Cover story

OK, the book. Women of the Gobi is a travelogue/biography in which I travel to China in the footsteps of three English women and their adopted Mongolian daughter, Topsy. The sisters Eva and Francesca French, and Mildred Cable, were missionaries who ran a girls’ school in Shanxi for a couple of decades until 1922, when they loaded up the mules and headed northwest. They based themselves in Jiuquan, northern Gansu province, and crossed the Gobi desert on a Bible-laden donkey-cart five time between 1923 and 1936. They were almost celebrities in their day, and wrote best-sellers that are all out of print now.

Last year I travelled the same route with my brother, and when I got home I wrote about a book about it. When you’re trying to finish a book you don’t think so hard about issues like “what’s going to be on the cover?”, but the publisher did ask me if I had any ideas. I told them I imagined something in the style of a 1930s travel poster, or perhaps a communist propaganda poster; flat colours with something anachronistic in it – maybe someone on a camel would be playing on a Game Boy or using a laptop computer. I gave the publisher some mocked-up images that John Bleaney very kindly put together for me, including this image (I like that I’m wearing a solar topee):

Gobi cover idea
But you know, these things go through commitees and get vetted by sales reps and so on. So what we ended up with was a stock photo of some camels on sand dunes, with the title across the top. It was OK. (One rejected cover idea had a beautiful young Chinese woman looking wistfully into the distance; I thought it was pretty uncool to put this on the cover of a book about wrinkly English women, written by a tubby white Australian woman.)

And then, I’m told, someone else read my final manuscript and decided to have another go at the cover. We ended up with this (I don’t think it’s big enough to read the back cover, but if you can, the typo has been fixed!):

Book cover

I’m pretty happy with it. A couple of people have asked why Eva’s head is cut off, but I like the idea of a fragment of a picture, that you have to work to find the missing pieces. Which is kind of what I did.

Update: I should add that most authors get no say whatsoever when it comes to cover art. So cheers to my publisher for giving me some input.

Leave a Reply