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Monday 31 July 2017

DUNKIRK by John F. Millar

In the recent film Dunkirk, the question is asked, once aloud and thousands of times unspoken, “Where is the @#%& Air Force?”
My father, John H. Millar, who died in 2006 just short of his 104th birthday, had the answer.

When he was 32, he earned a British private pilot’s license in order to impress the girls. Winston Churchill, a friend of his, invited him out to lunch at the Savoy. Churchill, now justly famous, was then an annoying Member of Parliament whom people pretended not to know. Churchill said to my father, “The Germans are re-arming, and we need to match them or else we’ll be in the soup, but I can’t get anybody in government to take that idea seriously.” The British government’s official policy was that if Britain did not do anything to annoy Hitler he would not notice that they were there!

Churchill told my father that he was the only man he knew who had a pilot’s license, so would he please go over to America and find out what the various American aircraft manufacturers were building that Britain could buy at short notice. My father was hired by TWA (rans World Airlines) as the first ever foreigner to serve as a pilot for a US airline. After over a year, he returned to England with the dealerships to all American aircraft manufacturers in his pocket. The British Air Ministry still had no interest, telling him that it was crucial for the British NOT to acquire any offensive weaponry for fear of antagonizing Hitler.

 At his own expense, my father had a Consolidated Catalina flying boat flown to England non-stop from San Diego (the theory being that a plane with that kind of range would be perfect for spotting U-boats), and he shamed some RAF top brass into taking a ride in it. When they reached cruising altitude, the pilot started yacking away on the radio.
“Who’s he talking to?” asked an official.
 “He’s talking to the base in San Diego,” came the reply.
“Rubbish!” said the official; “there’s no radio in the world that can transmit and receive over such a distance.”
“We have one on this aircraft,” was the reply.
 “Good,’ said the official. “Let’s buy five of these aircraft and reverse-engineer the radio.”

That is how Britain happened to have five Catalinas at the beginning of the war, one of which spotted the battleship Bismarck escaping and called in the air-strike that crippled her.

The same narrow-minded attitude that limited British purchases of useful American aircraft to the five Catalinas also extended to their own aircraft. The RAF simply had very few Spitfires and Hurricanes in May 1940, when Dunkirk occurred, and almost no offensive bombers. Fortunately, by the time that the Battle of Britain began later in that summer, the British aircraft factories had worked overtime to build hundreds of fighters, so they eventually beat the Luftwaffe by the skin of their teeth. [Helen: and if I recall, this was entirely down to the fact that Churchill was now in charge!]
As for my father, he established a company in 1937 to build parts for aircraft, and his first client was Sir Frank Whittle, who needed my father’s help with a new type of engine he had just invented. Therefore, my father was one of the seven people on the team that built the world’s first jet engine. Once again, the brilliant Air Ministry concluded that jets were not part of the future and so they dropped the project for several years, thus allowing the Germans to be first in the air with jet fighters.

My father’s last job as a civilian was to persuade Consolidated Aircraft to develop the Liberator B-24 bomber from a new flying boat that the US Navy did not want to buy, and so when the RAF finally was in the market for long-range heavy bombers the Liberator was ready for them. My father then joined the Royal Navy as a Commander, and he was stationed in Washington – with the job of vetting all new US military aircraft, such as the Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber, to see if the Royal Navy could use them.

John F. Millar
Virginia USA

Helen says: I have not seen the movie yet, but for Britain, especially around our eastern and south-west shores, our proudest moment involved the hundreds of small boats which set out to rescue those stranded men on the beaches of Dunkirk. If they had not, the war could well have been lost to Germany at that early point. An ‘alternative’ history scenario that is too horrifying to think about. It is a shame, however, that our ‘finest moment’ only occurred because of politicians who were pathetically useless.

One of the reasons why Churchill was ‘on the ball’ about these things was that he was a competent historian (for the time – information has improved since his day). He studied the past and recognized the patterns – and human nature, ego and frailty.

