To create my bookshop displays, I source small, vivid and decorative objects that occur in the stories and which can be arranged around stacks of books in a coherent, intriguing kind of way. It's important that nothing looks home-made or makeshift. Independent booksellers are a classy lot and are perfectly capable of making excellent window displays of their own so it is important to offer something special.
My first task for The Fate in the Box was to track down sixteen plastic crocodiles of the largest possible size on eBay. These were simulate the two ‘Sea-Saurs’ who are unlikely heroes in the book.
The insects with whom a poor girl, Biri, communes, came in packets from Venetian news stands. That cockroach really is as big as the palm of your hand.
Masks come into the story too. The pointy red masks, sourced in Venice, of course, represent the Pantaleone model worn by Fogfinger when he needs to go into hiding.
The background poster is a blow-up of the jacket wrap.
In my Author Curated Case, I was delighted to include books by Mary Hoffman, Penny Dolan and Harriet Castor. Once my Case and window were installed, George Hanratty, the shop’s manager, also tweeted pictures of the window display, which were then retweeted, so the window display was working on social media too.
On the internet I found test tubes to daub with waxen ‘blood’ and label ‘Foul Philtre’, ‘Lockspittle’, ‘Vampire Vomit’ and ‘If in Doubt’, these being favourite potions of my magician, Professor Marìn. Cat and rat silhouettes came from a Halloween party supplier. I used my collection of 19th-century Venetian chromolithographs to design a label for ‘Golosi’s Mostarda’, wickedly rebranding some supermarket mustard. It was easy to find the glass jars and the sand but not so easy to find vivid-looking plastic scorpions. However, I did, in the end. To complete the display, I designed a bookmark of a gondola bearing a Ravageur, a hyena-like creature who is the villain of Talina in the Tower.
And for the quack medicines used by the pale and languishing London mermaids in the book, I used my old archive of packaging and trade cards, such as the one for Dr Blaud’s Capsules, from the 19th century, scanned and printed out in colour.
Another party shop provided the corked hats for my Australian villains and a Pamela Anderson wig, which I dismembered, tying individual curls in satin ribbon as pseudo mourning keepsakes.
And East Street provided the white plastic roses, the gauzy black fabric and thick black ribbon for a stagey curtain. I sealed up each kit in a big sack with a ribbon and a rose.
I got a little carried away with The Mourning Emporium and trialled far too many handmade products, including Mourning Mints, Mourning Liquorice, Mourning Tissues, a Mourning Mobile and a stand-up paper ship’s cat, until Orion gently told me to cease and desist. I took their point.
Here again Orion proved very generous. Early on I had mocked up a leporello showing teasing lines from the story with three dimensional tip-ins.
I made tiny packets of mermaid chilli mix (as my sirens devour fiery curries). The spies in The Undrowned Child are scolopendre, nasty insects whom the mermaids term ‘Mahogany Mice’, shouting ‘yoiks!’ as they flatten them with the boots they have mounted on sticks exactly for that purpose. I was unable to find replicas of these millipedes so I bought plastic scorpions and hand-trimmed them to suit with nail scissors. I had little replicas made of the shiny silver comb that is the gondola ferro.
From my own archives, I reproduced the moneta patriottica, a paper currency that the Venetians printed themselves during the siege on 1848–89.
Launching The Undrowned Child also involved a mermaid dinner party for book trade people, with a spicy menu taken straight from the book.
The dessert was served in a miniature gondola. I customized even the napkin rings with mermaid quotations …
As you can see, I’ve had as much fun making these window displays as I had writing the books.
I guess other writers usefully turn themselves to gardening or cat-fondling or walking for exercise and relaxation, but this is my method, and I’m already planning the physical side of my next novel, and loving it.
Creating window display ephemera is also a way to escape the tedium of Times New Roman and get to grips with Black Sam’s Gold, Dark Horse Expanded and other thrilling fonts.
And it’s one way forward that does not entail a nervous author in ‘e’ or social networking or eventing, so I feel it is time worth investing.
It’s not for everyone, and not every publisher would be as sympathetic and appreciative as Orion or their hardworking reps and receptive independent booksellers.
Does anyone else have any unusual ways of infiltrating the market that they’d like to share?
The Fate in the Box is published by Orion Children’s Books on May 2.
Michelle Lovric's website is here
There are some brand-new web pages for The Fate in the Box.
Michelle Lovric is part of Venezia, Citta' di Lettori, the campaign to save Venetian bookshops. For more information about this cause, see here.