Cover of Menewood: A Novel by Nicola Griffith (MCDxFSG, 3 October, 2023). Cover art by Anna and Elena Balbusso. Cover design by Na Kim.

Image description: Richly coloured cover of a novel, Menewood, by Nicola Griffith, painted predominatly in blue, gold, black, and red. The image is of a young woman—Hild, the protagonist of the novel—standing tall against an ominous backdrop of medieval warfare. Behind her in the upper left, the top corner is golden, with white-hot tipped yellow arrows arcing overhead against what might be dark mountains or forbidding trees. The arrows are, perhaps, on fire. Crows are dodging them. Below the arrows and crows a mounted warrior charges from left to right, shield glinting silver, sword raised, face hidden behind a helmet. Behind Hild to the right, against a sky full of dark cloud and smoke, the arrows fall towards a host of spears and banners. The pale blue banner in the foreground shows a stylised boar with garnet eyes. The banner behind that displays a raven. In the centre of the image, and taking up more than half of the total image area, is Hild. She looks directly at the observer with blue-green eyes filled with a weight of experience beyond her years. Her expression, partially obscured by windblown hair—pale chestnut with a slight wave—is clear and farseeing: this is a woman who makes decisions that decide lives. She wears what appears to be fishmail armour beneath a richly textured but torn and worn cloak. The cloak is mostly sky blue and held together at the breast by a great, early medieval equal-armed cross brooch of gold and garnet inlay. The belt beneath the cloak is styled somewhere between Celtic and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ interlace. In her right hand she hold a wooden quarterstaff, bound with blood-spattered iron. The cloak is overlain with other images: a red fern, a black war horse, a crow, black leaves, cloud and smoke, and bare, blood-red branches. Lettering, of textured gold in early-medieval style, is superimposed on the image. “Menewood,” centred below the cross brooch in large type. Below that, in smaller type, on the left “Author of Hild” and, on the right, “A Novel.” Below that, in large type, “Nicola Griffith.”

About the cover

Yesterday I talked a bit about the wonderful cover for Menewood by the Balbusso twins. Here’s a bit more on the process.

Long-time readers might remember that when I first talked to my editor about illustrating Hild I was adamant: no representation of Hild on the cover! And you saw how that turned out :) And though my editor was right—this time—and I was wrong, for Menewood I decided I wanted to get my dibs in early and try influence the process from the beginning.

So this time I started the conversation early—which was easy: I simply responded at length to a very useful questionnaire. Here it is (with a couple of redactions to prevent spoilers).

1. Please describe your ideal jacket for this book

An illustration by the Balbusso twins. The Hild jacket was gorgeous, and showed Hild as a child—well-fed, healthy, unscarred by life, but carrying the kind of weight and responsibility for herself and her family no child should have to. The Menewood jacket should show Hild as an adult—a young one, yes, but very much grown up—again carrying great weight and responsibility, but this time a wider, deeper, heavier and more immediate responsibility: for an entire region, and then the fate of the whole of the north of Britain. She should look honed, fierce and focused, but also, still, a visionary. 

The perfect illustration for Menewood would, like that for Hild, be textured, vivid, luxurious and atmospheric. I see her standing in a high place—top of a hill, edge of a cliff, prow of a ship—and looking out. She should be carrying her fighting staff, wearing her slaughter seax and either her warrior jacket (a kind of gambeson) or her mantle of lynx furs. There should be indications of war—banners? blood? smoke?—and the suggestion that she herself is not unmarked by war. And depending on what part of the book we’re referencing, she could be [redacted] and/or [redacted].

I want the colours to be rich and gorgeous, as for Hild, but perhaps in a slightly darker key. So the foiling, for example, instead of being gold could be bronze. Any birds should be flying/fleeing rather than nesting or singing. The light perhaps could be late afternoon.

But definitely Hild, marked by war, standing in a high place, in the natural landscape. And if I had my way, the Balbusso twins would illustrate every single Hild novel, ageing and complicating Hild as she grows.

2. What are some visual themes/key points/motifs in your book?

Nature. Hild is always outside: under the trees, by the water, climbing a hill, wading in a marsh, etc. She prefers high places and wild country. So: trees, birds, water vole, horses, sky, pond, mere, marsh, moor, mountain, swans, herons 

  • most important fauna: 
    • hedgehog
    • horse
    • water vole
  • most important flora/landscape: 
    • ancient oak pollard
    • Menewood beck and its valley
    • high moor

War. There is a lot of war in this book and Hild is always in the thick of it. So: blood, banners, bodies, seaxes, swords, shields, smoke. And Hild is physically scarred.

  • most important banners: 
    • Yffing (purple with boar with red eye)
    • Cath Llew (lynx)
    • Baedd Coch (red boar)
    • Butcherbird (crude picture in red of a man impaled like a shrike’s prey on a white background)
    • Iding (raven, purple on gold)
    • Gwynedd (red dragon)
3. How did the title come about? Does it relate to a passage in the book?

Menewood is the name of Hild’s valley, her personal possession, her safe place and heart-of-home; a secret, wooded valley with a system of becks and ponds, guarded at its mouth by an ancient oak pollard. Menewood is Hild’s last redoubt, her final bolthole, green and quiet and safe—for a while. 

4. Do you have any images or reference material that you would like us to consider?

For a sense of colour see anything from the Sutton Hoo ship burial or Staffordshire Hoard: gold, garnet, sapphire/blue enamel, etc. But if there’s anything in particular you’re interested in I could draw them for you

5. Is there anything you’d prefer not to see on the cover? Least favorite color? Preference for photography over illustration or vice versa? 
  • The only person I want to see on the cover of Menewood is Hild.
  • She must not look demure or sweet in any way
  • I dislike dull and muddy colours: mustard, beige, olive, etc
  • I’d like a richly-coloured illustration, preferably by the Balbusso twins so that the figure of Hild herself looks like a sharper, more experienced, and honed version of the child on the cover of Hild

On balance, I think I got what I wanted—only better, because now the Hild of my imagination has a shape and colour in the real world. The art’s gorgeousness seemed to galvanise the publishing team—and now we’re finalising the rich interior design. It is delicious! But I’ll talk more about that another time.

Meanwhile, if you’re so inclined you can pre-order the book anywhere books are sold, or see the enormous list of independent booksellers worldwide I put together a while ago, or get from your favourite store or platform.

Pre-order | | Apple Books | Barnes & Noble | Phinney Books | Target