Concerning Nell: covering the cover

Making a book cover is always a bit of a mission. Where do you start? What kind of image do you choose, and how abstract should it be? If you have a committee (publisher Cloud Ink Press, author, designer, booksellers, friends), possibilities can multiply just when you need to narrow down the focus.I had blue in mind from the start, powdery blue with a tinge of grey. Thinking of a passage in the novel that follows a description of Nell’s hard-won flower garden — ‘She needs her … garden plots to speak for her, to speak back to the hills and sky, whose eloquence she has responded to more deeply with each passing year. The garden, she thinks shyly, is her song of praise.’ — I saw the hills of the Maniototo punctuated by flowers.

My rough sketches failed to convince. But designer Caroline Pope did her darnedest. We considered Maniototo-inspired hills by artist Claire Beynon.

We considered the Elizabeth Strout look:

Then, in a drawer in the old family house, I found photos we’d not seen before. Striking images of Nell in her school uniform. The look on her face sums up so much of what the novel wants to convey about her.

We opted for Nell instead of flowers. I conscripted daughter Alex to draw from the photo; the drawing could be superimposed on hills. Alex has a remarkable ability to sketch faces capturing the essence or spark of that person. She recently created a cardboard cover to wrap around the tape of the Ōtepoti Music Compilation she’d organised (a massive job, done brilliantly). I reckon my Dunedin readers will recognise a few of these Ōtepoti musicians.

And voilà, Alex clinched Nell too.

However, the team opted to stick with the photo. We asked designer Caroline Pope to play with that. We considered going psychedelic:

Design, Caroline Pope

I feel that in our final, more conservative choice — Nell against a photo of Mt Kyeburn under summer snow — we might have clipped Caroline’s wings a little, but if there’s a reprint we’ll have another chance to showcase her design verve and colour flare.

Meanwhile, we have a cover I love, that all of us agreed upon. The drawing will be treasured and used again elsewhere…

Pre-order here!