Adult Fiction Cover Award

Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee by Meera Syal

There’s no such thing as a happy ending, is there . . .?

Sunita – perfect housewife – is married to Akash, but is her marriage what it seems?

Chila – warm, loveable – has married with great fanfare the entrepreneur Deepak. But are they really in love?

Tania – beautiful, rebellious – has rejected her traditional upbringing for a top television career. But is she really as tough as she says?

As Tania uncovers a devastating truth, are the three friends about to learn the hardest life lesson of all . . .?

On a winter morning in London’s East End, the locals are confronted with the sight of a white horse skidding through the sooty snow, carrying what looks like a Christmas tree on its back. It turns out to be a man covered in tinsel, with a cartoon-size turban on his head. Entrepreneur Deepak is on his way to get married. As he trudges along, he consoles himself with the thought that marrying Chila, a nice Punjabi girl (a choice that has delighted his surprised parents), does not mean he needs to become his father, grow nostril hair or wear pastel-colour leisure wear.

Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee is the story of Deepak’s bride, the childlike Chila, and her two childhood friends: Sunita, the former activist law student, now a depressed housewife, and the chic Tania, who has rejected marriage in favour of a high-powered career in television. A hilarious, thoughtful and moving novel about friendship, marriage and betrayal, it focuses on the difficult choices contemporary women have to make, whether or not they happen to have been raised in the South Asian community.

  • Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee

  • Contains a sneak preview of Meera Syal's brand new novel, THE HOUSE OF HIDDEN MOTHERS

    There’s no such thing as a happy ending , is there …?

    Sunita - perfect housewife - is married to Akash, but is her marriage what it seems?

    Chila - warm, loveable - has married with great fanfare the entrepreneur Deepak. But are they really in love?

    Tania - beautiful, rebellious - has rejected her traditional upbringing for a top television career. But is she really as tough as she says?

    As Tania uncovers a devastating truth, are the three friends about to learn the hardest life lesson of all …?
    MEERA SYAL, CBE, is one of our most acclaimed actors and writers. She starred in the hit series The Kumars at No. 42 and recently in the BBC film of David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress. She is currently in the latest series of Broadchurch Meera Syal is also known for her sharp, provocative fiction. Her debut novel is called Anita and Me. Life isn't all Ha Ha Hee Hee is her second acclaimed novel. Her brand new novel The House of Hidden Mothers is out now.

  • Find out more about the book

The Brief

We would like you to design a contemporary, creative and exciting cover for this book, which was first published in 2000. Whilst this book is a deeply complex meditation on family, friendship, gender and diaspora culture, it is also very entertaining, quick witted and often very funny. The cover should make it feel very accessible and immediately ‘pickupable’ while representing the themes expressed in the narrative.

Your cover design needs to include all the cover copy supplied and be designed to the specified design template – B format, 198mm high x 129mm wide, spine width 22 mm. Please refer to the Submissions Details page for full details of the spec and how to submit your entry.

Copyright must be cleared for all images used in your cover design and you must include a credit line on the back cover of your design for any third-party images used. For example: ‘Cover photograph by Joe Bloggs’.

Read before you start designing

We recommend that you read the book before you start on your design in order to get a sense of the themes and of the author’s voice. Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee is stocked in most bookshops and libraries or if you would like to be sent a link to download a free digital copy please register your request here.

What the judges are looking for:

We are looking for a striking cover design that is well executed, has an imaginative concept and clearly places the book for its market. While all elements of the cover (front, spine and back) need to work together as a cohesive whole, remember that the front cover must be effective on its own and be eye-catching within a crowded bookshop setting. It also needs to be able to work on screen for digital retailers such as Amazon.

The winning design will need to

  • have an imaginative concept and original interpretation of the brief
  • be competently executed with strong use of typography
  • appeal to a contemporary readership
  • show a good understanding of the marketplace
  • have a point of difference from the many other book covers it is competing against

The Prizes

1st Prize

The winner of each category will receive a cash prize of £1,000 and be invited to spend four weeks in the Penguin Random House Design Studios on a work placement* if it can be offered as part of the prize, working on live briefs. The work placement will be paid at the current London Living Wage rate (subject to any applicable taxation).

*Subject to agreeing terms in advance. Entrants must be eligible to work in the UK. The provision of a work placement prize shall be subject to any corporate policies, government guidelines, laws or other recommendations issued or in force at the time as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic or otherwise.

2nd Prize

The winner of the 2nd Prize will receive a £500 cash prize.

3rd Prize

The winner of the 3rd Prize will receive a £350 cash prize.

