Cherie Chapman, on Designing the Simon Brett Murder Mysteries

Designer Cherie Chapman has a knack for turning the intrigue of a novel’s plot into a series of captivating images for its cover. Chapman’s passion and talent for creating book covers continues to earn her high-profile projects, including a recent redesign of the Simon Brett murder mysteries. Canongate’s new imprint, Black Thorn, commissioned Chapman to rework 14 of Brett’s titles. Editors at Black Thorn thought the series needed a more illustrative approach, and they sought Chapman’s particular gift for creating fiction book covers with zing. Chapman’s guiding principle for the Simon Brett series? Fun. Imagine it: a project infused with joy for both designer and potential readers alike. Here’s how Chapman made magic for these quirky, cozy murder mysteries.

Chapman began the massive redesign by doing her homework, arming herself with a knowledge of the stories she was charged with converting to image. “This was the first of 14, starting with The Liar in the Library. I wanted to have fun with the concepts, as the brief was quite open to ideas. I started with reading the manuscript to get a feel for the book, characters, crime scene, village and surroundings,” Chapman said. “After making notes, I then began picture researching and jotting down ideas.” These were her first concepts:

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“I concentrated more on the ideas of being quiet in the library, accusation, suspects and the scene of the crime. The team at Black Thorn books decided to go forward with the top left visual. The scenery design approach fits within this genre and can also be adapted over a whole series,” Chapman said. “[I got feedback] to change the title type to something more straight and to add in an extra element of crime.”

Chapman returned to the drawing board with her editors’ comments in mind. “In my next round, I amended the title type to a lovely, bold, straight serif typeface and inserted the crime scene tape element. Having it at the bottom helps separate the title and quote nicely,” Chapman said. “It is also a great device to go across all the books, so it’s easily recognisable as a set of books. It stands out in a digital format and the colour can be adapted to compliment each cover.” 

In-house editors and the author happily approved the second round of designs. “Then it was onto designing the next six and I proceeded to read the first third of each manuscript. This helped me to get a sense of each crime scene, and it’s environment, for the cover elements and layout,” Chapman said. “I sent off very rough sketches to get it all approved before taking it any further.” 

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Once the second round of images were approved, Chapman began picture researching and illustrating the scenery to a final finish. Her efforts ultimately revealed a series of colorful, quirky, and captivating covers that sing from the shelves. 

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“I’ve had a lot of fun working on these covers and think they will look great all together.” Chapman said. “I can’t wait to work on the next seven and to complete the whole set.”

Mary Ryan Karnes is a freelance writer and a Master's candidate in fiction at the University of Southern Mississippi.