Turns out there’s been a change of plans (either that or I slightly mixed up 1 March and 1 April – it happens) and the cover reveal is going to be… today. (YAY! [does happy dance] April seemed SOOOOOOO far away.)
So here it is. What do you think? [bounces in anticipation]
We’re also up on the Faber & Faber site! [Teehee!]
Watch out for the new blurb coming soon…
Although it’ll be another few weeks before the official cover reveal for The Bone Dragon, I am now allowed to talk about our interim cover draft and the design process in more depth.
You may (or may not) remember that the first draft cover looked like this:
The book starts with a human rib-bone in a pot. It seemed a good place to start with the cover too. This initial cover draft released in August 2012.
What I love: I love the bottle – much more striking than what I saw in my head: the little plastic pot my very own rib sits in (among my socks in the drawer under my bed). I also love that the design isn’t genre or age-group specific: it doesn’t scream YA READERS ONLY! Also, it points to the fact that the book is a psychological thriller as opposed to fantasy. Not that I have any problem with fantasy (I may well end up writing some later on in my career) but it would be misleading to class The Bone Dragon that way.
Cons: I’m not terribly keen on was having the carved rib shown on the cover. I’d prefer for readers to be free to imagine this for themselves, with no visual prompting. Plus you could never carve a human rib like this. For one, they’re too narrow and for another they’re hollowish so it wouldn’t work, no matter how tiny the overall dragon.
My feedback to the designers: If the cover is to show the rib-in-a-pot that sets the whole story in motion, it needs to look more like a human rib, rather than an ox thigh-bone.
Then, in October, I received the new cover, which was supposed to be the final cover. Only it wasn’t. I can only share part of it (and I can’t explain what I mean by this being only ‘part’ because that’s a secret too). Anyway, here it is:
What I love: I love the hazy, impressionistic feel: I really like that the image isn’t too clear and that you can’t tell what Evie looks like. The feel is right for the book too: the slightly out-of-proportion arms and the way she’s holding them out, almost like wings. And the colours are fantastic. Even as a little thumbnail, the title stands out and the colours are eerie, though there’s slightly too much yellow and red for me: in my mind, the book is black and blue and purple. But I think the image is striking both in thumbnail size and in larger scale. Again, I love that it’s not YA specific and doesn’t speak strongly to any particular genre, though it hints more at literary fiction than the previous cover, which is fine. The book sits astride a whole bunch of genre boundaries without being one thing or another, though literary fiction and/or psychological thriller are the best fit with the book. What I love most is how this image combines with the second part of the design – the secret bit I still can’t show you. It’s the two together that make this magical.
Cons: Only tiny quibblettes. Not that it really matters what I see in my head, but the nightdress (?) isn’t something Evie would wear and her hair is longer than this. Also, I like the idea of readers being able to picture Evie for themselves without too many visual clues. Plus, while I really like the typeface, perhaps the crayon effect is too young, not just for Evie but for the intended readership (16+).
My feedback to the designers: Basically, what I said on Twitter.
As for the official cover…
The new design is perfect: absolutely gorgeous, sumptuous, stunning. I can’t wait to share it with you all… and to explain more about the missing part of cover #2 that explains why I adored that design, even though it’s not a patch on the official cover. I’m not positive that the ‘secret part of cover #2’ will turn up as part of the final cover (I still haven’t seen the finished version of that aspect of the design yet), but I’m hoping so.
So, what do you think of our interim cover?
The lovely Katy Darby has just tagged me for the Next Big Thing meme: a questionnaire designed to get writers talking about their next book. Ideally, each writer tags five others but I seem to have a knack for tagging people who’ve done it and those who don’t have blogs. Go me!
Anyway, here’re my answers. (BTW, I’m cross-posting on both blogs because I ended up talking a lot about The Bone Dragon.)
What is the working title of your next book?
MoB. While I’m still drafting I only ever refer to a book by the initials of the working title. Sharing the title sets it in stone for me so, as it’s hard to be sure a title’s right until the book is done, I try to keep it to myself until I’m fairly confident I won’t have to change it.
