Early March, 2015. A couple of days ago the newly designed cover of Evelyn! arrived in my Inbox. It took me by surprise as I'd given Jeremy at Harbour heavy-handed hints that I felt it should make use of the mirrored portrait of the Evelyns, the photograph taken by Olivia Wyndham not long after their marriage. Instead, this:
In transferring the image to iPhoto, I came across the image below, which a few months ago I must have worked up as best I could with my limited design skills. Still, it shows one of the inspirations behind the new cover design, a photo taken by Alastair Graham in the grounds of Barford House that Alexander Waugh generously and pertinently sent me back in 2011.
The other main reference point in the new design is those classic Penguin covers from the 1970s, the ones that seduced me into reading all Waugh's novels as a teenager. The orange and yellow striped jacket, the orange hair and the red flowers - more brittle and drooping in the new cover - can surely be traced back to here:
The designers of the 1970s Evelyn Waugh Penguins were Bentley/Farrell/Burnett. Apparently, they were briefed to come up with Art Deco architectural features in soft pastel colours. They half-ignored that, added psychedelia and foregrounded an elegant, inscrutable human figure. Their covers mean such a lot to the David Bowie generation of Evelyn Waugh readers, if I can put it like that.
I was very keen on the new cover design and wrote to Jeremy saying:
'A sublime blend of the Penguin Brideshead and that previously unpublished pic of the Evelyns in the grounds of Barford House. Lovely unexpected twists too, the colour scheme of the jacket and She-Ev's bravado of wearing spots with spots. It's got a Glen Baxter look to it, both a period feel and yet contemporary. And it nods to the colour pics of Kate and me that (I now feel) stud the book like jewels. I've just been working on some Evelyn Waugh material, a column in the Daily Express written by Tom Driberg in the summer of 1929. They meet on the street and Tom (an old Lancing chum) compliments Evelyn on his clothes. Waugh replies: "Ah! wait until you see my new suit. It is of thick, billiard-table-green tweed."
'A point of detail. The Penguin designer would have given a thin black border to the blades of grass in the foreground. (Everything else is given a border.) Perhaps the suggestion is that the Evelyns are standing on soft and shaky ground?'
I also asked Jeremy the name of the designer he was using, and back came the answer Jamie Keenan. Jamie's got an exquisite website. Clock his designs for Kafka's Metamorphosis, Nabokov's Lolita and Martin Amis's Lionel Asbo. As well as Geoff Nicholson's Bleeding London, another of Harbour's books. In the case of Evelyn! the basic idea for the cover seems to have been Jeremy's, though he also communicated to Jamie both my mirrored portrait idea and permission to reject these ideas and come up with something entirely of his own.
When I looked again at the new cover art, I realised that the rendition of the sky had been influenced by the Vile Bodies cover of Bentley/Farrell/Burnett.
I wrote to Jeremy again:
'Just a detail. I notice that Jamie has subtly drawn on the Vile Bodies Penguin for the sky (which is great as VB is the source of the quotes at the beginning of Evelyn!). At the moment he's not chosen to disrupt the frame as the original does. I think this may be a missed opportunity, as, in my opinion, it would link the skies of Kate and my present day search for Evelyn with the skies of the Evelyns in 1929. Perhaps the cloud just needs to go through the inner frame and still be held by the outer frame? What do you think?'
I didn't say so in my email to Jeremy, but I was also liking the fact that the Evelyn! cover references Brideshead and Vile Bodies because the Evelyn! contents' page alludes to the contents' pages of Decline and Fall and A Handful of Dust. That's already been professionally typeset, as you can see here:
In the meantime, I had spoken to Kate, who is in Witney just now visiting her mother. I'd emailed her the cover image and wanted to know what she thought. Well, her first reaction to it was that She-Evelyn seemed to have been given a moustache.
Me: "That's not a moustache."
Kate: "Well, it looks like one to me."
She also thought that She-Evelyn looked shabby rather than chic. These comments irritated me at first, but after a while I began to appreciate them. After all, throughout the researching and the writing of the book, Kate's role was to stand up for She-Evelyn when there was a danger that I was ignoring her interests, her contribution to He-Evelyn's career, or her humanity. So I looked again at her face and at She-Evelyn as a whole.
And I found myself writing again to my much put-upon publisher:
'Kate's first reaction to the cover is a concern about She-Evelyn's face, that it looks as if she's got a moustache. I think it's OK, and obviously you and Jamie do, but it might be worth getting another woman's perspective. We do want the She-Evelyn sex to buy this book as well as He-Evelyns from Barford House to Hampstead Heath.
'Why does He-Evelyn's left arm not continue down past his waist? It should, possibly, as he is not holding She-Evelyn in the photo. And the more of the orange Penguinesque jacket the better. For some reason there is sky between the figures at their midriff. Possibly, the designer wants to give the impression that He-Ev is indeed holding her. Also, She-Ev has been deprived of a waist. I've been looking at the actual photo (which I know the design doesn't have to stick to) and She-Evelyn has a waspish waist. I don't see the advantage in making the She-Ev figure quite so dowdy. Again, this is a subtle point but as time goes on might it not rankle? The dowdiness of She-Ev was the second point that Kate made to me this morning and I think a twist of a single black line would deal with it.'
Am I being naive in trying to deconstruct the artwork? Will the cover differ slightly from how it appears above by the time you have the book in your clean and dry hand, dear reader? Time will tell. Not that much time, as the book is due out on the first of May. Before that, proof copies will be circulated. Of which more another day.
As for this afternoon, I'm off for a stroll around the grounds of Barford House in a ginger wig, if I can find one, and in the stripiest jacket that I have in my bookcase. I mean my wardrobe.