How to choose the right editor and editing service, and other great tips with Sue Archer

Today I’m really happy to be interviewing a blogger a lot of you know: Sue Archer, from Doorway Between Worlds. She has recently launched her new freelance editing business, and today she shares with us some tips and ideas on how writers can select the right editor and editing service for them. I’ve already worked with Sue on a short story and will be working with her on the sequel to The Viper and the Urchin once it’s ready, so I’m very excited to share some of Sue’s expertise with you today.

First of all, thanks for taking part, Sue, and for being on the blog today! Tell us a little about yourself and your editing background. 

Thanks for having me on your blog, Celine! It’s great to have the opportunity to chat with you about editing and share some tips with your readers.

It’s so hard to talk about yourself, isn’t it? I’ll do my best. Here’s my story: When I was young, I dreamed of becoming a fantasy novelist, and pursued a Masters degree in English. Like most people who graduate from school, I had no clue about what to do next, but I did know I had to find a job. So I put my fiction writing dream on hold for a while. Instead, I worked in various communications-related roles (technical writer, communications trainer, marketing strategist) where I did a lot of writing and editing.

Gradually, I realized that helping other people write well was even more exciting for me than creating my own stories. So I took courses in editing from Ryerson University’s graduate publishing program, joined Editors Canada, and began applying all the editing skills I had learned over the years towards a new role — freelance editor. Now I help self-publishing authors to polish their writing, and it’s been such a rewarding experience for me.

For anyone interested by the way, the photo to the left is a heavily edited page of Flaubert’s Un Coeur Simple. Goes to show, even literary masters need editing — which is quite reassuring for us mere mortals!

So, Sue, can you give us an overview of the different types of editing there are?

This is such an interesting question, because there are many different terms for editing out there — they vary widely between countries and even between editors. This can make it very hard for writers to know exactly what they are getting. So here’s my first tip — make sure you find out what the exact scope of the “editing” is when you are signing up for editing services.

In general, there are four different levels of editing.

The first level is what’s normally called developmental, structural, or substantive editing. This is a comprehensive hands-on edit of the manuscript content — the “big picture” editing. It involves reorganizing the structure to improve the flow and identifying where content can be added, removed, or changed. In the case of developmental editing, it can also mean working with a book proposal and helping the author write the content from scratch.

The second level is known as stylistic editing. While the substantive edit is at the manuscript level, the stylistic edit is at the paragraph level. In a stylistic edit, paragraphs and sentences are edited to improve transitions, clarify meaning, and eliminate jargon. You may not see this term very often, since this work is usually combined with either the substantive edit or the copy edit.

The copy edit (or line edit) is the third level of editing. The purpose of a copy edit is to eliminate errors and establish consistency throughout the manuscript. This involves editing for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It can also mean checking the manuscript for internal consistency, including the consistency of facts (such as place names and timelines).

The final level is proofreading. This term in particular gets misused a lot, because writers often say they need a “proofread” when what they really need is a copy edit. In traditional publishing, a proofread is the final read-through of the proofs before the work is published. At this point, the manuscript has been typeset and is ready for printing. The proofreader makes sure any changes made by the copy editor were added in correctly, the coding has been done correctly, and that page layouts, page breaks, running heads, and other design-related items are all in place. Many editors do not proofread, since it’s a very specific design-related task.

79693940_24be0eb86e_zHow should a writer decide which editing service is going to be right for her? 

This one can be hard to figure out, since the writer may be too close to the manuscript to know exactly what it needs. I know many of my editing colleagues get requests for a “light copy edit” and discover that the manuscript needs a lot of substantive work for it to be publishable. As you can imagine, this makes for a challenging conversation!

A great way to figure out what your draft needs is to pay for a manuscript assessment. This is a service where the editor writes a report outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript and recommends changes. The editor can point out structural, stylistic, and grammar-related issues. This is perfect for writers who are more hands-on and would like to do most of the work themselves before paying for any actual editing.

For the editing services themselves, here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you determine what you need:

How confident are you about what you know? If you’ve learned about story structure and characterization and practiced it in your writing, then you may not need a substantive edit. If you know your grammar inside and out, then you may not need a heavy copy edit (although you will still need some form of copy edit, since we all miss errors in our own work — even editors!).

Are you focused on accessing a market for your work? A qualified substantive editor can recommend changes based on your genre and target audience to help you gain more readers or attract a publisher, if those are your goals.

Are you open to substantial changes in your story? If you’d prefer to have your content largely untouched, and you are only trying to prevent errors, then a copy edit is the way to go.

Whatever you decide, make sure that you and your editor agree on what is needed before the work starts.

Finding the right editor is equally as important as deciding on the kind of editing a manuscript needs, so how should writers go about choosing the right editor for them? Any tips on things to look out for, or questions to ask?

The number one thing you need to find out is whether your editor is qualified to edit your particular manuscript. Having an educational background in English, for example, is not the same as knowing how to edit. Confirm whether your editor has taken any editing training or completed any editing certifications. Editors who take their work seriously are often affiliated with professional associations, such as Editors Canada, the Editorial Freelancers Association (U.S.), or the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (UK).

Ideally, you want someone who has editing experience within your genre, particularly if you are looking for substantive or stylistic editing.