I’m the type of writer who doesn’t like to share a work in progress; for me, a big part of the joy of being a writer, and not a performer, is that I can keep my work secret until I’m ready to hear what other people think. If I start sharing stuff too soon, I get caught up in other people’s ideas and start doubting my own. I need to have a draft that’s close enough to the book in my head that I can use feedback effectively before I go about inviting it by sharing information. So, MoB it is for now. And, no, it’s not about men in dark suits or aliens. Or mobsters. Or flash mob dance crews. I defy you to guess the title… But would love to see your best shot.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
In The Bone Dragon, I feel that I started a conversation about a series of themes that are really important to me as a writer. MoB is the continuation of that conversation, without being a sequel. The plot developed from the idea for the ‘hook’, which led me to a key moment in the climax. From there, I used the idea of continuing the conversation from The Bone Dragon to help me work out the story of how and why the ‘hook’ leads to the climax – and vice versa, since the story isn’t as linear as it seems. The fun bit is that this is the opposite of how The Bone Dragon works: TBD is completely linear, only it’s not clear that that’s the case until you’ve reached the very end of the book.
What genre does your book fall under?
Like The Bone Dragon, MoB is a YA psychological thriller that will hopefully appeal to anyone over 16.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
That’s a really tough question for me. One of the weirder bits of being as dyslexic and dyspraxic as I am is that I find it hard to remember and, therefore, to recognise faces. When I’m having a ‘dyslexic day’ (anyone who is dyslexic will tell you that a person’s level of ‘dyslexic-ness’ shifts from day to day – it’s one of the key things about dyslexia that research has yet to explain), I even struggle to recognise close friends and members of my own family. Mostly I recognise people by their context, their voice and, critically, their hair. This has a huge impact on my aesthetic. I rarely take photos of people and, when I do, I only take ‘snaps’. I just don’t have any sort of an eye for faces in their entirety. This is probably why I feel very strongly about letting readers ‘see’ what they want when it comes to my characters. I tend to provide a bare minimum (and often not even that) in relation to physical descriptions of people.
The flip side is that my visual aesthetic is overwhelmingly taken up with settings and objects. I always give a huge amount of detail on these things because I ‘see’ these things with crystal clear focus – almost as a way of making up for the fuzziness of the people. I love taking photos of landscapes and plants. My best photos are to do with angle, texture and detail, and that’s true in my writing as well. That, in a nutshell, is my visual aesthetic.
The bottom-line here is that I’m not sure I *can* answer this question. I’m also not sure I want to. If I did, I wouldn’t give photos, rather I’d talk about what various actors could bring to the parts in terms of evoking the key emotional aspects of the characters. For instance, the main character needs to be thin (it’s important to the plot): she also needs to look like someone who has attractive features but is almost trying to make herself unattractive, so the actor couldn’t be straight-forwardly pretty. She needs to come across as bordering on sullen, but with a degree of vulnerability that indicates that this is more than just ‘teenage sulks’. At the same time, she can’t seem fragile: she’s prickly on the outside and angrily defensive on the inside… Which makes her sound so lovable. But, like in The Bone Dragon, it doesn’t really matter whether readers like the protagonist per se. They just have to identify with the emotions that fuel her behaviour.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
MoB is to a ghost story what The Bone Dragon is to a fantasy story about dragons. It starts with a girl in a blue coat vanishing into an autumn wood.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Represented by my amazing, wonderful, fantastic, brilliant agent, Claire Wilson, at Rogers, Coleridge & White.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It’s not finished yet but I hope to have the draft done by the end of January. I know exactly what’s going to happen every step of the way, so it’s just about finding the right ideas at the sentence level. I hope it won’t be a long edit: it feels like it won’t be, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking. I’ve only been working on the idea since about March-April so it’ll be my shortest idea-to-book conversion ever. But I’ve got a good feeling about it, like I had with The Bone Dragon, so hopefully…
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Oh gawd. I always find these questions so hard. It seems so presumptuous to compare to my work to the books I dream about seeing mine sit beside. Um… I guess the best answer looks back to what I said earlier: MoB is the continuation of a conversation I started with The Bone Dragon. If really pushed, I guess MoB is The Go-Between meets The Lovely Bones. Sort of.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
When I first had the idea, I knew this was a book I wanted to write… but the inspiration that made it my most urgent project came from being signed by my wonderful agent, Claire. Out of all the books I wanted to write, this seemed the most natural progression from The Bone Dragon. I would love for Claire to enjoy the book and be excited to represent it. It’s the best way I can think of to say thank you for the first miraculous ‘yes’ that led to my finally being published…
… which, in turn, involved another critical ‘yes’. I absolutely love working with the team at Faber: it would be great to see if that relationship could continue and I think they might like MoB… but we’ll see.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The protagonist is 16 going on 17, so the book explores some territory that’s touched on in The Bone Dragon but remains between the lines. The same aesthetic principles apply in terms of how the darker subject matter is tackled, but the conversation goes further. The protagonist is at a different point in her life with different things at stake so I have a very different array of opportunities to explore what damage means for someone who is on the verge of a whole series of life-defining choices – about A-levels, university, romantic relationships, where she lives, how she lives, who she’s going to be as an adult… In MoB, impending adulthood means that the main character doesn’t have much time to ‘get her act together’ if she is going to avoid mucking up her future.
