February 2012


A Midsummer Nights Dalek

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is also an excuse to practise drawing donkeys – one day the necessity will arise! I think it is a little better than the last one (for the same play – I am only practising donkey heads). Certainly cuter, and when drawing Daleks that is evidently the prime consideration.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not my favourite Shakespeare – I have not decided what is. Neither its title nor its stage directions are as wonderful as A Midwinter’s Tale (although I had to wait for J. K. Rowling before I learned how to pronounce Hermione). I am not certain why I resist it – perhaps because it conjures up such a floating, sweet image, although that isn’t what I get when I sit down and read it. Perhaps it is the general connotation it takes in the collective consciousness? A shame, if it is, because parts of it are – or should be – hysterically funny.

My current favourite references/adaptations/reworkings of it are:

  • Dead Poet’s Society (directed by Peter Weir and written by Tom Schulman) – for the ethereal tragedy (I get flashbacks to this whenever I watch House).
  • Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies – for a very funny, very nasty, very (what? respectful? faithful? something different but equal to that) Discworld take on the story, with all of the beauty that ought to be there and all of the horror and earthy bloodiness which makes the beauty terrifying. Also the stick-and-bucket dance. I commend to you Tansy Rayner Robert’s post on this book: Slash! Stab! A Lesson in Practical Queening.
  • Neil Gaiman’s short graphic story “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (drawn by Charles Vess and coloured by Steve Oliff) – for an interleaving of the play with its historical setting and performance, within the story of Sandman: complex, beautiful, complete.

It would be easy, I suspect, to take a wholly unpleasant reading of the play – no doubt it has been done. I appreciate the role of that sort of reading and storytelling, but it usually feels to me more as comment/exercise than a distinct and independent Thing In The World. What I love about the pieces above is that none of them disregard the beauty which is associated with the story in order to rewrite it into nastiness. They are all truly beautiful. But the loveliness which could be merely pretty or at worst cloying is not only offset by the darkness: together they make something very solid and elegant and – without detracting at all from that – funny. All three have scenes which still, in recollection, make me laugh aloud (“this desk set was made to fly”).

I’m reminded of Catherynne M Valente’s story “A Delicate Architecture”, in which sweetness must be offset by the hint of salt and marrow. Which conveniently leads me to…

In other news: To Spin a Darker Stair, a boutique collection of two short stories by Catherynne M Valente and Faith Mudge, and illustrated by me, is on pre-order from Fablecroft Press (more news on the cover when it appears). Also, speaking of English takes on fairy queens (and taking on English fairy queens), I drew some pictures of Janet and Tam Lin for Illustration Friday.

Illustration Friday: Capable

For the ballad of Tam Lin (as happens not infrequently – Tam Lin and Janet are matters of interest in this house). These are tiny little pen and ink drawings with colour and texture added on the computer, appearing here considerably larger than life size. I took some liberties with the clothing colours – her kirtle is green in the ballad, but I’m going through a stage of green coats.


In other news: I had last lovely morning tea today with Gavin, Kelly and Ursula (of Small Beer Press and general Ursula-ness). Books, drawings, copper teacup rings and octopus puppets were exchanged. I won’t see them again before they leave the country – but with luck I might manage it again before the end of the year!

And look! To Spin a Darker Stair is on preorder (the cover design is yet to be revealed). It has two stories by Catherynne M. Valente and Faith Mudge, and illustrations by me!

Birthday Dragon

This was for my oldest nephew (and godson) for his 12th birthday card. Pen and ink with watercolour.

The Penguin Rhyming Dalek

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for the Penguin Rhyming Dictionary.

This is the primary purpose of the Dictionary:

1. Choose two categories at random, e.g. 261.67 and 367.23.1.

2. Write a limerick (AABBA) using the first category for the A rhymes and the second for the B, e.g.:

There was a tiger whose striation
Unexpectedly went on vacation
Its fans sought to venerate
It and intenerate
The world for exultant laudation

Well, we work with what we have.

There was once, most ind’lent and immobile
An armoured and marvellous crocodile
Who through skills in purveyance
Purchased a conveyance
Funded solely with traffic in camomile
(219 and 321)

 

Illustration Friday: Fluid

Pen and ink with digital colour. I love the constant transition in fairytales – human to tree to bird to animal…

In Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners” class on the weekend, one of the exercises was to make (and maintain) a list of elements we really liked in stories, and another of ones which disturbed us. I may post the full list in time, but  this is one of the elements I like – characters who easily and naturally shift between states. Not “shape shifters” as such (were-creatures, for example, although I don’t mind the odd one), but beings which appear part physical, part metaphorical – the thorn-lady of Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret, the Faery Queen starting up out of a bush o’ broom in the ballad of Tam Lin, Tam Lin’s own transformations (man and creature and glowing iron), the shifting dream-states of Wonderland. The ageing, elongating, bulging, shifting, feather-grown variations of Studio Ghibli characters. Cat Valente’s princess in a tower, trapped between states, her mysterious pirate captain. Selkies, moving to and fro between seal and human (unless someone intervenes). Bear-princes, crane-wives, swan-women, raven-brothers. Sometimes the changeableness is a great and beautiful power, yet often flexibility is a trap – E. Nesbit’s “Belinda and Bellamant”, the lovers of Ladyhawk, each cursed with unsychronised transformations – and a settled state (Valente’s princess again, Tam Lin helpless and human) is a basis for freedom.

It is a theme I enjoy playing with in my stories as well as illustrations – the water-to-child-to-human progression of “Mouseskin”, the promise-bound river-creature of “Undine Love”, the twined shifting background characters of “The Splendour Falls”. The purpose of transformation is different in each, of course, but often it seems to be about becoming human (mature, an adult, responsible) or relinquishing that. In others it is about forcing people to be what someone else thinks they should be.

The Dalek Downstairs

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Diana Wynne Jones’ The Ogre Downstairs. This was the last of her books which I read, and one of her earliest novels – it has the feel of slightly older British fantasy, with a strong dash of E. Nesbit in the awkwardness of real magic and the particular disasters which unfold, but a great deal of Diana Wynne Jones’ peculiar brand of oddity as well (the tragedy of the sentient toffee bars…) and some typically present and inconvenient parents.

I am ambivalent about strict rules of magic. I don’t like it being too explicable, and I enjoy the freewheeling invention of the magic in (for example) Harry Potter. I think it is better when it is slightly inconsistent. Otherwise it isn’t magic. But I do enjoy the rules of magic working against people – not so much the price of it as the price of not thinking it through. This is one of the few of DWJ’s novels which I remember for concentrating on it. I think Edward Eager may have used it in his novels, Enid Blyton certainly did, C. S. Lewis nodded to it (the trouble with rings and bells in The Magician’s Nephew), J. K. Rowling generally restrains her use of it to the experiments of enthusiastic adult wizards (with the odd flying car or humorous interlude), T. H. White hinted at the difficulties of power in Mistress Masham’s Repose, but E. Nesbit is one of the masters. Her novels are comedies of cumulative magical disasters, whether from actual magic (a magical ring of variable properties in The Enchanted Castle, the wishes granted by the sand-fairy in Five Children and It, an ill-considered application of a fairy godmother’s gift in “Melisande, or Long and Short Division”) or magic found in the everyday (the railway of The Railway Children, the get-rich-quick schemes of The Story of the Treasure Seekers).  They aren’t warnings about magic (it often, indirectly, leads to good things) but they are very vivid illustrations of the necessity of thinking through the consequences of one’s actions!

And I adore how these stories feed into and off each other, often deliberately: the consequences of power of flight or of careless handling of dragon teeth (Five Children and It and The Wouldbegoods) are both echoed in The Ogre Downstairs, the Bastables of The Story of the Treasure Seekers are name-checked in The Magician’s Nephew, which echoes the old story of the sorcerer’s apprentice, and all of them borrow from other, older stories.

In other news: I have posted a Peter Pan illustration. It is very late, but I have finished a set of illustrations and it isn’t yet midnight and the Dalek is up while it is still Wednesday, and I found a cafe for breakfast which didn’t make me bargain for scrambled eggs, and had a delightful lunch in a French bistro with a friend and a lively law-and-literary discussion with another after work over ale and liqueur coffee,  and had an idea which bodes well for the second story in a triptych. So I can’t complain too much, although I have discovered a taste for plain silken tofu, to no-one’s surprise as much as my own.

Pan - Kinds of Blue Commission

This A4 pen and ink drawing was a commission, one of the rewards for support of the Pozible crowd-funding stage of Kinds of Blue. The central figure is a young relative of Bec Jee.

In other news: I am still writing! Kelly Link and Gavin Grant (of Small Beer Press) have been in town, so I have had some wonderful opportunities to talk about books and art and… everything with them, and to take Kelly on what was probably a hair-raising tour of the streets on either side of Wynnum Road (it moves around a lot). On the weekend I went to Kelly’s short-story workshop, “Magic for Beginners”, which was fun and informative, solved a number of difficulties I’ve had and gave me a long list of new ideas (more on this later, if I draw my current plan for this week’s Illustration Friday). In addition, I received some very useful feedback from Kelly on an airship story and Angela Slatter on a steampunk cafe story, so my brain is buzzing pleasantly. Good editing lies ahead!

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