The UK paperback publishers, Vintage, have run a fun billboard campaign to celebrate the paperback publication of The Knowledge. Some of the posters contain their own red emergency box containing a copy of the book, in case of emergency!
If you’d like to see one of the posters for yourself, here’s a map of the billboard locations:
One of the things I tried hard to ensure whilst researching and writing the book was that I got first-hand experience in many of the processes and skills I talk about, and this includes the author photograph.
I wanted to take a selfie in the deepest sense you could ever take a selfie — by creating a photograph from scratch.
Chapter 11 of The Knowledge describes several aspects of more advanced chemistry, such as the astounding silver chemistry that enables you to capture light itself and so open the door to photography. The mugshot (right) included on the inside flap of the hardback book jacket was created using a primitive single-lens camera and this rudimentary silver chemistry, resurrecting techniques that date right back to the 1850s and the earliest years of photography.
Where possible, I tried to get some first-hand experience of the topics I was researching and writing about for The Knowledge. So for Chapter 6 and the discussion of crucial materials including metal, I went with a friend to spent the day in the Much Hadham village forge in Hertfordshire. We worked by the traditional blacksmith’s coke-fired open forge that has been preserved in the village, learning different techniques to work red-hot iron with hammer and anvil, and the principles of tempering and quenching steel.
A few behind-the-scenes photographs of the photo-shoot for the book jacket are given on another post, and here for your viewing pleasure is the stop-motion-capture-style film of the creative process, produced by the designer Kris Potter. It’s a 7Mb animated gif so make take a few seconds to load.
The elegantly simple and clean graphics for the jacket cover were created by the UK publishers, Bodley Head (Random House), to resemble the emergency cabinets for escape tools or fire alarm buttons. The designer, Kris Potter, did a sterling job with this, and actually built a bright red box complete with safety glass front and emergency hammer to photograph.
One of the least stressful tasks in the creation of The Knowledge, once the first draft had finally been completed, was an indulgent weekend spent choosing the illustrations for the book as well as the postapocalyptic quotes to be used as epigraphs for the beginning of each chapter. I think the selected epigraphs work perfectly for the theme of each section, but inevitably a lot of very apposite and entertaining quotes had to be left out. Here is my selection of the best of the rest…
“I know not with what weapons WW3 will be fought, but WW4 will be fought with sticks and stones.” Albert Einstein
Part of the joy of the editing process is keeping an eagle-eye out for errors and typos that have snuck in during the rounds of changes. This particular one, perhaps a prophetic misquote of Eliot, drew a wry smile to my lips…
For many of the illustrations in The Knowledge we were lucky to be able to find exquisitely detailed line drawings from nineteenth century encyclopaedias, such as this one on the left depicting the major cereal crops. Most of these were adapted to our purposes by the skilful illustrator Bill Donohoe, who also created several graphics from scratch, such as the basic tools of agriculture and the fundamental mechanisms of the crank and cam. Bill’s work is absolutely beautiful and has been used for lots of books in the past. Have a look at his website www.billdonohoe.com