WHICH? COVER

Once you have written a book, and you know it is going to be published, then you have to think about what your book is going to look like.

Of course, the cover needs to reflect what the book is about, but most importantly it needs to grab the attention of potential readers, to make them want to pick your book out of millions of others on offer.

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The cover for Glass Bead Jewelry Projects, with all my original photography

Covers are a very personal thing and Rod and I have some experience in this field. I’ve previously written “Glass Bead Jewelry Projects” and have battled with the GMC (Guild of Master Craftsmen), the publishers of the book and their designers about the layout, the formatting of my photographs of the beads and jewellery featured in the book and the cover. Having done all my own photography I was keen these were featured on the cover and though, initially, GMC suggested using their own photographer to take cover shots when they saw my masterworks … False modesty aside, the great thing was that GMC made these into a very arresting cover.

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Invent-10N – the “eye” is created out of lots and lots of photos of me singing jazz

Rod has written and had published the “Demi-Monde” series and “Invent-10N”, and a lot of work has gone into the covers for those books. The Invent-10N cover, created together with Nigel Robinson of “Everything But The Product”, is especially close to my heart: it uses lots and lots of tiny photos of me when I was singing jazz. They are arranged in the shape of an eye, echoing one of the main themes of the story: beware, PanOptika are watching you.

 

"Jazz Noir" CD
“Jazz Noir” CD

And talking of jazz, even before I started writing, Rod and I recorded and produced the “Jazz Noir” album. The front cover of the CD shows my profile with a surrounding pattern of a strange design: is this flowers, or tiny paper cut-outs, or what? In fact, the young designer who we were working with on the artwork was very inventive. In order to get this strange pattern, he apparently grew some moss around the photo … a vegetarian CD cover no less!.

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My original take on the Ghost Love cover – the day of the worst ecological disaster in Moscow, summer 2008

For “Ghost Love” I was looking for something that would portray ever-lasting love, but also that would alert the reader about the slightly super-natural aspect of the story. After hours of going through various photos and drawings I found this, which I thought reflected the novel’s theme in the best way: [photo]. Two figures, walking hand in hand in Red Square in Moscow, this evidenced by the star on top of the Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin. In my view, the star needed to be slightly augmented and coloured red. The provenance of the photo is interesting: apparently it was taken on the day of the worst ecological disaster in August 2008, when the peat bogs around Moscow smouldered in the heat of the Russian summer creating this eerie-looking air.

GhostLove-lgA FBI had a feeling though that this photo might be a bit too subtle for a paperback cover and so it proved. Phaze obviously thought the Russian connection needed to be emphasized and they did this by incorporating a hammer and sickle into the design. So now we have St Basil’s cathedral with a young woman and a young man, standing together holding hands, surrounded by an aura that represents Tonia’s Shining World. And the hammer and sickle? That’s cleverly been made part of the book’s title. All-in-all a very good cover. Thank you, Phaze!

MOVIES AND TV SHOWS I REMEMBER

From what I can understand, the only Soviet movie people in the West have ever heard of is The Battleship Potemkin! In fact the Soviet Union produced some terrific films and these are three that made an impression on me when I was growing up in Moscow.

“Seventeen Moments of Spring”

Great poster for this film, and Viacheslav Tikhonov looks so handsome!
Great poster for this film, and Vladislav Tikhonov looks so handsome!

Seventeen Moments of Spring was a TV series (there were twelve episodes) first screened in 1973. A real must-see TV event that had everyone in my family (and the rest of the USSR) glued to the screen.

It told the story of a KGB agent – a sort of Russian James Bond – named Maxim Issaev (played by the gorgeous Vladislav Tikhonov) who was operating as a double-agent. He’s given the mission to disrupt the negotiations between those sneaky Americans and those terrible Germans in 1945, the Americans and the Germans plotting to make peace and then turn on the oh-so-heroic and noble USSR. Apparently watching this is what persuaded Putin to join the KGB!

Also everybody knows the song from these series: “I beg you, my sadness, please leave me, if only for a very short while; like a little grey cloud, please fly to my home, from here to my home…”

The Dawns Here Are Quiet

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And here they are.

