Monday, February 28, 2011

How do you illustrate a novel's soul?

Every year, Bath Spa University Writing for Young People MA students create an anthology to showcase their work. The 2010 anthology will be published in May, and all of the extracts and illustrations will also be available on a website (here's last year's anthology, Making Waves). The publication will culminate in a launch party in London with numerous agents and editors (yes, strangely enough this will be my second London launch party in two years).

I haven't blogged about the anthology before, perhaps because it seemed such an ephemeral, distant thing. But I have been quietly busy doing final edits and copyedits on my first two chapters of Project Sparkle, writing an author bio, and a brief back cover-type blurb. Given my love of cover art, I also volunteered to be a cover editor, and to help with coordinating illustrations for each extract.

So last Tuesday I was invited to visit Bath Spa University to meet with the art students who were in the midst of illustrating our anthology. The students had not been allowed to chose which piece they worked on, but rather their tutor had assigned an extract to each student, trying to match the artist's style with the writer's content, themes, and genre. The tutor explained that while the students had been shown our blurbs, they hadn't even read our extracts, as he didn't want them to get bogged down in specific scenes or character details, but rather to try and capture the novel as a whole.

We found a quiet space in the back of a busy art studio, and each student presented their work. They each explained their understanding of their author's story, and what details struck them. Many of the students discussed their research and thought process, and flipped through their sketch book to show the different elements they had considered. Then they presented their current work in progress.

I was absolutely blown away. I was expected to critique each design, considering the author's piece and intentions, and how well the illustration meshed with those. And I managed to point out a few elements. But mostly I was in awe. Somehow, without reading our novels, let alone our extracts, these students had managed to capture the novels' souls. I kept looking back at the blurbs they were given, wondering how they had jumped from a single sentence to understanding and illustrating the most important theme in a classmate's book.

This blog is called "Critically Yours" for a reason. I always have something to say. For that reason, I was quite nervous about this meeting, nervous about criticizing young art students. I needn't have worried. They had captured every single one of my classmates' novels closely and beautifully.

Even Project Sparkle. Perhaps not surprisingly, I was assigned a fairly gritty photographer. He's using a technique I had never seen before, illustrating my novel in a way I hadn't considered. But it fits the book perfectly. I can't wait to share it with all of you.


  1. Argh, you can't write this then not show pics! Am dying to see them. Sounds like a lot of fun.

    As a complete non-sequitur, have no idea if you like steampunk, but if you do, this exhibition in Bath looks a lot of fun:

  2. How cool to see your writing translated into artwork! Hopefully you'll be able to share soon? :-)

  3. Aw, thanks for your enthusiasm, GF and Anna! I wish I could share pics soon, but more realistically it will probably be May, at the earliest.

    GF: Wow. I wouldn't call myself a steampunk fan, but it's definitely cool, and this exhibit looks super cool! Thanks for the heads-up! Sounds like a very necessary writer field trip.

    Anna: You're probably having, or about to have, a somewhat similar experience with your book cover. I hope you love it!

  4. ooh! How exciting! The anthology sounds like a wonderful opportunity for you and your fellow students. Agents? Editors? Very cool!

    Waaaaaaay back, when I was a naive high school senior, I sent an article unsolicited to a magazine, saying I thought it might interest them (obviously I had NO idea of the etiquette of these things LOL!), and lo and behold, they bought it! I'll never forget the thrill of seeing ILLUSTRATIONS based on my essay/article. Seeing artwork that someone took the time to create, based on something I had written, was absolutely wonderful! It made being published (and paid!) even more special.


  5. Elisabeth: It should be a wonderful opportunity, even for this American author. I'm really looking forward to it.

    Sounds like you were a very lucky (and talented!) naive high schooler! =) What an incredible experience, especially at such a young age. I think it's exactly as you say, knowing someone else spent time thinking about your work lends it some legitimacy that's so hard to find, especially when you're just starting out.

  6. Anne...your entry won the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices illustration competition, too, as I recall. How great to see your work illustrated twice. And another launch party, too! Fantastic.

  7. That is so way cool! Thanks for sharing this post, Anne.

  8. Jane: Oh, that is so true! It came about so randomly, I had almost forgotten about it! Yes, I'm racking up the illustrations and the launch parties... now if I could just find myself a publisher! ;)

    Cat: Aw, thanks for stopping by. So exciting to share!

  9. I'm looking forward to you sharing them too! Do you have a tentative date?

  10. Thanks, Bridgette! It should be sometime in May.


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