I’d also ask for references or testimonials from previous clients. Probably the best way of finding a qualified editor is through word of mouth. If you like someone’s work, ask who edited it and whether the author would recommend that editor.

Another thing to think about is whether your editor acts like a professional service provider. Think about what you typically look for when hiring anyone to do a service for you. Editing is no different. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is the editor’s online presence consistent with what you would expect from a professional business owner?
  • Is the editor responsive to your questions?
  • Does the editor ask you questions to help determine your specific needs?
  • Are services clearly outlined, with terms and conditions provided in some form of contract for your review and approval?

Ideally you want to have a collaborative relationship with your editor. So the final consideration is whether you “click” with the editor on a personal level. You need to picture yourself working with this person. Do you like the tone of the emails you receive? Does the editor seem genuinely interested in you and your work?

To confirm that you’ve picked the right person, I would recommend asking for a sample edit before committing to anything. Most editors will edit a small sample of your work either for free (which I currently do) or for a nominal fee. A sample edit will help you confirm whether your editor is a good fit for you.

6946253448_0413828369_zEditing is generally the biggest initial outlay for an independent author. It can be a bit daunting spending all that money before the book is even published, and some people may struggle with that cost. Any suggestions on ways authors and editors can help reduce that cost?

The most important thing you can do (as an author) is to self-edit your manuscript thoroughly before submitting it for professional editing. The less time it takes someone to edit your manuscript, the less cost to you. So instead of rushing out to get editing done when you finish your writing, let your draft sit for a while and then go back to it. You’ll have the objectivity to spot things you missed the first time around (or the second, or the third). And please don’t forget to spell check!

A manuscript assessment is an excellent lower-cost way of getting feedback from an editor if you can’t afford a full substantive edit. Another alternative is a mentoring service. I offer one for writers who are looking for feedback on a particular section of a manuscript or have editing-related questions.

The editing contract is a key tool for controlling your costs. Verify what is included in the service (and confirm it through the sample edit). Some editors charge based on the time they spend on the manuscript rather than by the word or the page. Check to see what the maximum fee will be under the contract, and how things will be renegotiated if more work is needed. For a long-term project, pay attention to cancellation terms. If you are not satisfied with the service as things progress, can you cancel with partial payment?

Editors can help to reduce costs by being up front about all fees and discussing individual needs with the client. A flexible editor will adapt the work to the author’s budget by reducing the number of editing passes or focusing only on items the author is particularly concerned about.

A final word of caution on the topic of cost: You’ll find there is a wide range of fees that are charged for editing. Obviously you will want someone who will fit your budget, but I wouldn’t necessarily go with the lowest bidder. Some editors charge a very low fee per word. This means that the editor needs to work very fast to make a living. And you don’t want an editor who will rush through your manuscript.

How can a writer know whether her manuscript is ready for editing? Do you have any tips or suggestions on how authors can self-edit before sending their manuscript to an editor — any books or resources you could share with us?

I’d be sure to take advantage of beta readers and writing critique groups who can provide you with feedback. Solicit opinions from writers you admire and trust. Your editor should not be the first person who provides you with feedback on your manuscript.

Find out your weaknesses and work on them. If you’re not confident in your grammar, for example, take a current grammar course or refer to a resource like Grammar Girl, the Purdue OWL, or Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman.

There are a few good books out there on self-editing. The best one I have seen so far (and recently reviewed) is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Another popular resource is Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell.








I also recommend using a style sheet when editing your work. A style sheet is a place for capturing stylistic decisions on items such as spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. I have a style sheet template on my website that you can use. A style sheet will help you confirm that you’ve applied the same style consistently throughout your manuscript. In addition to helping you edit, it will save your editor effort (which can reduce your editing costs) and will help you avoid any misunderstandings with your editor about your stylistic preferences.

As a very quick aside for anyone reading this, when Sue told me about her template I immediately downloaded it and started using it for the book I’m currently writing. I had never thought of using something so structured, but as a Fantasy writer who makes up a lot of names for places and people, having some formal method to track spellings is proving to be a big help in reducing typos. For anyone not sure how to use stylesheets, Sue’s article on her website is very helpful.

Thank you for sharing that tip Sue! Anything else you would like to share?

As you can probably tell, I could go on and on about the whole topic of editing. 🙂 I would like to share one final piece of advice: Try to think positively about feedback (which is hard, I know) — and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand the reasons for that feedback.

Speaking of questions, I’m happy to answer any questions about editing in the comments. You can also contact me directly — I’d love to hear from you.

And thanks again, Celine, for hosting me on your blog. I had a great time!

Well thank you for sharing all that information with us, Sue, that was really helpful!

Connect with Sue:





A Round Up of Books I Loved

Of late I’ve been lucky to read some amazing books, and I thought I’d share a few that really stood out for me. I don’t do reviews normally — I’m just not very good at writing them, so I tend to stick to ratings. Review writing really is an art — and one that I do not possess! But I think these books really deserve both mention and reviews, so here they are, and for each I’ve included a quote that I really enjoyed.