A tear-jerker of a movie. Boy, did I cry! Set in 1942 it follows the adventures of a group of five young girls in the Red Army being trained as anti-aircraft gunners who suddenly find themselves having to fight the advancing Germans. They all die heroically, of course. I particularly identified with the character of Zhenya Komelkova (played by Olga Ostroumova) who was a real rascal (Zhenya’s fourth from the right in the photo).

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I couldn’t resist: here is Olga Ostroumova in her role as Zhenia Komelkova – so pretty!

A great, great movie. No wonder it was nominated for an Academy Award – but I have only just discovered this writing this blog post. Just shows how much information we had in the USSR about the outside world.

 

The Arrows of Robin Hood

I must have a thing for blokes with beards. I just adored Boris Khmelnitsky when he played Robin Hood in The Arrows of Robin Hood, a 1975 film directed by Sergei Tarassov. I so wanted to be Maid Marian (played to good effect in the film by Regina Razuma). This was how my love for English started: the following day I went to my school library and got a book on Robin Hood. There was some 60088489confusion, as the name “Hood” had been translated into Russian as “Good” and I ended up having a long debate with my History teacher about whether good old Robin was real or fiction. The teacher won. For now (he-he-he!).

One interesting thing was that I bought the film on video back in 2003 and it was different. When it was originally made its soundtrack featured songs by Raimonds Pauls (who became a huge star in the 1980s) but Goskino (the State organisation overseeing cinema in the USSR) didn’t like them (or had a falling out with the director or some other silly reason) and these were replaced by numbers by Vladimir Vysotsky. They were good, but they were not the ones I was looking for!

HAPPY EASTER!

Easter in the Soviet Union was officially non-existent. Ordinary people were not encouraged to celebrate religious holidays ‒ especially Easter or Christmas – and were most certainly not given time off work to do this. It was only the older generation – those who had retired ‒ who could go to church, but even that was frowned upon by the authorities. But this didn’t stop Russians celebrating Easter: you always knew it was Easter time because the shops would be totally sold out of eggs. This made breakfasts tricky: a traditional Russian breakfast comprised eggs with a piece of a thick sausage – “kolbasa” in Russian ‒ or a couple of small thin sausages, a bit like the ones in England, called “sossiski”. So, no eggs would mean porridge mornings.

This Easter egg has recently been given to me by a friend; it is made of wood and decorated in a pretty floral pattern. Happy Easter!
This Easter egg has recently been given to me by a friend; it is made of wood and decorated in a pretty floral pattern. Happy Easter!

Good Soviet citisen though she was, my mother would always dye eggs for Easter. The eggs bought in the shop were usually white, so using a bit of onion skin she would make them orangy-brown. This was fun for us, having these coloured eggs for breakfast. Then, on Easter Sunday we would go to visit Grandma, who would give us more eggs and a piece of “kulich” blessed in church. When we come to her flat, she would open the door and say, “Christos Voskres!” (Christ is Risen!) and we were to reply, “Voistinu Voskres!” (Indeed, He is Risen!) and we would exchange a kiss three times on alternate cheeks.

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This is a very traditional looking Russian Easter kulich that my Grandma used to make.

My Grandma went to church regularly. For Easter she would make her own “kulich”, something like a thick round bread with raisins, and she would dye eggs, and would take all that to church to be blessed. She would go on the Easter eve, to participate in the celebrations which would take place through the night. She would also fast for about 40 days – the Lent is the longest fast in the Christian calendar. Easter Sunday would be treated as a holiday (it was at the weekend, after all), with lots of salads, meat and chicken, and, of course, samogon – home-made vodka that my Grandma was famous for. It was a shame that you had to keep quiet about this when you went to school the following Monday. Lenin’s words “Religion is opium for masses” was a popular slogan used by the Communist party and one adhered to by many Russians. So you could never be sure, if you mentioned your family’s Easter celebrations, your friends wouldn’t tell on you to the teacher who would usually be a Party member.

What makes me laugh is that all those people at the top, who did not allow the ordinary people to pursue their religious beliefs and to perform their religion’s rituals, go to church now, light candles and pretend to be pious – hypocrisy in the highest!