major changes? What if she didn’t get my book? What if she hated it? You know the type of paranoid writer thoughts fuelled by an over-zealous imagination.

Well the editor’s files duly did arrive. A huge sigh of relief could be heard as I read her report. There were some lovely words expressed ie: compelling narrative; strong protagonist, distinctive voice; highly engaging; nuanced view of human frailty, complexity of character etc. All wonderful positives to read and very reassuring to a debut novelist.

The editor provided a structural analysis and made some suggestions for better establishing some of the settings ie: where they were located in relation to other places, the mileage and time distances etc.

I also needed to do some more work on a couple of the minor characters to give ‘a stronger sense of who they are—both independently’ of my main character ‘and outside of their narrative function’. Though this involved careful thought, words-wise it only really entailed adding a few lines apiece, but these truly made a difference and either brought in or strengthened existing character traits or backstory in subtle but important ways.

I then had to tackle the issue of my ‘unwieldy syntax’. As mentioned in a previous post, the voice of my novel is distinctive and my unwieldy syntax the narrative style. But, along with the editor, I do want the prose to be readable. So a delicate dance ensued where I had to make some tricky decisions, to simplify or not to simplify. In many cases, I rewrote the sentence. Hopefully it will still be highly readable and yet still retain its unique voice.

Though I know my edit was not overly onerous as many edits can reportedly be, and I was very fortunate to be given a very reasonable deadline, being a bit on the conscientious side, I took my full allotted time to get it back. And, because I’m running behind in keeping up with my blog posts on this last intense leg of the journey From Hook to Book, before I could blog about the first round edit, the second round arrived.

It was all very straightforward. For me, the hard part was sending it back once it was done. The terror of knowing that once I pressed send, it was gone and unchangeable. The next time I would see the manuscript, it would be typeset and at proofreading stage. I would then not be permitted to make any changes unless they were true errors. Terrifying! Of course, I met the round two deadline, but I didn’t press send until the very last day!

And then I promptly got sick. A bug I couldn’t beat and a cough that wouldn’t go for six whole weeks. So I guess the edit was more stressful on me than I’d thought.

I learned so much through the process though, particularly the fascinating difference it made in adding some tiny details that expanded my minor characters and gave a deeper insight into their backstories in such small but significant ways. We writers are so blessed to have editors.

Now back to work. Guess what’s just arrived – yep, the proofread round. I know I’m going to have to sit on my hands and fight the urge to fiddle, unless I find a real, actual error.

But it’s all happening and getting so exciting! The book is in sight.

Stay tuned for a cover reveal. It’s going to be any day now!

A Change of Book Title and A Change of Author Name!

Well the book part of the journey From Hook to Book is coming real now. Lots has been happening of late.

Quite fortuitously, an overseas trip – May/June – meant I didn’t have time to fret over what the first round of edits on my manuscript might reveal. Sadly for the editor, who became ill, but fortunately for me, the edits arrived a few days later than originally scheduled, giving me time to recover from both my travels and jetlag.

I was much relieved to discover when the edit did arrive that it was not going to be half so onerous as I’d begun to imagine. Lots of wonderful feedback and suggestions. The novel though is written in a unique voice and, it seems, often ‘unwieldy syntax’. (I did know this, however the syntax is a big part of what makes the ‘unique’ voice of the novel.) So I’m sure it was quite a challenge for the editor to have to balance the fine line between readability and messing with the voice. It was a slow process for me to interrogate every one of the suggested language changes, several times, to ensure that the voice did not become inconsistent. It was quite a give and take operation. (And I mean me agreeing, then switching back to the original and sometimes back again.)

Now that the first round edit has been returned, from what I can tell, between the manuscript, the editor and the fabulous team at Ventura/Impact Press, I think it’s going to be alright. In fact, the book may even turn out to be pretty damn good!

So onwards to the next stage, (before round two edits arrive). This next stage firstly entails a change of title. My novel has been called The Swing Tree for a very long time, so when a change of title was flagged, it was a tad disappointing even though I’d always known it was a possibility. However, I totally understand and appreciate the publishers’ reasoning behind the need for the change. I won’t explain the whys and wherefores and give away too much about the story, but I quickly came around to the publishers favoured choice, No Small Shame. This title was ‘stolen’ (in their words) from one of my chapter titles and I now agree No Small Shame is quite catchy.

It’s wonderful to hear a new perspective and to have fresh eyes that know the market.

Which brings me to the next big but small change: my author name. I’ve often wondered when it came time to publish my adult titles, should I do so under Chris or Christine Bell. Back when I was first published, as a writer for children, it was considered better for me to publish as the ambiguous ‘Chris’, as boys (who were often my main characters too) were reluctant to read female authors. I’m not sure whether that’s still a thing in children’s publishing, but today it’s important and necessary to stand tall as a woman writer. Ventura Press, my publisher, are a feminist press and ‘love to champion female authors and female voices.’ They too thought it would be great to put Christine Bell on the cover. I’m totally happy and up for the change. I think it will translate better visually on a book cover too. I just hope I don’t ignore the speaker or think I’m in trouble when someone new talks to me in the writing world as, usually, I’ve only ever been called Christine when I’m in trouble. I answer to many things, Chris, Kitty, Chrissie, but Christine will be a new part of my journey From Hook to Book.

