My Real Children has had a US edition, a British edition, a British paperback (with a different cover), and it has also been published in Italian, Polish, French and Korean. That means it has had six covers, all trying to deal with the challenge of portraying what Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s original cover line described as “One woman, two worlds, two lives”.
Here’s the US cover which is very mainstream, very white, and relatively unexciting. It deals with the two lives issue by having the character splitting like Siamese twins.
The UK hardback cover was more interesting, almost surreal, showing a woman sitting on a suitcase on a beach with an umbrella up, and stars in the sky. This isn’t a scene in the book, though there is a scene where Patricia, before the split, sits on a beach and thinks about God. I thought this was a striking cover, even though there’s no attempt to portray the splitting of lives or worlds.
The UK paperback cover on the other hand seemed so bland as to be utterly generic. It wasn’t just mainstream looking, it said “beach book”. I happened to get it when I was in Italy, and we amused ourselves in an Italian bookstore counting the covers that had women looking away over water — it was a whole big trend in British book covers, apparently. One woman, and is that the moon?
The Italian cover came next, and I loved it. I still love it. The two women that are the same model, inverted and in different clothes/moods seem to me to be an excellent way of dealing with the question of what the book is about. They changed the title, because apparently in Italian “real children” would imply issues of illegitimacy. So the title means “My two lives” which is fine. I wasn’t consulted about the title change.
The Polish cover, sadly, was a copy of the original US cover. The title was changed to mean “The Two Lives of Pat”. I don’t know why.
The French cover went through a number of revisions, and this is the final version, which I got to approve and which I like. One interesting thing about it is that for all that that’s Florence and Oxford, it’s a remarkably French looking cover. And they’ve dealt with the concept of two lives with the images of the two countries , and the insubstantiality of her face. I think this is a good cover if you’ve read the book, and an interesting cover if you haven’t.
And now the Korean cover, which I think is fascinating. The impression this gives me is an intelligent woman looking into a train window, and seeing both her reflection and the outside world, the way you do. And that is something that occurs in the book. One of the things she does in both versions of her life, soon after the split, is to take a trip by train. And the reflection mirrors the duality. This is another excellent cover. And this would make me want to pick it up.
A strange thing, though, looking at all of these together. It’s very unusual for genre covers to be black and white, but three of these five covers are, or almost so, using very little colour.