Why Gorillas Don’t Go Into Bookshops…

A gorilla walks into a bookshop and asks for a book he can’t put down. “Something with a big plot, a few hairy twists, set in the middle of a forest, and with the odd banana skin?”

The shop assistant thinks, “Hey, gorillas can’t read. I’ll sell him the new telephone directory.”

The gorilla gives him a fifty dollar note and the shop assistant hands over the telephone directory with five dollars change. Gorillas can’t add up either, the assistant decides, all bank notes look the same to them.

To make conversation, the assistant then says, “It’s funny, you know, but we don’t get many gorillas in here.”

To which, the gorilla says, “I’m not surprised. Forty-five dollars for last year’s telephone directory! You must think I’m stupid. I only bought it because I like the cover.”

Church ceiling

There are some winsome book covers out there. Front of shop showing off its fancy wares to attract readers to the words within. Words don’t always sell themselves, especially if the author isn’t well-known – or known at all. The blurb on the back helps, puff-quotes too, but the front cover is king, queen and Princess Diana.

When it comes to designing your front cover, it makes sense to ask someone who knows what they’re doing. Not your friend who thinks he/she can draw, nor your spouse for that matter either, but someone who is an illustrator and designer by profession.

For Making Meredith, I approached a lady called Lani Kriel Scott for an illustration. She’d already illustrated the cover of Rodney Strong’s book Karmartha and came highly recommended.

Since my book was about searching for lost ancestors, I suggested she draw something based on the ornate family grapevine of the Santo Domingo de Guzman church in Oaxaca, Mexico. The church had special memories. It was one of the places where my wife (Kate) and I had first met. We’d admired the magnificent ceiling there and its memory had stuck in my mind.

Lani took my idea and step by step, text by text, weekend by weekend, came up with her unique and beautiful picture. The gold vine looped, wove, blossomed and spun. It became a family badge, an hereditary emblem, a French ormolu mantlepiece clock.

Grandfather as a young man

I looked for black and white photographs to add as oval portraits of the four main characters, and after much searching on photo stock sites, found images to represent Robert Lachlan, Anne Waverley, Meredith Banks and Rob Banks. And with even more serendipity, I found the swirled wallpaper that formed the background to Lani’s illustration – imbuing the whole cover with dark biblical undertones.

Early version….

And so after two months collaboration, Lani’s Autosketch persistence, my quirks and hairpin changes, we had the cover illustration painted, primed and ready to go. Rachel at YourBooks couldn’t open it at first, but this turned out to be a technical matter of submitting as dot banana format rather than dot orange. Then after Rachel had scaled the components (to fit the correct book size), added the spine titles, blurb and ISBN bar chart, finally we had what we wanted…

A finished book cover to rival the telephone directory!

Well, something that reflected the subject matter in Making Meredith, alternately dark, old, intertwining and yellow.

Incidentally, it probably isn’t okay to be making jokes about gorillas. They’re an endangered species for one thing, and they don’t eat bananas in the wild for another. Plus, they don’t get in our way. We get in theirs.

And of course, they don’t read. At least not the Latin alphabet. So they wouldn’t wander into bookshops, or bars, or any of the other places that feature in gorilla jokes.

There are plenty of books about gorillas however, all with good covers. As a way of apology to gorillas everywhere, here are three of them. Check out the covers!

Karmartha – The Last Garden by Rodney Strong

Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, illustrated By Patricia Castelao