Location spotting for my next novel at Manly Beach

Manly, Sydney’s favourite seaside suburb, sits on its own peninsula with a harbour on one side and a surf beach on the other. The Victorian Gothic splendour of St Patrick’s Seminary looks down on an architectural mishmash of styles ranging through Art Deco to Federation to concrete brutal to plain eccentric.

Thousands of jolly day visitors munch their way along the Corso from the ferry wharf to the beach, oblivious to the alleys and dark corners behind the tourist strip. On hot summer nights when the family groups have gone home, the partygoers, boozers and out-of-town revellers take over.

Australia’s COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020 opened up corners of Manly I’d barely noticed. Hordes of joggers and cyclists – out for their one hour of exercise – forced me off the seafront into empty backs streets for my daily constitutional. But soon my meditative walks turned into location spotting for the novel I’m currently writing.

The Impeccables is set in Manly in 1978. Why? Well, the previous book in the series Bury me in Valletta ended with the main character Pierre Farag being exiled to Australia in 1975. I needed him to settle down for few years before he finds himself unwillingly involved with a clandestine right-wing group that aims to blow up the Opera House and stage a coup.

And I love a writing challenge: I couldn’t resist the idea of reconstructing the look and feel of the town where I came to live in 1978 – an era before iPhones and credit cards, when the seafront was lined with pre-war brown brick blocks of flats rather than swish seafront apartments.

I installed Pierre and his wife Zouzou in a run-down rented house. It’s in a made-up street called Rialto Close ‘in a muddle of walk-up brick apartment buildings and the backs of dry cleaners and TV rental shops, four streets away from Manly Beach.’ The name Rialto harks back to a former cinema in the Corso. The site is now occupied by a small shopping arcade, commemorated by the unglamorous Rialto Lane. My Rialto Close could be in any of half a dozen locations around the town, but wherever it is you’d probably spot a dumped sofa.

Meanwhile, I’ve been honing my skills in book design. Right now, you can get a paperback of Bury me in Valletta through Amazon in the US, but there’s a big freight charge and a long wait for Australian readers. So, I’ve produced an additional paperback version with Ingram Spark, which will be accessible through thousands of bookshops and libraries around the world. I was thrilled to receive the proof copy – excellent production values, and the interior all designed by me. I incorporated the lovely cover designed by Rachel Ainge for the ebook. This version will be on sale from December 1 2020.

Here’s a great Smashwords review of Bury me in Valletta from a reader in Scotland: ‘Gripping from beginning to the end. Brilliant book and great sequel to Cairo Mon Amour. When is the next book of Pierre Farag, Stuart?

Finally, all my books are going off discount this week except for Ash on the Tongue, which is now free on Smashwords here. The Impeccables will be released early in 2021

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Why I tore up my book cover

I’ve relaunched An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity on Kindle with a new cover. The evolution of the cover is a story in itself.

My working title for the book was Forty Apple Trees, the name of the house in the West of England where most of the third part takes place. The nameForty Apple Trees small hung around for so long that it stuck, and I asked my wife to paint the imagined cottage to incorporate into the cover. The version on the left was my favourite.

But some of my beta readers and writing friends thought the title was meaningless. I had to agree, and I spent a month throwing ideas around until I settled on Magenta Falling. They threw this one out too.  An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity hit me like a brick when I was out walking one day. It references a book written by one of my characters, An Englishman’s Guide to Fidelity. He’s a complete swine, by the way.

Being an expert on everything, I roughed up a sketch and asked my cover designer to see what she could do. Here’s the before and after:

original infidelity coverInfidelity website cover

 

 

 

 

 

But I’d miscalculated. First, the cuckold hand gesture seemed unknown to most people. I was asked a few times if the book was about heavy metal . Secondly, the subtitle a novel was a wasted opportunity to add a hook; it obviously wasn’t a cookbook! And despite it being a lovely cover, it lacked impact compared to others in the marketplace.

AEGTI 2016 coverA year or so later I went back to my designer and asked for the blockbuster treatment. She gave me two bits of advice: (1) Don’t try to tell the story on the cover, (2) Leave everything to me this time.

So here it is, and I think it’s brilliant. I love the way the title punches out of the centre, and I love the sense of anticipation as the figure walks into a landscape that is both bright and forbidding.  And best of all, the cottage is back!

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Find out more about my books here.

My covers are designed by Rachel Ainge at Tribe Creative Co.