“The Heart of Owl Abbas” reviews

Here are two reviews I missed for my (Eugie Foster Memorial Award-shortlisted) short story “The Heart of Owl Abbas” (and an excuse to post Audrey Benjaminsen‘s beautiful illustration for it again).

art by Audrey Benjaminsen (I love it)

Charles Payseur: Quick Sips – Tor dot com April 2018

“Framed as a bit of history, part anecdote and part fairy tale or myth, the piece is quietly moving and archetypal, sweeping and sweet and dark all at once…. It’s a piece that looks very much at the almost accidental power of small good things.”

Iseult Murphy: The Heart of Owl Abbas by Kathleen Jennings

“not only does it produce a literary treasure, it’s also a story very much about music, and she somehow manages to incorporate its movement and emotional resonance into the narrative as well.”

You can read the story for free on Tor.com, or buy it as an ebook at the usual online locations.

Process post: Chapter opener for Finding Baba Yaga


Cover design by Jamie Stafford Hill

A little while ago, I illustrated a chapter title page for Jane Yolen’s verse novella Finding Baba Yaga, from Tor.com (art direction by Irene Gallo).

I had drawn chapter headers before — illustrations that ornamented and promised and hinted and summed up individual chapters. Along with endpapers, they were one of my earliest wishlist illustration jobs (largely because of Charles Vess’ work in that field — I’m particularly fond of his headers for The Faery Reel: Tales From the Twilight Realm and The Green Man: Tales From the Mythic Forest anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling).

Chapter header illustrations are, I think, a little like epigraphs in some regards (in Flyaway, I think of my little silhouettes as functioning a tiny bit that way).

An single, repeated chapter opener is a different proposition. In this case, I had a whole page to play with, rather than a narrow horizontal band, which meant I could at least fantasise about treading merrily into Kelmscott Press territory.

Here are the early thumbnail sketches (and a test cut-paper silhouette).


A single, repeated chapter opener is necessarily both more ornamental and less illustrative than either individual headers or incidental illustrations or a book cover. It is not the first feature that advertises a book. If it sums up the book, it can’t be too obvious about it. It’s not a cue for a pivot-point or a change; it doesn’t point to a particular moment or character. If the book has tonal and emotional variations, it must suit (or at least not detract from) them all. It’s more decorative and less action-filled, and one of its primary functions is to add to the overall impression of a book — what its through-line is, the fact that people thought it deserved ornamentation.

These are slightly more nebulous goals, but they aren’t by any means negligible. It’s like those almost subconscious cues of paper weight, or dignified margin widths, or font choices, that say this book mattered to people.


In the end, we chose D — a fairly simple design, but it suits the slim volume. A denser pattern might have weighed it down too much, although it would suit a heavier hardback. I could have introduced more movement into the hut, but then the trees are in motion and because this is a verse novella, the text contains quite a bit of forward motion, which balances this more ornamental composition — a full-page point of stillness before the search goes on. There’s that little tension, too, of the characters looking away from each other, and the forward-winding of the grass, and the hint of modernity in trousers + ponytail.

And here is the final version, printed in grey to push the chapter titles forward.


It was a fascinating project — not just the evergreen challenge of representing a book, but of working out what role this sort of illustration could play.

I’ve had the chance to do a few more since then, but not in this full-page format. It’s a mode I’m keen to revisit.

In the meantime, chicken-legged huts still make occasional appearances, like the little free library in the February calendar., and I very much recommend reading Finding Baba Yaga.

The Border Keeper — with video

7KJennings Border Keeper

Last year, Kerstin Hall’s novella The Border Keeper came out from Tor.com, and I did the cover art! It was revealed last year on Bookish, but that post has vanished now, so here are some process details — with a video.

It’s a beautiful, luminous, vast novella, and I recommend it. But to capture that, the art process went through a few iterations — a very clear initial concept had to be shelved (for good reasons) and then it was an adventure to capture the sense of shifting through of the book. Here are a couple of the later sketches.


Since it covers multiple worlds (one of the reasons it feels so spacious, I think) there were many elements to try and include.


Not least among which was everyone’s favourite crab-baby.


