The Story Behind the Story: What Makes a True Hero?

What if a hero isn’t a true hero? This was my starting point when I came to write my dark comic short story Shopping at Tesco.

They say you should never meet your heroes, the simple reason being that in reality few people measure up to the hype, and it was with this cynical thought in mind that I listened to news of the Hudson River hero.

Back in January 2009 (yes, I wrote the first version of Shopping at Tesco that long ago), American pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was hailed a hero after successfully making an emergency landing of Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, New York, after the plane hit a large flock of geese, disabling both engines. All 155 passengers and crew survived.

It was the perfect good news story and there aren’t many of those, but at the time my initial thought was, I hope the pilot is up to his new role as the US nation’s hero.
51N3MuT4q7L._AA160_

Well, of course it turned out that he deserves all the adulation he has since received: an outstanding scholar, president of his high school Latin club, a pilot with 40 years and 20,000 hours of flying experience, an aviation safety expert, successful author and happily married family man who friends describe as “shy and reticent”.

In other words, an all round good guy, but what if a hero who becomes a hero suddenly and accidentally isn’t so great? Shopping at Tesco evolved from this simple question. The plot formed subconsciously and arrived via a dream that needed to be further developed until “Joanna”, my “Tesco hero” who isn’t a true hero came to life.

Meanwhile, the true hero Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is to be immortalised in a film directed by Clint Eastwood, a man who knows plenty about what makes a hero.

Book Cover Design: the Golden Rule

A well designed book cover will certainly improve a book’s chances in today’s crowded market, so what are the secrets of successful book cover design?

At the recent London Book Fair I attended a talk by Damian Horner, brand development director at Hachette, and this is a brief summary of his advice for authors:

1 Membership – look at the genre rules for book covers and ask, am I a member of that group?

2 Lust Factor – you have to look at it and love it. Does it stand out? If it’s fresh, you’ll look again.

3 Blink Test – is there one stand out thing that people will take away if they look quickly?

4 Title – Important for search engine optimisation and for design. Is your title strong and memorable?

LONDON TSUNAMI5 Straplines – these can explain the title but they can be messy and are not always necessary.

6 Retailer – think about how the thumbnail sized version works, important for Amazon etc, and also think of how your book will sit spine out in a bookshop such as Waterstones.

7 Hierarchy – Title or author? It’s best to choose one or the other.

GOLDEN RULE – BE CLEAR BEFORE YOU’RE CLEVER

With all this in mind I got to work on my cover for LONDON TSUNAMI & OTHER STORIES which is a collection of 21 contemporary stories set in London.

After initially going in the wrong direction with several ideas (including a linocut that took me at least a week), I settled on a photograph of some flats that I have been fascinated by for years. By day the building looks drab while by night it’s transformed by its central pillar of glowing windows. There are so many different and equally vibrant lives being lived in that one building and my collection is a bit like that – 21 stories of different people, of different ages, leading different lives in west London.