Focus 2014 Interviews: Kathleen Jennings

kathleen_colourToday our cover artist, Kathleen Jennings, weighs in on Focus 2014.

What was the inspiration for the cover art for Focus 2014?

Cranky Ladies! This was one of the early sketches for Cranky Ladies of History (Fablecroft). We hadn’t worked out yet which ladies would be in the book or on the cover, so I was trying out some of them in pen and ink, then messed around with it on the computer. The more I read history, the more I wonder whether there are any ladies in history who *weren’t* cranky in one way or another. Even the demure little wives seem to have weaponised that trait fairly consistently.

You’re a writer as well as an artist – what should new readers know about you?

I love pulling apart old stories and putting them back together at odd angles. Also, I’m rarely happy with my own illustrations for and of my own stories. I think they come from the same storytelling place but reach the world by different paths.

Can you remember the first story you read that made you want to be a writer, and the first piece of artwork that made you want to be an artist? On-the-Banks-of-Plum-River

My initial thought is Narnia x 2 (Lewis and Baynes). But in fact it probably goes back to Little Red Riding Hood, which I made my father read 76 times before he broke and found Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books to read instead, and Garth Williams’ soft, rounded illustrations for those often harsh stories: the flowers on the cover of On The Banks of Plum Creek, perhaps, or the cousins’ boots in Little House in the Big Woods. Elements of both the fairytale and Wilder’s stories had a lot of resonance with parts of my childhood, and I do love to combine the terrible and strange with the beautiful and homely. However, Pauline Baynes’ illustrations for the Chronicles of Narnia definitely crystallised the narrative illustration style I love. And then I found Alan Lee’s window on Middle Earth. Lately I’ve been coming to appreciate more the artists who have a narrative/visual shorthand, e.g. Ardizzone and Blake and Oslo.

Name your top five favourite authors and top five artists.

Today it is:

Authors: Diana Wynne Jones. Dorothy Sayers. Georgette Heyer. Charles Dickens. G K Chesterton. (A more recent selection of people whose books I have clutched to my chest? Angela Slatter, Catherynne M Valente, Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner, Kelly Link)

Illustrators: Pauline Baynes. M. M. Kaye. Margaret Horder. Thea Proctor. Arthur Rackham. (More recent: Rovina Cai, the Balbussos, Charles Vess, Shaun Tan, Kali Ciesemier, this is really hard)

The future of Australian spec-fic is …?

Vigorous, beautiful and hopeful. Good directions are as important as dire warnings.

Focus2014CoverSMKathleen Jennings is a World Fantasy Award nominated, Ditmar Award winning illustrator and writer from Queensland, Australia. Her latest illustrations are for the covers of Tremontaine[], the prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Riverside novels, from Serial Box Publishing, but very soon you will get to see her illustrations for Angela Slatter’s Flight. She is most frequently online at

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