I am in New Orleans, after a very long (and somewhat delayed) series of flights. I’m still travel-crumpled, and haven’t quite steeled myself to see the state of all the art I packed for the exhibition, but I’m here. And here is my schedule (for more details, see the convention website and program):
The Three Mood Approach to Writing Short Fiction — a one-hour online workshop on Wednesday at 11amCDT.
Art show (throughout)
Panel: Combining Outlooks: Artists who are Writers – Friday at 11:00 am
Reading – Saturday at 4:00 pm
Art reception –Saturday at 8:00 pm
Panel (moderating): The Artist as Visual Storyteller – Sunday at 11:00 am
I had a lovely three days at the Brisbane Writers Festival! I had hoped there would be more days, but was miserably unwell during the week, and only just managed to claw myself back to being able to go in on Friday.
Unfortunately, this meant I missed hearing the readings and seeing the announcements of the winner of the Wordplay Microfiction prize on the Thursday, but I was permitted to read all the finalists’ stories after the event, and was enchanted with all the elegant, eloquent, unexpected ways they riffed on the inspiration image.
I can’t find a list of the winners online yet, but congratulations!
On Friday I chaired the “Debuting in a Pandemic Panel”, with Jacqueline Maley, Sophie Overett and Lyndall Clipstone.
The three books were very different: Jacqueline Maley’s The Truth About Her is a novel of guilt, journalism, love and motherhood. Sophie Overett’s The Rabbits depicts of stifling Brisbane summers, and the damage and enchantment that can exist between generations. Lyndall Clipestone’s Lakesedge is a gothic, romantic fantasy, with more than a touch of the fairytale.
And it was lovely to bring together all the experiences which went into bringing these books into being, editing and launching them during the second year of a pandemic, and finding space and peace to write — and books to vanish into!
On Saturday I gave a one hour map illustration workshop.
It was actually really fun to see if this workshop could work in 1 hour (it did! although of course you can dive much deeper and do a larger map with more time) and to put together this little zine-fold instruction book which I hope to build on for future projects. This, although brief, was a very large and lively workshop between LoveYA events at the Brisbane Square Library.
After that I was on a panel with Lynette Noni and C. S. Pacat, chaired by Samantha Baldry, called “Sweet, Sweet, Fantasy”.
We got very intense about research and making things up, getting things written, planning, exclaiming over each others’ writing processes, etc.
And on Sunday, I gave a three hour workshop on observation journals, honing skills and pursuing creative fascinations.
It was a smaller group and a long delightful workshop, wide-ranging and intense, and everyone dug thoroughly into the exercises, which was fascinating for all of us, because a lot of the point of this approach is that it will vary as people chase down their own processes. It was lovely to see how many pages of exercise, thoughts, ideas, plans and even drawings everyone left with.
And around all the presenting and planning there were wonderful conversation with friends new and old, writers and publicists, publishers and agents, readers and fans, librarians, waiters, volunteers and BWF staff and board members, poets and musicians.
I might update this post with some photos if I come across them.
The approach: Sometimes there’s an overwhelming amount to report on, sometimes the details are vague. Either way, choosing 5 big things (and maybe an extra, as a treat) has become a good way to both record anything and make sure it is useful. I also made tiny notes about ways to try out/adapt the ideas.
These notes are from a day online for Worldcon 2020. The unifying interests had to do with textures and delicately-observed sensibilities.
Asking people about new projects/directions they’re excited for people to look at (or what lights them up about something they’re discussing) is a useful question for panels, conversations, etc.
Holly and Kelly also discussed having a safety-net/backup ending in mind (when writing) in case of not being able to think of a cleverer one. (This amuses & delights me.)
Alyssa Winans’ compositions, especially illustrations with a central sublime glowing cloud, or a sense of rising scale and wonder. That was something I wanted to try more. Also the use of almost line-art surface textures in painterly works. (John Jude Palencar does this, too, and when I realised that it tripped something in my brain that resisted thinking in a painterly way.)
How the movie The Old Guard conveyed a sensitivity and affection in its characters that was not diminished by time or age. The default of many stories I’d encountered lately had been to make experience and age (especially long age) turn characters cynical. Seeing the opposite was powerfully pleasant. (Recently I’ve been talking about how much I enjoy stories where good people happen to bad things, instead of the other way around, and this is connected.)
(Part of the reason for posting these pages in retrospect is that I get to review them with the benefit of time, and also realise that what I liked about The Old Guard is what I enjoyed about Ted Lasso.)
The Brisbane Writers Festival is back — and done for the year (it’s staying in May, now, and next year is the 60th anniversary). It was lovely to see people again, and sketch in the cafe, and listen to talks on history and life, poetry and family.
I usually have difficulty remembering what happened on a panel, but many people said lovely things about it afterwards, and there were some excellent questions.
I do remember one question on how you judge the parameters of magic/myth when writing it into a ‘real-world’ story. We all had different answers, of course — the fairytales in Melissa’s novel were specifically contained and retold within a historical, non-fantastic setting; Tabitha followed a theme and let the elements grow; I talked about (a) developing an ear for certain types of stories, so you can hear when you strike a false note, and (b) letting the magical elements sit in the setting/story until they start to change each other — and following the consequences.
