With book three of the Heirs to the Kingdom series by Robin John Morgan in production, we took a look at the cover of the book, and thought it would be good to have a chat with the artist Louis M Slater, to see if he could shed more light on the HTTK project.
Louis was an out of work artist who came across Robin whilst working on the markets of Hyde and Denton, back in 2005, and he became one of a very small group who were given the chance to read the very first full drafts of the Bowman of Loxley. Since that time he has been very involved with the author and his work, and has played a contributing role not just as illustrator, but also as one of the early readers group. Louis was also employed in late 2006 and 07 by Robin in the final days of Denton Markets based shop, and witnessed the struggle Robin had to save his business, so with that in mind we thought who better to shed a little more light on this new and reclusive writer.
From the comfort of his home we ask. What was it like to read that very first draft in the Heirs to the kingdom series?
“It was pretty exciting, I have always been a lover of fantasy and mythology. I grew up reading books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis as well as reading the Greek Tragedies, so from an early age I have been enthralled by the myths and legends in particular the ones that surround British history. This series has touched on a lot of fond memories from those early times of reading in my youth.”
Robin has said that he talked to you in great depth about the book at the time, and it was your understanding and love of the story that convinced him you were the right man for the job of illustrating the front cover, what did it feel like when he suggested you draw a picture of his main character for his book?
He gives a wide smile and laughs, “Yeah, there were a few in-depth discussions back then. Rob was originally talking to another artist about the cover art, I was just a member of the readers group sharing my thoughts on the book, but I do find when I am reading, it gives me inspiration, so I set out my sketch pad and sketched an initial idea of a bowman, it was not so much the main character at the time, just a general picture of how I saw a bowman. I was sketching on the market, and Rob saw it and was quite impressed with the attention to detail, so we just started how I came about the image. It was during our discussions that Rob realised as he put it ‘ I wasn’t reading the books, I was living the adventure.’ It was shortly after that he offered me a chance to submit a picture against another artist, to be honest I still cannot believe I won it.” Louis turns and points to a bookcase on the wall with a smile, and points to a neat row of books stood apart from the regular books, next to a large ceramic figure of a wizard. “I have my copies on display, its nice to see them every day, I am lucky as people have made some really nice comments about them.”
The Bowman of Loxley cover was Louis very first commission as an illustrator, and it is very obvious it is something he is immensely proud of, with this being his very first commission and realising he had the job at the time, I asked him about the process. How did you come up with that very first cover, and what was it like creating the artwork?
“Robin discussed the basic design and we sketched out rough possibilities which was a bowman looking over a ledge. It was Rob’s idea of what would portray the story best, obviously without giving too much of the story away. I took his ideas and sketched out a few possible scenarios, the idea back then was to create a wrap around sleeve for a hardback which we could add the text too at a later date. I couldn’t help thinking there was something missing from the main picture, On the last day in Rob’s shop, we pinned the picture to the wall and took a step back to look at it. I think we stared at it for hours before it clicked, I grabbed a pen and started to doodle all over the picture in blue biro, (He laughs) Rob went a little squeaky, asking what I was doing, its what we now call a Rafe moment, which you possibly understand better when you have read the third book. It needed Rune, I explained while I scribbled her in, Robbie would always have her with him, as the whole undercurrent of the story is about love and devotion between them, and the world of the woodsmen and that woodland around them, and Knox and old modern life. It was that understanding that the rest of the picture flowed smoothly, I took elements of the first ten chapters, so as not to reveal too much, but checking in with Rob as it progressed to ensure I was working within the guidelines, although I did have a relatively free hand and I tried to incorporate the themes of the book. (He lowers his voice) Have you spotted the rabbit? Robin has the original framed on his wall. I was very surprised when Rob asked to use one of the sketches for the rear cover, sadly because he took a different publishing route, the hard back was for the time being put on hold, so he only used a section of the picture for the front, but it still looks the part.”
You have since gone on to provide all the covers for the books, Robin has said he can be very specific in what he wants, and your range of drawings is quite a wide spectrum from surreal to portrait pictures. How hard is it to actually work to the principles of the author, knowing you have other ideas about the book and how it should look.
