Spear (out April 19, 2022) has a lovely cover. But like all covers it took some time to come together.

It began with choosing the artist, and I plumped for Rovina Cai because of the wonderful illustration she did for my Solstice story, “Cold Wind.” I admired the way she caught the moment of transformation at the heart of the story—the reversal from predator to prey—and the sense of movement, and the outside-time atmosphere. And I loved the fact that she did it with such a subdued palette.

When I was asked what I wanted to see on the cover the first thing was easy: no clear representation of Peretur’s face! I also suggested a list of meaningful objects in the book:

  • spear
  • cave
  • wooded thicket
  • hanging bowl (or cup—as it’s sometimes in the book).

I made sketches of two kinds of spears—a boar spear and a javelin—but I focused on the bowl/ cup. There’s a good reason for that. Here’s a passage from near the beginning:

In the cave is a great hanging bowl. “My cup,” her mother calls it, when she tells her stories


The bowl is not gold, it is not silver, nor even beaten bronze; it is enamel on black iron that never dulls and never dents, though sometimes the iron shimmers with light reflected from elsewhere. Even direct from the hearth it will not burn the hand that holds it, and any who drink from it are healed. Or so Elen tells the girl. The girl herself cannot tell because she drinks and eats from the bowl every day, but every day she grows tall and taller, strong and stronger; her hair with the same heavy wave as her mother’s but paler, brass where her mother’s is bronze, her eyes sea grey with a hint of green. With her fingers she traces the bowl’s wondrous twining beasts of inlaid bronze, their raised wings and bright glass eyes; she touches the cold, enamelled escutcheons where great hooks hold the bowl when it hangs, and pushes with her palm the four small iron stumps on the base on which it stands by the hearth; she smooths the sharp etched points of the mounted knights’ spears, the clean lines of the swords they wield in endless battle…

To go with it I ferreted out some images of the Gundestrup Cauldron, and two hanging bowls from Sutton Hoo.

A week or two later I got back this concept sketch:

Monochromatic sketch in umbers and oranges of a footed bowl, with escutcheons and engravings, with steam rising from it in te shape of trees and an armed figure mounted on a horse
Concept sketch by Rovina Cai for Spear

I liked the general idea—I’ve always enjoyed the way Cai composes her illustrations, the sense of movement created by how the image leads the eye. On this one my brain starts at the bottom left, moves to midway up the right, then up and over to the left via the tree tops, mounted figure, fort wall, then birds. To me the image itself seemed to move like a flame or a wisp of smoke.

I did have a couple of concerns. One, that it was all shades of umber, not just subdued but sombre. Two—a minor detail—the depiction of what appeared to be crenellated stone walls. I was pretty sure the sombreness was a minor detail too, an artefact of the rough nature of a concept sketch, but it’s always good to check assumptions before they get set in stone. And speaking of stone, the reason I was eager to squelch the notion of crenellated castle walls was that in 6th-century Britain, most fort walls would be made of wood.

I dropped my editor a note and got on with other things.

And lo! Here’s what eventually came back:

Book cover body colour is charcoal, author 'Nicola Griffith' in orange-red, beneath that 'author of Hild' in white and at the bottom, in white, heavy blackletter font spells out 'Spear'. In the centre is the image of a ann irong hangig bowl with silver and bronze inset and engravings and bronze or gold hanging rings. It seethes and smokesk and the rising vapours form images of a woman im the woods, trees, a sword in a stone, a figure armed with a spear on a horse, a gate house and paslisade, and birds rising up. Most of the cauldron/cup and vapour is white, but the figure of the woman is red-orange, and flickers of red hint at flame elsewhere
The first cover

I loved the colours and composition. What I didn’t like was the title typeface.

That kind of heavy gothic blackletter was practically the official script of the Third Reich, and variations of it have been appropriated by white supremacists ever since (and, oddly, newspapers). I had a pretty visceral response.

I pulled together a bunch of images of Late Antique/Early Medieval manuscripts and pondered them, then sent examples of uncial and half-uncial writing and said, There, like that. That’s what I want.


I was so determined to not have that original typeface that I told my editor that, if pushed, I would even cope with the loathsomely twee Rivendell:

Thankfully it didn’t come to that. The cover designer, Christine, futzed about with the images I sent and came up with something which is neither uncial nor half-uncial but with elements of both. Changing the title size and shape, though, meant some other things needed tweaking to balance the composition, so we ended up with this:

A book cover for Spear by Nicola Griffith. The background is charcoal, shading to black at the bottom, with the author's name at the top is orange-red and the title, at the bottom, and 'from the author Hild' in white. The main image is of a great hanging bowl ofblack iron with inlaid figures and great bronze escutcheons for the hanging hooks. It is wreathed about by smoke and flame and steam, and the steam forms images: in white, woods with a woman and a stone and a sword; about the trees, shading to orange, is an figure with a spear on a horse; a fort gate and box palisade, and over all, flying up in the smoke towards the author's name, two birds.

I loved it—but I kept coming back to that P. Something about it nagged at me. It looked out of alignment.

I measured it: it was a smidge too high. So I sent another note, again with an explanatory image:

The finished cover image, except with a line drawn under the title clerly sowing that the bottom of the upper part of the P is out of alignment with the rest of the letters, with a helpful arrow drawn in to show where iti should be moved down a millimetre.of alighnment

In return I got a kind note (the people at Tordotcom are very patient) saying there’s a reason the P is higher, something to do with the way human brains process visual information, but that if I insisted, then, here, this is what the changed cover would look like; they thought it looked weird, but they could live with that because, eh, the difference was so small and subtle no one (but weirdly obsessed authors with nothing better to do) would notice:

And maybe my brain is weird and obsessive because when I saw the new image I was all, Yay! Much better! Unfortunately everyone else—including Kelley—disagreed. I stared and stared at one image then the other until both looked ridiculous and wrong and language itself ceased to have meaning.

There comes a point in every book’s pre-publication cycle—sometimes several points—where you just have to trust the experts. This was such a moment. Fine, I said. Let’s go with the original.

And now that I’ve made my choice, I’m happy. It’s a great cover, just right for the book. Even more excitingly I’ve seen sketches for five interior illustrations (also by Rovina Cai). I am delighted. It’s going to be a beautiful package, just lovely!

I’ve also been struck by how smooth and efficient the editorial process has been so far. Publication date is still almost a year away and we already have a finished cover and I’ve turned in my edits of the copyedits. I’m impressed by both Tordotcom’s workflow and how well the editorial collaboration between the two Macmillan imprints—Tordotcom and FSG—has meshed. It’s all been astonishingly pain free.

Next steps for me with Spear: writing the Author’s Note (I think I’ll have fun with that) and Acknowledgements, then proofs (my least favourite part), and then one of the bits I always enjoy: marketing conversations! And then figurig out how I can do the audio narration. When all that’s done, maybe I’ll make a map or draw some wee pictures or something…