Sunday 24 April 2011

Arnold Schwartzmann's designs on Deighton

A book's cover is essential to its success or failure. The primary aim is to attract the reader, to offer a taste of what's inside, a hint of the subject matter, the ideas and plot twists which they will encounter when the cover is turned.

The book cover has become a modern art form in its own right (check out the excellent Book Cover archive website for a searchable visual database of great book cover design). In spy fiction, readers have recently mourned the loss of Ray Hawkey, who designed the covers not just for many of Len Deighton's books but also of course the famous Pan series of Ian Fleming's Bond novels in the sixties, which arguably transformed the public's awareness of and fascination for the series and set a tone style that was mirrored in the movies.

Len Deighton was a book illustrator prior to becoming a full-time writer, working with André Deutsch and Penguin (there are many examples of his covers on the main Deighton Dossier website). So strongly does he feel about the importance of good design to his books that he is one of the few authors to have specific clauses in his contracts about the use of fonts and aspects of the cover design.

Naturally, when Harper Collins reissued many of Len's books marking his eightieth birthday, he wanted a designer who knew him and his stories well and who understood perfectly the role of cover design in influencing the reader. Arnold Schwartzman, his friend and internationally recognised designer, was the man he chose to design all the new covers.

As I've covered in this blog since the reissues have been released, Schwartzman's designs have given new purpose to the stories and arguably are the best examples of the synergy between cover and content since Ray Hawkey's original 'rotten apple' cover designs for Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match (and improve upon the ill-advised illustrations by Joe Partridge for the first Harper Collins editions of Faith, Hope and Charity).

In its April edition, no 59, Baseline magazine, the design journal, profiled Schwartzman's approach to the Samson series of books in an article called Secret Assignment 1 (harking back to the 'Secret File No. 1' moniker on The Ipcress File). Issue 58 began this series with a look at Schwartzman's chessboard-themed approach to the covers for the first four 'spy with no name' novels, The Ipcress File through Billion-Dollar Brain.

Drawing on some of his text introductions to the new editions, the key design elements from the new front covers are laid out wonderfully against a stark white background.

A couple of pages from issues 58 and 59 are reproduced below; they include a reproduction of the design for the book spine illustration for the Samson novels, made up of torn airline ticket stubs which - when placed side by side in sequence - spell out the name of the protagonist. It will look great on the bookshelf!

Hans Dieter Reichert, the editor, has kindly provided a full reproduction of the article which will be available as a .pdf download on the main Deighton Dossier website in due course.

Saturday 23 April 2011

'It's all in the planning'... Deighton in the WSJ

Len's popped up this week in the Wall Street Journal, in its Word Craft section to be exact, writing about his approach to planning a book and the extensive work that goes into it before the pen touches the paper, or a finger stokes the keyboard.

The article, Facing the hard questions before chapter one, is by-lined by Len. In it he sets out his approach which has long been recognised as being among the most thorough of modern fiction and thriller writers. Understanding the era about which you're writing is his first point; and be clear about the time context for the story. His books has ranged from covering 24 hours - in the case of Bomber - to fifty years, as the reader experiences with Winter.

It's a wide-ranging exposition, written as much for the aspiring writer as the interested reader. So, he recommends that writers follow his example and write out a sentence on a blank sheet of paper for the main theme of each chapter, allowing the writer to add and subtract ideas and see how the structure of a book develops before the main text is written. Clearly, this approach will have come in handy when writing a major triple trilogy such as the Bernard Samson series, where short and long-term narratives intertwined.

He also writes about his aborted novel on Vietnam, a subject of much curiosity among readers of his books. While the story never made it beyond the planning stage, the work wasn't wasted, as he recounts:
'For a book I planned to do about the American air war in Vietnam, I flew in Phantom fighters and spent many weeks with a U.S. fighter squadron, but my timing was wrong. By the time I had all the necessary paperwork, the war was winding down. But the experience of living with those fighter pilots sowed the seeds for another book. "Goodbye, Mickey Mouse" was set in World War II but benefited greatly from my earlier research. So never throw anything away.'
An intriguing insight into the mechanics of story-telling.

Thursday 7 April 2011

Lunch with Len .....

I was pleased to have the opportunity today to have lunch with Len Deighton, his wife, and Edward Milward-Oliver, author of the indispensable Len Deighton Companion and currently working on a biography of Len.

Much interesting chit-chat over lunch about film production, the Game Set and Match TV adaptation, the narrative arc of Bernard Samson in the Game Set and Match series, Len's books on fountain pens and the history of the aero engine, and the progress on plans for a film adaptation of Bomber, which was first recorded last year on this blog.

Len was happy enough to answer questions from blog readers and those on the forum, the discussion of which I recorded on my iPhone, which ...... has subsequently failed to yield up a second of the conversation recorded. So for the moment I will just say that Len is on good form and, I'm pleased to say, appreciative of the Deighton Dossier blog and website.

The lesson of all this, however: don't rely on technology!

Update: Len has agreed to do a question & answer interview for this blog, which I'll edit and post up when I get his responses to the questions I sent him, which were drawn from suggestions from readers of this blog. Keep visiting the blog to check out his answers when this is up, as this will be one of the first interview's Len's given in a long time.

Friday 1 April 2011

None shall win prizes ....

(c) Jonathan Player/Rex
Interesting story in The Guardian this week concerning John Le Carré.

He has been nominated for the Man Booker International Prize for contribution for fiction (as distinct from the Man Booker Prize for an individual work of fiction). But ... to the disguised consternation of the organisers, he has turned down the nomination.

On declining it, the author's quoted as saying:
"I am enormously flattered to be named as a finalist of the 2011 Man Booker International prize. However, I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn."
Le Carré, a resolutely private man, is not a great exploiter of the media (aside from what one would expect as a minimum to support the marketing of his latest titles) and not a over-regular visitor to our screens and newspaper pages; his renown as an author and the sales of his books clearly are tribute enough to his talent as a leading light of UK spy and popular fiction since the sixties.

One does have to admire, in a way, his steadfast refusal to be swayed by the baubles which the publishing industry particularly enjoys hosting (but then, is it any different from any other industry?) As readers of this blog and the Deighton Dossier website will know, Len Deighton too is apparently bereft of literary awards .... and also happy for things to remain that way.

However, is there another author in the spy fiction and thriller genre - who may be more willing to stand up on stage in London's West End in front of the world's media - who has yet, unjustifiably, to pick up a major literary award. Any nominations in the posts below.....