Appropriately shameless, I’ve nicked the title of Norman Mailer’s unflinchingly immodest self-portrait. Last night at the book design awards for the Australian Publishers Association I managed to score a kind of quinella, but that’s not quite right, a quinella being a first and second. My jacket for Lloyd Jones’ Hand Me Down World won a double: the awards for ‘The Best Designed Literary Fiction Book’ and ‘The Best Designed Cover of the Year.’

But the nub of a cover is to be, in its literary way, an advertisement for the book within. And I’m sincerely pleased to have an occasion to mention the book again — Hand Me Down World is one of best novels I’ve had the pleasure to cover. Brilliantly conceived, fascinatingly structured, precisely written, with a central character as magnetic as she is mysterious, it’s a special piece of storytelling.

But what would I know? Let me defer to:

The Sydney Morning Herald: ‘Jones’s touch is deft yet bold … [this is] a novel so fine, demanding and morally acute.’

The Guardian: ‘One of the most interesting, honest and thought-provoking novelists working today.’

The Australian: ‘Lloyd Jones is a master storyteller … he slowly reveals the secrets of Ines’s story and its emotional momentum sweeps us up and makes us fellow travellers.’

The Age: ‘Delicate and beguiling … a book of great mind and heart.’

(Below is the award yadayada for those who’re curious. Including the speeches I wasn’t there to give, and for which the format did not allow.)

Here is the jacket front. I used acrylic washes on plywood.


And here is the back, with its superbly succint blurb copy. The child, of course, is the reason for the quest.

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Cover liner notes, and ungiven speeches

I blogged about how the cover’s genesis here. I was interviewed about cover design and Hand Me Down World by Radio National Book Show’s delightful Sarah L’Estrange — the RN podcast link here, my guest post on the Book Show blog, and my reflection on all that. And here is a little exclusive, I turned the tables on Sarah and snapped her, right, getting ready behind the Tardis controls.

I’ve been nominated for my share of APA design awards, and won twice previously (for ‘Best Designed General Fiction Book’ and ‘Best Designed Young Adult Book’) but never quite got up to Sydney for any of the ceremonies. This year my obliging colleague Jane Novak took a break from her duties as publicist at the Sydney Writers’ Festival to represent Text at the awards, politely ignoring my remarks that she was being unnecessarily masochistic. So I furnished her with a couple of scripts, because you never know. As it was, no one got to make a speech, but I’m loath to waste any effort, so here they are, complete with my notes to Jane.

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Jane, pinkies crossed, should you have to accept anything on my behalf, can you please read these? I’ve no idea if you’re receiving email (iPhone?) so let me know if you got this. Thanks again. chong

In case of Best Designed Literary Fiction Book

My apologies for not being here tonight, but Melbourne calls.

For this designer, the best thing about literary packaging is that the nearly sole imperative is to express the book within, unconstrained by genre and category conventions. Which means that a literary cover embeds an unusual level of sincerity into a commercial object — there is art inside and outside. So my sincere thanks to the judges, the author Lloyd Jones, and Text Publishing for choosing this design. Thank you.

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Jane, if you think the next is too long on the night, please drop the second paragraph. But I’m guessing these awards evenings could use some content. I’ve timed it — at medium speed it takes about 90 seconds.

In case of Best Designed Cover of the Year

Explaining the function of narrative in painting, the artist Ron Kitaj (pron. Kee-Tai) said that “some books have pictures, and some pictures have books.”  Having done my share of online shopping, I predict that books will keep having pictures — that’s because a picture can hook you, just like that.

But sadly, over the next decade, some clever ten-year-olds will grow up, and work out how to make screen reading and the online browsing experience so satisfying they will finally replace actual books and bookshops. Unless … god and genetics make them end up just like their parents, and they too suffer nostalgia for the physical world. Speaking for my sentimental self, I prefer handling a book in a shop with my sticky fingers, to clicking on a 100 x 160 pixel image.

I thank the judges for choosing this design, the author Lloyd Jones for his inspiring and amazing novel, and to the publisher Michael Heyward, who has a good eye for a book and its jacket.

The cover for Hand Me Down World did not have a straight run — among external pre-publishing responses were some concerns about having an African woman on the cover. Imagine that! But the design you see is original and uncompromised. So I thank Text, and Michael for having faith and for leading the way.

Cheers and good night.

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Peter Fray
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