Reading is an activity that requires a lot of imagination on the part of the reader. Even the most evocative writing can only suggest a scent, or a taste, or a visual image. It’s up to the audience to create the scene inside their head, which leads to a wonderful multitude of interpretations. Any given reader will have a very specific idea of what a setting looks like, or how a character looks. And that idea is bound to be worlds away from image in the author’s head, when they sat down to write the story.

Which is why I feel a little hesitant about what I’m about to post. I don’t want to take away anything from readers’ experiences of Amberlough. I want to hear and see what readers imagine when they open the book. What do their Aristide and Cyril and Cordelia look like?

But drawing my characters was an important part of creating them, getting to know them, understanding their moods, relationships, and reactions. Knowing what their expression would look like when they got good news, or the worst news of their life, and being able to describe it faithfully, at least according to my own vision.

Also I’m a big show-off and I hate to think all this will languish in sketchbooks when its prose counterpart is in print.

A lot of writers use reference photos for their characters, which is how I started out when Amberlough was still a short story. Prince Poppycock, for Aristide. Blonde Chris Evans for Cyril. Gwen Verdon for Cordelia. Hugh Jackman circa WHATEVER THIS WAS SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME for Malcolm Sailer. Thure Lindhart for Finn (to be specific: Thure Lindhardt in Flammen & Citronen because COME ON). Though, with doleful redhead Domhnall Gleeson getting so much love lately, I’m wavering).


But some of them—most of them—weren’t quite right. Chris Evans especially. I’m a doodler by nature, and when I was procrastinating on actually writing the thing, their faces appeared in the margins of notes that were supposed to help me find the lost threads of my plot. Cyril looked less and less like Captain America and more and more like my high school boyfriend’s older brother (sometimes you just get an image in your head, okay?). Malcolm lost whatever air of refinement he had and turned into full-on, hatchet-faced, bootlegging mobster. Aristide started to look less like Prince Poppycock, when he was out of makeup, and more like a cross between Mark Gatiss’ Mycroft and RuPaul.


See why reference photos weren’t going to work for me?

Plus sometimes I discovered things while I was drawing that I hadn’t known about before. Once, for kicks, I drew Cordelia as a razor: I cut her hair into a high-and-tight, and put her in a waistcoat. She looked great. And she looked tough as nails. And then, I knew she was not only a runner, but probably a revolutionary.

The first time I ever drew a satisfactory portrait of Finn, he had, for some inexplicable reason, a mustache. It looked great on him. Aged him up. He didn’t get to keep the mustache, in the end, but the drawing showed me, suddenly, that he had a lot more mettle than Aristide gave him credit for.

Once I started drawing Aristide and he didn’t look quite right—too young—and I started to wonder what his life had been like, to lead to this point. That was when I knew that he had more mettle than I had given him credit for.

And Cyril? I must have drawn him more than any of the other characters combined. His face became so familiar that I could draw it in every expression, with five lines or fewer, probably with my eyes shut. Okay, that’s an exaggeration BUT NOT MUCH OF ONE.


Anyway, as much as I said earlier that I don’t want to influence readers’ mental images of Amberlough, I put together a project I am SO excited about. When I got my big box of ARCs, I started leafing through and saw all this white space at the chapter headings and in the scene breaks. And the paper they print these things on is essentially newsprint. And if there’s one thing I can’t resist—as a writer and an artist—it’s nice paper without marks on it.

I went to town, and churned out an illustrated ARC. There’s portraits, and sketches, and illustrations of scenes. And you, dear readers, have a chance to win it.

For the next two weeks, if you Tweet, Tumbl, or Instagram the hashtag #Amberlough, (or LIKE this post on Instagram) you’ll be entered to win said ARC. Here’s a preview of all the goodies inside:


REMEMBER: Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram. #Amberlough. Like this post. Tell all your friends. I’m as excited to give this away as I hope you are to win it.

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