Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Jail-breaker Jack

Many years ago - when I had just begun to write for children - I did an illustration job for Anne Clark when she was at Hodder (she is now at the Piccadilly Press). It was for a book by John and Mary Gribben called What's the Big Idea - Chaos and Uncertainty.

I got on very well with Anne - and it occurs to me now that I have not spoken to her in over two years - and when I dropped the illustrations off, we went for lunch. During our conversation she asked me if I had ever considered writing non-fiction for children. I said I had.

Anne is one of the very best editors I have worked with. She was very patient with me given that I had barely written anything before meeting her, and she taught me a lot. We went on to work together on two of my favourite and least successful books (in sales terms) to date (neither are in print). One was Witch Hunt, about the Salem witch trials; the other was Jail-breaker Jack about the notorious 18th Century thief and prison breaker, Jack Sheppard. Sheppard was arguably the most famous man in the world at one point - albeit postumously. He was like some bizarre cross between Ronnie Biggs and David Beckham.

Jail-breaker Jack was stuffed full of illustrations. Here are a few of them. Oh - and I did the curly lettering as well. . .

There was also a strip picture section when he makes his most famous escape from Newgate. This was not my idea - there was a print available shortly after the escape that uses a kind of strip form, and George Cruikshank used it as well when he illustrated William Harrison Ainsworth's novel Jack Sheppard


  1. Hi Chris

    Just wanted to say how much I admire your illustrations for Jail-breaker Jack. I have been researching the cultural history of Jack for many years and am intrigued that there seems to have been a bit of a revival in interest in Jack in the last decade or so. How did you first encounter him?

  2. Thanks Peter. You're right there does seem to be more about him recently. I think I'm right in saying I first came across him in Peter Linebaugh's wonderful book The London Hanged. Years later I also read Lucy Moore's The Thieves' Opera about Jack and Wild. I also read Hibbert's The Road to Tyburn. Probably, like you, I just couldn't understand why I hadn't heard of him before and was desperate to pass the story on. Good luck with the research.