Thank you for having me!



As you may have noticed over the past few weeks, the blog has been subtly changing hands! Scribbly Roo, our delightful illustration expert, will be stepping in as I head off to Boston to do some studying and teaching at Boston University’s writing program.

It’s been a fascinating experience to work with all of you, to judge the wonderful entries of our recent short story contest, to review your books. By far the most interesting part of it all has been getting to know you writers and reading your work. I’ve read such a variety of styles, situations, genres, voices and it has shown me how uplifting it can be to expose oneself to new things with an open mind.

So keep writing, everyone! As Kurt Vonnegut wrote once – “It’s the emptiest and yet the fullest of all human messages: ‘Good-bye.'”

Scribbly’s Top 5 Illustrated Books

Last week, Georgina and I discussed some of the books we think should be illustrated. During my research for that article, I realised that one of the books on my list, ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’, which I had only listened to on audio and never seen, was actually illustrated already! This leads on nicely to my topic this week.

As an illustrator myself, I like to have a collection of images and inspirational books around me to aid me in coming up with new ideas. When it comes to working with images and my creative writing, I like to look at fiction books for both children and adults to see how they use illustration to enhance the text. In recent years, with the gradual acceptance of graphic novels as a legitimate reading source, I think the way illustration is used in other books is beginning to become more dynamic. Here are a few of my favourite illustrated books:

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.


A Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay

Conor is a thirteen-year-old boy who is struggling to deal with his mother’s cancer. His father is absent and he is bullied at school. After many recurring nightmares, one night he wakes to find a monster in his room- apparently the personification of the yew tree he can see out of his bedroom window. Each time the monster (played by Liam Neeson in the film version, due to be released in late 2016) visits to tell Conor its stories, the consequences of their meetings escalate…

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking ‘A Monster Calls’ for a graphic novel. Jim Kay’s stark black and white illustrations are not for your run of the mill children’s book. Kay, of course, is currently gaining a large amount of publicity in the industry for his work on the soon-to-be-released illustrated editions of the Harry Potter series. His work in ‘A Monster Calls’ is a far cry from the bright and optimistic magical illustrations already released for ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ (release date 6th October 2015). In Ness’s book, Kay uses a mix of paint, blown ink, possibly charcoal and a whole range of other materials to create texture and moods. Such dark images show great potential for what his illustrations for the later Harry Potter books could be like as the series grows darker and more adult.

Monster spread

‘A Monster Calls’ is an award winning children’s book, but it deals with some very complex adult issues. Illness, death, the complexities of being human.

The illustrations themselves are like a living entity. They set the pace of the narrative, surging forward with the action and ebbing away during the calmer periods. They interact directly with the text, sometimes pushing the writing to one side or the other, widening the margins and spreading across them like weeds in the crack of a garden wall. The complexity of some of the images makes them worthy of being put on the wall. This book is as delightful as it is dark.

by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts

‘Tinder’ is another book aimed at children that resonates adult themes. Gardner was inspired by ‘The Tinderbox’, a story by Hans Christian Anderson. She wanted to retell the tale in an historical context, settling for the time of the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648) after having a conversation with soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, who were struggling to settle into civilian life. The resulting tale was ‘Tinder’, which tells of a young soldier, Otto Hundebis, and his encounters with a shaman, werewolves, a beautiful girl, an evil Prince, and Death himself. Otto comes across a tinderbox and, though he throws it away repeatedly, the little box keeps finding its way back to him. With it comes the power to summon three great werewolves. But there is always a price to be paid for such power.

Gardner’s twisting, tangled tale of suffering, adventure and magic is spellbinding. What makes it even more special are David Roberts’s fantastical illustrations. As with ‘A Monster Calls’ the text and illustration grow together on the page, each supporting the other. Primarily black and white, Roberts accentuates the elements of gore in the book with the occasional slash of bright red, sometimes on a girl’s cape or inside the mouth of a salivating wolf.

