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Titus Groan (Gormenghast: Book 1) by Mervyn Peake

“This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.”

When I was a kid, I was never particularly interested in plotlines and characters but more in the worlds I could create in my head using the settings of stories, movies and video games. Mervyn Peake takes this to a whole new level in the Gormenghast trilogy. I first read this book about 10 years ago and remember being overwhelmed and entranced by its intense descriptions and meandering story. There's a plot, of course, but the sprawling castle of Gormenghast provides such a great starting point to let your imagination run wild.

With that in mind, I've chosen the first book in the trilogy (because I'm not sure when I'll have time to read all three!). I'm pretty excited to sit down and read it again!

“When he at least reached the door the handle had cease to vibrate. Lowering himself suddenly to his knees he placed his head and the vagaries of his left eye (which was for ever trying to dash up and down the vertical surface of the door), he was able by dint of concentration to observe, within three inches of his keyholed eye, an eye which was not his, being not only of a different colour to his own iron marble, but being, which is more convincing, on the other side of the door.”

(Mervyn Peake's character studies for his Gormenghast illustrations)

“The crumbling castle, looming among the mists, exhaled the season, and every cold stone breathed it out. The tortured trees by the dark lake burned and dripped, their leaves snatched by the wind were whirled in wild circles through the towers. The clouds mouldered as they lay coiled, or shifted themselves uneasily upon the stone skyfield, sending up wreathes that drifted through the turrets and swarmed up hidden walls.”

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November 15: Brainstorming

Ok, now I'm wishing I had gone with a less descriptive book. 2 pages in and I already had so many ideas, let alone by the end of the book! Fortunately the storyline isn't the main drawcard of the book, the main character is Gormenghast castle itself and its interesting inhabitants and social structure. 

I'm definitely settled on a G - it could be used across the Gormenghast series as a whole, with subtle tweaks for each book (for example, the final book is set in a technologically advanced city, not a crumbling, stagnant castle). It is also is the first letter of the first sentence. I also like that an uppercase G is rounded and jagged; and a lowercase g (depending on the typeface) is windy and meandering. 

I have a few ideas but the main ones that stand out to me are:

  • ivy
  • fire
  • eyes through the keyholes
  • owls
  • the Groan family crest

Throughout the book you always have a sense you're observing the goings-on in Gormenghast through a hole in the wall, so this could be a great theme to explore on a book cover, like you're getting a glimpse into the inside of the book.

Now onto sketching....as a non-drawer I'm really loving Jessica's videos about sketching. So far I've managed a whole page of passable sketches following her advice!

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November 22: Sketching


There were a further two sketches I was going to do of a family crest, but enthusiasm for that idea has disappeared. I'm hoping to spend some time giving that a try this weekend. Would love some feedback - I'm leaning towards the G on fire (a key scene in the book is the burning down of the library), the G with stone and ivy or the G that is simply made of ivy. 

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December 13: Final design

Final design...still a few tweaks to be done to even out the veins on the leaves, but overallI'm pretty happy with it!

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January 29: Final FINAL design

A few more tweaks and I gave the bricks a bit more depth. Pretty happy with this!

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