Remember too, that the USA did not want to join the war, or even assist Britain initially. Churchill persuaded the President through giving him a copy of his latest book (his A History of Britain series – not sure which volume). He had marked significant passages. The President was convinced…

Let us hope that there is never again such a war, but we must see to our defence, however unsavoury the thought of it. The thought of NOT having adequate defence is even more unsavoury. As Dunkirk proved.

I was dismayed when the British Government, under Tony Blair, dismissed the importance of history from government and education. History is important, not for which king or queen sat on the throne and when, not for how many wives Henry VIII had, or whether Queen Victoria was amused or not, but for the events that shaped the days, years and months, the way of life,  and the wars that ignorance or prejudice caused.


I am away on a cruise at the moment - please leave any comments below and I'll respond when I get home

Sunday 30 July 2017

I'm off on a cruise

I am going on holiday later this week, and I'm not taking my laptop or any social media etc - time for some R & R while taking a cruise down the River Rhine!

However... I have scheduled some interesting Tuesday Talk posts, so do continue to visit, or why not SUBSCRIBE (top left on the sidebar) to receive alerts when a new post is added?

Normal service will be resumed when I get back!

Monday 24 July 2017

My Guests Revisiting: Linda Collison

... recycling some posts from  an old (now deleted) blog of mine that I ran in 2011/2012 
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originally published July 2012

Linda Collison’s writing has appeared in a variety of magazines over the years. Linda and her husband Bob Russell have written guidebooks,and sailed thousands of nautical miles aboard their sailboat, Topaz. The three weeks they served as voyage crewmembers aboard HM Bark Endeavour inspired Linda's Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series. 

* * *

I’m Linda Collison and I write historical fiction. I find myself in a long-term, not particularly monogamous, but definitely passionate yet conflicted relationship with DEEP WATER. 

It’s curious, how my love-hate affair with the sea began: I was born near the shores of the great saltwater estuary known as the Chesapeake Bay - but I never spent any time on a sailboat, having grown up with horses instead.  Flash forward several decades.  See me sitting in a little Sunfish opposite my boyfriend who suddenly begins to talk – give orders, actually -- in a strange language.  See the boom swing across and nearly knock me into the deep blue water.
Regaining my balance I say, “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to do that?” 
“Do what?”
“Whatever it was you just did with the boat that nearly knocked me in the water.  A little warning would have been nice.”
“Did you not hear me say “Coming about, helm’s a-lee?” 
“What the #@*& does that mean?  Is that even English? ” 
And so our first argument took place on a boat. 
Many years later I married my sailor and have since sailed many nautical miles with him aboard various vessels, including our own Topaz, a 36-foot sloop.  (See, I learned to speak nautical right proper!) 

Sailing came to me late, but creative writing came at a very early age. In fifth grade I entered – and won – an essay contest sponsored by the Maryland chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Now I was sure I was going to be an author (but I had no idea it would take so long or require so much persistence!)
I wrote my first full length novel when I was in my early twenties, at the kitchen table with toddlers crawling up my legs and supper burning on the stove. I entered it in a contest but it didn't win. It didn’t even place.  Actually, it kind of sucked. But I learned a lot about writing a novel. 

In the meanwhile, I went back to college and graduated with a nursing degree.  I took a few Composition and Creative Writing classes along the way and began to write stories and articles for publication.  But I couldn’t quit my paying job.  During the 13 years or so that I worked as a registered nurse I wrote about my experiences and had some of them published.  Truth be told, I liked writing a lot more than I liked nursing, but nursing gave me a steady paycheck, life experience, and poignant stories about real people. 