Tinder spreads

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
written and illustrated by Brian Selznick

This book really is something special. Part written word, part picture book, Hugo is a hybrid of the best kind.

Hugo spreadsHugo is an orphan, twelve years old and living secretly in the walls of a Parisian train station. Using his dead father’s notes, Hugo is trying to fix a mechanical man who he hopes will, when fixed, write a message from his father. When he gets caught stealing parts from a toy shop at the station and he meets an eccentric girl, everything starts to change.

“The Invention of Hugo Cabret is not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things.” Brain Selznick

Selznick’s book is just over 530 pages long and boasts almost 300 drawings. Whether written or illustrated, each page is bordered in black, resonant of old silent films- a topic which is key to the plot. The black borders tie together the illustrations and the text, as there is no overlapping of the two. In other publications, when images are used as very static plates, maybe at the beginning of chapters, the lack of communication between the words and images is frustrating. But Selznick’s drawings are nothing at all like this. He uses them like stills from a movie, played sequentially to build up a story. The result is that you have to read the illustrations as well as the text in order to grasp a full understanding of the story.

The Edge Chronicles
by Paul Stewart, illustrated by Chris Riddell



The Edge Chronicles is a series of fantasy novels for children, comprised of four trilogies, each centred around one character, and four stand alone books, as well as other publications that link to The Edge world.

Between them, Stewart and Riddell have bought the world of The Edge to life. Riddell’s illustrations have inspired me for over ten years as the accuracy with which he draws completely fictional creatures is so prices its as if they’re posing in front of him. Paired with Stewart’s knack for adventure, this series is the kind of thing you hope your kids will love, as it will give you an excuse to read them too!



As with ‘Tinder’, Riddell’s images sit snugly on the pages, enveloped by Stewart’s words, or enveloping them. Such illustrations are also a useful point of reference- Riddell has meticulously mapped out The Edge, as well as detailing a number of wacky creatures it would be a challenge to imagine a clear image of going by words alone.



The Child Thief
written and illustrated by Brom

This is a dark tale, not for the fainthearted. In ‘The Child Thief’ Brom re-imagines the boy who will never grow up. Peter is a boy raised by wolves. He is charismatic and brave, and after saving Nick’s life in New York City, he wants the kid to follow him back to his land. But its not Neverland. Peter’s magical world, Avalon, is dying. He wants Nick to join his band of soldiers- all abused, lost or runaway children- and to train to become a bloodthirsty warrior, fit to defend Avalon.

The Child Thiefjpg

Child TheifI love this book. Its been a favourite of mine for many years. Its a sour twist on a tale that already had debatably dark undertones. Brom writes like he draws- with fine details and a wicked imagination. ‘The Child Thief’ is peppered with his illustrations. Unlike the other books I’ve listed today, the placing of his images is more old-fashioned. There is a full page black and white drawing at the beginning of each chapter, and eight full colour plates in the centre of the book, depicting eight of the main characters. It is interesting that Brom would chose such a traditional way of displaying his images in a book that is essentially very modern. The juxtaposition actually makes it work in a way, though I feel the plates, instead of being grouped together, would work better spread throughout the book, presenting each character as we meet them. The chapter illustrations I can’t fault. They act as little teasers for what is to come, enticing you to read on.
Child Thief spread
Admittedly, I do not like the cover design at all. It feels too far removed from the artwork inside and the cropping of the central image doesn’t make for a very dramatic illustration. Or maybe I’m being picky.

To see more of the artwork from ‘The Child Theif’, visit Brom’s website.

Next week: As an illustrator, I do often work in the realms of fantasy and make believe. But thats not to say I only read books set in fairy lands with imaginary monsters and pretend suppers. It just so happens that these are the books that are illustrated the most. This is why I’ve set myself the task of finding out more about books that are illustrated, but that aren’t in the fantasy/sci-fi genre. Next week I’ll be introducing you to an unusual book I’ve been reading of late. Its an interacting story for adults and, personally, I think it’s the future of books.