In the Night Garden — by Catherynne Valente

This is a must for any mythology and fairytales/folktales lover. In the Night Garden starts off with a little girl who has been cast out into the Palace Garden of a sultan. Around her eyes are two large, inky stains, which are in fact made of tiny writing — said writing containing magical tales that coil around her eyes.

When the sultan’s youngest son encounters the girl, she begins to tell him the stories imprinted on her eyes. The stories coil and flow in and out of each other, until they weave a magnificent tapestry. Valente was a poet before she wrote novels, and it shows: her writing is as breathtaking as the sheer range of mythology and fairytales she creates, but there is humour and self-awareness to these tales too. These are, by the way, not fairytales for the faint of heart, but they are as beautiful and dark as those collected by the Brothers Grimm.

I couldn’t decide between these two quotes, so you get both! From the start of the book:

Once there was a child whose face was like the new moon shining on cypress tress and the feathers of waterbirds…

Now this child had a strange and wonderful birthmark, in that her eyelids and the flesh around her her eyes were stained a deep indigo-black, link ink pooled in china pots. It gave her the mysterious taciturn look of an owl on ivory rafters, or a racoon drinking from the swift-flowing river.

And from within one of the stories etched on the girl’s eyes:

“Well,” the Marsh King pursed his beak politely, “at any rate, your manliness need only last for a relatively brief period. I have already discussed this in detail with some of the lower Stars—white dwarfs and the like. I shall bundle you up tight as a mitten in a human skin until,” and here he cleared his long blue throat dramatically, “the Virgin is devoured, the sea turns to gold, and the saints migrate west on the wings of henless eggs.”

“In the Stars’ name, what does that mean?” I gasped.

“I haven’t the faintest idea! Isn’t it marvelous? Oracles always have the best poetry! I only repeated what I was told—it is rather rude of you to expect magic, prophecy, and interpretation. That’s asking quite a lot, even from a King.”

The Rosie Project — by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman is a professor of genetics with Aspergers. When he turns his sharp intellect to the problem of finding himself a wife, he goes about this with his customary precision and scientific know-how: he creates a sixteen-page questionnaire to help him identify the perfect partner. Enter Rosie, a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, a late-arriver. Rosie is entirely wrong — she is in fact immediately struck off the list as potential mate.

When Don agrees to help her search for her father using DNA testing, an uneasy but touching friendship blossoms between the two. I’m sure you can guess where the story is headed. This book is brilliantly written, it’s laugh out loud funny at times, tear-jerkingly touching at others, but most of all I think Simsion did a fantastic job in finding the humour and emotion in a delicate subject matter, without it ever being unkind or overly sentimental.

There was only one bar of that name, in a back street of an inner suburb. I had already modified the day’s schedule, cancelling my market trip to catch up on the lost sleep. I would purchase a ready-made dinner instead. I am sometimes accused of being inflexible, but I think this demonstrates an ability to adapt to even the strangest of circumstances.

I arrived at 7.04pm only to find that the bar did not open till 9.00pm. Incredible. No wonder people make mistakes at work.

Railsea — by China Mieville

In true Mieville style, this is beautifully written, wonderfully imaginative, and full of weird and wonderful creatures and people. In the world of Railsea, the ‘sea’ is made of soil and covered with a complicated network of rails. The soil crawls with giant moles, man eating worms, giant rats, and all sorts of other scary creatures that would make an easy meal of anyone stepping onto the soil.

Our story beings aboard a moler train (a train whose crew hunts the giant moles), whose captain is obsessed with catching a giant albino mole ever since it took her arm a few years ago. Sound familiar? Our hero, a young lad called Sham, finds a picture in a train wreckage of something that should be impossible and as a result soon finds himself hunted by pirates, train-folk, salvagers, not to mention the monsters that roil beneath the soil’s surface.

While Railsea does make references to Moby Dick, it’s nothing like the classic. It’s fast paced and exciting: I think I read it in a couple of days. My favourite aspect of this book is in a very Mieville-like detail: the word ‘and’ spelled out never appears in the book. Instead it is represented by an ‘&’. A symbol that makes perfect sense in a world centered around rails.

The ground & rails were grey as the sky. Near the horizon, a nose bigger than him broke earth again. It made its molehill by what Sham thought a dead tree, then realised was some rust-furred metal strut toppled in long-gone ages, up-poking like the leg of a dead beetle god. Even so deep in the chill & waste, there was salvage.

Here — by Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska

It’s a small collection of poems, translated from Szymborska’s native Polish. The poems are beautiful yet very human and approachable. Each one is like a little treat, like a square of chocolate, to enjoy with a cup of tea — imitating Szymborska on the cover basically!

My favourite is An Idea, about a writer who is visited by an idea, dithers and faffs and reasons why she can’t write the idea, suggesting instead that the idea visit more talented poets, until eventually the idea fades and vanishes.

A few other favourite lines, first from the poem Here:

I can’t speak for elsewhere
but here on Earth we’ve got a fair supply of everything.
Here we manufacture chairs and sorrows,
scissors, tenderness, transistors, violins,
teacups, dams, and quips.

And from Non Reading:

We live longer
but less precisely
and in shorter sentences.

Remains of the Day — by Kazuo Ishiguro

A small, quiet book set in the late fifties about an ageing butler who goes on a road trip and down memory lane, looking back on a life spent in service.

