Thursday, 30 August 2012


Right, folks!

Just to let you all know I'm off to Vegas (VEGAS, BABY) so I won't be updating until I'm back. Though our suite has free wifi so I'll be tweeting loooooads while I'm away. Keep your eyes peeled for news of my inevitable windfall.

Basically, I'm going to be at this emotional level of excitement until I get home next weekend:

Thursday, 23 August 2012

100 Word Reviews: Heaven, Debutantes and Arabesque

I've been working my way through a huge stack of books lately, in a bid to catch up with new releases and make my TBR pile a little more manageable. Over the next few weeks I'm going to be featuring groups of 100 word reviews of the books I've been reading. This post is concentrating on Heaven, Debutantes and Arabesque.

Heaven - Christoph Marzi

Published: February 2012, Orchard Books
Genre: Fantasy/paranormal/fairytale… This one’s difficult to categorise!

100 word review: I didn’t have massively high hopes for Heaven, I’ll be honest. From the cover and blurb I thought it was going to be a standard paranormal story but there was something that intrigued me. I’m so glad I decided it read it, though, as it was a great story, very different to anything else out there at the moment.
Our narrator is David, who reminded me so much of a teenage version of Johnny Depp’s character in The Ninth Gate – anyone else think so? No? Just me then. Heaven is the sort of character that I found initially a tad annoying but she really, really grew on me – it was a bit of a Stargirl situation.
Heaven is a dark fairytale that really took me by surprise. I’ve read a few novels with this sort of tone over the last few months (like Antonia Michaelis’ The Storyteller – both writers are German, interestingly) and I hope it’s a trend that continues.

Debutantes - Cora Harrison

Published: August 2012, Macmillan
Genre: Historical

100 word review: Well, I’ll admit that I was drawn to Debutantes because of the gorgeous cover. After the Halo debacle I should have known better but, no, I was seduced by the flowers and really great blusher.
There’s nothing exactly wrong with Debutantes. The writing’s fine, the characters are okay and the story is mildly interesting. My problem, though, is that nothing grabbed me. I had to work really hard to sum up the enthusiasm to finish the book and I didn’t feel a bond with any of the characters by the end of the story.
Sadly there’s not enough here to make me want to continue with this series, especially as there are so many books set in the twenties being released at the moment. As with any trend, books set in this time period are really going to need to be exceptional to stand out against the competition.

Arabesque - Colin Mulhern

Published: September 2012, Catnip
Genre: Contemporary/thriller

100 word review: Wow – Arabesque completely blew me away. Thrillers aren’t particularly rife in the world of YA so I was really excited to receive a review copy of this one. I flew through it in a single sitting and I was so impressed by both the quality of the writing and the story itself. This is a little gem that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
That ending – whaaaaa? It completely caught me off guard and I couldn't quite believe it; I was sure I must be missing a few pages at the end of my copy but, no, it was just a mind-blowing ending…which I thought was brilliant, even though I hated it! I understand that probably doesn’t make much sense but you’ll completely understand when you read the book, I promise.

Monday, 20 August 2012

100 Word Reviews: In Darkness, Scarlet and Torn

I've been working my way through a huge stack of books lately, in a bid to catch up with new releases and make my TBR pile a little more manageable. Over the next few weeks I'm going to be featuring groups of 100 word reviews of the books I've been reading. This post is concentrating on In Darkness, Scarlet and Torn.

In Darkness – Nick Lake

Published: January 2012, Bloomsbury
Genre: Contemporary

100 word review: First of all I just want to mention how beautiful the finished hardcover of this book is. It’s got a lovely finish and it looks gorgeous in real life. Onto the important stuff, however, and the inside of the book is just a great as the outside.
Lake has told that wonderful story with In Darkness and although it’s not my usual read at all, I really did enjoy it. It’s always nice to change things up and read outside my comfort zone and I think this one carries definite crossover appeal.
There were a few Haitian words I had to Google to find out their meanings but I loved this, it brought a great sense of authenticity to the story but the book wasn’t so loaded with these words that it took away from my enjoyment.
The ending, oh my, the ending! Well, predictably, I finished the book with tears streaming down my cheeks and proceeded to complete my double bill of wailing by watching Hotel Rwanda as soon as I finished In Darkness. Not a good idea unless you fancy dehydration through crying.

