Thursday, 11 May 2017

Interview: Sita Brahmachari Interviews Rachel Vale

Rachel Vale of Macmillan Children's Books is one of my VERY favourite of a whole host of amazing cover designers working on YA and MG novels! When I found out that awesome author Sita Brahmachari had interviewed her to celebrate Rachel's glorious cover for Sita's new novel Tender Earth, I was excited to read it - and even more thrilled to be asked to share it with my readers on my blog! This is such a fascinating piece; I hope you all enjoy as much as I did!

In 2011 Sita Brahmachari wrote her first novel ‘Artichoke Hearts’ and it won the Waterstones Children’s Book Award. In 2012 she followed it with ‘Jasmine Skies’ returning to The Levenson family and now in 2017 comes ‘Tender Earth’ told through the eyes of Mira’s sister Laila Levenson who is twelve years old and finding much in our world to protest about. Rachel Vale has been the designer on all of Sita’s books for Macmillan Children’s Books. Here Sita interviews Rachel (Art Director for Children's Fiction, Non Fiction & Poetry at Pan Macmillan) and poses the questions that she is asked by so many readers…

 With Sanchita Basu De Sarkar at Children’s Book Shop Muswell Hill sharing the new covers.  


How are covers created?

An initial brief comes from the Editorial department; it will usually cover the basic information – title, author, the best market for the book, etc. – followed by a brief synopsis (character descriptions if relevant) and some visual references – other successful book covers in the same genre, pictures or movies posters, for example.

From there I will usually go away and read the book (or at least a good portion of it), to get a feel for the writing. As a designer I think we pick up on visual things in a way that not everyone else does – for instance, a very small detail in a book that isn’t hugely significant in terms of the overall story. I start to jot down thoughts, ideas, sentences from the book that I think may be useful. I’ll also go on to sites like Pinterest for inspiration – collecting lots of visual references like typography, colour, texture, images . . . you name it!

With lots of references gathered, I’ll start to think about how they might come together to create a suitable cover solution – and if this is something I will generate entirely in-house or whether it would benefit from the help of a sympathetic illustrator/designer. In this case, and with three covers to generate, I invested some help to bring these covers to life from the very talented Helen Crawford-White. I’ve worked with her before and I knew she would be a great fit for these. We worked together on some initial thoughts and ideas, until I was happy we were at a point to present to the rest of the in-house team.

Assuming I present something that inspires everyone, there will then be a process of specific feedback and tweaking as a final, approved version of the cover takes shape.

Who is involved in the process, e.g. author, editor, marketing, etc.?

It’s an incredibly collaborative process. At times there can be a lot of voices, but all are worth listening to. Key people/teams involved in the process are Editorial, the Publisher, Sales, Marketing & Publicity, and of course the author.

When you first started working on the covers for Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies, what was the spirit you wanted to capture? 

The vibrancy of the landscapes and the spirit of the characters. I find the locations evocative, and wanted to capture that with colour and energy.

In Jasmine Skies there is a family tree. It also appears in Tender Earth as a friend and family tree. You commissioned an artist to create vignettes in these books. How do these images impact on the reader's experience?

The interior illustrations for Jasmine Skies were from the very lovely Kate Forrester. In the case of the family tree in particular, this provides a very quick and accessible visual reference to something that can be quite complicated to understand when just reading about it. It acts as a shorthand that can be referred to over and over again as you discover the family in the book.

With the publication of Tender Earth a story that returns to the Levenson family what was the purpose of re-jacketing the previous two books?

The first of the two original books was published back in 2011. Design-wise, trends are constantly moving and progressing. At the time the book covers really stood out; they felt very fresh and new – combining photography and illustration. But in the six years since then, though more books followed along similar lines, designs have moved on. We felt this new book gave us the perfect opportunity to re-energize and reinvigorate the two older covers, thereby showcasing the new Tender Earth while at the same time reminding readers with the new look of the links to Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies.

What was the cover concept behind the new jackets? 

The concept or key ideas behind these new jackets were vibrancy and energy. I wanted to keep the strong sense of location and character, but in a more graphic/illustrative way, where colour and natural motifs played a big part in the identity of each book.

When you read Tender Earth, what aspects of the book struck you as important to bring out in the cover?

As this returns to the world of Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies, I really wanted to bring the character of Laila, the youngest member of the Levenson family, to life. I wanted the cover to represent her voice, strength and independence.

Were there any aspects of the book(s) that you especially drew on when designing?

The locations and associated culture were a big part of designing these covers – I drew a lot of inspiration from the jewel-like colour combinations in particular. It proved an important tool in ensuring that these sat together as well as standing apart confidently on their own.

Can you offer a list of words/phrases/qualities that you would like readers to take from the design of these three books, and Tender Earth in particular? 


I’d like readers to be inspired by these three books and their covers. Inspired to read them in the first instance and be inspired to be confident in who they are on their own journeys.
Thank you Rachel for all your beautiful covers. They say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ but I think lots of people do and I feel very lucky to have had you designing mine.

Sita x

Tender Earth - ‘A coming of age story for young protestors everywhere’ is edited by Venetia Gosling. Publication date June 1st 2017.

Tender Earth is endorsed by Amnesty International UK because it illuminates the importance of equality, friendship and solidarity, and upholds our right to protest against injustice.'

Rachel Vale is Art Director for Children's Fiction, Non Fiction & Poetry at Pan Macmillan

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