The book is quiet, contemplative, and as with all Ishiguro’s writing, incredibly subtle. The sadness of a life that passed Stevens by, regret at what might have been is only ever hinted at. He is unfailingly proper and never so much as thinks of indulging in self-pity.


I do not think I responded immediately, for it took me a moment or two to fully digest these words of Miss Kenton. Moreover, as you might appreciate, their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed- why should I not admit it? – at that moment, my heart was breaking.

The Drowned World — by J.G Ballard. 

In a future where the ice caps have melted, the water has risen, and temperatures are soaring, London has become half submerged swamp-land in a new Triassic age. Prehistoric reptiles swim through lagoons in front of the now abandoned and inundated Ritz, the walls of which are covered by creeping tropical plants.

It’s an interesting, dark tale, exploring both what has happened to the planet and how this has affected the human subconscious, slowly changing their behaviour back to something more primordial. There’s also (for me as an ex-Londoner anyway) an incredible sense of excitement and discovery in exploring a half-submerged London through Ballard’s writing.

In the early morning light a strange mournful beauty hung over the lagoon; the sombre green-black fronds of the gymnosperms, intruders from the Triassic past, and the half-submerged white-faced buildings of the 20th century still reflected together in the dark mirror of the water, the two interlocking worlds apparently suspended at some junction in time, the illusion momentarily broken when a giant waterspider cleft the oily surface a hundred yards away.

The Sleeper and the Spindle — by Neil Gaiman. 

I’m developing a bit of a thing for beautifully illustrated children’s books. This is one gorgeous book that most definitely deserves to be bought in hardback. The illustrations are by Chris Riddell, in ink with gold highlights.

And the story is very different from the story you think you know. There are no princes. There are no damsels in distress. It’s a clever and modern take on some well known tropes. For this book you get a quote and some pictures (click on the images to make them larger):


The queen called for her first minister and informed him that he would be responsible for her kingdom in her absence, and that he should do his best neither to lose it nor to break it.

She called for her fiancé and told him not to take on so, and that they would still be married, even if he was but a prince and she a queen, and she chucked him beneath his pretty chin and kissed him until he smiled.

She called for her mail shirt.

She called for her sword.

She called for provisions, and for her horse, and then she rode out of the palace, towards the east.

IMG_4527IMG_4524 2















Leave it to Psmith — by PG Wodehouse

I came to Wodehouse (the creator of the infamous duo, Jeeves and Bertie Wooster) rather late, but I am making up for lost time. Wodehouse is brilliantly funny, manages to capture a certain aspect of britishness superbly well, but more to the point, the writing is absolutely delicious. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to stop every few sentences to read a line aloud.

While the Jeeves/Wooster series is what Wodehouse is most famous for, Leave it to Psmith holds a very special place in my heart, in part because it was my first Wodehouse read. The quote is the opening sentence of the book. When I read that, I knew I was going to have a very, very good time reading that book, and indeed, it didn’t disappoint.

At the open window of the great library of Blandings Castle, drooping like a wet sock, as was his habit when he had nothing to prop his spine against, the Earl of Emsworth, that amiable and boneheaded peer, stood gazing out over his domain.

I do have to admit, I wish the publishers did a better job with the covers — they’re pretty poor. If you haven’t tried Wodehouse, apply the old adage and don’t judge those books by their cover. They are well, well worth a read.

And that’s it for now. If you have any books of your own that you really enjoyed, I’d love to hear. I’m always on the lookout for books to add to my ever growing reading list and bookshelf!

Humour and Murder Mysteries: An Interview with Duncan Whitehead

Today I have an interview with award winning comedic writer, Duncan Whitehead, and we talk about his series of cozy, humorous mysteries The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club. Duncan also write parodies of the news over at The Spoof.

Thanks for being on the blog today Duncan! First, tell us a little bit about yourself and about The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club 

The book is the type of novel that I would read.  Mystery, Humor and a great twist at the end.  I have always loved ‘who dunnits’ and this book is certainly a who dunnit but, also a ‘who did it’ as the actual killer, their motives are not revealed until the victim is killed. I love flashbacks and flash forwards – that tie up a plotline!

The book takes place in Gordonston Park, in Savannah. What was it about this place that made you want to set the book in it? 

I lived in the real Gordonston for a while.  It is a kind of quirky neighborhood.  The park (which does exist) is eery, even during the day.  I spent hours there with my daughter, and that’s when I came up with the idea for the book.

I googled the park, and it does look very creepy – those trees especially!

Did you find yourself ‘borrowing’ expressions or lines of dialogues from what you heard around you in Savannah, or are your characters completely made up? 

Absolutely: I have used phrases, colloquialisms, banter and stories I have heard – I just love the people and their sayings!

Your story also takes place in Bueno Aires and Paris. How did you research both places? 

I lived in Buenos Aires for three years, hence my knowledge of the city and its neighborhoods, or barrios.  I have visited Paris several times – though the Hotel in Paris is made up.

In researching your book, what was the funniest/most random/most interesting thing you came across? 

Well, believe it or not, it was that Hitler (boo) rescued and adopted a dog during the First World War!

I’d heard about that – probably the man’s one and only redeeming feature. I feel sorry for the dog though!

