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:
- 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:
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:
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:
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:
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…
One thought on “More on the Spear cover”
Love the cover and good call on the typeface. What I noticed was not the raised P but the extra space between the P and E, so to me it read like SP EAR. The last image (not the final?) seems to have closed that space a smidge, so to me it looks better. Brains are funny things.
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