My sailor and I wrote two guidebooks together, which were published by Pruett, a small press in Colorado.  Encouraged, I wrote another novel and entered it in the erstwhile Maui Writer's Conference and this time I won the big one, the Grand Prize. Oh my God, I thought; the agents and editors will be calling, they'll be beating the door down, Steven Spielberg wants me, right?  NOT!   
My winning novel was never published. I received enough rejection slips to repaper my dining room. (Who among you is old enough to know what a rejection slip is? Nowadays they just ignore your cold query, there are no rejection slips; you even don't have the satisfaction of balling up that piece of paper and throwing it across the room. Or lighting it on fire...)
These were the days before self-publishing had become respectable and viable.  I decided I would roll up my sleeves and write another novel.  Problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about.  I wanted to be a novelist but I had no plot, no setting, no character.  

October, 1999. My husband and I signed on as voyage crewmembers aboard HM Bark Endeavour, a replica of Captain James Cook's 18th century ship that was sailing around the world as a floating museum, taking on willing souls to help sail. Bob and I flew to Vancouver and signed articles before setting off to cross the North Pacific. Our duties included climbing aloft to make and furl sail in all sorts of weather.  We took our turns at the helm and in the galley.   We scrubbed decks.  We stood our watches and slept in hammocks strung from the timbers.

My three weeks aboard Endeavour transported me back in time to the mid-18th century.   Patricia MacPherson came to me in the middle of the night, in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean.  I was steering the ship, keeping her on course, thinking what it might have been like to have been alive in the 18th century, to have been a woman on a ship like this. Not as a passenger but as part of the crew. 

In writing Star-Crossed I wanted to explore what it might have been like to have been a cross-dressing young woman aboard a ship during the age-of-sail. All those stories about girls dressing as boys and going to sea – maybe they weren’t just stories. After all, here I was doing a man’s work, wearing a man’s clothes, sleeping in a swinging hammock next to my male watch mates (one of whom I was married to.)  If this middle-aged broad could do all of that ruffy-tuffy sailor stuff, then surely a bold young lass of yesteryear would have no problem. My subsequent research proved me right.
Star-Crossed (later republished as Barbados Bound) would be more than six years in the making.  Published in 2006 by Knopf/Random House, the New York Public Library chose Star-Crossed to be among the Books for the Teen Age - 2007.  Meanwhile, I wrote the sequel.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Knopf wasn’t interested in publishing a series.  But Tom Grundner of Fireship Press was. Fireship Press published Surgeon’s Mate  in 2011 and Tom offered me a contract for Star-Crossed  as soon as it went out of print with Knopf.  He recognized it for what it was: adult historical fiction, not YA.   Sadly, Tom did not live to see Star-Crossed revised as Barbados Bound under the Fireship label.

UPDATE 2017:

New book in the Patricia MacPherson series soon to be launched!

Sometimes a protagonist insists on doing things her way, taking over the rest of the series.
Patricia MacPherson isn’t a pirate, but it appears she has become a colonial Rhode Islander -- which many of her British contemporaries would say is practically the same thing. Why she took up with the “Rogue Islanders” is revealed in Surgeon’s Mate, Book Two of her eponymous series.
I’m pleased to announce Rhode Island Rendezvous – Book Three – Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventures, to be published September 1.  This novel was more than five years in the making, partly because protag Patrick/Patricia was pulling in directions I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. And once I decided to follow her, I had research to do, followed by much writing. And rewriting.  
At long last she’s ready for launching. Here’s the low-down:

Newport Rhode Island: 1765
The Seven Years War is over but unrest in the American colonies is just heating up. 
Maintaining her disguise as a young man, Patricia is finding success as Patrick MacPherson. Formerly a surgeon’s mate in His Majesty’s Navy, Patrick has been employed aboard the colonial merchant schooner Andromeda importing undeclared foreign molasses into Rhode Island. Late October, amidst riots against the newly imposed Stamp Act, she leaves Newport bound for the West Indies on her first run as Andromeda’s captain. In Havana, a chance meeting with a former enemy presents unexpected opportunities while an encounter with a British frigate and an old lover threatens her liberty – and her life.

