I can’t draw.
Or paint, or sculpt, or anything else that involves the visual arts. I can just about lay out a page of text so it doesn’t look completely terrible, but that’s probably the extent of my artistic ability. So when, many many years ago, I had a short story published in Exuberance, a semi-professional science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazine, one of the greatest pleasures was in seeing the artwork the editor had commissioned.
The two pictures that accompanied the story, one of which I’ve reproduced above, were by an artist called Russell Morgan, and if I have to be honest, the quality of the artwork far outshines the quality of the story written by my 19-year-old self. He brings in all the crucial elements of the story – a patient in a hospital, a camera, and small alien creatures – and crushes them together into a dense and nightmarish scene. It’s a pessimistic, downbeat short story (a 19-year-old writing downbeat fiction – who’d have thought?) and the artwork emphasises this tremendously well.
It didn’t look exactly how I’d imagined it in my head, but you know what? I think I like his version better.
I haven’t thought about this story for a long time, but I’ve just spent half an hour digging through boxes so I could find the name of the artist so I could give him credit. I’m pretty sure this Russell Morgan is the same artist – to my unartistic eye there are a lot of similarities between his current work and the Exuberance art of more than twenty years ago.
It’s perhaps a shame that most “adult” fiction doesn’t get the luxury of artwork. For the most part, illustrated novels are the province of children’s fiction. I’m not sure why this is; no-one considered it strange that Sidney Paget produced those wonderful illustrations in The Strand for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Virtually all of Dickens’ work was illustrated.
But at least we do have illustrated children’s fiction. I recently read Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and can’t imagine reading it without Pat Marriott’s dense, inky drawings. Tove Jansson’s Moomin books would be only half as good without her illustrations. Winnie the Pooh without E.H. Shepard’s illustrations would be unthinkable! More recently, Alan Snow’s Here Be Monsters and Worse Things Happen at Sea married a fantastic story with the perfect illustrations. Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre have a new series of illustrated novels coming out that looks absolutely wonderful.
Perhaps some day my book, The Chimney Rabbit, will be published, and someone in the editorial offices will say “You know what? I think this book could do with some pictures.”
Nothing would make me happier.