Vintage's Creative Director describes the process of designing the covers for the new Julian Barnes novel, The Only Story
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The Cover Story: Suzanne Dean on designing the covers for the new Julian Barnes novel

1st February 2018 - Suzanne Dean

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The Cover Story

Suzanne Dean on designing the covers for the new Julian Barnes novel


Julian Barnes is the author of twelve novels, including The Sense of an Ending, which won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and Flaubert's Parrot. He has also written three books of short stories, four collections of essays and two books of non-fiction. In 2017 he was awarded the Legion d'honneur. His new book, The Only Story, a masterful tale of first love and loss, describes nineteen-year-old Paul's relationship with a much older, married woman and how the demands placed on him by love become far greater than he could possibly have foreseen. Below, exclusively for Foyles, Vintage's Creative Director, Suzanne Dean, describes the process by which she arrived at the artwork for the regular hardback edition and for Foyles' exclusive, limited edition of 1500 copies only (bottom right), which comes with a cream dust jacket and ribboned marker and is signed by Julian Barnes. 



‘Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.


The Only Story opens in 1963 and is set in and around London. Paul, the narrator, is 19. He meets Mrs Susan MacLeod when they become tennis partners at the local surburban tennis club, and a relationship develops that lasts for many years, longer and deeper than anyone could ever have envisaged.

I worked up several themes in response to lines within the novel.

Susan is pictured sitting on a Chintz sofa and wearing a flowery dress. She declares, ‘I’m doing my disappearing act’. I developed a visual based on the idea that the woman Paul fell in love with can no longer be seen. The issue with this layout was how I would get lettering to read against the chintz and flowery backgrounds. I also didn’t want to reveal Susan’s face. A Fellini film poster inspired these layouts.Covers


The most vulnerable spot in doubles is down the middle’: a witty remark by Susan which relates both to their tennis partnership and their relationship. I looked for period photographs that could be boldly cropped. 

Did it say enough about the novel? I tried a couple of visuals featuring a torn and damaged photograph of a couple.



Susan is described as having unusual ears, that were discreet with an almost absent lobe. 

This was all part of her absolute distinctiveness.’ For this approach, I cropped an image of Susan that didn't reveal her face but did show her ear. For an authentic period feel I used 1960s book covers as an inspiration for my layouts.


I do remember a broad, empty beach somewhere. Perhaps it was Camber Sands. We photographed one another with my camera... I was wearing a tie, that's another detail. I had taken off my jacket to do handstands for her. The tie falls straight down the middle of my upturned face, obscuring my nose, dividing me into two halves. Backhand and forehand.’ 


It was tricky finding a period photograph that came close to portraying this scene. This image was photoshopped.

Handstand covers


 ‘Things aren’t what they look like Paul. That’s the only lesson I can teach you.’

The 1960s saw the growth of colour printing and abstract art. I devised a series of abstract covers, influenced by the work of Paul Rand and Alvin Lustig. Both designers are heroes of mine and were profilic during the 60s. These visuals played on the idea of theorising about love and that first love fixes a life forever. 





Paul kept a hardback notebook for decades in which he wrote down people's comments about love. 

He assembled the evidence, then went through it, and crossed out all the quotations he no longer believed to be true. One phrase, ‘It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’ is crossed out, only to be rewritten by Paul. I developed this idea as a possible cover approach, but having the title appear twice on the cover is inherently complicated and the design needed to feel natural, which required a lot of thought.

When Susan finds the notebook she writes ...with your inky pen to make you hate me’. This helped evolve the cover further, and the smudges and waterstains also convey mood and narrative. For the special Foyles edition, I set the lettering against cream.

Barnes typographic covers



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