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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.