MARTIN EDWARDS: Blackstone Fell – Atmosphere and Artwork

Written by Martin Edwards


You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or so they say. Authors around the world subscribe to that view, I’m sure. But we have to be realistic. If we want people to buy our books, we have to tempt them. A great story is essential, of course, but the snag is that readers make their buying decisions before they read the book. And this is why cover artwork plays such a crucial role.


My latest novel, Blackstone Fell, is set in 1930 and features Rachel Savernake and Jacob Flint - and lashings of atmosphere. The book is set in a remote and sinister village on the edge of the Pennines - think a bit north of Hebden Bridge, around the neighbourhood of Hardcastle Crags. There’s a locked room mystery and a mysterious case of multiple murders, together with a Cluefinder to show that I’ve played fair with my readers by giving them all the information they need to solve the various puzzles. Add to that a séance, a strange cipher, and a dodgy sanatorium, not to mention an eerie tower, caves where bad stuff happens, and boggy moors where wise men fear to tread and you have another slice of ‘Golden Age Gothic’. I loved writing the story, and creating vivid atmospherics. But one ingredient was beyond me – the cover artwork.


Enter Ed Bettison, the artist and designer, whose gorgeous covers have definitely played a part in the success of earlier books in the series, Gallows Court and Mortmain Hall. I was delighted to hear that my lovely publishers, Head of Zeus, had hired his services again and he’s done a great job with the new cover.

The relationship between author and artist intrigues me, so I asked Ed about his approach to creating covers that ‘work’ to draw the attention of readers.


Martin: What for you is the appeal of designing book jackets?

Ed: For me it’s the freedom it gives me to explore ideas and create something tangible and beautiful. My first job was working for a record company in the late 90’s designing record covers which was fun while it lasted. When streaming and mp3’s came along the record cover industry essentially died and I moved from designing squares to oblongs as I moved into publishing and  started working for Penguin Books. I’m lucky that I get quite a varied briefs to varying deadlines so it keeps it interesting.


Martin: How do you go about it?

Ed: I like to read the first 50 or so pages to get a feel for the book if I can, this isn’t always possible as sometimes; and increasingly I’m asked to design covers for books that are still being written, which I do try and avoid if I can. Then I stare at a blank sheet of paper  . . . I sketch out ideas. Sometimes the brief is very specific and the client knows exactly what illustration they want and they pick comparable work from my portfolio as a guide to what they are looking for.


Martin: To what extent are you guided by commercial considerations, i.e. what might make a book sell?

Ed: It’s got to be impactful and legible form a distance and ultimately you’ve got to get it into people’s hands. The cover should really speak to you from a distance. That is quite important. If you put the book at the end of a long table you should be able to ‘read’ the cover. The proliferation of ebooks where a thumbnail is the main visual has made this aspect even more important, and is quite often is a consideration on the brief.


Martin: What is it about artwork that helps a book to sell?

Ed: I’m quite a fan of simplicity to make the cover read well but with lots of detail once it’s in the reader’s hands. I strive for attention seeking covers, something that has impact.


Martin: Are you aiming to capture the mood of the story or to focus on a particular visual scene or setting?

Ed: The former is always my preference but sometimes both are achievable. Most importantly it’s got to be direct, you should know the genre at a glance.


Martin: One final point. The artwork for Blackstone Fell is designed in the same general style as the successful covers for Gallows Court and Mortmain Hall. And I think it’s absolutely marvellous – thanks, Ed!



‘Blackstone Fell’ by Martin Edwards published by Head of Zeus HBK 1st Sept at £20

Martin will be appearing at Bloody Scotland on 17th Sept at 12 noon

Martin Edwards

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