Designing the cover for Children of Thorns, Children of Water

We are thrilled to welcome Aliette De Bodard back to the Gollancz blog for a special guest post. Aliette discusses the process of designing the cover for her novella Children of Thorns, Children of Water. a prequel to The House of Binding Thorns. Read on to see the stunning cover and find out how you can get the ebook of the novella for free. 

Small confession: I’ve got all the artistic affinity of a hedgehog with a paintbrush in its mouth. When I was in high school, my teacher referred to my colouring skills as akin to Georges Braque’s, a Cubist precursor, and that was emphatically not meant as a compliment.

So whenever I have to provide some art direction for a cover, I know exactly where my limits are–I know authors are usually warned about being control freaks on the cover, but I have the opposite instincts. Fortunately, I also have some very, very good friends with artistic skills who don’t mind weighing in with second opinions (namely on this one, Stephanie Burgis and Fran Wilde, who have my deepest thanks for keeping me from panicking).

Children of Thorns, Children of Water is a prequel to The House of Binding Thorns, an exclusive short story you’ll get to enjoy if you’ve preordered the novel: set in the ruined and decaying mansion of House Hawthorn, it features two Vietnamese dragons in human form who are trying to infiltrate the House, and find themselves in the midst of magical settling of scores–when creepy children start stalking people and magical fights erupt, the sensible thing would be to leave, but of course these two have never exactly been sensible.

I approached Megan Crewe at Another World Design with the idea of doing a photorealistic cover that would mimic the look and feel of the US edition covers. These are both large landscapes set around the focal point of an object: the throne in one case, and the sword in another, and with a different dominant palette of colours (blue in one case, red in another).











I wanted the background landscape to be the inside of a large decaying mansion (a Parisian hotel particulier, the residences of the ultra-rich in the 19th Century), in order to reflect the setting. The choice of focal object was tricky: it had to be something striking, that suggested fantasy if possible, and that broadly fitted the story. I couldn’t find anything within the story that worked with the fantasy theme (swords and broken thrones are awesome, but I had no such easy shorthand there!) I came up with either a blue-and-white Chinese vase with a dragon (there are quite a few examples of blue-and-white places in Huế Citadel in Vietnam, bought or donated by the Chinese court to the Vietnamese one), or a Louis XV chair which would have fitted in with the hotel particular theme.

Megan came back with a few different ideas:

While I felt that #1 and #3 were very atmospheric, they both too strongly coded horror for me, and in spite of the vase I also felt that they were fairly flat and static, and didn’t have the appeal I wanted for the cover. I loved the background of #4 and #5 (and Megan did offer to add gashes and other ravages to the chair to make it fit the decaying theme more), but the sweep of stairs of #2 just kept drawing my eye, so we went for that.

I have to admit I wasn’t terribly convinced by the vase in that first round, and I suggested a few ideas: we tried it with thorns in various shapes, or without the vase, but it just didn’t work with the background. So back to the vase it was–with some notes that something would have to be done to make it stand out a little more.

Next up was colour schemes! Again, various options. I wasn’t a big fan of the pink in #1, which I felt was sending the wrong message as to what kind of story this was going to be. The blue in #2 was also a bit too pastel, and the background was very dark. #3 was striking a right balance between dark and light.

To finish this off, Megan added a few tweaks: the first was some stars in the sky to code the cover more fantasy. The second one was linked to the vase–as it was I felt the entire cover was a bit drab and lacked a lighter focal point. Megan added some light to it, which had the double effect of both making it stand out, and suggesting a magical nature to it. She also tried a lot of different sizes for the vase, to strike a compromise between something that didn’t look too small to be remarkable, and something that was too huge to rest on the actual stone step (fortunately vases like these come in all sizes from small things on bedside tables to huge urns that ornament gardens, so we had a range of sizes to play with). Remember the “I’m not very good at artistic direction?” Staring at 8-9 different variants of vase sizes and lighting effects had me tearing my hair out at this stage.

And this is the final cover:

And the final cover copy:

In a Paris that never was, a city of magicians, alchemists and Fallen angels struggling to recover from a devastating magical war…

Once each year, the House of Hawthorn tests the Houseless: for those chosen, success means the difference between a safe life and the devastation of the streets. However, for Thuan and his friend Kim Cuc, — dragons in human shapes and envoys from the dying underwater kingdom of the Seine — the stakes are entirely different. Charged with infiltrating a House that keeps encroaching on the Seine, if they are caught, they face a painful death.

Worse, mysterious children of thorns stalk the candidates through Hawthorn’s corridors. Will Thuan and Kim Cuc survive and succeed?

You can get Children of Thorns, Children of Water if you preorder The House of Binding Thorns: just go here and fill in the form to get your ebook.

The House of Binding Thorns will be available in trade paperback, ebook and audio download on the 6th April 2017.