I think one of the hardest things for an independent author is the front cover. It’s literally the first impression and despite the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”, many do. Published authors don’t have to worry about their front covers so much since the publishing houses sort it out with the author getting very little input unless they’re well established. When it came to my first novel Darkest Nights -Awakening, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted or how to go about it. I went to my friend Amy about designing the front cover and we had multiple conversations about what would work and went to bookstores to look at front covers in the same genre. In the end, Amy came up with several designs and I chose my favourite. I then came to a similar dilemma when I started writing Ascension -A Darkest Nights Novel. It being more of a side-story meant I could have a bit more fun with it to separate it from the mainline books, but once again I couldn’t decide on what I wanted.
As luck would have it, it didn’t take long for me to decide on the direction for Ascension. A few years ago my now-wife had done a wedding shoot based on the first Darkest Nights book, involving models for Lucy, Jordana, Peter and Dante. Being on set (and supplying the models for Peter and Dante), I made friends with Alexa, the model for Lucy, and already had a relationship with San, the photographer. We were all supplied with copies of the photos and there was one of Alexa alone, looking off into the distance in an amazing black dress. It was front cover worthy…so I asked San and Alexa if they would be OK with me using it. They both agreed and San even edited the image to fit the idea I had in mind for the cover. So that was sorted and that was before the book was even completed! Now the only book that need a front cover was my horror novel, Hush. Oddly enough, I always knew what I wanted. I wanted my main character on the front cover and I knew I wanted the killer with her in some capacity. I even tried my hand at using stock images and bought a mask online which I then made some modifications to but it just wasn’t right. With the Ascension front cover having recently been finalised I knew that I wouldn’t be happy with the Hush cover unless I did it myself.
Years ago I joked to my third cousin, Ann-Marie, about her modelling Jamie for the Hush cover and she actually seemed enthused with the idea, so I asked her if she’d still be up for it and she was. It’s also worth noting that at this point, me and Ann-Marie had never actually met. I had accidentally found her advertising my first book on her twitter at the request of my nan and we stayed in contact ever since. She would literally be driving two hours to model for a front cover written by a cousin she had never met before. She’s pretty awesome that way. Next, I had to find a photographer. I wasn’t going to ask San to drive all the way to take photographs for a horror front cover, especially since it wasn’t her genre (and I couldn’t actually afford her), so I went to one of my best friends, Charlotte, who had a degree in photography and was a horror fan like me. I explained to the two what I wanted to do. I’ve been in love with one of the posters for the Wolfman remake featuring Emily Blunt hiding behind a tree for years and wanted to do something similar. I already had a location so the last piece of the puzzle was finding someone to model the killer…so I sent a text to my best friend Ryan who didn’t hesitate in saying yes. I bought a new mask from HobbyCraft, painted it and Ryan went and bought himself a boiler suit for the day. We arranged a time and I bought a costume for Ann-Marie.
One of my favourite horror films is Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. I love it so much that I named the main character, Jamie Harris, after Jamie Lloyd and her actress, Danielle Harris. With this connection in mind, I immediately went to Jamie’s iconic clown costume for inspiration and used the red and white colour scheme when buying the clothes for the costume. On the day, I waited for Charlotte and Ann-Marie to arrive at my flat, both excited and nervous. Charlotte was the first to arrive and we went over the kind of angles I was looking for and soon Ann-Marie arrived. It was kind of surreal finally meeting the cousin I had been in contact with for almost four years.
“Just letting you know…I’m slightly hungover,” she told me as she sat down.
“It’s OK. It’ll give you that ‘pulled out of a hedge look"‘ we’re going for. Want tea with your sugar?” I asked.
“No thanks. I’m sweet enough,” was her quick reply. Clearly our sense of humour was compatible.
We then left the flat to pick up Ryan, who needed us to take him to collect the boiler suit. With the boiler suit collected, we left for the woods where Ryan got changed and the photoshoot began.
The problem with doing a shoot in a public space is the fact many people will walk past and, given the nature of the shoot and the fact Ryan was wearing a mask and holding a fake bloody knife resulted in quite a few strange looks. Regardless, we got the shots and left for the flat where I then proceeded to paint Ann-Marie’s face with fake blood and we had to do an interior shot using phone camera lights and closed doors to get the proper lighting. It was very DIY but we managed to get it to work. I just felt bad that the fake blood didn’t come off as cleanly as we had hoped and I had to send her back to her father with streaks of red across her face. Next came the photoshop. I’m not an expert so I went to YouTube for some tutorials for help, resulting in what I think is a pretty cool front cover. It was certainly an experience and something I think I’d definitely be interested in doing again when I eventually get around to writing Hush Part II.