Bohemiana podcast interview

Just up from Bohemiana podcast — this lovely excitable conversation with George Penny:

BWF Author-Illustrator Episode

Screenshot of link to Author-Illustrator episode

Sarah Davis interviewed me for an episode of the Brisbane Writers Festival’s Author-Illustrator series. You can watch it through the BWF website, or on YouTube (below).

An interview about Flight

Rick Kleffel of Narrative Species interviewed Angela Slatter and me about Flight!

Flight is out now from  PS Publishing.

Photo of book Flight, closed, on original illustrations

Here’s my first glimpse of it: Flight has arrived.

Maps in Books: An interview with Kate Prosswimmer, editor

And finally in this series of Wilderlore posts, an interview with KATE PROSSWIMMER, editor at Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster), who published Amanda Foody’s Wilderlore novels.

Inking of stream on map in progress — visible pen nib

Kate Prosswimmer joined the McElderry team in 2019 after spending five years as an editor at Sourcebooks. She has had the distinct honor of working on acclaimed and award-winning titles including Amanda Foody’s The Accidental Apprentice, F.T. Lukens’ In Deeper Waters, Jess Keatings’ Shark Lady, Annette Bay Pimentel’s All the Way to the Top, and Zoraida Cordova’s Brooklyn Brujas series. Kate is enthusiastically acquiring a list picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction. If she had to distill her taste across all age ranges and genres to one word, it would be “escapist.” She loves mysteries, books that make her ugly cry, atmospheric and unusual settings, middle grade stories that are both whimsical and earnest across all genres, picture books that favor story over message or concept, YA that exists outside everyday settings in both contemporary and speculative genres, and stories across all ages that make the ordinary feel extraordinary.

For related posts (and much more art)

Photo of inked maps side-by-side on drawing board
The original inks: see more in the illustration process post

1. KJ: What do maps do for you as a reader? Do you have a favourite map (literary or otherwise)?

Kate: I’m a very visual person, the kind of person who remembers faces and not names and uses landmarks to navigate rather than street signs. And when it comes to complicated fantasy worlds that feature unusual names, the struggle can be really compounded! Because of this, I oftentimes feel lost in a story when I can’t visualize the physical journey a character is taking. Maps help an otherwise fantastical world feel more accessible and grounded in a way that allows me to get closer to the characters and the story. I don’t know if I have a particular “favorite” map, but I will tell you that when I was growing up, I pretty much refused to read a book if it didn’t have a map in it! That was the easiest way I knew to identify books with the kind of epic scope and adventure that I was looking for.

2. KJ: How do you decide when to put a map into a book? Why did you want maps in these books?

Kate: Typically, I consider adding maps to any of my books that depend heavily on a complicated or far-ranging setting. That happens most often with fantasy titles, but maps can certainly be helpful in contemporary titles too. If having a map would enrich the reading experience by providing a useful reference point for readers, then I like to try to include one! Amanda Foody created such a rich and exciting world in the Wilderlands, and providing maps for readers felt like a great way to honor that and amplify the reading experience! There’s something about physically seeing a special, magical world that makes it feel more tangible.

3. KJ: Do all maps in books need to do the same thing? Or what are some of the purposes a map might serve?

Kate: Not at all! Some maps are meant to help communicate the enormous scope of a world that sprawls over multiple continents, while others provide a look at how intensely detailed a smaller city full of discoverable nooks and crannies might be.

4. KJ: What’s the process you follow when you’re commissioning a map? Are there any surprises in that process? Has anything ever gone hilariously wrong (that you can talk about)?

Kate: I’m pretty lucky – as the Editor, I get to go to our in-house designer and say “let’s make a map!” From there, I get to sit back and enjoy as they present me with a selection of artists who might be good for the style that we’re looking to employ. We discuss the options before coming to an agreement on who we’d love to reach out to, and then we cross our fingers and hope they’re available! So far, I haven’t had anything go hilariously wrong…*knocks on wood*

5. KJ: What would be your favourite thing to find in a map?

Kate: I love nothing more than to find an extra little world-building detail on the map that isn’t explicitly written in the book. It feels like a special little discovery that’s been placed for the delight of the reader (which is pretty much accurate)!

6. KJ: What would be the worst/funniest book to have a map in, if you could only get away with it?

Kate: Probably a picture book, like THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES – there would be nothing to map out!!

7. KJ: Any questions you’d like me to answer?

Kate: I’d love to know where you start when you begin creating a map? And what’s your favorite part about illustrating maps?

KJ: I start by reading the books and trying to imagine the shape of the world and the lookof the landscape — sometimes it’s clearly described, but often I have to build it out of hints and probabilities. At the same time, I collect little details that might be interesting to fill out the world — creatures and oddities to draw into the corners of the map. My favourite part is finding those twists and ornaments that will help create the feeling of the book, the right way to draw a creek for that forest, or just the right type of fish, or a way to fit in those phrases that suggest the map is unfinished, or hint at what’s over the borders.



