Sunday, 8 July 2012

Cover Story

The usual crowd are bound to say it,
I told you so. You shouldn't have...! Why didn't you...?
Familiar, eh? In this case they're on about the jacket design of MHFTB (“My Heart Forgets To Beat”). Yes, they warn me, I'll make a hash of it. They tell me to get a professional in to do the job. They urge me not to waste any more of my precious time.
Phooey to the lot of them. OK, I'm not a trained book designer; I'm no multi-tasking Comrade Billy of Blake; I do this for kicks. I love pens and pencils, brushes, crayons, photographs, scanning devices, artwork programmes, anything to do with the creation and manipulation of images. One of my favourite films is David Hockney's A Bigger Splash. Not actually a great movie, which is hardly the point, just a real delight to watch. Hockers spends a whole year painting and repainting this sexy poolside scene, trying to get the figure of an on-looker right. Friends/cronies go mad at him to finish the piece. Twice, he casually cuts the canvas up in bits and starts over. He doesn't care what anyone says.
I'm obsessive about texts, though hopefully a better writer than artist. So what's behind the jacket of MHFTB? What's the cover story, eh? While the novel should be self explanatory, the elements on the jacket derive from all the research I did on the project. In that sense, they are badges of authenticity. They show how immersed I became in the history; to what extent I got lost, and how the final writing and publishing has been the struggle to find my way out.

There are ten elements in the cover design. Ten's not a significant number, though maybe a large one to the orthodox,
That's nine too many! Keep it simple!
So they say. My response?
Nay, nay and thrice nay! Simple is not how it is.
The first element derives from a banner showing the Spanish Republican flag,
I scanned the colours from this museum piece. I absolutely love these faded pastel shades. Well, that much IS simple.
Overlaid on the background colours, there is text, pictures and three bars of music.
Six of the pictures are small, thumb-nail images. In the top left corner of the front cover, there is a Dornier 17, a German schnellbomber (fast bomber) which flew with the Fascist Condor League,
It was one of the types of aircraft used in the infamous attack on Guernica. I traced the profile from a scale drawing and have slightly elongated it because the plan-view doesn't really show its pencil-thin shape. A pair of Dorniers from the Condor League carry out a bombing raid in the Prologue of MHFTB.
Opposing the bomber, in the top right corner of the front cover, is the three pointed red star of the Spanish Republic. The Estrella Roja (Red Star) Café also appears in the Prologue,

The Estrella Roja (Red Star) Café also appears in the Prologue. Three pointed stars are quite unusual and it's hard to find good examples, even on the internet. I drafted this one myself and gave it a thin white outline, which is not exactly authentic, but helps in the definition.
In the lower left corner of the front cover is a 1935 Bentley Tourer, which appears in Part Three,
Vaughan Thomas, the poet-hero, helps to drive this car from England to the South of France in the summer of 1936, hence its rather worse-for-the-road appearance. While in this car, which is owned by the left-leaning son of a press baron, the Spain-bound London Volunteers are encountered. I hand-traced various vintage Bentley photos to produce this image. Incidentally, I've produced more detailed, coloured versions of some pictures for this blog. This is what I mean by getting lost in the process!
Vaughan's own wheels are much less grand, though no less legendary; opposing the Bentley is a 1927 KTT Velocette, a two-stroke engined bike of 349cc's,
A bike enthusiast friend suggested incorporating a Velocette and lent me an old handbook from his collection, me knowing next to nothing about the subject. The model Vaughan rides (with Ruth as passenger) is no slouch; the TT in its name deriving from the Isle of Man races, where it won fame. Once again, the image I use has been traced from various sources; the pillion seat is an extra on pre-1930's models. Here is a poem Vaughan writes about Sunday motorcycling,

Sonnet - new troubles in the old kitbag

The two-stroke mob, on leave from weekday jobs,
our motors stuttering like Vickers guns,
in Air Force goggles, surplus Army boots
and Navy loader’s gloves we signal turns
that camouflage the pacifist in us

And lasses too, hunching on barbèd steeds
we rip your peaceful town and village squares
not like the choirboys that sheepishly marched
to drown in gas of Ypres, mud of Somme.

Why don’t we halt at chapel doors, pack up
your troubles in our cast-off killers’ bags,
or put on bun fights down the orphanage?
Instead, we roast your Sunday mourners’ ears
yowling for freedom in the togs of war.

- V.T.

Yowling” is the sound peculiar to two-stroke engines.
Turning to the spine. At the top, there is a Liver Bird,
At first, I was tempted to use the Liverpool FC logo, but of course that is an over-protected species. Then, after research into the origins of this mythical bird, I wondered if a cormorant wasn't more in keeping. The image I finally came up with is much fatter and fowl-like than either of the above. There's also a touch of pigeon in its olive sprig. I grow olive trees, so I consider it a point of honour that the leaves look right. Here's part of an Oh Reilly poem (from Leaves of the Poets Vol. 2):

odd of the liver bird

eh blue which god vouchsafed this perch
so far above the ships at berth
in fervent scenes of graft or work

and did I plead for such a perk
to stand and squawk for what it's worth
skulking up here all out to lurch

d'ye ken yon gulls upon the church
St. Nicks by name which comb the earth
no sparrows they of belfries' lurk

that eye the bat and miss the quirk
of early worms for there's a dearth
and precious nowt without a search

but blue to whom the beak addressed this dirge
flew fleet and dumbly by the giant's verge

- Alain Oh Reilly (from work in progress)

At the bottom of the spine is the Welsh dragon,
Though Liverpool is famous for its Irish connection, in fact the Welsh more or less built the city. Where I grew up (in Walton, next door to V.T.'s Anfield) the old tongue was still spoken on the streets in the 1960s. Why is it so many English people despise the Welsh? That game show presenter, Anne Whatsername, got away with murder. What would she'd have been called if she'd said all that about British Asians or Africans? She'd have been lynched, that's what; but because she vented her spite at the Welsh, she got clean away. Some people seem to forget that without Lloyd George this country would have been finished. He was the genius who pulled us through 1916-17. And where did the Tudor family come from, eh? I am proud of my Welsh heritage and will never forget it. In 1992, I was so disgusted by what Murdoch did to Kinnock, I left the UK. Lost the thread again, eh?
The large image on the front cover is inspired by one of E. Dean's B&W seaside pier photographs,
Dean was active in the mid-Thirties, providing Newspaper and Picture-Post type images from all walks of life (i.e. crime, sport, politics, current affairs, human interest, etc.). He was often sent to cover seaside or maritime stories, having an eye for “bathing beauties”. I dug up a shot with another link to Vaughan Thomas's story. Getty Images hold the copyright of this Topical Press Agency photograph and I can't reproduce it here for fear they will sue for royalties! You can view it here: Look at the expression on the well-dressed, dishevelled protester’s face. Like Vaughan Thomas, a decent bloke who had the prescience to understand the dangers of fascism. I hope those bobbies didn't put the boot in after throwing him in the back of the Black Mariah.
To return to the “bathing beauty” theme. The pier-end “peep show” image is from 1936, almost ten years after the seaside resort scenes in Part Two of MHFTB. And yet, the date is right for Part Three, if the girl in the picture represents not Ruth Parry, but rather the younger Maura Carter peeking at Vaughan's goings-on in Spain. Note the texture of the bathing costume, made to look like heavy towelling .. when will such fabrics make their comeback? I vaguely remember seeing their likes at New Brighton outdoor swimming pool, circa 1962...
So much for the graphics. The music, six descending notes from Ray Noble's song, “The Touch Of Your Lips” are sung to the words, “My heart for-gets to beat”:
I'm no more of a musicologist than artist, but here I attempt to analyse these notes. In fact, Ray was a top British band leader who went over to the States in 1935 and who, among many other accomplishments, schooled Glen Miller in the mysteries of orchestration. The six notes of MHFTB are haunting, I guess, because the first three descend through C minor, while the second three segue into B major. The changeover from minor to major (i.e. from sad to happy) – on the word “for-gets” - gives the effect of your heart skipping a beat. On one level, MHFTB is about a guy's discontent with the sedentary life. Ray, who was a genius (me Dad's fave), wrote both music and lyrics. The song was often sung by Al Bowlly. I put Ray in the book, though the character Larry LaSalle isn't supposed to be Al. I wanted a title from a 30's popular song partly in homage to the TV series, “Pennies From Heaven”. Elsewhere in the novel you will find other quotes; for example, “the fight for love and glory” - from another famous 30's song with a Spanish Civil War connection.
Now we come to the texts on the jacket, which I consider a single element, though they could be sub-divided into four. (i) At the top appears the line, “Leaves of the Poets, Vol 1.” There will be four volumes in the series, though the numbering will be Ø-3. Each deals with a Liverpool poet of the 20th century. (ii) I've already talked about the title, so that leaves (iii) my name at the bottom and (iv) the publishing details/ISBN on the rear.
Also on the rear cover there are bleached and reversed-out texts and images from the front. I guess this is not particularly original, but having thought of it, I simply couldn't resist expressing the idea that the book is both transparent and deep.
Finally, I tried through the faded colour scheme and sepia tints to give the book an old or even second-hand look. My purpose? Well, I love second hand books. As the digital age progresses, we will begin to lose such things, which seems a shame. I anticipate a huge nostalgia for old books and I want my books to seem old, even though I've only started my publishing career in 2012. Ideally MHFTB, and possibly the rest of the series, would come already packaged with the tea stains and folded corners of second hand. And I wouldn't care two hoots what the usual crowd had to say about it:
A word about formats. You can purchase MHFTB as a paperback or as an electronic book. Follow the link on the top right of this blog for the version of your choice. I would be most grateful to any reader who cares to post a rating or a review, on for example. Trade enquiries should be made to Professionals who want to request a review copy can also contact me there.

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