Scarlet – A. C. Gaughen

Published: June 2012, Bloomsbury
Genre: Historical

100 word review: As we all know, retellings have recently become a huge trend in the YA market. I am a fan of good retellings but so many that I’ve read this year have disappointed me. Scarlet, however, did not disappoint and I really did enjoy it. Even more impressive is that this is a debut novel – hooray!
This book’s strength is in Scarlet’s narrative voice, which is brilliant. It doesn’t falter once throughout the book and it’s clear Gaughen has spent so much time getting to know her protagonist. The first few pages were enough to make me really care about Scarlet, which is all I need to continue with a book.

Torn – David Massey

Published: August 2012, Chicken House
Genre: Contemporary

100 word review: Similarly to In Darkness, Torn is not the sort of contemporary I usually read. My most common read is contemporary of the more light-hearted persuasion but I was intrigued by this premise as I haven’t read much fiction based on the war in Afghanistan. The only other one I can think of is An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons, which is a very different story from Torn.
Massey definitely sets the scene very well and I felt immersed in the situation throughout the story. Ellie is a great heroine, tough but realistically distraught at times by her surroundings. Despite my initial worries I did actually come to like the love story in Torn. At first I wasn’t sure and it felt a bit…off for a romance to develop but as the book went on I did enjoy it more and more and I thought the ending was perfect. Hopeful but not too Hollywood.

Friday, 17 August 2012

On Book Covers

I’ve always been a cover junkie. I’m happy to hold my hands up and admit that the cover design does play a role when I’m selecting a new book to read. The story between the pages could be wonderful but if the cover is uninspiring it’s not going to jump out at me in a bookshop. After all, the cover and spine are the first things most book buyers see. Unless I’ve already been on Goodreads or blogs and chosen the books I want to buy based on the synopsis, cover design is hugely influential to my decision making process.

I’ve always posted a lot about covers here at Writing from the Tub but now I want to speak a bit more about the design and trends and why I think certain styles are so popular, rather than just posting up my favourite covers.

There have been a great number of posts circulating the YA community about covers lately, mostly focusing on how readers are sick of the same old standard pretty girl in a floaty dress looking sad. Well, I for one whole-heartedly agree. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule (I personally still love the covers for the Fallen and Chemical Garden series) but, generally, that decidedly safe and boring cover design is enough to put me off of a book.

There are so many books out there that the smallest thing can put a reader off of a book. If I’m faced with the choice of picking up a book with sad/floaty dress/pretty girl or an interesting, unique cover I’ll pick the latter every single time.

I have found that the vast majority of sad/floaty dress/pretty girl covers are confined to paranormal romance and dystopia series (though the backgrounds are usually different, with paranormal being set near water or by trees and dystopia having a backdrop of a crumbling, smoking city), so I’m not too inundated with them. Through far too much time spent poring over Goodreads and my own book shelves I’ve come to the conclusion that, while I find contemporary covers much more interesting and varied, there are still a few themes that stick out as being popular and, in some cases, overdone.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be talking about the following themes I’ve noticed in contemporary YA cover design:

- Legs
- Kissing
- Holding hands
- Hearts
- Coffee
- Swings
- Cars
- Lockers
- Bikes
- Converse

If you can think of anything I’ve missed or anything you’d like me to take a look at, please do let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to check it out.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

100 Word Reviews: The Blessed, League of Strays and Beautiful Disaster

I've been working my way through a huge stack of books lately, in a bid to catch up with new releases and make my TBR pile a little more manageable. Over the next few weeks I'm going to be featuring groups of 100 word reviews of the books I've been reading. This post is concentrating on The Blessed, League of Strays and Beautiful Disaster.

Yeah... So apologies for the mass of negative reviews. These three weren't exactly my favourites.

