I am delighted to be hosting a stop on the Wolfstongue tour, a book that has touched my heart and evoked the folksy side of my nature, as I am lucky enough to be hosting a reflection on the process of creating the cover by illustrator Anna Tromop, I have not taken quotes from the book but instead celebrated the cover images!
This heady, lyrical and earthy fable by Sam Thompson draws upon a rich heritage of storytelling, folklore and heart in its tale of a boy who finds a voice advocating for wolves against their fox overlords with a classic yet freshly modern adventure story with gorgeous illustrations by Anna Tromop throughout.
Silas struggles to speak, the words get stuck so he has got to the point where he doesn’t try anymore and he is cruelly called ‘Silence’ by his classmates. He feels lost and burdensome to his perplexed and anxious parents and wonders whether he fits in at all in the world he was born to.
And yet his world changes, stretches and shifts the day he finds an injured wolf on the canal path and then lies to the talking foxes led by Reynard the trickster who confront him.
Silas finds himself drawn into this ancient battle between the last wolves and the corrupt foxes whom have enslaved the forest through the use of human language, stripping them of their Wild by giving labels and thus power to feelings and thoughts.
Whilst Isengrim and his mate Hersent can never fully be free of words, they are determined their pups will never be named, but Reynard has other plans.
Wolfstongue is accessible and enjoyable by the whole range of Middle Grade especially including younger or less enthusiastic readers thanks partly to the action-adventure and rescue plot but also with its beautiful and evocative black and white illustrations by the talented Anna Tromop.
However, there’s also a deeper layer of trickster folklore from the ‘Reynard the Fox’ cycles that can be enjoyed more so by the enriched reader and older range even into the teens who haven’t quite reached ‘the age of not believing’ but are old enough to understand how like the original Reynard tales are satirising human culture & society, Wolfstongue is commenting upon the way humanity has lost its Wild and connection with the natural world despite being part of The Forest too, if we choose to see it.
And that is the undulating secret beneath, whether you are in ‘the age of not believing’ whether you can see the magic, you can see The Forest, the realms layering on top of each other like Silas.
The illustrations help the reader with that shift as much as the rich sensory immersive and poetic prose. From the tactile experience & visual feast of the textured watercolour cover to the interior illustrations which shift and change from exquisite detail to smudgy sweeps of movement depending on the action or emotions within the plot the illustrations are a deep connected part of the story and propel the reader deeper into The Forest and their own imaginations, you can feel Anna’s spirit & a deep love and respect for the story within the strokes and washes of each image.
I am so lucky to be hosting a reflection by Anna Tromop on the process of designing and completing the beautiful cover of Wolfstongue with its hypnotic tunnel of trees inviting us into The Forest with Silas to adventure with the wolves.
‘Early sketches to final cover’ by Anna Tromop.
I had already read the book at least twice and started on the interior illustrations and the world of Wolfstongue before starting on the cover artwork. I also received a very detailed brief from the publisher of what key imagery they wanted included on the cover. With a starting point of a dense forest, a tunnel and a wolf, it was time to start exploring.
The sketches started out as very rough ideas plotted down with ball-point pen in a notebook. I like to have pen or pencil and some paper available when I read, but the first ideas rarely ever make it. Sketching is a way of solving a ‘problem,’ and thinking through drawing is the only way I can figure it out. I will write down anything that comes to mind, there are no bad ideas. Knowing that I don’t have to show my sketchbook drawings to anyone also makes them feel less precious. I can come back to them the next day with fresh eyes. Sometimes I’ll keep developing an idea, and other times it goes straight out the window.
Once I have a few layouts that I like, I’ll take pictures of my sketchbook and redraw them on my iPad in Procreate. Thumbnail drawings are simple, but I need them to communicate efficiently what will go on the cover, where the main bits of text will go, and what it will look like tonally.
When the main idea of the cover has been decided upon, and changes are accounted for, I draw the line-work that will be the basis for my watercolour. A few details have been adapted from the other cover sketches – such as the wired fence. I really enjoyed including little animals in the foliage. The raven, cat, fox and wolf all have a central place in the storyline, whereas the bird and squirrel are simply species native to Ireland.
Along with the sketch, I’ll also make a few colour mockups for the cover. Initially, I imaged something darker with more blue tones to amplify the darkness of the wolves’ suppression, but in the end we decided it was too scary and looming, and went for a lighter green. The cover then went through a light, saturated green colour phase, but the atmosphere didn’t feel right. It’s really hard to decide what will work the best without visualising it. In the end, we ended up with a combination of the two, keeping some dark and saturated blue tones behind the greens, and a darker forest.
I love working with traditional media when creating images, so although I have moved a lot of my process into the digital realm, I always start out with pen/paint and paper. For Wolfstongue, I transferred the approved sketch to watercolour paper, and painted the main elements, such as the trees, animals and Silas. A lot of it changed along the way, for instance almost all of the colours ended up being changed, but they still kept the handmade, tactile texture that I find really important.
Huge thank you to Elizabeth, Matthew, and everyone at Little Island.
Thank you so much Anna for that insight into the process and task that it is to create a book cover that not only will entice and inspire readers but evoke the very soul of the book.
If you haven’t already read Wolfstongue I throughly recommend this tale of courage of heart, what it means to be free and alive and a call to seek out the wild worlds within the mundane world we inhabit to see beyond the trappings, definitions and rules we tangle ourselves in as people and society.
And of course to check out the other stops on the tour which are giving further insight into the creation and inspirations of this incredible book.
I personally am so excited for the generational sequel The Fox’s Tower coming in 2022.
Wolfstongue by Sam Thompson with illustrations by Anna Tromop is published by Little Island Books.
Many thanks to Little Island Books and Antonia Wilkinson.