Daily Archives: September 28, 2011

Bones & Maggots – A presentation by the Natural History Museum to The Crime Writers Association.

Once again I find myself grateful to the power of twitter for spotting the mention of this interesting event held by The CWA at The George pub on Strand last night.

CWA Director Claire McGowan, whose own debut crime novel The Fall is due from Headline early 2012, announced that for this event the invitation was open wider than usual.  This was to encourage a few bloggers and reviewers along, and those who could qualify to join the CWA but had yet to sign up.  That, and the opportunity to sit in on a very interesting presentation about Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Entomology made the trip into town very worthwhile indeed.

Due to the nature of some of the material shown on slides and the fact that much of the work formed pat of one of the presenter’s current PHD work meant that, once the talk was underway, photography was banned and it’s best I don’t provide too much specific detail here.  There were some areas and images which I really would have struggled to have found the words to describe anyhow, and it was quote interesting to see which writers in the room squirmed the most when presented with death and decay at such close quarters, despite it being on a screen.

Both speakers were from the Natural History Museum and it became apparent very early on just how often their skills are called into play by the Police when cases require their expertise on determining time of death.  The ‘Grissom’ effect (so named because of the CSI character) is something they are in constant battle with, when the Police at crime scenes expect immediate answers and timelines to death, without giving them the time required to fully analyse the body, body part , bone or the parasites that have done their work on the corpse.

Heather Bonney – Forensic Anthropologist at NHM manages the human remains collection there – her workplace lined with boxes and boxes of skeletal remains and their stories.  Whilst her stories were gruesome at times (it will be sometime before I can forget an image of a child carrying Somerfield carrier bags of bones he had dug up and taken home to identify in a book before taking them to the crime scene and giving them to the investigators) it was the second speaker’s work that was, well, fresher and more disturbing.

Amoret Whitaker is a Forensic Entomologist at NHM, she’s the maggots and bugs lady if you will.  Her work on decomposition and specifically the work she is involved in at the Body Farm in Tennessee provided some horrific images but all in the name of science.

The skills employed by both disciplines are clearly painstaking in their detail, the slightest slip up in the identification of an insect or in the temperature in which a body has been kept was clearly illustrated to potentially give the Police the wrong information in terms of time of death.  It was well illustrated that these sciences cannot be rushed, but likewise that there have been huge advances in the kit at their disposal to do their work.  And, as Amoret admitted, thanks to shows like CSI, she no longer has to explain what her job title means when she meets people at parties.

A very interesting and thought provoking evening, with several pens zipping across notebooks in the room – it will be interesting to see which of the cases mentioned will pop up in some shape or form in future crime fiction from some of the names in the room.

My thanks to Claire and all at the CWA for allowing me to come along to experience the event and I’m looking forward to hearing more about future events and the proposal mentioned that plans are afoot to further involve bloggers, reviewers and readers in the CWA in the future.  



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The most ‘striking’ book jackets in modern Crime Fiction – Designer James Edgar drops in for a chat.

A little while back at the wonderful Goldsboro Books  for the launch of the great first adult crime novel by Eoin Colfer, PLUGGED, Headline’s Sam Eades kindly introduced me to James Edgar, the man behind the great iconic cover (see left).

Now, I’m very pleased to be able to be able to offer something a bit different in that this is not a book review, or an author interview, but a great chat with someone who is behind one of the most important parts of book-buying – the jacket.  Something that in the e-edition age is probably more important than ever to pursuade  wavering purchasers that a great hardcover would look very cool on their bookshelf rather than just hitting a download button on their pc or ereader.

So, here we go for a chat with James Edgar….