Here are the books:

Cover Image of The Accidental Apprentice
Cover art: Petur Antonsson, design by Karyn S Lee

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods in this “wholesome, delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and cheeky middle grade fantasy debut—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Cover image of The Weeping Tide
Cover art: Petur Antonsson, design by Karyn S Lee

Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

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Maps in Books: An interview with Karyn Lee, designer

Herewith, an interview about maps in books with KARYN LEE — designer at Simon and Schuster, who art-directed the maps for Amanda Foody’s Wilderlore books.

For related posts (and much more art)

Karyn Lee is a designer at Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, freelance illustrator, and a native New Yorker.

She earned her BFA from Pratt Institute in Communications Design and has since worked for clients such as The Washington Post, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster as a freelance illustrator. Much of her time is spent daydreaming about fancy historical clothing and yet-to-be-drawn botanicals, and nothing gets her by like a carefully curated playlist.

Her design work has been featured in the Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club, The New York Times, and Buzzfeed.

She is represented by Chad W. Beckerman at the CAT Agency (

Check out Karyn’s design work at

1. KJ: What do maps do for you as a reader? Do you have a favourite map (literary or otherwise)?

Karyn: I’m a visual person so maps really help me add that little bit of depth to the world that I build in my head. I love it when books have maps because it really shows how important the geography is to the story and sometimes, in the case of something like… let’s say The Lord of the Rings, it really emphasizes the length of the journey that lies ahead. And it’s always fun to flip back to the map to see where they’re going! The map that has always stuck with me the most is the one in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. It was my one of my favorite books growing up and I liked that the map really was a part of the hero’s journey—it turned up on his doorstep with the Phantom Tollbooth! I remember spending a long time staring at it and getting lost in the twisty doldrums and it was just so fun to envision a place with the name “Valley of Sound”.

2. KJ: How do you decide when to put a map into a book? Why did you want maps in these books?

Karyn: I feel we put maps in books that we always think could use an extra bit of world-building. Traditionally, maps are included in books with journeys—long journeys across lands that are unfamiliar and fantastical. For the Wilderlore series, we’re attempting to give young readers more of a vision of this ever-expanding world Amanda has created. This series is a great contender for a map because of the vastness of the world and because Amanda put so much thought into these locations, it’s wonderful for readers to see the time and effort she put into creating it. I hope they go back and reference the map as Barclay and his friends move from place to place.

3. KJ: Do all maps in books need to do the same thing? Or what are some of the purposes a map might serve?

Karyn: Oooh, I don’t know! I’ve always felt maps have been in books with long journeys, but I’m recalling the map in Circe by Madeline Miller that was just an island. And I think in that book, for me, at least, the map really emphasizes how confined Circe’s life was during her exile. I also have seen maps used in crime novels and think that’s a fun idea as a reader could use it to help them envision and solve the crime in the book, trying to figure out where suspects were at the time of the crime. So, I think there’s a ton of possibilities and reasons why a map might be in a book.

4. KJ: What’s the process you follow when you’re commissioning a map? Are there any surprises in that process? Has anything ever gone hilariously wrong (that you can talk about)?

Karyn: I have to say, that this is the first map I’ve worked on! So there’s nothing hilariously wrong that’s happened yet. I think finding the right artist is always the hard thing—there are so many ways to render maps and we wanted something that young readers could really get lost in. And you brought ours to life so perfectly with all the little details and beasts—there are so many things to consider in maps that I’ve never considered before (like… waterways!) I always think it’s interesting when an author has a comment (not just on maps but any art that goes in or on the cover of a book!) where they say like “oh this isn’t quite how I envisioned” because everyone envisions things differently.

5. KJ: What would be your favourite thing to find in a map?

Karyn: Ooh, I don’t know… I like little easter eggs—places in the book that maybe get passed by and mentioned that aren’t fully explored in the text. I love when we still get to see it on the map!

6. KJ: What would be the worst/funniest book to have a map in, if you could only get away with it?

Karyn: I think it would be so funny to have a map in Holes by Louis Sachar—also one of my favorite books from my childhood—the main character, Stanley, is sent to a correctional boot camp where, every day, he’s tasked to dig large holes in the ground “to build character”. It’s an amazing book that is more than it seems. But the setting is essentially a desert full of holes with a mountain range surrounding it, which I think would make for a hilarious map!


Here are the books:

Cover Image of The Accidental Apprentice
Cover art: Petur Antonsson, design by Karyn S Lee

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods in this “wholesome, delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and cheeky middle grade fantasy debut—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Cover image of The Weeping Tide
Cover art: Petur Antonsson, design by Karyn S Lee

Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Support and/or follow

If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, here are some options!

An Interview with Amanda Foody

Amanda Foody is the New York Times and indie bestselling author of All of Us Villains, the Wilderlore series, the Shadow Game series, and more. Her work has appeared in publications including Buzzfeed, Popsugar, Culturess, and Amazon selected All of Us Villains as the Best Young Adult Book of 2021. Originally from Pennsylvania, she lives in Boston, MA with her partner and their orange tabby, Jelly Bean. When not writing, she unironically loves to cook. All of Our Demise, the sequel to All of Us Villains, will release on August 30, 2022. The third book in the Wilderlore series will follow in Spring 2023.

