Cocktails for Butterfly celebrations, by Abby Rose

At the celebratory event online for A Hundred Words for Butterfly next week, there’s going to be a cocktail party, with everyone joining in from their own homes. And Abby Rose, marketing intern and a member of the wonderful Spineless Wonders team that have been creating the fabulous publicity for the book, has been busy concocting some fabulous cocktail recipes and ideas, themed around references to the Basque country and my family connections. Here, in images and words, are her fabulous creations, with explanations, ingredients and instructions! Thank you so much for this fantastic array, Abby!

Celebratory event for Butterfly on September 15!

So this is coming on September 15th, the fabulous online event celebrating the release of my audio novel for adults, A Hundred Words for Butterfly! Join us to celebrate, with special guests including me, the wonderful voice artist Sarah Kennedy (pictured below, she narrates the audiobook), and the winners and some finalists of the #100Words4Butterfly writing competition. Come along (virtually!) for a super fun night of games, cocktails (including the one below!), readings and more!

Zoom link to come. You can register your interest right now at the Spineless Wonders Facebook events page for it. The event will start at 6pm, Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Interview with designer Bettina Kaiser

Artist and designer Bettina Kaiser created the beautiful cover for A Hundred Words for Butterfly. Today I’m delighted to welcome her to my blog for a behind-the-scenes interview.

Bettina, tell us about your process in creating the cover for A Hundred Words for Butterfly. What preparations did you have to make? What stages did the work go through? What inspired you? And what materials/media did you use?

I really enjoyed reading your book. Currently we are in COVID lockdown, and so the timing was perfect to let myself be transported to Basque country through the story. As I was reading it, I was also researching the places online: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a beautiful little town and the place where most of the story takes place. The Camino de Santiago and the rolling hills and picturesque Basque countryside it covers. I then allowed myself to get lost a little in Basque traditions. The colours of the houses and window frames, the tricoloured flag, the beret, incredibly delicious looking food.

I empathised with all three characters in the story as well: Alex walking the trail (I love walking), Helen being the illustrator and loving to draw (a fellow artist), and Tony researching his family (an interest I share).

From there I had a few creative ideas of what the cover could look like. Conceptually, they were based on elements in the story that I found significant: the cobblestone streets, the wayfinding symbols of the Camino, Basque colours and symbols, but also the family photos that you sent me and the more recent photos from your visit there.

The art materials I used were just what I had on hand in the studio: acrylic paint, ink, gouache, paper scraps. From there I put together a few layouts to explore three main concepts: picking up the title, the butterflies, and doing a flat lay with other aspects of the interwoven stories, the cobblestones causing Helen’s fall but also representing the path, the Camino, and the twin sisters, one staying inside watching through the window, the other walking on a path.

What were the challenges? And the pleasures?

As with any book cover, my aim is to capture the essence of the book. I always also need to know that you, the author, are 100% behind it. At the end of the day, it is their book, your book, and I would not want to force the cover design “onto” it or indulge in some design folly that is just exciting for me as an artwork on its own. It needs to fit. But it took me a while to find what the essence is for me in your story.

What has now become the cover was pretty early on my favourite, and the more I tried to work on alternative ideas, the more I was drawn back to the actual artwork that we chose. I re-read passages of the book and realised how the stories of the three characters are so intertwined, and also link each character’s past, present and future. The other (unfinished) artwork concepts simply felt too one-dimensional. In my head I even likened this to one of those pinboards in a murder investigation with all the suspects, witnesses, and places, and the threads joining them. That was what I wanted to have the artwork reflect: old and new stories spanning continents. Stories that touched, overlapped, merged.

Then came a tricky point in the process where I was really loving that idea and artwork (which is almost exactly what we have now), but I laboured over other concepts, as I did not want to present you with just one option in a kind of take it or leave it way. But I really felt strongly about the concept and liked it visually too. So, after a few days of mulling it over, I decided that I will show you this artwork and explain with some images and words the ideas/concepts for alternative covers to see what you think. Well, it sure was nice when you concurred, and only a few hours later your very enthusiastic “YES! This is it!” came back.

Your novella was perfect for my lockdown escapism. I really enjoyed allowing myself to mentally wander into the ancient streets of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, to dream of faraway places, and to find out more about the Camino and Basque culture. It lifted me up and touched so many interests of mine though the different characters. I really very much enjoyed the video chat we had initially, and you telling me about your Basque family connections and getting to know you.

What do you, as both a designer and a reader, see as the most important things for authors and publishers to consider, when it comes to commissioning book covers?

