There I was at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, vacillating as I always do between a
feeling of morose despondency (why is it that I never feel less like a writer than when I’m surrounded by the books of other writers?) and a feeling of nerdy joy at the pure bookishness of it all.
It’s one of those places where I can lose myself in the fact of books, relish the pure physicality of their many charms, as I used to do as a child when my father would bring a big cardboard box home with remaindered books and comics.
At FLF there are only new books – unless you wander off to the excellent second-hand bookshop in town – but I can handle that.
The FLF has another useful charm – besides the author panel sessions which are usually highly entertaining and instructional. It’s a place where one meets people one hasn’t physically seen for a while. It’s a place where book aficionados are brought together by a common interest and so they are amenable to meeting for a cup of coffee or maybe lunch, and many a long-delayed meeting has been known to happen there. Or one can just chat to other reader/writers who have come out to enjoy the tepid sunshine that usually accompanies the annual fest.
On this particular day three people told me on three separate occasions how much they had enjoyed The Good Cemetery Guide. One said it was on her top 10 favourite books ever. They all mentioned the cover. I was, as always, astonished by their enthusiasm, not only for the story which has touched people beyond what I ever expected, but for the cover. The original cover, which I acknowledged was beautifully designed but found gloomy and did not believe was representative of the story within, has garnered glowing praise from some of The Good Cemetery Guide‘s most loyal fans.
It’s one of those lessons that an author keeps on learning; the story has its own life once it’s out there in the world, and that extends to how a publisher sees it, and to how its loyal readers view the final physical print book product, including the cover artwork. A well-beloved novel like The Good Cemetery Guide may very well be fondly associated with its cover forever in the reader’s mind. I suspect that those readers might not approve of the new cover which has been a great relief to me; they might find it a little too quirky, not their cover, not the deeply thoughtful one that evokes certain private feelings.
And in a way I understand. Searching through my bookshelves for ’10 books I’d save if my house was on fire’ reminded me of how fond I am not only of particular books but of particular covers. They have the aspect of solid, trustworthy friends.
When I want to replace a favourite book that’s found another home, or if I’m buying my own copy of a much-handled older edition library book, I set out to find the same remembered cover.
So I’ve now included that first, original cover of The Good Cemetery Guide for the Anthony Loxton fans out there who keep reminding me that I’m writing for them.
Every book has a history – the arum lily cover is part of the history of The Good Cemetery Guide!
P.S. There’s a back story to the story – isn’t there always? The first cover design put forward showed an aubergine hearse custom-fitted red spotlights on its front bonnet and the clever graphic of part of a guitar superimposed over the outline of a coffin. It had the effect of a pink skeleton casually deposited on the pavement. I thought it was perfectly suited to the quirky eccentricity of Anthony Loxton, third generation funeral director and accoustic guitar muso, but my publisher preferred the arum lily version.