Creating a cover for Meg McKinlay’s A Single Stone: Design post by Gayna Murphy


“In almost all cases, shortness of breath is not a great feeling. In this instance, though, it was merely a symptom of good writing… FOUR STARS” – Books+Publishing

Every girl dreams of being part of the line – the chosen seven who tunnel deep into the mountain to find the harvest. No work is more important. Jena is the leader of the line – strong, respected, reliable. And – as all girls must be – she is small; her years of training have seen to that. It is not always easy but it is the way of the things. And so a girl must wrap her limbs, lie still, deny herself a second bowl of stew. Or a first. But what happens when one tiny discovery makes Jena question everything she has ever known? What happens when moving a single stone changes everything?

A Single Stone is a brand new novel from Meg McKinlay.

Here, Gayna Murphy, our awesome Art Director at Walker Books Australia, takes us through how she created a cover that encapsulates the work it envelops.

creating the cover image

A beautifully crafted book with a strong central girl character.

When I start working with a new cover design brief I always read the text and start jotting down notes as I read. Below are early sketches and key words, as I explored themes and ideas. The blue mica was an obvious visual image to be used somehow, whether it be a hint of blue in the cover design, some workings of stone or mountain imagery, or a mood/feeling.

The other was a strong image of the protagonist, Jena. Ultimately I wanted the cover to have a tactile feel. Image ideas were: mountains, darkness, fragments of stones, rock face slopping away, flock of birds flying over mountains. As I read the text, I was drawn to the young girl’s strength and courage, and how one small change could make a huge difference to everything, changing the path or direction.

Key things that came to mind were:

  • repeating things until they become second nature, a pattern/fragmented ideas.
  • a society that needed to go inside the mountain.
  • binding up girls’ bodies from age seven, so they don’t grow.
  • do you stay small and conform, or do you branch out and grow?
  • taking another path or way of thinking, not the obvious way.



In developing the chosen cover image, drawing out elements of the character were key. The protagonist, Jena wears thin cotton garments. She has braided hair and is small, like the other girls in the line. So after discarding several early concepts, I set out to find that elusive one beautiful image that depicted this strong and determined girl. The drawing out of the character from a two dimensional drawing into photographic was also another visual cue to the theme of changing belief systems: turning from one way of thinking to another. The hint of blue chalky effect applied to the braids, hinted at the blue mica stone, which was also boldly placed over the girl’s right eye, as if her life’s journey had scarred her. The strong visual gaze as a hint to the girl’s strength of character and determination no matter what – the leader of the line of seven girls.

More on the author of A Single Stone, Meg McKinlay UPDATE: Read Meg McKinlay’s response to this post

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