26 versions later: a cover of sparkling gliminalism
Nova: a transient astronomical event that causes the sudden appearance of a bright, apparently ‘new’ star, that slowly fades over several weeks or many months.
When I heard Nova Ren Suma’s name, I thought it had to be a fabulous, eerie pseudonym, with its syllabic simplicity and its space-age middle name. I didn’t even know the gender, at first, of this new author whose cover I would be working on — but I knew right away a) they weren’t about to fade away! and b) I was fascinated.
The appearance of Nova’s new book ‘A Room Away From The Wolves’ is far from sudden — it took her a long time to write — but it has proved a sparkling new addition to the richly-layered teen fiction landscape. Without giving too much away, this is a ghost story with, as the cliché goes, a mighty twist, but set far away from any Burtonesque, Disney or period environment; the characters existing, instead, in modern-day downtown Manhattan. With references to a key character’s former life in the 90s, this is a story that both a young reader and a ‘grown’-up’ can identify with chronologically as well as emotionally, with its themes of belonging, friendship, abandoned dreams, broken relationships and accepting who, and ultimately what, you are — and what you never will be.
I read the book first as a manuscript, which is always interesting because at this stage of the process, the author is still making notes and fine-tuning. The finished copy which I read many months later did indeed differ from the original draft, and that’s part of the reason I love doing books so much; getting that early peer into the writer’s machine, watching the head-scratching, the changes of tense, notes to the Editor, syntax tweaks, even chicanes of storyline as the author changers her mind completely.
Thus, although a strong and simple story — one which I might add is crying OUT to become a film — this was a tough cover to crack. It could not be too overtly ghosty; such an approach is easy to make ‘silly’. It couldn’t be too literal; there are a lot of ethereal concepts to ponder, and a suspension of disbelief is required for the key events to make sense, but at the same time, the sense of place was important. Bina, the protagonist, couldn’t be portrayed too specifically, as one person’s vision of a central character is always different from the next — and Bina is, interestingly, somehow described both thoroughly, and ambiguously enough to toggle-switch-on the reader’s own pencil of the imagination.
So what to do? Well, the art director, who I’d worked with on Dreadful Young Ladies And Other Stories, wanted another book that was beautiful. We knew this was going to enjoy special finishes. The book had to be very strong on a book shelf; Nova’s previous novel The Walls Around Us had set a precedent there.
The location gave me the initial starting point for the cover, along with the foggy cool of an early winter evening in New York:
But it was an omnipresent dark opal that gave us our central motif, and allowed the next round of roughs to emerge: I created a pile of opals in ink, and some big pages of hand-lettered titles, and used them to generate not-too-directed ideas in fast succession:
These also gave us our colour cues — the purple! Throughout, as is my usual process, I was adding title after title in different inked letters — avoiding the ‘goth’ and the ‘romantic’ traps, neither of which were right for this novel.
Then we needed to consider the geography. If you’ve ever been to Manhattan, you’ll know how big the sky is, since you’re always looking up at the skyscrapers. But if you can get across the water from Manhattan Island for some perspective, and look back out towards it from say Brooklyn or New Jersey — the sky is vast, and the city glows and hums. It positively sparkles — stars, buildings thrusting upwards, the occasional firework, with flashes of blue light for emergencies. This is where our opal needed to…explode into life. And so we tried a few iterations:
In these versions, our opal shards were to be finished in some kind of iridescent or metallic varnish; maybe even a holographic look, to truly make the cover twinkle. But then, Art Director Laura saw what we had been missing in the many roughs we were discussing — the central lettering, the mesmeric skyline against the moon, the purple glowering of the all-ink sky — and the window light. I’d added a single, tiny one in the lower buildings (for reasons you’ll learn upon reading!) — and suddenly, there it all was.
With a little fine tuning here and a bit of preening there, the cover was before us. And this is the one it went to press with, on flesh-feel, pearlescent stock, which allows the lettering and the moon to glimmer through:
The back has a hand-written ‘blurb’ (no hand-lettering style fonts here — this is the real deal):
Watch the iridescence as the book moves in the light! (shady iPhone vid):
I am as delighted with this cover as it’s possible to be, and I know that Nova is too. You can enjoy Nova’s lively, conversational promotion of the book by following her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook — and to get a copy of the book, go here.
And if you’re in the US, you can catch her one one of her book tour dates:
Thank you Nova, and Laura Williams, ever-patient art director!