I’m very excited. I’ve just seen the cover for the first book of my new series, Unicorn in New York: Louie Lets Loose! There it is. Just up there ^^^. I love it.
It won’t be on the shelves for another three weeks, but I couldn’t wait to share it because I think it’s gorgeous – for which I can take absolutely no credit but I’ll probably try to anyway.
People often ask me about ‘how’ books get illustrated. In my experience, it varies. For my last two books (The Case of the Exploding Loo and The Case of the Exploding Brains) the words came first, and then the brilliant THE BOY FITZ HAMMOND brought those words to life through his illustrations. We talked things through and he used my mind maps as a springboard for the cover illustrations. It meant the covers felt like they were ‘mine’ but, at the same time, they were worlds better than anything I could have come up with myself – bright, fun and just the right level of bonkers.
For this series, right from the start, I’ve been working together with the illustrator, OSCAR ARMELLES, to create the books. While I’m responsible for the voice of Louie (the fame-seeking unicorn), Oscar is creating Louie’s look and feel. So the words and images happen almost simultaneously and feed into each other. This impacts on the writing process in ways I hadn’t thought about before we started. For example, I’d already written about eight chapters when I saw the first image of Louie. Check him out, isn’t he lovely?
This was the first time I realised he’d be walking on two legs, rather than the four I’d envisaged, so I had to go back and tweak the action sequences to make sure they still worked.
Later I got a note saying, ‘It would be great to have Louie wear an I *heart* New York t-shirt as soon as he arrives on the boat. Can you build that into the story?’ You wouldn’t think that would be a tricky request, would you? The problem was, there was a plot point involving the fact that Louie arrives with no money, so I had to think of a way he could obtain a T-shirt with no cash, without becoming some kind of dodgy mugger-slash-shoplifter unicorn.
I don’t mind making changes. It’s fun puzzling out how to do it (let me know what you think of my T-shirt-solution if you read the book) and I don’t feel that any of the changes I’ve made have affected the heart of the story.
I’m also happy to do it because I’m totally in awe of illustrators. My favourite bit of each of my books is the front cover – the part I had least to do with! I’d love to be able to tell stories through pictures, so I’m intrigued by the way illustrators make book covers communicate so much.
The madly brilliant American book designer, CHIP KIDD (who designed the cover for Jurassic Park among many others and did a great TED talk you can watch HERE) says his task is to decide ‘what does the story look like?’
The cover has to tell readers what to expect from the book and, as a result, will usually follow a few genre expectations. For example, the post-2013 relaunch Point Horror books combine the traditional horror elements like dark backgrounds, stylised logos and spooky facial features with a more modern (post Twilight) simplicity and black backdrop.
Similarly, my book covers feature basic childrens’ book conventions – they’re bright and bold with an image of the main character on the front and some visual clues as to the story (presumably based on an assumption that young people are less likely to read the blurb than adults). I also think they all cleverly hint at the stories inside.
With Louie Lets Loose!, the combination of the cartoon Louie and the photographic visual of New York shows the clash of worlds behind the book’s humour. Louis is naïve, optimistic, and interested in everything around him while the atmosphere in New York is more cynical and ‘real world’. So, on the cover, as well as in the inside illustrations, cartoon images of Storyland characters appear on top of photographic backdrops of New York to communicate this dichotomy (great word, dichotomy).
Do you have any favourite covers, which you think perfectly capture the books inside? If so, I’d love to hear about them.
(This blogpost first appeared at Girls Heart Books)