Orangeboy – the cover design

I’ve been lucky. My debut novel, ‘Orangeboy’, has often been found with its cover facing out on tables and shelves in bookshops, from the Foyles on the London Southbank to Waterstones, in Bath. This is down to the splendid cover by Michelle Rochford, an in-house designer at my publishers, Hachette.


How did Michelle create such a striking image?

Firstly, the designers read the book. We can all read the same story but settle on different details. Likewise, with designers. This is Michelle’s crib sheet – and one, there are spoilers and two, I was immensely flattered by the comparison!

Orangeboy cover designer's notes

Orangeboy cover designer’s notes

Michelle was particularly caught by the references to the brain.  My protagonist, Marlon, has a brother with a brain injury and is, himself, fascinated by how the brain works.  Marlon’s brain is also full of music, shaped by the records his father used to play.  I write about the soundtrack to ‘Orangeboy’ in my blog for WHSmith.

The next stage, was scooping up the inspiration.  The book was originally called ‘Last Man Standing’, but the publishers felt that the title didn’t do justice to the YA genre.  Once it had flipped to ‘Orangeboy’, it freed up ideas.  The mood boards below show the gathering of visual ideas, some more obvious, some tangential.  It’s like putting together a novel from fragments of conversation and half-formed plots.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 16.59.21
Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 16.59.14

The challenge was to design a cover that was attractive across gender. Although the main protagonist is male, this is also a story about women – Sonia, D-Ice’s mum, Marlon’s mum -whose lives are devastated by others’ destructive choices.  There was one other worry for me.  Marlon is a young man of Caribbean heritage who ends up carrying a knife – but – this is a story about families, how we can end up hurting each other even while we try and protect each other.  It was incredibly important for me that the cover stayed clear of potentially stereotypical images.

Some more ideas…

In the mood boards, orange features, but other primary colours dominate too, with strong, stylised imagery and distinct text.  Can you spot the most obvious influence?

What did the research spark off?  I didn’t see these at the time, so I’m quite intrigued. Lemon, orange, silhouettes, the shape of thoughts.Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 16.59.57

Which led to these…

Orangeboy_VisualsBack in October 2015, came the cover reveal.  Emma, my editor, said: ‘I think it’s arresting, and intriguing, and beautiful, but has an urban edge’. It takes the craziness inspired by Gnarls Barkley  and the street art of Banksy which had popped up across the walls of east London.  She also pointed out the importance of its impact not only on the shelf, but at thumbnail size for internet shoppers.  Orangeboy_B_PB[1]

And finally, the finishes.  Emma said:  ‘Michelle and I are proposing adding a gloss varnish on the titling and the image, possibly on that ‘soft touch’ matt background, which will make the gloss pop.’  This has meant a very tactile cover where the main image and title catches the light.  There were a few other decisions to make too – where to add the generous quote from Jenny Downham, imagery for the back and inside covers (me in full scowl mode), the blurb at the back…

Other than that, there was one other thing.  Music is important to Marlon’s life.  My partner suggested an important addition to Marlon’s explosion of thoughts.  Spot the (vinyl) difference!