I interviewed Vicky for Dear Author after she was nominated for all those RITAs last year, and I found her delightful–she truly has a way of making people feel special. Putting together that interview was the first time I used a signature line in my emails–you know, one of those hyperlinked postscripts that let people know I was the author of a soon-to-be-published book.
And Vicky was the first person I didn’t personally know who clicked the link and came back to tell me, “That is a gorgeous cover!” So, as a nod to that bit of kindness, I’d thought I’d talk covers on my visit here.
First, there’s Betsey Dobson, the typewriter girl of the book’s title. Except I didn’t know that she was a typewriter girl at first. I just knew she’d be leaving London to start a new life in a Victorian-era seaside resort. So, how did she get there? Initially, I thought this image answered that question:
It depicts a common practice of the time, that of treating a group of disadvantaged children to a day in the country. Okay, I thought, Betsey can be a chaperone, and I put her in a scene where she distributed sandwiches to the children.
However, the more I wrote, the less this scenario worked. Betsey begins the story living with a man out of wedlock. She curses. There was no way any Victorian charity was going to put her in charge of a bunch of impressionable minds.
The other problem: a woman had to have leisure time in order to take children on a picnic, and working-class Betsey had precious little of that.
Revise, revise, and now Betsey gets the offer to come to Idensea while she’s on the typewriting job in London. By this time, I’d already found a guiding image for Betsey:
I love this woman. Her rolled-up sleeves, the worn boots, that purposeful gaze. Betsey worked in an office, not on a dock, but I knew the strength and grit of the woman in the picture was Betsey’s, too.
Cue the “time passes” music. Book bought, publication process begins to churn. My editor mentions an idea for the cover–Betsey at her desk with her typewriter, looking out the window to the pleasure pier that’s the town’s landmark. I love the idea of depicting Betsey at work and send this photo along to my editor:
There’s no typewriter or pier, but this woman was a manager at a hotel like the one where Betsey goes to work, doing a job many of the time would have considered better suited to a man.
More music. An attachment arrives from my editor. The finished cover:
Gorgeous. Absolutely. I felt lucky, because it was beautiful, and because it said important things about my story, and because if I saw a book with that cover, I would pick it up.
The one thing that mystified me was the girl.
Listen, I didn’t have a lot of illusions regarding the cover, despite being a new author. Most authors have little to no say on that, and book covers have one main job–attract people to the book, not illustrate the story.
But when you compare the image that had lived for so long inside my head with the cover girl…
…you might appreciate how I was thrown off. Betsey works, and this girl is out for a stroll. Betsey wears tweed and military-style jackets, not lace. So while I loved my cover, I didn’t believe I’d ever come to think of Cover Girl as Betsey.
Yet, over time I did. Those pictures side-by-side, I realize it is Cover Betsey who is looking forward. The girl gazing out from under the parasol is someone dreaming, and dreaming is something Betsey learns to do over the course of The Typewriter Girl. At the beginning of the story, she’s not one to permit herself the luxury of an idle stroll or a difficult-to-clean dress, but she learns to cut herself some slack.
Okay, so the difficult-to-clean dress she wears in the story gets ruined beyond rescue within a few hours of putting it on. I still like Cover Betsey. She reminds me that we all have much to look forward to.
Kati and Vicky, a thousand thanks for hosting me today. Readers, why don’t you let me know what you are looking forward to? We’ll choose a winner from the comments, and send you a copy of The Typewriter Girl.
When Betsey disembarks from the London train in the seaside resort of Idensea, all she owns is a small valise and a canary in a cage. After attempting to forge a letter of reference she knew would be denied her, Betsey has been fired from the typing pool of her previous employer. Her vigorous protest left one man wounded, another jilted, and her character permanently besmirched. Now, without money or a reference for her promised job, the future looks even bleaker than the debacle behind her. But her life is about to change . . . because a young Welshman on the railroad quay, waiting for another woman, is the one man willing to believe in her.
Mr. Jones is inept in matters of love, but a genius at things mechanical. In Idensea, he has constructed a glittering pier that astounds the wealthy tourists. And in Betsey, he recognizes the ideal tour manager for the Idensea Pier & Pleasure Building Company. After a lifetime of guarding her secrets and breaking the rules, Betsey becomes a force to be reckoned with. Now she faces a challenge of another sort: not only to outrun her sins, but also to surrender to the reckless tides of love. . . .
Alison Atlee spent her childhood re-enacting “Little Women” and trying to fashion 19th century wardrobes for her Barbie dolls. Happily, these activities turned out to be good preparation for writing historical novels.