Judging a Book by its Cover

When the publishers first showed me the sample designs for the cover of Snakes and Ladders, I was pleased with the ideas they’d come up with. I felt grateful to be having my book published and what the hell did I know the style of the jacket?

‘Don’t agree if it doesn’t feel right,’ my editor sister, Jude told me.

I didn’t want to disagree though. They’d label me unreasonable. Demanding.

‘The cover is really important,’ Jude insisted. ‘Those hand signals the boys are making, will date. They’re too young looking and a bit goofy.’

The more I looked at the picture, the more I realised she was right. When I told the publishers, they wondered if I had any old ball photos that captured the look I was after. I promised to have a look…. In my spare time.

It was the Thursday night before Christmas and my Husband was recovering from a hip replacement just a few days before. I had three sons home from university and our eldest son was away on his honeymoon. A million jobs loomed with the expected Christmas feast and the exchange of gifts. Where were all the old ball photos? Was this really important?

I sat in the loft and rifled through a suitcase of photos for the eldest two and on my computer for the younger two. I couldn’t find the perfect snapshot but I had a nostalgic and sometimes terrifying trip down memory lane searching.

This particular night, the blend of ‘thirsty Thursday’ combined with ‘nearly Christmas Thursday’ was shaping up to be a big party night for the boys. It seemed to have ‘go crazy,’ stamped all over it. Opportunities for the three brothers to be together were rare and they were in exceptionally high spirits as they prepared to go out into town. Their level of excitement, comradeship and expectation was exactly what I wanted to capture in the photo for the book cover. Overlying those elements there was always a layer of invincibility and I wanted to see that in the cover picture too.

Their good friend Will Fleischl arrived and the noise level and party atmosphere climbed another notch. I ventured into the fray and asked if the four boys would please, please get changed into suits and ties and pose for a photo or two? Needless to say, my request was met with the sort of enthusiasm that I might have expected if I’d asked them to all consider staying home that night.

‘Tomorrow,’ they promised me.

‘Tonight,’ I insisted. I’m old and wise and I know that tomorrow never comes. Anyway, the look I wanted couldn’t be captured tomorrow when they were tired and hung-over. ‘Please, go and put on formal clothes and George will take some photos.’

George Brummer, my good-natured neighbour had already agreed after a quick phone call. ‘Send them over,’ he said. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’

a foray into costumeFinding four ‘nearly matching’ suits, four white shirts and four ties that weren’t all identical sports ties from Havelock High, took some organizing, especially as the boys had a quick foray into spoof clothes first. It took a supreme effort not to scream, ‘Take those effing stupid Aladdin and Halloween costumes off and do as I’ve friggin well asked!!’

Instead, I gripped the kitchen bench and said, ‘Ha ha, very funny. Now please guys, George is waiting. Put on jackets and black trousers and head next door. Thank you.’

George was already checking the light and shade, the distances and the setting sun as they trooped over. He is a deliberate man and particular with his photography, and I couldn’t hurry him any more than I’d been able to dampen the boys’ hijinks. I couldn’t tell him the lies I’d spun to get the team rallied for the photo shoot.

‘It will only be a couple of quick shots and you can come back and get changed,’ I’d promised them. Three hundred and fifty photos later the boys were released. I couldn’t imagine how, with all their tomfoolery and idiotic behaviour on George’s patio, a photo suitable for a book cover would emerge. I’d tried though and felt I couldn’t do anymore; I needed to think about Christmas.Snakes and Ladders, cover photograph

There was no sign of the boys when I got home and my Husband needed some dinner and assistance getting settled for the night. It was a while before I went down to the room that the suits had been hanging in. They weren’t hanging anymore. As far as I could see there were black suits and white shirts. Discarded shoes littered the floor and under all the strewn clothes lay another layer of Aladdin/Halloween costumes. I felt immensely overwhelmed as I tackled the mess.

George gave me the disc of photos a few days later and I sent it off to Scholastic. He’d made a couple of shots into black and white and cropped the heads to give me an idea. He was right. The photo he chose was the one the book designers liked best as well and the cover started to take shape.

I have always loved the final result and it’s even more special when I think how it evolved out of such a crazy night. George captured their anticipation and the secret ingredient I’d really wanted, their air of invincibility. I’m grateful to Jude for insisting I rethink my options and to George for dropping everything and taking the photo.

Snakes and Ladders - Mary-anne Scott