Today, I present the second part of what I still have the best intentions of making a series: "From the back of the bookshop."
This time, I'm featuring a book from our fall 2013 list, The Strength of Bone by Lucie Wilk. Her debut novel, The Strength of Bone follows the interwoven stories of a Canadian doctor in Malawi, a Malawian nurse, and a young Malawian boy whose mother is receiving treatment at the hospital. What struck me most about Wilk's writing is the way she balances clarity and medical precision with some truly beautiful imagery, making cells on slides as stunning as her landscapes, all while avoiding lapsing into cliche.
Despite my great enjoyment of the novel, a fitting cover design evaded me for a long while. I tend to gravitate towards designs that are minimal, clean, and sometimes quite stark. All of these qualities seemed to be precisely the wrong direction for this cover, so I knew it would be a challenge from the start.
My first thought was to grab one of the images that stood out the strongest to me in the novel, the yellow walls of the hospital. While I rarely use photos in my cover designs, this book seemed to demand a photographic treatment, so I went searching for something that would fit the content and mood of the book. I found a photo of a hospital gurney in a run-down hospital, in front of bright ochre walls.
|Great colours. Not so great decor.|
|Next attempt: photos of people.|
Another issue with the first cover concept was that it didn't represent the human interactions that are necessary to the novel. The broken gurney was definitely too bleak and, while I wouldn't call it sterile, it lacked warmth. My next move was to try to incorporate people, and as Iris, a Malawian nurse, features heavily in the book, I tried a concept based around a photo of a Malawian nurse tending to a patient. However, this cover put a bit too much focus on one character, and since the novel splices together the lives of three main figures, there was a problem with balance. I tried a similar type treatment on the photo and played with the focus, but while it was a striking photo, it wasn't right to represent the whole book. Next.
|And we're back to cold and clinical again.|
|That typeface keeps coming back.|
|Different character. Same issue. Not representative of the whole book.|
I walked away from my design attempts for this cover for a couple days and went back to the book. What could I try that I hadn't yet to reflect something broader about the story. This is when I started looking into photos of Mount Mulanje, which plays a prominent role in the novel, to the point where it almost becomes a character itself.
|A couple nights' sleep means a drastic shift in concept.|
|And we have a winner!|
From too harsh hospitals, to human interaction, to more harsh hospitals, this was a long haul of a cover design. In the end, the mountain that looms over the story looms also on the cover. And I think it works.
Keep an eye on this spot for more book covers as they progress start to finish. Hopefully in fewer than nine month intervals this time. I have the best intentions.