Cover story

Creative control is a good thing to have. It’s part of the reason some people become writers. Not just the urge to create, but to be in control of what you do – for me, that’s the joy of writing.

But there are aspects of the writing life that are out of the writer's hands. One of those is book jacket design. To date, I’ve never been entirely happy with the covers of my books, particularly the ones published by Headline in the late 90s and early 2000s. (To be fair to Headline, it was a bad patch for book design generally, the 90s.) They all more or less failed to harmonise with the spirit and character of the stories within.

When Thistle Publishing offered to republish my novels, I was thrilled to be given permission to design the jackets myself. It was time to put my aesthetics where my mouth was.


The first I tried was The Locust Farm. It needed clarity; it needed foreboding; and it needed blood. It needed to look more like the sophisticated and chilling thriller it is, rather than a literary novel set in Africa, which is what Headline’s cover inexplicably looked like (especially the first edition; the mass-market paperback improved it, and yes that is a tiny locust at the bottom).

This is what one reviewer said about The Locust Farm:

‘ A psychological suspense novel with a tour de force ending it would take thumb screws to make me divulge’

Mark Timlin

The cover needed to reflect that. I switched on my visionary cortex, and got down to it. After literally several hours of hard work, I had new design. It wasn’t great. Somewhat disheartened, I put it aside and took my dog out for a depressed walk. Not being temperamentally adapted to giving up, I had another go. I adjusted the colour palette, changed the typeface, manipulated the image. The result was much better. In fact, it was exactly what I’d been looking for all along.


The land and the sky come from opposite ends of the country. The cover quote comes from the marvellous and slightly terrifying Val McDermid. The story inside comes from the darker, deadlier parts of my imagination. The glowing symbols are taken from the notes given to the novel’s hero by his mysterious, stalking pursuer.

(Incidentally, I met Val at a crimewriting event in Manchester, just after the book had been published. She and Ian Rankin were on a panel that had shortlisted The Locust Farm for a Crime Writers Association award. She demanded to know how someone from “down south” could feel entitled to write a novel set “up north”. I mentioned my Yorkshire ancestry. She seemed satisfied, and I breathed a sigh of relief.)

I love this cover. I’m ridiculously proud of it; not as proud as I am of the writing within, but I feel satisfied when I see it.

The important thing is, I was in control. And creative control is what I like. This degree of control is rare in any field, and I’m grateful for the opportunity Thistle gave me.

© Jeremy Dronfield 2017