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May 20, 2011

Advertisements for Myself (and Lloyd Jones): Prize-winning book jacket

Appropriately shameless, I've nicked the title of Norman Mailer's unflinchingly immodest self-portr

W H Chong — Culture Mulcher

W H Chong

Culture Mulcher

Appropriately shameless, I’ve nicked the title of Norman Mailer’s unflinchingly immodest self-portrait. Last night at the book design awards for the Australian Publishers Association I managed to score a kind of quinella, but that’s not quite right, a quinella being a first and second. My jacket for Lloyd Jones’ Hand Me Down World won a double: the awards for ‘The Best Designed Literary Fiction Book’ and ‘The Best Designed Cover of the Year.’

But the nub of a cover is to be, in its literary way, an advertisement for the book within. And I’m sincerely pleased to have an occasion to mention the book again — Hand Me Down World is one of best novels I’ve had the pleasure to cover. Brilliantly conceived, fascinatingly structured, precisely written, with a central character as magnetic as she is mysterious, it’s a special piece of storytelling.

But what would I know? Let me defer to:

The Sydney Morning Herald: ‘Jones’s touch is deft yet bold … [this is] a novel so fine, demanding and morally acute.’

The Guardian: ‘One of the most interesting, honest and thought-provoking novelists working today.’

The Australian: ‘Lloyd Jones is a master storyteller … he slowly reveals the secrets of Ines’s story and its emotional momentum sweeps us up and makes us fellow travellers.’

The Age: ‘Delicate and beguiling … a book of great mind and heart.’

(Below is the award yadayada for those who’re curious. Including the speeches I wasn’t there to give, and for which the format did not allow.)

Here is the jacket front. I used acrylic washes on plywood.


And here is the back, with its superbly succint blurb copy. The child, of course, is the reason for the quest.

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Cover liner notes, and ungiven speeches

I blogged about how the cover’s genesis here. I was interviewed about cover design and Hand Me Down World by Radio National Book Show’s delightful Sarah L’Estrange — the RN podcast link here, my guest post on the Book Show blog, and my reflection on all that. And here is a little exclusive, I turned the tables on Sarah and snapped her, right, getting ready behind the Tardis controls.

I’ve been nominated for my share of APA design awards, and won twice previously (for ‘Best Designed General Fiction Book’ and ‘Best Designed Young Adult Book’) but never quite got up to Sydney for any of the ceremonies. This year my obliging colleague Jane Novak took a break from her duties as publicist at the Sydney Writers’ Festival to represent Text at the awards, politely ignoring my remarks that she was being unnecessarily masochistic. So I furnished her with a couple of scripts, because you never know. As it was, no one got to make a speech, but I’m loath to waste any effort, so here they are, complete with my notes to Jane.

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Jane, pinkies crossed, should you have to accept anything on my behalf, can you please read these? I’ve no idea if you’re receiving email (iPhone?) so let me know if you got this. Thanks again. chong

In case of Best Designed Literary Fiction Book

My apologies for not being here tonight, but Melbourne calls.

For this designer, the best thing about literary packaging is that the nearly sole imperative is to express the book within, unconstrained by genre and category conventions. Which means that a literary cover embeds an unusual level of sincerity into a commercial object — there is art inside and outside. So my sincere thanks to the judges, the author Lloyd Jones, and Text Publishing for choosing this design. Thank you.

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Jane, if you think the next is too long on the night, please drop the second paragraph. But I’m guessing these awards evenings could use some content. I’ve timed it — at medium speed it takes about 90 seconds.

In case of Best Designed Cover of the Year

Explaining the function of narrative in painting, the artist Ron Kitaj (pron. Kee-Tai) said that “some books have pictures, and some pictures have books.”  Having done my share of online shopping, I predict that books will keep having pictures — that’s because a picture can hook you, just like that.

But sadly, over the next decade, some clever ten-year-olds will grow up, and work out how to make screen reading and the online browsing experience so satisfying they will finally replace actual books and bookshops. Unless … god and genetics make them end up just like their parents, and they too suffer nostalgia for the physical world. Speaking for my sentimental self, I prefer handling a book in a shop with my sticky fingers, to clicking on a 100 x 160 pixel image.

I thank the judges for choosing this design, the author Lloyd Jones for his inspiring and amazing novel, and to the publisher Michael Heyward, who has a good eye for a book and its jacket.

