In 2014, The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth’s novel set in the aftermath of the Norman invasion of 1066, was longlisted for the Man Booker prize, shortlisted for the Goldsmith’s Prize and won the Gordon Burn Award. It established Paul Kingsnorth as one of the most interesting and challenging contemporary British novelists, and is now well on its way to becoming a modern classic. Mark Rylance has optioned the film rights, with a view to playing the main character, Buccmaster.
The planned illustrated edition is a collaboration between Paul and Caroline Ross. Caroline is an artist who uses traditional materials and methods. She responded to Paul’s story, but was also inspired by his invention of a ‘shadow tongue’ – a language that is neither Old English nor modern English – to add authenticity to his narrative.
The result is 35 coloured drawings inspired by the story, using only materials that were available in pre-Conquest England. These include iron gall ink (made from boiling oak galls and rusty nails), wild cherry tree gum, charcoal, chalk, extracts of woad (blue), rose madder (pink) and ground malachite (green). More information about Caroline’s methods and some of the finished illustrations are in the Extract section below.
With your support, we plan to produce a beautiful new edition combining the full text of the novel, plus Caroline’s illustrations and an essay on the techniques and materials she used to make them. They will be reproduced in full colour and printed on 120gsm Munken Natural paper, folded, gathered and sewn and bound in cloth in limited edition of 750 copies, with a further 20 copies bound in calfskin.
In 2015 I bought a copy of The Wake some time after reading a good review in the Guardian newspaper. Once the book made its way to the top of my reading pile I spent the next few days completely immersed and greatly moved, so much so that I took the unaccustomed step of looking up the author online then writing to thank Paul Kingsnorth. The book stirred something that seemed ancient in me, and the 'shadow-tongue' Paul created to tell his story spoke to me deeply. I loved working to make sense of the text, being forced to read it aloud, having to bring my imagination not just to the story, but to the startling means by which it was being told.
At the Dark Mountain Base Camp festival in Devon in September 2016 I took my basket of hand made art materials out for the first time, thinking I might make some sketches of the people I met. I did not anticipate the warm reception these strange objects would receive. When Paul encountered the materials he declared them a 'shadow-making-basket' and asked me to make drawings for an upcoming illustrated version of his book with Unbound. Of course I said yes.
The ‘shadow-making’ basket
Although I trained as a painter, my natural inclination is towards making drawings as works in their own right, or as in this case, as illustrations for a text. I wanted to evoke the landscapes and events of the tale, rather than depict specific scenes. The materials themselves led me to a new way of working: looseness and vitality of mark being far more important than detail or ease of reading the image. I'm attempting to make the viewer feel as I did when I read the first few pages of The Wake: to have to look and re-look. I wanted to do most of the work of making the image readable, but leave plenty for the reader to do.
Materials used in the illustrations
The means by which these drawings were made came out of the stories, language and imagery in the book. It made me ask myself: what of the old ways should be kept, and what overturned? In art, in life, in custom, the question is as relevant. What seems on one hand primitive or coarse may be on the other hand direct and full of meaning. I am not interested in creating an elaborate re-enactment of a past era which is unknowable. I am however completely intrigued by what can be conveyed using the simple means and materials contained in my still evolving shadow-making-basket.
These people are helping to fund The Illustrated Wake.