This picture (and the one that precedes it) are the illustrations for the first stories in a collection of folk and fairy tales I'm writing and illustrating (see the previous blog post for a full explanation!). I'm part-way through the process of writing the full story that will accompany these pictures in the final book - but am still tinkering with it and refining it - so, for now, this is just a snippet.
The story is based closely on the old traditional version of the tale - which follows the fate of three brothers and their younger sister. The sister falls ill, and the boys are sent out to draw water from a nearby Holy Well, in order to revive her. They have an accident while they're travelling, are unable to bring back any water, and return home empty-handed. The furious father curses the boys, who are promptly transformed into ravens, and fly out of the window and away, never to be seen again.
Years later, the sister is grown, and sets off on an epic quest to rescue her brothers. She travels first to seek assistance from the sun, the moon and the stars, before finally gaining entry to the Glass Mountain, where her brothers are held - able to transform back into human shape only in the confines of the palisade. She befriends a dwarf, who instructs her to place her ring into one of the goblets the boys drink from each evening - if they recognise the ring, the spell will be broken, and they can return to human form permanently. Which they do, of course, and all is well :)
I noticed a woman whose face was a sea voyage I had not the courage to attempt.
~ Jeanette Winterson
This second picture was particularly sparked by the always-marvellous, always-illuminating writings of Jeanette Winterson - who writes complex, passionate, bold women characters - those whose lives are a veritable patchwork of loves, losses, conflicts, joys and complexities. And by Samantha Ellis - her gorgeously warm, funny, heartfelt re-exploration of her most treasured-heroines and novels is an absolute joy to read.
And it was drawn for myself - as a child I longed for more daring, adventurous girls in the stories I read, rather than those who were relegated to a back seat, leaving the boys to climb trees, ride horses, and lead the adventures.
Epic stories and great quests don't have to be left only to men and boys. And so the Sister in this tale gets to be the heroine I always wanted to read - and still seek out now - bold, brave, kind and determined.
The nearest of the miners - his deep brown eyes sharp and wise beneath the craggy creases and the dust-tracks of his face - observed her for some time. He looked upon her tattered seaman's coat, her too-large boots, and the pack of sundries and collected treasures strung across her back. He observed the weariness in her eyes, the long-trudged slight stoop of the traveller, the premature shots of grey across her hair.
And the fire in her eyes, diamond-bright, rivaling even the phosphorescence of the cave. Fire that spoke of love, of loyalty, of bravery in spite of all, of a fierce protectiveness, and of a determination.
It was her. She'd come for her brothers.
He rummaged in the battered bag at his feet, shifting glass shards and crystals, until his grip finally found the smooth curve of the cup. He'd carried it each day with him, since the ravens first arrived, and remarkably transformed into a trio of disheveled boys. He'd seen them settle at the table to eat or drink - always melancholy and disconsolate. He'd heard them speak with deep sadness about their sister. So the miner stole the cup, hoping against hope that one day their sibling might arrive. And now she was here.
These were deep magics - and its rituals must be observed. If she'd blundered in and disturbed the boys, the spell would be locked forever. It must be subtle. They must know her for themselves.
A token, a necklace - a ring! She wore a ring about her neck - it had belonged to their mother. The ring must be placed in the cup, and left for the boys to drink from. Surely then, they would know...