In April of 2016, I was trying to find an illustrator for my new book, A Pocketful of Crows. I had a shortlist of artists, provided for me by the publisher, but I couldn’t decide which one to choose: all were great, but none of them seemed to really fit the project as I’d imagined it.
Then, through the post, I received a cardboard tube containing a poster. It was a fantastic drawing of Odin as the Green Man, and it was accompanied by a short note, which basically said, in as many words: “I’ve never read your books, but I did hear your TED talk on YouTube, and I liked what you said about stories.” It was signed Bonnie Helen Hawkins.
I was intrigued: looked up the artist, found her website and realized that her style was exactly what I’d been looking for. I got in touch with her, then with my publishers, who asked her to do the internal art for the book. It was a tough assignment: there was very little time to do all the work that needed to be done, and Bonnie had never illustrated a book before, but what she came up with was exactly what I’d hoped for, and having discussed at some length the appearance of my brown girl, she came up with just the right features.
I wanted the brown girl to look mixed-race in a way that didn’t place her too firmly into any specific racial group: I wanted her to be very young (she’s only fourteen in the story, in spite of her sexuality), with the confidence of the very young, mixed with the awkwardness and insecurity of adolescence. I wanted her to be unaware of how beautiful she really is (like so many young people, she has quite a different view of herself to the way in which others see her). Most of all I wanted her to be as wild and un-selfconscious as all the other living creatures that Bonnie portrays so well; the birds, the deer, the insects, the wolves.
Because the book is part almanac as well as part folk-tale, I needed an artist who understood the natural world, and who could depict it perfectly, with love, as well as hinting at something magical behind it. Bonnie did all this so easily, and with so little instruction either from me or from the publisher, that I started to feel that this was fate: some kind of everyday magic at work. And so perhaps it was. Who knows? Stories link people together. They speak to us across the worlds. And I hope that this story will speak to you, and that Bonnie’s pictures will help provide a window into the world of the brown girl, which has a great number of windows, and which I hope to visit again, very soon, in your company.
*Footnote: the striking cover art for A Pocketful of Crows is not by Bonnie, but by Sue Gent, an in-house artist working for Gollancz, who also designed the cover of Honeycomb.