‘If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use reading it at all’. Oscar Wilde said this, or something very like it. I have to agree with him.
This may be an age thing. As you get older you realise with dismay that there are going to be many excellent books you are never going to read. Time is short. Is it too short to waste it on anything that isn’t worth reading more than once?
It was with these thoughts in mind that I chose how I wanted my self-published novel All Desires Known to look. It’s not a plot-driven page-turner. If readers enjoy it, it will be for its examination of character and its prose style. I hope they will look forward to the next chapter for the pleasure of reading, rather than only caring about what happens next. I hope they will be sorry when they see there’s only one more chapter left.
So I needed All Desires Known to at least look like the kind of book people want to read more than once. It doesn’t matter if airport paperbacks end up dog-eared with broken spines – they’ve served their purpose of instant entertainment. But if a book is going to be sticking around on an owner’s shelf waiting to be pulled out again it should be a work of art in itself, not just a vehicle for words. Quality paper, a graceful, traditional font, a smooth matt laminate cover with flaps. A book which is a joy to look at, to hold and to turn the pages. Something like Persephone books in fact.
In modern publishing, the cover has to advertise the contents and inform the buyer exactly what kind of book it is. A publisher’s design department will know about what colours and graphics to use, what matches the market for your book, what catches the eye on Amazon. All very important, but it’s not your choice. Here’s where self-publishing has its rewards. You can have exactly the cover you want.
The heroine of All Desires Known, Nell Garwood, is an artist whose revealing portrait of an enigmatic public school chaplain misleads Dr Lewis Auerbach, the Jewish child psychiatrist who is caring for her daughter. The role of art in exposing the truth is played out through scenes at Wharton school, the Mall Galleries and finally in the National Portrait Gallery. So the cover of the book had to be a painting.
It is Lewis who spots the uncanny likeness between a portrait he has seen at Tate Britain and Nell Garwood. This is why All Desires Known has on its front cover Gwen John’s painting of The Convalescent, painted in 1918-19. A young woman deep in private thought, torn by the rights and wrongs of life, holding on to her interior life. We don’t know who the model was, only that Gwen John painted her many times while living in Paris where she had a passionate love affair with the sculptor Auguste Rodin. Here is the same intense psychological insight that Nell showed in her work, but so disastrously lacked elsewhere…
All Desires Known is all about moral vacillation and our infinite capacity for self-deception. Gwen John’s beautiful muted painting might not dazzle on the tables at Waterstones, an eye-catching seller for my novel, but it’s a perfect work of art you want to go on looking at and that’s what matters most on the cover of a book.
Job done, then, Tanya.
I spent an hour in the Tate recently and was delighted unexpectedly to come across ‘The Convalescent’. A beautiful painting, and a great choice for the book cover. Ed