A glimpse into the life of an illustrator - Interview with Kathleen Jennings

Friday, 30 August 2019

Yesterday I posted about two new historical crime novels coming out from Corella Press - don't forget to check out the giveaway for your chance to win a copy of Millwood Mystery or Bridget's Locket! One thing which fascinated me about both covers was the detail in the illustrations, so today Kathleen Jennings is here to share some insights about her creative process (and a few book recommendations too!)

How did you first get into becoming a book illustrator?

I always planned to be a writer, but I was working as a lawyer and a translator and had a lot of hobbies, so made myself pick the ones I could do, would do, and wanted to do every day. Drawing made the cut, because I could at least draw a smiley face. I started doing a weekly illustration challenge and putting it on my blog, and Small Beer Press found it. The first book cover I did was for them, for Greer Gilman’s Cloud and Ashes: Three Winter’s Tales.

What does your creative process usually involve?

The publisher or art director usually tells me the sort of direction they’d like to take. If possible (and it isn’t always) I read the book. Then I make a series of thumbnail (small) sketches to show different ways I could illustrate the cover or internal pictures. The publisher chooses one and I refine it to a more detailed pencil sketch. When that is approved, I do the final piece of art. It could be cut out (as for Corella), or drawn with a dip pen, or another technique. When that final piece is approved, I usually scan it in and clean it up on the computer, and sometimes I add colour then.

If people like seeing that process, I sometimes put posts about it up on my blog: tanaudel.wordpress.com.

Do you have a favourite work that you've made to date?

I do really like this whole design for Corella. It is a circular design, all in one piece, and it feels like lace. 

Small Beer Press published Kij Johnson’s The River Bank, a sequel to Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. I had a lot of fun with that project, learning to see through (my favourite Willows illustrator) E. H. Shepard’s eyes, and I am still very proud of it. It’s a great book, quite apart from the illustrations: fun and nuanced and respectful and new. 

I also did a scratchboard illustration of the colour scarlet (with digital colour) for an art exhibition. I can see, now, where I could have improved it, but I enjoyed getting all the references in. But I can’t pick just one work — I love playing in all these books! 

What are the best/most challenging aspects of designing a piece?

Drawing violins and pigs: these are both quite difficult. But mostly the challenge is the best bit: being limited by the book, the genre, the shape, the technique, the deadline, and then climbing around in that frame to make something that pleases me and the publisher and that works as a picture. But because I am a writer and a storyteller and occasionally do academic research, I also really enjoy climbing around someone else’s story and commenting on it, ornamenting it, supplementing the story with hints and allusions. 

I have an Australian Gothic novella, Flyaway, coming out from Tor.com next year. I wrote and illustrated it, and it was quite tricky! I’m used to bouncing off someone else’s thoughts; it was odd being constantly in my own head.

What advice do you have for other people looking to forge a career in illustrating?

Draw a lot. Put it out there regularly. Be professional. Be generous. Make connections outside of just artists: be friends with writers and typographers, publishers, agents and translators. 

And learn and accept criticism and work hard: but also try and find what you like, and do that well — if you do it long enough it could become a new style, and there are some excellent illustrators who just work with stick figures, or dots. If you can learn to communicate and tell a story, you’re more than halfway there. 

Look after your back.

On the bookish front, what have been some of your top reads recently?

I’ve been judging a book award and the winners haven’t been announced, so I can’t tell you! But let me see: 

Oh, I just read Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike, an enchanting little murder mystery where two friends in a detective club in an English boarding school in the 1930s end up investigating a murder. 

Stevens was one of the keynote speakers at the Diana Wynne Jones convention in Bristol earlier this month, and so I also reread Howl’s Moving Castle so that I could give a talk about contract law in it. If people haven’t read it, or have only seen the (very good) Studio Ghibli movie, it’s a wonderful fairy-tale novel — whip-smart and based on a John Donne poem. 

And I picked up another copy of one of my favourite books in a second-hand store in Bristol before I came home (always have multiple copies, the better to lend them out again!). It is W. Grahame Robertson’s Time Was, a collection of reminiscences of his friendships with people like half the Pre-Raphaelites, and Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt and Ellen Terry! Gentle and wistful and funny and full of artists and actors and Edwardian bohemians.

You can check out more of Kathleen's work on Redbubble and her online portfolio. She also has a Patreon for people wanting her monthly calendar design and other behind-the-scenes content early!

Review & Giveaway - The Millwood Mystery & Bridget's Locket and Other Mysteries

Thursday, 29 August 2019

About the books

Bridget's Locket and Other Mysteries is a triptych, including one novella-length story and two short stories from Mary Helena Fortune, writing as Waif Wander, who is suggested to be the first female crime and mystery writer in the world. Bridget’s Locket tells the story of a migrant dressmaker’s search for justice when her travelling companion meets a terrible fate. Joined by two stories about falling in love with a fugitive from the law and murder and bigamy amid goldfields and through the streets of Melbourne, this volume promises a tour of 19th Century Australian crime.

The Millwood Mystery is a single spellbinding novel by Jeannie Lockett, author, journalist, teacher, and women’s advocate. Alongside Fortune, Lockett wrote phenomenal crime and mystery. The Millwood Mystery is a family tragedy. When Barbara Neill is found dead in her home, the only suspects are also her only relatives. It is the tale of a community’s suspicions and how they have the potential to destroy innocent lives.

I'm excited to share these two new Australian historical crime releases about to come out from Corella Press - a non-profit teaching initiative run predominately by students at the University of Queensland. They've found these 19th century Australian gems and published them for the first time in novel form, as they originally were released in small snippets of newspapers at the time.

Both Bridget's Locket and The Millwood Mystery retain their historical charm and read authentically as they were written all those years ago while still maintaining enough suspense to keep the pages turning. It's a great initiative to see these pieces of writing gain traction and be revived, and it was equally interesting to learn more about the authors' lives as well - which were almost as engrossing as the stories themselves!

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Open internationally, entries close 30 August 2019 (AEST).
1st Prize – A beautiful silhouette pendant (6 pendants available)
2nd Prize – Bridget’s Locket and Other Mysteries eBook
3rd Prize – The Millwood Mystery eBook

Physical books will be available for purchase from 30th August, on the Corella Press website: https://www.austlit.edu.au/corellapress

Watch out for my interview coming out tomorrow with Kathleen Jennings who illustrated the covers for these books!

Waiting on Wednesday: The Divers' Game

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly prompt hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are looking forward to. This week I've picked The Divers' Game by Jesse Ball.

From the inimitable mind of award-winning author Jesse Ball, a novel about an unsettlingly familiar society that has renounced the concept of equality—and the devastating consequences of unmitigated power. The old-fashioned struggle for fairness has finally been abandoned. It was a misguided endeavour.

The world is divided into two groups, pats and quads. The pats may kill the quads as they like, and do. The quads have no recourse but to continue with their lives. The Divers’ Gameis a thinly veiled description of our society, an extreme case that demonstrates a truth: we must change or our world will collapse. What is the effect of constant fear on a life, or on a culture?

Brilliantly constructed and achingly tender, The Divers’ Game shatters the notion of common decency as the binding agent between individuals, forcing us to consider whether compassion is intrinsic to the human experience.

With his signature empathy and ingenuity, Jesse Ball’s latest work solidifies his reputation as one of contemporary fiction’s most mesmerising talents.

I've always enjoyed short stories, novels, and even TV dramas that are just that little bit off-kilter, and make you think. I'm looking forward to seeing if this latest novel from Jesse Ball can achieve that!

Releasing 1st October 2019 from Text Publishing