Thanks for taking part Duncan! 

The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club, by Duncan Whitehead


Little is what it seems to be in a leafy Savannah neighborhood as members of an afternoon cocktail and dog walking club mourn a neighbor’s death. Jealousies surface when friends vie for the widower running for mayor. An old woman with an infamous uncle plots to avenge a wrong. Memories haunt a once successful children’s writer. And a model has won the trip of a lifetime.

But a killer lurks and secrets unfold, as does a web of deceit. Is anyone really who he or she seems to be? A mysterious South American, a young Italian count, and a charitable nephew add suspicion and intrigue, as do an enigmatic organization linked to organized crime, a handsome firefighter, and three widows with hidden agendas. What’s a retired accountant’s secret, and why did a former showgirl really have plastic surgery?

The plot thickens, the Georgia temperature rises, and someone is destined for an early unmarked grave. The truth contorts to a climax that leaves readers breathless.

Now Available at:


About the Author:


Winner of the 2013 and 2014 Reader’s Favorite International Book Award and Gold Medalist.

Multi Award Winning Author, Duncan Whitehead hails from the UK and after a successful career in the Royal Navy where he served in British Embassies throughout South America before he joined the world of superyachts.

Eventually retiring to Savannah, Georgia, he began to partake of his greatest passion, writing. Initially writing short stories he finally put pen to paper and wrote THE GORDONSTON LADIES WALKING CLUB, inspired by the quirky characters and eeriness of his new environment. The book, a dark comedy mystery, which boasts an assortment of characters and plot twists, is set in the leafy neighborhood where he once lived.

His passion for comedy saw submissions to many online satire news sites and a stint performing as a stand-up comedian.

Duncan has written over 2,000 spoof and comedy news articles, under various aliases, for an assortment of websites both in the US and the UK.

He has penned further novels; a comedy set in Manhattan, THE RELUCTANT JESUS, published in April 2014 and republished in July 2015. He has also recently released the final book in the Gordonston Ladies Trilogy.   He has also recently published two short stories.

Well known for his charity work, kindness to animals, children and old people; and, of course, his short-lived bullfighting career and his hideous hunchback.


Other Books by the Author:


An Interview with Ravven — Steampunk and Fantasy Digital Artist

I’m really excited about today’s interview. Most of you will remember my book cover (it’s in the sidebar for anyone new to the blog), which was designed by the wonderful Ravven. Well today I’m interviewing her about her creative process.

As someone who has is utterly unable to do anything visual, be it digitally or otherwise, I found it really interesting to dig a little into what goes on behind the scenes when creating digital art. Before we get stuck into the interview, I wanted to showcase one photo in particular that really struck a chord with me. It’s called Medusa in the Boudoir:

Medusa in the Boudoir

Medusa in the Boudoir

Isn’t it wonderful? I saw it and went *wow* — and immediately contacted Ravven to see if she’d be free to do my book cover (lucky for me she was.) This is by far my favourite piece. It’s not just that it’s beautiful, or that it looks like a painting — it’s the story and the emotion that emanates from it that I really love. Anyway, enough of my gushing. On with the interview!

Thanks for taking part in the interview Ravven, and for being on the blog today! Now obviously you do book covers, but you also create pieces of digital art that are unrelated to any book. How do you start working on these kinds of project? Do you already have a full idea in mind of what you want to create and how it will look, or do you get inspired by coming across a particular photo/object/model and build the art work around that? 

I am usually inspired by images, which is why the personal art is easier. When you’re working on a cover you are usually working to a very defined brief, so of course it isn’t as free-flowing. On the other hand, it is when you work within a set of constraints and requirements that the challenge becomes really interesting – sometimes you end up with something very special that you may not have come up with on your own. At its best, a cover is a collaboration between the author’s ideas and the vision of the artist. It’s why I love this work!

At times I need to take a step back and just let the creative batteries recharge before I begin doing commercial work again. It’s nice to have the freedom to do that and I feel very fortunate! This feels like the best of both worlds.

In relation to your question, personal pieces usually start with a central stock image that I fall in love with. Sometimes I want to do something around a concept (loneliness, etc.) but usually I just fall in love with a stunning image and want to create something with it.

The thing that really struck me about your art is that there’s such a sense of story to it (such as in the Dollmaker photo on the left). Of course, cover designs will have that element of story, but even projects that are unrelated to any book seem to be a moment in a story. When I look at them I want to sit down and write the story I can see lurking behind the artwork. Is this something you set out to do? Do you try to create a story or characters, or is it purely visual for you?



For me it is very visual, but the image won’t work unless it develops a story. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it feels as though it unfolds as you work on it and becomes something more – often something that you didn’t originally intend it to! It’s probably a lot like a writer pantsing rather than plotting. Unless it becomes something much deeper than you originally intended, it won’t be as successful. It may be a pretty image, but won’t have any emotion to it.

That makes perfect sense. I think that happens with any creative process, even if there is a plan or outline beforehand. Art in whatever form always seems to take on a life of its own after a while.

Do you only work in digital, or do you also work with more traditional / analog methods? If you work with more than one medium, which is your favourite and which is the most challenging?