The first two volumes in Amanda’s delightful middle-grade series of Beasts, exploration and magic are out now. I illustrated the maps (the covers are by Petur Antonsson), and also got to ask Amanda questions about maps in her books!

(Illustration process post is up, and interviews with editor and art director to come!)

KJ: What do maps do for you as a reader? Do you have a favourite map (literary or otherwise)?

Amanda Foody: I love opening up a fresh fantastical book and being immediately greeted by a map. It’s such an exciting peek into the world even before you read the first words. And though I might be terribly biased, the Wilderlore maps truly are my favorite! I love how much they burst with detail—you could spend ten minutes admiring them and still catch new words or Beasts you hadn’t noticed before.

KJ: Why did you want maps in these books? (Or, if you didn’t — which is potentially funnier — how did you feel when maps were thrust upon you?)

Amanda: I didn’t request any maps up front because, in comparison to other fantasy books I’ve written in the past, The Accidental Apprentice didn’t require one so much. And since we had the Beast glossary in the back, I figured the book already had some wonderful extra content. But The Weeping Tide did lend itself better to a map, so when my team suggested adding one, not just for Book Two, but for TAA, TWT, and all the future books in the series, I was thrilled! Why would I ever say no to such delightful additions? 

KJ: These books take place in very different locations (the Woods and the Sea), and all the remarkable beasts in them change accordingly (except for the ones who travel with the main characters). Yet these aren’t exactly journey or quest fantasies — they’re much more about mystery and discovery. Did you want to explore the geography of the world as part of that? How/why did you choose the areas for those stories to take place in?

Amanda: As each book in the series is set in a different Wilderland, aka a magical biome, each time I’ve sat down to outline a new installment, one of the key items of my agenda is to list some geographical locations or phenomena I’d like to feature, which are typically inspired by the real world. For example, in The Weeping Tide, set at the Sea, I wanted to include a trench similar to the Marianna Trench, a coral reef, underwater rivers and lakes, islands, and even the Shifts—the very visible dividing line between the Sea and the ocean of the Elsewheres—is inspired by the real life border of where the Pacific and Indian Oceans meet. But honestly, TWT was just the beginning! This process only grew more expansive and detailed once I learned there would be maps in the series, which came after TWT was finished. Since then, I’ve begun to outline with the maps in mind, encouraging myself to feature even more dazzling and scientifically fascinating locations. Book 3 spotlights places inspired by landmarks across five different Earth continents. The maps have genuinely become integral to how I view my Wilderlore writing process.

KJ: Do you have a favourite type of landscape?

Amanda: I’m partial to the Woods, as I feel that’s the biome I grew up in, being from Central Pennsylvania. Though my ecological and geographical research has been one of the joys of writing this series, so I’ve possibly had even more fun exploring places beyond it.

KJ: Often maps are treated like an Objective Truth. But one of the things discussed when these maps were in development was that they should feel unfinished. Why was that important?

Amanda: Because the Wilderlands are meant to be so wild and magical, they’re described as not being totally explored. In fact, there is a whole class of Lore Keeper called Surveyors who make their careers out of mapping the uncharted regions of each Wilderland. I love the mystery that this adds. What discoveries might be found in places humans have yet to touch?

KJ: How did you think up the shape of the world in these stories? Some authors work out a very detailed geography first. Others make it up on the fly to fit the story. Some just have a very strong aesthetic/vibe they work with. (Speaking as an illustrator, all of these are quite exciting to convert to a map.)

Amanda: I definitely fall into the latter category. I find that if I commit to figuring out too much of the world upfront, I feel a lot of pressure to include all of that detail in the book, and it can often be overwhelming. When I start with simply what’s necessary on page and go from there, it keeps it more minimal. (Though I don’t think anyone who’s read my books would claim the worlds are minimal haha!)

KJ: Did you draw any maps yourself, and can I show your rough sketch?

Amanda: You absolutely can, though I drew them specifically as guides for you, as opposed to guides for me, so I only put the bare bones into them because I knew you’d take them away so beautifully from there! I’m very visual and good with directions, so I tend to remember the overall layout of my settings without relying on a map as I write.

[KJ: You can see the reference sketch Amanda made for me over in the illustration process post]

KJ: What is it like working with an art director and illustrator to have a map made to fit a book?

Amanda: It’s very fun! I’ve had maps included in most of my books to date, and the process across publishers and series and age categories has always been much the same. Typically, once the book is mostly finished, I’m asked to provide some type of sketch of the map to send to the illustrator, and then some time later, I receive something a million times better than what I originally sent, often styllized in a way that suits. I also love how varied my maps have been. In Wilderlore, they’re maps of the Wilderlands, which are extremely large. In All of Us Villlains, the map is of the grounds of a death tournament, which include a single city and its surrounding regions. And in the Shadow Game series, the maps are all of the same single city, with alterations to suit the locations of each installment. [Maps by Jennifer Hanover]

KJ: What would be your favourite thing to find on a map?

