We had our first book launch at The Story of Books in Hay-on-Wye on Saturday 27th November. Good friend of The Story of Books, Graham Moss of Incline Press, introduced his latest collaboration with illustrator and printmaker Nick Wonham, The Charm of Magpies.

Below, Nick Wonham tells the story behind the illustrations, and Graham Moss shares the technical details.

The Charm of Magpies is a stunning, limited edition, letterpress printed book. It can be bought directly from Incline Press. Click on this link to order online:


The story behind the illustrations for The Charm of Magpies

I spent 2011 working on the illustrations for my book The Charm of Magpies. For a year my head was full of magpies; I would spot them all over the place and notice the way they arranged and positioned themselves.

Initially, once I had the idea to illustrate the traditional magpie counting poem, I envisaged it simply as a growing number of magpies perched in leafless trees with a blue sky background. I quickly realised this would make a dull book and began to think of different structures and colours I could use. This then led me to think of how the colours and structures could symbolically reflect the words of the rhyme. So ‘1 for sorrow’ is situated on a barbed wire fence with a sombre blue background colour, while ‘2 for joy’ has the magpies in their natural environment with bright yellow. I also wanted the colours to contrast and compliment each other as the reader goes through the book.

Some of the structures are based on photographs taken close to home. ‘4 for a boy’ shows a telegraph pole in the countryside near where we go on regular walks; ‘5 for silver’ pictures a silver birch tree from my back garden; ‘7 for a secret never to be told’ features CCTV and speed cameras from my regular commute down Seven Sisters Road. Once I was happy with the abstracted composition, formed by the structure, I would then populate the image with magpies. The exception is ’10 for a bird you must not miss’ where the pattern of the magpie’s plumage creates the abstracted design.

The Charm of Magpies is letterpress published by Incline Press in a limited edition of 160 copies and the illustrations are printed directly from the lino blocks.

Nick Wonham


Publisher Graham Moss introduces The Charm of Magpies

One is for Sorrow, Two is for Joy
Three for a Girl, Four for a Boy
Five is for Silver, Six for Gold
Seven for a Secret that’s never been told
Eight for a Wish, Nine for a Kiss
Ten’s for the Bird that you must not miss

Collective nouns, the stuff of schooldays, always seem to amuse us. A parliament of magpies has to be a favourite, especially if you’ve heard a group of them cackling together in the Springtime. But we prefer the alternative, a charm of magpies, which certainly suits this poem better. It is one version of a folk rhyme which has many local variants, all superstitiously foretelling the future through random occurrence. Although Iona & Peter Opie’s Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951) does not include it amongst the counting rhymes. It makes a nice counting or even skipping song, and we present it thus, with the numeral and its word facing each picture to encourage learning by mixing reading with the action of counting.

Magpies are often known a thugs in the garden, stealing eggs and chasing off their more delicate rivals. As printers, though, we have a fondness for them because of their “ink on paper” plumage and their latin name pica pica, which recalls the printshop unit of measure.

The heart of our book is the ten two-colour linocut prints. Each one 8 x 6 inches, their bold, dense colours add to the edgy feel of the images. Facing the traditional and childlike verse,

[27] pages (unpaginated), 14 1/2 x 10 1/4 inches (37 x 26 cm). Hand set in Monotype Bembo from 24 to 72 points in size. The numerals are Winchester 30-line woodtype from Stephenson, Blake. The paper is 170gsm Zerkall. Bound with a cloth spine and printed paper over boards with specially printed flyleaves by Roger Grech at his Papercut Bindery. The edition is of 160 copies all signed by the artist.

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