The Storm Child by Gill Lewis has been shortlisted for the Tir na nOg Award 2019. The retelling is part of the ‘Treetops Greatest Stories’ series produced by Oxford as part of its reading scheme. Aimed at Year 5 children, The Storm Child is one of 35 stories designed to extend children’s reading experiences and introduce them to some classic storytellers and the joy of fiction.
It’s fair to say then that the Tir na nOg Award will bring this book to the attention of a wider audience. And it really does deserve your attention. It focusses on the Welsh legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod, an ancient kingdom between Bardsey Island and Ramsey Island, protected from the rising tides by a sea wall. In this story, the fisher-folk are threatened by a “seven raven” gale and when the warnings of the Wall Guard go unheeded it’s up to the storm child to save the kingdom.
Gill Lewis is a glorious storyteller and The Storm Child is skillful, entertaining and fast-paced. The tale of forgotten kingdoms, forbidden love, banished princesses, betrayal and heroic escapes has a fairy-tale quality mixed in with the feel of a legend and morality tale.
This version of the story is different to the most popular versions we know – in those versions the sluice gates are neglected by either Mererid or the drunken Prince Setheillion. In Gill Lewis’ story, Mererid is the heroine; a girl of unknown parentage who, as a baby, was rescued from the seas during a torrential storm by Angelos the Wall Guard. The Storm Child senses that the kingdom’s defences are about to be breached, but will the king take heed?
Interestingly, Cantre’r Gwaelod has inspired many shortlisted titles in the Tir na n-Og Award’s history, including winners A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond (1977), The Silver Tree by Susan Cooper (1978) and Cities in the Sea by Siân Lewis and Jackie Morris (1997). Will 2019 bring another winner? Either way, The Storm Child is a great story that celebrates the rich heritage of Welsh folklore. This is a beautifully produced and skillfully crafted retelling, with illustrations by James Gifford adding real atmosphere. We’d really love to see Gill take on a host of other Welsh legends and produce a volume of tales – that would make for a fabulous book. For now, this one is a complete pleasure.
Storm Hound is Claire Fayers’ fourth novel following two award-winning books in The Accidental Pirates series and last year’s riveting Mirror Magic. A Hound from Odin’s Hunt has fallen to Earth as he seemingly couldn’t keep up with the pack. The thunderous skies break open and the beast lands on the A40 just outside Abergavenny. On falling to the realm of humans he transforms from a wild beast to a small puppy and is taken in by Jessica Price, her brother Ben and their father.
The torrential weather causes Jess to name the puppy Storm and he immediately gets the attention of several suspicious characters who sense his magic. The three professors display dubious demeanours and have questionable motives for being “seconded” to Jessica’s new school. Meanwhile her new friend David’s behaviour is often shrouded in mystery, especially when he’s around his peculiar Aunt. For the sake of Storm, Jess has to work out who she can trust.
Storm Hound is fast-paced and highly engaging – the narrative is driven and satisfying. There is a lot of humour in the book, derived from the relationship between man and dog (and who is the boss); with the interplay between cat and dog, and sheep and dog giving much cause for the giggles. There’s no humour amongst dogs though – Storm may be little but when he gets angry his shadow suggests his true status – and other dogs are in no doubt of his power.
The book is indebted to Welsh mythology and legend with Claire putting her own spin on the Hounds of Annwn and borrowing Welsh enchantress Ceridwen and her son Morfran for her characters. The whole book is firmly rooted in the Welsh landscape too with the story unfolding in the shadow of Mount Skirrid – an oddly profiled Black Mountain allegedly flattened by the foot of the devil.
Whilst the book is full of Claire’s trademark magic, enchantments and fantasy, Storm Hound stands out because it is the most human story Claire has told. Jess’ parents have just split up and she is having to deal with a move away from her established friends – a new house, neighbourhood and school. She has to look after her younger brother in this transition and cope with being away from her mother. Despite the downpours and tempest in the weather, the largest storm is reserved for her internal struggle. There are many parallels throughout the book between the puppy and Jessica: the puppy does not belong; he finds it hard to communicate; he worries that he cannot protect. Huge credit to Claire for including these realities, and credence also for not trying to resolve them all (sorry – slight spoiler!).
For us (the book has been enjoyed by Mummy, Daddy and Noah), this is Claire’s most accomplished book yet. It’s funny and fast-paced and the layers of subtext allow for a wide age range to enjoy. This perfect Storm comes highly recommended.
Thank you to Macmillan for sending us a proof copy of Storm Hound in exchange for a review. Storm Hound is available now from your local bookshop or direct from Macmillan. You can visit Claire’s website here or follow her on Twitter.
Nathan Collins is an illustrator born and bred in South Wales. He graduated from Swansea College of Art, with a degree in Illustration. He works with traditional and digital media. In 2018 he illustrated the Anthology of Amazing Women (20Watt) and also produced new cover art for new editions of The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs (Piccadilly) – the Lewis Barnavelt series. The third book in the series will be republished with new artwork by Nathan on 21 March.
What are you reading at the moment?
The “To Read” collection is certainly building up lately, I recently completed a handful of classic stories that I’ve always wanted to read such as The Jungle Book and Peter Pan. I’ve also been sinking my teeth into John Bellairs’ series lately with it being an on-going commission; the magical themes are right up my street.
Could you tell us how you got into drawing?