I think authors in particular need to have a lot of trust to put their work, which they have laboured over for so long, and that often is so personal, into an artist’s hand to create the cover. I encourage authors and publishers to look at previous artwork that a prospective book cover designer has created (a good start is our industry organisation Australian Book Designer Association’s directory) and see if they like the general style and design approach.

While the publisher needs to keep their eye on a certain overarching style and standard for their publications, I personally do love that I can more often than not work directly with “my authors”, get to know them and get them to tell me what their work is about, what matters and where their focus is.

As in many things in life, trust and mutual appreciation is key. Many publishers work with a regular stable of illustrators and designers whom they entrust their publications to. I have been lucky to have worked with Bronwyn Mehan and Spineless Wonders on so many projects over the past decade and to have been given a lot of creative freedom. Plus, I am very happy to have often worked directly with the authors.

My pet hates are design for design’s sake (the self-indulgent kind), style trends in book covers. So, dear publishers and authors, I’d say watch out for that!

Does creating a cover for an audio book differ from that for a print or ebook? If so, in what way?

The short answer is no. It is just a different shape, and many projects that I work on need the artwork to be converted into all kinds of formats, ranging from eBook covers to website banners and more. So it is a style, a materiality and elements that you design, and then it is rolled out to different media. In fact, your story, whilst first published as an audio book (I love that format by the way), will also be available now as an eBook by Spineless Wonders.

You work in a number of art and design fields aside from books. Tell us about some of the other things you do.

I consider myself a “Jill of many trades”.

I like the explorative, conceptual aspects of design, but I do have a lot of bread-and-butter jobs that are layouts, websites, logo designs and the like. But I am also an artist and have a separate practice in my small studio – no screens allowed there – just for my art projects. I recently had an exhibition that featured prints, mixed media works, and installations around the current climate crisis and us humans in the environment.

(Book) cover design is where I work across both disciplines. I love it. I love working with authors, I love books and stories, and I love that each one needs their unique artwork. Often I experiment with materials and collages and photos in my studio, and I sometimes do hand lettering, as I did for A Hundred Words for Butterfly. I then photograph or scan it, bring it together on screen, manipulate it if needed, mix, cut, paste, experiment, tinker with typography. It brings it all together and as I mentioned earlier, I am so grateful to be given a lot of trust and creative freedom.

Websites:

design = www.bkad.com.au
art = www.bettinakaiser.com

Basque cookalong on Facebook Live: get ready!

On Friday August 27, at 7pm Australian Eastern Standard time, as part of the events around my upcoming audio novel, A Hundred Words for Butterfly, I’ll be doing a Basque cookalong, as a Facebook Live on Spineless Wonders’ page. During the cookalong, we’ll be creating a simple and delicious Basque fish soup, based on the version my mother used to make and which I grew up with. So that you can have everything ready before the day, I’ve made a video which explains all the ingredients to gather and prep to do before the cookalong.

To join the cookalong, register your interest here or simply join on the day.

Hope to see you there!

Join the watch party for My Basque Country!

At 5.30 pm (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on my You Tube channel, I’m premiering My Basque Country, a little video clip I made, which is about what the Basque country means to me. It’s linked to my audio novel, A Hundred Words for Butterfly (coming out in September with Spineless Wonders Audio ) and gives you a bit of an insight into the setting of the story and my own strong connections to it.

It’s going to premiere at 5.30, and isn’t livestreamed, but I’ll be online at that time to answer questions and interact in the comments. All invited! Below is the link for the watch party. Hope you can join us!

And if you can’t–well the video will be available to watch on my channel any time after 5.30 pm today.

Fun writing comp, #100words4butterfly

I am absolutely delighted to announce that today Spineless Wonders Audio, who are publishing my audio novel A Hundred Words for Butterfly(which will be out on September 13)are launching a fabulous writing competition linked to the novel. Called #100words4butterfly, it invites people to create ‘100 of your best words’, whether that be micro stories, poems, songs, etc, around four intriguing writing prompts: Pilgrimage; Fork in the Road; Blast from the Past; and Confession. (All the prompts gesture back to themes/motifs in the novel). And there must also be a reference to food and drink in each piece, as that too is a feature of the novel 🙂

The comp is free to enter (via Submittable), and the prizewinners in each category will each win a copy of the audio book of A Hundred Words for Butterfly, while both winners and runners-up will have their work published in a special ebook created for the occasion, as well as being invited to read their work at a fantastic online event celebrating the release of the novel.

Head over to the competition page here for all details. Have fun–and good luck!

Looking forward to the 2021 HNSA Conference!

I’m really looking forward to the 2021 conference of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia, which this year is fully online, and happening over two weekends, with bootcamps, manuscript assessments and masterclasses happening on the weekend of 16/17 October, and the main conference program on the weekend of 23 and 24 October. This is the first time the conference has been run online–it was a decision HNSA wisely made early this year, given the uncertainty surrounding the running of events.

HNSA runs absolutely wonderful conferences, and over the years I’ve had the privilege several times of presenting at these biennial events. This year is no exception, and I’m going to be appearing on both weekends, as part of an absolutely amazing program which I’m very proud to be involved in. Wearing my publisher hat, I’m going to be presenting the all-day Publishing Bootcamp on October 16, then, also wearing the publishing hat, I’ll be one of the judges in the popular First Pages Pitch Contest on October 23. Later on October 23 (quite late in fact!) I’ll be one of a group of people talking about translating historical novels in the Lost in Translation panel: I’ll be focussing there about the experience of being involved in helping to bring about the publication of a brand new English translation of the wonderful Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff. Then on October 24 I’m chairing a panel called The Dark Heart, which looks at historical novels set in the 1830’s and 40’s in Australia, especially the convict period. It’s certainly going to be a very busy couple of weekends!

Check out all details of the wonderful program for the 2021 HNSA Conference here: it’s a real cornucopia of fabulous offerings! And of course, because it’s virtual, you can access it from anywhere. Registrations are open now: don’t miss out!

Simple Basque food: part 3

Today I’m posting the recipe for the final part of our Basque-themed meal. It’s probably the most famous dessert in the French Basque country, and is known simply as ‘Gateau Basque’. In A Hundred Words for Butterfly, my characters enjoy a slice or two of it more than once!

Rather than a ‘cake’ as such, the Gateau Basque is a pie with a yummy buttery, eggy pastry, filled with a lovely egg custard flavoured with rum. There’s also a less common black cherry-filled version in some areas of the Pays Basque which are known for their cherries. Today, the pastry sometimes incorporates almond meal as well as flour, but it’s more traditional not to use it, as almonds are not a traditional part of Basque cooking. But it’s up to you!

Found on family and celebration tables and in every patisserie across the region (with people flocking to the best examples of it in town and village patisseries and fervently discussing the relative merits of each!) it’s both simple and utterly delicious, a real treat to make and to eat!

Gateau Basque (this recipe serves 6-8 people)

Ingredients for the pastry: 300 g self-raising flour (or plain flour with one teaspoon baking powder), 125 g unsalted butter (chopped into pieces), 220g caster sugar, 3 egg yolks, grated zest of one lemon

For the custard cream: ¼ litre milk, 25 g plain flour, 60 g sugar, 3 egg yolks, one tablespoon rum

Method for the pastry:  In a bowl, tip in the flour, make a well in the centre, add the chopped butter, the egg yolks, and the lemon zest. (Also add in baking powder now if you are using plain flour). Mix thoroughly, working the pastry into an elastic, homogenous whole. (You can add a little water—a very small amount!– if you have trouble making it stick). Let the pastry rest for about half an hour.

Method for the cream: While the pastry is resting, mix the egg yolks, flour, sugar and rum in a bowl. Heat the milk to boiling point. Pour the hot milk onto the egg mix in the bowl, stirring the whole time. Tip the mix into a saucepan, and heat carefully, stirring as you go, till the mix is nicely thick. Do not let it catch. Turn off the heat, let cream cool.

Putting it together: Divide the pastry into two parts, roll out each of them to make two circles. Butter and lightly flour a springform cake pan, lay one of the pastry circles on the bottom, then put in the thick, cooled cream. Put the second circle on top, crimp the pastry edges together so cream is completely hidden. With a fork, score the top of the cake (without going right through), brush with a little reserved egg white and put in a hot oven for 30 minutes.

Serve warm or cold (the cake keeps really well–that is, if you can hold off eating it all!)

The audio novel is now with the publisher!

This week, the fully edited final ms of A Hundred Words for Butterfly went off to the publisher, Spineless Wonders Audio. It was an exciting moment, pressing ‘Send’. It’s been a real journey of discovery, writing the novel–or perhaps I should call it novella, given its length(just under 32,000 words)–and at times a bit of a challenge, but so enjoyable!

It’s turned out so well, pretty much exactly how I wanted it to be, and I think it will transfer beautifully to the audio form. I can’t wait for the next stage, as the book moves into production. And by the way, it was lovely recently to see it mentioned for the first time outside my blog, in an interview in Books+Publishing with Spineless Wonders publisher Bronwyn Mehan.

More soon!