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Cover to cover: Ian Williams’ Not Anyone’s Anything

From the May 2011 issue of Q&Q: Designer Natalie Olsen walks readers through the steps involved in designing a cover that conveys the disturbing intensity of Ian Williams’ story collection Not Anyone’s Anything (Freehand Books).

I came up with this concept after reading Break-in, a story in the collection about a boy who breaks into a home and finds himself hiding under the stairs as his harmless prank becomes a criminal act. The mysterious tone of this cover is suitable for the tension in the book, but isn’t unsettling enough.

I then photographed a trio of chess pieces, inspired by a line in the title story that compares a relationship to a player controlling a pawn. My intent was to imply calculated aggression and shifts in power. However, I still felt the artwork needed to convey a more disturbing aspect.

Many of the book’s characters are destructive; to illustrate that, I literally wrecked a chessboard. I was highly confident about this one until the author confessed that whenever he sees chess paraphernalia, he feels uninvited to the cool kids’ party because he doesn’t know the rules. Neither do I, which is why I felt no remorse about cutting up a chessboard.

For the final version, I abandoned chess in favour of mirror shards, which feel more volatile and dangerous. By meticulously arranging the pieces near my piano, I attained some rich colours and interesting reflections. Overall, the tone of this cover is brighter than the others, but still successfully conveys the intensity of Williams’ work.