The longest series of books which I illustrated, are the Real Witches series by author Kate West and published by the Harper Collins imprint Thorsons. When receiving a book commission, it is rare to have any contact at all with the author and far more common to work through the publishers via the art director. By the time I had the commission to illustrate The Real Witches Handbook, I had already illustrated a number of books for Thorsons. This begun differently from any other commission I have ever had, before or since from any publisher. Without any actual commission brief, I was passed the author’s phone number and asked to give her a call and find out what she wanted.
It was to be the first of many phone calls I had with Kate. We would talk for hours. Sometimes the subject of our conversations would actually be about the books I was meant to be illustrating. Most of the time not though. We could ramble on in countless directions of discourse. There were a number of editors involved over the course of the series of books. One in particular did not like the rapport I had built up with Kate and phoned her at home one day to say she no longer wanted Kate to speak to the illustrator (me) and that all dealings from then on would be via the publishers. Kate’s response was that not talking to me would be quite difficult as I was sat on her sofa at the time having travelled across country to visit Kate.
From then on we let the editor think they’d had their way and I was getting my instructions from the art department. It was simpler that way. What they did not know was that weeks before Kate would tell me a book was near completion and run through ideas with me and I would come up with a list of illustrations I would like to do for her. She would then contact the publishers with an illustration list, who in turn would phone me and say there was a new Real Witches book to be illustrated. I would innocently ask if there was a list of illustrations and if so, could they send them to me to think about it and I would see what I could do and get back to them in a couple of days once I had thought about it. It was an arrangement which kept every body happy.
The Real Witches series was an important one to me. Having spent many years, first attending Summer Solstices then the Winter Solstice and the Equinoxes at Stonehenge, working on the first book tapped into something which made a lot of sense and was innate in me. The turning of the wheel of the year in cycle with the seasons. Working with Kate and illustrating the books led to me attending numerous events both working back stage and then later as an exhibitor with my art. They were easily more personally transformative than any of the numerous books I have illustrated in over 20 years.