Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The book arrives

To be honest, it took me by surprise. The publisher had told me to expect a launch by the third weekend in February. It was only ten days or so since I signed off the final version of the artwork, and just a month since I checked the laid-out proofs. When the delivery van reversed into our drive in the middle of the day I thought, not expecting anything, that the beggar was using it to save himself a three-point turn. But a knock on the door, and soon I was cutting through the tape to reveal my author copies of the latest novel Mr Stephenson's Regret.

I know 'new baby' is a hackneyed expression, but it's only the birth of the breathing offspring (three for me) that tops the feeling of seeing and handling your new book for the first time. I guess that for mothers the delight may be proportionate to the pain of labour, and that holds good for authors too. This one took me nearly three years all told, research included, and it was relieving as it was gratifying to witness its fruition. And to touch it, smell it, riffle through the fresh new pages close and cool against my face.

Relieving too, having now read it cover to cover in its Sunday best, to find no missed typos or printer errors - the baby's fit and healthy. To the midwife publisher, well done.

From here, from now, the metaphor breaks down, or rather is transmuted. We send it out not as a baby (can have no expectation of charmed indulgence for the new-born) but as a fully-fledged, fully-developed product that must make its way in the world by its own lights. It's had all its raising, and learned to mind its ps and qs, right there in the womb. There's no more chance or hope of improvement now - it is what it is.

I hope you'll find it smart, companionable, engaging, and altogether worth knowing.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Final cover 'Mr Stephenson's Regret'

Here it is, folks: final version front and back. I particularly like the way that the artist has 'smoked' the driver behind in order to put greater emphasis on the foreground figures, and the subtle softening of Fanny's glove, which was causing a minor distraction problem. I like the finally selected typeface too. Many thanks to all who commented here and in various fora during this process - it has been very helpful. Special thanks to the artist Peter Fussey. Great job.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Almost done - front cover for 'Mr Stephenson's Regret'

Peter Fussey the artist has now just about completed the front cover for my book Mr Stephenson's Regret. Here for your interest is his nearly-done version, together with a close-up on Robert and Fanny. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The cover develops for 'Mr Stephenson's Regret'

Peter Fussey has made more progress on the front cover for my new novel, Mr Stephenson's Regret. This week so far he has sent me near-complete work on the engine:

And, even more excitingly, revised and developed close-ups of Robert and Fanny:

I'm pleased as punch, but let me know what you think.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Artist's roughs for 'Mr Stephenson's Regret'

The artist Peter Fussey is now working on the front cover of my new book Mr Stephenson's Regret (provisional publication date 25 February), so I thought it might interest readers to see how the cover is taking shape through the early roughs against the brief given, and to get a flavour of our conversations about the image.

As the novel is based on real historical figures and events, the cover challenge is a tricky one for Peter, and a challenge for me to provide a coherent brief. I am anxious to convey the historical context while retaining the look and feel of a novel. I want to include the essential element of the railway/the steam train while emphasising the personal, especially through my central character Robert Stephenson, upon whose life, relationships, and inner thoughts the story revolves. I want to give the casual browser in the bookshop an immediate sense that this is a story with a historical context, but is certainly not a history book.

After entertaining and dismissing several possible scenes from the novel as the basis for the cover, we settled on one which alludes both to a significant event in the book - the unveiling of the Rocket at the Rainhill Trials - and the relationship between Robert and the woman who became his wife, Frances (Fanny) Sanderson.

I have a scene in the novel where Robert takes his new wife for a ride on the footplate of the Rocket during a break in the Rainhill Trials. I dismissed the notion of the two of them actually riding the train (the wind in Fanny's hair) as over-romantic, settling instead for a simpler image of the two of them together in front of the train.

Our attention should be on the couple, who should be shown not in the giddiness of young love (which would strain against the sombre title of the book) but in a state of thoughtful stillness. In the immediate context of Rainhill, I suggested to Peter, Robert would be looking slightly anxious, Fanny holding in some excitement. Perhaps Fanny's head is a little cradled into Robert's shoulder - the merest trace of incipient sexuality behind her affection. They will not be looking 'at the camera' as it were, but somewhat abstractedly into the middle distance. Penny for their thoughts.

They are at this point in their early-to-mid twenties, and dressed in late Regency middle class clothes, quite smart though Robert, lately returned from three years in South America, might look a little more informal than some of his contemporaries in this situation - no top hat, for example, and not too much fuss around the collar. The couple would indeed look quite 'modern' for their time.

One of Peter's challenges is that most of the images that exist of Robert are when he is older. This is the youngest-looking we found:

Robert Stephenson

Of Fanny there are no images at all (how females are so often shunted to the side of history), just this brief contemporary description: not beautiful, but she had an elegant figure; a delicate and animated countenance, and a pair of singularly expressive dark eyes. At least there is plenty for the imagination to work on.

Peter worked first on a black-and-white sketch of the scene, his aim to get the composition right, begin to render a faithful impression of the Rocket, and make a start on the faces and forms of our two characters. Here is Peter's first rough:

There's a lot I like about the rough, particularly Fanny's face - she is how I imagine her to be. The man too looks like Robert, though I wonder if he's looking a little older than he should be at this stage, and a little too formal. His coat seems very wintry when placed against Fanny's lighter wear. (The Rainhill Trials took place in mid-September.) Also I'm not sure about him appearing to stare at us directly from the picture - Fanny's abstracted look by contrast is excellent. The hands obviously need work. I love the composition and the typeface. The Rocket looks great in the background, and I like Peter's use of the steam to bed in the author's name.

I've passed these comments on to the artist as he develops the cover further. Before working more on the characters Peter has spent some time on the train and in adding colour to the background. Last night he sent me this:

I feel this is really coming to life now, and I'm looking forward to seeing the cover progress to a final version. Your comments at this stage would of course be welcome.