The Dalek Service

The Dalek Service

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Alan Garner‘s novel The Owl Service. My feeling about this book are unformed, which suggests I read it first for a class… genre fiction at uni, I suspect. I probably wrote very profound things about Alan Garner’s worldview as it found expression in the text. From this remove, I remember the owl-eyed figure on the cover, the thrill of forgotten things found in attics (always a Famous Five feeling to that) and of course the story of Blodeuwedd, transformed from flowers to woman to owl and never entirely one or the other.

I like that legend, primarily for the flowers and owls. Off the top of my head, however, I can think of few stories based on it. The bird/woman element is there in Ladyhawk, but that is a romance. The main person-to-owl image I have is that of the Goblin King in Labyrinth. On slight provocation, I’d be prepared to argue that there are thematic resonances with The Yellow Wallpaper. But the legend is a beautiful story as well as a terrible one.

It’s been on my mind lately because I am working on a – well, either a long short story or a novelette, depending on what the flensers do to it – which had as its basis another human/bird story, to which I added elements of Blodeuwedd. I have, however, a sneaking suspicion that while I like “Tam Lin” for the characters, I am trying to work Blodeuwedd into something just so I can draw feathers and flowers.

Illustration Friday: Heights

Illustration Friday: Heights

I drew these on Saturday, as a warm-up exercise before starting on other work, and now it is… Thursday? Who let that happen? Anyway, this is a series of drawings from/for/related to a little airship story of which more may be heard one day. Pen and ink with digital shading. The single shade is due to having the other work to finish, but fits with what I have been trying to do with the story, which is to write a story that ought to be steampunk but feels more blue-and-white than bronze-and-copper. I am not sure whether the story succeeds, but the drawing does. It is very late on Thursday, and that is as deep an analysis as I am capable of.

The Box of Daleks (or: My self-restraint, let me show you it)

The Box of Daleks

This instalment of the Dalek Game (actually a reworking of an earlier drawing I did for a birthday present) is for John Masefield’s infamous novel The Box of Delights, in which – Argh! Grargh! wonderful things happen and then the main character wakes up and it was ALL A DREAM. And yet the wonderful things were so very wonderful, that readers (and the BBC) cannot stop themselves and each other from going back and reading the story again and BEATING THEIR HEADS AGAINST A BRICK WALL WHY JOHN MASEFIELD WHY?!

I do not dislike John Masefield at all (look what illustration I found on this list of his works), and I have been raised knowing all literary heroes, being human, have feet of clay, as a result of which I view most books as existing on a sliding scale from “more harmful” to “more helpful”, but… really, John Masefield? Why would you do this to me? There’s a world of difference between giving someone a beautiful present and then putting it away on a shelf until they are unable to enjoy it, or at least giving them a photograph to remember the experience when they grow up, on the one hand, and on the other hand, smashing it to pieces in front of them.

Often there is a reasonable, if difficult, explanation for troubling endings, but loving The Box of Delights (and it is otherwise so loveable) seems to require either forgiveness or elision of the ending. There is a lovely Garner quote at that link, and I suppose Masefield did succeed, like Lloyd Alexander, in creating a world which left me at the end of the story sobbing on the floor and beating my fists weeping, “It was true! It was true! You can’t forget them! They were real!”

Exploding Mice! (or: new story for publication)

Illustration Friday: Stripes

Late in 2011, editors Edwina Harvey and Simon Petrie invited a number of people to write stories for their new anthology Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear (due from Peggy Bright Books in June 2012). The title was intriguing, and the topic was elaborated as follows:

“Nothing happens without some initial impetus or spark. But it’s also impossible to predict exactly what will happen once that spark is struck, that match lit. Will the rocket shoot skywards? Will the dragon shoot flames from its mouth if provoked by one more jab from the rusty sword? Will the fireworks display appease, or at least distract, the ruthless, jaded emperor? “

I find set topics attractive, but this turned out to be a very tricky idea on which to get a grip. Almost all stories have something that sets them off, and I came up with scores of excellent impetuses, but those stories all became about what happened afterwards, not about the point of ignition or the catalyst. At last I wrote my way into “Kindling”, and a dingy cafe in an odd, little, over-mapped world: part noir, part fantasy, part steampunk. No images for it – I do occasionally live an unillustrated life – but I managed to name-check the creature in the illustration above (there is also a very oblique Darren Hanlon reference). With adjustments from helpful beta-readers and a few editorial wranglings over the correct nomenclature for several professions, the story was accepted!

The line-up is impressive:

As is the cover from Les Petersen:

The writing of the bio proved to be as fraught as the writing of the story. My final bio is fairly respectable. The original, vetoed bio was written late at night in a state of desperation and included the following edifying anecdote:

“When Kathleen Jennings was young, an old man with an enormous beard who played the piano accordion gave her a Nobel Detonator tin. He told her that Nobel had switched to packaging its detonators in cardboard, but mice ate through the boxes and ran away with the detonators. When the mice bit into the detonators, he heard the mice go “pop, pop, pop”. The theme of this anthology has given her flashbacks to that story.”

Illustration Friday: Puzzled

This illustration is for the fairytale in which the last task set for the hero is to determine which of three shrouded figures is the princess – the other two being dragons. Along his journey, he had aided a hive of bees. Since the princess liked honey, they hovered about her and so he was able to solve the problem.

I like the idea of this otherwise undescribed princess, familiar of bees and dragons, and that single touch of detail – that she loved honey – which makes her a little more human than so many other princesses (Snow White who… wasn’t good at bartering? Sleeping Beauty who couldn’t spin…) This princess’ sweet tooth is neither a virtue nor a situation – just a detail, and yet a point on which the plot turns. And I wonder how she and the hero would get along once they finally met – he so humble and kind to all living things, she unfazed by dragons and beloved of bees.

Illustration Friday: Puzzled

In other news: A very pleasant evening, this evening. Friends came over and there were candles, writing, chalkboard lettering, roast chestnuts, hot milk with honey and spices and a short remedial course on digitally editing line work which I am sure everyone who is waiting to receive illustrations from me is very glad to hear has taken place.

My Dalek Goes Bung

My Dalek Goes Bung

Once upon a time, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin wrote the novel My Brilliant Career. It was published in 1901, was (inexplicably to me, when last I read it) much loved, and was made into a classic Australian film in 1979 (with a very young Sam Neill). I disliked it extremely, no doubt because I was at an age where all stories must end happily (in the Girl! Marry Harry Beecham!! sense), particularly those set in something like my own world (and they so rarely did). So the story has lived in a small, sour corner of my memory for years, enlivened once by discovering the name of the sequel was My Career Goes Bung. That won me back to the side of Miles Franklin, though not the original novel. And then, in February, I read David Golding’s review and now… I think I may have to read it.

April Showers

April Calendar

And here is April’s calendar, with my little cow milk jug. I’ve only painted this year’s calendar until May, so there’s another task for the future. Lots to do – I’ve floundered a little bit lately, but I think I’ve worked out more of a philosophy of how to fit things in – or at least how to work out what to fit in!