When Patrick met Patrick: The Curious Cover Story of A PLACE CALLED WINTER
March 24, 2015
One of the perks of being the art director of a team of designers is that one gets to choose which projects to hand out to the other designers in the team and which to snaffle up for oneself. Having read and loved a number of Patrick Gale’s previous novels, when it was announced that Tinder Press would be publishing his new novel, A Place Called Winter, I immediately knew that this was one in the latter category. One of the many things I love about Patrick’s writing is his ability to create characters that one immediately connects with, regardless of how different their circumstances are from one’s own. Little did I realize, however, how literal that connection might be, and that Patrick and I share more than just a first name…
Another perk of being a cover designer is being one of the first to get to read the manuscript – not always possible, or even necessary, but for me the most useful starting point in designing a cover is to read the novel and let it digest for a bit before putting any ideas to paper. Often it helps not to have any preconceived ideas about the book beforehand that might influence one’s thinking – all I knew on this occasion was that the book was largely set in Canada in the early years of the 20th Century – so it was a little disconcerting on reading the first page to find one or two details of the story, and in particular the characters, that were eerily familiar.
In the draft of the manuscript I was reading, the book begins with what is now Chapter 2, introducing us to Harry Cane, a relatively well-to-do 28 year old bachelor living in Edwardian London. In the second paragraph we are told that Harry’s lately deceased father had done rather well for himself establishing a lucrative horse-drawn omnibus company before selling it to the LGOC, a forerunner to today’s London Transport for large sums of money, thus ensuring a secure future for his sons. Seemingly trivial details, but they immediately rang some bells.
Firstly, my mother’s maiden name is Cane – an uncommon though by no means unique name. The real coincidence, though, was that second detail. My family’s history on my mother’s side is pretty sketchy – a combination of premature mortality and a mid-century diaspora mean our links to the past are tenuous at best, but what I do know is that my great-great-grandfather, one Tom Cane, ran an omnibus company in the late 19th Century, operating out of Epsom but with routes throughout south London. He was among the first to make the change from horse drawn coaches to new-fangled motor buses. This is the only picture we have of him:
We’re not even sure which of the men in the picture is Tom – I like to think he’s the rather portly gent with the fine set of whiskers leaning proprietorially on the bus, but we have no way to be sure. What little else we know about him has been pieced together from various censuses – like his fictional counterpart he was a widower, with an impressive 8 children, among them a certain Harry Cane.
Unsurprisingly I was starting to think this was more than mere coincidence. I asked the book’s editor, Imogen, whether she happened to know if the story had any basis in historical fact, and sure enough she told me that it was loosely based on Patrick’s own distant, and equally murky, family history. There ensued a little putting together of our respective familial jigsaw puzzles, but it didn’t take long to establish that Patrick and I are indeed related – third cousins in fact, Harry being Patrick’s great-grandfather, whilst my own branch of the Cane tree descends from Harry’s eldest brother, Thomas. The decision to work on this project myself began to look eerily like fate.
Finally, discoveries made, it was time to get on with the job in hand. The novel is so rich in detail and there’s a lot to convey – a sense of period, the idea of journeys and destinations, the location as much a character as any of the protagonists; it’s tempting for the designer to try to cram in everything, and the our role is often as much about choosing what not to include as what one should.
Researching the period, and in particular the settling of the Canadian prairie, I came across many colourful posters of the time, making seductive promises to the would-be pioneer of the life of plenty that awaited them, and I wanted to capture some of that golden feel, so at odds with the stark reality of life in the untamed Canadian wilds (as featured image).
The image we chose in the end I felt did that perfectly – the somewhat bleak setting and lonely, ramshackle farmhouse tempered somewhat by the rich golden hues and the figure of Harry, optimistically gazing out at us.
It was important to get a sense of period across, but unobtrusively. Researching art nouveau design of the time, I eventually created a stylized wheat frame, based on a couple of original sources, which encloses the whole design in a way that hopefully draws the viewer in.
The type chosen, too, is designed to convey the period – despite its name the font NewStyle is actually a recreation of an old Edwardian serif, its soft edges and slightly uneven, organic curves evoking, albeit subtly, an earlier time.
The final cover, further enhanced with some roughly textured copper foil, I hope does the job of conveying the richness of the story within, and provides a suitable backdrop to what is a truly stunning novel.