Cover story

Creative control is a good thing to have. It’s part of the reason some people become writers. Not just the urge to create, but to be in control of what you do – for me, that’s the joy of writing.

But there are aspects of the writing life that are out of the writer's hands. One of those is book jacket design. To date, I’ve never been entirely happy with the covers of my books, particularly the ones published by Headline in the late 90s and early 2000s. (To be fair to Headline, it was a bad patch for book design generally, the 90s.) They all more or less failed to harmonise with the spirit and character of the stories within.

When Thistle Publishing offered to republish my novels, I was thrilled to be given permission to design the jackets myself. It was time to put my aesthetics where my mouth was.


The first I tried was The Locust Farm. It needed clarity; it needed foreboding; and it needed blood. It needed to look more like the sophisticated and chilling thriller it is, rather than a literary novel set in Africa, which is what Headline’s cover inexplicably looked like (especially the first edition; the mass-market paperback improved it, and yes that is a tiny locust at the bottom).

A strange choice of career

Have you ever made a major career choice on the basis of a movie? I mean after the age of twelve. In my forties, I chose a new career entirely on the strength of a film. I looked … I liked … “Why not do that?” I thought. So I did.

The movie was The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010), in which Ewan McGregor is a writer hired to ghost the autobiography of a controversial ex-prime minister (Pierce Brosnan, transparently based on Tony Blair) who’s been a poodle to the Americans, started an illegal war and allowed torture. McGregor finds himself in a nest of very nasty vipers, and ends up running for his life, having discovered that the ghost who worked on the book before him died in suspicious circumstances and left behind a clue to the truth about the ex-PM coded into the manuscript.

I thought, “I could do that.” (Be a ghost writer, that is, not get squelched by the CIA.) My life as a novelist and manuscript doctor was in a lull, and I needed a change.

© Jeremy Dronfield 2017