The Blessed – Tonya Hurley

Published: August 2012, Hodder
Genre: Paranormal

100 word review: I’m quite torn about my feelings for The Blessed. Based on the cover and synopsis I expected a run of the mill paranormal and that’s sort of what I got. Sort of. The love story was so blah I don’t think it’s even worth mentioning but there’s actually quite an interesting story here. I liked the exploration of the whole ‘living saint’ plot and the inclusion of religion was great because of the way it was presented, as a seamless part of the story. So, this is sure to please paranormal fans but I’m not convinced it will convert new fans to the genre. The ending was fab, though.
Moving away from the plot, I loved the little mention of CeCe’s nail art – I’ve tried that book transfer technique myself and it does work (sorry if that makes no sense…it will if you read the book!) The illustrations in the centre of the book were gorgeous and a really nice addition. I’m a big fan of extra content but you don’t see it too often in YA, so this was a great touch.

League of Strays – L. B. Schulman

Published: October 2012, Amulet
Genre: Contemporary

100 word review: I thought I was going to enjoy League of Strays, despite the title and cover making leading me to believe it was a paranormal romance. I like a good group of misfits and revenge stories always interest me. However, the writing was sloppy, the characters one-dimensional and the plot, which could have been intriguing, left me uninspired.
Kade, the leader of the League, could have been a wonderfully dark character but he was just a bit…dare I say it, boring? I was waiting for that moment that made me sit up and pay attention to him but, for me, he never seemed like anything more than a kid with a vendetta, when he could have been a fantastic villain.
Richie was sweet, though, and I did like his character; I just wish more of the story had been dedicated to him, as I think it would have made the novel more interesting. Charlotte was just…well, I had to just check the back of my copy to remember her name, despite only finishing this one a couple of days ago, which says it all, really.

Beautiful Disaster – Jamie McGuire

Published: August 2012, Simon & Schuster
Genre: Contemporary

100 word review: When I was sent a sampler of Beautiful Disaster I was quite intrigued and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I’m sad to say the same can’t be said for the full length novel. It was not an enjoyable experience, by any stretch of the imagination.
In my opinion, Travis is a wholly dull male lead. If the only thing that makes a character interesting is the fact he can barely get through a chapter without smashing something then it doesn’t bode well. Abby, possibly, is even duller than her love interest.
I’ve seen this billed as ‘contemporary romance’ all over Goodreads and the like. Really? I didn’t see a shred of romance…except, of course, if attempting to no longer make violent threats and destroy things is considered romance.
In conclusion, Beautiful Disaster is not for me.
And that last sentence is the understatement of the year.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

On the latest drama in the YA community

Things haven't been very pleasant lately, have they?

Unless you're lucky (and smart) enough to have stayed away from Twitter and Goodreads I'm sure you'll know what I'm talking about. A ridiculous amount of dramas have blown up between reviewers, authors, publishers and everybody else involved in this community. I've seen name calling, fighting and actual threats of violence thrown about all over the place in the last few weeks. Come on people, can we please just sort this shit out?

I'm not pointing the finger at anybody here because, honestly, there isn't one area of the community that's at fault. I've seen immature, petty behaviour from bloggers, independant reviewers, editors, agents, self-published writers, Indie writers, Big Six writers, librarians and publicists. There's at least a few people in every single group of the community that has, recently, acted completely out of order. And I'll admit that every time any drama blew up I was there, reading the comments, laughing at the ridiculousness of the entire situation and boring my boyfriend by telling him every single development, whether he wanted to hear it or not (clue: he didn't).

Eventually, though, I began to realise that it was the same arguments over and over again, just in a different way and with varying shades of bullying thrown in for good measure. A few things I noticed are as follows:

1. People really, really like to threaten legal action over the teeniest, tiniest little things. I saw someone say they were in touch with their lawyer after someone called them a bitch? REALLY? *Special snowflake alert*

2. People seriously need to learn the different between libel and slander


4. If someone does troll one of your reviews you DO have an option to ignore it. I quite frequently attract anonymous trolls to my blog - I've been called a bitch, a bad writer, a grammar Nazi, a horrible person, a liar, someone so vile they would never want to know me in real life. I've had people telling me they hope I have a self harming problem and that they hope my parents die so I become more empathetic. Etc. I also had someone accuse me of not reading a book before reviewing it because I made a geographical mistake in my review - that's the one I *really* wanted to reply to but what's the point?
It makes you look as petty as them and nothing good will come of it. Just rise above it, my friends. It's a bit rich to complain about drama and arguments and then do everything you can to encourage it. If you don't want a fight then ignore the crazy.

