No author is ever happy about his cover, especially if it attempts to illustrate a character in the book. No, he says, she didn’t look nothing like that.
Some authors have suffered so much they stopped complaining. I speak of the Master, P.G.Wodehouse. The Empress of Blandings, Lord Emsworth’s prize pig, is a Berkshire Black, but illustrators present all sorts of white pigs; some with black or brown spots.
A newish edition of Leave it to Psmith has the Efficient Baxter, Lord Emsworth’s pain in the ass secretary, outside Blandings Castle hurling flower pots through Lord Emsworth’s bedroom window. This truly classic comedy was first published in 1923 so you’d think illustrators would know what’s what by now. Not a bit of it, the excellent cover is ruined because Baxter is wearing green panamas. In the story Baxter is wearing lemon-coloured panamas and they are important because the light colour made Baxter visible to Lord Emsworth.
Another error of colour is the hair of Jane Abbott, the main gal in Summer Moonshine (1937). Wodehouse describes Jane as having “fair hair”, but in the otherwise exceptional drawing her hair is red. Joe, the hero of the book, sometimes calls Jane Ginger. Jane hates that name but I guess that was the reason for the red hair.
From my years at Punch, I learned that cartoonists did not read books; or read at all. The only illustrator who was spot on was Posy Simmons. When I wrote a column for the Guardian she often illustrated it. I was sometimes unhappy about the way Posy drew me. I wanted something more dramatic. “Let’s face it,” she said, “no matter what you do you’ll always be Mr Chips.”
Evelyn Waugh illustrated his first novel, Decline and Fall. He would dislike the covers Penguin put on the Sword of Honour trilogy. Men at Arms has a soldier who is obviously other ranks and Officers and Gentlemen has a photograph of sailors running about on the deck of a battleship. This is absolutely wrong. This is a novel about Commandoes, not the Navy.
The final novel, Unconditional Surrender, is not so bad, but also not so good. Penguin fell back on a photograph of a much bombed street. It is the cliché shot. They just about got away with it, but it lacks imagination.
There must be many other examples. I remember Penguin’s first edition of The Natural, a novel about a baseball player. The cover showed men playing softball. It was almost like showing men playing croquet in a novel about cricket.
And what about your covers, Mr Stan?
I hated all the British and American covers of Better Dead Than Red, both the hardback and paperback. For the hardback the cover took longer to do than I took to write the book. The German and Italian covers had excellent illustrations; the German edition took longer to translate than I took writing it; I knocked it off at top speed, twenty hours a day, in one week.
That was when I was a boy in my twenties. My next book, Death Dyed Blonde, was supposed to have a dead, hardly-clothed blonde on the cover. They wrapped her in a rug.
The new number, Murder in a Cold Climate, which predicts the snow America is now having, has a cover which shows a country house that has been turned into a hotel. People are skating on the ice in front of the hotel.
There is a flaw and it is mine and not the illustrator’s. Where is the hottie ice-skating nude? Well, she wasn’t in the book. It is a mistake I will not make again.
From now on I’ll have a looker in the altogether, maybe with a gun in her hand, in all future epics.