Books That Should Have Been Illustrated: Part 2

Guest blog by Scribbly Roo, a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer working from her home studio in Norfolk, UK, where she writes and illustrates her own graphic novels and children’s picture books.


With the release of the new illustrated versions of the Harry Potter series due to be launched only a few months from now, it seemed fitting that Ms Parfitt and I discuss what books we wish were illustrated. As an artist, myself, I often enjoy sketching scenes from the books I have read, and some publications are so full of rich imagery and imagination that it seems almost a crime that they do not contain a single illustration.

So here are the books that get my fingers itching to illustrate:

The Dark Towers Series by Stephen King

I had to list this first, as I just finished the final installment last week and am still adjusting to life without another Dark Tower book to read! Seven books make up the epic tale of Gunslinger Roland of Gilead and his quest to find the point where all worlds meet- The Dark Tower. During his journey, he remembers friends of old and meets new friends from other worlds, including our own. The tale stretches across so many different landscapes that beg to be painted. We walk by Roland’s side, watching him encounter creatures like flesh eating Lobstrosities and the evil half-baby half-spider Mordred. Oy is one of my favourite characters, and the one I could sketch for hours. He is a billy-bumbler, described as a cross between a badger, a racoon and a dog. With his “intelligent, gold-ringed eyes” and “surprisingly graceful neck” I can’t help but liken him to my border collie, Simm.



The series has a number of spin-off comics attached to it, thanks to Marvel and King working together, and there has been talk for around eight years now of producing several films and a television series based on the books, but personally I’m a stickler for the original text. If I could spend the next ten years illustrating The Dark Tower series and nothing else, I’d be a very happy bumbler.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

ChocolatSet in a fictional little town in France, ‘Chocolat’ begins as the town’s inhabitants are taking down carnival decorations that marked the beginning of Lent. A mysterious woman and her daughter move into the old bakery opposite the church, and anticipation grows as rumours of her opening a chocolate shop spread.
‘Chocolat’ is a beautiful book, full of delightfully real characters, quaint french settings and, of course, the magical art of the chocolatier. What better way to capture all this than with illustration? The descriptions of Vianne’s edible creations, flamboyant window displays and the sensuous aromas of melted chocolate and spices floating down the street would make fantastic images. Even some portraits or character studies dotted throughout the text would be interesting- accentuating the rivalry between Vianne’s unorthodox ways and the parish curé’s disapproval. I wonder if perhaps the addition of illustrations would bring this much-loved book to a willing younger audience too. Because who doesn’t love chocolate!?

Will and Tom by Matthew Plampin

I don’t often read books based on historical conjecture, but ‘Will and Tom’ captivated me within the first chapter and I had to continue. The story covers a week in 1797, West Yorkshire, when budding but rather introverted artist Will Turner (J.M.W. Turner, to us) is commissioned to sketch Harewood House. There, he unexpectedly comes face to face with his charismatic childhood friend and rival artist, Tom Girtin. In the next week, their complicated relationship in exacerbated by their aristocratic surrounding, of which Tom fits into seamlessly, while Will is constantly mocked and ridiculed.


Woven throughout all of the drama are passages describing the acts of putting pencil to paper, the colours Will imagines he would use to paint the night sky or a passing scene which captures his imagination. The artist in me desperately wants to see these sketches within the pages as I read. As a point of reference as well as a fictional aid to make the story more real. It is only a possibility that Turner and Girtin really met at Harewood House, though it is true they were taking similar tours of the north at that time, so their paths may well have crossed. What is interesting, however, is the art that is referred to. The sketches Will took of the house and the surrounding estate are very real. So why aren’t they printed with the text!? No doubt its something to do with complicated permissions and copyright procedures, but this book positively yearns for a few Turner sketches in the least, not to mention some images from Girtin’s “Eidometropolis”, his 18ft by 108ft 360 degrees panorama of London which he exhibited in 1802, only a few months before his early death.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

In a similar vein to ‘Will and Tom’, ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ is threaded with beautiful imagery of Clare’s art, from her therapeutic paper making, to the intriguing sculptures she creates. Niffenegger herself is an artist and paper maker. Her understanding of the processes really gives life to her descriptions. Perhaps, if she illustrated the book herself, she could release it as a deluxe edition.



