The Clockwork Bones

Forced to play chess for survival, a runaway farm boy must escape the clutches of an evil circus manager to uncover the truth of his mother’s death.

In 1914, an Australian family spirals into ruin. Avery, a young farm boy, is struggling to accept his mother’s death after an accident involving a circus pig. Hope arrives in the form of a new governess who encourages Avery to play chess and works to bring the family together. However, the father’s grief and violence shatters this hope and Avery and Sarah must flee their burning house. They arrive at a traveling circus where Avery plays chess against a machine called The Clockwork Bones. Although he loses the game, the circus manager offers Avery a job to secretly operate the chess machine. The Clockwork Bones becomes a prison for Avery but before he can escape, the truth about Sarah and the identity of the mysterious governess must unfold.

The Clockwork Bones explores themes of grief, memory and the inter-connectedness of past and present in a multi-layered story. The primary narrative is a typical hero’s quest with action, danger and engaging characters that appeal to younger readers. The secondary narrative is a psychological one—Avery must fight his own demons, his trials represent his own battle to accept the truth of his mother’s death.
The rich symbolism (fire, water, chess pieces, skulls etc.) and questions about the identity of Sarah and Miss Rosemary are intended to provide opportunities for discussion and interpretation in a class or online environment. The format of The Clockwork Bones engages those middle grade readers who are becoming less interested in traditional books and the non-linear structure, hidden images (Easter eggs) and interactive design are familiar to players of online puzzle RPGs and games.

The primary audience is young adult (YA) readers with an interest in story-driven comics, historical fiction and illustrated novels. The narrative involves some violence and adult situations with a blend of realistic drama and fantasy. While the main protagonist is a young male, representations of strong female characters make The Clockwork Bones suitable for both males and females. The interactive fold-ins and creative format is appealing to a general adult audience with an interest in film, art and comics.

Comparison titles

  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (2007)
  • A Monster Calls (illustrated) by Patrick Ness (2011)
  • Thornhill by Pam Smy (2017)
  • The Savage by David Almond and Dave McKean (2008)
  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2006)
  • Rift by James Jean (2010)

About the creator
Thomas Hamlyn-Harris is an Australian illustrator and writer of comics and short fiction. His work has been published in comic anthologies, games, animations, magazines, children’s fiction, pop-up books and nonfiction puzzle and activity books. He lectures and tutors in Design and Creative Writing and runs kids workshops in drawing and chess. The Clockwork Bones is his first graphic novel.
The Clockwork Bones is part of a DCA in Creative Writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast where Thomas had the guidance, support and advice of several writers including Ross Watkins, Gary Crew and Philip McLaren.

Thank you to my principal supervisor Ross Watkins—without your encouragement, mentorship and sense of humour, I doubt I would find myself here. I also thank my co-supervisors Gary Crew and Timothy Peters and the support of academic staff in the creative writing and design faculty at USC.
I recieved support, encouragement and feedback from many friends, family, colleagues and students. Special thanks goes to Gavin James, Gillian James, Bill and Penny Hamlyn-Harris, Abi and Riley Hamlyn-Harris, Eileen Herbert-Goodall, Peter Rollston, Katy Forde, Graeme Smyth, Ginna Brock, Clare Archer-Lean, Eva-Marie Seeto, Julie Hobbins, Danielle Binks, Frank Silas, Frank Santoro, Jonathan Fleming, Stephen Hamacek, Nick Sausanis and Caitlin (Rosie) Noakes.
Extra special thanks, as always, to Jodi Hamlyn-Harris.