Amanda: I love including details that might not feature in the actual book. I find they’re such a great way to make the world feel big and vibrant and not clue the reader into every single piece of information that will be important later.

You can read all about the illustration process for the maps here:

Art Process — Wilderlore maps

Here is a sheep from the maps:

tiny ink drawing of sheep

Here are the books:

Cover Image of The Accidental Apprentice
Cover art: Petur Antonsson

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods in this “wholesome, delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and cheeky middle grade fantasy debut—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Cover image of The Weeping Tide
Cover art: Petur Antonsson

Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Australian Speculative Fiction project interview

The first part of my conversation with Bettina Burger of Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf is now live (edit: both parts are now up — see below!). It was for the E-Learning and Research Project “Australian Speculative Fiction”.

I can’t recall if it was particularly late or early when we recorded, or I just hadn’t seen people for a while, so I’m a little loopier than I would prefer to think of myself as (but very cheerful!). However we had a delightful chat, and are fascinated by books in very similar ways, as we swing from topic to topic, and Bettina was a delightful (and patient) interviewer.

Edit: And here is part two:

Podcast episode: conversation with Amanda Niehaus

art by Kaylah Del Simone

My episode of Science Write Now’s Conversations podcast is live! I had lovely conversation with Amanda Niehaus about observations and story textures and narrative moods, and some of the topics touched on in the observation journal essays they reprinted in Edition #5.

You can listen on their website, or on Google, Apple or Spotify.

Fairy tales and silhouettes: An interview with Juliet Marillier

Photo of Juliet Marillier by Mike Beltametti Photography

Juliet Marillier is the award-winning author of many wonderful historical fantasies, and also of Mother Thorn and other tales of courage and kindness. It was the first project I’ve illustrated for her, although I’ve admired Juliet and her work for a very long time, and I’m delighted that she agreed to this reciprocal interview!

I’ve written about the illustration process in previous posts: cover process and internal illustrations. The book is available from Serenity Press:

The sketches in this post are from my first read-through of Mother Thorn — quite a few of them ended up as silhouettes in the book (see the end of this post)


The four full-page story illustrations

KJ: There are four stories in Mother Thorn. What was the idea behind each (as you took and turned the fairy tale at its base, or approached the shape of a fairy tale with new material)?

JM: I knew I didn’t want to do a straight re-telling of fairy tales. I love the stories I chose, but in their best-known forms they don’t work well for today’s readership. In keeping with my belief that traditional stories change a little every time they are re-told, I set myself a writer’s challenge with each story.

The Witching Well (based on a Scottish border ballad, The Well of the World’s End) is related to the frog prince idea. I don’t care for tales in which a young woman (princess or not) ends up marrying a virtual stranger because of a magical twist. In The Witching Well the frog is a toad, the girl is an over-burdened soul with a mother severely affected by past trauma, and there is no prince – but there is still magic. I was happy with the way these characters came alive.

The Princess and the Pea is one of the least believable fairy tales – another ‘’marriage sight unseen’’ story.  In my version, Pea Soup, the central couple are real individuals who try to solve their own problems and keep agency over their decisions. This ended up as a comedy of manners. It was such fun to write!

Final title header for Pea Soup (for the special edition — the yellow was printed in bronze)

I love The Tinder Box. Who could resist a dog with eyes as big as mill-wheels! [KJ: We all say this, but then someone has to actually draw what’s descrived!] But in the best-known version greed and violence are rewarded, and a princess ends up married to a stranger who wins her hand through stolen magic. My story, Copper, Silver, Gold, is based on what might have happened if the soldier at the centre of the tale had been female. It’s set in a real historical time and place, and it still has the dogs.

The title story is not based on an existing fairy tale, but on the folkloric idea that a lone hawthorn tree is a place where the divide between human world and Otherworld is quite thin. I wanted to write a story about second chances, and how true love may not mean what you think it does. Also, it’s about how important it is, when asking uncanny folk for a favour, to get your words exactly right.

Trying to work out dog’s eye-sizes

KJ: You frequently write through and with fairy tales, with a beautiful sense of their tone and structure. How do you judge the shape of a fairy tale? Is it the same as a short story?

JM: Some fairy tales have an epic shape, more like a novel than a short story, but they’re told quite simply – characters often don’t even get names, just roles like the mother, the soldier, the fisherman. They are more types than individuals. A lot is left to the imagination of the reader/listener – appropriate for oral storytelling. A short story conveys a wealth of meaning in a limited word count – therefore every word is carefully chosen, perhaps with use of allusion, metaphor and so on. A good short story will surprise the reader. There will be a turning point or revelation that makes the reader think. A fairy tale is usually more straightforward. I think a blend of the two is possible! 