5. There are douche bags in ALL areas of the YA community. It shouldn't ever be Bloggers vs. Authors or Librarians vs. Publicists or any group against any other group - it should be Douche Bags vs. Normal, Sane People. Or, Douche Bags being ignored by Normal, Sane People. That is all.

I love 99% of people I've had contact with in the YA community, all areas of reviewing, writing and publishing combined. The vast majority of people are lovely, sweet and interesting and I love being a part of such a diverse, wonderful group of people. There are a few jackasses, sure, but there are in every area of life. I'm refusing to let it get to me and I'm not going to give those people, any of those people, another moment of my time or energy. I'm going to concentrate on reading and writing and talking books, because that's why I blog and that's what I love.

So, I'm pledging, from today onwards, that I am going to stay out of drama, I am going to avoid reading it and I am not going to give it any of my attention.

Who's with me?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

100 Word Reviews: Graffiti Moon; Dads, Geeks and Blue Haired Freaks; Life: An Exploded Diagram

I've been working my way through a huge stack of books lately, in a bid to catch up with new releases and make my TBR pile a little more manageable. Over the next few weeks I'm going to be featuring groups of 100 word reviews of the books I've been reading. This post is concentrating on Graffiti Moon, Dads Geeks and Blue Haired Freaks and Life: An Exploded Diagram.

Graffiti Moon - Cath Crowley

Published: July 2012 by Hodder
Genre: Contemporary

100 word review: Graffiti Moon was such a lovely surprise! I’m a big fan of Aussie YA (more, please) but I wasn’t convinced by the premise of this one. Any worries I had, however, were dispelled as soon as I started reading and I truly fell in love with the characters, story and wonderful writing.
The last few chapters were absolutely perfect contemporary YA and this one gave me a major craving to rewatch Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist – anybody else find them fairly similar in tone? The dialogue here is great, modern and fresh and so realistic. Ed is adorable and the triple narrative worked so well, with Ed, Poet and Lucy’s voices all standing out as their own.

Dads, Geek and Blue Haired Freaks – Ellie Phillips

Published: September 2012, Electric Monkey
Genre: Contemporary

100(ish) word review: ‘I was having a good hair day when this whole thing started.’ What a brilliant first line! From that line on I was absolutely sold on Sadie, our protagonist. As the story follows Sadie’s quest to track her biological father down on the Internet it’s really critical that readers bond with her and fast; luckily, Sadie is utterly charming and it’s impossible not to like her. She’s a great, unique character but hilarious and sweet rather than annoyingly quirky and I genuinely cared about her. The hairstyle updates at the beginning of some of the chapters were a really sweet touch.
The story is so intriguing and it was executed really well. I loved the varying tone of the book, with the more serious and intense search for Sadie’s father mixed in with the usual teenage boy dramas. The only slight issue I did have, though, was with the love story. It didn’t feel fully explored to me and Tony is a pretty bog standard love interest. That said, this is a really fun book that left me with a smile on my face.

Life: An Exploded Diagram – Mal Peet

Published: June 2011, Walker
Genre: Contemporary/Historical

100 word review: You might remember me banging on and on about the beautiful trailer that Walker released in the lead up to Life’s release date. It’s still one of my favourite book trailers so do head over to Youtube and check it out if you haven’t yet.
The trailer really does set the tone for the book perfectly, as it’s just as dreamy and nostalgic as I thought it would be. The writing is absolutely stunning from beginning to end and that’s absolutely the book’s strength. The story jumps from one time period to another and I did find myself enjoying Clem's teenage sections more than those of Clem’s family. The writing was still lovely but there was something lacking. I didn’t quite connect with the characters as much as I wanted to and I felt like there was a little bit too much info dumping. I was very aware of it, which did detract from my enjoyment somewhat.
However, the ending was amazing. It left me a bit speechless and it was brutal but, wow, what a brilliantly written ending!

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Future of Writing from the Tub

I've been suffering from major blog burn out lately. Really, it's been for most of 2012 but I've just about kept things ticking over. However, over the last few weeks I've really questioned whether I want to continue blogging or not (the answer is yes, I do, so I'm not going anywhere). I think there are a few things that made me feel like this.

