Talking Location with author Tim Ewins – Goa
Novel set in Martha’s Vineyard, USA “the yellow book, with the yellow woman on it”)
13th July 2013
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman, novel set in Martha’s Vineyard, USA.
Summer of 2013, Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann was popping up everywhere – in the UK Mumsnet promoted it, the Richard and Judy Bookclub featured it in their Summer reads, and it was on the promotional tables of innumerable bookshops. So we were curious to see what the hype was about, especially as it is set in beautiful Martha’s Vineyard.
This novel centres around Tiger House, the name originally given by one of the family’s ancestors, in memory of President Roosevelt who back in the day was a big game hunter, and who was particularly fond of hunting tigers.
The story shuttles back and forth between eras – from 1944 to 1969 – and we see the plot unfolding through the eyes of the main players. Central are Daisy and Ed, who are the young cousins, and their respective Mothers Nick and Helena, and their respective husbands Hughes and Avery. It is an incredibly readable book, with a captivating style – there are vignettes of domestic life from the era, and ‘innocuous’ incidents, redolent of malice that punctuate the plot. The storyline increasingly feels quite claustrophobic, hot red of Summer as in “red weather” of the title – stultifying, enervating, sapping, vision-blurring…. just like when thunder clouds hang heavy and something momentous is about to happen. The reader is watching and waiting, absorbing the pungent smells of perspiring island life. We are spectating, just like Ed, who himself is an observer, a voyeur, even, of events. Is he the tiger or the hunted, quietly and unobtrusively observing the comings and goings?
The central event in this book is the murder of an Hispanic maid, which lurks as a leitmotiv pulling the story together.
Each section is clearly titled and dated to keep the sequence flowing – we know which character is speaking and in which era it is set, but on occasion it can be a little hard to keep up.
Themes and events speckle the course of the book, but fade away without significance. The colour yellow pops up regularly at the beginning and there is anticipation that this colour might be relevant to the plot (afterall, it is the dominant colour of the the wonderful cover – but read on below!!!), however the references just evaporated. Early on, there are regular references to the perfume Lily of the Valley, but they, too, serve no function. There are copious references to tigers throughout the book, whether in the title, whether in material, dresses or cushions, and the final mention comes at the end, where we learn the title of the book has come from a line from a poem by American modernist poet, Wallace Stevens. Red herrings they aren’t. The references just float in time and space, distractions as we watch and wait…..
And, as it has one of the most beautiful covers we’ve ever seen, so eye-catching, capturing the feel of the period, we decided to contact the publishers, Pan Macmillan (@picadorbooks) to get the story behind the design; and we were thrilled when Lee Dibble, the Marketing and Communities Director, gave us the low-down on how the cover came into being:
The cover for Tigers in Red Weather didn’t conform to the usual design process – usually, the editor will brief the Art department and then they and the full commercial team go through a number of design ideas before those involved collectively decide on the right approach.
Tigers in Red Weather was different.
The manuscript came in to one of our weekly editorial meetings via Kate Harvey who had read it overnight and was absolutely hooked, we knew then we’d need to move quickly. Things were hotting up with publishers all over town and, to secure the book we’d need to put together a pitch document for the author and agent (which is a publishing plan/approach). I’d read the book in one sitting, and as I work in the Marketing department, my head was buzzing with all the potential visual ideas for the pitch, which I put together. I enlisted the help of a very talented freelance designer – Simon Dovar from Binary and the Brian – to source images that would bring to the novel to life visually. It was pretty intense 48 hours. I knew I wanted a woman in a yellow swimsuit, just like Nick’s. We eventually found it in an old Vogue magazine, it’s a real photograph from the 1950’s by Tom Palumbo – who was incredibly talented and award winning photographer, you’ll get lost in his website.
Once we won the rights to publish the book, I created early reading copies (or proofs) using the image as the front cover, with the same crop. I didn’t want to show her face, I thought she looked more like my impression of Nick with the imperious full red mouth. I knew it was special when every woman who walked past my desk would pick up a copy and stroke it. Nine months later we got to the real jacket design and we had two different versions to choose from. It came down to a vote in the end (which doesn’t usually happen) and the yellow lady won out! We changed the bench colour to yellow (it was green), as it helps readers remember a book, particularly a debut. Quite often people will say, ‘The yellow book, with the yellow woman on it’. With the paperback cover, our very talented in-house designer Jo Thompson came up with a new take on the lettering and placing it on an angle to make it more daring and bold. It was very smart move. I think she’s managed to make a retro image contemporary and relevant, just like the book in many ways.
Thank you to Lee for sharing these hugely interesting insights!