“Next, you pop to Bill Wyman’s for a half hour presentation on the open-book ethics of picking up a girl, followed by a practical involving a couple of mannequins stolen from Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street circa 1983 and some clotted cream. Finally, you head to Ronnie Wood’s health spa for a facial and a little light reflexology involving a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.”
I started researching book cover design over a year ago. After going blind searching Google images, I settled on a style, that I both liked, and felt appropriate for the books narrative. It had to be ‘of a time’, serious but quirky, timidly feminine but masculine all the same, tragically middle-aged, with a tinge of hope and humour. These are the screen grabs for my original inspiration.
I had originally intended to create the cover myself. The whole project was private and personal, and of no particular commercial bent. I also felt, as only a naïve optimist can, that no one knew the subject better than me. Who better to compose my book’s epic avalanche of an introduction? Which of course is the frailty of the overly-invested.
I settled on a big red apple as per, Botanika by Aniela Kozlowski, and began to build my own version. It was the essence of the how the central character of the book saw his life – he knew happiness was out somewhere, but he had lost sight of it, forgotten where he had put it down. Misplaced it. Having him stand on the biggest reddest juiciest plumpest pedestal of happiness there was, and looking in completely the wrong direction, seemed the perfect visual metaphor to me. To me alone that is. I showed it to friends, some of who were artists and designers, and they all returned a look of blank disappointment. I absorbed the blow.
It was time to employ a professional. I contacted two, who promised the earth and disappeared swiftly there after – for which I am extremely grateful in retrospect. And then I remembered an old friend, who seemed to remember me as well, and perhaps even more helpfully, appeared to feel a personal obligation to step in and save me from my desultory illustration skills. He even promised to read the book, which filled me with great enthusiasm.
He returned these as our starting point.
I was immediately struck that I had wasted an entire year of my life, and that no amount of pleading would ever return it to me. As is the nature of professionals however, they tend to know what they are doing, and in no time at all I had the creative execution I had hoped for. I showed it to the assembled who all agreed that my book could never live up to the cover. I took the applause!
Looking for Eden was years in the making… insofar as you had to go through twenty years of mostly happy marriage and a heartbreaking divorce to fix a narrative. Thereafter it was like building a bungalow when the younger version of you really craved a penthouse apartment… but you no longer had the legs. But misery being the court of creation, I felt much better when I had written it all down, thank you very much.
It revolves around Jack Water, a divorced middle-aged everyman, who concludes after a little too much soul-searching, that ‘happiness is a choice’. His optimism starts and finishes at this conclusion however, as he discerns that such a statement of being, requires emotional skills that at forty-five he has yet to acquire.
Plagued by nightmares that seem to reinforce this view, he is further violated by the news that his best friend discovers that he has only months to live after receiving a prophetic flyer through the post, and that his new girlfriend loves him. Middle age is a confusion he can’t bear.
He enlists the help of Jarvis, a forty something celibate, and Stan, who resides in an urn on Alice’s mantelpiece – Stan drowned last year – his hope, to cure his ailing best friend, Ted, and to understand why if he has everything, his life seems so purposeless.
As Jack says:
‘If you are an Atlantic Salmon you just swan around in the oceans for a while building up your strength and then through some unexplained urge you navigate your way up an impassable river system battling deadly waterfalls, copulate or whatever the fish term is, and then you die. You don’t think, bugger now I’ve got to think of what to do for the rest of my interminable existence avoiding bigger fish trying to eat me and putting food on the table – the fish equivalent of avoiding cancer and paying your mortgage – you don’t think anything, you’re a fish. I am an Atlantic Salmon that didn’t die and now I don’t know what to do.’
Looking for Eden is as J.R. Moehringer said, a book about emotions and love and death and pain. It’s about words. It’s about a man dealing with life.