24 September 2016

#Heritage Weekend - The Great and the Not So Good

Uncovered late medieval timbers at the Guildhall, Beverley
Earlier this month Heritage Weekend marked the opening of mostly hidden historical gems. This was the first year I was either in the country or I was fit enough to take advantage – and boy, did I take advantage.

Beverley is an ancient market town 20 miles from where I now live, and my first stop was its Guildhall. Although a rather daunting columned facade had been added to the original building in 1832, it was the 14th/15th century uncovered timbers I wanted to see, and the 18th century courtroom, now much used by movie and television companies for historical productions.

18th century courtroom
"Elizabeth" in Workhouse apparel shredding hemp fibres

It was there I came across a woman called “Elizabeth” from 1881. She had sought shelter in the local Workhouse (the old Beverley hospital) when she became unable to do heavy duties in service due to chronic lower back pain and was turned out onto the street. In the Workhouse she had been set to heavy work in the laundry and was refusing to comply. Instead, she had been set the mind-numbing and finger-splitting task of separating hemp strands from old rope for as long as there was light to see by.

One of the ways of funding the Workhouse was to take in old rope from sailing ships and sell the separated hemp strands to rope-makers to be recycled into new rope, hence the British term “money for old rope”. She was very vocal, angry at the situation women like her – she was at pains to tell me she could read and write – could find themselves in due to infirmity. Though she added, rather wistfully, that at least her current batch of rope lengths had not been tarred. Re-enactors like “Elizabeth” make the details of history live, and as a novelist I’m always very grateful for their expertise.

Next it was down the cobbled High Street and into The Monk’s Walk pub. Passing this ale house occasionally on my way to the Minster I’d always accepted from its facade that it was a Georgian establishment. However, it turns out that it is older than the Minster’s current nave. I was eager to join one of the tours to view 13th century wall timbers housing not wattle & daub or even lathe & horsehair, but 14th century over-fired bricks. And no, I hadn’t known that Beverley had been a centre of early brick-making. The only reason the wall survives is because it is supported by a genuine Georgian house next door. It leans (in all directions!) due to it being built before angled side-strutting was introduced to aid stability – see the picture above of the 14/15th century timbers of the uncovered wall in the Guildhall.

C12th timbers and C14th bricks. Note the lean >>>

Back in the day, medieval of course, the front part had been a grain warehouse, probably working with the then monastery at the end of the street, hence its entrance is down a passage, not directly off the cobbles. It’s not the only pub in Beverley laid out this way. The narrow width of its rooms and very low ceiling are testament to the building’s age, and while its dining area has had the original upper flooring removed most of its ceiling beams remain in place, allowing a view to the gable-end and roofing timbers. A mean pint can be supped there, too.

The cleared nave of Beverley Minster
From there it was a very short hop down to Beverley Minster, dating from 721AD when it was set up, probably as a very small, wooden monastic house, by a man who later became known as Saint John of Beverley. The current building, from the 13th century, is one of the largest parish churches in the UK, larger than a third of all its cathedrals.

It is open every day, so why was it included in the Heritage Weekend?  Because its entire nave was to be cleared to give it the air, minus bright paintings, of a true medieval church. None of the Minster’s employees and volunteers I spoke with had ever seen it without either pews or chairs, and it truly was a breath-taking sight. I immediately tagged onto a talk being given about the Minster’s ‘green men’, of which there are lots among the heights, as well as a single "green woman", each pointed out with the aid of a laser-light pen.

So ended Day 1. Day 2, in Hornsea, proved equally eye-opening, though much further back, and further forwards, in history.

The September Heritage Weekend is an annual event up and down the country. See what’s available to view close to you and make a note on your calendar for 2017. You'll find it a fascinating experience.

17 September 2016

Book Trailer Anyone? #2

Following on from my last post HERE, a book trailer there will be. But as can be taken from this post’s non-appearance last weekend, there proved more to producing one than simply making the decision. It’s a job for a clear desk and a clear mind.

Let’s backtrack a bit. The main elements needed in creating a book trailer are:
  • software
  • images
  • text captions
  • music
  • a host for viewing the finished trailer

Going the DIY route does not mean purchasing a top-of-the-range software application. My Windows laptop came bundled with ‘Movie-Maker’; an AppleMac may have ‘iMovie’ lurking on its hard-drive. If you are intending dipping your toes for a test run, these will suffice. A search of the Web will flag other free applications available to download.

Having the software doesn’t get over the time element, not only of learning to use it but learning to use it well. It is one of the reasons I now rarely create my own book covers; I’m better at manipulating words than I am at manipulating images. But if I had the time I’d certainly give it a go.

Even with my tentative try, I learned a lot, and that knowledge colours future decisions. Advice: first, go onto YouTube and watch a few trailers. Make a note of the links to those you particularly like and those you particularly dislike. As I found, there’s a reason for this, so bear with me. Okay, back to your own.

A book trailer needs to be planned – storyboarded – to give an idea of the number of images and/or amount of video, plus the amount of text needed. Start with the basics and work outwards.

