I’ve always been a collector – not expensive things like vintage cars or crystal ornaments, but everyday bits and pieces: shells and feathers, useful pieces of string and jam jars. I also collect stories and when I had so many that I’d run out of space in my head to keep them, I decided to write them down and turn them into books.
What did you like most about working on this collection – the stories or the artwork?
It was a delight to retell these stories – some old and traditional, some mythic and legendary, fairy tales, folk tales and made-up tales. The variety of characters is immense: good and bad, trickster and magician, prince and pauper. It was wonderful to be able to illustrate them too, and I decided that instead of working in watercolour and collage as usual, I would return to a technique that I had first tried as a teenager.
All the illustrations in these books are done on scraperboard or scratchboard, where board is coated with finely ground white clay and then covered in a layer of black Indian ink. The image is created by scratching, with a sharp stylus, through the black ink to the white clay layer below. The result is almost like an engraving. The pictures are very small, which leads you, as an illustrator, to think in terms of tiny details that might be missed in a bigger picture.
You’ve described the scraperboard technique, but there is a fantastic variety of artwork in the book – with amazing colours. How did this come about?
The stories come from many different countries and cultures, and this gave me the added creative thrill of incorporating traditional patterns from Africa, Inuit animal carvings or elements of Japanese woodblock prints into the illustrations. David Bennett at Boxer Books then worked his magic with the images, enlarging, adding colour, cropping and generally ‘playing around’ with both the illustrations and the look and ‘feel’ of the books, until we felt we had made something really special.
What is your favourite story in the collection and why? And favourite picture?
I really like Mulungu Paints the Birds – it's funny and charming and I’d never seen it before I researched this book. My favourite picture? I think it’s The Owl and the Pussy Cat dancing together hand in hand by moonlight on p.47. I love the simple happiness of the image, and I was quite pleased with how I managed to get the cat's stance and the moonlit edges of the creatures.
What do you think makes a good story?
Light and shade - contrast. The stories that hold your attention are the ones where you want to know what happens next, where you care about the characters and their destiny. You want them to overcome danger and attain happiness or peace. A story that is too happy is often bland and uninvolving – we all like a bit of drama! Having said all that I realise that my favourite story – Mulungu – isn’t really dramatic at all! I guess humour and an acknowledgement of human/animal failing makes a good story too.
Where can fans of your work find out more about you and your work?
I have a website www.janeray.com which I have rather neglected recently but I am about to update it. It's still worth having a look because there is a lot of stuff there. Also there is information about me on my publishers website – Orchard Books, Walker Books, Frances Lincoln ...
Can you sum up ‘The Story Collector’ is only 3 words?
Book of Delights!
‘The Story Collector: The Emperor’s Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales’By Jane Ray
Published by Boxer Books
RRP £12.99 (large format hardback)
Reviewed by Lynsey Evans
This is the first edition in a new series of tales re-told and illustrated by Jane Ray. And what a great collection it is! There are fairy tales, myths, traditional tales, folk tales and legends, some you’ll know as classics or favourites and some that are lesser known – something for everyone!
What makes this book amazing is the artwork. Just wow! Jane has used a scraperboard technique for the first time to illustrate a book. These are originally black and white minature pieces of art, which have been blown up and produced in a variety of colours throughout the book to a dramatic and beautiful effect! It looks and feels like a very special book, you can see the care and attention that has gone into it. It's like holding a little bit of art!
This is a great book to read and would also make a fab present for any avid reader.
Highly recommended for readers aged 8+
Thanks to Jane for answering our questions!