Soon to read: Soonchild (a review that is not a review)

I am currently illustrating a picture book by Katrina Germein called Thunderstorm Dancing, about a family celebrating a thunderstorm. Guess what I’m using? Yep, pencils! (and ink, and watercolour, and… I’ll probably see how I go with that lot and then improvise.)

Along with texture and line, I am interested in the pattern of light and dark on the page, and I’m making thundery, stormy, windy shapes on my spreads. I love a nice bit of hatching, smudging, scribbling, and a bit of broken line – the indistinct glory of the printmaker’s mark; or the partly erased first, second or third attempt to render a leg in charcoal or pencil. So working in the library the other day, I blissfully looked up some of my favourite illustrators to soak up their inky, graphitey, smudgy vibes. One of them was Alexis Deacon. The books I was expecting to find on the shelves weren’t there (Beegu, Jitterbug Jam) But there was one. Soonchild! In the young adult section. Mmmm… I borrowed it. 

I haven’t started reading it yet, but already I know I need to buy a copy to keep. Just because of Alexis Deacon’s comments in the back of the book, I would buy a copy. About working on this book, he says, ‘Snowy Owl Spirit children, past-wrong ghost wolves, evil mini whalebone demons… I lived with these characters for over a year. I wish it could have been ten.’ (Anyone who feels that way about the story they have spent months illustrating is giving an endorsement I can’t ignore.)

But then there are the illustrations. Oooh, yess. On one spread there is a swirl of (I assume) the aforementioned past-wrong ghost wolves encircling the double page spread like a cyclone – similar to the cyclone form I am using for a spread in Thunderstorm Dancing – but spookier! It reminded me instantly of Pat Marriott’s drawings for Joan Aiken‘s classic book The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Nothing alike really… but just as scrumptious. (By the way, a quick search for Pat on the internet has brought to light the exciting rumour that Pat Marriott was actually Edward Gorey in disguise! Well, one of his assumed names for early illustrations of Aiken’s books. Is this true? If so I will have to evict the mental image I have of Pat Marriott as a mysterious female.) The rumour link is here. But I don’t know if it will stay.

Anyway, bravo Russell Hoban and Alexis Deacon!

The wonderful Russell Hoban died in December last year, but happily got to hold this beautiful book in his hands before he left. And I’m sure the writing will be just as glorious as the book itself. At the moment I can’t comment on the story. I haven’t read the book yet, only drooled over it. 


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