Don’t judge a book by its cover?
They say that, don’t they? But of course, that’s exactly what we do. I think marketing departments have commissioned studies that show the bookstore browser – and probably their online counterpart – look at a cover for perhaps seven seconds. You have to grab them, have to make them turn to the next vital item: the back cover (or fly) synopsis.
I was always lucky with my covers – I had the wonderful Henry Steadman as designer, and Henry was always keen to involve me, not always the case with designers. He and my original UK publisher had an idea: to show Jack on the front. And since the first novel in the series was ‘Jack Absolute’ and was set in 1777 when Jack was 35 they asked me to be the model. “It’s because you get me for no fee, right?” “Shut up,” they replied, “and put on the red coat.” It was quite strange posing as Jack, fifteen years after I played him on stage in ‘The Rivals’. Fun though!
This wasn’t an option with the second book, ‘The Blooding of Jack Absolute’. It is a prequel and Jack is only 16 when he goes to war. But Henry still involved me. We met in a pub to discuss his ideas over a beer – so civilized! – then he took me to the costumiers. I had done a lot of research on the British uniform in the French and Indian Wars. Knew it was more russet than scarlet, knew its trim. I then had a fascinating talk with one of the costume experts there and we enjoyed nailing down the exact shade, together with all the accouterments of crossbelt, musket, ball pouch, tricorn hat, hair sack etc. Henry then went and found a suitably dark model – Jack is a ‘black Celt’ from Cornwall. He then photographed him, then did what he did with the first novel: Photoshopped the print, making it look like a painting. I especially like the document laid under, making it out to be a memoir, a letter, a military dispatch perhaps.
The front and back covers are a lure. It’s what’s between them that’s most important. But in order to get to that a reader must be tempted. I hope that many will be drawn enough to start reading this novel.
And, like a cover, I believe each subsequent moment must draw the reader on – from the opening line. Mine here is one of my favorites:
‘The End of Time came on a Wednesday – and Jack was missing it!’
Welcome past the terrific covers to Jack’s world. It’s a pretty wild time in there!
BOOK BLURB: Before he can become a man, he must first learn to kill…
London: 1759: Life is easy for Jack Absolute, a young raconteur loved by the ladies and envied by his schoolmates. With a place secured at university and a baronetcy at hand, his future seems bright—if he can just stay out of trouble. But when Jack is caught read-handed with a powerful lord’s mistress, his good fortune is destroyed, forcing him to seek a new fate in the dangerous New World during the brutal French and Indian Wars.
There, marooned amid hostile Indians and fierce colonial rivalries, the bawdy schoolboy disappears and a man emerges. Jack’s survival depends on winning the friendship and help of the natives, but those come at a high price. In order to become the man they could eventually trust, Jack Absolute must first be blooded. And in order to be blooded, he must do the unfathomable. He must learn to kill.
The gripping prequel in C.C. Humphrey’s riveting historical series, The Blooding of Jack Absolute sweeps readers into the ruthless wilds of North America and tracks the stunning transformation of a young dreamer into a daring, larger-than-life hero.
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EXCERPT part one:
Jack awoke from a dream of love. Though the images vanished with the opening of his eyes, their lingering effect was clear before him. He’d thrown off the heavier coverlets in the night and only a sheet lay atop him, in the nature of a tent held up by a single pole.
Jack reached down and grasped the structure in both his hands. To be alone in his bedroom at Absolute House and not in the dormitory at Porten’s where he boarded, with the dozen beds shaking each morning under their occupants’ exertions, this was a rare joy and he immediately thought of taking advantage of it. Hidden in his armoire were some quite extraordinary prints that Sommers, a schoolfellow who had developed a talent for the purchase and purveying of such choice items, had supplied. It would be a matter of moments to fetch them, study and learn, lie back…
Then, an image from his dream did come back to him and it halted his motion out of the bed. A face appeared in his mind’s eye, sweet, pure, unblemished, framed with the palest of fair hair formed in corkscrew curls. Clothilde! He was to see her today. And he could not, would not sully his thoughts of her with any actions now.
And yet…There was another whom he also planned on visiting this day, one whose face—and body—had also haunted his sleep and helped cause his by now quite painful physical display. She would be more than delighted if he used her in such a way. So long as he recounted every detail of it. Fanny liked details.
