Wolfstongue by Sam Thompson, illustrated by Anna Tromop

Publication Date: 6 May 2021

The Blurb

Deep in the Forest, the foxes live in an underground city. They didn’t build it themselves: led by Reynard the
fox, they enslaved wolves to do the work. By teaching language to the wolves, the clever foxes control them
with the power of speech.

Now Isengrim, Hersent and their pups are the only wolves left in the Forest. They use clay with magical
properties to heal their wounds, and move between the human and animal worlds using hidden passageways as
they fight to survive.

One day, Isengrim gets injured. He is helped by a boy, Silas. Silas finds speaking difficult – except when in the
company of the wolves.

When the foxes kidnap the wolf pups, Silas is determined to help his new friends to rescue their young. He must find his voice to undermine Reynard’s power and destroy the foxes’ city.

The Review

The power of language is woven together with the natural world, twisted folk tales and a hint of magic to create a spellbinding story celebrating friendship, kindness and courage.

The wolves are gentle, brave and in need of help to set them free of the trap that language has bound them in. The leader of the foxes, Reynard is sly and cunning, but it is Saffron who is the most dangerous. Like most bullies, she takes every opportunity to hurt her prey.

The setting, deep in the vast forest on the edge of our world, is skilfully brought to life both by Sam’s words and Anna’s illustrations, and I felt transported to the earthy undergrowth and towering trees as Silas travelled with the wolves through passages that can be discovered by those who look carefully.

But it is our hero, Silas, who we have most to learn from. His inability to use words to help himself when he needs them most shows how much we rely on spoken language, and how without it, we can feel trapped, afraid and alone. His ease at speaking with the wolves is never matched when with humans, including his own family. His frustration and helplessness permeate the pages as he struggles to speak up for both himself and the wolves, yet his determination and perseverance shine through, and he never gives up fighting for his new friends.

I’m very much looking forward to catching up with Silas again and venturing back into the forest next year.

Great for fans of:

  • The Wild Way Home by Sophie Kirtley
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde

The Guest Post

Cover Illustration by Anna Tromop

Early sketches to final cover

The Brief

I had already read the book at least twice and started on the interior illustrations and the world of Wolfstongue before starting on the cover artwork. I also received a very detailed brief from the publisher of what key imagery they wanted included on the cover. With a starting point of a dense forest, a tunnel and a wolf, it was time to start exploring.

Sketches

The sketches started out as very rough ideas plotted down with ball-point pen in a notebook. I like to have pen or pencil and some paper available when I read, but the first ideas rarely ever make it. Sketching is a way of solving a ‘problem,’ and thinking through drawing is the only way I can figure it out. I will write down anything that comes to mind, there are no bad ideas. Knowing that I don’t have to show my sketchbook drawings to anyone also makes them feel less precious. I can come back to them the next day with fresh eyes. Sometimes I’ll keep developing an idea, and other times it goes straight out the window.

Once I have a few layouts that I like, I’ll take pictures of my sketchbook and redraw them on my iPad in Procreate. Thumbnail drawings are simple, but I need them to communicate efficiently what will go on the cover, where the main bits of text will go, and what it will look like tonally.

When the main idea of the cover has been decided upon, and changes are accounted for, I draw the line-work that will be the basis for my watercolour. A few details have been adapted from the other cover sketches – such as the wired fence. I really enjoyed including little animals in the foliage. The raven, cat, fox and wolf all have a central place in the storyline, whereas the bird and squirrel are simply species native to Ireland.

Along with the sketch, I’ll also make a few colour mockups for the cover. Initially, I imaged something darker with more blue tones to amplify the darkness of the wolves’ suppression, but in the end we decided it was too scary and looming, and went for a lighter green. The cover then went through a light, saturated green colour phase, but the atmosphere didn’t feel right. It’s really hard to decide what will work the best without visualising it. In the end, we ended up with a combination of the two, keeping some dark and saturated blue tones behind the greens, and a darker forest.

Illustration

I love working with traditional media when creating images, so although I have moved a lot of my process into the digital realm, I always start out with pen/paint and paper. For Wolfstongue, I transferred the approved sketch to watercolour paper, and painted the main elements, such as the trees, animals and Silas. A lot of it changed along the way, for instance almost all of the colours ended up being changed, but they still kept the handmade, tactile texture that I find really important. Huge thank you to Elizabeth, Matthew, and everyone at Little Island.

Huge thanks to Anna for such an insightful guest post and to Little Island Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. Do make sure you check out all of the other stops.

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