I've been quite inundated with books this year and more and more of the books I'm getting are unsolicited. There's nothing I love more than receiving a surprise in the post but the vast majority of unsolicited books I get at the moment are fantasy or paranormal romance, both of which are genres I haven't accepted for review for at least a year. There are very, very few paranormal romance and fantasy novels that I accept for review so I've stressed in my review policy for a long time that it's always best to check with me first. It really makes me sad when I get a book for review that I know I don't want to read because somebody has taken the time to send me the book, I'm also aware that proofs in particular are expensive to produce so I do feel a certain amount of pressure (not pressure, exactly, maybe obligation) to review every proof I'm sent.

I've started to realise I shouldn't feel that way.

My review policy is clear and easy to find; if people want to ignore it then that's okay but if a book is sent to me unsolicited I think I need to stop feeling pressure to review it, particularly if it's not a book I've expressed any interest to read. Particularly if it's an adult fantasy novel. Particularly if it's book seventeen in a series I haven't read a single volume of...

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that I've realised I need to chill out. I run Writing from the Tub for myself, first and foremost, because I love talking about books. I adore receiving review copies and I love talking to publicists about new releases but it's not why I blog.

So, from now on, I'm going to be far, far more selective about the books I accept for review. I'm going to tighten up my review policy again and make sure I'm as clear as possible about what I do and do not accept. I don't want anybody to waste their time and money sending me a book that will end up donated to my library, although I can't really think of a better place for a book to end up. I’d much rather the book got sent to a blogger who will read and review and really enjoy it.

At Writing from the Tub I've always tried to review a wide range of books, from contemporary to horror to paranormal, with MG and YA and a few adult books thrown into the mix. I've reviewed novels, short story collections, poetry - I've tried to review as many different genres and styles as possible. And at first I loved the huge range of books I blogged about. However, that has changed lately and I've found myself tiring of certain genres (paranormal romance, I'm glaring at you). I will still continue to read anything and everything I can get my hands on but from a blogging and reviewing point of view there are going to be some major changes at Writing from the Tub.

Firstly, this is going to become a blog dedicated (in the most part) to contemporary YA. As anybody who has spent five minutes at Writing from the Tub knows, I'm a huge, mega contemporary fan. It's what I write, it makes up the majority of what I read and I adore it. I think part of the reason I've become quite distant with blogging is because I felt incapable of doing everything I wanted to; I felt like it was impossible to ever get through my TBR pile, or interview every author I wanted to, or keep up with new releases and news and trends etc etc. By focusing on my favourite genre I think I will be able to write better quality posts as I won't be spreading myself so thin. It also means my TBR pile will be smaller and more concentrated, so I'll be able to deliver reviews closer to the release dates and actually, you know, keep up with things!

I've also noticed a distinct lack of contemporary only blogs. There are a tonne of great paranormal, dystopia (and the like) blogs but I'm always looking for contemporary reviews and news - it's something I've lamented time and time again so I'm going to represent contemporary in my own little corner of the Internet, because I love it so.

In preparation for major changes at Writing from the Tub I've been working my way through my remaining non-contemporary review copies to get up to date with them, so do look out for an influx of mini reviews for all things non-contemp. Once the new face of WftT is launched I'll be featuring (fornightly, maybe?) occasional reviews of certain non-contemporary novels that have really grabbed my attention, as there are still a bunch of paranormal, horror and dystopian books I'm reading and loving.

Lastly, thanks for sticking with me over the last few months; I know there hasn't been much going on here and I've been flying under the radar but I have some really exciting plans for the rest of 2012 and beyond!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Audio Blog Tour: Gods and Warriors - Michelle Paver

I've got a bit of a different post today for you all, as I'm taking part in the audio blog tour for Michelle Paver's next release, Gods and Warriors. Over the next few days you're going to be able to hear the beginning of the Gods and Warriors audiobook, by visiting all of the blogs on the tour, as each blog is hosting a snippet for you to listen to. 

I don't listen to audiobooks as much as I'd like to but taking part in this tour has reminded me how great audiobooks can be. I've listened to my section so many times now I'm desperate to listen to the rest of the book!