The priorities are the cover and the link to buy the book. Make that link short. Use Bitly or Booklinker or something similar, and alter the link to ensure it reflects the book’s title. Viewers won’t be able to click the link; they need to recall it. These two elements encompass your call to action. All else is the tease that leads to this.

The next consideration is the genre, and if appropriate, sub-genre. If the book is Romance, is it Comic Chicklit or Historical Drama? If Crime, is it Cosy or Urban Noir? This relates to the tone of the trailer, both in the types of images and the soundtrack to be chosen.

The text comes next. Even if video clips are used, unless you have the right sort of voice and can act well, written text is less problematic for the DIYer and cheaper if the trailer is produced by a third party. In the first instance take the book’s back-blurb / product description and cut it to the bare bones. List the sentences or phrases 1 to -- then put it aside.

Re-watch the book trailers, paying particular attention to the ones which catch your eye. Is there a common denominator? Watch them again and again; slo-mo the action and write the text in the order it appears. Are full sentences used, or is a sentence split? Into how many words? Did the text give a taste, or the entire story? Did it finish on a question or an denouement? Re-watch the ones you disliked. By now you should be getting an idea of why you disliked them. Moved too fast? Too many words? Music too loud, didn’t fit the genre? Each time you do this you are honing skills for your own.

Back to your own text. Does it stand scrutiny? Mine didn’t, and after another edit I binned the lot and started again with a different approach. Writing copy, and that’s what this is, proves very different to writing fiction.

From this point, for me, it became a two-handed search: for the images to go with the words, and editing the words yet again to go with the images. If you have an account with one of the larger royalty-free image distributors, such as Shutterstock or DepositPhotos which charge for their downloads, now is the time to open a lightbox on site and begin trawling for suitable images to longlist. If you’re looking for total freebies you’ll have less of a choice, but try Pixabay or Morguefile. Read the instructions and fulfil the conditions. Remember, you can’t just use any image you find on the internet. Most are copyrighted, just as your book will be copyright to you. And we hate our work being pirated, don’t we? The bigger distributors use digital robots to sweep the internet for their wares, and they don’t just issue ‘take down’ notices, they issue expensive invoices.

With a longlist of possible images to complement my book’s cover and genre, I turned my attention to background music. Search something like free music clips for videos and a whole new, and *enormous* world opens up. Again, read the instructions and fulfil the conditions: some need crediting via a Creative Commons attribution.

However, it was here that I drew the line. I simply couldn’t afford the time necessary to DIY. So I shall be looking for a third party producer to fulfil the promise – cheaply yet effectively. Then I shall look to create an account with YouTube to host the trailer.

AMENDED: And I did. Read all about it on Book Trailer Anyone? #3 Result!

3 September 2016

Book Trailer Anyone?

Writing a novel is easy. Marketing that novel is akin to climbing the Game of Thrones' Ice Wall using only a couple of toothpicks. 

Okay, so I exaggerate: writing a good novel is damned difficult, but the rest about marketing it still applies.

Late last year, when I was coming out of creative hibernation, I ran a post on using images via Twitter. That I felt I could manage. Now I’m thinking Book Trailers.

Trailers are part of every movie’s marketing plan, and they are ubiquitous on television when promoting drama. I’ve just watched the trailer for series 2 of the BBC’s historical Poldark. Catch it HERE, because it encapsulates all the necessary ingredients:

It’s short. The Poldark trailer is 60 seconds long, but it is live video, out of the financial reach of most indie authors. When dealing in only text and still images give it a bit of leeway, but no longer than 90 seconds in length. Then cut it by 15 seconds.

Keep each text snippet down to a snippet. Viewers will be taking in tone and atmosphere from the still images (and the accompanying music) as well as from the text, and they need time to collate all three into a reaction. Aim for a tease, not an explanation. The initial Poldark voice-over used four snippets of 3 / 4 / 4 / 6 words – notice the lift to a crescendo, in length, meaning and to a flurry of emotionally-charged images. The voice-overs that follow are far longer, but it takes less time to listen than it does to read, so that luxury isn’t available to a text & images trailer.

Still images need to be in keeping with the book’s content. If the cover has a multi-image scope it may well do on its own via close-ups and panning. But keep the speed down; images that flicker past the eye detract from the focus, and the text.

Music. Ever watched part of a movie without its background soundtrack? Unbelievably bland. When choosing music make sure the tone fits the genre, but as with the Poldark trailer, it doesn’t have to match the period or its genre – just its tone.

I’ll talk about the steps of putting one together next time, but for now watch these for inspiration, not produced by the authors, but by their small press publisher, the power behind FantastiCon:

Young Adult – The Boy In Winter’s Grasp by John Scotcher HERE

SF – The Methuselah Strain by Stuart Aken HERE

Comic short story collection – On Shallowed Ground by Walt Pilcher HERE

If you own a good one, or have watched one that spoke to you, please add a link in the Comments section. I could do with all the help I can get!

AMENDED: See how I fared in Post 2 and Post 3 Result!