Tuesday, 20 June 2023
Illustrating William and the Werewolf - my work in bringing you a book to treasure
As you will know from my translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Alliterative Morte Arthure (King Arthur's Death), my books are accompanied by a series of illumanated letters and illustrations, all of which are produced as linocut prints. In the last few weeks, I have been busily working on those which will accompany William and the Werewolf so I thought I would share some of my work with you.
The illuminated letters I have been cutting are based on original mediaeval template alphabets produced for illuminators to fill in the spaces left in manuscripts by scribes during the preparation of their texts.
As in the original manuscript for William and the Werewolf held at Cambridge University (Cambridge, King's College MS 13), sections of the narratives are opened by illuminated letters. It is thought that these comprised key navigational aids for mediaeval readers (remembering that most Middle English romances contain almost no punctuation of any kind).
The photographs below show some of the linocutting in progress for a single letter, in this case the letter C:
It will be appreciated that each of these letters takes many hours in the cutting; a selection of all the letters I have produced in the last few weeks is shown below:
Once each letter is printed, I then need to digitise them in order for them to be inserted in the final book. The photograph below shows how they appear - in this case, in my last book, a translation of the Lincoln Cathedral Library MS 91 (Thornton Manuscript) Alliterative Morte Arthure (King Arthur's Death).
Although these letters appear quite small in the final book, they are, in my view, fundamental to how I like to present my work to you. I am very keen that my books reflect, if only to a small degree, how mediaeval manuscripts were enjoyed by their audiences.
It is believed that many such romances were also read aloud to small family audiences. My hope is that you, the modern reader, will also be tempted to enjoy doing so in the same way, reconnecting with the past but also enjoying romances in an engaging fashion.
As many of you will know, I also like to illustrate my books - again using linocut techniques. Although many texts enjoyed by provincial readers in mediaeval times were not illustrated (at least those which survive), we know from the Gawain Manuscript (Cotton Nero A.x in the British Library) that at least one example was (and that the illustrations covered four separate texts within it).
It is believed that illustrations were a way for readers to engage with fundamental themes expressed within the text. We can certainly see that this was the case with more richly-produced manuscripts such as in the Lydgate Troy Book, a fully-digitised version of which, the Manchester University John Rylands Library, English MS 1 can be seen here.
I am now busily at work preparing what I hope will be my finest work yet and which I hope you will appreciate when you receive your first edition copy. Below, the photographs reveal very much "work in progress" - the big reveal will be when you receive your books on publication:
The image above is an extract showing the emperors of Greece and Rome as they discuss the impending marriage of the latter's daughter, Melior, to the former's son. Melior, of course, is not playing ball: she loves William (the hero of the book) and so a key part of the romance begins...
The image above shows cutting in progress for the illustration showing a grieving William who dreaming that he has Melior in his arms, awakes to find himself holding a pillow.
The image above shows preparation of some of the background imagery for an illustration. Every detail counts to ensure that each illustration is as rich and engaging as possible for the contemporary reader.
A book to treasure and enjoy
As you can see, a huge amount of work and effort is going into illustrating this translation (and I haven't even mentioned the writing side!). I hope very much that you will enjoy the fruits of my labours and that you will come to own a wonderful book when it finally appears.
I thank you for your patience and all your support along the way. Please do spread the message of the book to your family and friends and encourage them to support it - although it is now 100% funded and will go ahead, it would be great if we can build momentum for the book so that bookshops are encouraged to stock it when it is published. The more patrons the book receives, the more likely the book is to be successful in the shops.
Translator and Printmaker
P.S. If you'd like to see more of my printmaking and learn a little about the printmaking process itself, please do visit my website, www.mythicalbritain.co.uk - where many of my linocut prints are also available for sale as a perfect gift!
Walking with William
- Your name in the back of the book.