Do have a listen below and make sure you visit the brill Rhys and co at Thirst for Fiction tomorrow to hear the next installment. If you missed yesterday's clip do swing by to see lovely Jenny at Wondrous Reads to catch up.

To pre-order your copy of Gods and Warriors click here to visit the Amazon page for the book and for more information, click here to watch the book trailer.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Review: Emil and the Detectives - Erich Kastner

Published: Originally, 1929. As part of the Vintage Children's Classics list, August 2012
Pages: 153 pages, paperback
Series/standalone?: Standalone
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from the back cover): Emil is excited to be taking the train on his own for the first time. He doesn't like the look of his fellow passenger, the man in the bowler hat. Emil will just have to keep his wits about him and his money in his pocket. But Emil falls asleep and when he wakes up the man in the bowler hat is gone - and so is the money! Emil is determined to get it back. He teams up with a gang of young detectives and so begins a hair-raising chase across Berlin to catch the dirty rotten thief...

My review: Oh, I so wish I'd read Emil and the Detectives when I was younger! I would have absolutely adored this story and I know I would have picked this one up over and over again. This feels like such a timeless classic and I know I'll be reading it to my children in years to come.

Light-hearted, funny and sweet from the outset, this is the perfect book to dip in and out if you want a quick read that will put a smile on your face. Set against the backdrop of gorgeous Berlin (as many of you probably know, it's mine and my boyfriend's regular holiday destination, so I know my way around the city!), Emil's story is engaging from the moment he spots the man in the bowler hat in the train carriage - and look out for the fat woman 'twiddling her toes to ease them', I loved that detail. I've been there, fat train lady, I've been there...

The illustrations throughout the book are lovely and remind me so much of my favourite childhood books. I think this is one of the things I love so much about every book in this list - they're all so nostalgic and the stories take me right back to my younger years, even the books I hadn't read before, like this one. All of the Classic books have a number of elements in common; memorable characters, simple but perfectly executed prose and wonderful, whimsical stories that will take you out of every day life and plant you firmly in the world of the characters involved.

Emil and the Detectives is one of those books that I think may be a little underrated. It's one I hadn't read and I know a few of the other bloggers at the RHCP event where we first saw the list said the same thing. Now I have read the book I'll definitely be recommending it to anybody looking for a fun, evocative read that they might not have stumbled across before.

First line: '"Now then, Emil,' Mrs Tischbein said, 'just carry in that jug of hot water for me, will you.'"

Read if you liked…: Adventures of the New Cut Gang - Philip Pullman

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Cover: 3/5
Total: 15/20 (B)

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Blog Tour: Sarah Hammond - The Night Sky in my Head

Two posts in one day - that's practically unheard of this year!

I've got Sarah Hammond here this afternoon to talk to me about the gorgeous cover for her novel, The Night Sky in my Head. I'm always fascinated to hear about the cover design process so I had a great time reading this post. I hope you guys enjoy it too.

Now, I'll hand you over to Sarah:

Have you ever wondered how a book cover is designed and created? I have received lots of compliments about the wonderful cover for The Night Sky in my Head and was delighted when designer Karen Stewart from Oxford University Press and illustrator Lucy Davey agreed to tell me  what went on behind the scenes…

SH: How did you come up with the idea for the lovely cover design for The Night Sky in my Head?

KS: Coming up with an idea for the cover was a challenge! Initially I had a meeting with our Sales/Editorial/Marketing and Design departments. Following this, I had an intense yet positive meeting with the editor. We were all aware that this book tackled issues, yet we didn’t want it to look solely like an 'issues' book. It was important that the cover looked attractive enough to be picked up by a prospective reader . . . yet also projected a gentle, quiet, undertone of 'issues'. It was obvious that nature featured strongly in this book and I felt that it was extremely important to ensure that the cover had an organic feel. The story flowed and undulated and gathered pace, sometimes with a dreamlike quality, then slowed down again. I really wanted to capture the story movement by conveying artistic movement in the cover. I also realised there was another way I could create artistic flow, as there was a plot-line running through the story that involved arson. I could therefore include a blown out match with curling wisps of smoke emanating from it that could be cleverly turned into title lettering. But I knew I would have to choose an artist that would be able to illustrate the artwork and typography. Not always easy.

SH: So how did you know when you'd finally hit on the right idea?

