Archived posts: August 2011

Nick Hornby on cover design

~ While Alistair is away cycling the length of Great Britain, we’ve invited twenty disgustingly talented people to each write a post for our blog. To kick things off, today’s post is from the brilliant Nick Hornby, the award-winning author of Fever Pitch, High Fidelity and About a Boy; Nick is also one of the founders of the Ministry of Stories. ~

A book doesn’t have a cover, not any more. It has, over the course of its life in print, lots of covers. High Fidelity, my first novel, has recently been rejacketed for the sixth or seventh time: a tattooist called Russ Abbott has produced this rather lovely image for a special edition (part of the Penguin Ink series).

Backlists are re-launched every few years, in an attempt to push books off the dreaded A-Z shelves, where they don’t sell, and back on to the tables at the front of the shops. Paperback covers are frequently different from hardbacks; increasingly the big retailers, Amazon and the supermarkets, have a say in how a book looks before publication, if the book in question has serious commercial prospects. I don’t really know what to say about that, apart from observing that the people who sell books in supermarkets have different tastes from my own. I am at liberty to object to the covers on my novels, if I really hate them, but my publishers would then, I think, be entitled to ask me to take a lower advance, if I care about aesthetics so much. The days of the iconic jacket illustration, the image that forever becomes associated with a much-loved novel, are nearly gone. The stakes are too high now.

My first book, Fever Pitch, was different. It had the same cover for nearly ten years, from its publication in 1992 until I switched publishers at the beginning of the new century. Nobody expected the book to sell in enormous numbers – it was about football (and the conventional wisdom at the time was that football fans didn’t buy books), and it was a memoir, by someone nobody had ever heard of. The great advantage of my obscurity, and the low commercial expectations for the book, was that we, the publishers and I, could choose whatever cover we wanted. We were beholden to no-one, not even anyone at Tesco.

And here’s the thing about that cover for Fever Pitch: it existed, more or less in its finished form, before I’d written the book. I sold Fever Pitch on the basis of an idea and a few pages, and in the end two publishers were interested in it: Gollancz, who ended up with it, and Penguin, my publishers now. One of the reasons that I chose Gollancz is that they had already found this image. They used it for the cover of the offer they made to me, in which they outlined their plans for the book were I to go with them. I loved it; more importantly, I wanted the book I had not yet written to feel like that. Is the boy yelling or crying? Is he lost? Why is he looking in a different direction to everyone else? These questions, it seemed to me, had real metaphorical value. In other words, the jacket photo helped me to shape and focus the content of the book, in an extremely helpful way. It wasn’t as though I would have taken an entirely different direction had I not seen the picture. But that boy helped me to find my own voice, encouraged the book to become its better self.

We never managed to find the photographer, and I still don’t know who the boy is; at a reading in Dublin a few years back, someone told me that it was his cousin, at the open-top bus parade to celebrate Arsenal’s 1971 Double  triumph. I do know that I owe him a drink.


~ Alistair is raising money for Cancer Research UK during his ride – please wander over to his Just Giving page and donate a little cash. ~

Time to ride

Right, that’s all from me for a while – I’m handing the blog over to some friends while I do a spot of cycling. Make sure you stay tuned – the daily posts coming up for the next three weeks or so are really fantastic. And hey, if you like what you read, why not trundle over here and donate some cash? (To those who have already done so – you’re beautiful people, thank you!)

10th Annual St Bride Library Conference

Just a quick note to mention that tickets are on sale for the 10th Annual St Bride Library Conference, which is themed around the idea of ‘critical tensions’ – and the ways in which designers attempt to balance them.

Speakers include typographer, designer and lecturer Phil Baines; designer and typographer Jonathan Barnbrook; graphic designer Zoë Bather from Studio8; photographer and art director Amelia Gregory; letterpress guru Alan Kitching; typographer Gerry Leonidas; graphic designer Vaughan Oliver; lecturer, author and poster collector Paul Rennie; designer and author Lucienne Roberts; tech and ideas man Jack Schulze from Berg; Steve Watson; design lecturer Rebecca Wright; and illustrator Derek Yates.

That’s a fairly solid collection of wisdom and experience – should be good.

The conference is on Thursday 10 and Friday 11 November 2011. Get your tickets here.

Mind Over Matter

Kemistry Gallery is fast becoming London’s best place to see classic graphic design work, and their new show looks set to cement that reputation.

Opening on 25 August, Mind Over Matter celebrates the work of Alan Fletcher, and specifically the 10th anniversary of the publication of The Art of Looking Sideways, his seminal book on graphic design.

The show runs until 1 October.

Live London Love London

There’s been a whole lot of craziness going on in London town (and now across the country) these past few days – selfish acts of wanton destruction, looting and violence. Even as we type this post, the constant soundtrack of sirens is forcing itself in from outside our windows; while at the same time a police helicopter scours the sky.

There’s been a whole heap of distinctly alarmist media coverage (after all, rioting is incredibly photogenic), and Twitter has been buzzing with little else (much of it inaccurate hearsay – it’s incredible how quickly fiction and rumour are propelled to the level of fact).

There’s no denying that there’s some bad stuff going down.

But, we just wanted to say, we love this city.

We love the mix of a thousand different cultures. We love the wilfully haphazard sprawl. We love the city’s creativity, its energy, its glum good nature. We love its heft. We love the view from Waterloo Bridge on a late summer’s day. We love the gentle buzz from a throng of drinkers outside a pub on a Friday evening. We love the museums, the galleries, the clubs, the pubs, the cinemas, the theatres, the libraries and the markets. We love the magnificent parks, the undulating river, and the historic buildings that litter the streets.

This is where we live. And we damn well love it.

End to End

You may have noticed a few posts on the We Made This blog over the years about bikes and cycling – heck, we even have a Bike category in our archive of posts. We like bikes. We’re think they’re great. Which is probably a good thing, as in a few weeks, Alistair is going to be spending rather a lot of time on one: cycling from Land’s End to John o’ Groats.

Here he is, contemplating that fact:

“Starting on August 31, I’m taking a break from design, to jump onto my pedals, and ride from from the southern-most tip of England to the northern-most tip of Scotland. That’s a journey of just over 1,000 miles, across a whole mix of terrains. Here’s what the route looks like – each red line is a day’s cycling:

(Check out the zoomable Google Map of the ride.)

I’ll be riding with my friend Dafydd, and we’ll be riding unsupported, carrying all our kit with us. We’re not trying to do it in a record-breaking sprint, as we’d quite like to stop and look at stuff along the way – so the whole journey should take us 21 days. You can read all about it over on Gentlemen Cyclists, the rather ramshackle blog we’re using to document our preparations for the trip, and the trip itself.

As part of the journey, I’m raising funds for Cancer Research UK, who have saved millions of lives by discovering new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. If you fancy donating, check out my Just Giving page. My friend Dafydd is raising funds for the brilliant Sustrans, the UK’s leading sustainable transport charity – check out his Just Giving page too.”

While Alistair is away, we’ve lined up something rather special for our readers, with a series of one-off blog posts from an array of frankly disgustingly talented people. We’re really excited about this – we’ve already had the copy and images in for about half the posts, and they’re just brilliant. We’ll start them off on day one of the ride, Wednesday 31 August.

Stay tuned!