Working out styles of dress for Pea Soup

KJ: The stories were full of beautiful imagery — dogs and doorknockers and wistful hybrid creatures. To what extent do you find the effect of a fairy tale depends on its imagery, compared to (for example) themes or situations?

JM: Fairy tale imagery is powerful. Details we remember from childhood storytelling – a harp, a rose, a mirror, a spindle – may resonate quite deeply for us in later life. Then there’s the way the imagery can conjure the idea of the uncanny or magical existing alongside the world we know. The hybrid creatures are part of that – both familiar and curiously unfamiliar at the same time. I think the imagery adds an additional layer of magic to the story – your illustrations for my stories so beautifully echo that.

Creatures for The Witching Well (a whole family of hedgehog-rabbits got into the book!)

KJ: There are some lovely dogs loping through these tales. Should there be more dogs in fairy tales? Which fairy tales do you think would benefit most from having dogs added to them (and why)?

JM: Since fairy tales grow and change constantly over the years, why not add more dogs if desired? Mind you, the presence of a dog might change the course and outcome of the story. If Hansel and Gretel had been accompanied by a dog when they went into the forest, its warning growl would have kept them away from the witch’s house. A dog would have disrupted The Princess and the Pea completely. ‘’What, sleep up there? Impossible. Muffin always shares my bed and she has very short legs.’’ I’d like to see a dog in Sleeping Beauty. It would snuggle up happily with its beloved human for a hundred years, only to be grumpily woken when the prince kisses her. I can imagine various ways the story might unfold from that point!

(these did make it into the silhouettes!)

KJ: Are there some fairy tales you have found particularly difficult to play with, for original stories, or which you want to use but for which you haven’t found the right story yet?

JM: Some fairy tales are powerful but too dark for me  – The Juniper Tree is one such story. I think writers of very dark fantasy, verging on horror, are better at handling that kind of material. I’d love to draw on some Welsh stories. Many of those have characters from Arthurian legend, but are fairy tale stories in character. I did once plan an Arthurian book (I’m a big fan of Mary Stewart) but at that time the publishers felt there were too many of them around. With The Green Knight movie coming out this year, I think I’ve left my run too late!

KJ: Are there particular challenges to writing in the fairy-tale mode? And would you give any advice to writers learning to sustain that effect?

JM: It can be challenging to maintain a fairy-tale vibe for the story while keeping it real enough to engage today’s readers. You need to balance dynamic storytelling with the fact that the Otherworld moves at its own pace, which can be gradual. That’s where the little touches are helpful, allusions to something uncanny or magical, details that don’t quite belong in one world or the other. One telling image can be more effective than a paragraph of description. I’d suggest writers prepare by reading lots of fairy tales and mythology. I’ve devoured such material since I was very small. Seek out older versions of tales.

Working out the balance of real and fairy tale for Copper, Silver, Gold

KJ: Should all books have foil on the cover?

JM: This question made me laugh! In my story Pea Soup, Bella comments that Fred’s family must be quite grand, because even their kitchen has books with gold on the covers. My answer: Only the special ones. Some of those may be cook books, who knows? 

Cooking in Pea Soup


JM: You posted recently about the process of illustrating Mother Thorn, and I was reminded of those lovely pencil sketches that were not used in the final book [KJ: I’ve put them through this post]. You’ve illustrated books for many writers. What happens when your vision for illustrations – in style and/or content – doesn’t mesh with what the writer or publisher wants?  How do you go about solving that problem?  (or how would you, if it happened?)

KJ: It doesn’t arise too often, because often the style is the first element discussed, although very occasionally when people just can’t agree we’ll negotiate a graceful exit (and ideally that will be in the contract, too!). But sometimes writer, publisher and I all agree on a style and then I discover that the subject matter of the book doesn’t fit it quite so organically.

My usual style — in pen and ink (as for Angela Slatter’s Bitterwood Bible and Tallow-Wife fairy-tale collections) as well as silhouette (as for you) — is an attempt to combine the lyrical and the conversational. It suits fairy-tale fantasy perfectly, but it is not a natural fit for very modern realism, grotesque horror, and hard science fiction. I tell people outright, now, that I don’t do straight lines.

However, I also enjoy the challenge of this — pushing my style into a more noir-ish direction for a contemporary fantasy (for e.g. a set of headers for Holly Black’s Curseworkers), or being willing to take ongoing pushes from an art director or editor to get an appropriately unsettling effect (Jonathan Strahan was very patient with me on this a few years back for a few stories in Eclipse Online, which is sadly no longer online). But I also enjoy finding ways to provide an alternative interpretation to stories, either to pull the story back into my territory, or to set up a resonance between the art and the story that lets the reader find a middle ground.

Baths are always tricky to draw. I finally bought a dolls-house bathtub for ease of reference.

JM: You’ve won awards for both illustration and writing. Notably, you wrote and illustrated a recent novella, Flyaway, which combines fairy-tale elements with an Australian setting. What was your process for that – text and illustrations growing together organically (on the page or in your mind) or in sequence?

