I Didn’t Mean It, Officer …

In my last post, I talked a bit about where my novel Surface Tension came from. This time, I’m talking about where it’s ended up because something quite curious happened recently and it’s made me think about the unintended places our work can take us.

I was very surprised earlier this month to learn that Surface Tension had been judged the winner of the Children’s/Young Adult Fiction category of the Davitt Awards, for crimewriting by Australian women. It’s always surprising to win something, but in this case it was particularly unexpected because I somehow hadn’t realised that Surface Tension was a crime novel.

That may sound spectacularly clueless, but I think it’s partly that I was more focused on chasing down the image than on writing a particular sort of story. When I began, I had no idea what sort of plot I was going to shape around the image; that came out of a sort of messy brainstorming process where I found myself thinking about  secrets and things being buried or hidden.

The other reason is probably that as as writer and a reader I’m more interested in ideas than I am in plot. In Surface Tension, I was less interested in what actually happened – the ‘crime’ or mystery narrative – than I was in the underlying ideas, and for me, those are about history and memory, the way the past is written (and overwritten) and who gets to tell what stories. So I think my eye was on those things and less on the nuts and bolts of the plot itself, and perhaps that’s how I managed to become a crimewriter without really noticing.

There are other ways in which my writing has taken me to unexpected places over the last few years and I’m going to talk more about that in another post. But for now, I leave you with two images. Because as we’ve established, all good blog posts require pictures, and also because these represent another place Surface Tension is travelling to – this time a literal place, being the United States, where it will be published early next year by Candlewick Press. The first image is the Australian cover and the second is the US cover. There are some obvious differences between the two and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Does one appeal to you more than the other? Which would you be more likely to pick up off the shelf?

9 Responses so far

  1. 1

    reardonhs said,


    I read the copy that has the title Surface Tension on it. I loved it, but if I had never read it, I would be more likely to choose the other copy. I’m not quite sure why. Possibly because of the background of the city. It makes me immediately think: there’s a mystery. A sunken city? Cool…

    Both covers are pretty cool though.

    Congratulations on winning that award!

  2. 2

    Ella Somers said,

    Hi Meg,

    I think I like the “Below” cover more. I don’t know why, I just think it tells me more about the story.
    Like Tierney said though, both covers are cool.

    Ella. 🙂

  3. 4

    Ella Somers said,

    Hi Tierney!

  4. 5

    Meg McKinlay said,

    Hi Ella and Tierney!

    Thanks for your thoughts on the covers. Although I loved the first one and in some ways it helped me (re)write the book, I think I’m also leaning more towards the US cover now. A few people have said they didn’t really notice the little houses at the bottom of the first one and that somehow the streetscape behind the second draws you in more. I also like the way that ‘drawing in’ effect works a bit like a mystery – where you at first just see something vague, then look closer and start to make things out a bit at a time. I think that fits with the book in an interesting way.

    But I also really like that both kids are on the cover of the US version. It’s not something I thought about with the earlier cover, but when I saw this one, I went, “Oh, of course!” Both kids are really important in the book and I love that they’re both represented now.

    The colours are interesting, too. I liked the atmospheric quality of the Australia/NZ cover, but I do think the colours on the US cover are more striking. A friend of mine who was a bookseller for a while said that she loved the Surface Tension cover but that kids weren’t picking it off the shelf – she was having to hand sell it, to draw their attention to it.

    Who knew there were so many things to think about? I’m glad the design is someone else’s job, but also happy that I get to have some input.

    The other thing that’s different, of course, is the title. I wonder what you guys think about that?

  5. 6

    Ella Somers said,

    Hi Meg,

    I like the title “Surface Tension” better then “Below”.
    I don’t think the title “Surface Tension” would look good on the “Below” cover, though.
    But really, it’s what YOU think looks good – you’re the author!
    Your likes and dislikes should come before anyone else.

    Ella. 😀

  6. 7

    Meg McKinlay said,

    Ah, such an interesting reply, Ella. The thing is – it is partly about what I think looks good, or represents the story well. But it’s also about what the designer thinks works, and what sales and marketing think will catch a reader’s eye. I’m not a visual thinker and there’s a point at which I have to trust their judgement. It’s a collaborative process, but I do let go of a certain amount of control, just as I do when working with an illustrator on my younger fiction.

    By way of example, with my first novel, Annabel, Again, I was asked very early on whether I had any thoughts on the cover, and I did say a few things along the lines of “Not this sort of thing” and “Please don’t put XY on the cover”. Taking that into account, the design team then did four draft covers and asked me for my thoughts/preferences on those. From memory, it was my third favourite that went on to become the cover because it was the overwhelming choice of a focus group in the target readership. To me, that was compelling enough that I was happy to be overruled.

    I guess in the end what I hope for is a cover that will speak to readers, represent the book well, and also be something I’m personally happy with. There needs to be be a balance of all those elements, and sometimes one slips further down the priority order in service of another.

    BUT, all that said – I love both these covers. I was initially a bit lukewarm on the title change, but I think the new title works well with the new cover – in combination, I’m really pleased with the way the US edition is shaping up.

  7. 8

    Ella Somers said,

    Hi Meg,

    Golly you really opened my eyes!!
    I thought you got to decide what you like and dislike.
    Obviously not! I still think the Author should be in charge though, they wrote the book(s).

  8. 9

    […] my last post, I mentioned that Surface Tension will be released early next year in the US, with a new cover and […]

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