Those are the things about MoB that are most exciting for me, as the writer. For the reader, there’s a much more obvious mystery to be solved in MoB that will hopefully sustain the book in a more fluid way than in The Bone Dragon. But the answers to that mystery will (hopefully) lead readers somewhere they’re not expecting at all.
So… three guesses what MoB stands for. Go on. Give it a shot. It’s cold and dreary and dark. Laughing will make it better. (So will chocolate, but that’s your own affair.)
So, picking right up where I left off, the biggest change my publisher wanted to see in the manuscript concerned my protagonist’s age. The suggestion: to make Evie 14 instead of 13 pushing 14. My reaction: no problem.
Rebecca’s reasoning was that, given the themes of the book and the way it’s written, it’s most likely to appeal to the YA and adult markets. Making Evie 14 as opposed to 13 pushes the book more firmly into the YA market rather than the Children’s market – where it wouldn’t belong at all – as, at 14 going on 15, Evie herself falls broadly into the YA category. Rebecca felt that this little change – an age increase of somewhere between 6 and 12 months for my protagonist – would make a big impact on how easy to the book would be to market. I completely agree with her rationale.
But sometimes market factors push a book in a direction that the author doesn’t want to go. Deciding what to do then is a real conundrum. Thankfully, I didn’t have any such reservations about changing Evie’s age. For me, it was a purely technical issue and didn’t alter anything important about the story. My reasoning went like this…
At age 14, Evie is starting her two-year GCSE courses, but she isn’t facing any major life events like doing her GCSE exams or A-Levels… She is still well over a year away from 16, the age of sexual consent in the UK. She’s three years from 17, the age at which one can learn to drive. She’s four years away form 18, the age of majority: the age at which she will legally become an adult. It’s important to the story that Evie isn’t about to face any of these major changes. She’s still firmly a ‘child’ in the legal sense and she isn’t facing any of the usual big issues and decisions of the mid to late teenage years. All the decisions and problems Evie has to deal with are unique to her: none of her peers are coping with the same things.
In terms of Evie’s individual situation, she starts the book in hospital after thorasic surgery and so misses the start of the new school year. If this were her GCSE exam year, that would have major implications… but ones I’m not interested in dealing with in The Bone Dragon. So making her 15 would have put a stumbling block in her path that would have changed the plot and shifted the nature of the conflict in ways I didn’t want, so I would have been very leery of making her two years older. But missing a few weeks at the start of Year 10 doesn’t represent a major issue. While catching up is a bit of a challenge, it isn’t one that takes over the whole book. And that’s important because I want the challenges Evie deals with to fall outside the realm of any of the things her peers are facing.
The change of age did necessitate a few other changes, but they were ones I was perfectly comfortable with. As Rebecca quite rightly pointed out, 14 and 15 year olds are generally fairly interested in dating and kissing (at the very least): more so than the 13 year olds in the original manuscript. They are also more prone (at least according to stereotypes) to rebellion against authority figures and moodiness.
I’m actually a big fan of stereotypes and cliches. I think they’re very powerful things that writers are foolish not to use. The key here is to actively use them, not just to use them by accident – which amounts to being used by them.
Anyway, bringing in those ‘teenage years’ cliches actually opened up opportunities to develop Evie’s character and show how she is unusual, even when she is, for instance, having a fit of the sullens.
So, changes made, the manuscript went back to Faber and I crossed my fingers that they’d like it – not only because I wanted them to be happy with it (as I was, and so didn’t really want to make many further changes), but also because I wanted them to feel I was a good person to work with: someone who appreciated quality feedback and had the craft to know how to revise a manuscript effectively.
Do note that the cover design won’t be added for another month, give or take, as we’re currently consulting on the draft design. If you’re interested in commenting, the draft cover is available at https://thebonedragon.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/draft-cover-design-comments-welcome/ .
The Bone Dragon will be published by Faber and Faber in spring 2013.
Regular posts will resume soon, so do let me know if there’s a topic you’re interested in hearing about.