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The Portfolio: Megan Ross

Botany seems to feature quite a lot in your palette. What does plant life evoke for you?

Life and energy. Botanical imagery also offers an alternate frame of reference or set of symbols than, say, the human body. I’m inspired by natural shapes, but also the moods and ideas that plants convey: the sexuality of flowers, the alchemy in leaves turning sunlight into food. There’s chemistry and magic and beauty all at once. 

How do books as objects of beauty figure in both your writing and reading life?

At home I display books the way most people display art. And this idea of creating an object or artefact — of making something — as I write informs my process and how I interact with text as I write or read it. Being on this side of the publishing process has really fed this dynamic; how you can be affected by the physicality of a book, especially with older book covers, which are like time capsules of the attitudes and design trends of their time. 

How do you settle on the look and feel of a specific design? Do certain passages in the author’s manuscript act as triggers or does it happen in other unexpected ways?

The most organic designs come from multiple, close readings of the text. Paying attention to mood and setting is important to me, and figuring out a way to visually translate that without spelling out the whole plot then becomes the challenge. I try to honour the themes of the work and pay attention to the vision of the writer. Depending on the publisher, there may also be a set brief or ideas that need to be incorporated. 

How do you approach artwork for short-story collections, as opposed to novels? Do a different set of considerations apply? I particularly enjoyed the embryonic feel to the cover of  The Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story Vol 4.

Thank you! The process is similar unless it’s an anthology with many different writers. Then it becomes about conveying a unifying theme or a thread that binds all of the stories. 

You wrote Milk Fever (an intimate meditation on motherhood and the female body). A lot is going on in the cover, alluding to the subject matter. Did you seek out designer Leora Joy and what was the brief?

My publisher, Nick Mulgrew, was open to me suggesting a cover artist. I knew Leora from university and loved the surreal and playful elements in her collage art. I wanted something lush and striking that evoked the “planetscape” I’d had in my mind’s eye while I wrote. 

For more of Megan Ross’s work, visit meganross.co.za.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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