KJ: The writing for Flyaway grew out of a series of very strong images, which mostly didn’t end up in the final art! Sketching lets me trap movements, aesthetics, elements I want to try and rework in words — and it was a good way to think through the work of some other very image-driven authors to work out how they did it (particularly Joan Lindsay, who described her Picnic at Hanging Rock as being more like a painting than a novel). I also sketched motifs that belonged to the sort of story I wanted to create. I didn’t use all of them, but their existence kept me on track. (If anyone wants to see a lot more information about this process, I wrote an article for Illustrating Flyaway — Kathleen Jennings on creating art and prose together).

Australian Gothic tropes and motifs

To make the silhouette illustrations for the chapters and the cover, I went in a less-usual direction. Rather than concentrating on movement, which I usually do, I wanted to create a series of ornaments that would show where the story belonged and how to read it — as an Australian Gothic fairy tale. To create the illustrations, I went back over the written novella and my sketched notes and found elements that would work as a series of ornaments: square motifs and individual birds. Then I cut those out, sketching them again loosely onto the back of black paper and refining them as I cut them out.

I really like the two very different treatments the designers gave to the cover — I asked them more about that here: Flyaway cover comparison.

JM: Is illustrating your own writing different from illustrating someone else’s? In what ways?

KJ: It can be very different! When I illustrate someone else’s work, the sketching and illustrating is a way of reading and thinking through that story, of talking with the author, of responding to the book, changing it, being changed by it, playing in the world — the closest I can get to the old wish to actually get inside a book or through a wardrobe.

When I illustrate my own work, almost all of that thinking and ornamenting and varying has already been done in the prose. Also, I can be painterly in prose in a way I’m not when I draw — I use lines and silhouettes in my illustrations, but I love thick colour and the play of light, and that’s easiest for me in words.

Illustrating my own work is simplest if I start with the illustrations and add words. This is quite a good way to work up the aesthetic and big moments of a story — the risk, however, is that the prose gets away from me and doesn’t need the illustrations anymore. A recent story — “Gisla and the Three Favours” in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #43 — started as a series of drawings I did in Iceland (you can see one of them here). “The Wonderful Stag, or The Courtship of Red Elsie”, which was illustrated in the end by John Jude Palencar, began as an illustration I did for an Inktober prompt.

A silhouette of a man in medieval garments offering a gold ring to a stag with rings on its antlers.

JM: What fairy tale would you especially love to illustrate for a publication, and why?

KJ: For an absolutely classic take on a traditional telling… I would have to say at the moment it’s Mr Fox — Lady Mary so brave, and the recurring warnings, and the challenge supported by gory evidence!. I have an old affection for Little Red Riding Hood both in its fairy-tale versions and in longer reworkings (Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend is one of my favourite novels, and it riffs heavily on many fairy tales, but especially Little Red Riding Hood), and also for The Goose Girl — unfairness, rhymes, comeuppances! And Toads and Diamonds… Really, I suppose, any fairy-tale heavy on the things I like to draw: gowns, foxes, birds, bones…

But I really like to illustrate variations, subtle readjustments, resettings, and so forth — it would be delightful to illustrated a reworking of The Little Mermaid as a tale of foxes and gowns, for example, or Little Red Riding Hood with strong nautical-fantastic echoes (the “Gisla” illustrations started as a landscape-changed Cinderella). I play with this a lot in my observation journal posts, e.g. changing fairy-tales by adjusting what story the in-world ornaments are from or even just shifting a viewpoint.

Chasing the energy of movement and poses for The Witching Well

JM: The silhouette style of illustration seems perfectly suited to fairy tales. Why do you think that is?

KJ: There are several reasons (at least). Silhouettes have a long association with fairy tales and tale-telling, as well as with various folk traditions. Arthur Rackham’s illustrations and Lotte Reiniger’s animations and shadow puppets, for a start, and many cultures have cut-paper traditions. So the use of cut-paper silhouettes automatically invokes that history.

Silhouettes can also be ominous — shadowy, sometimes open to interpretation, hard-edged for all their beauty. Fairy-tales are very closely related to Gothic stories, so silhouettes can capture that feeling, as well.

Then, too, silhouettes can be very ornamental. They tell the reader that this is a story worth reading as a beautiful object, which I think is useful for fairy tales, which aren’t always, e.g., psychologically-innovative character studies (not that they can’t be!).

Finally, as you said, fairy tales can be stories of types, of roles, of motifs — an author retelling a fairy tale or working in that mode can refine the story through detailed realism, of course, but often the underlying narrative engine runs on those aspects. Silhouette illustrations create a similar effect: they provide poses, movement, types, roles, shadows for the story to fill, and for the reader or listener to add their own details to, while still allowing the story to exist in that story-otherworld.

