‘I tend my herd and flock by day so I have to read into the night; I cannot put it down’ – Rosamund Young, author of The Secret Life of Cows
The wonderful Bird Cottage examines the true life story of Len Howard, a remarkable woman who defied society’s expectations, left her London life and loves behind and retired to a small cottage in Sussex to devote the rest of her days to her one true passion: birds. This beautiful story needed an equally gorgeous jacket, so we turned to cover designer extraordinaire Helen Crawford-White to help us out. Here’s Helen on her inspirations behind that stunning cover.
What was your brief for the cover design?
The brief was fairly open. The main pointers were that it would be nice to shows the birds which are mainly Great Tits, but also to try to include Len too, to give it a human touch. We thought the text on the cover could have a ‘period’ feel to it, since the novel deals mainly with the period from 1911 to just after the second world war. Hence the retro and vintage feel to many of the initial designs.
Other than that, the cover needed to feel warm and beautiful enough to entice people in to the fascinating story.
Can you tell us about the inspirations behind the cover design?
I drew a lot of inspiration from the many pictures of Len Howard posing with various great tits which you can find online. It’s amazing how the birds became so integrated into her daily life and how they literally made themselves at home. There are lots of images of them perching on a kettle or typewriter or interacting with Len on her finger. It was this unique and sometimes sweet and almost comedic intimacy and domesticity that I wanted to come across on the cover.
I looked at different stylistic references, from paintings or nature sketches to engraved or woodcut birds. We were aiming for something with the impact of the H is for Hawk cover, with text that might look like something on a Sarah Waters’ book. I tried some options with simpler line drawings combined with nostalgic type.
It was clear the birds would be the hero of the cover and in the end some vintage illustrations had the right level of detail and intricacy, which we combined with a more hand-rendered title to give more of a human touch.
How far did your initial drafts differ from the final covers?
It was one of those lucky covers that was pretty much chosen without any changes! Other than swapping some quotes around, the only other change was to edit the vintage bird images to look less like Grey or Blue Tits and more like Great Tits – this just involved colouring their heads in a bit. We added some endpapers and some embossing to the painted title and the birds for the finishing touches.