The Judges

Penguin Random House Judges

Black and white image of Loulou Clarke

Loulou Clark – Art Director, Ebury

After graduating from UCA Farnham with a degree in Graphic Communication, Loulou began working as a freelance branding designer. Soon craving something more creative and expressive, she developed her illustrative skills and landed a junior designer role at Orion Publishing. Over her thirteen years there progressing to Art Director, Loulou gained a wealth of experience designing covers across a wide range of genres in both fiction (commercial, literary, crime) and non-fiction (wellbeing, cookery, biography), as well as full book design for many illustrated titles. Loulou joined PRH as Ebury’s Art Director in spring 2020 and is thrilled to be working with an inspiring list of authors such as Yotam Ottolenghi, Charlie Mackesy and Caitlin Moran.

Suzanne Dean

Suzanne Dean – Creative Director, Vintage

Suzanne graduated from Kingston University, where she studied Graphic Design. Her first job was at The Greenhouse, designing food packaging and brochures. A year later she was asked if she might be interested in publishing. She joined Penguin Books as a Senior Designer, working for Hamish Hamilton. Three years later she joined Macmillan, to work on the Picador list. Five years later she joined Random House as Art Director for Vintage Books, whose many imprints include Jonathan Cape, Chatto & Windus and Harvill Secker. Here she established the design for the Vintage Classics list. She has worked on a wide range of cover designs for authors such as Mark Haddon, Haruki Murakami, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, Yuval Noah Harari, Richard Flanagan and Rachel Kushner.

Richard Ogle

Richard Ogle – Art Director, Transworld

Richard graduated from the University of Central Lancashire with a Graphic Design degree. He was drawn into publishing through book cover design agency The Senate and has never looked back. He became Art Director at Transworld Publishing, within Penguin Random House, in 2015. He was previously Art Director at Cornerstone, also in the Penguin Random House Group, for thirteen years. He has also worked at Pan Macmillan as Associate Art Director, and Headline Books as a Senior Designer

Over the years he has worked on a range of cover designs for books, in all genres, including novels by John Grisham, Kate Atkinson, James Herbert, Paula Hawkins, James Patterson, Shari Lapena, Wilbur Smith, P.G. Wodehouse, Lisa Jewell, Sophie Kinsella and Douglas Coupland, plus autobiographies by Peter Kay, Tony Blair, David Jason, Rod Stewart, Steve Coogan and John Cleese.

Jason Smith

Jason Smith – Art Director, Cornerstone

After graduating from the University of Derby with a BA Honours in Graphic Design, Jason moved toLondon to further his education at Central Saint Martins. He began his career working for a company that specialized in packaging for CDs and DVDs, combining his passion for music and film with design.

The move into publishing was a natural progression and he secured a job at Random House as designer, quickly followed by a more senior role. As Art Director of Cornerstone, Jason works on a list of successful authors including James Patterson, Helen Dunmore, Tony Parsons, Tim Peake and Katie Price to name a few.

Guest Judges

Portrait of Meera Syal

Photo: Asian Woman Magazine

Meera Syal

Meera Syal was born in Wolverhampton. She has a double first in English and Drama from the University of Manchester and is an actor with a variety of stellar television, theatre and film credits. They include, most recently, Doctor Strange (2016), Paddington 2 (2017) and Yesterday (2019). 

Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee is her second novel. Her first, Anita And Me, won the Betty Trask Award and is a GCSE set text. She also wrote the critically acclaimed novel, The House Of Hidden Mothers. Syal also wrote the screenplays for the films Bhaji On The BeachAnita And Me and My Sister Wife.

She was the writer/performer in the multi-award-winning comedy series Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars At Number 42.

Syal is the recipient of several national awards including two British Comedy Awards, two International EMMYS, the What's On Stage Award for Best Solo Performance for Shirley in Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine, two AFA awards for her screenplay and performance in My Sister Wife, two RIMA awards and the Women In Film And Television Award for Creative Innovation. 

In 2015, she was awarded the CBE for Services to Drama and Literature and in 2017 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Portrait of Greg Bunbury

Greg Bunbury

After graduating from London Guildhall University with a degree in Design Studies, Greg Bunbury started his career in tech PR, before moving into marketing design. Eventually he worked his way up to a Head of Creative role for a top-25 marketing agency, producing award-winning work for a raft of clients. He then started a creative shop, specializing in design for film and music.

As a passionate advocate for equality and antiracism, his focus shifted away from entertainment to social issues. He now consults on Diversity & Inclusion initiatives for brands and businesses, in addition to freelance Graphic Design. He is also the curator and creative director of the Black Outdoor Art project, a campaign using billboards as a platform of expression for young Black creatives. He also hosts the Design For The People podcast, spotlighting creatives working towards positive social change.

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