Suzanne Dean on Creating The Only Story

Suzanne Dean is the Creative Director at Vintage Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House UK. Here Dean describes her process for developing the book cover for The Only Story by Julian Barnes, in her own words.

‘Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.’

The Only Story, set in 1963, in and around London. Paul, the narrator is 19. He meets Mrs Susan MacLeod, when they become tennis partners at the local suburban tennis club. A relationship develops that lasts for 10-12 years.

I worked up several themes in response to lines within the novel, referencing printed matter from the period. Here are a selection of rejected visuals.


Paul kept a hardback notebook for decades in which he wrote what people said about love. He assembled the evidence, then went through it, and crossed out all the quotations he no longer believed to be true. One phrase, ‘It is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all’ is crossed out, only to be rewritten by Paul. I developed this idea as a possible cover approach, but having the title appear twice on the cover, is inheritably complicated and the design needed to feel natural. It required a lot of thought to achieve this.


When Susan finds the notebook she writes... ‘with your inky pen to make you hate me’. This helped evolve the cover further, and the smudges and water stains also convey mood and narrative. The back cover uses the quote that inspired the cover design. The main edition was set against a Basildon Bond blue.

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Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.