Saturday, 7 August 2010

Mister Creecher

Before I can get on to talking about the cover of Mister Creecher, I need to tell you a little bit about what the book is actually about.You may remember, if you visit this blog regularly, that I wrote a few posts about my interest in Frankenstein and the Shelleys and so on. Authors are regularly asked where their ideas come from and often the answer is necessarily vague - because ideas have a life of their own, and are the result of a lifetimes observing and reading and experience - but occasionally it is possible to point to an actual, specific place. This is one of those occasions.

The idea for Mr Creecher came directly from Chapter 19 of Frankenstein which begins with the words, 'London was our present point of rest.' The 'our' in that sentence refers to Victor Frankenstein and his friend Henry Clerval. In the novel, Frankenstein and Clerval visit England, going to London and Oxford before heading north to Matlock and Cumbria and eventually heading on to Scotland. Unbeknown to poor, doomed Clerval, Frankenstein has built a huge humanoid creature and he has promised this creature a mate. Although there is no mention of the creature until Frankenstein reaches Orkney (where he will build and destroy the mate), it is clear that he must have been tracking him the whole way.

This fascinated me when I first read it. I loved the fact that the creature had come here, to England - and not only that, he comes in the Regency period, just after the death of Jane Austen and just prior to the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley. He comes to the England of Constable and Turner. John Keats makes a very similar journey in the year that Frankenstein is published, 1818 - heading north with his friend Charles Brown, visiting the Lakes and going on to Scotland where Keats will fall ill.

And so I wondered, might it not be possible for Frankenstein's creature to meet a boy - a damaged, unloved teenage thief - on the streets of London and begin a mutually dependent relationship with him. The creature is huge and terrifying. He can only move at night and even then with difficulty. The boy will be his eyes and ears as he gets him to make sure that Frankenstein is keeping his promise. The boy sees the giant as a powerful ally. Although the relationship will begin as pure expediency, a bond will develop between these two misfits.

So to the cover.

I sent Kate Clarke, the designer at Bloomsbury, a kind of mood board - a whole bunch of images, many of which I had close to hand during the book's writing, pinned to my notice board, or as a rolling set of screensavers. Some of these were contemporary paintings, some were anatomical engravings. One of the latter showed a heart and we explored that avenue for a while. But in the end it proved a dead end and we moved on to portraying the characters in the book.

I produced three roughs. One showing the boy - Billy - and Mister Creecher walking together, one with the two of them standing together and one showing Mister Creecher on his own. The background is a steal from Bride of Frankenstein by the way.

Covers are a committee decision involving sales and marketing as well as editorial and design. I was a little surprised that they went for the one of Mister Creecher on his own, but pleased, because I was concerned that the fact that Mister Creecher was a giant could make the teenage Billy look like a small child and put off older readers.

I then sent a more detailed rough to give an idea of how I saw the finished thing looking. It is a pen drawing scanned in and coloured in Photoshop. They liked it and I raced to get the finished thing done so that Kate had time to get a jacket designed for inclusion in the Bloomsbury catalogue.

That finished image is at the top of this post, but it doesn't quite end there. Kate had mocked up some gravestones in her jacket design and I said that I would draw some so that she could place them around Mister Creecher but also continue them round on the back of the jacket.

So there you have it - the edited highlights in the story of a cover. When Kate has the finished thing sorted out I will of course show you. That's that for the cover of Mister Creecher for now. I now have some rewrites to do on the book before I am reunited with Helen Szirtes whom I am delighted to say is going to be editing for me again on this one. And I also have the edits to do on The Teacher's Tales of Terror, my World Book Day book.

Busy, busy, busy. . .


  1. the story sounds very interesting but i hope that it will differ a lot from the story of Frankenstein.

    also looking forward to the new Tales of Terror book. :]

  2. Hi - my book takes place in section of Frankenstein that is only a few paragraphs long. Mary Shelley never went into any great detail about the tour of Britain and then only to talk about the history and scenery. The plot of my book is entirely new.

    My book links to the story of Frankenstein and springs from it, so I don't do anything in my book that would in any way mean that Mary Shelley's novel could not carry on when mine stops. Frankenstein, Clerval and the creature are all her characters. I have simply borrowed them for a while. But it is the story of the novel it links to - not the entirely different story of the various Frankenstein movies.

  3. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for sharing your sketches. Mr Creecher looks deliciously scary.

    Every time I read about your illustration process I wonder -- would you ever do more illustration with your writing? I think it would be fantastic.

    Good luck with the editing process! This will be another great book to look for after The Dead of Winter.

  4. Thanks Janet and I hope you enjoy it when it comes out - it all seems like a long way off! As for doing more illustration with my work - yes I would like to do that. It is a question of finding the right project. It is generally felt in children's publishing that as children get older they don't want illustrations - not something I agree with by the way. Older children may not want the kind of illustrations that still dominate children's books in this country - but that is another issue.

    I had hoped to do a graphic novel this year, but though I did a lot of preparatory work, I had so many writing jobs to do, that it just became impossible to do it to the standard I would want. But that is still a possibility when I get clear of my present writing commitments.

    I also like the kind of things being done by the likes of Shaun Tan - picture books for older children. That is something I wouldn't mind having a look at sometime. But I never have a shortage of things I want to do!

  5. Chris - a graphic novel would be amazing, if you ever get the time!

    Lately I've been looking for graphic novels that might interest middle grade readers and I've just ordered Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel.

    Shaun Tan's work is beautiful! Thanks for that.

    Hopefully publishing will make the shift and understand that the demand for graphic novels and non-traditional illustrations is there in the kidlit world.

  6. Shaun Tan has done some really interesting stuff. I don't know Ghostopolis - I'll have to check that out.

  7. Hello I am a very big fan of your books. I studied Frankenstein at AS Level and I found it very interesting. Mr Creecher is going to be amazing and I cant wait to read it!

  8. Hi Anonymous. Frankenstein is a really interesting book. I'm just doing the final little edits on Mister Creecher right now. I'm very pleased with it, I have to say - so I hope you enjoy it when it comes out. It's out in October now, rather than June, so a bit longer to wait.

    Thanks for getting in touch.