Cutting out the main illustration for Pea Soup — more in the internal illustration process post

If you want to read more about the art process for Mother Thorn, see these posts:

Mother Thorn is available from Serenity Press:

The Final Hen

On getting maps into books: An interview with Karina Granda

Previously in this series of posts:

Karina Granda, Art Director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, can be found at I’ve worked with her now on several books, including the maps and ornaments for Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series (The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, and Queen of Nothing), but most recently she was the art director on Samira Ahmed’s new middle-grade fantasy (and science adventure Amira & Hamza: The War for the Worlds, and I worked with her on the map.

She very kindly agreed to be interviewed about putting maps in books (generally, and specifically Amira & Hamza) — and to interview me right back! So halfway through this post the roles flip…

Kathleen 1: What do maps do for you as a reader/art director? Do you have a favourite map (literary or otherwise)? 

Karina: Typically we place our maps at the front of the book, and they are very useful for instances where the reader is being introduced to a new world, and/or where the sense of place and space is very important. We often think of fantasy books since you are entering lands unknown, often built from scratch by the author, and the characters move through a large space, multiple kingdom’s etc. But some are more unconventional. I recently commissioned a map for April Henry’s upcoming book, TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE, which is a thriller that takes place entirely within a motel. The motel map clues the reader into the entrances, the exits, the dead ends–which creates a really interactive experience where the reader can follow the map to chart the action, or try and guess escape routes for themselves! I also love the maps for the AMIRA & HAMZA series because they deal with time and space in such an unconventional way.

Kathleen 2: How do you decide when to put a map into a book? What do you look for in an illustrator, when commissioning maps? 

Karina: When I commission a map, the first thing I think of is the purpose of the map. Does it need to be highly literal? For non-fiction books, or perhaps a book where we are following a war, etc.—we often want to be very exacting about scale, relative positioning, dimensions, landmarks, etc. Or is this one where we can take more artistic liberties? Is this one where we can add more decorations and fun tidbits? Where we can choose which places to emphasize in scale/detail based on significance in the book, and not literal size? For very literal maps, I look for artists that have a cartographer’s approach. If not, I cast a wider net—including some artists that may never have done a map before—but that match the tone and feel of the story (and the art created for the cover). Or perhaps the map is an opportunity for contrast. One thing I found really fun about working on the FOLK OF THE AIR series is that we had these hyper-modern 3D covers, but were able to use the map and interior art to add a softness and whimsy that we needed for a more complete package.

Kathleen 3: Why did you want maps in this book? Did the particular requirements of this map give you any pause? 

Karina: The maps for AMIRA & HAMZA posed quite a unique challenge in that we were not just looking for how to move north to the mountains, or east to the ocean, let’s say; but we are dealing in different dimensions and moments in history. In all honesty, I conceptually understood what Samira wanted, but I did not have the vision for how to execute it in a way that was digestible as a map. But I knew Kathleen is so fantastic at fantasy, and maps, and also in giving extra special care and detail into everything she does, that I knew if she took it on, she would figure it out. And it was truly perfect.

Kathleen 4: Thank you!
Do all maps in books need to do the same thing? Or what are some of the purposes a map might serve? Have there been any Unexpected Moments in Maps in your career? 

Karina: All maps “set the scene”; but I think that can be literal, or more for the purposes of feel/tone. I do my best as an art director to avoid surprises! And really it is out of respect for the time and energy that artists are bringing to the work. So I try to start by seeking out as many details and as much information as possible. Though I have to admit that I was thrown for a loop when it was decided that FOLK OF THE AIR would need different (but similar!) maps in order to adapt to a changing landscape—and our artist works in ink! Series pose the most surprises since it can be the author’s prerogative to introduce change at many points in the process. That said, we were lucky that Holly and Kathleen are both so flexible, and such pros, and we were always able to make it work. ;)

Map for The Wicked King, by Holly Black. Little, Brown 2019

Kathleen 5: What’s the process you follow when you’re commissioning a map? Are there any surprises in that process? Has anything ever gone hilariously wrong (that you can talk about)? 

Karina: First we determine whether we need a more literal or artistic map, and then we look for artists that would complement the style of the art we are pursuing for the jacket. Typically we share some options with the author so they can have a say in the art style too. Then I pose what many authors consider to be a big challenge: Please doodle the map for me. It can be incredibly rough and amateur, but it is very important that we are all on the same page about the relative positions of the different landmarks and locations. And I promise that everyone has been more than capable of providing what we need. I also ask for a list of the landmarks and locations with written descriptions and/or visual references so that the artist has something to work with when adding all their great details. We’ve been lucky to work with so many fantastic artists and authors, that the rest of my job tends to be easy on my end! It mostly entails shepherding and clarifying feedback. But the artists are really the ones working their magic. I am just a gopher. ;)

Kathleen 6: What would be your favourite thing to find in a map? 

Karina: I think all great art for books brings its own level of storytelling. For example, when I think of a good picture book, there is always a little something more being said in the image. It is in conversation with the text, but not just a literal representation of the author’s words. And I think the same can be said for maps. I like finding the hidden characters, the specific flowers that would grow in that forest, the pearl or mermaid in the ocean, etc. I look for all the things the mapmaker brought to the art in order to make it feel vibrant and alive.

