Writing on, and about, an island

Posts Tagged ‘val mcdermid’

What’s the Best Cover for a Crime Novel?

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on March 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm

I’ve just given my talented Tasmanian designer a creative brief for the cover of my crime novel (that I’m soon to self-publish as an ebook).

The web is heaving under the weight of woeful ebook cover designs. A well-designed cover is, therefore, non-negotiable. It puts your book in the top 10% of books that readers will bother to read (I made that stat up, but in my experience it’s pretty close).

Book cover design has always been a big deal for me. I started my uni degree with a graphic design major, as I wanted to be a book designer (I soon realised I was better at writing, and switched majors). Since then, I’ve worked as the editor on several books that’ve gone on to win best designed book at the annual APA Design Awards.

Crime novels require a special sort of look – or, more specifically, the kind of crime novel I’ve written lends itself to a certain look. I haven’t written a quirky No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency style book, or a hard-boiled police procedural, or a true crime, or a horror.

I’ve written something that’s set on a cold island, where winter seems to last for 6 months, where the environment is a character in itself, where corruption comes standard, where people need and reject history in equal parts, where the sky is big and clear, where the main colours are silver, slate, rust and khaki… you get the picture.

My interest lies in making the everyday appear creepy – in the way a crime book reads and looks.

I have a bookcase dedicated to crime and mystery, mainly of the psychological kind, so I have some good reference points (do I have a favourite? Not really, although Miss Smilla inspires).

While I’m usually all for bucking convention, there’s a certain logic to choosing a cover for my book that fits within the ‘classic’ look for the genre I’m writing in – it’s that rule of: don’t make it any harder for the reader to find you.

My crime-book cover brief:

  • Night-time time lapse photo of place where book is mainly set – strong sense of place is important
  • Matte cover (obviously irrelevant for an ebook, but I plan to print-on-demand also)
  • Spare, bare look (not overly ‘designed’) – to mimic the tone of the book
  • Muted colours – no neon, green or red!
  • Classy, not cliched (no bullet holes, dripping blood etc)
  • Sans serif font – actually, I’m a little torn on this, and will wait til the cover’s designed before I decide on serif vs sans serif
  • Create a look that could be run over several books
  • Reference Henning Mankell, PD James and Val McDermid (plus all Scandi crime writers) for mood
  • Title at top – or bottom??? I’m still unsure… which leads into…
  • My name (which will actually be a nom de plume, as I’m widely published in mainstream press under my real name). Everyone knows that the bigger your name and the smaller your title, the more famous you are. I’m hardly famous… but there’s the opportunity here to fake it til you make it; to make people do a double-take… Ah, crime writers are a sneaky bunch.

As with any creative product, I’ll continue to make changes as the design progresses. Stay tuned…

The Crime Writer’s Inspiration List

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on February 17, 2012 at 11:37 am

When you’re writing a crime/mystery novel, your focus gets very insular. You get so close to what you’re doing that, I find, it’s really important to occasionally look outside for inspiration.

When I’m stuck or stale, I get inspired by (and this is a work-in-progress list):


The Dark is Rising Sequence – Susan Cooper

The Secret History/The Little Friend – Donna Tartt

Inspector Morse (the whole series) – Colin Dexter

Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow – Peter Hoeg

A Place of Execution – Val McDermid

The Ice House – Minette Walters

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

Devices and Desires – PD James (the opening scene still gives me shivers)

Death of a Wombat – Ivan Smith and Clifton Pugh

Stasiland – Anna Funder

Anything by Henning Mankell


Twin Peaks

The Killing (Danish version)

Red Riding Trilogy


Swimming Pool

Let The Right One In (Swedish version)


Secret Window

Picnic at Hanging Rock

The Ghost Writer


December – George Winston



PJ Harvey


Bruny Island – I stay at my shack on my own, which terrifies me (and is therefore good for crime-writing).

Tasmania’s East (the empty coastline from Swansea upwards) or West Coast (especially Strahan, Macquarie Harbour and Gordon River), or the Midlands (the wide open farmlands and bleak hills).


I use Ommwriter occasionally

I love Toast‘s online catalogues and Toast Travels

Wallpaper – currently, this Donna Tartt one

Looking at this list, I realise the majority of items on it are notable for their remarkable expression of a ‘sense of place’ – particularly a cold, out-of-the-way, edge-of-the-world place… (hello Tasmania). There are many, many more books, for example, that I absolutely love, but they don’t all make the cut when I need to be inspired in my own writing.

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