Wednesday, January 09, 2019

The Book With No Name

At the time of starting work on this cover, the book didn't even have a name!

Sometimes that can be an asset, sometimes it makes things difficult. But I'd worked on Tonya Bolden's previous novel, Crossing Ebenezer Creek, so I knew something of what to expect. Inventing Victoria, as it was eventually titled, is another book in a long series of Young Adult Fiction books I've been working on with race, poverty, class and black social history as one or more of its themes. 

The series, which has happened quite organically, started with To Kill A Mockingbird and has since included its prequel Go Set A Watchman, and includes Sharon M. Draper's 'Stella By Starlight', 'Crossing Ebenezer Creek' by the author of Inventing Victoria, Alice Hoffman's 'Nightbird', 'It All Comes Down To This' by Karen English, Linda Williams Jackson's 'Midnight Without A Moon' and 'Sky Full Of Stars', Dana L. Davis' 'Seven Days Of Stone' (since re-titled 'Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now'), Lauren Wolk's 'Wolf Hollow', and I'm currently working on a new one which isn't published till 2020! 

Some of the covers have required both harrowing research (including, fore example, Emmett Till, lynchings, slavery, the American Civil War and the two World Wars) and a sensitive approach to incorporating those histories. Why I've attracted such a large collection of works on this theme may have something to do with the Mockingbird start, and the art directors I've worked with have talked about an ability to create a lot of atmosphere on a cover - other than that, I'm not sure why these books have come specifically to me - but I know that I've really loved doing them all, and learning some history on the way. 

Essie is a young girl in 1880s Savannah, USA. From The School Library Journal, who sum it up better than I could:

"Fourteen-year-old Essie Mirth is ashamed of her prostitute mother, Praline, and the house of repute on Minis Street in 1880s Savannah (Forest City). She has a protector in storytelling caretaker Ma Clara, and earns a housekeeping position at Abby Bowfield's boarding house, where she makes her only friend, Binah, and meets a mysterious boarder named Dorcas Vashon. She is taken under Dorcas's wing, leaves her humble beginnings behind, and reinvents herself in Baltimore as Victoria Vashon, the niece of Dorcas. 

She receives strict education and etiquette training from Agnes Hardwick; soon welcomed by the black middle class and black aristocracy in Washington, DC. The teen struggles with her newfound socialite status. and is disturbed by the obnoxious, class-conscious and colour-struck attitudes of the other society ladies. Courted by insurance entrepreneur Wyatt Riddle, she is faced with a blast from the past whose presence threatens her new life. Bolden makes this YA novel promising and enjoyable with a combined weaving of history and fiction. It is poetic, breathtaking, descriptive and fast-paced."

Research for this book was, in fact, lovely: satin party gowns in jewel-like colours, period jewellery, hairstyles of the 1880s, beautiful young black women, historical Washington and antique lace. While the book remained untitled there were SO many versions - but I worked with the elements of transformation; the dress, the hair, the profile which needed to suggest pride turned haughtiness, and wealth.

See the different ink-drawn elements below and the many suggested covers I created for the book both before and after it was given a title. 

For the final, antique lace integrating a horse-drawn carriage, china tea cups and flowers was created to frame our storyteller, with a loosely-drawn cityscape anchoring the cover beneath a summer moon:

Essie/Victoria herself was drawn in coloured inks on paper, but was smoothed over a little where the ink was rather too 'organic'. Getting her skin tone *just* right was important - she had to match exactly the author's own Essie/Victoria, he one who lives in her imagination, not mine. See also the evolution of the hand-drawn title lettering on the final to get the legibility 'spot on'.

Thank you to Donna Mark at Bloomsbury for asking me to create this cover for them!

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