In Search of the Diabolic Grail?

The usual depression on arriving home from my holiday was lifted by the sight of an email from my publishers with a pdf of the front cover attached. The only trouble was, which celebratory bottle to open from among the Pomerol, Blaye, Bourg, Medoc and St Emillion? Yes, it’s grim up North London. I was particularly pleased with the cover because I had trekked into deepest rural Poland, by train, followed by the local train, followed by a taxi, with a driver who was uncertain as to whether he was going to return for me or not. All this to take a photograph of the Devil leading away a female innkeeper for serving half measures! Equipped with a tripod, polarisers and any other camera gear I might possibly need, I arrived at the beautiful wooden church that was home to the perfect image that I wanted on the cover, to find that the church was locked. Shut. Not open. I wanted to cry, but I realised I wasn’t going to get another chance and I wanted that picture. Fortunately I remembered that in a village as small as Slopanowo, without a parish priest, someone was going to have a set of keys. I could see curtains twitching, in most of the dozen or so houses that made up the hamlet. Well it wasn’t everyday that a Mixed-race woman arrived in a taxi and processed around the church several times.

After discovering the key holder, who was a lovely man, and very proud that I wanted to put the image on my book cover, even if it was about witches, I finally found my Holy Grail, or should that be diabolic grail? What I didn’t expect was that the polychrome picture was on the underneath of the organ stall. I had naively assumed it was on a wall. So squirming around on the floor, I was taking hundreds of photographs on my back in this beautiful wooden church, trying not to feel self-conscious and knowing this was the only chance I would have. To see the book cover made everything worthwhile. My own photograph on the front. But it nearly wasn’t so. At the last minute, when all the permissions had been granted and paid for, my editor wanted a permission for the jacket photo. I had assumed that I had taken care of that as it was my photo, but no, they needed permission from the church as well. I found myself tracking down the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in Poznan, from the church to its parish, right up to the Metropolitan Curia itself, where I met with incredible kindness and a request only to deposit a copy of the book in their library.

In contrast with the problems historical novelists such as Elizabeth Chadwick and Alison Weir have had with publishers over their book titles and jacket images, I feel rather lucky.

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