The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack, written by Jen Storer
Late last year I was approached by Harper Collins to illustrate a marvellous, mysterious and as yet un-named middle-grade novel by Jen Storer. Here’s an extract from Jen’s early description of the book:
“With my new Goblin/Viking obsession I began to think about a boy named Angus Jack. But no matter how hard I tried to place Angus somewhere in Scandinavia he kept popping up in Australia—in a city that appeared to me like a Sydney/Brisbane hybrid—verdant, humid, ramshackle, with lots of old houses on stilts and the scent of frangipani in the air….” “ … The goblins (and perhaps the Vikings) would have to come to Angus …”
Goblins and Vikings – in subtropical Australia! Who wouldn’t want to work on this? And so I received the manuscript, read it with delight, and went to meet Jen Storer and Lisa Berryman (children’s publisher at Harper Collins) over coffee.
This is the first novel I’ve illustrated, and the process is very different from a picture book or novel cover. The role of the illustrator in a picture book is (I believe…) of fellow author: adding appropriate humour, poignancy, characterisation and drama – and, overall, to help to shape the book. But for a novel, the role of the illustration is to complement the text, to illuminate particular scenes.
At least, that’s what I declared, straight-faced, to these two attentive, elegantly-dressed, and highly experienced woman over coffee and biscotti: “I shall ‘illuminate’ this novel!” This, swiftly followed by: “There are three main elements in your novel, Jen: animals, artifacts, and junk food…”
Fortunately everyone was very pleasant about it all.
The proposed plan was to have small illustrations for each chapter. However, there are 51 chapters to this book. So I suggested, instead of this, ten full size plates and a few small, symbolic images that could be repeated. This, I believed, would be more effective ‘illumination’ and create less work for me.
Ahem. Well, the next meeting a few weeks on illuminated my struggle to get to grips with the many characters in the lively, complex narrative. There were also detailed and varied settings to tackle: ramshackle houses, blustery seasides, fairgrounds, and a second-hand shop stuffed full of eccentric paraphernalia. Calling, perhaps, on her 20+ years of publishing experience, Lisa extended the deadline. And I kept going.
Some harpies, a wolf, monkeys, Viking ships, doughnuts… (click to go through slides):
Week by week, images and characters started to emerge and, for Jen, a name: “The 14th Summer of Angus Jack”.
Years ago, I studied architecture and I still love to draw buildings. But the architecture course was in Edinburgh and Bath and, of course, buildings on the tropical North-East coast of Australia are very different – and there was the antique shop! Hence loads of references were needed:
Some attempts at a cover (click to go through slides):
Nothing was coming together… Until:
Everyone agreed this was the one. I got working on painting the animals and internal image in PhotoShop (click to view progression)
…and these were beautifully woven into a stunning cover design by Stephanie Spartels (http://studiospartels.com/), who designed both the cover and the entire book.
And here’s the final cover!
Stephanie Spartels’s calm creative direction was just what was needed – and it prevented me from going over the top with twiddly bits on illustrations. This book needed to appeal to boys as well as girls – and too much detail could have made it look over designed.
Steph got the balance just right and, with her guidance, I was able to bring many, disparate drawings – vignettes, half-page, full page, little twiddles, framing devices, into one style.
In the end, we arrived at eight full-page illustrations, ten vignette illustrations, and about forty small illustrations, twiddles and framing devices.
Here are some favourites:
And full-page illustrations (rough to final) featuring LOADS of architectural detail (click to go through slides):
You can find The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack at all good bookshops, and online here.