It’s hard to say; drawing was always a go-to hobby of mine as a kid and it just continued from casual doodles to now working on commissions. I remember loving Maurice Sendak’s book ‘Where the Wild things Are’, and obsessively drawing creatures from the book along with my own additions; some of them probably made my parents a little worried.
Where and when do you work?
I work in a little humble studio space at home, I do miss being part of an open studio space with other illustrators but I’m just as productive here at home. Working hours tend to be all over the place, but I work mostly everyday. On days when I do get to chill out, I’m probably still thinking about the next illustration idea or sketching for fun.
How would you describe your illustration style?
The past year I’ve become a lot more comfortable in my style. I like to illustrate with clear and simple shapes in mind, always thinking of ways to make the silhouettes a little easier to read. I also play a lot with textured brushes too, recreating traditional mediums in digital brush form and painting digitally.
Did you always want to be an illustrator of books for children?
Not really, I never had a set direction on which creative field I wanted to fully dive into. It took a lot of time for me to decide what to study at university – when I finally settled on illustration it became really overwhelming the different avenues you could go down. But after looking at what I enjoyed most in my final year and what my style lends itself to, it was an easy decision – picture books was the right fit for me.
How do you go about creating an illustration? What are your methods?
I’ll always start with sketching in my sketchbook, loosely playing around with thumbnails making really messy doodles that probably only make sense to me. After settling on a composition I like to move the sketching process to the computer and create a black and white tonal rough that’s much clearer. I concentrate a lot on this part because it makes the later colouring stage easier.
We love the Anthology of Amazing Women, which you illustrated. Who were your favourites to illustrate in that book?
So many! I could easily ramble and end up listing pretty much every amazing lady featured in the book, but to narrow it down to a few I’d have to say Aretha Franklin, Emmeline Pankhurst, Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse, Mary Anning and Frida Kahlo. All were really fun challenges to capture their likeness in my style. Aretha Franklin and Frida Kahlo were also personal icons that I really wanted to make sure to nail perfectly for this book.
You’ve also illustrated covers for the John Bellairs ‘Lewis Barnavelt’ series. What was the process in designing a cover?
It always starts with a brief and a helpful rough from the design team over at Bonnier. I’ll dissect the brief and from there, like I’ve mentioned earlier loosely sketch thumbnails, character designs and key featured elements for the cover. I’ll settle on a final composition and create a digital rough ready for initial feedback. At this point there’s usually a few changes to make before moving onto the coloured rough and then the final.
Were you aware of any of the other illustrated covers for the books (particularly the rather gruesome pen and ink drawings by Edward Gorey)?
Yes! It’s certainly a little strange to be working on a project like this when I remember some of these covers from my childhood, particularly ‘The Ghost in the Mirror’; it was slightly intimating to illustrate this series since Edward Gorey is such a huge name and a personal favourite of mine!
Which books, authors, illustrators and artists inspire you?
Again, this could be a long list! I’m madly in love with Carson Ellis’s work, her stylistic choices are perfect and I’m just obsessed with her ink work, which is a strong influence texturally to me when it comes to working on internal black and white illustrations for books. Rebecca Green is another illustrator I strongly admire; like Carson the forms she draws are simplified perfectly and she plays with unique colour schemes in the same way as Ellis.
Are you inspired by Wales?
I’d say I’m pretty inspired by Wales, especially by the environment. I grew up in a small village surrounded by forests and hills and it became the main subject for a lot of my early work, even today I feel like I’m in my element when there’s a lot of greenery or foliage to illustrate.
What are your illustration ambitions?
In general my goal is to always better myself from the last illustration I made and to improve in so many different ways. But one goal I’d love to focus on this year would be to fully develop a picture book written and illustrated by myself. Mainly just as a fun project and for the portfolio but hopefully later down the line get something published that I’ve created from the start.
Looking back over your instagram snaps, your more recent work is focused on people, but you also draw birds and beasts (and we spotted goblins!). Do you have a favourite thing to draw?
I have without really realising it focused on people lately; I have a new found love for character design solely based on people, whereas before I shied away from drawing people and mainly focused on mythical creatures or woodland animals. A lot of the times I’ll often find inspiration from people in pop culture, TV shows and mainly books, but who knows I think a few more goblins might make a comeback along with a few more animal illustrations.
Are there plans for more published illustrations? What can we expect from Nathan Collins next?
Yep, I have plenty of plans for more published work in the future. At the moment there are still quite a few more books in the pipeline from the John Bellairs series, I’ll still be working on over the next few months, which I cant wait to show everyone!
Thank you to Nathan for taking the time to answer our questions. The Anthology of Amazing Women, written by Sandra Lawrence and illustrated by Nathan Collins, is published by 20 Watt and is available to buy in your local bookshop or online.
The third book in the Lewis Barnavelt series, The Letter, The Witch and The Ring, will be published by Piccadilly Press on 21 March.
30 Years after it was first published, The Blue Balloon is reissued in a special anniversary edition with bonus material. The book marked the first of many appearances by Kipper, the loveable, friendly puppy.
The Blue Balloon is a celebration of imagination, creativity and playfulness and for this blog tour, we were challenged to come up with something different to mark the occasion. The worms got to work and the result is this video on our new YouTube Channel. Please enjoy, like and subscribe. Thank you.
Thanks to Hodder and Hachette for the invite to take part in the Blog Tour – we had great fun!
For more information on The Blue Balloon: 30 Years Anniversary Edition, click here.