Kathleen 7: What would be the worst/funniest book to have a map in, if you could only get away with it? 

Karina: I imagine that any book with a map that would travel through the human body could have a hilarious and also totally gross component. A book like EVERYONE POOPS or TRUE OR POO? Or if there were some non-fiction book about how cities work, you could map some poop or dead goldfish making it’s way through a sewage system. And honestly think some kids would love maps like that. Kids can be totally weird! But that said, maps are always in conversation with the text, so I don’t think it would ever be any weirder than the story the author and publisher have already agreed to put out there!

Kathleen 8: Any questions you’d like me to answer?

Karina: Yes!

Karina 1:  What is your process for taking an author’s words and doodles and giving them an actual shape/drawing/form?

Kathleen: Obviously it depends a little on the final shape. Usually I sketch out the basic layout on the first page of my folded sketch paper, just to keep it in mind. But after that, I like to start by first just reading the manuscript or extracts, and taking notes. Where possible, I take make the notes in pictures. That way I’ve already solved (or identified!) a few problems, and can see at a glance where I might need to do more research — for example, whether certain creatures should be drawn with or without shirts, or whether something “appears” because it becomes relevant or because it magically comes into being (both of these on maps I worked on with you!). That’s where I might play with style, make little wishlists of things I’d like to draw, and so on. 

Sometimes this is like reading through the pencil — it goes straight from the book to the page and I just follow along. Sometimes it is a very complicated logic puzzle — sentences that seem to make sense can be tricky to turn into an actual picture, especially with fantasy! And then I have to get the tone right — what am I doing to the words. A picture can make something more grim, more whimsical, austere, warm…

After that I get more mechanical. I rule up several boxes with the shape I have to work in. Often I’ll make a cardboard template — I have a few standard ones already in my pencil case. They might be only a couple of centimetres/an inch tall. Then I start sketching the strongest ideas into them, very tiny.  I choose the best of those and send them to the art director, so you can consult and choose or suggest variations.

Tiny sketches from developing the map for Amira & Hamza

Karina 2: What is your biggest challenge when creating a map? Or, is there any map you have worked on that has been particularly challenging?

Kathleen: The biggest general challenge, apart from sometimes drawing more trees than I bargained for, is fitting the map into the page. Worlds are very rarely written to exactly fit two open book pages! And that’s working with just one world, and not the multiple tilisms of Amira & Hamza. But I have to fit the world plausibly into that space, and then fill the rest of that space pleasingly, accounting for margins and the area that risks disappearing into the gutter (fold).

Specific challenges vary. Amira & Hamza, with its map that’s more of a conceptual representation of the links and progression between spaces, made me pull right back and ask what a map could and should look like. For Folk of the Air, I had to think about real-world vs fairytale geology in designing the islands — and then fit new details into the sequel maps (splendid fun, but some spatial tinkering!). In two maps I have coming out next year, I had to deal with a lot of unexplored space, and ask how the characters who might have made the maps might have filled those areas up. 

I like to draw maps which capture the feeling of a world, rather than precise distances. But there’s still challenges there — with Folk of the Air, for example, you and I had to consider the ideal balance of whimsy and ominous elements, which led to me adding (among other things) some tiny skulls. But still I need to think a bit about geography — what flows where, or if it’s a slightly 3-dimensional map, what might be obscured by mountains or buildings.

Karina 3: What is the most fun part of working on a map?

Kathleen: The fact that every map is so different! I really do love these little puzzles — and then, once I solve them, getting to fill all the blank spaces with simurghs or mermaids or skulls or ominous toadstools or stars. And getting to put tiny stories and jokes and reinterpretations into the design. And I love how much people who see them get excited about having a world unrolled in front of them.

When I was little, I envied the characters who got to climb into books, and of all the jobs I’ve had, being an illustrator is the closest to that, and of all illustrations, drawing maps is like parachuting in.

Karina 4: What are your favorite maps? Literary or otherwise?

Kathleen: The Muppets travelling by map!

Well, my least favourite is the big wall map I have which is centred on Australia, because it turns out there are good design reasons not to do that: vast oceans on either side, and all the other continents squished around the edges. It’s rubbish for reference, and has made me feel so much further away from everyone all year.

Favourite… Hmm. I love so many — I’ve previously posted links of some of my favourite books of maps. Pauline Baynes’ maps were my first fantasy maps and she was the first illustrator who made me realise what illustration could do. And the maps always make me taste salt air and smell pines in the snow… When I walked into the Tolkien exhibition and saw her maps of Middle Earth — right there, in gouache! — I gasped. And my father used to build 3-dimensional maps out of blankets and cushions, to demonstrate historical events or how our property was laid out. That was when maps first made sense to me, as objects you could — almost — hold and touch and turn to see how the world works. More recently, I really like Elisabeth Alba‘s work, especially her map for Henry Lien’s Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword.


And do check out Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, a rollicking, thrilling middle grade adventure through science, mythology, poetry, and more worlds than you usually get in one map!