Today we have the very talented author and graphic designer Berni Stevens with us to chat more about her writing and fab book covers she designs.
It’s great to have you here, thanks for taking time out of your busy day as graphic designer and author, and no doubt a whole lot else!
Hallo, it’s lovely to be here – and yes don’t forget the four Zumba classes I do every week J
You are, of course, a published author with Wild Rose Press, can you first of all, tell us a bit about your writing career to date.
I’ve always loved writing, and as a child I used to write and ‘illustrate’ very bad pony stories, which became ghost stories as I got older. I won a National story competition at fifteen, but art was always my first love, which is why I opted for Art College.
My first published short story as an adult, was a vampire story – no surprise there – called The Reluctant Vampire, and published by The Dracula Society in 2003. That short story eventually grew into Fledgling.
I went on to have three more short stories published: Eternal Night, which was included in an anthology called Bloody Vampires published by Glasshouse Books, (2010), then two short stories for teens, Balour’s Seal, published in an anthology called Dragontales, (2009), and Lure of the Murich, published in an anthology called Mertales, (2010) both published by Wyvern Publications. Then last year I tried my hand at editing a vampire anthology for Wyvern, called Fangtales – and that was very difficult! Even though we had said, ‘Please no Twilight copies, traditional vamps only’ – the first story I read was set in a high school and had a family of vampires called the Cullens! But I’m thrilled with the end result. I think the stories are wonderful.
So my writing career is very new – and short – to date, which, for me, makes it all the more exciting.
Your debut novel ‘Fledgling’ is about Vampires and I see that you are on the Committee of the Dracula Society. I take it you have a bit of a thing about vampires – please tell more…
I first read Bram Stoker’s Dracula when I was fourteen, and found myself totally captivated by the Gothic creepiness of it. After that, I read everything I could find which had a vampire in. From Sheridan Le Fanu to Anne Rice and, more recently, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Laurell K. Hamilton, and even (under protest!) Stephenie Meyer!
I’m not really sure how the interest built up, but I think perhaps it’s the ultimate ‘bad boy’ attraction, added to the thought of eternal life, incredible strength and sexual magnetism! What’s not to like?!
Sadly, I have yet to see a good adaptation of Dracula either on stage or film, which does Stoker’s novel justice. (And I’ve seen a few!) The best so far for me, is the BBC’s 1978 version with Louis Jourdan as the Count. The worst in my humble opinion is Coppola’s frightful adaptation. Sadie Frost’s depiction of Lucy made me want to stake her myself!
The Dracula Society is a literary society for fans of Gothic novels, films, and plays.
Before anyone asks, no, we don’t dress up in cloaks and fangs – perish the thought. We have London-based talks, screenings and meetings, and an annual Dinner around the time of Bram Stoker’s birthday (8th November.) Eerily close to my own birthday. Funny that!
Our members include academics such as, Sir Christopher Frayling, Leslie Klinger, and Dr Elizabeth Miller, plus Dacre Stoker, Bram’s great grand nephew. I always thought I knew a lot about vampires until I met these people!
The Society go on many trips both here and abroad, all of them Gothic-related. Next year is the Society’s 40th Birthday (and no – I haven’t been a member from the start!!) There will be a weekend celebration in – where else – but Whitby!
So, when can we expect to see some more of your work published? No pressure, of course!
Renegades, the sequel to Fledgling is finished – at least the first draft is finished, but it needs some tweaks. It continues Will and Ellie’s story, and includes lots more bad guys (and women), evil child vampires intertwined with, of course, an enduring love story. The body count is higher than in Fledgling, and it’s a bit darker too. I’m not sure yet when it will be published, because it does need more work, but I’m hoping it will be available maybe in a year or eighteen months’ time.
The third book in the London Vampire Chronicles, is called Alpha, and features one of the secondary characters from the first two books: Stevie, the werewolf manager of Will’s nightclub. Will and Ellie do feature in this book, but the main character is Stevie and the beautiful rock singer, Kat, with whom he falls in love. The story is told both from Kat’s and Stevie’s POVs. I’m only ten chapters in with Alpha, although it is all plotted out, but I’ve been a bit too busy to write recently.
So, putting your other hat on, of graphic designer, is this something you’ve done for a long time?
