I’ve now seen the full cover of the book — front, back, and spine — and I’m rather pleased with how it turned out.
Here’s the front in all its glory:
The press had asked me a couple of months ago what I thought might go on the cover, and I ended up submitting a few different thoughts.
My initial impulse was to find as cover art either an image of one of the dozens of manuscripts edited in the book or a random medieval manuscript illumination of a battle. I’m a textual guy.
Alas, it turns out that most of the Brunanburh-related manuscripts aren’t terribly impressive in any visual sense, and truly medieval battle-imagery is either of too late a date (I don’t want cross-shielded crusaders on my tenth-century book!) or overused (who really wants another cover based on the Bayeux Tapestry?). Plus, I knew the press preferred a tri-color cover: black, white, and another color. (As a sign of my obvious bloodlust, I made clear early on that I preferred the third color to be red.)
All this sent me to thinking about woodcuts, which I’ve always loved. And that, in turn, got me to thinking about the work of Halfdan Egedius (1877-1899). Egedius produced some beautiful pieces in his short life, but the ones I was interested in were his series of woodcuts illustrating medieval Norse sagas. I picked out my favorite and quickly incorporated it into a possible cover design for the press to consider:
The press liked this image (and apparently the layout notion, though it isn’t original in the slightest), but we all knew we would need a higher resolution image for the cover than we could find on the internet. That meant someone needed to get their hands on one of the very few remaining copies of Egedius’ work still around. The press started making inquiries. I did the same.
In a perfect world we would have had plenty of time to get the cover image, but because I had demanded a publishing date by the time of the Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo (largely in the interest of some of my contributors), we were very much under the temporal gun. So I planned for the worst, submitting a cover possibility that required no artwork at all, instead using the many names of “Brunanburh” as a background:
I still think this is kind of cool — especially assuming their design folks implemented it better than my rudimentary skills can manage — but the press reported back that it didn’t conform to the “look” of the publication series as well as the Egedius design did, which they preferred.
Still worried that we wouldn’t get the Egedius image in time, I trolled the internet one afternoon and stumbled upon a terrific image of King Athelstan’s tomb. I wrote the photographer, who very graciously agreed it could be utilized for the cover (and who sent a great high-resolution image for just that purpose). Combining this picture with my “names of Brunanburh” notion, I came up with a different design:
The press liked this (or, better said, liked the notion, which their design experts could actually make beautiful), and it became the “back-up plan.”
As it turns out, the awesome library staff here at The Citadel managed to procure the Egedius materials we needed with a couple of days to spare. Not only did we get the Egedius woodcut for the cover, but with the materials in hand I decided to grab three more beautiful woodcuts to scatter through the interior of the volume (score!). So last week I scanned them all, digitally clean them up, installed them in my files, and then sent the lot to the press.
And here we are. As you can see, Exeter’s design experts took my silly little cover ideas and made them look, well, professional.
One month to go!