Working with Bonnie

I first encountered Bonnie when I was looking for an illustrator for A POCKETFUL OF CROWS (the first of my three illustrated novellas). My publisher had shown me some samples of work from a number of illustrators, but I had something special in mind, and none of the ones I’d seen seemed quite right. Then, out of the blue, I received a piece of artwork in the mail from a woman who had come to me via one of my TED talks, and who wanted to give me a piece of her work in thanks for some of the things I’d said.

That woman was Bonnie, and the picture – which was extraordinary – was in the exact style I’d been looking for. Detailed, feminine, naturalistic, but with a hint of darkness, too, it reminded me of the classic illustrators and fairy painters I’d loved as a child; Rackham, and Clarke, and Burne-Jones, and Dulac. I asked Bonnie if she would consider illustrating my new book, and after a great deal of hesitation – she had never been involved in illustrating a book before, and clearly had no idea of just how talented she was – she accepted. Three years later, we’re just about to celebrate our third collaboration together (though not our last), and if anything, her work has grown even more impressive.

Many authors don’t have much contact with the illustrators of their work. Bonnie and I were different, partly because we were both new to this kind of project, and partly because it was I, and not my publisher, who had talked Bonnie into illustrating CROWS. As a result, we stayed in constant touch throughout my writing process, bouncing ideas off each other and giving each other encouragement. Bonnie works quite slowly, as her work is very detailed, and she likes to have as much time to plan and complete her work as possible; so in the case of ORFEIA and THE BLUE SALT ROAD I gave her access to early drafts to give her the time she needed. We talked a lot about the racial characteristics of some of my BAME characters, but I deliberately didn’t impose on her which scenes I wanted her to illustrate; I needed her to feel free to explore and develop her own ideas. I even wrote in certain details of ORFEIA with her in mind – I drew inspiration for the Oracle from a piece that Bonnie had already drawn, and knowing how much she loved tigers, I wrote in a tiger, just for her. In turn, she was very sensitive and alert to some of the things I’d tried to convey: her picture of Daisy in the bluebells which makes up the end-pages of ORFEIA was inspired by pictures of my own daughter.

To me, illustration is very much like the process of translation. A good illustrator, like a good translator, can really bring a text to life, and the closer the relationship between writer and illustrator, the more likely that is to happen. Bonnie and I have become friends: we understand each other, I think, and we share a lot of influences. Both of us have a strong sense of connection with the natural world; we both have a love of classic fairytales and their illustrators; we both really love what we do, and enjoy sharing our process.

Bonnie is incredibly generous; last year, she gifted me a lovely pencil drawing based on my work with the Storytime Band; and this year, she created a set of beautiful bookplates especially for ORFEIA. Her art has contributed so much to mine; these stories would be only half-complete without her beautiful drawings. The tradition of illustrated books began with adult fiction; just as the fairytales we loved as children were originally all meant for adults. I like to think that together, Bonnie and I are helping to reclaim them – because art grows with us, if we let it, and adults need their dose of magic just as much as children do.

(Below: The Hallowe’en King: illustration from ORFEIA.)

Bonnie’s website here. She sometimes sells prints and original work here, so please check it out!