The Magistrate's Son

Johanna Gousset talks about her work illustrating novels


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Johanna Gousset is a Chiswick-based illustrator who has just finished collaborating on the second in a series of illustrated novels with writer Mike Thexton.

The Magistrate's Son (Amazon £ 7.99) was the first in a series of books set in the imaginary world of Xessus where the central character 15-year old Lebasi has been isolated, constrained by a harsh government and the fact that he is the son of the hated magistrate who is seen as a collaborator with the regime.

Image: Balazs Mosolygo

The second book, The Warning has just been published and is available on Amazon.

Johanna grew up in the Pyrenees, France, and her parents were both engravers. She was home schooled and had an idyllic rural life, reading, roaming the valleys and mountains and observing animals and nature. She later went to school in Belgium before coming to the UK to study illustration at Middlesex University, from where she graduated last June.

One of Johanna's images

It was while was studying at university that Johanna heard about the Lanista Partners Competition seeking students to illustrate a full book. She immediately read the book, sent three illustrations and was chosen by Mike Thexton to work on the drawings for his novel. This is how she recalls it in her blog: "My first professional illustratorís job! And then I remembered that the book was 42 chapters long and that I had agreed to do two illustrations per chapter and a full-coloured cover... Keeping in mind that I was a full-time student!"

It is unusual in the world of publishing for an illustrator and an author to work together. The general pattern is that the publisher chooses the illustrator who works on the drawings separately with little input from the writer. Despite the fact that Johanna thinks in images while Mike thinks in words, they have collaborated very well, and often inspire each other.

Mike, who lives in Kew, started to write the books when he realised that most novels for teenagers were centred around the concept of magic. He wanted to write a story that would be different, and when his daughter read his writing and asked for more, he knew that he was onto a winner. Johanna was immediately attracted to the The Magistrates Book because of its strong plot and interesting characters. The concept of the central character's journey also gave her the freedom to illustrate the book with plenty of landscapes, which she loved. Mike is already working on the third in the series.

Johanna has been living in Chiswick for a few years now with her boyfriend, who is a dancer. The couple originally came to W4 because he had family links with the area.

She loves Chiswick and finds inspiration for her work from the local environment-she is a volunteer at Chiswick House Gardens, and regularly sketches there. Dukes Meadows and the Sunday Food Market is also a favourite haunt.

Johanna says she is inspired by classical illustrators from the 18th and 19th century, as well as modern influences from the internet and Pinterest. She says people often joke that they can see her boyfriend's features in the characters she draws.

Before embarking on teenage novels, Mike Thexton wrote a very different book based on a traumatic experience over thirty years ago. In September 1986, he was a passenger on board boarded Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi. He had been on a climbing expedition in northern Pakistan His brother Pete, a doctor, had died three years previously during a bid to climb the 26,000 foot Broad Peak -Mike's own climb was a pilgrimage to bid farewell to his brother, whose body was buried on the mountain).

The Pan Am flight in which Mike was a passenger was hijacked by four men from the Palestinian terrorist group, the Abu Nidal Organisation. The gang was armed with Kalashnikovs and explosives, and he was called forward (as a British passport holder) and told to fall on his knees. He thought he was going to be killed there and then but in a twist of fate, the plane's lights failed, and the hijackers abandoned shooting him, -thinking that the plane was about to be rushed by armed police.

He later wrote about his experience in the book 'Whatever Happened To The Hippy Man?' - a reference to a question from a little girl on the flight, who had noticed his post-mountain climbing dishevelled appearance and branded him a hippy.

December 19, 2017

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