Yes, a very long time – over twenty-five years actually! My first job was with a small publisher called W. H. Allen, whose offices were in Mayfair. (They were subsequently bought out by Virgin Books and are now part of Random House.) They published mass-market fiction, a lot of autobiographies and a huge selection of Dr Who books, so you can imagine the press office got a lot of strange phone calls. And I did manage to get inside a dalek at one sales conference!
I went from there to Fontana, which was part of the William Collins group – now Harper Collins of course. My job there was to design the point-of-sale material for the books, which included a lot of children’s titles. I remember once trying to hail a cab with a giant cut-out lion under my arm (for The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.)
My next stop was Penguin, and from there I moved to Macdonald (publishers – not the burger place) who were bought out by Little, Brown (US) when Maxwell fell off his boat. I stayed with Little, Brown for twelve years, at first designing POS and covers and then changing to solely design covers. I left in 2003 to become freelance. There is only so far you can go in-house, and generally the people at the top don’t change for decades, so most designers opt for the freelance route after a while.
Do you specialise in one particular area of graphic design or are your clients wide and varied?
Since becoming freelance, most of my work has been in publishing, although I have done the occasional CD cover and brochure when asked. But my area of expertise is
publishing, and predominantly cover design. I still do brochures and ads for the books when needed. I rarely design the insides of books, although one of my first freelance commissions from Simon and Schuster, was to design the inside pages for The Quotable Slayer – wonder how I got that job huh? It was a job made in heaven and I loved every minute.
My clients range from well-established institutions like Harlequin, Mills and Boon and relatively new publishers like Choc Lit, to first time authors who are self-publishing, which means the design briefs are always pretty varied.
Do you read the books before designing the covers? Or do you just work from a description or tight design brief?
With the larger houses, there’s never the time to read the books, the deadlines are always tight, and usually they want to see visuals within ten days or two weeks. When working in-house, we always seemed to have plenty of time, but freelancers never do. So generally I am supplied with a synopsis and a design brief. Sometimes the brief is so tight, there’s no room for manoeuvre either, which can make it difficult to be very creative. (I blame large cover meetings with too many people who can’t agree!)
Smaller houses tend to publish less titles, so they have more flexibility time-wise. If I can read the book first, I always prefer to. It makes so much difference to coming up with ideas, especially within the thriller genre for some reason.
How many design options do you come up with?
Again, this depends on the publisher. One large house (who shall remain nameless within this interview) had me chopping and changing visuals for one title, until I’d done twenty visuals – before they went back to the first design I’d supplied! Again, proof that too many people get involved in the cover meetings. For me, these jobs are never cost effective, and the amount of work isn’t compensated within my fee, because I am still paid per cover, and not for the time spent.
But usually I will supply three or four ideas for a title. Of course if W H Smith don’t like any of them, then I have to start again.
Did you have any input on the design for your own book?
Oh don’t get me started on the Fledgling cover J . Fledgling had been on the Authonomy website for eighteen months before TWRP contracted it. So I had designed a low res cover, which I’d got used to, and quite liked. A couple of years ago I designed a lot of covers for Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon and had become jaded with seeing large male faces dominating paranormal covers, so I really didn’t want a man on the cover. Also a lot of the US paranormal covers have these bare-chested Chippendale types pouting out from the covers, and they couldn’t be further away from my elegant aristocratic, British Will.
TWRP always send out a cover briefing form to the author which we, in turn, fill in with our preferences for colour, design etc. As you can imagine, I wrote a fairly detailed cover brief, where I implored them not to put a man on the cover. They put a man on the cover! Thankfully not bare-chested, but absolutely nothing like the character I’d described. They also added a gigantic raven (why?) and (in my opinion) horrible plonky typography on the back cover, which really made my teeth hurt. But to be fair, designing for a designer is possibly the worst commission ever.
Which do you prefer designing or writing?
That’s a difficult question. I love both, and I feel really privileged to do both.
Sometimes I can be designing a cover when a writing idea pops up in my head, or a conversation I think might work, then I have to write it down before I forget. Alternatively I might think of a design when I’m writing, so I’ll stop writing and design instead. But generally, I try to design all day, and then start writing after 6pm.
Thanks so much for dropping by Berni, it’s been lovely having you here. Good luck with the writing and designing.
Thank you for inviting me, it’s been a pleasure!
Follow Berni on Twitter @circleoflebanon
And Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/berni.stevens.5?ref=tn_tnmn