KS: I'd experimented with a photographic cover and at one point just thought about having a burning match on the front cover and a 'spent' match on the back cover, but I thought this wouldn’t convey any narrative. In total, I came up with 6 cover roughs which I presented to the editor. Fortunately she instantly latched on to my favourite and last idea with a very big smile. I knew I'd cracked it at this point! Fortunately our Sales/Editorial/Marketing and Design departments were also happy with the concept. It was now up to the author and her agent to give us the thumbs up to proceed. You and Victoria Birkett gave us your approval.

SH: Why did you choose Lucy as the illustrator?

KS: Lucy Davey was an easy choice. Her style is incredibly eye-catching and could project a lightness and attractiveness to the overall 'issues' feel. Her artwork was obviously going to lend itself to the flowing organic feel that we were trying to achieve. Her stylised shapes were beautiful and engaging and her use of flat colour combined with pattern and texturing in some instances, added extra depth. AND she was confident with typography. Perfect!

SH: Once you had settled on the basic idea for the cover, what was the process for finalising the design? Did the idea develop or change much?

KS: I sent Lucy a basic rough that I had created just to give her a sense of what we were looking for.

I stressed that visual movement was important. I supplied a list of elements that were important to the story line e.g. a stressed teenager (Mikey), a bittern, a dog (Timmer), and various other key elements. The idea certainly did develop and very much for the better. I really enjoy working with illustrators and their input is so very important. Lucy took my rough concept idea and made it better. She made it work! It’s all about team work, talking, listening and bouncing ideas off each other. Lucy knew the 'feel' we wanted to project and she delivered!! Initially, the colours were quite laid back but our Sales Director felt that we needed to inject some brighter more intense colours to help warm the colour palette. So Lucy obliged.
Here is an example of the original and darker colour palette:

SH: Lucy, you have done a fantastic job with the illustration of the cover for The Night Sky in my Head. What was your process in creating the cover illustration once you received the design brief from OUP?

LD: Thank you! My first step was to read the book - this sounds obvious but it’s quite rare to get a copy of a novel you’re illustrating (particularly if it’s unpublished).  This was really helpful in understanding the tone and atmosphere of the book.
To produce a rough for the cover, I started with several thumbnail pencil sketches. Once I had quite a clear drawing of the cover design, I drew the elements separately, scanned them and layered them up in Photoshop in black and white.

Karen was happy with my rough so I went ahead with final artwork, working in a similar way, although more precisely and in colour of course. The title lettering was an important part of this cover so I started with that and worked the other elements to fit around it.

SH: How did you collaborate with Karen to produce the final cover? How does the relationship between designer and illustrator work?

LD: For this cover Karen came to me with quite a specific idea of what she wanted. The emphasis was on capturing a sense of movement and flow to reflect Mikey’s experience of ‘the backwards’. Karen provided a list of elements that could be included on the cover – I narrowed these down to the more essential ones as I was keen not to over-complicate the image.
I was delighted with Karen’s reaction to my rough and she was happy for me to go to final artwork without many changes at all. There were some colour changes to the final artwork as Karen was after a brighter, more colourful image and I tend towards a muted/limited colour palette.
It was great collaborating with Karen on this cover, as she is obviously very dedicated to producing some good artwork for her covers and her enthusiasm for it really comes across.

SH: How did you add your own personal artistic stamp to the cover?

LD: It can be difficult to put your own stamp on a cover when a designer has a strong idea of what they want, but in this case I had a good sense of the atmosphere of the book when I started and it came about quite naturally. I felt that my style suited the cover and I always love drawing animals. It was a great opportunity to do some interesting hand lettering as well.

SH: Karen, were there any particular challenges in designing the cover for this book? If so, what were they?

KS: Apart from the main challenge, which I discussed earlier about trying to NOT make this look like an 'issues' book, the additional challenge was to try to fit a shed and reeds into the artwork. I also thought that if we could add trees/branches without leaves this would help to help project the quiet undertones of 'issues' on the cover. However, I just couldn’t work out how they could be positioned to sit alongside all the other elements that were 'flowing' in a circular movement without looking ridiculous.  Fortunately Lucy solved this problem for me by creating a hill at the bottom of the cover with the shed perched on top. This grounded the cover and gave it weight. The reeds/brambles/branches then fell in to place naturally and also helped to create the circular, organic movement I was asking for.