Helen: I'm really looking forward to this latest one, Linda - maybe you'll come back and tlel us more when it has been released?
Now - who would you invite as dinner guest? Anyone at all...

Linda's Selected Dinner Guests

J D Davies, the author of ‘The journals of Matthew Quinton’, an acclaimed series of naval historical fiction set in the Restoration period. David is also a prominent historian of the period who won the prestigious Samuel Pepys prize for Pepys’s Navy. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and is currently working on a naval history of his native Wales.

Helen Hollick, as most of you know, is published in the UK and the US with her books about King Arthur and the 1066 Battle of Hastings, officially making the USA Today best seller list with her novel Forever Queen.  And Helen writes pirates and sea witches better than anyone I know!  

Margaret Muir. Margaret’s work is well respected by readers of classic maritime fiction set during the Napoleonic era. Now, with five historical novels to her credit, she is writing a sequel to her age-of-sail nautical adventure, Floating Gold.   

Rick Spilman, guru of all things nautical and the host of the Old Salt Blog.  His first novel, Hell Around the Horn, is due out this summer.  An avid sailor, he has sailed as volunteer crew on the replica square-riggers “HMS ROSE” and “HMS BOUNTY.” He has been published in the Huffington Post, Captain, Forbes online, and canoeing and kayaking print magazines.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I see my ship coming in…
Yours, aye,

Linda Collison 
Linda is on Facebook

Did you miss?  My Guests Revisiting...
James L. Nelson 
Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics Design

Monday 17 July 2017

My Guests Revisiting: James L. Nelson

... recycling some posts from  an old (now deleted) blog of mine that I ran in 2011/2012 

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Multiple award-winning author of maritime history and fiction, bringing to life
America's historic links to the sea.

Jim Nelson was born and raised in Lewiston. He has always harboured a deep love of ships and the sea, though no one else in his family ever did, which leads him to believe that it is a genetic disorder and not learned behavior.

Non Fiction
George Washington’s Secret Navy is the story of the small fleet of schooners established by George Washington soon after he took command of the Continental Army outside Boston. It is also the story of how Washington, a farmer whose military experience had taken place far from the sea, came to appreciate the importance of naval power in the war he would be fighting.

George Washington’s Great Gamble
Published in the Spring of 2010. George Washington’s Great Gamble tells the story of the centrality of sea power to victory in the American Revolution, and how Washington gambled everything on the hope of a French naval victory over the British off the Virginia coast. It tells as well the nearly miraculous story of how all the elements came together to give the Americans and their French allies a situation in which they were able to capture Lord Charles Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown.


The Revolution at Sea Saga – Captain Isaac Biddlecomb of Rhode Island  is swept up in the naval war for American Independence

By Force of Arms
The Maddest Idea
The Continental Risque
Lords of the Ocean
All the Brave Fellows

The Brethren of the Coast Trilogya series about Thomas Marlowe, a former pirate who tries to give up the old life and settle in Colonial America, but keeps getting drawn back to his old ways.
The Guardship
The Blackbirder
The Pirate Round
he Samuel Bowater Books- Set during the early days of the American Civil War, Samuel Bowater leaves his beloved United States Navy to fight for the Confederacy.
Glory in the Name – winner of the American Library Association/William Young Boyd Award
Thieves of Mercy

The Only Life that Mattered – a novel based on the lives of the pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

Jim’s next book was out in March 2011. Something of a departure from his usual maritime theme, With Fire and Sword is about the early days of the American Revolution, culminating in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Early Reviews of With Fire and Sword: 
Publisher’s Weekly: 
This rousing history rescues Bunker Hill from its folkloric shroud and pre-sents it as one of the revolution’s more significant and dramatic battles. Historian and novelist Nelson (Benedict Arnold’s Navy) calls the 1775 engagement–a struggle for high ground from which American artillery could hit the British stronghold in Boston–the revolution’s “first real battle.” Nelson’s gripping portrait of the battle caps a lively chronicle of the early days of the rebellion in Massachusetts and of the revolutionaries’ scramble to establish a government and organize an army as they edged uneasily toward independence. Nelson’s well-researched, entertaining account of the revolution’s opening chapter aptly conveys the difficulty and riskiness of the patriots’ gamble. 

