A few of my thoughts about ORFEIA by Joanne Harris. Cover design by @Suegent.
It's true I was the first person to read portions of the text - even before the editor Gillian Redfearn. This is a huge mark of trust between two creative people and I'm touched that Joanne felt she could share her work with me before it was "polished" for the rest of the world. But Joanne sent me portions of the story as she finished them so that I could start thinking about the illustrations - I like a good long thinking time!
Joanne gives me a lot of leeway when illustrating her stories. We are lucky, we share many opinions about the FAE world and the importance of fairy stories, we both believe that they are actually metaphors for real life or tools to explain complex issues. The FAE world is not friendly or always cute, its seductive and dangerous, beautiful, ugly and frightening. In short entirely different from our expectations, without our desires or understanding. It plays by a different set of rules.
Some of the passages were just to difficult to illustrate and I spent weeks thinking about them. Joanne's prose are thick with detail and atmosphere, her words are impossible to fully capture in black & white or with the set format of the book page. Even so I did far more illustrations than were actually commissioned by Gollancz and could easily have carried on doing more - simply because the story got beneath my skin.
From the first pages I could empathise with the character of Fay. She was living an a mothers deepest nightmare. I have never experienced the death of a child but as a mother I know its our greatest dread, that fear that touches us all in the dark of night. The death of her child stalks Fay, and although her journey is terrifying in itself, its nothing compared Ito the horror she is already running from.
(at the time of drawing, little did I know that the deserted streets of London as described by Joanne would soon be a reality)
I know many people will find the illustration of the Skull with Madcap Mushrooms horrible, but because of the nature of the story it was important to me to have it appear early on in the pages, almost as a warning to the reader of what was to come.
The pivotal point in the story for me was the ballroom scene, before that everything was beautiful, even charming as reflected in the illustrations.
After that scene everything becomes darker and we read about the approaching difficult decisions Fay is forced to take.
Some one asked me if the story had a happy or sad ending and I simply could not answer either way. But that's the great thing about Joannes writing, she has an ambiguity, nothing is definitely one thing or another - like life itself, its open to interpretation according to your own experiences and what you bring as the reader to each story.
Although I finished ORFEIA over a year ago the story is still with me and I hope to revisit some of its themes again in the future.
If you would like to read more about the Orpheus myth that inspired Joanne, she has created some really useful pages on her website which I would recommend you see.