Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Personal Touch

It was my fifth day on the job. When I got out of bed at 5:00am to await my lift to work, I had no idea that it would also be my last. A series of unfortunate mechanical breakdowns would cause a 2 week suspension of the contract. We were all given a choice. We could either wait it out and stay rent free (but also salary free) on the farm for two weeks or we could take an early trip back to the city. I opted to leave, but that was a decision that was made long before it was offered to me.

With hindsight, the signs were easy to see right from the moment that the bus pulled in to take us to the field and Smitho was not on it. Smitho was not only our regular chaperone to make sure that we made it to work on time, but he drove one of the tractors too. In his place was Miko (pronounced Mike-O), an Aboriginal local who at the age of just twenty two, had only spent 4 months outside of prison since his eighteenth birthday. The charges were always the same; drunken assault, but I had never seen evidence of his temper whilst working with him. I had also never seen him intoxicated, until that is, I got on the bus.

It was one of the few times that I was grateful for the Aussie penchant for Stubbies - small bottles or tins of alcohol that are the same size as a can of soda in the UK. If he had been drinking from a larger, UK sized can, things might have turned out even worse. As it was, we would be let off with just a near disaster. After finishing his can, he then attempted to convert it into a type of bong. I do not think that he was too successful as he soon gave up on it. If you are wondering why I did not ask to be let off the bus at this point, all I can say is that the outback is not really a place that you want to hitchhike in.

As was usual, we were split into two teams - one per tractor. I was relieved that I was not placed into the group with Miko. My roommate back at the motel, Will, was and I did not envy him. I may have made a few jokes at his expense, but once I was put to work, I forgot all about it. The contract was to pick sticks. Not the most engrossing job that I have ever done and it was a killer on the back, so I gave in easily to my usual tendency to drift off into a daydream. Because of this, I was the last one to realise what had happened. I just looked up to see some sort of commotion going on over by the other tractor. Miko was storming off back towards the bus, I did not know why until I noticed something else that was a miss. Will was on the ground.

The purpose of stick picking is to clear the field of all debris in order for a new plantation to take place. Once the wood had been gathered, we would simply burn it. Will had been disconnecting the trailer so that the wood could be deposited for burning, when Miko had suddenly caused the tractor to lurch forward. Will had reacted quickly and as such only received a bruised shoulder, but it could have been a lot worse. It could have been fatal. Will was all too aware of this and he made his opinion known. Miko did not react kindly to the criticism and he let Will know it by flooring my unsuspecting friend with a powerfully delivered uppercut.

I will not go into details about what followed, but suffice to say that a few of us were grateful when the tractors packed in later that day. It gave us an excuse to get out of there and we could not have been more grateful. Looking back, the whole enterprise was a disaster. I had planned on spending 2 months working there to finish up my visa extension, but in the end I only got 1 week out of it. Of course, since then I have managed to take something else from the experience. I was able to take that one incident described above and use it as the inspiration for my debut novel.

The Outback, is a very personal story for me. Not only because it was my first novel, but also because it was based on my own experience. As such, I have always wanted to keep that personal touch going throughout the project. That is one of the reasons that I chose to design my own cover. It is important for me to use an image from my own experience to keep the personal connection going. Although I have had the book available for two months now, I have recently started to play around with the cover. One of the reasons for this is to create a brand identity for myself. I revealed the cover to my second novel last week and I think that it is important that they both link together somehow.

On the left is the original design. The colour scheme looks very amateurish and the smallness of the author name is also apologetic. For the redesigned cover on the right, I enlarged the font for my name in order to make it stand out, but also to create a brand identity. The cover also more closely matches my earlier vision and also a recurring theme in the book when describing the outback - "blue at the top - red at the bottom".

On the left is the original design and it did not go down well when I revealed it to the potential audience. With hindsight, it is easy to see why, but as with everything in this business, it is a steep learning curve and we learn the quickest from our mistakes. The redesigned cover is on the right and looks much more professional. As you can see, the font of the author name mirrors that of the previous novel above and enhances the brand identity.

I hope that you like my covers and if you read my books, I hope that you enjoy those too. There will always be people who say that I am crazy for attempting to do my own covers, but I stand by my decision not to conform. Self publishing gives authors a chance to do things their own way and they should take advantage of this. Like I have said before, it is very rare that I see a book cover (either indie or trad) that I like. At best, I find them too conformist, too generic. In music, album covers have long since been experimental and dared to break from the norm, so why should book covers be any different? People will disagree and say that the cover is merely a marketing tool, but I think that it is called "cover art" for a reason. So what are you waiting for? - Get artistic.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

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