He groaned, then levered himself out of the bed. No. He knew a piss would help ease the strain and indeed, all the milk he’d drunk in Nance’s scullery the night before—a fine way to prevent the morning headaches, he’d always found—was taxing him now. He’d hidden there from his raging father until he’d given up the hunt and retired. Pulling the chamber pot from its drawer, he set to. There was relief in one sense, little in the other but, having decided, he would hold firm…or rather, not.
What he needed was to divert his thoughts, not away from the two faces of his dream but toward them in a different way. To utilize these feelings. For was that not what a poet did with his Muses? Nothing to write about, Mother? he thought. Ha!
Pulling the sheet off the bed to cover himself, he sat at the small writing table. Both his inspirations would require verse from him…but in quite different styles.
It was the labor of an hour. When the knock came at the door, he jumped and the sheet fell off him. Since he’d written Fanny’s sonnet last, the purity of his sentiments in his ode to Clothilde had been displaced by somewhat grosser thoughts. He’d returned to his waking state. And that was the moment that Nancy chose to walk in with a cheery, “Mornin’, young Master.”
He snatched up the sheet just in time. “Ah, Nance! What…ah…what time is it?”
“Straight up midday and a fine bright one it is.” She set a basin of water on the side table and dragged open the drapes. Sunshine streamed in.
“Midday?” Jack groaned. He was already late for his French lesson. Again.
“Aye. Your ma’s gone to the theater and your da’s still asleep. So quietly now, my lad, up and out.” She bustled about the room, straightened furniture, lifted the blankets from the floor, dumped them on the bed. Then she grabbed one end of the sheet still wrapped around him. He held onto it as she tugged.
“Nance! Leave go, I’m—”
She looked down at his bare shoulders. “Nothing I haven’t seen before, young Jack.” When he’d been brought to London and before Westminster, Nance had had the care and washing of him.
You’ve never seen this, he thought, and held the sheet tighter.
“Why, Master Jack!” she said, coyly, still tugging gently. “What have you got to hide there from your Nance?”
He stopped pulling but didn’t let go of the sheet. Then with a hoot, she whipped it off him, turning away as she did, her laughter accompanying her out of the room. “There’s a note from your ma there, boy. And I’ve some cold meat and tatties in the kitchen for ye—if you can get your breeches on!”
Her laughter disappeared with her down the stairs. Jack looked around, then saw it. Nance had laid a piece of folded paper down on his desk. As he took it up he reflected that it was just as well that she couldn’t read because his morning’s efforts were proudly on display. She might not have disapproved of his “Ode to a Merman” dedicated to Clothilde. But Fanny’s sonnet beside it, “On a Religious Conversion by Candlelight,” would have disturbed her.
His mother’s note was merely a reminder that he was expected that evening at eight sharp—the “sharp” underlined three times—at the Assembly Rooms in Dean Street where her play, which they’d discussed the previous night, was to be premiered. Away from the Garden, she had more chance of her satires escaping the Lord Chamberlain’s notice.
Jack sat on the edge of the bed, note in hand. He had forgotten this rendezvous with his mother, was late for his French lessons. Wasn’t there something else the day held, aside from his two poetry-inspiring assignations?
Then memory came in a rush. The Mohocks! Tonight was the night for the Initiation. Yet the clashing appointments did not perturb him longer than a moment; they’d agreed that most of the Rites were to take place in Soho anyway so he would have time to attend his mother’s play during them. The interlude might even help in his other plan—to be restrained in all things despite what the other aspirant Mohocks might do. For another memory came: Craster’s challenge to billiards at noon the next day.
Jack rose and splashed his face in the basin of warm water Nance had set on the side table. He was excited, for it was to be a day of adventures. Yet there was also this need for moderation.
Yes, he thought, nodding to himself in the mirror above the basin, I will be moderate in all things.
Due to the lateness of the hour, he’d had a choice: breakfast or dressing. Since the former rarely delighted him and the latter always did, he spent some of his precious time in selecting suitable attire for what would be a long day. In the end, he settled on something new yet robust—a coat so dark in its green it was nearly black but with shining buttons and gold-embroidered holes; a waistcoat of a crimson that was almost military and whose studs fastened into openings that were wreathed in gilded oak leaves. He chose black breeches and stockings, since the London streets were unforgiving to white; a pair of plain and solid square-tipped shoes—Nance had returned his collection, polished, while he slept—albeit with a brace of fine silver buckles. He toyed with stocks but he had enough black on him and any other color jangled with the waistcoat. Besides, as he had discovered on his last outing into Covent Garden, people could grab you by the stock.