His latest fiction series is a Voyage into the Viking age of Ireland - full of adventure and excitement.

Book #4
Amazon UK   Amazon US  

"Glendalough Fair is a novel of deception, betrayal, and honor. The various storylines are intricately woven, and while how they will intersect isn’t initially obvious, they come together seamlessly to realistically depict life in Ireland during the Viking Era. While the water scenes are minimal, the raid is portrayed with ingenuity that shows how much Thorgrim’s son has matured during the course of this series. Readers will gloss over the occasional misspellings or missing words, because this riveting and gritty tale is told so vividly it unfolds in the mind’s eye like a movie playing on the big screen. Fans of Thorgrim and his men will relish this latest saga and eagerly await their fifth adventure."
 ©2016 Cindy Vallar

Book #5
Amazon UK  Amazon US
"An intricately woven tale of betrayal and revenge. Violence remains a key element of this story and the time period, yet Thorgrim, Cónán, and Aghen rely more on ingenuity and knowledge than their fighting expertise in the encounters with their enemies. This adds depth to the characters and shatters the stereotypical portrayals of Norse and Irish alike. Readers who haven’t read the previous volume, Glendalough Fair, won’t have any trouble following what happens in the aftermath of that disaster, but reading that title first may enrich the experience of Night Wolf. Like the tales of old told by an Irish seanachaidh or a Norse skaldNight Wolf lures readers into its web and holds them spellbound until the story ends.
 ©2016 Cindy Vallar

A few questions for Jim to answer:
HH Out of your fictional sea-heroes, which one is your favourite?

JLN. Ah, that’s like asking which of my kids I like the best! Isaac Biddlecomb, protagonist of my series about the naval action of the American Revolution, was my first character, so he holds a special place in my heart. However, because he was my first, he is perhaps not as nuanced some of my later characters, though I do think he has some depth. Thomas Marlowe is the pirate turned gentleman who still gets lured back into piracy, and I like him quite a bit. Samuel Bowater is the main character in the two novels I did about the Confederate Navy during the American Civil War. In some ways he’s my least favourite, insofar as he is a bit of a stuffed shirt.
 His foil, engineer Hieronymus Taylor, is one of my favourites and one of my readers favourites, and I very much like the interaction between them.

A long response, and as yet no answer. I guess I’d have to give it to Thomas Marlowe.

HH. You wrote a fabulous book about the famous female pirates Mary Reed and Anne Bonny “ The Only Life That Mattered” – do you think they were the only female pirates, or were they only ones we know about because they were captured?

Ann Bonny and Mary Read were certainly not the only female pirates. Next most famous is the Irish pirate Grace O’Malley. But Ann and Mary are perhaps the best known, in part because they sailed during the last years of the Golden Age of Piracy in the Caribbean, and in part because they were captured and there were so many witnesses to their trial, and the transcripts as well. The “Trial of the Century” circa 1720. Also, there is a serious titillation factor with them. But no, they were by no means the only women pirates.

As I tell my daughters, piracy is still a good career option for a young woman.

HH. Do you think you’ll write any more fiction novels?

I would love to wrote more fiction, but I don’t see it happening anytime in the next few years. A lot of editors have this idea that historical fiction aimed at a male readership is dead. You can write as many novels as you want about Anne Boleyn and they all seem to get published, but something that is aimed at a male readership? No interest. Now it is certainly true that women read a lot more than men (another reason they are the superior gender) but I think the publishers are wrong on this. [HH I absolutely agree!]

However, I will say that I enjoy non-fiction as much as fiction. It is an entirely different animal, and a real challenge to make the pages turn when you can’t make things up, but I like it. And it’s frankly easier to get review and media attention, as well as speaking gigs, all things one has to consider when supporting five people who insist on eating regularly.

