Cover Story: A Song for Issy Bradley

Cover Story: A Song for Issy Bradley

In considering the jacket approach for A Song For Issy Bradley it seemed appropriate to be guided both by the rich narrative and also by the tremendously evocative atmosphere.In the opening prologue, Claire, Issy’s mother, describes walking down the beach towards the tideline: "She stops walking when she sees a discarded net. It’s red like the little bags that hold oranges, and half full of tiny cockles - silver bells and cockle shells - she remembers singing the nursery rhyme to the children. She crouches, opens the net and helps herself to a cockle. Its sides are clenched shut. She prises it open with her thumb nails and when it unlocks like a little mouth she thinks of the children again, of feeding them solids when they were babies, of trying to insert toothbrushes past pursed lips."

So, the initial idea was to source an illustration of a cockle shell, repeat and multiply, and incorporate the result into the jacket in some way. The appearance of shells nestling together in a net suggested a satisfying graphic of related textures and patterns, and also echoed a sense of family, spiralling around together and the typography would then centre amongst the shells:

But this approach felt a little generalised and lacked a focal point, it needed further development. And so, back to Carys’s text, where a richer motif suggested itself... "It seems right to be surrounded by birds at a time like this. After all, birds have always been messengers and comforters; a dove helped Noah determine the end of the flood and a raven took care of Elijah in the desert. There are so many lovely stories about birds, it’s good to be outside again and remember such things. She thinks about the selfless swallow in The Happy Prince and the nightingale that sacrificed itself in order to create a red rose." Birds as "messengers and comforters" as described by Carys in her text has fine graphic potential, I could see how I could adapt this for jacket purposes, using different facets of a bird to convey the aspects of the story.

The initial black silhouette was taken from a bird alphabet. I divided the illustration into 3, and represented different photographic textures suggested within the narrative - a candlewick bedspread, a goldfish’s scales, open skies. With this approach I then tried to integrate the title with the new image. But it's just too busy and the elements within the bird lack a lyrical feel.

Better then to go illustrative. I mocked up a new bird with 4 different components, hinting at the 4 childrens lives described in the narrative, though hopefully without being too prescriptive. At this stage the components consist of found images, one of them featuring the initial idea of cupping cockle shells. This approach was agreed with the author and publisher, and then also with our sales and marketing teams as imagery with which the book could be promoted both physically and online.

I then needed to originate the separate elements to settle on a more integrated style. I commissioned Britta Stenhouse, from the Folio Illustration Agency, to render the different elements:

1. A bare tree in a storm with leaves and birds swirling around.
2. Cockle shell patterning for the tail.
3. A wavy bedspread pattern to incorporate into the head and breast of the bird.
4. And a line representation of a young girl.

All these elements were then montaged into the bird shape with a rippling sand texture added behind. Finally I commissioned a lettering artist, Stephen Raw, to render the title and author, so as to present an artisan hand-rendered quality to the jacket. Also added to the front is a fantastic endorsement from Nathan Filer. The elements and colouring are echoed throughout the package on the back, flaps, spine and endpapers.