June 24th, 2022

Cover Version

As I write this it’s June 23rd, 2022. In some ways it’s been a pretty normal day. My partner, Siena Barnes, and I spent the morning at a flea market where I picked up some stock for my antique shop, we had katsu curry for lunch at this place we like then came home and hung out together. We watched some TV, ate a curry I made and drank tea.

But today things are different. Something has shifted, although you’d have to look closely to notice it. The clue is the small stack of books on the kitchen table. The book is a novel called Twenty Sixteen, it was published today and I wrote it.

The first chapter of the book was written forever ago. There was a long period where the demands of day-to-day life made writing seriously impossible, so the chapter sat there on a computer like a classic car project in a dusty garage. I’d go in occasionally and polish a headlight or pump up a tyre, but it wasn’t progress, not really. Then circumstances changed and the stars aligned and I had this period of three, maybe four months where all I did was write and at the end of it that dusty old chapter had become a shiny new novel.

A few things helped in the process. The first was the realisation that I was writing the novel for me, not some imagined reader or critic. I was writing a book I’d want to read and that if anyone else liked it, it would be a bonus. That realisation bought with it freedom, and that freedom made writing the thing a joy.

The second was a suggestion of Siena’s. Whenever I talked about the book, I’d describe it as an object rather than just words on a page. Central to that was the cover. I wanted it to be psychedelic, a counterpoint to the cookie cutter sleeves that line the shelves of bookshops in their thousands. Siena suggested I create the cover, draw it up, make it real, so I did. The result was a page of one of Siena’s sketchbooks with a girl and a title and my name drawn on that sat atop the TV in the farmhouse we were renting. It was naively done and the wrong shape and highlighted why I’m a writer rather than an artist, but it was a cover. All I needed to do now was finish all the words to go in it.

Covers are important. When I think of the books that I’ve loved, the ones that have shocked or changed me, the ones that made the real world seem slightly less interesting than the one I was reading about, I think of the cover. I think of A Clockwork Orange and American Psycho, I think of the Penguin Baudelaire anthology and the dime store Jim Thompsons I’ve collected for years.

The publisher that my agents, Isy and Caroline, (every writer needs an Isy and a Caroline) placed the book with are an open-minded bunch, so open-minded that when I told them that I wanted to design the cover myself, they agreed. It was time to make that drawn on page of Siena’s sketchbook real.

At this point, you need to know more about Siena. She’s an ex-go go dancer turned multi-media artist who, at the time all of this was happening, was making a series of movies, isolating stills from them and presenting them as works in an exhibition called The Night Star that she held in a tumble down country chateau in the wilds of Yorkshire.

One of the stills had been turned into a piece called Yellow Spread. It’s from a film of Siena’s where she dances in leopard skin Agent Provocateur lingerie as a sun blazes behind her. It’s killer and was perfect for the cover.

Yellow Spread.

The Night Star.

Siena Barnes


Siena played with the colours for me and added text, including a line from a recommendation that Michael Stewart had given the book when he finished reading it. It went through a bunch of iterations until we were both happy and now, well, I just think it’s fucking perfect.

I’m proud the cover for Twenty Sixteen. It’s psychedelic, sexy and tough. As an object the book pleases me and sits well in the library of my mind next to all of the other covers I’ve loved. If I happened across it in a bookshop, I’d pick it up. I might even buy it.

Lee Bullman






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