Cover Story: The Art of Being Normal

Cover Story: The Art of Being Normal

One of the most exciting moments so far on my journey from aspiring writer to soon-to-be published author, was seeing a mock-up of my cover for the first time. The fact that it was not only clever and striking, but also perfectly captured the mood and themes of the novel, was a rather hefty added bonus! The relationship between author and cover illustrator tends to be quite a distant one so it was fascinating to have the opportunity to ask Alice Todd some questions about how she came up with the final cover image for The Art of Being Normal

I heard that Ness Wood (David Fickling Books’ book designer) talent-spotted you at the New Designers exhibition in London. What happened next?
It was during New Designers private industry view that I was approached by Ness Wood. She was looking at my work when I approached her asking if I could answer any questions. She mentioned she was working on a book cover and my style may suit it. It was the next day I received a phone call from her asking if I would be interested in producing some ideas. It was all very exciting. 

How did you get into illustration? 
From a young age I was interested in branding and advertising. From there my passion for the subject grew throughout my studies at school and college. Prior to my degree I strayed away from digital media, opting for a hand drawn/ created style. It was during my time at Nottingham Trent University I developed a further interest in illustration, and started developing a digital style. 

Can you describe the process from briefing to delivery? How directive was Ness and David Fickling Books?
Ness and David Fickling Books were extremely supportive and had huge input throughout the process. After the initial briefing I sent a series of initial ideas over to Ness. Luckily, they loved the ideas and asked me to carry them through to completion. I was told which ideas they liked and they suggested some possible changes. They were open to new ideas and developments but were clear in what they wanted from the final outcome.

How many concepts did you come up with initially and how long did it take?
I was commissioned to come up with five initial ideas, though I came up with plenty more and various developments on each idea. It’s hard to say how long it took me to come up with the ideas, as I’m continuously working. Although I may not be sketching ideas, or working digitally, I’m always thinking of new ideas and how to represent key themes and ideas.

What elements of the novel did you particularly want to emphasise?
For me the key themes in the book I wanted to focus on was the idea of the characters feeling trapped, not just in their own bodies, but also by social conventions. I wanted play with the concepts of a person’s body being separate to their soul. 

Were there any particular challenges? 
The biggest challenge in this producing the artwork for this book was to not over-simplify the issues raised. The issue of transgender and social norms is an extremely wide and complex one; it was being sensitive to these issues whilst summarizing them within a symbol that was a welcome challenge.

This is the first book cover you’ve illustrated. Would you like to do more?
I would love to. I really enjoyed being able to read the story and be able to visually reflect some of the themes. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and hope I have the opportunity to do it again. 

Finally, what's your favourite book cover and why? (Mine is Francis Cugat's cover for The Great Gatsby!)
With so many fantastic book covers and examples of strong graphic design it is difficult to pick just one. But when it comes to book covers I am drawn to bright colors and bold prints. I think it’s because of this I’m extremely fond of the illustrations by Noma Bar for the Don DeLillo cover series. The bold simple graphics and strong visual wit make them extremely appealing to me.

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson is out in January.