Since I don’t have a cover to reveal quite yet, I’ll share a few favourite pics from my recent trip instead.

Ps: OMG! Did you know you can walk on the rooftops of the Milan Duomo?



The Journey From Hook to Book

From Hook to Book – Yes, indeed!

Well almost! A book is on the way!!!

My adult historical novel, The Swing Tree, is to be published by Impact Press (an imprint of Ventura Press) in March 2020.

It’s been a big journey from hook to the book.

Several more years ago than I like to admit, I signed up for a Year of the Novel course through the then Victorian Writers Centre (now Writers Vic). I had an idea for a contemporary novel set in China, where I’d lived and worked for several months a couple of years before. The book was to be from an Australian expat teacher’s perspective and my first attempt at a novel since my Prof Writing course.

Around this same time, I was trying to put together a family tree and decided I should find out more about where my forebears came from and why. I never got further than one branch of the family, because…

Well, I’ll try to keep a long story brief. My great-grandparents originally came from Belfast in Ireland. My great-grandfather, John McConaghy, came home from the Boer War to a quiet house and a grieving wife. His three baby daughters all dead and buried from maladies to which many infants succumbed in the slums of the Falls Road. With no work to be had, in 1901, John and Mary, my great-grandmother, immigrated to Scotland to the Lanarkshire pit village of Bothwellhaugh to join John’s brothers in the Hamilton Palace Colliery. Though to the best of my knowledge, John had no prior experience mining coal. Within short time another babe was on the way – my grandmother, Alice. Two sisters followed. But in the interim another sister and brother were born and died within months of the dreaded gastroenteritis or bronchitis. Again the rate of infant mortality was extreme and somewhat inevitable as the family lived, at different times, in two of the poorest rows – Store Place and The Square. One room for the entire family with no indoor plumbing but plenty of mould and rising damp.

Not a fit environment to live and thrive and so in 1912 John answered the call of immigration posters from Australia promising sunshine, good jobs and cheap nominated passages.

My great-grandfather came out to Australia first on the SS Makarini accompanied by several other families from the village. Their destination – the new State Coal Mine in Wonthaggi. Six months later, on nominated passages, Mary and their three surviving daughters embarked on the SS Hawkes Bay out of Tilbury.

From the moment I walked the heritage trail at the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine, touched the old miners’ tokens, viewed the old film footage and faded photographs, it sounds a bit soft to say, but I heard a whisper. There’s a story here. There’s a story here. There’s a story here. And it would not be quieted. Not even once back in our 21st century automobile with the radio blaring on the journey home.

Over the following weeks, instead of working on my new novel, as I should’ve been doing for my course, I was web surfing and taking steam ship voyages in tiny cabins by candescent lighting and discovering everything I could about pit villages in Scotland. Bothwellhaugh, a tiny dot on the map in 1912 when my family left, had long since been demolished as had so many pit villages when the mines closed and the tenement rows made way for modern housing, or in Bothwellhaugh’s case a new country park. The more I read and discovered, the more the life entranced me. (Probably because I didn’t have to live it.) Then, in the quiet of my research, Mary showed up. My novel’s protagonist – a young woman on the brink of immigrating too – oddly enough.

My real-life family flew under the radar, had no grand story to tell. They left no mark on history, no diaries or letters or place to begin. Except in my imagination. But it seemed Mary had a life and a plan of her own and her story began to grow. But how could I give her breath… I was halfway through my YOTN course and faced with a dilemma. Or so I thought. Until the night I grumped over dinner that I really wanted to be writing Mary’s story and researching Wonthaggi, Bothwellhaugh and steamship voyages, and not the novel I’d started. Then my husband asked matter-of-factly, ‘Why don’t you just write the novel you want to write. It’s your choice, isn’t it?’

Well, yes. It was my choice. And ironic, since the novel growing in my mind was so much about choices and how one choice can change a life forever. In that moment I made mine.

I switched projects and Mary’s story began in earnest. As did the work of learning to write an historical novel. A work of length when, previously, I’d written mostly short works of fiction for children and one contemporary YA novel.

As I fell in love with my characters, the era and the history, it came to me that I’d loved and read historical fiction my whole life. So really it was a no-brainer to write it. It only surprised me that I hadn’t thought of it before!

There was a lengthy period of time – mid-journey – where I set the manuscript aside to write another book while I worked out what to do with what had become a very unwieldy work-in-progress. Neither a full-on literary novel, nor a commercial novel, it crossed the genres of both. Young protagonist with adult problems! Which way to proceed? But that’s a whole other story!

I’m just delighted that the publisher loves the story too and I can’t wait to share the physical book with everyone next March. But first, there’s more rounds of editing and lots of exciting publishing things ahead like cover and book design, and reveals, marketing and a launch to plan.

Stay tuned…

ps: From the length of this blog, you can understand why the book took so long!


Small disclaimer: The photo above of the tenement rows in Bothwellhaugh is taken many years later than my story is set, but offers a glimpse of the life.

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