“The best way to look at it is, we all build pictures in our minds as we read, and those images can be very diverse, for example my view is personal and very different from everyone else’s. Robin as the creator of these stories has the defining view on how the characters look; you can see that from the depth of his descriptions. I offer suggestions from my personal views, some he is willing to work in, and others are left out, I think the best way of looking at is, we both have the books in mind and want the artwork to reflect the story rather than interpret it. He (Robin) does take an interest in my artwork, and always gives me good feedback on the range of styles, I have always loved surrealism, and Salvador Dali is one of my personal favourites along with the works of H R Giger, who designed the Alien concepts. I am quite open and broad in my view, liking Frank Frazetta, Alan Lee, John Howe, Van Gogh, and Goya the list goes on, it would be nice if one day I could be in their league.”
We know Robin has had sketches done by other artists, yet he has returned again to use your artwork on the cover of the new book The Darkness of Dunnottar. This is one of your favourite books in the series, it must be a good feeling knowing he feels so confident in your understanding of the books, to the point where he has selected your artwork again?
“Yes it does feel good, a bit of a confidence boost really. The Darkness of Dunnottar was an amazing read; I do tend to favour the darker sides of stories, although there is generally a much deeper emotion to this book. I know everybody loves a happy ending, but without the darker struggle it’s just an ending. (He starts to laugh.) Scary, see has me talking in riddles now. With Dunnottar, I was the first of the proof readers to read it, I threw in a few of my thoughts, some of which did make it into the re-write one of which does play a big part in the story, obviously at the moment I cannot tell you, but Rob got really excited and in many ways that has also added to my love of this book. The artwork for this book was great fun, Rob gave me a free hand and I did choose a surreal concept for it, which I do think helps enhance the darker feel to the story. I really wasn’t very sure he would go for it at first it is very different from everything we have done before. I got a call congratulating me on making the front and rear cover, as he has taken two shots from the one piece of artwork, I got to say I cannot wait to see it up there on the self with the others.”
Since that time on the markets you have become very good friends, both of you have appeared together a great deal in promoting the books, and you probably know him better than most. He is a little reclusive, so how would you describe Robin the person, and the way he approaches his writing?
“Rob is great fun to work with, yet very professional, but really great fun, we do try to meet up as often as possible. I think the best way to describe it is its like taking your inner child on a play date. (He starts to laugh) He never leaves things to chance, every plan is backed up, and every experience is carefully noted and stored for future reference. All the promotional events are carefully planned to run smoothly, not that they always do, but its not from lack of effort (He gives a sly smile as if remembering some past moment) We attended the book launch at a historic pub, not exactly counting on the Juke Box being accidentally left on. There was poor Rob trying to read out extracts from book one, surround by his displays when Led Zeppelin starts booming in the next room. It was amusing watching him, a hugely dedicated fan of the band, trying his best to read and not to sing along.
At the moment I am preparing prints for my own LMS stand at the Medieval Market in Bolton, alongside the HTTK stand. This will be my second year when we both don our costumes. It’s a really good laugh; my fiancée and I will be joining Rob and his family to promote the books and also my own artwork. I love it, it’s a good way to talk with the fans and discuss the best and least favourite parts of the books. Robin likes honest feedback and meeting the fans at these events for him is very rewarding, you must remember for most parts, he is actually a very private person but he loves sharing the enjoyment of the books with the readers.
We do have a great friendship and share much of the same humour, which is great, because we have pulled quite a few all nighters preparing for the books ( copious amounts of coffee has been consumed) and we have travelled around a few times looking up historical facts, last year we tried to visit the grave of Robin Hood.”
You have since set up your own Facebook page and we believe you are currently working on building your own website to present your artwork to the world, what are your future plans, taking into account that you will be working throughout the whole of the HTTK project with Robin, what comes next for you?
