You can listen to the full conversation on the VINTAGE podcast via the link at the bottom of this page
Alex Clark: A new book by Julian Barnes is always an event. The author of novels including Flaubert’s Parrot, A History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters and Arthur & George, and non-fiction such as Levels of Life. His new novel, the first since the Man Booker Prize-winning The Sense of an Ending, is The Noise of Time.
It tells the story of Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich and his battle to create art against the background of a totalitarian regime. The Noise of Time has a very striking cover, a man in an overcoat carrying an attaché case, looking over his shoulder. Barnes has worked with designer Suzanne Dean, Creative Director of Vintage, for twenty years, and as you’ll hear in this exclusive interview, the collaboration has been so fruitful he plans never to let her retire. They joined me in the podcast studio.
Julian and Suzanne, thank you so much for joining me this afternoon. Before we started you were both laughing together about how long your creative relationship has lasted?
SD: Twenty years, which is very unusual I think.
JB: And never a bad word.
There must have been some tetchiness at some point?
JB: No, I’m sorry to tell you that we’ve never had a bad word. The only possible dissension, but not with Suzanne, is if I prefer a cover marginally more than the one that my editor wants. And sometimes I get my wish and sometimes I think it’s their job to choose the best cover, I don’t feel that strongly. But the last time I actually rang Suzanne up and said I really can’t decide between these two, but what do you think? And she said, brilliantly, ‘I’m very happy that it’s down to those two.’
How many different variants had you made, Suzanne?
SB: Probably about ten. I show them first to the editor, Dan Franklin, and we get rid of a few that he thinks are absolutely nonsense, and then Julian comes in and it’s always an interesting moment.
JB: Apart from the actual writing it is the most fun part of publishing a book. For a while she used to have an interesting technique; she would lay out the covers and it was always the penultimate one that she wanted. She would put a strong one in first because that would relax me, and I’d know at least we’ve got one really good cover, and then the penultimate one would be the one she wanted. And then about three or four books ago I said, ‘Suzanne, this is the penultimate one. This is the one you want me to like, isn’t it?’
SD: Oh dear, I’m so easily read!