Pen to paper for your eyes to enjoy

Behind The Scenes of a Book Cover


I was standing on a clifftop watching the sunrise, holding Stacey’s hand. Her husband watched us from a distance.

It was the first photo shoot I’d ever had to do, so was quite nervous. 

“It’s really weird holding someone’s hand who’s not your partner,” Stacey commented.

“I know,” I replied. “Imagine if you had to do porn.” 

I think that made her uncomfortable. I seem to have a knack for making awkward situations even more so. Maybe I just should have said: “imagine if you had to do a kissing scene.” In hindsight, that would have been a better call.

We were standing on the cliff to get an image for my latest novel If Kisses Cured Cancer. Funnily enough, when thinking of what should go on the cover, the designer Sarah and I did talk about an image of two lovers kissing. That's the standard 'love story' cover that tells readers what they're getting themselves into at a glance. Instead, we decided to twist things and have two people holding hands, looking into a sunrise. To add some further quirk, the girl would be in a hospital gown, which both reflected the plot and would make people look closer to check what she was wearing. When trying to figure out people who had the body type and hair colour of the lead female character, Sarah had suggested Stacey. We had worked together before in regular jobs at Bellroy. A lightbulb went off. She was the perfect fit. So, I called her up after about a year of no contact and asked: “hey, want to come and hold my hand at 5.30am this Friday?” She’s a good sport, so agreed.

We were very lucky that morning. The sunrise was incredible. I’d scouted a location at Bird Rock the day before with Eliza Selkirk, the photographer. It perfectly suited the feel of the book — coastal, overlooking the ocean above a steep cliff drop. One problem that morning was that it was cold. I was shivering in jeans and a loose t-shirt. Poor Stacey had to wear the hospital gown and stand in bare feet on the dewy grass. Instead of complaining, we caught up. We chatted about her kids, my kids, this new book I’d been working on. Then, talk turned to holding hands. How finger grip was important and how we couldn’t get our thumbs right. 

Awkward Handholding

The photographer kept telling us off because it didn’t look natural. It didn’t feel natural either. We needed to relax. The stunning sunrise was enough to divert our attention on more important things, so we finally got the shot we were after. 

After the shoot we all headed to a nearby cafe for breakfast to warm up. Stacey felt bad when I sprung for her and her family's food. I'm not sure why. She'd just gotten up before dawn and driven them down the coast to do a massive favour for me. What's a couple of slices of fruit toast and some coffee, when you've just awkwardly held someone's hand and heard them draw ridiculous comparisons to the adult film industry? I'm lucky she didn't want lobster-stuffed breakfast burritos. 

After that, I went through the photos at Eliza's house and sorted through the hundred-odd shots she had taken. The problem was that they were all amazing. We whittled them down to the top 50 and let Sarah take her pick of pics.  Sarah worked her design magic, laid on the title and supporting blurb on top and generally made things look awesome. Here's a look at how it turned out...

If Kisses Cured Cancer: a story about life in a growing coastal town, falling in love and stealing shopping trolleys.

If Kisses Cured Cancer: a story about life in a growing coastal town, falling in love and stealing shopping trolleys.

I’ve thought a lot about holding hands since then. Even though I would consider Stacey and I friends, we couldn’t get it right. Was it a lack of chemistry? Was it nervousness? Was it just our hands physically didn’t connect properly? I tend to think it was the nervousness. You need to be comfortable to be able to undertake such a natural action. When I think back to the first time I held my wife’s hand (in the dark of a movie theatre during our first date) we couldn’t get it right either. It took practice. We needed to get used to each other. Now we nail it — perfect grip, relaxed fingers intertwined like they belong together. It speaks volumes about how we feel in the other’s presence. 

I now wonder if cultivating a practice of holding other people’s hands would help with regular human bonding. If pushing outside our comfort zones in that way would have flow-on effects into other parts of our lives, growing confidence to try other scary but important things. People have cuddling parties, so why not hand-holding parties too? No sex, or chance of romance involved. Just a chance to get comfortable in your own skin, with the feeling of someone else’s against yours. A chance to practice not saying silly things in awkward situations. It might be a simple, if initially uncomfortable, way of finding confidence in unusual situations.

If you hear of one, sign me up. 


To get your own copy of If Kisses Cured Cancer head here. 

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Tim Hawken