Currently I work almost exclusively in digital. I used to do all watercolour (actually, pen and ink overlaid with watercolour), but currently I only work digitally. My drawing skills aren’t at a professional level and never will be, so I can’t satisfy my love of photo-realism. 🙂 Years ago I worked in the art department of a high-end photo studio in Los Angeles and I learned a lot about retouching and subtly enhancing or changing a face. I still use a lot of those skills now, but the work is done in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet. Much easier than working with photo dyes or working on negatives!

Madonna of the Desert

Do you take inspiration from other art forms, like film/books/music/video games?

Always. I think that as creatives of any kind we always take in inspiration from everything that we see and experience. Books, movies, games, art – everything goes into the subconscious hopper and becomes new ideas. There are a lot of movies that mean a great deal to me because they’re so gorgeous visually, such as the Jennifer Lopez movie The Cell. Admittedly not the best film ever (more of a guilty pleasure), but such a dreamlike gorgeous movie!


Could you give us a very quick walkthrough of the process of creating a piece of digital art?

On a book cover project, I’ll normally start with models first. I do quite a lot of mockups for all the models that I think might work, but usually only a few backgrounds/environments. The models are composited with the background to give a feel of what the overall cover will look like, but usually they don’t all have the correct hair or clothing – piecing that together is very time-consuming and I don’t do it at this stage. I have text on the image mainly as a placeholder so I’m not tempted to fill that area up with detail, but it will all be changed later on.

Once a model has been chosen, I’ll do a much more finished version with the correct clothing and hair. This goes back to the author for approval before I start the final paint layers – this will give all of the detail, highlights, shadows, etc. Then we have a final round of mockups with different fonts and text treatments, and we’re close to done. I covered this in more detail here:

Thank you so much for being on the blog today Ravven! I really enjoyed chatting with you. 

Desert Warrior - Ravven

Desert Warrior – Ravven

If anyone’s looking for book covers, I can’t recommend Ravven enough. She currently has a selection of beautiful pre-designed covers that you can find here. Even if you’re not a writer looking for a cover, you can have a browse through her art portfolio here. Finally, you can find out more about Ravven’s custom book covers here.

Connect with Ravven: 


A Day in the South of France – photo challenge

Eileen over at In My Playroom took part in a wonderful challenge a few weeks (or possibly even a few months) ago. The challenge was to take a photo every hour or so throughout the day and post them on the blog. Now I didn’t get tagged in that challenge, but I thought it seemed like a really fun way to be a bit more aware of my surroundings and to look for pretty things in the day to day, so I took part anyway.

I am cheating a little a lot, mind you, because this post — sadly — doesn’t reflect a normal day in my life. It was a day while I was back in the South of France, visiting my grandfather — and it was a lovely day! I’ll do a post of a normal day in Hong Kong soon though.

5.30am: Unable to sleep because of jet lag (there’s 7 hours between HK and France), I make the most of the early morning fresh air, and go sit out on the balcony to read my book (I’m re-reading The Phantom of the Opera)IMG_3950

7am: Heading out to buy the morning’s baguette. I am very excited.

IMG_3951 2

7.15: ok that’s not an hour later, but I have to post a photo of what is my favourite meal of the day. Petit déjeuner is ready — this time I had acacia honey rather than jam. For those who read my A to Z post, you’ll notice that the ceramic bowl is colourful, slightly cracked, and the baguette is nearly ready for dunking. My mother remains, as ever, unimpressed with my breakfast eating methods.

IMG_40029am: We head out to meander in the market

Photo a Day10am: We buy some figs and a cabas (Kelli, I’m tagging you here after we talked about figs a little while back for one of your A to Z posts. These were delicious!!)


11 am: pop into a second-hand furniture auction house and spy a pretty painting.

IMG_3970-00112pm: On the walk back we pass a pretty terracota couple


1pm: Lunch!! On the balcony, bien sur. Fresh ravioli a la daube (which is like slow cooked beef)

IMG_40302.30pm: We drive out to Gourdon, a village at the edge of the world. Or at least at the edge of a very precipitous cliff.


Here I am with my grandfather at the very edge of the village — the wall behind us is the one you can see at the rightmost edge of the village above.


3.30pm: A pretty candle shop and another shop selling perfume and eau de toilette.

IMG_3992 IMG_3993

4.30pm: We spot a fig tree growing out a wall (sadly the figs weren’t ripe). And since no trip to the South of France would be complete without some calissons and nougat, we make a pit stop at a little confiserie where they make it all by hand. They were delicious.

IMG_3990 IMG_3994

6pm: on the way home we stop by an old olive oil mill. When she was younger, my mother used to bring olives here from my grandparents’ olive trees. The old mill no longer works, but there’s a modern mill round back. Sadly it was already closed by the time we got there.


8pm: The table post dinner. I’m totally pooped after a long day and still completely jet lagged, so it’s an hour of reading for me before falling asleep.

IMG_3948So there you have, it a day in the South of France. I’ll do another post on Hong Kong soon — although not quite of a typical day or you’ll get lots of photos of my computer screen. Which, trust me, is even less entertaining than it sounds.

I’m tagging a few others bloggers who I think might enjoy this challenge. No obligation to take part if you don’t want to. And obviously if I didn’t tag you but you want to take part, do it anyway!

