Books come and go. But when books are really good they stay in print. And when books stay in print they often change their clothes. Robin Hobb’s books began life dressed in the jackets designed by John Howe. Next I was asked to redesign the covers, to appeal to a new audience. And then time passed and something unheard of happened. It was time to refresh the covers again and the art department and editorial department of Harper Collins asked me if I would be prepared to take a second bite of the cherry and redesign again.
Robin has a new book out in August, something long awaited by some, feared by others. Something amazing. I read it last year while still in its editorial stages. The new book will stand alone to anyone finding Hobb for the first time, but in order to get the best out of the new book readers will have to have read the Assassin trilogy and the Fool trilogy, because the book explores the lives of Fitz and the Fool again.
I began reading with trepidation. I loved the first books so much. What if this one didn’t meet my expectations? Well, it didn’t. Because I am not Robin Hobb, and I don’t have the breadth of her imagination. It far exceeded anything I could have conceived and excelled in ways I could never have imagined and held me in its words and …….. I can’t say more. But what Harper Collins want is for people who have not yet discovered the wonderful books of Hobb to find them. All those who love George RR Martin and are waiting for his next one, wait no longer, get reading Hobb. Her books shine and Fitz and the Fool are two of the best characters in modern fiction. And so this is why I was asked to re-jacket the books. For a new generation of readers and for those who adore her work. There are many of us.
I began by talking with the editorial team, and the design team. They had already had meetings and had a firm idea of the look they wanted. And so I started sketching.
It was difficult to ‘see’ a new look. At first I tried making Robin’s name the key thing. Doing one book cover is easy. Trying to get something that will work over a series, that’s the hardest thing. Each cover must speak both for the book and for the series. Editorial were keen to try a look that echoed the ‘historical’ nature of the books. They are fantasy, yes, but they have an atmosphere of medieval Europe about them, and yet they are current in their political power play and intrigue.
I was going around in circles until Dominic Forbes took hold of the shield idea and shaped the design. I then did a series of roughs searching for the symbols to go on the shields. Jane Johnson was on the end of the line in Morocco, helping and guiding. As Robin’s editor, she knows the books so well, and as the person who first commissioned me to do the covers so long ago I felt that I needed to keep this connection with her strong, even though she has moved on to spending more time writing ( She still edits Robin and George RR Martin, and many other big names in fiction. I have no idea how she finds the time, but was so grateful for her guidance with this. To find out more about Jane have a look at this interview I did with her some time back.)
A calligrapher was brought in to draw the titles, Stephen Raw. His work is elegant and he has worked on maps for the Tolkien books that are now in the collection of the British Library. We talked about illuminated letters.
We talked about shields. We talked about colours. Here’s what Dom has to say about the design. ( He is very generous in his comments here as I think I was a pain in the arse to work with this time and had to have my hand held at all times both by Dom in London and Jane in Morocco)
And then I thought to do Nighteyes with an axe and a red ship in the shield. ( Meanwhile I was reminded that Nighteyes is a grey wolf.)
And there were small daggers for details in the lettering.
All the art was sent away and made beautiful in the design department. This was the first work I had done for years that had an embargo on it. I still can’t show the designs for Fool’s Assassin, but I can say read the Assassin trilogy now, and the Fool’s trilogy. Then, in August you will be ready.
It is a great privilege to be asked to work with a writer whose work you love as much as I do Robin Hobb’s. To be asked twice is an honour.
The covers were released first on Robin Hobb’s website. So far most of the feedback has been very positive. Hopefully, soon, we can show the art for Fool’s Assassin, which will be released in hardback in August in the UK, when Robin is in London for LonCon.