A New-Look Maggie O’Farrell
January 5, 2015
When we launched Tinder Press, it was very much on our minds that although Maggie O’Farrell has a huge fan base and is one of our most beloved authors, her novels (the first, AFTER YOU’D GONE, was published back in 2000) were all still in their original covers, and were no longer looking as fresh as they might. We were particularly keen to ensure that we were enticing readers new to her work to enter her fictional world. Maggie’s books are pretty diverse in terms of their settings (sometimes period, sometimes very contemporary) and tone, and everyone has their own favourite. When I hit upon the photographic, montage cover style for INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE, for which I won an Academy of British Cover Design Award, we realised we might have made a breakthrough, and that we now had a look which might – we hoped – finally give her the shelf presence we felt she really deserved.
We needed five new covers that would instantly stand out in bookshops and give Maggie a real brand identity, but which all worked on their own terms, with a distinctive tone and atmosphere.
Maggie’s books mean so many different things to different people, and the montage approach meant that the picture researcher and I needed to source a wide range of images. Maggie is a very visual writer, but other inspirations were:
• Soft focus, light, and intimacy
• William Eggleston’s use of strong colour and striking composition
• The films The Virgin Suicides and Moonrise Kingdom, again for bold use of colour to convey emotion
We found that searching for images suggested directly by the plots worked less well than a more intuitive approach. It was surprising how often pattern or quite abstract images seemed to tell the story more effectively than figures, although we did keep the stunning John Deakin portrait from the original cover of THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE, which conjures 1950s Soho so vividly. Many of the more striking images worked beautifully in isolation, but couldn’t be incorporated so well into a montage, and the large type ruled out some of our other favourites.
It was a tricky balancing act, but looking back at INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE we saw that it works because the individual images blend to become one. The lettering, the retro colours (very Instagram) the soft-edged framing and the images themselves came together to suggest the 1970s, a summer, and a family. With this as a benchmark, I began the elaborate jigsaw of putting the other covers together, to hint at the world of each book, and giving each cover its own palette.
Many visuals just didn’t have that balance we were looking for, but the lovely feeling, when they did come together was that each whole was so much more than the sum of its parts. The covers which were ultimately chosen were a real team effort – a designer and picture researcher working with close collaboration from author, agent and editor
The exciting challenge will be designing the cover for Maggie’s next book, which we’re anticipating very eagerly – along with all of her fans.