My latest cover illustration is for Terry Grimwood’s forthcoming SF novel Interference, which is will be published by Elsewhen Press. For this cover, Terry wanted to depict an alien world with a red, burning sun. The scene is within a city, which is made up of tall, curved featureless buildings.
Gardens of Earth by Mark Iles is the first book of The Sundering Chronicles, coming soon from Elsewhen Press.
Elsewhen contacted me to illustrate the cover, as they knew it would be a good match for my style, having worked together on several previous occasions. Gardens of Earth literally spans several genres – the story tackles alien war, a future that may be considered either dystopian or utopian, a protagonist dealing with personal demons, the remnants of Earth’s inhabitants now living in a sparse society under the watchful eye of the strange plant-like Spooks, and returning human colonists intent on reclaiming the Earth.
While you might primarily consider Gardens of Earth to be a science fiction novel, elements of myth and magic fantasy are also present. So how do you represent all this in a single cover image?
You don’t even try! A cluttered book cover with too many elements fighting for attention never looks good. We knew this of course, so the challenge for this cover was to come up with an image that would set an overall tone for the book and draw the reader in via a single snapshot.
An email conversation between myself, Mark and Elsewhen resulted in a couple of concepts being discussed. The first was the view of a greener Earth with some of the Spooks closing in. We also looked at the idea of our protagonist and female humanoid companion staring out over a vista of forestry and simple human settlements, again with the Spooks looming on the horizon.
I worked up rough sketches for both, and we agreed the version showing the two figures was the right approach – however Mark wanted to see a city backdrop rather than forestry. Cityscapes have long been a recurring theme in my artwork, so it was a concept I was immediately comfortable with.
Mark had also gone over some specific, minor details – such as the insigia we see on the female’s left shoulder or the pilot’s commando knife at thigh level. Their coveralls were also to be dark green, which for me, set the colour palette for the overall scene. I wanted some atmospheric, hazy light that could be either sunset or sunrise, and chose a palette of turquoise through to yellow – the green tones in between also linked back to the greener world featured in parts of the story.
The team at Elsewhen had already chosen a typeface for the series, so we worked together to agree on the most effective layout. I suggested having the title in a dark blue to contrast the illustration but also match the darkest colours present – this little touch glued it all together. My original illustration extended beyond the cover format, so we were able to extend it around the spine and on to the back of the book.
A convention snapshot…
Novacon is the UK’s longest-established science fiction convention. It started in 1971 as the Birmingham Science Fiction Group’s annual meetup, then expanded and moved around over the years, eventually finding its spiritual home in Nottingham. Novacon is a little different to your bigger conventions; there are no costumes or that sort of thing, and has a stronger emphasis on the literary side of SF&F, but all aspects of fandom are covered – film, television and comics, etc. As you might expect, there’s a rolling programme of panel discussions, science talks, art talks and a whole range of other things alongside book launches, author readings and of course, the busy dealer’s room, fantastic art show and art auction. Every year offers something different and a Guest of Honour whose presence, interests and work form a central point to many of the discussions.
This year’s Guest of Honour was Mike Carey – perhaps now best known as author of The Girl With All the Gifts. Needless to say, the film and book were regular talking points, as were Carey’s Felix Castor series and his work in the graphic novel industry. In fact, the discussions around comics and graphic novels was refreshing and really interesting for me, as a one-time wannabe comic artist! Mike also gave us several engaging readings from his forthcoming novel, The Book of Koli.
I have been going to Novacon since 2012 and have met a wide range of amazing people – many have become good friends and others I’ve gone on to collaborate with on cover art. During Sunday’s closing ceremony, Mike Carey described Novacon as “warm hearted”, and I couldn’t have put it better. The bulk of the membership is made up by many familiar, returning faces. It is an easygoing and welcoming convention and refreshing to be able to casually chat with renowned authors or artists without any sense of celebrity or ego. This year, Christopher Priest attended with his daughter Elizabeth – now also a published writer. It was great to have the time to catch up with him, as I have admired his writing for many years.
The convention drink of choice is Black Sheep ale, which tends to start flowing early on and continues throughout the weekend. It may result in people falling asleep during talks and snoring loudly (the point at which a polite reminder they’ve also paid for a bed wouldn’t be a bad thing). But loud nasal interference aside, it is always nice to have the flexibility that the con offers; some folk attend all the talks, some are more selective, while others simply seem to go purely for the social side of things and set up camp in the bar, catching up with old friends and making new ones.
While the crowd ought to (and deserves to) be a little larger, what I do like about this convention is its size, as you can find the time and space for proper conversation; and if you want to find somebody again, you can – unlike at bigger events such as Eastercon where everything is so packed and frantic, and simply trying to track somebody down or have a conversation in more than passing is quite difficult.
I mainly attend Novacon to be a part of the art show. It is always an honour to be able to exhibit my work alongside renowned space and science fiction artist, David A. Hardy (who has been at every Novacon since 1973!). The art show brings in a vast range of styles and genres, from new artists to well-known names. The art room – or in this year’s case, rooms – are brimming with science fiction, space and fantasy art and illustration in all media, plus various other arts and crafts, such as jewellery, needlework and even knitwear! Serena and John always work tirelessly to make sure their artists are looked after, and we can never thank them enough! Most of the art on show comes with a bid sheet for any potential buyers, and the pieces with bids are entered into the art auction on the Sunday.
The dealers’ room mainly comprises booksellers and independent publishers, such as PS Publishing, NewCon Press and Elsewhen Press – all of whom are putting out some of the most exciting and original titles in science and speculative fiction, fantasy and horror.
It’s not all about science fiction though – Novacon doesn’t forget the science bit! Although this year, there was no British Interplanetary Society presence, David A. Hardy gave us a whirlwind visual tour of the planets, via his excellent presentation To the Stars – On A Paintbrush!, and as always, there were two science talks. I missed the first, but astrophysicist, Dr Rachael Livermore gave an excellent insight on the Sunday morning into Dark Matter – a fascinating and fun way to start the day (even though I tend to find science talks first thing in the morning a little too much for my convention brain!).
I took part in the panel which followed – a great discussion on working with artists, alongside Mike Carey, Manga expert Zoe Burgess and Peter Buck of Elsewhen Press – all chaired by Patrick McMurray. I have obviously attended enough Novacons now to have progressed from audience member to panel participant!
Novacon for me is also about those great connections. Two such examples are Elsewhen Press, whom I met during my first Novacon, and have since illustrated several of their book covers; and a couple of conventions later, I met Helen Claire Gould, who after seeing my art display, invited me to produce the cover art for her début novel, Floodtide – it was great to see Helen back at Novacon this year, promoting the book as well as her more recent titles.
The Sunday afternoon sadly comes around so quickly, and it doesn’t feel like a few minutes have past since installing the art show on the Friday, when the time comes to reluctantly disassemble it. However, with not one, but four Guests of Honour booked for next year – Novacon’s big five-o – it will certainly be an event to look forward to.
After all, what more could you want, but to share a hotel with several hundred likeminded people?