Designing The Diamond Thief

So, last week I promised readers an interview with Jo Hinton Malivoire, the designer who came up with the wonderful cover for The Diamond Thief, which,
in case you don’t know, looks like this:


Gorgeous, isn’t it? I love it – and I also love Jo’s fab answers to my very nosy questions about how a designer goes about developing a book cover…

Can you tell us a bit about your background as a designer?

I’ve worked in publishing for oh, about 18 years (yikes), designing children’s books. Most of the books I’ve designed are for school libraries along with some trade titles, for both the UK and the US markets, and now some fiction.

I think you mentioned that The Diamond Thief was your first fiction cover. How does the process differ between fiction and non-fiction?

Creating covers for fiction or non-fiction is a big team effort. There are editors and picture researchers involved in the design process, as well as a myriad of other important people who all get a say in how the final cover will look. It’s the job of the designer to interpret the brief and create the best cover for each title.

In my experience the process for designing fiction and non-fiction is quite different. Non-fiction requires a more practical approach. The cover needs to be very clear, and concise. It’s all about creating simple, bold, attractive covers that easily lets the reader know what the book is about. Designing fiction covers is a whole different story. You can be a bit more creative in your thinking and interpretation of ideas.

When you’re in a bookshop, wandering past the shelves, what is it that makes you stop, look at a book, stroke it (yes I do that) and pick it up? I hope this doesn’t sound too ‘designer-ish’, but for me fiction covers should tease you with a sneaky flavour of the story inside without giving anything away. There also has to be the ‘pickupable’ factor. Great fiction covers are attractive and interesting, with an element of intrigue. Something about the cover makes you stop and take notice. Occasionally as a reader I visit a bookshop to buy a particular book. More often than not I like to browse. I have no idea which book I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I find it. That’s when a great cover can work its magic, catching your eye, convincing you to pick up the book, turn it over, read the back cover, open it and read the first line. All of that before you even think of buying it. A good cover piques your interest and lures you in. It makes you want know more, to open the book and start reading. No pressure then!

Can you tell us what sort of brief were you given for The Diamond Thief?

I had a discussion with the editor, Laura and I was given a synopsis of the book, but I knew I had to read the whole book to be able to design the best cover.

Where do you start when you begin to design a cover? Like The Diamond Thief, for example – what was your jumping-off point? How did it evolve from there?

I read the book. That was the most important and obvious starting point for me. I needed to immerse myself in the story and to feel it. And I loved it, by the way!

As I was reading I jotted down ideas and words from the book, which I used to create a mood board to show the team. Pulling together visual representations of my ideas giving a flavour of the themes, elements and ideas that I wanted to use for the cover. Hannah the picture researcher then searched out some fab images for me to use. I love this part of the process, it’s a bit like Christmas, unwrapping your presents to see what you have in your stocking. Seeing how someone else has interpreted your ideas and put in some of their own adds another dimension to the design. I like seeing what images I have to use and how I can fit them together. It’s an exciting challenge and a crucial part of the creative process. Then, my favourite part begins. I can play. Well obviously I am working really hard (if my bosses are reading this, hello) but essentially designing feels like playing. Trying different fonts, textures, images and colours together. Coming up with various ideas on a theme. Seeing which ideas work and which really don’t. It’s the nearest I’ll get to being Heston Blumenthal – but without the dry ice!

The final cover didn’t vary wildly from my initial ideas: The circus; Victorian London; steampunk; a diamond. I researched steampunk as I didn’t know anything about it. It was like opening a door to a secret world I had no idea existed! I really liked what I discovered but I was also keen that the cover for The Diamond Thief should not look too masculine, so I made the steampunk element a little softer. Saying that I didn’t want the cover to look too girly either so there is a bolder edge to it too, using a slightly beat-up distressed look. I like the contrast. It’s also how I see the character of Rémy in the book. Multi-faceted. She’s not someone to be underestimated!

Were there other variations on the cover that ended up not being used? If so, what was it specifically about this one that made it ‘the one’?

Yes, there were three or four other cover designs, all of which I designed first. Looking back on them now I can see how the process of working through each one helped me to construct the cover that would eventually be chosen. It was very different to the other covers, but there was something complete about it. Whole, (sorry, its that pesky designer voice again).

I took all the covers to an approval meeting and I had no preference for which one I wanted them to choose. I’ve learnt from experience that being too precious early on about a particular cover design that everyone else may dislike can tie you up in knots and make it really hard to move forward and try new ideas. The purple cover was quickly chosen (yay!) and apart from a few minor tweaks, it was full steam(punk!) ahead!

And here are those alternatives:


The colours – gold and purple – are really vivid and really fitting with the theme. Did it take you time to find the right palette, or is that something you do first?

In all honesty it was just something that happened. It was my final design, and I actually designed it in blue first. Then I tried it in red. And for whatever reason I thought I’d try it in purple too. It really was a happy accident. Saying that I can’t imagine it being anything other than purple now, so it was meant to be. Sometimes designing is something you feel rather than think.

