Creating a window display for CECILY by Annie Garthwaite
Very often we are asked about our window displays: who paints them, what sort of paint do we use, how do we choose which books get full displays? Our latest window for historical novel, CECILY, has attracted a great deal of attention, so I asked my fellow bookseller, and our artist, Tamsin Rosewell some questions.
Charlotte: There are many thousands of books published every year! With so much on offer, how do you choose which books become window displays?
Tamsin: Oh there are FAR too many books published! Penguin alone is publishing several hundred a month, and if you multiply that by five large publishing companies and then 650 smaller ones, that’s one hell of a lot of books! It can be really hard to choose, but the first thing I do is ensure that I’m not picking the book that every Waterstones, WHSmith’s and half of the other indie bookshop woul
d have in their window displays. I don’t really see the point in us doing what every other bookshop is doing; that adds nothing, and I could use that energy to really boost a book that hasn’t already got that attention. I’m looking for a book that I know will sell well for us. The key to that is a combination of having a strong instinct for the right book at the right moment, and knowing your customers. In practical terms, I’m looking for book with a cover design in bright colours, preferably with foils; our windows have full-on sun hitting them for half the day, if I put in a book with dark colour design, or with a mat finish for example, you just wouldn’t see it. There are loads of books that I love and support passionately, but I’d never put them in a window display. I also want to make sure that both the author and the publisher can really make the best use of my effort to create them a display. As a bookseller you learn very quickly which are the publishers who never bother to retweet or even ‘like’ your efforts to support their books, even when they’ve asked us to do events or promotions for them (rude!), so I just avoid them. I think this is really sad for their authors though. So I am looking for a book the creators of which understand the importance of using social media, and who I think will be able to make the best use of the photographs of their window. This really doesn’t mean I look for the ones with big followings – not at all, I’ve seen enthusiastic authors get more traction with 30 followers than large publishing houses manage with 60,000!
Charlotte: so why Cecily? There are lots of great historical novels out at the moment, so why this one?
Tamsin: Cecily by Annie Garthwaite leaped out at me immediately; the subject is perfect for our historical town (Kenilworth Castle even features in the book), and I just loved the book! It is so stunningly well written that I could see that it would sell from word of mouth if we just gave it a little shove in the right direction! A bookseller can tell a genuine buzz about a book from the marketing-generated hype of a publisher, a hundred miles from London.
Lots of my friends in other bookshops, both indie shops and Waterstones, were talking about Cecily. Even though I do tend to work mainly on Children’s books I couldn’t resist the mutterings about this one. It is really a remarkably powerful piece of writing; gripping from the first to the final pages. The opening sequence is in Rouen, France, 1431, when Joan of Arc is led through the streets to be burned; watching, and holding her nerve, is Cecily Neville, young wife of Richard Duke of York – Royal blood and an heir to the Throne of England. The flames that burn la Pucelle, add their own spark to the growing heat between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. We then get to watch the Wars of the Roses unfold – but we see it all looking over the shoulder of this extraordinary woman, Cecily Neville. When we did our event with Annie at Kenilworth Castle it was really clear just how much research she’s done over the years – and her knowledge and care with historical detail really shows. It is this that makes the difference between just reading a great book, and actually feeling that you’re there with Cecily as the conflict mounts. CECILY is a truly astonishing debut. It has everything! Power. Politics. A play for the throne. But this is politics as women play it, and war as women fight it. A proper game of thrones! That’s a lot to get into a window display, so I needed to create a design that really packed a punch. When I’m creating a display, I’m often very aware that not only am I shouting about a book, but I’m also introducing everyone to a novelist. When you see our display for Cecily, yes I want you to meet Cecily, but I also want you to feel that you’ve just been introduced to Annie Garthwaite.
Charlotte: The people who live locally and who get to walk past our windows love them, and often come by to watch you painting, but I notice that you go to great length to get good photos of the display too – even coming to the shop at 6am to get the photos before the light hits the window.t book, and actually feeling that you’re there with Cecily as the conflict mounts. CECILY is a truly astonishing debut. It has everything! Power. Politics. A play for the throne. But this is politics as women play it, and war as women fight it. A proper game of thrones! That’s a lot to get into a window display, so I needed to create a design that really packed a punch. When I’m creating a display, I’m often very aware that not only am I shouting about a book, but I’m also introducing everyone to a novelist. When you see our display for Cecily, yes I want you to meet Cecily, but I also want you to feel that you’ve just been introduced to Annie Garthwaite.
Tamsin: Yes! The photos are really important! In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the point of the displays are the photographs – it’s nice for the people who live locally, but good photos ensure that the author, publicist and publisher can really use our work to support the book nationally too. As people can order books from our shop from anywhere in the country, it seems intelligent to ensure that they too get to see the windows and feel part of that side of what we do. If I try to take photos after about 11am, I often just get a photo filled with reflections from the car park! One white van in the background can totally ruin a display. I know exactly which filters will push back or flatten reflections, and exactly which filters will blur the background. I filter without mercy! When you walk past our windows you get a sort of shock of colour and pattern – people often stop in their tracks and say ‘wow!’ out loud. I filter the photos to ensure that people seeing the images on twitter or Instagram experience that same shock of surprise and wonder.
Charlotte: What do you use to paint the windows? People are always asking if you have special materials.
Tamsin: No I don’t at all!! What I use is easily available and not expensive. Mostly, I use chalk pens. Any brand really. At the moment I love Arteza ones because they have a fantastic range of colours, and also do metallic chalks. If you take a book like Cecily, you can see that I need to match a pink that is very bright and rich – it isn’t pastel or Disney-girly pink, it’s a full-on sensual, womanly lipstick rose-in-full-bloom colour. So having a wide range of colours was really helpful. I did colour testing patched on the window for this one.
Colour tends to flatten and look paler from the outside, so I was checking that the colour looked right outside, not just the inside. Sometimes people recommend acrylic pens – and they do work, but you need to be really careful with acrylic as it can stain the anti-shatter filter used on lots of modern commercial glass. I’d always recommend using chalk pens rather than acrylic for this reason. I have been known to use other things to get the texture I want – I have used edible glitter in the past to get a watery shimmer, gold alloy powder mixed with Gum Arabic for a gilded butterfly, and also adhesive foils (they look amazing but are a totally horror to remove!).
Charlotte: Tell us how you created the design for the Cecily window, that stained glass design?
Tamsin: I did it freehand. I wanted it to have the look and feel of the 13th/14th century Oriel Window at Kenilworth Castle. If I need straight lines, arches in the right place, or a point in the exact centre, I’ll take a pen in a colour I won’t be using (I think I used green for this one) and draw my lines on the outside. There is space there to step back and check the alignments, and what isn’t right I wipe off and do again until I’ve got my basic positioning laid out. Then I can go inside and use that as my guide – and just wipe it all off when I’ve finished with it.
Charlotte: You often hide things in your window paintings and we often catch you messing around with publisher logos to incorporate them into the design. What did you hide in the Cecily window?
Tamsin: I’m a great hider of things in my art! I grew up with illustration by Kit Williams and Errol le Cain, so those little details are really important to me. There are actually two publishers’ logos hidden in this, also a lodestar compass. When we did the event for Cecily, we were joined by Nicola Cornick too, whose novel, The Last Daughter, refers to events that happen to the same royal families we meet in Cecily, but a generation later. I wanted to give Nicola’s book a nod in this display too. In The Last Daughter there is a lost, possibly cursed family jewel – a lodestar (a type of mineral magnetite, which therefore will move to point true North). So in the design I’ve hidden a compass star, and also her publishers logo, HQ. You’re quite right about publisher’s logos, I have a LOT of fun with them – particularly Penguin’s logo. I’ve drawn Penguins dangling off lanterns, getting all Sherlock at crime scenes, and balancing on icy branches, all to match the book displays – this time I gave it a wee crown and turned it into a stained-glass design. They don’t seem to mind too much, no one from Penguin has ever told me to stop messing around with their logo. They probably will now I’ve said that!
You can order signed copies of Cecily by clicking here (UK ORDERS ONLY)
|Cecily £14.99 GBP
Cecily and The Last Daughter £20.00 GBP