Dick Francis

You cannot live in a rural community, as I do, without observing what an all-encompassing interest horses are to many. Not only racing but riding, owning, grooming, breeding and showing. The equestrian fan is totally absorbed by their pastime. Quite an industry too. It’s not my specialst subject – only ridden twice, once on the Guinness Estate as a guest (good), the other in Algeria (bad). Amazing creatures though. Equine athletes. Limited expertise here. Must say I prefer Delacroix to Stubbs. But do check this stunning volume, Horses by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Jean-Louis Gouraud. The sheer beauty of the animal does not escape me. Also the fertilizer is very impressive for the garden.

And I do enjoy reading a good thriller . . .

. . . Who could not help but be gripped by the extraordinary events at Newbury Race Course last weekend? In the viewers’ enclosure several of the race horses suddenly became extremely distressed. And two died instantly. Ghastly, even on the radio. Possible cause is suspected to be an electric shock from an under-turf source. Not only was it an attention-grabbing news item but I was struck by how many reporters said the event was ‘like a Dick Francis novel’.

A select few authors become synonymous with a sport. Norman Mailer on boxing leaps to mind, but more often than not it is sport as a major strand of popular culture that inspires the novelist, rather than sport per se. Short story writers, however, do favour the activity. But I digress. So you see why I value great writers so highly – for their skill and craft eludes me.

Dick Francis was a serious achiever in British National Hunt racing before he started writing about that world. He won over 350 races, becoming champion jockey  just as British National Hunt racing, in the 1956 Grand Nationalwhen the horse inexplicably fell when close to winning the race. Wikipedia just told me that bit. ’56 is the year I acquired a hyphen.

At Pan Books Dick Francis sales were cantering along nicely. But the feeling was that he should be read beyond his devoted fans in the horse-racing fraternity. “Whether you followed the gee-gees or not they are a good read” they said. And we need covers for his books that stretch his appeal to include them. I was skeptical (the description of jockeys as dwarves dressed as clowns always tickled me) but gave it a shot. I read a few. They were right. He writes at quite a clip. Fast paced, accessible, one sitting reads. All made credible by his wealth of insider knowledge. So the challenge was to package his novels without overt equine imagery to keep the thriller appeal wide as possible. OK marketing peeps.

 

The design shown is about nefarious deeds with counterfeit vintage wine against a racing backdrop. I designed two dozen or so with photographer Colin Thomas. A few are shown above.

A graphic design snippet for you: See the bubbles on the meniscus? When photographing drinks you need to be able to control the bubbles. Especially with wine. Too many will appear oxidized. Too few looks flat. And, whilst there is some settled wisdom, opinions differ on the ideal size and number with the wine producer. An air-filled syringe is a time consuming option and as bubbles burst they splash colour on the perfect glass. Solution: you can buy plastic bubbles in unlimited configurations to drop into liquids. They pick up the colour by reflection. Life before PhotoShop.

Thrillers are often referred to as ‘electric’. Maybe that was the cause of the Newbury tragedy? Time, and Clare Balding, will tell.

Will they ever find Proof?

David Baldacci

Well, after all the excitement, celebrations and hoopla over The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films I took a little breather from the Blog. Starting to gush.

So with feet firmly back on the ground I thought I would dig out something grittier and Hobbit free. David Baldacci is an internationally-acclaimed best selling thriller writer. They all say that in publishing but, with 100 million books in print no less, it is a very fair claim. And I have to say having read six of them they are actually great, fast-paced page-turners. Hailing from Virginia USA, Mr. Baldacci practiced law for nine years in Washington, D.C., as both a trial and corporate attorney. This informs the credibility of his story lines. You may recall his debut novel Absolute Power which was filmed, starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman and Ed Harris.

 

 
 
 
The design work I undertook for Simon & Schuster UK was a complete author make-over, comprising the new hardback, Last Man Standing and fresh covers, in the new livery, for his paperback backlist. Interestingly the commission came from S&S art director Glen Saville (now freelance). Interesting because Glen worked for me at Pan Books in a former life. So the first move was a quiet sober lunch to catch up and make sure the old roles threw up no problems in working together with Glen as ‘The Boss’. It was a wise investment of a couple of hours and roles and functions were clear. Initially I produced covers for Douglas Coupland and Seth Godin – which I can’t find for the life of me. Bald head, tight crop, bright colours.
 
The David Baldacci make-over was based on a very dramatic use of white space working off the bottom of the page. And, sorry to bang on about it, attention the spines as display areas. Glen was great in giving me space to work and championing the look through the publisher’s processes, a real ally to the project. It is worth pointing out that within a strong publishing genre, such as mainstream thrillers, you can stretch things to a certain extent but must not lose the instant recognition factor for your audience. I’d love to try it but publishers do not warm to thriller jackets/covers that reference literary fiction or cookbooks! Publishers, I dare you to let me try!

We tackled the photo-shoot in one – very long – day. As so often, my first choice behind the lens was Colin Thomas. Colin is a tall thin, sometimes bearded, odd sock wearing fellow who has quite the easiest manner you could wish to work with. His skill and adaptability are superb. We have worked on hundreds of assignments together, from Ed McBain and Dick Francis to wild PhotoShop forays where Colin is a master. He does great location, advertising and portraits and catalogue work. Damn, he’s talented. You would love working with him. Check the Digital Imaging on his website. It’s insane.

By the way, the model on A Simple Truth was a cracking fellow who appeared as an actor in a Guy Ritchie film. I think due credit is so important and I am maddened I cannot remember or find his name to check him. Maybe you can help, film buffs?

Anyway, returning to the ‘internationally-acclaimed best selling thriller’ schtick and the commercial imperative, the David Baldacci make-over exceeded the publishers’ expectations winning prime display and shelf space everywhere. His industry currency soared and the auction value of his next book went stratospheric.

What I would like to know is what thriller covers have appealed to you? Why not leave a comment and tell us why you like them?

 
 
And I’d love to hear what you think of Colin Thomas portfolio . . .