Though, of course, this book is a complete work of fiction, the artwork described feels real. Interestingly, the far-fetched idea of a man plagued with a time-traveling-related genetic disorder is also made fantastically realistic. We watch from Clare’s perspective as she meets the love of her life when he appears out of thin air in the gardens of her family home when she is just a child. At this point, he is from the future. Later, she meets him in the present when their ages are the same. This is the first meeting for Henry, who is still yet to time travel into Clare’s past. Its confusing to explain, but fantastically easy to read and comprehend in the book. Throughout, Clare’s artwork is a metaphor for her relationship with Henry- she creates birds and wings and things that feel insubstantial or fleeting, as hard to capture as Henry’s illness. Niffenegger‘s vivid imagery paints each scene with all the clarity she uses to convey Clare’s artistic process. The whole book is like a grown-up fairytale. And what fairytale doesn’t suit illustration?

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Last but not least is the book that started this two-parter blog between myself and Georgina Parfitt. We were discussing the possibility of writing a review of the new television adaption of ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ but the talk quickly moved to imagery and illustration. Arguably, I shouldn’t be mentioning this book, as it is already illustrated- a fact of which I was not aware until writing this blog, as I listened to the audiobook version and have never seen the physical publication. I’m thrilled to hear one of the books on my list is actually illustrated! And no book is more suited to it than this.



Clarke’s beast of a novel is set in 19th Century England, during the Napoleonic Wars. Magic, which once thrived in England, is returning in the arms of two magicians- the stuffy and reclusive Gilbert Norrell, and the imaginative and charismatic Jonathan Strange.

As with ‘The Dark Tower’ I think this kind of other-worldly magic cries out to be drawn. The realms of fairy, the castle of Lost Hope, the gentleman with the thistledown hair. Clarke’s writing is Dickens-like, each scene creating a wonderfully clear tableau in the mind of the reader. Her characters, of which there are many, are all fantastic individuals, each with their own secrets and motives. The gothic settings in Yorkshire almost feel as remote and mysterious as the fairy world Jonathan Strange discovers he can travel to through mirrors, and the Raven King would be a marvellous subject for a wood engraving, surrounded by thorns and celtic knots.

The artist lucky enough to have been given the task of illustrating Clarke’s novel is Portia Rosenberg. And she doesn’t disappoint. Rosenberg, who has also illustrated Alexandre Dumas’s ‘The Black Tulip’, has captured ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ in 28 wonderful yet understated drawings that have the quality of old fashioned woodcarvings or etchings akin to those plates in Dickens novels. Faced with so many details and descriptions, instead of being overwhelmed and trying to fit everything in, Rosenberg hasn’t fallen into that trap, instead leaving her illustrations  uncluttered, but with enough life in them to inspire the reader to create more complex images in their imaginations. The only thing I can fault is that 28 drawings is not nearly enough to capture all of the incredible imagery in the book! But maybe I’m just being greedy.

I could go on with this list of books that should be illustrated for at least another two parts. My note book page for this article is covered in titles that I’ve not yet mentioned! Other tales of magic like Patrick Rothfuss’s ‘Kingkiller Chronicles’, epic classics like ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas and the dystopian worlds of Suzanne Collins’s ‘The Hunger Games’ and James Dashner’s ‘The Maze Runner’. But I’ve share my opinion, and we here at Towerbabel want to know what yours is. What do you think about illustrated books? Which books do you think would be improved with some images? Tell us what you think on Twitter and here on the Forums page.