There was another question, too, on the purpose/use of myth and fairytale. Melissa was specifically dealing with the way fairytales were used to communicate and argue around the restrictions of a society and royal censorship. Tabitha was using them as a way to allow the processing of grief and loss, and the preservation of what is mourned. I spoke about their usefulness as a template, because I find it more organic to use a fairy tale as a structural key than to think about acts and arcs — that’s a matter of familiarity and ease. But I also got onto another favourite topic, about how there are points in time where people sort of agree on how certain stories are to be told (you see it when artists agree what the basic cat should look like, which makes medieval cat drawings look implausible, until you meet cats who look just like them). I find that having a sheaf of alternative templates (fairy tales, for me) lets me shake those ideas loose, and look at them in a different light. So, for example, people are starting to tell post-lockdown stories, and those are starting to converge. But you could pick any number of fairy tales and retell the story through that: “Rapunzel” is an obvious one, but “Little Red Riding Hood” would work just as well (the year that was eaten by a wolf), or even Cinderella — I had just broken new shoes in at the start of 2020, and now I’m having all sorts of problems wearing them again.
A particularly memorable panel I went to was “Out of the Wreckage”, in which Kelly Higgins-Devine interviewed Margaret Cook’sA River with a City Problem: A History of Brisbane Floods and Jamie Simmonds’ Rising from the Flood: Moving the Town of Grantham. I still have very vivid memories of the 2011 floods (as well as being cut off, I’d started at the Department of Transport and Main Roads just days before they happened, and since something like 95% of the state’s transport networks were affected by that year’s rains, it was a crash course in the department’s responsibilities!), and was tangentially involved with some of the Grantham relocation. It was a vivid and compelling discussion (and surprisingly entertaining), so I am looking forward to reading these two.
It was a lovely online weekend, meeting new friends and old. The AFTS is a small group (with a small and heroic committee!), but the conference attendees were a mix of afficionados, academics, oral storytellers, writers, illustrators, romance reviewers, programmers, publishers, illustrators, a magician — even an archaeologist!
Much of the conference was a little bit of a blur for me, as I was preparing for, giving, and then recovering from the keynote presentation. You can get to be as comfortable as you like with off-the-cuff speaking (I’m still all nerves), but art-centric presentations require so much front-end preparation getting the slides in order.
There were, of course, more slides than minutes — I was concentrating on my process around addressing the imagery of fairy tales, as that could be applied to drawing, writing, reading, and academia: finding an aesthetic, the process of “reading” imagery, identifying and recombining elements, and then dealing with that in an Australian context (with examples from Flyaway).
Usually I’d have more of a small-group workshop focus in something like this, but I spaced it out with short individual exercises (agnostic as to medium), and it seemed to work. At least, after the break some people came back having done drawings!
There will be a recording up later in the year for AFTS members.
I was also on an artist panel with Spike Deane and Monika Diak, which could have been infinitely longer as far as we were concerned (clearly attributable to excellent moderation) and probably would have progressed to a cafe indefinitely had we been at a physical conference. We have such different processes — Spike with her glass, and Monika with her work in Hungary, and both of them with a fine art background, but all loving the shared language of fairy tales. They each gave separate presentations on their work — light and luminous.
Renée Dahlia and Philippa Borland gave an entertaining and appealing (and informative!) presentation on a diverse range of romance takes on fairy-tale patterns — lots of new books to read.
Kathryn Gossow and Patsy Poppenbeek, the editors of the forthcoming AFTS Anthology South of the Sun, gave a breakdown of the process of putting together the anthology and underlying considerations — I always enjoy this sort of consideration of a book, going through briefly touching on each story and the patterns between them.
It was my first fully online conference this year (so far!), and the AFTS conference committee (and overall wrangler of the society, Jo Henwood) did a wonderful job bringing the weekend — and some wonderful — people together, and it was an honour to be invited.
(Apologies to all the people and for all the details left out!).
And by post I received a beautiful presenter gift, made by Canberra fairy-tale glass artist Spike Deane (I’m a fan of her work, and already have a lovely glass key). But this was something new — it’s a little gold compact…
But when opened, and mirrored in itself, in blue glass are the words Once Upon a Time…
I had thoughts of using a mirror compact and doing something to it. Ideas came and went. I bought a lovely vintage powder compact, which sunk 60% of the budget. I settled on the idea of replacing the powder section with an engraved piece of coloured glass, with the text engraved in a way that to read it you are required to look in the mirror.
Happy with that concept I then mulled over how to create some ‘flash glass’. Flash glass is sheet glass with a very thin layer of colour on one side. When you sandblast or engrave away the coloured side you can create imagery or pattern. I could buy some, but $$$… make some, but $$$ and then guess what fell into my lap?
A large piece of blue blown glass was being offered FREE at the Canberra Glassworks, so long, as that person smashed the object. I jumped at the chance and claimed my prize. I clobbered it with a hammer (safely and satisfyingly).
I then cut a small circle out of one of the shards (harder than you would think). I ground the edges and engraved some lettering on one side and flourishes on the other.
Last year I went to the Diana Wynne Jones: Bristol 2019 conference in, obviously, Bristol, and had a wonderful time. Fannish academic conventions(? academic-ish fan conventions?) are wonderful fun, and we made new friends whose tastes we already approved of, and after the convention was over several of us tramped all over, and danced the witchy dance at Clifton Suspension Bridge, and rode a carousel, and tried to find the 21st-century equivalent of Janine’s boutique (some of these references are to Deep Secret which had a formative effect on my career).
Also, although I was between degrees, I gave a paper on:
“Contracts and Calcifer, or “In Which A Contract Is Concluded Before Witnesses”: the Transactional Structure of Howl’s Moving Castle.”