HH. Your next book is ‘With Fire and Sword’ – not your usual maritime sort of work. What prompted you to write it?

I’ve been writing maritime history, both fiction and non-fiction, my whole career. It is certainly my passion. But I am also passionate about the American Revolution. With Fire and Sword is about the opening year of the Revolution, culminating in the Battle of Bunker Hill. It’s a fascinating story. Most Americans would tell you we won the Battle of Bunker Hill, which we did not. But it also was the event, coming right on the heels of Lexington and Concord, that let the British army know that this would not be the stroll in the park they envisioned. And I also want to give a good account of both sides. The British, of course, were not monsters, and Thomas Gage, the British commander, was about as fair a man as one could ask, but he was in an impossible situation. Great stuff.

HH. Let’s pretend you are a Captain aboard a grand Royal Navy Vessel. You have been instructed by the Admiralty to invite 10 guests to dine.
You can have anyone – alive or dead – who would you choose and why?

Oh boy…

Okay, Jesus would be one, how could you miss a chance like that?
Shakespeare, he’d probably be a lot of fun to party with. And Mary Read. Maybe Ann Bonny.
Benjamin Franklin, to be sure. He might be first on the list. George Washington, certainly. You would think I would say Horatio Nelson and John Paul Jones, and certainly I’d have to consider them, but brilliant as they were, I don’t know if they’d be my first choice for a dinner conversation.
Certainly I would invite Ernest Hemingway and C. S. Forester. And probably Teddy Roosevelt.
And of course my wife, Lisa. I couldn’t let her miss such a gathering, and I would clearly need help with the small talk!

Thank you Jim (please can we have some more adventures of Biddlecomb and Marlowe…… ?)

A personal note from Helen
Relevant to this guest spot – Jim is my “red pen” when it comes to editing the nautical detail of my Sea Witch novels.
I had read all his fiction books – loving both Marlowe and Biddlecomb as characters – and I e-mailed him to say thank you for the super reads. WE struck up a bit of an friendship and I confided in Jim that I was writing Sea Witch, but I knew it would be rubbish as I am no sailor (never been aboard a tall ship – or even a short ship – in my life!)

Jim offered advice and to edit; I am so grateful to him for his professional help and cheerful friendship.

Jim's website
Jim's Blog

He graduated from UCLA with a degree in motion picture/television production and for several years pursued a career in the television industry. Finally, finding that despite being in Southern California it was a damp, drizzly November in his soul, Jim took the cure Melville recommended and decided to sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.
The Rose
(aka Surprise)
For six years he worked on board traditional sailing ships including a replica of Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind the Lady Washington (known to Pirates of the Caribbean fans as the Interceptor) and the Revolutionary War frigate HMS Rose (better known as HMS. Surprise in the movie Master & Commander)

Jim went aboard the Rose in 1991 and a year later the urge to write a novel overwhelmed him and he started his first novel - By Force of Arms, was written mostly in the third mate's cabin of the ship, and on the great cabin table.

“ I was working on deck one day when the idea for my first book came to me, just one sentence, just like a bolt. I stood up and jotted that one sentence down, and that was the seed of the book."
Jim at work in the
Great Cabin

By Force of Arms incorporates much of the history of the original Rose when she was on patrol in Narragansett Bay, and some of Nelson's own experiences aboard the modern replica.

Finally realizing it would be easier to write about sailing rather than actually doing it, he came ashore and began a full time career as a writer.

Jim is the author of many works of maritime fiction and history. His book George Washington's Secret Navy won the 
Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval History.

