What makes you reach for a book in a bookshop? Prompts you to turn it over to read the jacket copy on the back then open up the book, your attention caught… It may be true that you ought not to judge a book by its cover but the jacket is the first signal of what lies inside, an invitation to further exploration.
The Painted Bridge has been produced so far in four different jackets; a number of others have been tried on for size.
This was the first. I liked this image – the vibrant colours, the inclusion of water, the contemplative figure – but I didn’t feel it was quite right for the book. This woman did not resemble my Anna Palmer; her costume was too sumptuous and fashionable, her hair too perfect and her bearing too composed. She didn’t appear to have suffered as my character had.
Even when the image was toned down through being ‘aged’, it didn’t feel quite right.
My editor at Simon & Schuster, listened to my concerns, shared some of them, and the designer came up with an alternative.
I liked this much better. It was a ‘narrative’ cover – showing the little bird both caged and flying free, although not in the most obvious order. I thought the subtlety of the colours was great and the ghostly rectangles evoked the photography theme of the novel. I appreciated the way the curly metal in the birdcage echoed the typography of the title. I was happy to think of the book going out wrapped like this.
Meanwhile, the designer at Scribner, my US publisher, came up with a set of possible covers for the American edition.
All were possibilities but again none seemed quite right. The two using the photograph I’d supplied of the bridge that inspired the title were less interesting than the ones featuring the Julia Margaret Cameron photograph. I somehow couldn’t reconcile myself with the idea of my heroine being depicted without eyes, or literally upside down – even though that is a key image in the novel.
When they came up with this alternative, I loved it.
This figure closely represented my idea of Anna Palmer. She looks to me as if although she’s living her life in the mid-19th century, she is recognisable, someone you might talk to now without difficulty. I like to think of my characters in that way – that they are separated in time but not emotionally.
Close examination of the picture revealed that she carried a birdcage in her hand. I liked this almost invisible link with the UK hardback jacket. And the shade of blue conveyed the mood of the book.
The Painted Bridge will be out in paperback in the UK this week. The paperback edition contains a reading group guide, an interview with me on the themes in the book – and the first two chapters of my new novel, The Sacred River.
It has again been re-dressed, in a new jacket. I have to admit that I love this one best of all. The cover sums up something of what I think The Painted Bridge is about: a woman on her own path, a lonely and difficult path, bleak and surrounded by tall and gaunt trees, the distance obscured by mist. But the trees will in their season come into leaf, the path is leading somewhere… Anna Palmer is making her way.
Which do you like best of these covers? How important is a book jacket to you? I’d love to hear your comments.