INSIDE THE DESIGN: THE CHOICE

This Sunday - 28th May 2017 - sees the publication of The Choice by Valerie Mendes with my cover artwork on the front. I first started work on this project early last year so it has been some time in the works and I'm delighted it is now about to be launched because it is one of my favourite cover designs to date. Cornwall, where much of the story of The Choice is set, is a place very close to my heart because I grew up on the Cornish border and spent a great deal of my childhood frolicking on its beaches and staring out to sea from jagged cliffs and idyllic viewpoints. It really is the most magical setting for a book. The Choice has a complex dual timeline plot that flits about quite a bit so, in order to focus the design, I selected the location of St. Ives - and specifically a Cornish cottage - as my starting point location. 

One of my influences for this cover was this amazing image of Barbara Hepworth's studio which is aptly located in St. Ives. I love the light and the painterly finish of the photograph, the original of which can be found at photo-zen.com via this link.

One of my influences for this cover was this amazing image of Barbara Hepworth's studio which is aptly located in St. Ives. I love the light and the painterly finish of the photograph, the original of which can be found at photo-zen.com via this link.

When I was growing up, my paternal grandmother had a huge, beautifully crafted and intricate gilt convex mirror that hung as pride of place in her home and later in my parent's dining room. What I love about convex mirrors is, apart from the whole 'eye' illusion, they capture so much more in a reflection than the conventional flat ones and the warped perpectives are really rather beautiful. One day, granny's mirror rather unfortunately fell off the wall and the frame broke. As a schoolgirl yet to attain my GCSE in Art, I recall spending a considerable amount of fruitless time trying to piece back and glue together the shattered fragments. It was upsetting that something that had 'seen' so much of my family's history should end up in the dustbin but, inevitably, it did. The damage was irrevocable. It wasn't the frame so much that bothered me. It was the convex glass mirror that survived the fall but was somewhat redundant without anything to hang it on the wall. So that had to go too.

A convex mirror similar to that owned by my grandmother (only much smaller) hangs in our hall at home. It's dusty, mottled and battered and nobody in our family gets why I love it so much. As a visual device though, check out how much more visual information you can get from a convex reflection over a flat one.

A convex mirror similar to that owned by my grandmother (only much smaller) hangs in our hall at home. It's dusty, mottled and battered and nobody in our family gets why I love it so much. As a visual device though, check out how much more visual information you can get from a convex reflection over a flat one.

When I was researching the jacket design for The Choice, the memory of trying to fix that broken mirror came back to me across more than two decades and I thought about what a great device a mirror like that would make to evoke the sense of romance, antiquity and history that is the central theme of Valerie Mendes's book. In fact, it seemed perfect. The old mirror that was the 'eyes' of the cottage down the ages and the secrets and stories that it could tell. I chose the black rimmed design over an gilt one because I thought it suited the rustic simplicity of the beach-side cottage better - resembling as it does a porthole - and showed a strong contrast against the whitewashed stone walls.

Me in research mode. Not the most flattering perspective but then it's the frame that steals the show.

Me in research mode. Not the most flattering perspective but then it's the frame that steals the show.

Sir William Orpen (1878 - 1931) was an extraordinary portraitist who also sketched in the trenches in The First World War and was painting around the same time as one of the protagonists who is likewise a skilled painter. Orpen's painting of Lewis R. Tomalin (above) influenced my cover design for The Choice with the small device of a convex mirror and the striking tiled floor that it reflects so impressively. 

Sir William Orpen (1878 - 1931) was an extraordinary portraitist who also sketched in the trenches in The First World War and was painting around the same time as one of the protagonists who is likewise a skilled painter. Orpen's painting of Lewis R. Tomalin (above) influenced my cover design for The Choice with the small device of a convex mirror and the striking tiled floor that it reflects so impressively. 

I really like the illusion that we are viewing the image front-on as if through the eye of the mirror itself, which reflects the scene of an intriguing couple dancing on the beach outside the cottage ostensibly behind the viewer but without reflecting the viewer themselves. It give a kind of etherial, ghostly feel to the image - as if we're trespassing on some long forgotten intimate moment that no-one was ever meant to see.

I drafted two versions of this concept both of which you can see above. The earlier is busier and more smoky and meant to more literally depict the inner walls of the cottage and a painter's life's work. The second, and ultimately final draft, is a more stripped back affair that focuses on the couple and the red accents of the woman's dress. I like them both for different reasons but ultimately, I think that it is the convex, all seeing mirror that is the defining element of this cover and I'm so happy that it remains.

The Harbour at St. Ives where much of the story takes place.

The Harbour at St. Ives where much of the story takes place.

The Choice by Valerie Mendes can be pre-ordered on Amazon now priced £9.99 and will be available as an e-Book and in print from Sunday. Published by The Book Guild.