Welcome to Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books and the chance to read our wonderful interview with debut author and illustrator Tim Tilley. Harklights has been published by Usborne Publishing and is our favourite book of May 2021. It is a fantastic illustrative delight. We've recently reviewed the book so if you fancy taking a look you can find the link HERE.
We are running a competition to give away a free copy on Twitter @Enchantedbooks please see the pinned Tweet. The competition ends 20th May 2021 and is open to the UK only.
We would like to thank Tim Tilley and Jacob Dow (Usborne Publishing) for taking the time to put this post together. We hope you enjoy it and have a great week.
Harklights is a fantastic debut novel. How would you describe it without using any part of the synopsis?
Harklights is full of nature, adventure, heart, and wrapped in magic. It is also filled with a message of hope, that you are never too small to make a difference.
How did you select the names for your characters?
The idea to give the orphans new names when they arrived at Harklights came from a trip to the Foundling Museum in London. Back when the place was the Foundling Hospital, mothers would leave their babies with swatches of fabric – cut from their dresses – which would fit into place if they were reunited. Mothers would also leave unique tokens. Some of these tokens were keys, rings, buttons, engraved coins, flattened thimbles, and padlocks.
The Hospital gave the babies new names too. There are some fantastic ones, such as John Tempest, Molly Lightfoot, Admiral Benbow, and Inigo Scotland.
If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?
I think all of the characters have their own stories to tell. I’ve already written a short story with Nissa, which is set before Wick arrives at Oakhome. But there are definitely opportunities for others. Petal is one of the few orphans who remembers her parents, so there’s lots to explore there.
There is an environmental element throughout this book. What was the influence of nature on the story?
I grew up with a love of getting close to nature. Some of my favourite places include The Forest of Dean, where my dad grew up, and Bradgdate Park, a medieval deer park north of Leicester. Bradgate has ancient oaks, many of which are hollow but still alive. My younger brother and I used to crawl inside and climb them, imagining they were wooden castles.
I’m a huge fan of the Usborne Spotter’s Guide series – field guides full of facts and information on the natural world. I remember one time, aged ten, filling an old fish tank with pond water and frogspawn, so we could watch the spawn turn from full stops into commas, then tadpoles and tiny frogs.
(All images subject to copyright ©Tim Tiley test illustration (Acorn) for Harklights)
You studied illustration at Anglia Ruskin University. Did you ever think you would be writing and illustrating your own children's book?
I hoped so. The course had strong leanings into children’s books (this was before the fantastic MA Children’s Book Illustration course). We had children’s book authors and illustrators who came to visit and worked with us on a range of projects. Harklights itself, originally started life as a picture book.
The story sparked on a return trip to Bradgate Park. I was amazed to see that the hollow oaks, my brother and I had played in, half my life ago, were still alive. As we left, in the fading light, what appeared to a distant tree, stood up and revealed itself to be a stag. The moment burned in my mind and gave me the idea for Half Crown.
As a picture book, the story revolved around a boy meeting a tree-stag, but then a match factory orphanage came along, and then a baby in an acorn-shaped cradle, and suddenly the story grew and grew.
You have a magical theme in the book which in my opinion is not overly used. Was this the intention when you started writing the book?
Growing up, I always loved fairy tales and stories with magic in them, so it was inevitable that magic would wind up in some of my own stories. I loved The Box of Delights, the Narnia books, and James and the Giant Peach.
One of my favourite non-fiction books was – and still is – The Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, that belonged to my grandmother. Brewers is packed full of history, myths, folk tales and legends. I loved going on afternoon adventures poring over the mottled pages.
Brewers wove its way into the roots of Harklights – the Hobs take their name from Hob, a Scottish household spirit. And Nissa’s name comes from Nisse, meaning gnome in Norwegian.
What comes first for you, the words or the illustrations?
Images always come first, whether I’m writing or illustrating. When writing, I always see the scenes as a movie playing out in my mind. Visualising the scenes comes easy, it’s putting them into words, and finding the perfect word, that takes time. When rewriting Harklights – after I decided it wasn’t a picture book – I made sketches along the way, but I didn’t set out to fully work on the illustrations until I’d finished the manuscript.
(All images subject to copyright ©Tim Tiley test illustration for Harklights)
Are there any significant ways in which your book has changed since the first draft?
Lots of the story bones I set in place in the first draft still remain. However, the introduction of Nissa in the second draft, opened up the story in so many ways. Suddenly, Papa Herne had a daughter, who was quietly jealous that she was being side-lined when Wick arrived at Oakhome. Nox, the Hob who is wary of humans, was also introduced in the second draft. Both of these characters deepened the story and added lots of extra dimension to the plot. Not everyone wants to embrace change.
I'm a massive fan of illustrations. What do you think makes an illustration effective and why?
Growing up, I loved illustrated books and losing myself in their details. I especially loved Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge series, which took the magic miniaturisation of dolls houses and brought it to the countryside. Another favourite was The Troll Book by Michael Berenstain, an illustrated history and guide to trolls, filled with myths and information on their family life. One of my favourites illustrations was of a tall fir tree that was used as a look-out tower.
For me, an illustration is effective if it adds something to the text. This could be showing character action, reaction and interaction, but it could also show the setting and establish a mood.
I really love the book cover. Were you involved with the development or production of this? If so, how did it start life e.g. as a series of sketches or was it all done digitally etc? (It would be amazing if you could share any of these images with us!)
Thank you. I worked closely with Will and Sarah, the wonderful designers at Usborne, but we had feedback from everyone in the team, so the cover really took a village to raise. Interestingly, the cover illustration altered the story. The idea to have some of the Hob homes up in the branches was something that was evolved when developing the cover illustration. I then went back to the text and found ways to bring this into the story.
In terms of the process, everything started out as pencil sketches, then developed into final pencil drawings. I like to work with lots of drawn elements and textures, and then bring everything into Photoshop to work on.
We had lots of ideas for the cover, but we settled on the final design as we wanted to show Wick in the forest setting. I also developed the lettering for the cover, inspired by the tiles at Postman’s Park, near St. Pauls in London.
Could you tell us a bit about any of your upcoming projects?
I’ve just finished a new draft for Witchstorm. The story is set in the same world as Harklights, and focuses on a cast of new characters, but there’s a crossover. There’s a surprise appearance from ... I can’t say more, without giving anything away.