Monday 10 July 2017

My Guests Revisiting: Graphics Designer Cathy Helms

Over the next few weeks I will be recycling some posts from  an old (now deleted) blog of mine that I ran in 2011/2012 ... Today's Remembered Recycle:

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 originally published July 2011
Avalon Graphics (est 2009)
Greetings ladies and gents! I'm Cathy Helms writing  to you from rural North Carolina, USA. First of all I want to thank my phenomenal friend Helen for inviting me to her blog! It is great to be here and to be introduced to all of her readers. (HH lovely to have you here!)
Helen Hollick
I primarily read historical fiction, always on the lookout for anything 'Arthurian',  and while perusing the fiction section at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore spotted The Kingmaking. And that book discovery is what led me to Helen! I wrote to her with a letter of praise for her Pendragon's Banner Trilogy (which is still one of my favorite Arthur-centric novels of all time),  and that initial contact led to her hiring me to re-design the cover for her pirate novel 'Sea Witch'....
Helen Hollick
and I've been working with Helen ever since! 
She's introduced me to a whole bunch of great folks in the industry, so I owe a great deal of my recent successes to her!

My husband and I reside in North Carolina, relocating over a decade ago from Florida (USA), where we both grew up. After years of working in billing and customer service, I finally had enough of crunching numbers and creating invoices. So I applied and was accepted into my local community college where I earned a degree in Advertising and Graphic Design in 2008. 

I call the college experience my own version of a 'mid life crisis' since I waited until I turned 40 to further my education. After graduating, I established Avalon Graphics and have been working out of our home growing my design business steadily since 2009. And I feel that my big break came when I reached out to Helen and ended up fulfilling all of her graphic needs.

I grew up with a healthy interest in anything related to the Arthurian legends - thus the inspiration for naming my design business. Fantasizing about castles, knights in shining armour and all that frivolity were (and still are!) my favorite pastime. Also, I have always been fascinated with British history; in particular the Dark Ages. Bucket list item - walk a section of Hadrian's Wall! I regularly attend local Renaissance Festivals here in North Carolina, and travelled to the UK for the first time in 2012.

I am also a passionate digital photographer and often use my own photography in my design creations. I grew up with dreams of becoming a filmmaker, or a singer, or an artist, and so I've always considered myself a creative soul. As a teenager, I sang in my school's choir, played the trumpet, and was student director of many school stage productions. 

I graduated with the distinction of being named Drama Student of the Year in 1985. But it wasn't until much later in my life that I returned to my creative roots. Fresh out of high school, I failed to follow those dreams. Instead, I followed the job market earning a steady income for the first twenty two years of my professional life, working in dull cubicles.

Besides all things 'Arthurian', I also fell in love with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels while still working in the drab office environment. And when Peter Jackson produced the stunning films back in 2001, I found my muse again for imaginative pursuits. I began writing poetry and dabbling in fan fiction writing. And I wanted to create my own computer desktop wallpapers based on the Lord of the Rings and other fandoms.

Desktop Wallpaper

So after some research into how these digital wallpapers were created I discovered a computer software program called Adobe Photoshop. Years before I went to college to gain a formal education in the medium I taught myself how to create graphics for the web and print media with Photoshop. What my formal education gave me was the technical skills that I would need in order to apply my creative skills in the field of Advertising and Graphic Design. Most importantly, I learned how to prepare digital designs for print and quickly discovered a particular love for book cover design.

Helen Hollick
How I do it - I am often asked about my process in designing book jackets and my initial response goes something like this: each project is unique and it 'depends....' I know, that is incredibly vague. *laughs* I ask the client about their manuscript first, then ask a few questions about favorite colors, other book covers that they favor and if they have any specific elements they'd like to see on the cover.

Cover Design by
Avalon Graphics
 Then I begin my concepts (in Photoshop, not by hand which usually surprises folks) based on the client's input and largely on my own gut instinct after interacting with the client. I like to work directly with the client in developing a cover design that truly speaks to them and represents the story that they are telling within the pages of their book. While my education taught me the 'rules' of formal graphic design, I like to step outside that box and go for something more unique whenever possible. 
Pauline Barclay
Not all publishing houses allow free styling in book cover design, but I certainly push that envelope! I fashion myself a photo manipulator with a serious addiction to typography. However, my resume simply says 'Graphic Designer' as that would be the prim and proper title for my profession.

So what I do -  offer an array of design services and have geared Avalon Graphics to suit the self-published and small businesses in the market in need of quality design while on a tight budget. I provide full book jacket layouts, marketing materials such as fliers, post cards, bookmarks, web graphics, as requested. (Note : I used to do book trailers for You Tube, sadly I no longer have time to do these.)

Designs for marketing:

 Design for Helen's 2011
Blog Tour

Three of Cathy's wonderful covers have been nominated for the Indie BRAG award please click here to vote for Cathy's covers, and any others that take your gfancy in the various categories

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from the original post

Cathy: which ten people would you invite to a dinner party and why? 
You can have anyone, alive, dead or fictional.

1. Lucius Artorius Castus (Roman Commander who lived 140-197): He led a legion of Roman soldiers based at Ribchester against the Caledonii tribe during a large campaign to push the enemy back north of Hadrian's Wall in his time. I think the man would give me a fantastic insight to life along the Wall...whether or not his campaign was in part the basis for the Arthurian Legends...well that is anyone's guess. But he's high on my own personal list of contenders for the real Arthur. And any man of that caliber I'd love a long chat with over a strong wine and in front of a roaring fire.

2. Clive Owen (actor, 46): My favorite actor! I think he'd be an interesting dinner party guest because he always seems friendly and impeccable in interviews. He comes from humble beginnings and I'd like to hear more about how he'd made it all work in such a tough industry as movie making.  I'm a bit curious about his obsession with David Bowie too, and I would ask him all sorts of questions about learning to ride horses for the filming of King Arthur - and his own thoughts on the legends. What was it truly like to portray 'Arthur'?

3. Steven Spielberg (director, producer, screenwriter, etc) - my idol filmmaker since I first saw his films back in the early 80's. Fascinating man. I would ask him about his inspirations and whole creative process. And why exactly did Indiana Jones hate snakes so much?

4. Gaius Julius Caesar (probably most famous Roman of them all / 100BC to 44BC): I've always been fascinated with this man's life story - what we know of it at any rate. I'd love to hear all about it in first person. What was the Roman Empire truly like day in and day out? And how much did he truly trust Brutus?

5. Helen Hollick! (writer and friend): One of the most inspirational people that I've ever met. I think we could talk for days about pirates, warlords and wine! (I accept - you've got a date! :-)

6. Howard Huddleston (b. March 1912 d. Dec 1988): My paternal grandfather. I adored him and he adored me. I never had enough time with him. He is the reason that I have a particular love of animals...especially horses. He bought me my very own pony before I could walk. And much to my mother's dismay, he always took me out to his pastures to feed the horses; allowing them to lick my hair and such when I was still a toddler.

7. Linda Hostetler Tucker (b. Oct 1968 d. June 2008): My beloved cousin. I lost her too soon. I miss her. She was my twin in life.

8. Ashley Argo: My best friend! She's my writing partner; she understands and most importantly accepts all my quirky ways. And how could I have a dinner party that included Clive Owen without inviting Ashley? She would murder me. *laughs*

9. Captain Jack Sparrow! (fictional - Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) Don't tell Jesamiah Acorne that I picked Sparrow over him! It was a tough choice mind you. Perhaps I would have better luck getting the rum if I invited Acorne instead! Jack Sparrow is one of the most beguiling and bewildering characters ever to grace the screen...or the Caribbean.

10.Richard Cypher (fictional - The Seeker): Terry Goodkind gave us the best of all men when he created Richard for the Sword of Truth series. And I would love the chance to share a meal with the modest woods guide who turned out to be the savior of their entire world. I want to know what it is like to be a War Wizard! And I bet he could prepare a better meal than any fancy restaurant on the planet today.

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1066 Turned Upside Down