Sabina over at Victim to Charm.

Sammy at Bemuzin (I’m being selfish there Sammy. I want to see more of those beautiful landscape photos of yours!)

Sarah at The Old Shelter. Sarah, you may consider this the latest instalment in our challenge-off 😉

Kelli at Forty and Fantastique.

L. Marie at The Blog of L.Marie

Sara Snider

Emily from A Keyboard and An Open Mind

Denise Young

Anabel from Anabel’s Travel Blog

Political Machinations in Ancient Greece… An Interview with Nicholas Rossis

Today I have an interview that I’m very excited to share with you. I talk to Nicholas Rossis about his book Pearseus: Rise of the Prince and we discuss politics in Ancient Greece, what life was like for women in Athens, and much more.

The interview is part of a series of posts where I talk to writers about the interesting things they dig up during their research process. If you know of an indie writer who you’d be interested in seeing featured in this kind of interview, let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I can do. And now, on with the interview!

Thanks for taking part in the interview Nicholas, and for being on the blog today! Tell us first a little bit about your book.

cover_rise_800Hi Celine, many thanks for having me here! I assume you’re referring to Pearseus? Its concept came to me after reading Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, followed by Jim Lacey’s The First Clash and Herodotus’ Cyrus the Great and Rise of Persia, which describe the fatal battle on Marathon between Greece and Persia in the 5th century BC.

Marathon Bay is a 20’ drive from my home, and I’d often visited the tomb where the ancient Athenians buried their dead, so I thought at the time, “wouldn’t it be great if someone did what Martin did for medieval England, only with the story of Greece vs. Persia? And in space? How cool would that be?” Then it occurred to me: so, what’s stopping me from writing it?

I have to admit it’s the first time I’ve come across a book that mixes science-fiction with Ancient Greek culture — but it works very well! 

Can you tell me a little about the kind of research you did into Ancient Greece? What are the most interesting/random facts you unearthed? Were there any books or websites that were particularly useful in your research?

I’m so glad to hear it worked for you! Pearseus follows the overall story arc of Herodotus’ seminal work, Cyrus the Great and Rise of Persia, which describes the fatal battle on Marathon between Greece and Persia in the 5th century BC. Only, my book is set in the future. While researching it, I read Lacey’s book, Herodotus and a lot of Wikipedia articles.

An interesting factoid: I had originally chosen the title Perseus for the series, but a good friend of mine, Mike Cardwell, asked me if I had considered how many other books are titled Perseus on Amazon. A quick search revealed over 10,000 books with that name! Obviously, something had to change, and it occurred to me to make it Pearseus instead, using a pun to justify the change.

As for facts I unearthed during my research, they’re too many to list here. One particularly interesting fact, which I did not mention in Pearseus, concerns the role of women. In Athens, women were little more than property.  They had no voting rights, nor were they allowed a life outside the home.  As soon as a girl reached puberty, she was locked up until she got married.  After that, a woman’s place was at home, raising her children and taking care of her husband.  What would get people arrested nowadays, was common practice back then.

Strangely enough, it was the prostitutes who enjoyed freedom.  Much like the famous courtisanes, their 19th century French counterparts, or the Japanese geishas, these were women of exceptional beauty, skilled in oratory and philosophy.  In the deeply chauvinistic Athenian society, men freely fraternized with them at the famous symposia, or dinner parties, before returning to their home and loving wives.

Prostitutes were highly educated, had the right to possess property of their own and often escorted kings and philosophers.  Their clients included legendary Pericles and Socrates; cities built temples in their honor and showered them in gold.  This, in a city where it was considered a deadly insult to the husband if his wife was caught even conversing with another man.

If you’re interested in the subject, I have written a post dedicated just to that aspect of Greek society, called The Real Women of Pearseus.

That’s quite incredible about Athen’s double standards as far as women go. It sounds like life was far better for the prostitutes! (I highly recommend Nicholas’ article on women in Ancient Greece by the way, the part about Spart is fascinating) 

The world you created is full of political intrigue and scheming politicians. How did you go about creating all those complex alliances and betrayals, political deals and manoeuvres?

Lol – I have my ancestors to thank for that. Will you believe that most of the stranger stories are based in actual history? For example, my character, Sol, is an amalgamation of Solon, Athens’ first law-giver, and Peisistratos, a cunning politician who usurped power and used it to end decades of civil strife. His reformations lay behind Athens’ classical glory, helped by Solon’s wise laws.

These men are considered heroes of classical Greece, but only after growing up did I realize the devious lengths to which they went to ensure their triumph over their political opponents. For example, Peisistratos was a ruthless, cunning dictator who staged an assassination attempt against himself. And Solon pretending for a whole year to be mad, so he would excused when he spoke in favor of war – a crime punishable by death by Draco’s laws.

The history of Pearseus includes one population colonising another’s territory. Did you base this on the the colonisation of a particular country on Earth?

Some readers have speculated that the First are based on native Americans, and I can see why. There is an influence there, as witnessed by the small-scale warring between tribes and the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

However, most of my descriptions stem from a combination of prehistoric beliefs in Mother Earth (The Lady worshipped by the First) and the Scythians; a warlike tribe that populated Thrace and the Black Sea in antiquity. This is where truth and fiction divert, of course, as the Persian king Cyrus was in fact killed while fighting the Scythians. Unless something changes dramatically, I’d like to avoid this fate for my Cyrus!

