That's not Russ's fault, I hasten to say. It's always an honour and a delight to have one of my books illustrated by him. I can still remember the thrill I got whenever a package of new pictures from him would drop through the letterbox. He is, as I have said before, the consummate visualizer of fantasy worlds, and the only reason he's not doing the illustrations for the new editions is that I didn't negotiate the contract.
In the case of Necklace, I'd just returned from honeymoon in the Yucatan. Russ handed in this picture. Everyone was happy except for the art director, who declared that the faces of the children at bottom left were "too oriental", the ridiculous implication being that this was potentially racist. Evidently she was unaware of the racial provenance of pre-Columbian peoples. At any rate, she had Russ repeatedly Tipp-Ex (oh yeah, none of your fancy digi-drawing in those days) and redo the faces. Finally he delivered what you see here. To begin with the kids had looked just like the Mayan children I'd seen on honeymoon, and very charming they were too. Now that they had more Anglo-Saxon features, the art director declared herself satisfied. She pulled the same trick on another child's face in the same book. I don't know why the art directors in British publishing so often mess up everyone else's work (I refer m'lud to numerous exhibits including the logos of Golden Dragon and Blood Sword) but they do. I usually have to wait for the French edition to see how the artwork should have been treated.
Anyway, short of setting up my own publishing house and hiring the art director myself (now there's an idea) I am resigned to such farragos. Here's a little bit from the early part of Necklace in case you don't want to buy it now and would rather wait for the iBooks edition:
The high priest winds a white cloth across your eyes and leads you through to the inner shrine. A deep chill abides here; the thick stone blocks of the Death God's temple walls are never warmed by the sun. The sweet tarry smell of incense hangs in the air. You feel a hand on your shoulder, guiding you to kneel.
A long period of utter silence ensues. You did not hear the high priest withdraw from the chamber, but you gradually become sure that he has left you here alone. You dare not remove the blindfold; to gaze directly on the holy of holies would drive you instantly insane.
A whispering slithers slowly out of the silence. At first you take it for a trick of your unsettled imagination, but by straining your ears you begin to make out words. 'The way to the west lies through the underworld,' the whispering tells you. 'Go to the city of Yashuna. North of the city lies a sacred well which is the entrance to the underworld. Take this path, which is dangerous but swift, and you will emerge at the western rim of the world. From there it is but a short journey back through the desert to your goal.'
The whispers fade, drowned out by the thudding of your heart. Frozen with terror at the words of the god, you crouch motionless on the cold flagstones. The cloying scent of incense grows almost unbearable.
Suddenly a hand touches your shoulder. After the initial jolt of alarm, you allow yourself to be led out onto the portico of the temple, where the blindfold is removed. You blink in the dazzling sunlight. You feel as weak as a baby and the smell of incense clings to your clothes. After the cool of the shrine, the heat of the afternoon sun makes you feel slightly sick.
The podgy priest is looking up into your eyes. 'You heard the voice of the god,' he says simply.