Somewhat self-consciously, the Mulcher informs readers that an interview . . . oh alright, the Mulcher (that’s I, me) was interviewed about book cover design, specifically the jacket of Hand Me Down World, by Lloyd Jones, who was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Mr Pip three years ago. (A sudden and thrilling emergenge of a great writer, punitively neglected as a Kiwi who didn’t leave home.)

Radio National’s The Book Show put me in a studio seat opposite Sarah L’Estrange who pitched the questions. (Listen to the podcast here. It was broadcast Feb 28.) Sarah seems a perfectly lovely person but is also as extractive as my dentist (though she didn’t hurt). I have written about this book and its cover before on this blog, but talking about it ex tempore is rather unnerving. And there are all the things you might have said if only you had thought of them two, five, fifteen minutes earlier.

It  played rather longer than I expected; at a music break I told my little audience (below) that it was over, only to have it start up again, with another music break and a further passage. They edited out my bon mot: “It’s a brilliant moment for book design. It may not be golden, but it is definitely some kind of metallic age.” (Well now, I do see why they cut that.)

The mirror does not reflect the voice

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One of the most disturbing things is hearing your own voice, coming out of a speaker. You get used to seeing your face in the morning, but one is not familiar with the sonics of one’s own voice — what you sound like to the world — unless you are a professional, a musician, a broadcaster. I’ve heard my voice before on the radio and it’s not what I hear when I speak. It’s like someone oddly familiar, closely though obscurely related, but not Me.

As I’m holidaying o/s it was with some misgivings that I played the podcast to a little friendly group, who are friendly in the complex way that only a sibling and a niece and a partner can be. Putting the question of sincerity to one side, they were quite kind about my performance, and seemed to think it really was me speaking. Except for the niece who said, What’s the big deal? It’s just the same as what you said to me last year! Except that you told me ‘Everything is random’!

Whatever the topic was we’ve gone off it. But it is salutary to be reminded that whoever you may think you are — how you sound, how you look, how clear your convictions seem to you — it may only be a saving mirage of your own making. As TS Eliot said, humankind cannot bear very much reality — so it is a constant relief that the mirror is set on mute.


Hand Me Down World has been nominated for the Australian Book Design Awards for the Best Cover for Literary Fiction, and the Best Cover of the Year.

I did a guest post on the Book Show blog on my favourite covers of the moment. (Among them I picked the cover of Brendan Cowell’s How It Feels — designed by my lovely friend, the very talented Josh Durham of Design by Committee — which has been also shortlisted for the best lit. fic. cover. I must be connecting with some wavelength.)

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