East of the Sun, West of the Moon is a small book. Based on a traditional story that comes from the Northlands, it is a version of Beauty and the Beast, with bears. For those who love the story it holds very close to the traditional telling, re-imagined into a modern setting, but while I was writing it the characters began to walk their own paths. I hope that it will surprise even those who know the story well.
I wrote it because I had to. I wrote it because I have worked in picture books for so long now that there are children who have grown up with my stories. Some now even have children of their own. I wrote it to carry a story I love through to another generation. I wrote it to try and understand its fascination for me. I didn’t realise at the time but I also wrote it because my children were coming to an age where they would be going out alone into the world. But mostly I wrote it because it demanded that I paid the story the attention it desired.
Part of the story came from a fascination with the wind. I live in a place where the wind blows hard. Sometimes when you are walking you can hear it coming across the land before it springs on you. I always loved the part in The English Patient where he recites some of the names of the world’s winds and this drew me in to searching for them. I became more and more fascinated by the ocean of air we live in and how it moves across the land.
And as with all the books I wrote, the main work with pen and paper I did outside. I walk to write, and tend to sit at the beach or on top of the lonely hill above my house.
I write with a pen. I find I think differently depending on what I use, pen, computer, typewriter. And I write on one side of the book so that there is room for edits and additions.
Delighted when Frances Lincoln decided to commit to the book ( should I mention the rhemes of rejection letters, most complimentary, but unsure of where the book would sit on their list, in a bookshop) the act of designing the book was more difficult than anticipated. I had a clear idea of how I wanted it to look but struggled to explane, other than to say, small, hardback, precious. I had loved the shape of a book by Isabel Allende called The City of the Beasts and wanted something that size but with pictures. And so it began to take shape.
The design of a book is so important. How many words on a page? I wanted them to have space to breathe. How many pages? I wanted there to be room for double page spreads with no text. I began to doodle in my sketchbook.
No problem with the bear, but how to get the girl to look old enough but not too old. She is about 16, and the story changes her. And she isn’t British.
The drawing above was originally made as a cover drawing, but was dropped from the book. It is Wind Street in Swansea, a coincidence that few will know, but one that appeals to my strange mind’s workings. Below are small sketches for the places where there are breaks in the text.
It took a long time to find a way in to the book. Above is one of the double spreads that was rejected, by me, from the book. I reworked the whole image from a different angle, distance giving this the magic that was lacking in the first attempt.
All of the paintings are much smaller than my usual work. Some, like the wolf, are tiny.
Now, having finished the book,(it lay dormant in a draw for a while after so many rejections from publishers) having illustrated it and lived closely to it for years, having read, reread, listened to other versions, I don’t believe I am much closer to knowing what it is about than when I started. Perhaps it is about finding your way through the world, keeping promises, free will. It is a book about journeys, about growing up. Perhaps it is simply about love. I think it is a book about love.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon is written and illustrated by Jackie Morris, published by Janetta Otter-Barry Books, Frances Lincoln, in UK and USA.
Published 7th January 2013. (The 7th is a Thursday. Traditionally books are always published on a Thursday.)
You can pre-order signed copies from Solva Woollen Mill. You can also order from your local book shop, and pre- order on internet sites.
I am currently working on a new novel. Or two.
Article about East of the Sun in Books for Keeps.
Interview about my work and East of the Sun on Playing by the Book.