There are a number of large scale battles in this story, with tactics that bring to mind Sun Tzu’s Art of War. In fact one of your characters, Parad, recites a few strategy of war quotes. Are they real or made up? And how did you go about planning those battles? Did you research any particular Grecian or European wars for inspiration?

Most of the quotes are real, and taken from either the Art of War or the Tao Te Ching; one of my favorite books, which I have translated into Greek. I did research a lot of battles, such as the Battle of Golden Spurs. The main battle between the Loyalists and Parad was based on a stratagem by Alexander the Great. He crossed the river Aly at night (yes, that’s the river’s actual name) to emerge from behind the Persians and launch a surprise attack.

The idea of using a herd of buffalos to break up the enemy’s formations is all mine, though.

Then, the war between Scorpio and the Argonites is based on the actual war between Sparta and Argos. The Spartans had noticed that Argos was mimicking their commands, so used it to their advantage to crush them. When Argos’ warriors fled, they hid in a sacred woods. Unable to enter, the Spartans lured the survivors out by falsely suggesting that their families had ransomed their safety. The Spartans then killed them one by one as they emerged from the woods.

I love reading history because it really is stranger than fiction…

We are introduced to Tie, a priestess of Themis, and she explains a little about the religion — or rather the ideal, that so many people in your world worship. Where did the inspiration come from for this religion?

Religion and philosophy play a huge part in Pearseus, so I’m really glad that you ask. Some concepts, such as the soul splitting up upon entering the multiverse is all my own, just like the concept of the Iota.

More than anything, I wanted to show that our actions stem from our beliefs, and that these are heavily influenced by religion. At first, I had wanted to address this from an unusual point of view; that of the future of religions. For example, how would Buddhists, Christians and Muslims get along, if forced to cohabit? You can see a hint of that in the Shared temples.

However, I soon realized I was opening a can of worms. There was no way I could write something like that without offending pretty much everyone. After much thought, I chose instead to create a new religion, based on the ancient Greek worship of Themis; the Titan goddess of divine law and order. This tied in nicely with the concept of the limits of power and the claims to justice made by virtually every ruler in history.

“Justice without compassion is but tyranny” is not just a clever phrase; to me it’s a way of living. A religion based on that concept had to be a good one, but I also wanted to show how easy it is to corrupt a religion. In Endgame, the last book in the series, the new head priest, Alexander does just that.

Thank you so much for coming on the blog today Nicholas, that was so interesting! 

Pearseus: Rise of the Prince by Nicholas Rossis


Humanity starts all over again on Pearseus, a distant planet.

Cyrus, the young son of general Parad, is abducted by Justice Styx, ruler of the Capital. She orders a cruel death for the child, thinking this will spare her a foretold death in his hands. But Cyrus escapes with the help of the First – Pearseus’ indigenous people.

David, a young servant, is joined by an ethereal entity. Together, they escape the Capital and join Cyrus and the First. They all become embroiled in the complex political and philosophical factions of a multi-dimensional world. To their surprise, they have a key role to play in saving the planet’s inhabitants from annihilation.

Now Available:

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 08.29.39



Nicholas has also just released a new book: Infinite Waters: 9+1 Speculative Fiction Short Stories. It’s available on Amazon and is free on Kindle Unlimited. The anthology includes the following stories:



  1. Infinite Waters“: A woman seeks her future at a carnival. She discovers more than she expected.”
  2. The Things We Do for Lust“: Beware of Greek gods bearing gifts.
  3. James’ Life“: A man with nothing to look forward to but oblivion, discovers it’s not that easy to escape his life.
  4. Two’s a Crowd“: Blood runs thicker than water. Especially when you spill it.
  5. What’s in a Name?“: A pleasure cruise to the moon has an unexpected ending.
  6. The Lucky Bastard“: How far will the luckiest man alive go to escape his luck?
  7. “A Twist of the Tail“: A confused woman meanders through a sleepy town. But not all is as it seems.
  8. Is There a Doctor in the House?“: A high school student just loves to experiment.
  9. Sex and Dinner“: A timeless combination. Or is it?
  10. Would You Like Flies With That?“: Nothing’s scarier than a supermarket.
  11. The Hand of God“: Nothing has prepared this grizzly veteran for a meeting with his god*.
    (* first published in The Power of Six)

About the author:

book photo NR_1000Nicholas C. Rossis lives to write and does so from his cottage on the edge of a magical forest in Athens, Greece. When not composing epic fantasies or short sci-fi stories, he chats with fans and colleagues, writes blog posts, walks his dog, and enjoys the antics of two silly cats, one of whom claims his lap as home. His children’s book, Runaway Smile, earned a finalist slot in the 2015 International Book Awards.

What readers are saying about Nick’s fantasies:

“Most avid readers still have books from their childhood which they read over and over again. ‘Runaway Smile’ has joined the list.”

“From the very first sentence I realized I was not reading a book, I was going on an adventure.”

For more on Nick or just to chat, visit him on: