Beautiful Titan – my new novel


First of all, this novel is long overdue. I’m sorry. You should try being an author! It’s a slow and tricky business.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on myself. My first novel Operation Red Jericho was published almost exactly ten years ago, so five novels in ten years is not too shameful.

I’m really proud of Beautiful Titan. I had the idea about five years ago, and the story has been through several incarnations since. I hope that if you download it, you’ll enjoy it as much as my other books. I have set up a standalone website where I talk about the story, and you can get the link to Amazon, or click on the image above. There is even a trailer, handcrafted by me, with CGI action sequences no less:


I did a majority of the writing in Switzerland over the winter of 2012-13, and it took about 6 months to complete. At the time, my wife and I were living in an apartment up a very steep hill (as you’d expect), in a village with a name like a Star Trek baddie (Klingnau). I have to say that not a huge amount happens in Klingnau apart from a very good wine festival in October, so it has very few distractions.

We weren’t near the mountains but on clear days in the spring and autumn we could see the Alps from our balcony. Alas, most of the time we couldn’t see the Alps. In fact, most of the time the most distracting landmark was the cooling tower of a nuclear power plant the Swiss have built as close to the German border as they could possibly get it!

(Here are some pics of Klingnau to set the scene)


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As with all freshly written books, you don’t know if they are any good. I appointed a very good editor, and his input sharpened the detail, but he agreed the plot was essentially there and functioning well. It was quite a departure in style from my earlier novels, so for the first time I sent the manuscript out to a wide selection of friends to be read and critiqued. I’ve never done this before. It was an anxious moment. However, the reaction was extremely encouraging so I thought it was worth publishing.

The book is for a slightly older age group than my previous books, and is for a YA 16+ readership.

Let me know what you think.

Joshua Mowll

Does your self-pub front cover look like a dog’s dinner, even though you paid for it? 12 possible reasons why.


You can tell the quality of a graphic designer by the fonts they use

The first question you’re probably asking is, as an author, what qualifies me to talk about front covers? What do I know? My answer is that I have a degree in graphic design and have been working in the business for 20 years.

An immediate caveat: I’m not looking for cover design work. This is not a pitch. I can do them, but as you can see from my portfolio: it’s not necessarily my thing. I do, however, have a professional opinion on them and I’ve seen some absolute shockers recently, hence the post.

OK, so here’s the problem: you’ve paid good money to have a book cover designed because you’ve heard that it’s a ‘must have’ when launching your eBook on Amazon, etc… But the cover isn’t working for you, no matter how many times you look at it. It simply doesn’t grab you, and somehow it doesn’t look as good as traditionally published front covers. So what’s the problem?

Here’s my checklist of what might have gone wrong (assuming you have paid a graphic designer to create the cover):

1. Ask yourself this: Has your designer simply downloaded a free font, slapped on a free stock image, tried out a few Photoshop filters on it, then finished it off with a massive lens flare?

Has your designer put any thought into it, or are they knocking out four or five similar covers a day? Does your cover look similar to thousands of others? Did you choose the right designer?

2. Has your designer or illustrator actually read your book?

If not, how exactly are they having any meaningful artistic ideas about your cover? Are they solely using your notes and direction for what you envision for the cover?

3. You are probably not a designer, so why are you giving out design tips?

If I was having keyhole surgery done on my knee I wouldn’t be offering my opinion to the surgeon, or making suggestions on how he could do his job better. I’d trust that he was a skilled expert with many years of experience and training under his belt and let him get on with it. Research lots of cover designers, find one you like, then let them do their job.

4. This sounds harsh, but I’m going to say it: Are you the real problem in the design process?

Have you interfered with the layout at every stage and gone against the ideas and suggestions of the designer you employed? Is that why the end result looks compromised?

Giving direction and notes on how you think the cover should look makes the designer’s life easier because they don’t have to read your 700-page epic, but in an ideal world the designer should be giving you ideas, not vice-versa.

5. You probably won’t get a good result out of a cheap online cover design company offering a quick delivery service.

You guessed it – the end result will most likely look cheap and quick. You pay for what you get.

6. Never use friends or family to create an illustration, or design a cover, unless they are a working illustrator or designer with a broad client base.

You might well think it would be a lovely idea if, say, your amateur artist cousin created you a lovely cover. Why risk it after all that hard work you’ve put in to create the novel? There are literally hundreds of thousands of excellent illustrators and designers out there, all quite reasonably priced, who will do a better job.

7. Colour/color palette

No lurid colours. The downfall of many covers are vicious, ill-considered palette. The smartest covers often have very limited palettes. Search color/colour theory online.

8. Less is more. In all things.

Do you have a large amount of clashing elements or ideas on your cover, or have you insisted on your name being ridiculously big?

9. Fonts:

There are surprisingly few good fonts; conversely, there are many, many thousands of dreadful ones. If you don’t know the difference, or can’t tell the difference, find a designer who can.

You can tell the quality of a graphic designer by the fonts they use. Make sure they choose typefaces from proper font foundries. These will cost more, but it is minor details like these that make all the difference. The temptation is to use a free face to cut down the costs. It’s free for a reason.

10. Fonts you should probably avoid having on your front cover:

  • Brush Script
  • Times New Roman
  • Papyrus
  • Arial
  • Comic Sans
  • Copperplate
  • Generic grunge fonts
  • Helvetica
  • Courier

 If you’re wondering why these fonts are not good choices, I urge you to reread point 3 above.

11. Typography:

Stretched type: No type should be stretched (horizontal or vertical scaled) in any direction. Ever. It is simply bad design. Fonts are beautiful things and should be treated with respect.

All fonts should be properly kerned; never trust a computer to do kerning, especially on something like a book title. If this is the first time you’ve heard about the dark art of kerning, then…

12. A good designer will cost you money, but the cover is your novel’s shopfront.

At the point of making a sale, the cover is clearly one of the key ingredients in your potential reader’s decision making process. If you believe in your story, have invested time and energy in creating a book, why skimp? The cover is the first point of contact with your reader. Don’t let a good book be ruined by a bad cover.


First novel, first chapter, first doubts: 10 strategies for starting your story.


If 2014 is the year you decided to write a novel and you’re already stuck on chapter one, here are my top ten ways to help you over the first hurdle:

1. Don’t start with chapter one, start by doing lots of planning. This might not feel like writing a book, but it is. This way you’ll know exactly what it is you’re trying to achieve in chapter one, rather than driving blindly into a snowstorm hoping to reach a destination. Writing the first chapter is a lot easier if you know what happens in the final chapters of your book.

2. For a first time novelist, it is easy to be put off by what you initially produce. In your imagination you had expected to see award-winning prose flowing from you as if a vast and untapped literary dam had just been breached. Maybe your first page is not that good. The self-doubt sets in. This is not a book you would buy, so why continue? Rest easy. It will feel very strange to see your first novel emerging on the page. Be encouraged that you are actually sitting down to write. The polishing can come in later drafts.

3. Writing your first novel is like being given a very powerful and complex motor vehicle to drive. The only way to learn to write is to write. Lots. Very much like driving, it will get better and it will get easier with experience. Don’t expect too much at first. It is more important to be making forward progress than editing and re-editing four sides of A4 until you get bored and decide writing probably isn’t for you. Keep draft one progressing at steady rate. Learn by making some mistakes.

4. A first draft is not a novel, it’s a testbed for ideas. Chapter one will go through several later drafts, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

5. In the later stages of the editing process, I’ve found chapter one often needs to be heavily rewritten to accommodate new themes, characters, plot lines and creative directions discovered during the first draft writing process. Don’t give up because you loathe your first  attempts at crafting the first chapter. You could be abandoning a perfectly viable story for no good reason.

6. First night nerves: If you are really having problems opening your book, why not start at chapter two and then going back to write chapter one towards the end of the first draft process. If you have done enough planning (see point 1 above) then you will know where the story should be by chapter two. Go from there and see what happens.

7. Don’t overload chapter one with exposition (history lessons and info dumps). Get on with the story. Engage the reader. Make something happen to your main character which will fundamentally alter their life. We don’t need to know where they grew up, or the history and political machinations of the 14th Orc War. We are more interested that your main character has just discovered they were adopted at birth, or that they’ve suddenly lost the ability to read people’s minds. You are sending your character on a journey. Chapter one is the jumping off point rather than a place to laboriously explain the world in which they live.

8.  If you are going to tell some extremely tall tale, such as your narrator does indeed have the ability to read minds, get this extraordinary character trait out in chapter one. The later you leave it, the less believable it will become. Your reader can relax, accept this as a reality within your story, and then not worry about it because it’s clearly going to be a fundamental building block for the rest of the book.

9. You have about 60 pages to captivate a reader. Spend them very wisely.

10. If you are still not making progress, then go back and do more planning. Chapter one should be a hurdle, not an impenetrable barrier. Work out what story you are trying to tell rather than working out how to write a good opening chapter: the story is more important and should control chapter one, not vice-versa.

Writers: Worried about your characters’ names?

I recently read a draft manuscript for a friend and I was immediately struck by the extremely weak leading character’s name. It bugged me like grit in my shoe from start to finish. It seemed a basic thing to try to get right, but also quite an easy problem to fix. Of all the various chores (easy and hard) a writer has to undertake to create a novel, I would rate character name creation as one of the most fun. Fun, but vitally important. I tend to collect names I think could be useful in the future for just this purpose.

I’ve just finished the latest draft of my new novel, and the first task for the (hopefully) final draft will be to reassess all the names I’ve been using. I know at least one of the main characters now has a name that isn’t quite working, and will be one of the first things on my ‘Find and Replace’ list.

For a masterclass in names the first port of call is always Dickens. I couldn’t write a post on this subject and not mention the master: Dickens. Dickens, and thrice, Dickens. Splendid. Let’s move on.

I happened to be reading the shooting script for the screenplay ‘The Usual Suspects’ concurrently with my friend’s draft, and the contrast with the naming issue was like sugar and lemons. It’s worth taking a look at Christopher McQuarrie’s excellent 1995 screenplay if you get a chance.

What a pantheon of inspired monikers McQuarrie summons up for us: McManus, Keaton, Fenster, Hockney, ‘Verbal’ Kint, Kobayashi and, of course, the criminal mastermind behind the plot: the brilliantly named Keyser Söze (pronounced ‘so-say’ if you’re not familiar with the work).

To my mind they don’t sound much like a bunch of steam engine enthusiasts out for the afternoon photographing locomotives; with a set of players of this strength, McQuarrie begins his storytelling process with an incredibly strong hand.

I’d doff my writer’s fez at Mr McQuarrie if:

1) I knew what the chap looked like.

2) I just happened to be walking about Hollywood in a fez.

So then… I just need to find up a better name. Er… where did I put that bit of paper?