Mother Thorn — book trailer

From A Licence to Quill comes this book trailer for Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn, and other tales of courage and kindness, illustrated by me.

The Serenity Press hardcover special edition is out now, and the trade release of the linen cover is in April 2021. More on that as the date approaches!

Golden Rays

A pencil sketch of stingrays hovering over a hillside.

Congratulations to Marc Criley on his story “The Golden Rays of the Morning Sun” coming out in Abyss and Apex. Marc wrote about the story here:

I have many excellent writing friends, and sometimes I get to illustrate their stories but very occasionally I get to sneak into the process before then — in this case at the story notes stage 4 years ago.

Screenshot of a twitter thread:

(I think the hovering crocodile was something to do with Peter M Ball).

Drawing pigs quickly

I was coy last time I posted about this, but I’ve been sketching during RPG game sessions on Zoom.

Tiny pen sketch of a stairway fight

I love the combination of pure imagination and documentary-sketching speed it requires, and also the way things get out of hand.

We pause in a stairwell to read up on how enchanted time-bubbles might affect time-of-the-essence clauses in contracts.

And the animals we collect along the way.

Tiny pen sketch of a fox among cabbages
Not shown: cabbage lice
Tiny pen sketch of a figure training a centipede
Training Arthur. That’s his top hat. I don’t know why.

But occasionally I hurt no-one but myself. For example, I am perfectly aware that pigs are the hardest animal for me to draw without reference.

Tiny pen sketch of magically summoning pigs

I still caused this situation, however.

Tiny pen sketch of two pigs running
Tiny pen sketch of two large and ugly pigs
I rather like the Ronald Searle quality of these two.

Which, predictably, escalated.

Tiny pen sketch of a person with an axe riding a large pig

(Not shown, pig casualties.)

Tiny pen sketch of a boar
Tiny pen sketch of a person with an axe riding a large pig in circles
Tiny pen sketch of a fight, including a person with an axe on a pig, people with swords, mechanical wings, etc
A brawl
Tiny pen sketch of a person with an axe on a large pig which is standing on a shield on top of a prostrate guard
Tiny pen sketch of a person on a galloping pig reaching to catch the hands of a running girl in a dress

Mother Thorn — pre-orders!

I am delighted to announce that Juliet Marillier’s new collection Mother Thorn, with silhouette illustrations by me, is now available for pre-orders from Serenity Press.

Walk into a fairy tale world that’s not quite what you might expect.

Lara’s life of lonely drudgery changes when she gains an unlikely friend and learns that acts of kindness can bring their own rewards. High-born Niamh knows the kennel boy is her soulmate, but when she seeks help from the Otherworld, her future takes a surprising turn. Bella runs away from home on a stormy night and finds shelter in a strange old house, where she meets a shy kitchen hand, his autocratic mother, and a mouse. Young soldier Katrin makes her weary way homeward after a terrible defeat. A chance encounter with an old woman plunges Katrin into an adventure involving dogs, treasure and a lost tinder box.

These four tales celebrate courage and kindness. They are about being to true to yourself and recognising the good in others.

Mother Thorn is for readers aged 12+. Adults who love fairy tales should also enjoy this book.

Inktober and triangulation, or: Nature LOVES a vacuum

Brush-and-ink and imitation-gold-leaf illustration of a hen looking at a radio.
“Radio” plus “The cowardly hero deceived the hen.” (This was VERY TINY and also a birthday card for my father and something of a riff on His Master’s Voice.)

I’m probably grossly misusing the word “triangulation” but it fits because it’s a process of navigation AND an indirect way of approaching something AND this is about using three elements.


  • A structure can be used to attract a story (see: Narrative Theory 1).
  • External input — something from outside my own head — is very useful when creating my own work.
  • Limitations (e.g. of materials, format etc) are hugely useful for pushing against creatively — they enhance the creative force.

I find that two constraints can suggest starting-point ideas, but using three together fairly reliably creates things that feel like stories. It holds open a space for things to fill. (See also: Observation Journal — A Tremor in the Web for more feeling-my-way-towards-ideas and Observation Journal —improbable inventions for another three-things approach).

Brush-and-ink and imitation-gold-leaf illustration of a thief sitting on a tree root and looking into an enchanted mirror.
“Radio” plus “The evil thief sighed in the deep dark forest.” The “radio” here turned into a pair of enchanted communicating mirrors.