I’m so happy that you like the cover Sharon! Staying true to the book and designing a cover that you, as the author would like, was forefront of my mind throughout the entire process. Thank you for writing such a great story and giving me so much inspiration for my first fiction cover for Curious Fox!


The Next Big Thing

The excellent Alex Woolf  suggested that I take part in the ‘Next Big Thing’ writer meme, and I thought it would be a good way to open my new blog, in which I shall attempt to write properly author-ish things, instead of my usual stream of consciousness rubbish.  The idea is for writers to talk a little about their next project. So, here goes…

What is the title of your next book?

The Diamond Thief. The story is set in Victorian England and follows the exploits of 16-year-old circus performer and jewel thief, Rémy Brunel. Brought to London from France to steal a famous diamond on behalf of her evil circus master, Rémy finds herself pitted against a young detective called Thaddeus Rec, who is determined to save the diamond. Together they are drawn into a dastardly plot that takes them into the heart of the city’s criminal world. It’s a children’s book for ages of around 9-12, and is my first ‘proper’ novel. Previously I’d published a few non-fiction titles.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

I always find it hard to pinpoint how ideas start. The Diamond Thief had quite a convoluted evolution – I love the steampunk genre and I wanted to write something within it. My original idea for the main character, Rémy, was actually as part of an adult science fiction novel set in a far-future London, on an Earth that had been abandoned by the quickly-advancing colonies she had established in space. Technological disaster had then resulted in a strange mish-mash of pre-industrial, just-industrial and far-future technologies existing side-by-side. I still love that setting and I will use it for something else one day, but somehow, when I thought of her as a younger character, Rémy morphed into a French circus urchin visiting Victorian London.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s got a strong steampunk element to it, and it’s quite fantastical. There’s a lot of action, and perhaps a little bit of romance, too…

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ooh, good question. Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, would probably make a very good Rémy – although she may still be a year or two too young. I’m really not sure about Thaddeus. While I was writing the book, Kew Steam Museum had a steampunk exhibition, and when I went to see it there were a group of teenagers dressed in full-on steampunk gear. One of them was so close to my idea of Thaddeus that I took a picture, and now that’s the only face I have in my head for him! Claudette, Rémy’s older, fortune-telling friend, has always been an actress called Lucy Brown in my head, and her daughter Ameilie would have to be little Pixie Davies, who recently made her screen debut in BBC1’s The Secret of Crickley Hall.

What is the one-sentence synopsis for your book?

Um… Imagine Enid Blyton’s ‘circus’ series meets Sherlock Holmes, with a little Jules Verne mixed in.

Will your book be self-published or are you represented by an agency?

It’s being published by Curious Fox, a new fiction publisher. I don’t have an agent. The Diamond Thief is out in February – and you can pre-order it from Amazon!

How long did it take you to write the first draft?

Eleven weeks. It was actually first written for a wonderful company called Fiction Express. They publish choose-your-own adventure ebooks, where each chapter has questions at the end so that the readers can vote on the direction of the plot. They are now concentrating on producing brilliant interactive e-fiction for schools – it’s an excellent way of getting children to have fun with reading.

What other books in the same genre would you compare yours with?

I deliberately try to make my books as little like others as possible, and try not to read novels that I think may be very similar for that reason, though I’m sure just by osmosis there are things that people reading it would say are comparable to other stories. But perhaps Marcus Sedgwick’s The Dark Flight Down, just in terms of tone.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The development of the book as a whole, and specifically the tone, was very closely tied into the development of the main character, Rémy Brunel. I’ve been fascinated by Victorian women for a long time. For all it was a society built on restriction and restraint, there were some extraordinary women who managed to carve out phenomenal spaces for themselves, in a way that few of us do even today. I have a collection of female correspondence and also of books written by female travellers from around the time The Diamond Thief is set. My favourite of these accounts are by Isabella Bird, a pint-sized, rotund spinster who travelled all over the world, alone, to places like Hawaii, India, Tibet, Japan and China. One of her most famous trips was riding 800 miles through the Rocky Mountains. On her own! Through places with no tracks, let alone roads! I wouldn’t do that now, forget about then. When she finally agreed to marry her long-term suitor, it was on the tacit understand that she would still be allowed to do whatever travelling she liked – without him. When she died, in her sixties, she was in the middle of planning another trip to India. It was the independent adventurousness and indomitable spirit of women like her that inspired the character of Rémy.

What else about your book might pique the readers’ interest?

It’s a very London-centric book, and a lot of the places I mention in still exist, such as Limehouse basin and The Grapes pub. When I was writing it as an ebook, I used to take walks around the east end and tweet pictures of where I was and where Rémy had been. I think, when it comes out in February, I will do the same here, on my blog.

And that’s it! Thanks for reading. I now encourage you to follow the link to Stewart Ross’s Next Big Thing, which will be updated on the 19 December.