Crandolin: book covers and end credits

Borscht! (rough sketch)
A series of very beautiful things have been arriving in my mailbox, and it is about time to start showing them to you. The first is Anna Tambour’s exceedingly odd, headlong, culinary railway fable Crandolin, from Chômu Press. This rich and perfect cover is by Christopher Conn Askew:

Crandolin-Front-Cover-AskewAnna and I have plans to do something together one day. This was almost it, twice. The first time, time was too tight. The second, the book was ready to publish and the cover was at stake. The book is rather difficult to quantify, and I had read it previously, so agreed to try my hand (knowing the possibility it might not be used – don’t worry, all was fair and above board). I still like my design as an illustration, but Askew has captured the book far better – that shade of red, the twinned images, the feeling of the label of expensive nougat, or a rare olive oil. Mine by contrast is much more, well, Little Golden Book. But here is its history anyway, because I don’t draw donkeys much and hate to waste them.

First are two little stylistic try-outs: the girl with the cake is in scratchboard, the violent lady is pencil, both with digital colour.

WIP - ScratchboardLady MacBeth

I did several sketches, based on some suggestions and inspirations the author and publisher had sent me. I’d still like to do something in this style:

Cover concepts

But this is the direction we went in:

Cover concepts

And here, after exploring the depths of the internet (Russian model ship building websites) for a clue as to the rest of a font glimpsed on a four-letter station sign, and calls with Anna regarding the emotions proper to donkeys, is the cover (with crop marks, etc, as it wasn’t finally finalised).

Cover (unused)

I still like it, as a piece and as a piece of the story. Askew’s, however, is ideal.

But they did let me have an after-the-credit feature. At the back of the book, when you buy it, you will find three cold passengers still crying for borscht.

“Undine Love” published in ASIM 52

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine issue 52 is out! (Cover by Olivia Kernot). My copy has arrived, but my housemate has pinched it and is lying on the sofa reading out extracts, preceded by, “This story contains the immortal line…” She appears to like it so – go, buy, read.

I am always delighted to see a new ASIM (even if I can’t get near it) but particularly so with this issue, because (in addition to two illustrations) it has one of my stories in it: “Undine Love”.

“Undine Love” started as a symptom of reading Gothic fiction (as in, actual Gothic fiction written in the late 1700s and early 1800s, with people being dragged off to hell and screaming “Wertrold, Wertrold, save me!” and wrestling anacondas in Ceylon, in case you ever wondered what Jane Austen’s characters were reading). I began writing a story in suitably anguished prose, then wondered whether (as an exercise) it would work if updated from wuthering medievalish riverbanks to a modern beachhouse. It worked, but it felt rather sandy and unpleasant, so I shifted the story to something like the Lockyer Valley, where my parents live now and where the side roads plunge into deep romantic creek-valleys, and set it at a farmhouse and a bed-and-breakfast above a little river.

It’s a world away, now, from Peter Haining’s Great British Tales of Terror. Along with a terrible pun it has acquired Tori and Jack, Bartok and George and the Damsons, a ute, bagpipes and an out-of-place apple orchard, and I’m still a little inclined to be in love with them all. It’s about… well, contracts and family businesses, longings, faithfulness, promises and fences, and a setting that – if it existed – would have been badly damaged by the floods which swept down this January, after the story was written.

To my delight (although I would still love to see another artist’s version of my words one day) I was asked to illustrate “Undine Love”, and filled several pages with detailed scribbles, but couldn’t suit any of them to a finished style (or get my sister to pose with the bagpipes). I think these sketches were a better representation of the word-pictures remaining in my head, but they were still made up of words and more like story-boards. I couldn’t pin them to the page to my satisfaction. Here are some of them (click to view larger on the Flickr page):

Rough sketches for Undine Love

I settled, at last, on a stark, decorative style (with a definite nod to Ichijo Narumi’s Female Nude Seated in Water, although I could never hope to match those beautiful ripples):

Undine Love

I will not rule out the possibility that the apple orchard is a reference to Anna Tambour’s heartbreakingly beautiful story “The Valley of the Sugars of Salt” (together with Dirk Flinthart’s “The Ballad of Farther-on-Jones” it is one of my very favourite stories). There is, however, another and entirely unplanned connection to Anna’s stories. We were discussing upcoming publications and I told her about the introduced species in “Undine Love”. She sent me a copy of her story “Gnawer of the Moon Seeks Summit of Paradise” (published in Sprawl) and our two stories touch on almost exactly the same theme in similar settings from opposite standpoints – in some cases, down to sentences which directly contradict the other story.

I also illustrated Liz Colter’s haunting story “The Unseen Truths”, although in an entirely different style. I really like working with new authors and stories, drawing out an illustration from unfamiliar words. The process is not at all like the process for illustrating one’s own story, which already has so much visual baggage associated with it.

The Unseen Truths