This lapine grim reaper still has the power to move me to tears. I was 4 when the original animated film adaptation of Richard Adam’s novel Watership Down was released and remember crying rather self-indulgently whenever it was played on Top of the Pops. I’m not actually sure if I saw the film at that age or whether my memories of it from that time are a patchwork of clips of worried looking rabbits, gory retellings of the terrifying General Woundwort from my older brother and his friends and Art Garfunkel making me cry. I’m still sure whether I’ve ever seen the film in full, but I'm familiar enough with it to know how beautifully it was made and I’ve definitely read the book. I don’t remember particularly enjoying it, because frankly, it’s so grim. And let’s face it, it’s a bit lacking in female role models. Glaring sexism aside, it’s basically a bunch of rabbits trying not to die framed as an adventure story. There are so many ways to peg it - being eaten, beaten, snared, squashed, shot, suffocated, gassed, lamped. The Black Rabbit eventually appears at the end to claim main bunny hero Hazel, who has died naturally lounging around in the warren. This is basically is the best you can hope for as a rabbit and probably nigh on impossible to achieve given the perils that beset you from birth, which I think is why Hazel’s death is so particularly heart wrenching. This beautiful still from the 1978 film was posted recently on Twitter by the fabulous artist Chloe Cumming, and it had a surprisingly emotional effect on me, hence my illustration.
Yes, that's me doing an interview to a horror website if you were wondering. The very lovely folk from Horrified, the new online magazine for all things British Horror related somehow thought me a suitable interviewee, and the results, long and meandering as they are (my bits anyway) can be found here, or on the above picture for that matter. While you are there, have a look at their other features and stories. It's a fantastic site and if you are a fan of the spooky stuff it's a bit of a must.
In 1984, when I was 10, my younger brother got this book for Christmas. I’ve still got it somewhere, his name scrawled (as it out ineffectually) proprietorially on the title page. I’m not sure why I’ve ended up with it rather than him, but for the fact I’m an unashamed hoarder and a black belt in sentimentality. It was bought, predictably, on the back of our viewing the BBCs much lauded adaptation which we both totally fell for. In recent years I have taken to playing the DVD as we put up the Christmas decorations, and then watching the rest of it over the following days. The theme tune is alone captures the very essence of the festive season, and turned up high enough handily drowns out the whinging of my children who would rather be watching Killing Eve.
It was REALLY HARD to illustrate due to one main factor - there is so much going on and so many locations in the book that it’s almost impossible to come up with an overriding image that sums up the story. There are wolves, foxes, rats, mice, several bad vicars, a comedy policeman, a pub, a house, a cathedral, an ecclesiastical college (!), an Anglo-Saxon hill fort, somewhere called Bottler’s Down, a train, a gang of posh kids, several kidnappings (scrobblings), an ex governess, a mystical old lady, Romans, Herne the Hunter, an ancient bloke, a bit of time travel, a mystical Punch and Judy man and his small delightful box which makes you fly, shrink, or have visions. And it’s Christmas.
The Punch and Judy man is Cole Hawlings. He meets our hero Kay Harker, home from school for the hols, and later, Cole entrusts the mystical Box to Kay as the struggles hots up between the custodians of the good, old magic and the evil, new fangled sort. Kay takes this in his stride - he’s already been up against arch villain Abner Brown and his wife and former governess Sylvia Daisy Pouncer in the Midnight Folk. Available to buy on DVD or currently to be found on Britbox, which started off a bit rubbish but gets better by the week. It’s not, I grant you, strictly a ghost story, but it’s October and I’m very much hoping to wring a Christmas card out of it so I’ve shoehorned it in.