Peter Adlington Details His Design Process for That Was A Shiver

Peter Adlington is a Senior Designer for Canongate Books of London. Among the covers in his portfolio is James Kelman’s That Was A Shiver. Here he details his process for the piece in his own words.

Prior to That Was a Shiver I’d just finished the paperback design for James Kelman’s Dirt Road and the Editor was keen to follow this style through on this new book of short stories.  


Due to the range of narratives and themes in short stories I think you’re offered the opportunity to be less direct with your communication than with a novel so echoing Dirt Road closely and using a central motif didn’t feel needed. I decided to try and create a cover using just the lines, partly as a challenge to myself to see if I could convey the unique mood of James’s writing with a really sparse toolkit. Initial ideas using pattern were boring and really didn’t say anything so I looked to include some sort of narrative device.


The stories, like much of James’s writing, are very candid, very introspective, often written in the first person to allow the idiosyncrasies of the character’s inner dialogues to take the lead. I didn’t particularly want to put a figure on the cover as it felt a bit obvious but I thought I could start there and see where else it went. As it happens I then remembered that I’d done a drawing a year or so ago of a figure using lines which lent itself well to being adapted for this cover.   

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The first few attempts weren’t great, having a man in profile gave the cover too much of a male bias and wasn’t particularly appealing in general. Taking the figure out of profile and making the lines less regimented helped to loosen it all up so this is what I took forward. I felt I was onto something with the deep blue colourway but it was definitely too cold and needed something to lift it without changing the mood too much. 

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The final cover added some colour to the lines and after some discussion over type hierarchy (having the author name in the figures head made people feel it was a portrait of him) we ended up with this.


The pattern wraps round the jacket and it was very simply just printed on uncoated stock. It’s probably the most moody jacket I’ve done but I hope people can still see that there is a vibrant energy to the writing.

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Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.