Q&A with illustrator Jackie Morris

Jackie Morris has been illustrating Robin Hobb’s covers for many years. With Robin’s next book, The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince, due out next month, with another beautiful Jackie Morris illustration on the front, we thought you might enjoy to hear a bit more about the woman behind the art…

The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince

How did you come to read Robin Hobb’s work in the first place?

Someone recommended the Liveships series to me, because of the dragons I think. I started reading them and was gripped straight away. It was like finding an old friend I hadn’t seen for ages. I lost myself in the stories in a way I hadn’t since I was a child.

What was it that you loved about it so?

I love her characters and the way that they change and develop as things happen to them. I love that although they are only made from letters of the alphabet on paper they seem to live and breath. They aren’t perfect. They have flaws. But they grow and learn. I also love the characters of the animals and the dragons.

And how did you come to be commissioned to create the covers for her books?

I was reading the second of the Liveships books while busy working when I had an email from Jane Johnson. It seemed that Jo Fletcher, then of Orion, had sent Jane a Christmas card of mine that I had designed for the Musicians Benevolent Fun, now known as Help Musicians. She wondered if there were prints of the image and bought one. She then said that she had a series of books that she was looking to re-jacket and wondered if i would be interested. I was busy. I said I would, in theory, but only if they were by Robin Hobb. It was like a strange kind of Rainwilds magic was working because they were indeed, so I then had to read all of the books, in order. Imagine!

Do you have a favourite character or set of characters?

I always think the answer to this would be easy. Obviously it’s Fitz and the Fool. But then I begin to think again and I love all the characters in the Liveships too, and Nighteyes. Even Chade. Molly is wonderful. And Heeby and Sintara. I think my favorite literary landscape is The Rainwilds. They intrigue me with their memory stones, and the wizard wood and the dragons and elderlings. I love to travel there.

Like Robin, you have a strong emotional and spiritual connection with animals. We’ve heard that she raised a wolf cub when she was a youngster in Alaska. Do you have similar stories to tell?

I wish I had raised a wolf cub. The best moments of my life have been when out walking meeting the wild, the creatures that care nothing for our stupid games of politics. Coming face to face with wild foxes, weasels, seals, badgers, watching birds fly. I live with cats and dogs and the cats are wonderful companions for writing with. They also walk with me to the hill tops where I write and also, when i am searching for cover ideas, where i read.

Can you describe how you go about capturing the perfect cover image for one of her novels? How do you decide what to illustrate? And do you share your ideas and/or roughs with Robin Hobb herself?

All jobs are different. With Robin’s books Jane Johnson had sent me A Song of Ice and Fire. She wanted a similar ‘clean’ look. One image on a wash background. I had been working with gold leaf and suggested this instead and so a ‘look’ grew. With each book it was finding then the ’emblem’ that would grace the cover. I suppose it wasn’t necessary to read the whole book, but I always have when designing a jacket. I think that it is important to do so.

And at first I didn’t ‘bother’ Robin with my doodlings, but now I include her in conversations about the covers. I have got to know her over the years and welcome her thoughts. And how I love it when a new book is ready and searching for something to wrap around it to make it stand out on a shelf in a crowded bookshop.

You’ve just illustrated her novella, The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince. Did you enjoy having the chance to illustrate an entire story, to have the freedom to choose to create a visual flow to enhance the narrative?

I love books. Given the chance to paint for an entire book is such a gift. If I could I would have done more. I do hesitate to illustrate characters. I think that everyone who reads a book like Royal Assassin has their own idea of what Fitz looks like, but would love to describe the landscape of the Duchies in paint. And The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince is a great story to illustrate. I also love working in black and white.

Tell us about creating the spectacular endpapers: how did you come up with the idea and how long did they take you?

I was asked to do folios for the book, and in doodling for these I came up with patterns that I thought would suit the endpapers. I could have painted a few diamonds and then worked in photoshop to make them into a pattern but I love pushing paint around. I was working large on this piece, but in the end I only did the one side. It was then flipped by the wonderful art dept and reduced. I do love a book with endpapers.

You maintain a strong social media presence via your website, on Facebook and also on Twitter. Do you enjoy interacting with the fan community and with authors?

I do. I live in quite a remote place, well, not really remote but a long way from publishers and publishers’ parties and the likes. As a writer and illustrator I worked most of my life in isolation. Facebook and Twitter allow me direct contact with many other authors and illustrators as well as bookshops and most importantly readers.

You do sometimes have to be careful of what you look at. I still sting a little from someone who said on some forum somewhere that the covers I design for Robin’s books look like poorly executed school projects. But I do think it isn’t bad to get criticism as well as praise. I find so many beautiful things online that people show me, meet some amazing people. It has changed some of the way that I work. The only problem is that sometimes as I wander through its labyrinths I forget where I am and time passes. Time when I should be writing, or painting.

Tell us about your own work. What are your influences and your most recent book?

I have 5 books out this year, including The Wilful Princess.

The first, East of the Sun, West of the Moon is a retelling of a traditional tale. As with all storytelling it took on a life of its own, and has an unexpected ending that perhaps is really a new beginning. It’s small. You can read it almost like watching a film. And it has pictures.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon

Then there is Little Evie in the Wild Wood that was written by me and illustrated by Catherine Hyde. It was a wonderful experience for me to have my words taken and flesh put onto the bones of them.

The next book is a re issue of Starlight Sailor, written by James Mayhew and illustrated by me and i have been having wonderful fun playing with paperboats for this book. You can read more about this on my blog, and join in the fun.

Last but not least is Song of the Golden Hare which came into my head early last year and pushed its way into the schedule of work. It’s about hares, song, finding your voice, courage. It is filled with hares and birds and dogs and a journey and seals. It is very much set in the landscape of Wales, though sadly few hares are found here.

And now I am working on a book of bears and I am hoping that soon I will have another manuscript from Robin, and that HarperCollins will always allow me to decorate her beautiful books with intricate endpapers.

Song of the Golden Hare

Jackie Morris lives in a small house on the Welsh coast. She wanted to be an artist from the earliest she could remember. After studying art at Hereford and Bath Academy she went on to illustrate for magazines and newspapers. She began her first book for children the week after her first child, Thomas was born and has gone on to illustrate and write many books.

You can find out more about Jackie and her books on her website at jackiemorris.co.uk.

The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince is available for pre-order now.



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