SH: What was the hardest aspect of this illustration and why?

LD: For me it was the colour. I ended up spending a long time adjusting colours in Photoshop to try and get them right. It was fairly obvious that the background should be a blue or green but I struggled to make the other elements work with this. I started by using quite naturalistic colours, browns for the bird and dog, but in the end they just didn’t ‘pop’ enough, especially for a children’s book cover. Karen asked that I brighten them up, which I was a little concerned about as I prefer a limited colour palette. In the end though I think it worked out well.

SH: What is your favourite part of the cover and why?

LD: Probably the title lettering. It was a challenge to make quite a long title fit together and flow – Karen wanted it to have a smoky look to tie it in with the story.  In the end I was pleased with how it turned out and how the pictorial elements of the cover could fit around the title.

KS: Oh there are so many favourite bits! ALL OF IT! I love the colour palette. I adore the flowing title lettering, the detailing on the bittern’s body, the overall circular decoration/movement of the reeds/brambles and trees and, lastly, and this is a very small point . . . the fact that 'The Backwards' is written backwards. That makes me smile!

SH: Many thanks to both Karen and Lucy for producing such an excellent cover for my debut teen novel and also for sharing an insight into your artistic processes with me.  You have even inspired the creation of a celebratory cake!

Vintage Children's Classics Launch Day!

You might have noticed that this week at Writing from the Tub has been taken over by the launch of the Vintage Children's Classics list, which is launched TODAY! Happy launch day, Vintage!

Today the World of Stories website, which is decided to the Classics list, goes live so do head over to World of Stories to check it out. You'll find details on all of the books on the list, as well as a tonne of extra content for each title.

In case you haven't had a chance to check out the list of titles Vintage are launching the list with, do have a look below:

• The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
• Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
• Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
• The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
• The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
• Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner
• Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
• I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
• The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
• Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
• Peter Pan by J.M Barrie
• The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
• The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
• The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
• Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransom
• Swallowdale by Arthur Ransom
• Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
• What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
• The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
• The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

To finish off with today, I've got a gorgeous video to share with you that Vintage created to showcase the books on their list. We were shown this at the recent Random House Blogger Brunch and it's so lovely and nostalgic, so do take a look if you have a spare moment:

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Vintage Children's Classics: Covers, Branding and Extra Content

Now, I've spoken a little bit about my love of branding here at Writing from the Tub but over the next few months I'm going to be talking about it in a lot more detail. To start things off, however, I want to focus on the Vintage Children's Classics list, which is being released tomorrow.

The launch list of made up of twenty titles, old and new, which are beloved by children and adults alike. It must have been a huge challenge to brand twenty such different stories with a similar look to ensure they fit together and look like they belong in the same collection. However, the cover designers for the Vintage Children's Classics range did a remarkable job and I think they struck the perfect balance to make sure that each book kept its own identity but looks as though it belongs alongside the other books on the list.

In case you haven't seen the covers yet just take a look below and I'm sure you'll see what I mean.

As you can see, there's a heavy influence on bold colours, silhouettes and wrap around covers that extend onto the back; a little touch that I really love. While the covers are fit in nicely together, they are different enough that the individual story isn't lost in a generic cover design. Each cover really does stay true to what's within the page and I love that - Swallows and Amazons and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time are such different books but will look beautiful next to each other on the bookshelf.

As well as great cover design, each book in the Vintage Children's Classics range also has the Backstory feature, which I'm sure is going to be a huge hit with younger readers in particular. Backstory is extra content for each book, which is included after the story. This is made up of quizzes, maps, author interviews and fun activities for readers to try at home (like writing a nonsense poem as part of the Alice in Wonderland Backstory. I was always a huge fan of extra content in books (I still am, actually!) and I've really enjoyed the Backstory feature in the copies I was lucky enough to be sent for review.

When the official website, World of Stories, is launched tomorrow (all the details will be here tomorrow morning at 7am) do make sure you swing by to check out the full list of books and feast your eyes on their covers and extra content. Vintage have really gone the extra mile to make sure their lists stands out and I can't wait to build up my collection of these lovely books.