His thick, dark hair was, as usual, untamable. There was little chance of visiting the switzer in Half Moon Passage; the restraint of a cerise tie would have to do. Snatching up his silver-topped stick and squeezing the tricorn on his head, he looked himself up and down. He was so glad he’d persuaded his mother to buy him this full-length mirror. It reflected back a young man of the Town who would do. Who would do very well.
Then he was out onto the street. Since it was near one o’clock, it was crammed with people—though the hour made scant difference; it seemed to Jack that Mayfair was now always crowded, day or night. It had changed even in the few years that Absolute House was bought and built. Formerly, his route to Berkeley Square would have encompassed many more gardens like Taylor’s but now every paddock sprouted a house or was in the throes of doing so. Builders scrambled up the wooden scaffolding, hammers beat in nails, bricks were slathered and slammed down, plaster slapped onto walls. Prosperous men stood about studying plans, gesticulating at the rising edifices, scarcely seeming to notice the thick dust that settled everywhere and gave them the appearance of ghosts. Jack coughed, cursing this dulling of his finery, glad every house and hostelry had a brush in the hallway. Yet, as always, it was the noise that struck him most forcefully. At Westminster, in the environs of St. Peter’s Abbey and the cloisters of the school, all was calmness, in the twinned dedications to religion and study. Here, aside from the construction, there was that dull roar that was the very sound of the Town, made up of the thousands—hundreds of thousands—of voices, competing to be heard. In his first hundred paces’ stride down Curzon Street, a dozen different street sellers noisily hawked their offerings. It mattered not that this was an area rising in gentility, for the offal seller pushed his barrow of neats and lights past a blind stationer and his penny-priced memorandums; a ballad singer’s fair soprano clashed with the harsh cries of the Oyster-and-Eel wench; while a pudding vendor warred with a pie man in the extolling of their wares. Any who traveled in pairs—and several who walked alone—declared their business or opinions in bullhorn voices aimed at convincing not just the person beside them but anyone standing in Hyde Park as well! The scent was as assailing as the sound with the smoke gushing from the various building plots, the clashing of cooked and raw fishes and stewed meats, the horses leaving their deposits on cobbles already besmirched and steaming; while the miasma rising from hundreds of people, perfumed and unwashed and moving rapidly about their so-important errands under the warm spring sun, was the strongest odor of all.
It was farmyard, factory, and food shop. It was the main hall at Bedlam with the inmates unrestrained. It was London…and Jack loved it.
Late as he was, he had two obligatory stops. In Berkeley Square, the Pot and Pineapple was the best confectioner’s in the town and here he purchased half a pound of crystallized fruits and four peaches in brandy. It left him little change from ten shillings but he had shared in the winnings of Westminster at the cricket and, anyway, it was money well spent. Clothilde’s outrage at his tardiness would be swept away in her delight at her especial favorite sweetmeat. And Fanny…well, Fanny loved laced peaches.
His second stop was down an alley, just where Brewer Street turned into Knaves Acre—an apt name for an ill place. So dark and dank it was that spring’s heat and light barely penetrated. Jack had found the little shop on some ramble. Part apothecary, the extent of strange potions, liquors, and philters was extraordinary, but it was the Curiosities that had drawn Jack into the gloom. Skulls hung from the ceilings, reputedly of well-known heroes, highwaymen, and traitors to the realm, the proprietor, a wizened Portuguese, claiming that half the Jacobite Lords from the ’45 dangled there. Artificial eyes rolled in bowls; teeth, both human and animal, were threaded like rosaries to hang from the beams. False limbs were stacked around the walls, piled up like the endeavors of a particularly drunken surgeon after a battle while the taxidermist’s pride was displayed with native animals like lynx and fox moldering beside more exotic beasts from Africa and the East. It was among these that Jack had discovered the most curious of all. A half-crown had secured it for a week, his purse light before his prowess at sport could fill it. Now he had returned with the guinea he required to make it his and delight the heart of his own true love.
EXCERPT part two HERE.
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AUTHOR BIO: C.C. Humphreys was born in Toronto, Canada, and grew up in Los Angeles and London. A third generation actor and writer on both sides of his family, he returned to Canada in the nineties and there his writing career began.
He won the inaugural playwriting competition of the New Play Centre, Vancouver with his first play, ‘A Cage Without Bars’ which was produced in Vancouver and London.
He was a schoolboy fencing champion, became a fight choreographer and thus turned his love of swashbuckling towards historical fiction. He is married and lives in Finchley, North London.
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