Which brings us to Inktober. I’m repeating my approach to it last year, using three main boundaries:

  • Prompt: I use the main/official prompts (there are many others), because that’s simple, and because where they don’t fit my personal tastes/interests (i.e. “radio”) it makes me work harder to come up with something that pleases me. I like using and fighting against external prompts and timeframes, and having to incorporate something that’s not entirely from inside my own head — that was the appeal and lesson of Illustration Friday way back when (and that tag is a deep dive).
  • Technique: Ink, obviously, but I further limited it to silhouette brush work because I want to get better at brush work and silhouettes seemed simpler (why I, of all people, would think that, but here we are), and incorporated imitation-gold leaf (because it’s pretty and I have a lot to learn).
  • Second prompt: I’m using tweets from Fairy Tale Fragments (@fairytaletext) on Twitter. This pulls everything into my preferred fairy-tale area, but involves some mental acrobatics to incorporate e.g. “radio” into that sort of setting.
Sketches for possible illustrations.
“Rodent” and the process of feeling out that day’s @fairytaletext tweets looking for things I wanted to draw
Brush-and-ink and imitation-gold-leaf illustration of a mouse on a wine bottle drinking out of a thimble.
“Rodent” plus “Once, there was a drunken thief who lived in a tall tower.”
Brush-and-ink and imitation-gold-leaf illustration of rats in a coat riding on the back of a wolf and pretending to be human.
The creative process illustrated, or: “Rodent” plus “The ugly servant saved the wolf.

Note: It’s tricky getting good photos of the foil, and impossible to scan usefully, but it’s got a lovely buttery-gold gleam under lights.

Assorted stationery orders

It’s always exciting to send off something I’ve drawn (or, indeed, written) and have it come back as a made and shining object. Books are great, of course, but for quick gratification it is quite fun to be ordering stationery again. (Various other examples are under the stationery tag.)

The postcards I put together for Angela Slatter have been printed, and signed by her, and sent off to accompany limited editions of The Tallow-Wife when it is published (which I will be sure to tell you all about!).

I put together address labels for her at the same time (not shown), and also in another order of Flyaway-related things had some stickers printed, with the US cover art and the roughly circular test-image I cut out when I was designing it.

I also updated my post about the Castle Charming enamel pins with a picture of the stickers Tansy had made based on the same design.

And I have these rather nice little foil prints of the Flyaway cover silhouette ( now has foil options). They are so extremely shiny.

Pin reveal! Castle Charming

All photos of pins and bookplates by Tansy Rayner Roberts

I wrote previously about designing an enamel pin for backers of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Castle Charming Kickstarter.

It is now out in the world! This is what it looks like — I really like the details of the hanging clusters of peas (funnily, I’ve since had a run of pea-plant illustrations, so all the sketches working this out have more than paid off!).

And here’s a bonus photo from Tansy of the signed bookplates ready to go out. I posted before about the design for those — Art reveal: Castle Charming bookplates.

You can see more of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ projects on her website, and on Twitter, and see some other projects I’ve done with her (this is the third set of pins!) here.

Edit 14 September: And there were stickers, too!

Queensland Literary Awards — winners portraits

Congratulations to all the shortlisted and winning writers at the Queensland Literary Awards tonight!

I had the honour of illustrating all the award winners — all of whom are listed below:

Queensland Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance

The University of Queensland Fiction Book Award

The University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award

Griffith University Young Adult Book Award

Griffith University Children’s Book Award

University of Southern Queensland Steele Rudd Award for a Short Story Collection

Judith Wright Calanthe Award for a Poetry Collection

  • Heide by Pi.O (Giramondo Publishing)

Queensland Writers Fellowships

David Unaipon Award for an Emerging Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Writer

  • ‘The Space Between the Paperbark’ by Jazz Money

Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer

Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards

The Courier-Mail People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year Award

Light Grey Kickstarter: World Roulette art book

150 worlds by 150 artists!

Light Grey Art Lab’s Kickstarter for the worldbuilding art book of the World Roulette exhibition is now live!

You can pre-order the art book, there are pins, a deck of prompts, prints, and more.

And you can also see the exhibition itself, either in person at the Light Grey Art Lab gallery in Minneapolis, or online: World Roulette.

The Beauty and Horror of Fairy Tales

Olivia Brown of the University of Queensland’s School of Communication & Arts interviewed me about my writing (including but not limited to Flyaway), illustration, and research, and wrote this lovely long article (with lots of pictures):

The Beauty and Horror of Fairy Tales