“My wedding, I am getting married next summer, so that will be taking up a fair amount of my life. On the art side I will be aiming to finish off my new website (louismslater.com) and I am updating my illustrator page on Facebook. (www.facebook.com/louismslater) I will also be continuing to build up my portfolio and adding some pieces in colour, I am setting up a studio with the help of my fiancée, so there will be lots of work going on behind the scenes. I would love to break into the gaming industry as a concept artist, or maybe the film industry, and possible extend out into advertising. On the HTTK front, I know Rob would like to look into fully illustrated copies of the books which I would love to play a part in, and he has a few other ventures, so I am sure to be very busy. (Big Smile) I do still have commission work, I am available for portrait work and concept art. I am also working on a few designs for a tattooist in Wales. I always have something keeping my pencil busy.”
It is hard not to ask about the new book, this is stated as being a favourite of Louis, and considering Robin has said that there is a darker side to this book, we asked Louis if he could shed a little more light on the book, and tell us why everyone should buy a copy and read it.
He bites his lip. “That is a hard one, (Pause for thought) I wish I could describe in detail all the exciting twists and turns that happen in Dunnottar, But I think it would spoil it. What I can say is that so far in this tale, by comparison, Robbie and his friends have had it easy. There have been many trials in which they have been able to overcome as they faced a few heartaches, but in book three we will see that all change. The Knox forces who have been a little quiet will explode back into the story. There will be new friends and enemies along the way and a lot of surprises and secrets will be revealed, and in Robin’s own style, with every answer will come yet more questions. A great deal of past and future events will hang on a knife edge, and history will certainly come alive, I am getting excited just thinking about it again.
The tempo in book three will have you galloping towards book four with the fury of a thousand horses as everything you thought you knew as well as the characters will change as they have everything to lose and yet more to gain. The future hangs on a balance with a major hurdle that appears both impossible to fathom and impossible to overcome. There is anger, with as much love, and there will be tears, This really is a must have book all I will add is wait until you travel North and get a taste of what the Knox Empire can really do.”
He does look extremely excited about it, and it has to be said it feels very catching, we asked if he would give us just a little more, and he began laughing at us.
“Yeah watch out for Harry, he has survived a lot to date, but I am not sure he can handle much more before his karma finally snaps.”
Currently 51% of readers of HTTK are female, who say this is very much a female read, yet 49% are male claiming it’s a great fantasy adventure for males, we asked Louis what it was that made him like the books so much.
“I think its because these books connect on so many levels. Initially it is an adventure story, much like the ones I read as a boy, but its more grown up as if it has aged with you if you get what I mean? There is the romantic undercurrent that flows throughout the whole story, and it has its dashing hero’s, but the characters have both strong female and male lead roles that have a destiny thrust up on them, which does relate well to a teenage fan base. Strong environmental themes backed up with carefully researched history and folklore appeals to a more adult theme, and on top of that the books are a progression upon the tales all of us grew up with and so therefore feel very familiar. So the books have mass appeal to such a wide range of people that there really is something for everyone.
I think it’s a masterpiece and wish him the best, and hope you all enjoy the stories and find the magic and wonder that has captivated quite a few of us to date, but don’t ask me, have a read and then let me know what you think?”
Louis is obviously a very big fan of the books, and it shows not only in his artwork, but also in the passion with which he has talked to us today about the stories. Book three in the series Heirs to the Kingdom will be released shortly, entitled ‘The Darkness of Dunnottar,’ which will feature the artwork of this up and coming illustrator on the front and back covers. We can only wish Louis the very best for his future, and thank him for allowing us into his home to talk with him. All of us at VCP are working hard to prepare for the books release and we will give you the latest updates as they happen.
If you have not read the books yet, then you still have time to catch up, and get book one ‘The Bowman of Loxley,’ and book two, ‘The lost sword of Carnac’ from all major online suppliers, or order it in from your local bookshop. As Louis said Robin will be attending the Bolton Medieval Market held at Churchgate in Bolton Lancs. UK, on October 16th from 10am until 5pm. Louis will be there with the rest of the HTTK promotions team, so if you want more insight, or an autographed copy this is your chance to grab both Author and Illustrator. Once again thanks for such wonderful hospitality, it made for an very interesting interview and a very enjoyable day.
Edited and prepared for this site by Corinne Morgan.