We needed a book cover!
I’d finished the manuscript, but we still didn’t have a book cover that we loved. I needed to hold the cover lovingly in my hands. I wanted to feel the warmth of it when I hugged it to my chest but most of all I wanted Samilya and I to experience a burst of pride when we said, “this is our book”. How could we get one photo to represent the trauma and complexity of Samilya’s life?
We weren’t without ideas and had two photoshoots where beautiful photos were taken. In my head I had this ethereal image of Samilya walking into the distance, holding the hand of her younger self. Both photographers captured the image as I’d described it. I loved the photos, and one of them appears in the book… but they didn’t call to Samilya or myself in the way that we needed for a cover.
We had a couple of old photos of Samilya as a child, but they were poor quality and not compelling. We also had some photos of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol, but I didn’t want that ugly, horrible place on our cover.
I hate this book cover!
Then the publisher came up with a concept, which quite frankly I hated. They had another go, kept the concept but tweaked it, I hated it more. Friends I showed it to also disliked it. How do you diplomatically tell someone you hate their work? Aagh…. it wasn’t meant to be like this. They were meant to come up with a wonderful concept, I didn’t even see myself as a writer and I certainly wasn’t a cover designer. I was exhausted and burdened by the book, I so wanted to hand this part of the process over. The publisher had finished with the manuscript, the pressure was on, only the cover was stopping publication.
Peyton Blake to the rescue!
In despair, I sat on the couch late on a Saturday night scrolling through stock photos “I’ll just buy something” I thought. Disappointed that although Samilya and I had both put our hearts into the book, the cover would be impersonal, disconnected from us. That Saturday night I found a picture of a sad girl sitting on a step, “maybe this will do”.
Then I turned to my friend who was staying with me, Peyton Blake. “You take photos of fashion models: do you think you could recreate this photo for me if I get a model tomorrow”. “I can do better than that photo” she responded.
First thing in the morning, I called the young model’s mum with inspiration brewing… “Can I borrow your daughter for a couple of hours, now?” I begged. Thankfully our model was available, and I could see Peyton eyes dancing with creativity and relishing the challenge of bringing our inspiration to life.
Then Peyton realised she was missing the specific memory card she needed to store images on her camera. That tiny memory card was held up in storage due to Covid, as Peyton was only passing through on her travels north. Peyton rang camera stores trying to locate a card but none were available close by. My heart plummeted, more lost time, more delays, did this mean no cover?
Peyton had seen billboard images advertised as being shot by a phone, so she convinced me that she could take the photos on her phone and get the quality we needed for the cover. We arrived at our location, a professional photographer and an apprehensive author, ready to ‘shoot’ using a mobile phone.
A professional photographer, an apprehensive author and a mobile phone on a shoot.
Peyton used her skills and experience to style the model, keeping my concept in mind, and we ventured around the neighbourhood, searching out steps and spaces to capture photos of a sad girl destined for a book cover.
As Peyton captured multiple images, she showed me the photos. She knew I wanted a specific look, but she also knew that it was about an elusive feeling, something that would convey the trauma, isolation and despair of Samilya’s life. The images were beautiful, but nothing quite captivated me…..yet. The model’s mum suggested another location, by this point I was disheartened. I’d almost had enough but reluctantly agreed to one last stop.
The perfect photo for our book cover
This time Peyton took the model a short distance away, and mum and I stood back chatting distractedly in the distance. Peyton believed the model would relax with fewer eyes on her. I believe it was in this quiet, intimate moment that Peyton and the model formed a bond and created the storyline. Then there it was, the perfect photo, of a sad, lonely, traumatised little girl captured empathetically and brilliantly by Peyton. There was no doubt in my mind that Peyton had captured exactly the photo I needed. Thankfully, Samilya wholeheartedly agreed.
Peyton later told me she felt great pride and satisfaction in being able to bring my image to life, knowing Samilya and I could now hold our book in our arms with the burst of pride I had hoped for.
And the model – that’s Samilya’s youngest granddaughter.
Our hearts are full of love, gratitude, delight and pride each time we pass our precious book over to a new owner.
Thank you, Peyton.
You can follow Peyton Blake on Instagram: