Jo Thomson on The Wonder

Jo Thomson is a designer working in-house for Pan Macmillan in London. Her portfolio includes the cover for Emma Donoghue's The Wonder. Contributor Vyki Hendy contacted Thomson about her process for creating the piece. Here is her process in her own words. 


Designing the cover for The Wonder was a slightly daunting prospect. To begin with I received the brief just as Emma’s best-selling novel Room hit the cinemas, raising hopes ever higher for her newest book. In addition the hardback cover of her previous book, Frog Music designed by Katie Tooke and illustrated by Emma Farrarons, is one of my personal favourites.

So no pressure then…

The Wonder is set in 1850’s Catholic Ireland. It centres around a supposedly miraculous young girl called Anna, who has stopped eating, claiming to survive on Manna (the mythical bread of heaven), and an English nurse called Lib who has been sent to uncover the truth of the girl’s condition. As the girl’s health deteriorates, Lib begins to unravel the dark truths rooted within the family. The novel mixes almost fanatic religiousness and superstition with scientific scepticism, against a harsh Irish landscape.

From the outset it was clear that the book should be a beautiful object as much as a gripping read. The publisher was keen not to use any photographs of wistful women in a moody Irish landscape, looking forlorn and lost, as the characters are both quite determined in their own ways.

Initially I looked at religious iconography and literature, playing around with illuminated type and stained glass windows. After presenting my initial ideas to the Publisher we decided that illuminated type was too medieval and heavy whilst stained glass was a bit too religious, so I decided to change tack.

Next I found myself drawn to the Catholic prayer cards and candlestick in Anna’s box of treasures and tried a few visuals based on those, before moving outside the box (well…house) and looking at the landscape and period. I explored some ideas with flowers, reasoning that prematurely dead flowers could be a metaphor for the weakening Anna, but these felt a bit flat and done, so I moved on to the land and the house itself.  This led me to the idea of using an image of the Wishing Tree from the novel, with rags hanging from it.

The final cover evolved from a great photo I found and worked up. After playing with textures and colours I ended up with a more graphic approach, adding gold foiled swirls to give a sense of holiness and divinity, masking the dark, corrupted landscape.

It's actually turned out to be one of my favourite designs I've done this year and I was beyond thrilled that Emma Donoghue was happy with it.