Next week I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite illustrated books- and they’re not just for kids. See you then.

Books That Should Have Been Illustrated: Part 1


This week, Scribbly Roo, our resident illustrator and design guru, and I have teamed up to bring you a curious list. We’ve been thinking about the lucky kinds of books that are bestowed with illustrations, and how vital those pictures often become, often so connected to the texts themselves in readers’ imaginations. Think of the famous illustrated edition of Alice in Wonderland or the definitive scratchy sketches that first brought Ted Hughes’ Crow to life.


But there are many books that have always remained text-only, tantalizingly imageless. Now we think about it, there are so many possibilities that illustration could bring to our beloved classics, literary fiction that’s stuck to the page with the importance of its subject matter or gravity of its language, genres that have never traditionally been graced with pictures, like crime or history but could be so enlivened by an extra visual dimension.

Even as the future of print publishing changes and warps so that we can’t quite predict it, the market’s demand for beautifully bound books seems to be on the rise. Imprints are forming within well known publishers to publish special, extra aesthetically pleasing volumes, gift editions, limited editions, fancy papers and recycled covers, intricate bindings and illustrations – readers more than ever want to invest in a physical object to own, as the very idea of owning books is sort of slipping out of our hands.

So here are my picks, books I think deserve a good bit of illustration and why:

Donna Tartt by Beowulf Sheehan

Donna Tartt by Beowulf Sheehan

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I think The Goldfinch would make a fascinating illustrated book because its effect depends on its ability to surround the reader in a complex, realistic world, and the reader’s ability to attach and relate to the central characters – to illustrate this epic tale would be ambitious but would certainly offer us another level of engagement with the story and make its settings even richer.

The Goldfinch was a blockbuster hit last year, despite its door stopper size and intimidating scope. With its publication, the author, the enigmatic, one-book-every-ten-years author Donna Tartt, became even more of a household name, and introduced herself charismatically to another generation. The book itself also has a charismatic, enigmatic presence. With a hearty dose of traditional style in its epic, bildungsroman structure, plus a contemporary confidence in breaking the mold of what a modern novel “should” be, plus a nostalgic sensibility too, its settings and characters bringing a Victorian, antique air to contemporary New York, The Goldfinch’s illustrations could bring the whole novel together in a cool way.


As a glad literary descendent of Dickens, Donna Tartt’s work shares a decorative, flourishing quality in its long elegant sentences and, like many of Dickens’ stories, seems a perfect home for charicatures and adornments.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

Miranda July’s first novel takes elements and inspiration from her work in other media, her visual art, her installations, videos, interviews, all of July’s aliases seem to combine in her written voice so that you can almost hear it aloud, almost view it on the page as a painting or a sculpture rather than just text in a paperback. I’d love to see how July would populate the world of The First Bad Man with pictures.


Illustrations of July’s characters could be so whimsical and beautiful. The obsessive rituals of protagonist Cheryl Glickman’s life could wallpaper their way through the novel in a sort of visual tirade, adding to the oppressive but deeply comic effect the prose already has on the reader.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel


Station Eleven made waves in the literary fiction world recently by bringing a new kind of dystopia into readers’ hands, pushing the genre out of the box of the YA label and into the open ground of “literary fiction,” and “contemporary fiction.” The world of the story, from recognisable New York to a new barren land where new-sprung civilisations haunt old relics and ruins of a destroyed environment, is so ripe for illustration.

The novel made me think a lot, but if there’s one thing that niggled me about it throughout it was a lack of visual clarity, which seemed to run contrary to the main character’s love of comic strips and sketching. The landscapes and textures of the book are often sweeping and vague. Kirsten’s secret world is made of these sketches, and they’re so vital to the surface of the prose that I kept wondering why there wasn’t more of a visual element to the volume itself, perhaps the whole thing could be presented in the form of a sketchbook or artifact.


