Category Archives: Book covers

A story where past meets present

I’ve always tried in my previous historical fiction to raise issues relevant to our own times. So it’s encouraging when reviewers recognise (to quote one of them) ‘themes that speak to our present society’ in what I’ve written.

But I’m still aware that some readers see any stories set in the distant past as indulging in a kind of antiquarian escapism, looking nostalgically backwards instead of engaging with today’s concerns.

The book’s back cover

I hope any such misapprehension will hardly be possible for those who turn the pages of my new novel, A Thousand Tongues.

It tells a story in which situations from earlier periods are framed by a present-day setting, with characters in the here-and-now of contemporary Perth investigating characters from earlier periods and other places, discovering in the process that certain questions (e.g. about matters of conscience) are perennial even if they take different shapes as circumstances change.

Pleasant though it is to be praised for evoking authentic impressions of times gone by, my aim in A Thousand Tongues goes well beyond that – as the back-cover blurb asserts. In case you can’t see the text on the accompanying image clearly, here’s what it says:

Released from Dartmoor Prison in 1889, a black man soon breaks back into it. Interned in the same jail in 1917, a conscientious objector seems to invite trouble and seek punishment. On a present-day Australian university campus, a Muslim student is mysteriously murdered.

The suspenseful action of A Thousand Tongues reveals how these enigmas are interlinked. It explores racial and sexual tensions, twists and turns of conscience, the limits of historical enquiry, and legacies of guilt and shame.

“Ian Reid’s fiction is grounded in an understanding of how complicated character can be, how tragic fate can be, and how lives that might seem inconsequential carry the immense power of history and personality.” – Brenda Walker

Published by Framework Press, my novel is scheduled for release on the first day of the Australian spring season.

 

 

Cover preview

When its author first sees how a forthcoming book will look, there’s a frisson of pleasure.

So I’m very happy to share this preview of the cover of my soon-to-be-released fourth novel, A Thousand Tongues.

The design by Steve Barwick captures the story’s mood well, incorporating a landscape scene that figures importantly in the action. The row of stones, stark, uncanny, tongue-like, has stood in this part of Dartmoor since prehistoric times.

The title? It alludes to a speech by one of Shakespeare’s characters, quoted in an epigraph to the text.

More on this before long, as the release date draws nearer.

Can you judge a book by its cover?

When moralists tell us “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, we know it’s a proverbial injunction to look beneath superficial appearances, particularly in our dealings with people. A suave demeanour may belie inner unworthiness, while an exterior that’s not prepossessing may mask  valuable qualities. Yes grandma.

However, the publishing industry takes a more literal view. It usually invests great care in cover designs on the assumption that prospective customers can be decisively influenced by what they see on the outside of a book. Consciously or not, one’s choice to buy this book rather than that may often turn on the visual and textual information displayed on front and back. We tend to draw inferences about genre, subject matter and style not only from the descriptive blurb but also from the designer’s selection of images, colours, even the typeface used for the title or author’s name.

In choosing what to read, don’t you tend to judge a book by its cover? Take the following example, from a forthcoming book (release date: July 1st) in which I have a keen interest.

TMOP front cover copy

This front cover gives you (doesn’t it?) an immediate impression of the kind of book this is. Leaving aside for a moment the title, and the possibility that the author’s name will be associated with things previously read or heard, the scene depicted here suggests a story that’s set in the past, apparently in a frontier society and a colonial period. Though fictional (the subtitle says “a novel”), it seems likely to be grounded realistically in a specific time and place.

Having seen an advance copy of this book, a friend comments in an email message to me: “I very much like the choice of cover image – figures occupying distinct frames but situated within the same space – such lovely resonance with your novel’s themes.”

Prospective readers who happen to know something about 19th-century artists in Western Australia may recognise the image of Bunbury’s Rose Hotel. It reproduces part of a picture painted in 1863 by a white-collar convict called Thomas Browne, not long after his transportation. The original, in watercolour and pencil, is in the National Gallery of Australia. A trained draughtsman, architect and engineer, Browne produced other artworks that are held in various public collections. And a fictional version of him is one of the main characters in this novel.

If what’s on the front of a book arouses interest, a potential buyer will then usually glance at the back cover for more information. A particular publisher’s logo can serve as a token of quality. There may be an endorsement in the form of a brief quote from a reviewer. The blurb should indicate whether this is the kind of book that the person now holding it would probably enjoy reading. And the visual appeal of the back cover can be influential, too: often it extends the image on the front cover, as in this case.

The mind's own place_cover[1] copy_3

I’m fortunate that my publisher UWAP has a well-deserved reputation for excellence in book design, and pleased that my idea of reproducing Browne’s painting on the cover (with permission from the National Gallery) was readily accepted.

We did discuss the possibility of using another image, also connected historically to Thomas Browne; here it is.

Old Mill

The eventual decision to put this strange and sombre image inside the book, facing the first page of text, was a clever solution. It’s a photograph from about 1890, showing the Old Mill in South Perth after Browne modified it. The source of the image is the Battye Library.

Being much bleaker than the sunlit 1863 watercolour picture used for the cover, it foreshadows one of the narrative trajectories in this novel.

Oh yes – the novel’s title: The Mind’s Own Place is an odd phrase, and someone looking at the cover may be a bit puzzled by it. I hope it stimulates curiosity. Perhaps it may ring a bell for a person who is well versed in one of the great classics of English poetry. Here’s a clue: the real-lifeThomas Browne was known by the nickname of Satan.