Holiday reading habits

Airports stock a lot of books for holiday reading, and if you’re aiming at a popular market, it’s a good idea to take a good hard look at what’s on sale. Crime and romance come top, but these days they all have strap-lines that sound exactly the same. Does your book fit one of these categories (all advertised on the same day)?

A feel-good, uplifting story of the most unlikely friendship.

The bold, brilliant, and hilarious Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller.

A gripping mystery perfect for all crime fiction readers.

The heartbreaking bestseller that has sold over ONE MILLION copies.

The trouble is, sometimes the book is actually really well-written, but this sort of trashy description stops you from buying it.

Last year I spent three weeks in central America. The first part was an organised tour of Nicaragua, and the second part was staying with a friend in Costa Rica. I’ve always used these holidays as material for stories, but this time I was intrigued by the differing reading habits of the others on the first trip. Much to my surprise most people brought books, not e-readers. When you have a 20 kilo weight limit on an aircraft books take up quite a lot of it, so for me an e-reader has been a real bonus as I never run out of something to read. What seems to happen is that people read the paperbacks they’ve brought, and then leave them somewhere for other people to read and use the resulting space to bring back souvenirs. It never seems to occur to them that authors get nothing when a book is passed on. Not all authors earn a fortune, and a few sales can actually be rather important, for rankings as well as income. So hurrah for the e-reader, which no one is going to leave behind for someone else to read.

Although I read nearly all my fiction via the Kindle, I still buy field guides in hardback. I’m fussy, too, having illustrated a few myself, and accuracy both in the text and the illustrations is paramount. There’s a good reason why the best guides contain illustrations rather than photographs. Try taking a picture of an animal from the right angle that shows all its features, doesn’t have a shadow on it somewhere or a bit of foliage obscuring part of a leg. It’s really difficult. Illustrations can be derived from several photographs, or even the animal itself. I used to wonder why, in the Natural History Museum, they have an entire drawer devoted to one insect – it’s so that you know what the majority of the species looks like, because there are always aberrations. Butterflies, with white patches on their wings. Moths that have oddly-shaped antennae. Crickets that never reached full size. Mistakes get made, too. Many years ago I was doing an illustration of a swordfish. Like most people, I’d assumed that the fish was dark on top, and silver or white underneath. Not so. It’s copper-coloured. The books that first showed it were in black and white, and other illustrators simply copied previous illustrations. This is why I always buy reputable guides, and update them every so often. Even using the live creature can pose problems. I was illustrating a stick insect for a T-shirt, and obtained a live specimen. I was really pleased with the result, and a lot of them were printed. And then someone pointed out that the antennae were too short. I couldn’t believe it – the insect I used had clearly had some sort of mishap, and both its antennae had been broken off at the same place!

Anyway, here is an illustration of a Sally Lightfoot crab from Galapagos and a photograph (the best of about 50!), so that you can see the difference between the two. These days, I try to paint from my own photographs, as not only does it avoid royalty conflicts, I also know a bit about the animal concerned.

Photograph of a Sally Lightfoot Crab, on a grey rock.
Photograph of a Sally Lightfoot Crab, Copyright, Liz Newman
Image Description: Painting of a Sally Lightfoot Crab.
Image Description: Painting of a Sally Lightfoot Crab, Copyright, Liz Newman

Have you found other ways of combining different art forms you practise, and how does one benefit the other?

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1 Comment

  1. barbarahenderson 13 August 2018 at 9:09 am

    Great post, Liz – excellent point about how authors lose out when readers leave their books for others to pick up! And what a beautiful illustration.

    Reply

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