Thursday 30 August 2012


A friend recently sent me a photo from a branch of Waterstones, of my book The Wild Rover nuzzling up against Stuart Maconie’s Never Mind the Quantocks.  Both are ostensibly about walking, but even so, surely there is more than one way to suggest that?  No, it would seem, for the covers are nearly identical, and both from the pen of the same designer.  Two different publishers paid her for what is basically one design.  And a terminally wet one at that.

I hate that cover.  I’ve hated it from the minute it was first shown to me, at a meeting deep in the gulag HQ of HarperCollins, my book’s publishers.  I’ve begged for it to be changed, literally begged and begged until I felt like crying (not a good look in a business meeting).  I’ve bombarded them with alternatives, cajoled graphically-minded mates to do the same and been promised by the publishers that they’ll think about it.  They didn’t.

Decisions on such matters are like the old school trade union block votes at the Labour party conference.  As the author, I’m the Worshipful Guild of Piano Tuners, listened to, politely applauded but with my puny couple of votes quickly ignored.  Then along comes Fiona from Marketing, the Transport & General Workers Union of the meeting, with her 4.6 million block votes.  Fiona from Marketing loves the cover, so she wins, every time.

Fiona from Marketing loves the cover because it’s just like all those nostalgia-soaked we-love-Britain books, designed to evoke warm thoughts of 1950s Shell Guides and saluting AA men.  It’s been the default design for books about Britain for years, and so, they think, why change a format if it’s still selling?  And if the content is as wistful as the cover, then it’s a fair argument.  The reason I hate those covers is that they paint me into the same pastel-hued corner, next to the Keep Calm memorabilia and Union Jack tea-cosies, and I don’t think that’s what I write.  Of course, Fiona from Marketing has never actually read any of the content – not that that makes a widget of difference to the outcome.

So I’m left with a book of which I’m hugely proud, packaged in a cover that makes my eyes hurt.  It’s not a good combination.  It’s not good for readers either.  Those that buy the book expecting another cuddly cornucopia of eeh-bah-gum landscape loveliness are generally disappointed.  Sometimes they’re even angered by my politics, my opinions, my language or any reference at all to my sexuality, and then leave huffy reviews all over the internet.  Worse, those that would actually like the book take one glance at the cover and go no further.  It’s very nice to be sharing a shelf with the redoubtable Mr Maconie, but I wish we both looked as if we had a little more lead in our pencils.  And that they were different pencils.