Keith B Walters:  I love the book jacket for PLUGGED and those you’ve created for the Bateman books – all are very striking and iconic, was the design a conscious shift from the brooding dark highways and images we see on so many crime books?
James Edgar: Definitely! As a designer it is my duty to push the Client/Editor/Author into creating something that is progressive and yet still answers the brief. Generally speaking it is very difficult to convince a Publisher to break the mould and style of a certain genre, especially crime fiction. The “brooding dark highways” you talk of and the classic silhouetted man is the crime genre’s style and some briefs actually specify that it needs to look like that, so there is not much room for creativity.
I am really pleased with how Plugged turned out. Germany have just decided to use my artwork for all their editions. It’s a great feeling to feel that your work is  appreciated, especially internationally!
KBW: How much of a brief are you given by the publishing teams?
JE: Briefs have been getting better and better over recent years. The more detail in the brief, the more chance the designer has of creating a cover that fits the content and something that people want to buy. A vague brief can lead to hours of design time and money being wasted. A good brief does the opposite and includes everything from a detailed synopsis, story specifics and more to comparable covers and competitors.
KBW: Do you always get to read the whole book first?  Or are you working from a basic outline story or pitch they give you?
JE: No not always. In the case Plugged, yes. I was fortunate to have been given the brief and manuscript together and actually read it on my iPhone. Sometimes the author hasn’t written the book, so a detailed synopsis and maybe the first few chapters are available. In these cases a good briefing by the Editor is essential.
KBW: In the case of Bateman, is there any truth you’re aware of that it was to boost sales by people squinting and thinking they were BATMAN books (as Colin joked at Harrogate last year) ?

JE: Not that I know of. I think that has been a joke of Colin’s since the publisher decided to lose his forename.  Personally, I have nothing against the name Colin but visually ‘Bateman’ looks good so I didn’t argue against losing it.
KBW: Do you have any/much contact with the authors prior to working on their jackets or during the process?
JE: It is very rare. In Publishing, the designer tends to have less interaction with the author than in other design roles where the designer works closely with the client. But in Publishing, there are other areas like Publicity, Sales and the Editor who all work very closely with the author so the designer solely concentrates on the cover.
I was fortunate to meet both Colin Bateman and Eoin Colfer after their books were printed and both were very complimentary. I think it is nice for the Author to meet the person who designed their cover.

However, you are more likely to work with the author during the design process if you design the insides of a book. I recently spent two days in a room with Peter Kay working on the insides of his new book, The Book that’s more than just a Book-Book. Now that was a surreal few days.
KBW: With PLUGGED, did you submit many versions, or were the publishers sold on the great design we have now straight away?
JE: It is quite rare that your first visual goes through, but for Plugged the general feel was not that far from what went to print. I was actually up against two other designers and my route was chosen to develop.
KBW: Is the figure on PLUGGED actually Eoin Colfer?  Or you ?
JE: It is neither of us. The figure represents the main character Daniel McEvoy. I’m sure Eoin won’t mind me saying this, but neither he, nor I resemble the character on the front.
KBW: Are you a big crime fiction reader yourself?  If so, any favourite authors?
JE: I do enjoy Crime Fiction and Bateman’s books are right up my street but I wouldn’t say I am a ‘big’ crime fiction reader. I like Stephen King, Christopher Brookmyer among others but I read all sorts of books. I read a lot of Biographies and Sport books. I’m reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell at the moment which is fascinating.
KBW: I know that you also design alternative football shirts – have there been any discussions to produce t-shirts from your book jacket designs?  I see no reason why, with sports fans and music fans wearing their favs, that us bookish types shouldn’t be given the same treatment.
JE: I don’t see why not. At http://wearwereyou.com/ the idea is so big we have decided to concentrated on a certain niche first and grow from there.

KBW:Can you reveal anything crime fans can look forward to seeing from you?
JE: I have been working on various crime books of late and for one particular Publisher I recently designed a new look for a very well known Crime Author. I was really pleased with the designs and thought they were very strong, but this time the Publisher wanted to stick to a safer route by another designer. One that was more like a step forward more than a leap. It’s disappointing but this is all part of the job. Follow me on Twitter @edgar_uk  and I will post up any new work.
KBW: Is there a favourite book that you’d love to do a jacket re-design for?
JE: As I mentioned, I also design the insides of books. So to design a large colour book and its cover or maybe a series style would be great. A series style for an author like Martin Amis or a cook book for a top restaurant like El Bulli would be something special.

Many thanks to James for his time and, if you’d like to contact him regarding his work then please email him at James.edgar@me.com.
James is also Director of design agency:
and clothing label:



Filed under Interviews