The Boy/Pig, the Handsome Chaps and the Scary Witch


The Toby Twirl Story Book was published in 1947. I was born in 1951, and so perhaps the copy I read had been handed down to me from my older sister, Jacqui.



Not only did the stories and images in the book capture my imagination, but the feel of it under my fingers, too. Printed simply in two colours per spread on heavy, absorbent paper, it was my love for The Toby Twirl Storybook that underpinned my approach to the illustrated edition of The Sonnets of Richard Barnfield, made in 2001 with Nicolas McDowell at The Old Stile Press.


It was a long stretch from the adventurous Toby and his friends, to the lustrous boys of Barnfield’s homoerotic sonnets first published in 1595, but the idea of borrowing from The Toby Twirl Story Book was so fully formed in my head from the moment Nicolas suggested the project, that the edition didn’t so much as evolve, as explode with the swiftness of a Demon King in a puff of smoke out of a star-trap!


The book took time to make, of course, as all beautiful things do, but the idea for it came to me in a moment, and I never swerved from my vision for it.



And it would seem that the influence of The Toby Twirl Storybook in my work goes on, because it can be no accident that my first artist’s picture-book, due out this year from Random Spectacular, is to be a darkling version of that grimmest of the Grimms, Hansel & Gretel. The steeple-hatted witch of E. Jeffrey’s illustrations has always stayed with me, lurking in wait to scare another generation. She is the the stuff of my nightmares and dreams, and has clearly been biding her time, waiting for me to be ready for her re-launch!

She’s a little scarier this time around, and meaner too.


6 thoughts on “The Boy/Pig, the Handsome Chaps and the Scary Witch

  1. Oh yes….the FEEL of the paper in those books! I only have 2 books from my childhood collection (where are they? I don’t remember throwing them away…) and spend time rummaging in book shops and charity shops for replacements. I love the covers too…..often going softly wibbly at the corners. Do you have all of your childhood books, Clive? (*trying not to sound jealous*)

    It’s lovely to see the sonnet pieces again… there’s a book that will stand the test of time too!

    • Hello Shellie.

      My parents seemed to regularly clear out my childhood toys and books. Later they moved house and downsized, which happened when I was away at school. Returning to a new and smaller home was quite a surprise, and I don’t think I realised at the time quite how much of my childhood had been jettisoned in the process.

      Many years later I took my father to task over the fact that my most beloved playthings had vanished. To my horror he told me that much had been stored in boxes in a garage, but that when he’d discovered they’d become damp and mouldy, he’d burned the lot. Thus ended my teddy-bear and goodness knows what else. I wish I’d known about the boxes. I might have salvaged some treasures.

      I think that generation had gone through a lot in the war, and there wasn’t the sentimentality that might have encouraged a more tender attitude to the things of childhood. I have very little from that long-ago past. Occasionally as an adult, and when the opportunities have arisen, I’ve replaced what was lost. When I found a copy of that Toby Twirl Storybook in Hay-on Wye, I couldn’t pass up the chance to own it.

      Most of all I miss my toy farm-yard. It was beautiful. Made in wood and painted brightly, it had a windmill and a duckpond. I wonder whether it may have been German. Perhaps I had stopped playing with it, but I hadn’t stopped loving it. I’m pretty sure there was a sense of ‘Oh he’s too old for that now!’ My beloved rocking-horse vanished too, replaced with a bicycle.

      I hated that fucking bicycle!

  2. Oh Toby Twirl! You’ve just transported me back 60 years! I used to love those books, as a young child I was always fascinated by his cloven fingers, and would run my hands across the surface of the page, not quite understanding why he didn’t have five digits like me, as if touching the page would find them hidden! I also remember you working on the sonnets book, a wonderful achievement, and such beautiful drawings; And the Hansel and Gretel is promising to be brilliant , nice to think your work will be in so many homes and treasured by so many too, it’s quite a legacy you are leaving….AND there’s more to come!xxL

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s