The cover for Hand Me Down World did not have a straight run — among external pre-publishing responses were some concerns about having an African woman on the cover. Imagine that! But the design you see is original and uncompromised. So I thank Text, and Michael for having faith and for leading the way.

Cheers and good night.

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10 thoughts on “Advertisements for Myself (and Lloyd Jones): Prize-winning book jacket

  1. W H Chong

    Dear Sandy,
    Thank you. I might return the congratulations on your rather grander award, being inducted into the Joyce Nicholson Thorpe Hall of Fame for book design. Splendidly done! Please take a deep bow.

  2. Nutsnbolts

    Chong – you produce great stuff and have a ‘heart for the people’. Can I also recommend the ‘Crocodile Prize” entries at this PNG creative writing site –

    I think it is worth comment.

  3. sandycull

    Hello Chong. Congrats on a superb jacket. I was at the awards last week and I knew you wouldn’t be. But I’m thrilled to read here, the speeches you couldn’t deliver. I read and loved Mister Pip. Today, after reading your post, I bought a copy of Hand me Down World and can’t wait to dive in. Thanks.

  4. Nutsnbolts

    Chong – can I recommend another book? This is about HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea told from a victim’s perspective. It is ‘Vavine’s Curse’ and is now recommended reading in PNG schools and was the subject of a series of very moving programmes on EMTV in PNG. Unfortunately not freely available in Australia.

    Also another great cover.

  5. W H Chong

    Thanks, paddybythesea. It’s cents well spent. (I grudge the time spent — ie, wasted — more than anything else, and this was one of those books I was enjoyed reading slowly. [Even though I did keep speeding up, before I braked again].)

  6. paddy

    Damn it Chong. That’s an absolute cracker of a cover and the blurb on the back has totally sealed the deal. Purchasing it as I type.
    (Bloody expensive click of the mouse, but worth every cent.) 🙂

  7. W H Chong

    Mm! Rose, thanks.
    And I loved Mister Pip, too. I confess it did move me to a sudden spurt of tears at a certain one point. A great book, and an excellent subversion of the “island paradise”.

  8. Nutsnbolts

    Chong – beautiful and talented. Congrats.

    By the way, here’s my take on ‘Mr Pip’ by Lloyd Jones – now being made into a movie starring Hugh Laurie.

    Bougainville, 1991. A small village on a lush tropical island in the South Pacific. Eighty-six days have passed since Matilda’s last day of school as, quietly, war is encroaching from the other end of the island.

    With the villagers’ safe, predictable lives halted, there is surprise to find the island’s only remaining white man, a recluse, re-opening the school. Popeye, aka Mr Watts, explains he will introduce the children to “Mr Dickens”.

    Matilda and the others think a foreigner is coming to the island and prepare a list of much needed items. They are shocked to discover their acquaintance with Mr Dickens will be through Mr Watts’ reading of Great Expectations.

    But on an island at war, the power of fiction has dangerous consequences.

    Popeye is married to a Bougainvillean who has had a mental breakdown after a traumatic event. But he loves her and indulges her wish to be seen as the Queen of Sheba (a part she once acted in a play and which is set in her mind as the defining moment of her life).

    As the war develops and takes over the island, Popeye emerges as a lone figure trying to reopen the village school as the conflict becomes overwhelming. He takes young Matilda under his arm, despite opposition from her mother, who eventually sacrifices herself to save Matilda.

    Mister Pip (the fictional character which Popeye teaches the children through reading Dickens) is taken to be a BRA leader by the gullible PNG redskin troops.

    The horror of the war is not glossed over. In the final confrontation there are brutal rapes and murders, and rebel fighters dropped from helicopters (all of which happened).

    Mister Pip But Popeye helps young Matilda to dramatically escape down a swollen river, despite the death of her mother. She ends up in New Zealand some years later and recounts her story.

    Mister Pip is now being made into a film, which I trust lives up to the greatness of the original novel.

    This book made me cry. It manages to be simultaneously beautiful, tragic and uplifting. It is a triumph.

    I cannot recommend it highly enough.

    Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones, Text Publishing, 240pp, $29.95

  9. W H Chong

    Thanks, Luke.

  10. Luke Buckmaster

    Chong, what an absolutely stunning book jacket. Heart congrats to you on your awards and thank you for sharing. I will certainly be buying a copy of the book.