The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein 

The Making of Americans was written by Gertrude Stein over a long period, between 1903 and 1911 reportedly, but wasn’t published in full until 1925, in a special limited edition batch. In fact the birth of this novel sounds much like an etching or a print; “the original” has such a mystique to it and even though the themes of the book are so big and universal, it also seems to resist mass production. Like many other works of modernism at the time, The Making of Americans was pushed and coaxed into being by a network of friends rather than a single publisher – it took a village to raise it, and so perhaps it has managed to retain that special handcraftedness that lends it to pictures.


The prose has Stein’s tell-tale repetition and abstraction but over the length of the novel there is a sense of development, of a collage of layers, generation laid over generation as detail begets detail, creating a dense texture that goes far beyond the abstract, into personal history. Stein’s strange mastery of the specific and the abstract together is wonderful food for illustration, I think. What would an artist make of these blank, full lines? What images could come to represent “The Americans,” these two quintessential families that are bound tenuously together by marriage?

Scribbly Roo will be carrying on the list shortly with her top books she’d love to see illustrated and why. Till then, tell us what books you’d love to see illustrated! Or if you’ve illustrated your own books, we’d love to hear about the process, too. Join the conversation on Twitter, below or on our Forums page.

Stories to Read Online in July



For whatever beach, balcony or sweaty train you’re on today, some proper hot stories for the start of summer in these new summer issues:

About Her and the Memories that Belong to Her by Mieko Kawakami in Granta Online

Kawakami is a new discovery for me this month. The little prologue to this story is itself a stunning piece.

“If we think of our memories as having a shape, then one possibility is that they come in the shape of a box. I know that this is not entirely an original idea, but that doesn’t make it untrue,” the prologue begins. It’s a beautifully and confidently abstract beginning to a surprisingly specific, grounded story, set at the narrator’s middle school reunion, where she is shocked to learn that an old classmate of hers has died and struggles to remember why the girl is so significant to her.

Dole Girl by Barbara Hamby in the Boston Review

Rightly selected as the winner of the Aura Estrada contest 2015, this story feels so true and surrounding, even though I have absolutely no experience of a Hawaian pineapple canning factory. In fact, you can almost taste the pineapples. A ripe, vivid sense of time and place, plus a compelling character with a burning desire is a winning combination. This story has both in excess. It’s a real lesson in voice, too; the voice of our “Dole Girl” is strong, youthful, naive and streetwise at the same time, making me wish I could read a whole novel of it.

Taxidermy by Vladislava Kolosova in Ploughshares

Set in after-dark Moscow, this is an unsettling story about a young woman who has started having sex for money, to help pay for her studies. One night, she’s picked up by a charismatic, authoritative “New Russian” called Eva who buys a night with her and takes her home to her quiet, boxer-like husband. Like all good shorts, Taxidermy plants its real lightbulb moments just left of center. After the sex, after the drama, the quiet moment gives this story its edge.

My Life by Chantal Clarke in N+1

This is a terrifying but profoundly funny little story. We are tricked by the narrator at first, as in plain childlike language, she describes the bare bones of her life, “I HAVE A HOUSE, and it’s great. My money bought it, so it’s mine. I love to live in it,” she begins. But she reveals after a while, and with glee, that she’s really “Predator 923,” a drone who is “writing simply so you’ll trust me.” Be warned, this story might make you want to try all kinds of weird stuff in your work.

Congregation by Christopher Alessandrini in the Harvard Advocate

A little treat from a magazine very close to my heart. This story follows a girl working at a summer camp. From the outside, she seems to be on the brink of something, some beginning of real life, but to her, the world of the camp and the array of girls and boys that form her camp society, is its own special kind of real life. Searing sharp human observation meets beautiful lines describing the architecture, natural and otherwise of “Link’s Seafood & Bait” where the camp is situated: “Out by the sheds, the bulrush swells with frog song and birds, whip-thin plovers and orioles halving through the stalk like light on water, all that good gossip and whisper.”

What are your reading recommendations for July?