Monday, 28 May 2018

Frey and McGray - Behind the Covers

It is no secret I adore the covers of my books. How could I not? I still remember when I first saw the cover of The Strings of Murder – it was a Saturday morning, and I couldn’t stop staring at it in awe (maybe drooling at points) for the rest of the weekend.
I am so lucky there has been such a wonderful team of people in charge of producing delightful, unique works of art that really stand out on the shelves. Let’s face it, who needs another generic black and white photo of a barren landscape with the title in plain Arial Unicode?

Though I love all the covers (all the little hidden elements in The Strings of Murder, the striking day-of-the-dead flowery skull in A Fever of the Blood, the iridescent beetle in A Mask of Shadows), the most recent one, Loch of the Dead, is very likely to become my favourite, and not only because of its superb aesthetics. This book and its cover have a lot of history behind them.

The main premise came to my head in 2006 (well before my “Victorian X-Files” epiphany), during my first winter living in the UK. I was going through rather severe SAD and was too stubborn to seek proper help, but writing the story (as a novella set in 1790’s Mexico) acted as a sort of therapy. A few years later I re-discovered the file, polished it, added a spooky sonnet and sent it off to Mexico’s most prestigious YA competition, where it was shortlisted (my greatest literary achievement at the time!).

A few years later, whilst plotting the Frey and McGray series, I thought this would be a perfect case for them.

The book is set in Loch Maree, which was a very happy accident (the first of many). For the plot to work, I needed to send Frey and McGray to the remotest corners of the Scottish Highlands, so I picked up a map and pointed at a random loch, only to find out later that Loch Maree is a very special place indeed.

Besides its breath-taking landscapes (the loch has a little archipelago, and a couple of those islands even have small lochs in them), Loch Maree also has its many legends. It has been considered a sacred location for thousands of years, and there are many accounts of pagan rituals performed there throughout the centuries. One of the islands is in fact an ancient burial ground, with tombstones ranging from the middle ages to the early 20th century.

I of course had to travel there for “research”. Though very enjoyable, it was a loooooong drive, not for the fainthearted, but definitely worth it. I could not have captured the atmosphere, the isolation, the imposing beauty, without having been there.

I stayed at the very inn mentioned in the book, a real place where Queen Victoria once lodged, and I also got to set foot on the islands themselves.
And here is where the cover comes in.

I took a guided boat tour and we first went to Isle Maree, the burial ground. One of the first things we found was a deer skull nailed to a tree (photo attached!). The guide explained us that the island is still considered a supernatural place, and people still go there to connect with the forces of nature. There used to be a well in that island (sadly it’s dried out) whose waters reputedly cured madness (and those who’ve read the Frey and McGray series will understand the sheer elation I felt when I learned that!).

The deer skull really stuck to my memory. I remember that that evening, in very Frey style, I sat by the shore with a wee dram, staring into the islands, still thinking about it. The skull was another very happy (albeit eerie…) accident, and it eventually became a key element of the plot (I can’t say much more on that, I’m afraid!).

When Penguin were preparing the cover design they asked me to send them images for the “mood board”. I sent the original photo along with other deer skull images (you HAD to have antlers!) and the result was simply stunning.

I am particularly proud of the plot and the twists in this book – more than ten years in the making – and I am so glad it has a superb cover to match.

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