What is the SToryteller's Handbook?

The Storyteller's Handbook is a book of 52 richly hand-drawn illustrations, where every page is a new place, with new characters and situations, just waiting for the viewer to imagine the story. To set the scene, there is a beautiful foreword by Neil Gaiman and introduction by creator Elise Hurst, both invitations to delve into the worlds and possibilities in the pictures that follow. 

Sophisticated, layered imagery will appeal to children and adults alike. And the intricate details and storytelling possibilities will reward the returning reader, year after year. No set stories, just thousands of possibilities.

Hardback, 128 pages 

How it began

Over the many years that Elise Hurst has been creating illustrated moments of story, she has discovered a passionate community of people who delight in adding their own ideas, making each picture capable of endless possiblity. In this video, Elise shows the little sketch-books where it all began and describes how she developed the world of The Storyteller's Handbook.


I come from an artistic family, growing up in an environment of paintings and drawings, and filling my spare time with art and books. One of my favourite places to draw was on the roof of my parents' house, looking out across farmland and gum trees, getting lost in the clouds. Another favourite place was my grandparents' hallway, standing in the dim hush on a deep green carpet, staring and staring at a cluttered gallery of little drawings and etchings, studying the lines and how expressive they were. Drawing has always been a private passion that filled odd moments, but not one that I thought would be a career. I went to university to study archaeology, and loved it. But all the time I was still drawing - on my notes, in pocket sketchbooks - until someone saw my work and offered me my first little illustration job. By the end of Uni I was working on my second book and this was the path I followed. 

But still, drawing the world around me was not part of this job. I was mostly telling other people's stories, trying to make places and characters look like the other illustrators did. Over time though, I let myself give more time to my secret drawing, using the things and places around me to tell stories. And I created the kinds of characters I loved best, the ones that felt like they came striding out of the books I adored as a child. I began to notice how patterns and behaviours repeated in different contexts: the glowing creatures of the deep sea look like stars, birds and fish flock and wheel, a truck coming out of a dark tunnel is like a en eel coming out of a cave, some animals stand like humans, some humans evoke animals, and mountains wreathed in clouds seem to float. More and more I explored these things - often with my inner child getting to be the adventurer in these diverse narrative moments. A small girl would stand in the middle of a scene without context, without a beginning or an end, but with a tremendous amount of possible story. When I started to share these works by making prints to sell at markets, or having them made into cards, I found that people really connected with this open style of story-making, surprising me again and again with their spontaneous tales. These worlds grew, becoming story books of my own and exhibitions of paintings.

One year, Neil Gaiman was in Melbourne for a book festival, where I too was speaking. I was an avid reader of his Sandman  books and I thought he might enjoy the work I'd been doing. I showed him my collection of sketchbooks, we stayed in contact, played caption-tag, and many years later I was delighted to illustrate The Ocean at the End of the Lane - the book that took me back to the story-England of my childhood imagination. A place I had never really left. When I told him about this book, Neil offered to contribute a foreword, which became a story, which became the most perfect introduction to the world of The Storyteller's Handbook

And so here we are. In my next favourite place. Where I get to invent whole worlds and share them, watching people turn them into magical stories and reigniting their extraordinary passion to create.



Images from Elise's Moleskine sketchbook collection


Elise Hurst is an Australian fine artist, illustrator and author, specialising in books for children. Her most recent books were the award-winning Trying by Kobi Yamada, the illustrated edition of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and Girl on Wire by Lucy Estela.

Her vintage narrative artworks can be found in collections across the world.

She lives in a house full of books and paintings. From her studio, where black pens and oil paints spill across the desk, magical worlds leap into being. Like something out of Beatrix Potter or Narnia, her friends are rabbits and bears, lions and tigers--and they all have a story to share.

Elise's Website



One of the world's greatest storytellers, Neil Gaiman is an award-winning author of books, graphic novels, short stories, and films for all ages. His titles include Norse Mythology, The Graveyard Book, Coraline, The View from the Cheap Seats, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neverwhere, and the Sandman series of graphic novels, among many other works. His fiction has received Newbery, Carnegie, Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and Eisner awards.

