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The magic of TedTalks and how it all started.

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

In preparation for the release of ORFEIA on 3rd Sept, I thought some of you may like to know why Joanne Harris invited a novice illustrator to collaborate on her collection of adult fairytales.

Its an unusual story, magical even, and it all started with TedTalks and Odin - not a likely combination, but let me explain.

As an artist I spend countless hours on my own in the studio. To keep me linked to the outside world I listen to the spoken word - documentaries, dramas, comedies, talk shows - yes I am a Radio 4 listener. One day as a break from my usual routine my teenage daughter nagged me to listen to TedTalks on Youtube. For those that don't know TedTalks are an ongoing collection of inspirational video talks aimed at young people. Delivered by some of the worlds most successful professionals, profound thinkers or industry leaders, these talks were originally designed to encourage young people to think outside the usual perimeters of the education system and maybe be a bit more open and ambitious in their life goals.

So I flipped it on and started work. Listening with only half an ear, TedTalks had been playing for several hours before Joanne appeared. After several hours of "inspirational talk" I was beginning to get very annoyed with the concept of the TedTalks - yes we must do everything we can to inspire the young - but not every young person is going to invent a widget that will make them a millionaire by the age of 25 and not every life will be changed because of some obscure piece of research. Lets just say some of the speakers were very self-orientated. I was especially annoyed with the supermodel that told me I must "love" my body because it was the "map upon which my life was written". Yes she was a plus size model but she still had all her mountains and valleys in the right place, after childbirth and breast feeding my "map" resembled a minefield - not so easy to love.

And then this no-nonsense Yorkshire lass walks on to my screen and starts to talk about a remarkable journey she took to a remote part of Africa, a place so removed from the modern world, without electricity, fresh water or sanitation, it was difficult to believe people could live there. In short a place so different for my lifestyle that Joanne might have been describing a totally different planet not merely a different country. But she emphasised the power of stories to unite people; if we have the patience and kindness to simply listen. Because when we listen, we discover that we have stories in common, when we have something in common, we can build bridges not barriers.

It was such a revelation to hear someone tell our children to be kind, to be patient that I decided to find out more. To my shame I had never heard of Joanne Harris, did not know she was a writer and had never read any of her books. But google revealed that Joanne was a writer and also interested in Norse mythology - that's where Odin comes in!

I had recently finished a black & white pencil drawing of Odin. Now this is the odd thing, to this day I don't know where this drawing came from - it was so different from anything I normally created, (I'm usually an expressive oil painter). One day I just picked up a pencil and started drawing again and Odin came tumbling out.

So while reading about Joanne on the internet I had a print of Odin sitting on the desk, my eyes flicked from the screen back to the Odin drawing and in a crazy moment of inspiration I decided to send Joanne a print to say thank you for her TedTalk.

I promptly rolled the print, penned a quick note and stuck it all in a tube for posting - and froze!

Sending a gift to a complete stranger is an odd thing to do - would she think I was some kind of crazed stalker? I must admit the sealed tube sat on my desk for 4 days before posted it - by then I had convinced myself it would do no harm and didn't really matter.

I never really thought that Joanne would see it, love it and actually send me an email. And I certainly had no idea that she was actually looking for an illustrator at that exact moment in time. When Joanne asked me if I had ever done any illustration work I had to admit no, illustration was not part of my professional practice. Nevertheless a few days later an email arrived from Orion asking me to consider illustrating Joanne's new book "A Pocketful of Crows".

Odin, with a few slight changes became the end pages to the first book.

The concept of illustrated books for adults is not new, the Victorians did it all the time, but the practice had fallen out of fashion until Joanne and Orion decided to reinvigorate the field. How Joanne persuaded Orion to trust a complete beginner with this project I really don't know - it was a huge leap in the dark for all of us especially as I only had 8 weeks to do all 24 drawings - the time was so short that we could not discuss roughs and the book went to proofing without the illustrations - they just had to trust me!

And that is honestly how it all started. I'm as surprised by this as anyone, a moment of madness on my part changed the direction of my life completely.

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