With so many details I had to cut a few test patches, to see how fine I could get the (e.g.) barbwire (the crab-baby, alas, had to be further simplified).


Usually my silhouettes are a single piece. This time, to catch the difference in colouring and allow for some sizing adjustments, I cut it in three pieces: trees, wire, and Border Keeper.

Here is a video of part of the process (time lapse, obviously, and if you catch a glimpse of a bandage it was not from the knife — I had an incident with a julienne peeler):

And here is the final cover for the novella.


No Stories

“There aren’t any stories except the ones we bring with us.” — Flyaway

One of the great joys of being a writer/illustrator is the moment when someone takes a project out of your hands and brings it back made into something solid and shining and wonderful.

Or, in my publisher’s case, uses it to make book-angels.


(Flyaway is out 28 July 2020, and is available for preorder now.)

A Cover for Flyaway


My Australian Gothic novella Flyaway will be released in July next year — but Tor.com has now revealed the cover (fabulous design by Jaya Miceli, from a silhouette by me).


It comes with some useful links (although I’ll let you know more about pre-orders as that becomes available) and a few lovely words from Kelly Link, Holly Black, C.S.E. Cooney and Brooke Bolander — authors whose way with stories I very much admire.

I am extremely delighted with this cover, for which the designer and art directors should get most of the credit (and I adore the typeface), and I can’t wait (I must wait!) for the book to be a real thing in the world.

Flyaway has sold to Tor.com!


Tor.com have bought my Australian Gothic novella Flyaway! I’m so excited to be working with them on this. It was the subject of my MPhil (Master of Philosophy) research (oh, and I’ve finished the degree, and have the certificate!) and soon(ish — next year) it will be out in the world as a real book, oh my goodness.

Anyway, there’s a bit more about it here, with the Tor.com announcement: Announcing Kathleen Jennings’ Debut Novella Flyaway

Thanks are due to a lot of people, but immediately & particularly to Angela Slatter, Kim Wilkins, Lisa O’Connell and Ellen Datlow.

Border Keeper cover reveal

7KJennings Border Keeper.jpg

Over on Bookish.com, there is a reveal for my cover art for Kerstin Hall’s upcoming novella The Border Keeper, to be published by Tor.com. It includes a video of the art process (if you glimpse a bandage, it was from a julienne-ing incident, not the craft knife).

“The Heart of Owl Abbas” – now on Tor.com

My very odd short story “The Heart of Owl Abbas” is now up on Tor.com!

The story kind-of-sort-of-maybe exists in the same world (or continuum of worlds) as “Kindling” (in Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear and Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012) and “Skull and Hyssop” (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #31 and Prime’s Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015).

Huge thanks to Ellen Datlow, editor for Tor.com, and Angela Slatter, story doctor extraordinaire, for all they contributed, and to publisher and art director Irene Gallo who let me have Audrey Benjaminsen’s beautiful art. I think it’s the first time a story of mine has been illustrated by someone else and I think it is remarkable. I keep staring at all the little details. Thanks also to Noa Wheeler, copyeditor, who gamely catalogued all the careless inventions and copy-edited with an ear for the weird structures, and to Jodi Cleghorn who kickstarted me into writing this particular project when I was focussed on drawing.

Also, a word to the wise: baroque stylings exponentially increase editing difficulty. Thanks here to C.S.E. Cooney who is the sort of person you want on your side to find replacement words that slot into a particular matrix of sense, feeling, alliteration and anachronism. And also to Amber Gwynne, who diagnosed me with semantic exhaustion.



A Magic Synergy – article by Delia Sherman

Freedom Maze - thumbnails round 2

Tor.com (a website well worth following) has published an article by Delia Sherman, about my cover art for her books: A Magic Synergy: The Cover Art of Kathleen Jennings.

Delia is the author of The Freedom Maze (for which I illustrated the Small Beer Press hardback, though the book has now also come out in paperback from Candlewick) and Young Woman in a Garden (just out, and very well reviewed!), as well of as The Porcelain Dove which I didn’t illustrate but just finished reading and want everyone to read, and also to let me illustrate.

The article is very lyrical, and I wish to use it in future as my letter of introduction.

Some other posts:

The Dalek Maze