Elise and Neil worked together on the illustrated edition of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. When he heard about this book, he wanted to contribute a foreword, which turned into a beautiful story about... story.

 " There is an inn, on the side of a mountain, and in the corner of the inn, where it is almost too dark to see, an old man is writing.

He has been writing for six thousand years...

Take the pictures you find here, and use them as places to begin your journey into stories. Wonder about them, wander through them. Let them hold your hand and whisper to you, keep you safe in dark places. Explore with them. Let them bring you into stories and make magic. " 

Neil's Website



I have been creating narrative illustrations like these for myself for a long time, both in little sketchbooks and as large paintings. Every time I have shown them to people, I have been inspired by the flood of spontaneous storytelling people would give me – and how often they said that they wish there was more time for creativity in their lives. During the Covid lockdowns, I thought of all of these people with their lives turned upside-down and decided that now is the time to reach out and give them a doorway to step through. Something that would allow them to drift out of their normal lives for a while, help them to connect with their imaginations and maybe give them the confidence to share their own stories with the people around them.

Absolutely everyone! This is a completely ageless book. It is filled with details from all over the world woven into moments of strange narrative. No matter who you are, there will be something you recognise, a character you can relate to, or an idea sparked. It is for people who have never written a story in their lives, and also perfect for creative spirits. And of course for road-trips, holidays, gifts and for people who want to snuggle on a couch with the screens off and just spend time laughing and imagining together... 


I wanted the work to be quite realistic, very detailed, but with a definite illustrative quality that reminds us we are storytelling. The timeless quality of pen drawing was a perfect fit, with a small amount of colour to act as a focus or an emotional lift for each scene. My personal preference for hand drawn art is that I like the slightly unfinished and loose quality you can achieve. I feel it subtly encourages storytelling simply because our minds have to supply the details that are missing.  The more gaps we find, the more we have to do ourselves - becoming co-creators.
The artwork was created in a very intuitive way, beginning with an initial idea  (a character, place or concept). As I began to draw that idea I would ask myself questions about what could be around it or interacting with it. I would collect photographic reference to help me construct a believable world. All the time, 

I continually questioned my choices, sifting ideas and possibilities until the story emerged and the scene felt right. Even I do not know what is happening in every picture. I find that I change my mind all of the time and can be surprised over and over again by possibilities that others tell me. This is narrative openness is vital and the more details I can hide in the scenes, the more options we have to give agency to anyone, or anything, there. This means that people could return to the scenes many times and completely change their ideas.

Story is not a rigid thing. It is not simply a book, or a film or a poem. It does not have to have edges, or endings. It does not even have to have words. It is everything. It is the bend of a tree that was scarred and blown by storms. It is the lines on a face and a dog that flinches from a hand. Story is how we make sense of our lives, our fears, our memories, our hopes, our knowledge, our questions – and how we share that with others. Very importantly, story allows us to experiment with ideas and see where they might lead. We learn empathy through stories. In the lives of most people there are conversations we desperately wish we could have, and ideas we wish we could explore – story allows us the space for that. They let the shy be bold, and the silent find a voice, they let us tread the path we did not take. Stories connect to the real world and also our dream world, reaching with tendrils and roots to our earliest experiences, and stretching out into the sky with our hopes and dreams.They are both a doorway into, and out of, our minds.

Everyone will have their own ideas, but for me - I love asking questions. It is the same way I create the work - simply focus on a single detail and begin to wonder about it. Ask yourself things like what is happening, what are they feeling, who are they connecting with or are they alone... Most of your answers will be instinctive. This is where the storytelling begins. Your instinct comes from your experiences, memories, ideas, influences, and interests - it comes from deep within you. This means the answers you give to these questions will be as distinct and original as you are. Perhaps jot down your thoughts as ingredients for later. Maybe you can share ideas with someone else. Maybe you are inspired to pick up a brush, or a pen, or a guitar and rekindle an old passion. It's exciting to imagine the possibilities!