Five Things To Steal — Through the Woods

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I’ve previously mentioned incorporating Austin Kleon‘s “things to steal” into my general Todd-Henry-based note-taking structure (Patterns/Surprises/Likes/Dislikes/Steal — see Bookmarks & remarks). It’s also become an occasional feature in the Observation Journal.

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I used to make a note of things that were merely “interesting” or “to try”. What I like about phrasing it as “steal” (yes, obviously not plagiarise) is that, as well as adding a touch of glee, it forces me to immediately think of ways to transform whatever it was I was admiring.

The “five things” also fills the page usefully. It’s a nice length, easy to remember, and usually makes me either think just one or two steps beyond the obvious, or distill my very favourites.

Here’s a close-up of the right-hand page: FIVE THINGS I WANT TO STEAL FROM EMILY CARROLL’S THROUGH THE WOODS (a wonderful collection of… comics? illustrated stories?)

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  • Her use of endpapers. This tied into broader thoughts on surface decoration, and a general reminder (and licence) to draw on everything. I’m working on this for some projects now, in a completely different style and for a different purpose.
  • Using white outlines for only certain characters, with notes on the ethereal effect, and a desire to try to achieve this in prose (I think I wrote a paragraph or two to experiment with this; I also have a continuing interest in how authors get specific art styles into purely prose pieces — among others Dorothy Dunnett’s buttery Rembrandt light; Mirah Bolender’s Ghibli-esque curse motion in City of Broken Magic; and a very Hellboy-esque lighting setup in a novella I read recently and can’t find again).
  • Her use of different colour schemes in the same scenes to show brief flashes of memory. Again, I wanted to try this in prose, but also to see how to get away with the effect in (for example) black and white.
  • The variable structures of the stories, panels, style, and whether this could be replicated with e.g. subtitles in a purely prose piece. I have some story ideas I want to recast and plan to revisit this (in combination with some mythic/folk horror scene transition/viewpoint gymnastics managed by Paul Cornell in Chalk and Maria Dahvana Headley in The Mere Wife).
  • The last one is the only observation without a specific adaptation, and it’s mostly a reminder that the ordinary and extraordinary both gain power when they’re mixed.
  • Also some tree-appreciation — “Einar?” was a late-night misremembering of Eyvind Earle.

The last point, a “question for later”, led to playing with some small creepy stories in other formats, inspired by other books.

I enjoy this format, and what it’s led to. I’ll probably post some more examples later.

Activity/Heist:

  • Find something you admire in another field than the one you work in (a movie, a book, a comic, a painting). List five things you like about it. Try to work out how you could steal each of those elements and convert them into something in your own field.

 

And in case it needs to be said: Don’t plagiarise!

Also: Read Through the Woods.

Read and Seen — March 2020

March was… certainly a month, so I didn’t get drawings done, much read, or this post up at the end of it.

But over the last few months I did seem to read quite a bit (entirely, or partially) about time and lives and disguises and occasional plot-incidental cats, so here is a sketch:

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It is said you can’t bring anything through that wasn’t yours to begin with… but that doesn’t stop them following.

Books:

Movies

  • Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears (I am very glad this was my last movie at the cinema — it was also interesting for the clarity with which it stated, affirmed, and stuck the landing of its genre/aesthetic choices)

Several of these show up again in my Notes on Books in the observation journal, so I might have more to say later

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“The treasure islands were his desired landfall”

A little sketch for a little project of mine I hope will be coming out later this year (in the end, not illustrated).

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It is in several ways (more than are visible here) an example of the overlap between sketching and writing. But it’s also illustrative of the dangers of reading poetry (in this case, Judith Wright’s “The Idler”), which tends to then seep back out into everything else.

Clockwork Angel

Last year was a little chaotic, between travel (ah, remember the days), conferences, deadlines, and several bouts with my back, so I didn’t keep the blog entirely up to date with new projects (although they showed up in plenty of other places!).

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But very excitingly, I got to work with Walker Books UK for the first time, on a set of pen-and-ink illustrations for the 10th anniversary edition of Clockwork Angel (to complement the 10th anniversary of City of Bones — both also have beautiful portraits by Cassandra Jean, and cover and title page illustrations by Will Staehle — the lovely cover is by Dan Funderburgh).

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I will do a process post (possibly for both books! nothing like having a backlog of material) in due course. In the meantime, here are a couple teasers. (Also, when the physical store is back open, I think Book Moon Books in MA, USA might still have some of the original illustrations for sale).

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And you can find the book from all good booksellers (and a lot of local independent stores are working very hard to keep getting books to you!)

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Image pinched from Walker Books UK, cover by Dan Funderburgh

 

When in doubt, make lists (and shuffle them)

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A “Mr Fox” reference, not an inspirational quote (except to the extent &c…)

Making lists (or decks, or the idea of a deck, or self-shuffling Excel documents) of common elements is a very soothing procrastination activity.

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I’ve made them of favourite lines, key tropes, patterns I’ve noticed in my own working habits, images I return to, favourite stories I like to use as narrative myths/templates, art styles — even just parallels between a set of books recently read (here, boarding school mysteries).

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They’re a pleasant way to test what you already know, and to analyse what you love.

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In case you were interested, the source texts were primarily: Murder Most UnladylikeRobin Stevens; Cat Among the Pigeons — Agatha Christie; The Hippopotamus Takes Wing: A Farrago — Simon Oke; and Picnic at Hanging Rock — Joan Lindsay.

They are also useful for all sorts of games and ways of knocking ideas against each other until they give off sparks.

Below is an experiment where I used a list for quite another purpose from its original intention. The list was a set of notes I’d made on things to strengthen in my own writing. But instead, I used the items as parameters for a quick set of repeating pattern ideas — and of course those turned into yet another set of card ideas (among other things).

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You can of course buy or repurpose pre-made kits (story dice, Dixit cards, Tom Gauld’s plot generators, etc). But sometimes just the making is the illuminating part of the exercise.

Writing/art activities:

  • See also the activities on the post: This is not a deck of cards (tropes and process).
  • Make a list (slips of paper, spreadsheet, etc) of any of the following that appeal (try to make it a good long list — at least 10):
    • Tropes you particularly enjoy (today)
    • Favourite styles
    • Common elements in your favourite books/illustrations
    • Your favourite stories/stories that most resonate with you (that you keep recommending, or coming back with, or playing in your own work)
    • Media or subgenres you work in (or would like to)
    • Favourite poems
    • Favourite adjectives
  • Draw three items from your list at random, and (alone, or with friends if you enjoy argumentative conversations) apply them to:
    • A project (a short story? an illustration?) you’d like to do
    • Someone else’s story or illustration (can you reinterpret it through the lens of those cards, or make a mashup or adaptation?)
    • Something completely unrelated, e.g. what you should have for dinner (actual conversation: “we can’t go out for sushi because…. apparently there’s a high chance we’ll be intercepted by time-travelling ninja pirates”), how to rearrange the bookcases, etc.

Ducks in times that try the soul

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A command performance of “your loopy handwriting, with your pens (yes, now, while I’m standing over you or would be if not for social distancing)”, for Alex Adsett, to accompany a previous duck.

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The quote is from Dorothy Sayers’ wonderful Gaudy Night (a Peter Wimsey novel, but third in the Harriet Vane + Peter Wimsey novels which should be read as follows: Strong PoisonHave His CarcaseGaudy Night, and Busman’s Honeymoon, and are wonderful).

How fleeting are all human passions when compared with the massive continuity of ducks.