The Power of Three

Power of Three - cover⁩

Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite (and formative) authors, and it was such a delight to be able to do this cover for her novel The Power of Three, for Utz Books.

Here are some of the preliminary sketches: reading the book again (a lovely twisty, funny, mystical plot, with that sliding-through of perspectives DWJ does so well), getting details right, working out how I wanted to draw aspects.

KJennings-PowerOfThree-WebSketches.jpg

Then narrowing down the cover treatment — the format had to match other cover designs, which is both a challenging and liberating consideration.

KJenningsPowerOfThreeSketchesForWeb

Finally, developing and refining this cover and a treatment and style that would fit the other covers (similar textures, etc).

KJenningsPencilsAndTestForWeb

Illustration Friday: Electronic

Electronic-Howl-low-res

The Illustration Friday topic this week was “electronic”, and since I’ve been regretting my (unavoidable) inability to enter the Folio Society illustration competition, my thoughts were on Diana Wynne Jones’s books, and the unexpected co-appearances of magic and more contemporary technologies.

So here is a Howl, of Howl’s Moving Castle, as loosely suggested by a scene that is in the book, but not the movie!

And here is the original piece, with my hand for scale.

Electronic-Howl-WIP-low-res

Books read, things seen: February 2016

Murder! Heists! Creativity! Secrets!

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Paper Daleks (and Urban Fantasy)

Paper Daleks

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Ekaterina Sedia’s anthology of urban fantasy, “Paper Cities”.

It’s an intriguing collection, partly because of its brilliant collection of authors, but also because of Sedia’s definition of urban fantasy as fantasy that takes place within cities, and is about urban life. That sounds like a simple and obvious definition, but it creates a collection which at times seems to have very little in common with either the newer definitions or the older categories to which the title of “urban fantasy” has been applied.

The collection is all the more surprising and unsettling for it, and covers a category which perhaps is outside Gardner Dozois’s subcategorisation of “urban fantasy” into “Mythic Fiction”, “Paranormal Romance” and “Noir Fantasy”, or perhaps is another sort of genre altogether: properly described as fantasy about cities but not falling within the historical genre and its branches which are usually known as “urban fantasy”. I suppose it is like old romance (which may not have love in it at all), “romantic” fiction, fiction with romantic interludes and capital-R Romance.

I am (with a few exceptions) generally in favour of descriptive vs prescriptive approaches to e.g. linguistics and fashion, so I am not going to take arms against any particular definition. I do miss the days when this particular label was pretty much just used to describe Dozois’ “Mythic Fiction”, only because it made it easier to (a) find what I wanted to read and (b) describe what I like to write. Now I tend to just say “contemporary fantasy” because that takes in rural settings, but of course it leaves out fantasy set in this world (or something like it) in other eras.

An aside on Noir Fantasy – at Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners” writing workshop, she mentioned that she likes seeing stories which show people in their work, behind-the-scenes, and I have been wondering whether that is part of the appeal of Noir Fantasy (and detective novels in general): that it is one of the few genres (distinct or cross-over) which habitually shows people at work. Not just as a glimpse, but caught up with the whole plot and point of the book.

Of course, even where the job of characters involves another specialisation (i.e. not detection), job-plots frequently turn into some sort of mystery/detection or crime/pursuit story – take John Grisham and Dick Francis, for instance. Or, back to fantasy, Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret, in which the main characters are a magid/computer programmer and a vet student who still end up trying to untangle a variety of mysteries and murders.

In fact, off the top of my head, the only professions which don’t habitually turn into noir/mystery plots are the creative ones, and in those – if the story is about career – the ability itself turns out to have a magical quality (whether this is in fact the nature of creative professions or a hang-up of writers I do not venture an opinion). Musicians, say, and painters (Charles de Lint, as a general example). Not to say there aren’t stories in which people have regular day jobs, relevant to the plot, which don’t stray into these areas, but it’s an observation.

So, some current favourite examples:

  • Archer’s Goon, Diana Wynne Jones: this meets Sedia’s description, and two of Dozois’, and is about how cities work, how a family in a city copes when the magic behinds it all starts to make itself known, a really awful little sister and how to get a bus in an emergency.
  • Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman: The descent into London Beneath – the London of the people and places who have fallen through the cracks, where all the odd names are real. This is a very wonderful book, but I confess I love it primarily for the Marquis de Carabas and the Gap (as in: mind the).
  • An Older Kind of Magic, Patricia Wrightson: what happens to the magic as a city gets built up, and what happens to a city when comet light touches it. Also, Sydney in the ’70s.
  • Charles de Lint generally, of course: a city, the magic in it, how the people grow and change over the years, how the city changes, how technological progress is first shunned then cautiously accepted then becomes a magic in its own right…
  • The Etched City, K. J. Bishop: this is closer to Sedia’s selection, and has such a beautifully-built city – this and China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station remind me of each other, but Bishop is less harrowing – I’m still intellectually & emotionally bruised after Mieville. However I would describe both as stories in fantastic cities rather than fantastic stories in cities or stories about fantastic cities, although that may split hairs. I would give them as examples, first, of worlds: Mieville’s claustrophobic detail and Bishop’s rather more sparing (but effective) approach.
  • Death Most Definite, Trent Jamieson: because it is my city (also, previously a Dalek).
  • Dark City, The City of Lost Children and Matrix (do you know when it was released?), for movies.

The Dalek Downstairs

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.

Howl’s Moving Dalek

Howls Moving Dalek

This instalment of the Dalek Game is another Diana Wynne Jones Dalek! This time it is for the very splendid Howl’s Moving Castle, because a remote-controlled Dalek is the sort of thing Howl (book-Howl, not movie-Howl) would bring home, and this is how Sophie would react if not given time to adjust. 

Please note the distinction between book-Howl and movie-Howl. I adore the Studio Ghibli movie. It is gorgeous, rich, odd, unexpected, breathtaking, enchanting, hysterical – all the things the book is, but in very different ways. Characters change sides, ages and  genders, old ones disappear, new ones appear, the Castle grows legs and the fire demon becomes adorable (I’m okay with that).

The movie amps up the war themes and advances the technology but loses the John Donne riddles. It catches Sophie’s strength but not her power. And it perfectly renders the troubled, vain, flamboyant Howl, but leaves out the drunk, soccer-playing, fast-driving, computer-savvy side of his character.

I love this book very much, and it is almost time to watch a course of Welsh movies and find someone to read it to again.

Dalek and Hemlock

Dalek and Hemlock

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Diana Wynne Jones’ Fire and Hemlock, which is… not as gothic as the cover on Amazon would make it appear.

I cannot choose a favourite Diana Wynne Jones novel. They are all luminous and familiar and unexpected, braiding science fiction, parallel worlds, fantasy, history, the awful ordinary trials of every day life (indeed, Awful from Archer’s Goon is one of my favourite secondary characters) and frequently (though not in Fire and Hemlock) the complications families bring to adventures. Fire and Hemlock, however, is one of the novels I most frequently reread.

Fire and Hemlock is part reworking, part continuation of the story in the ballad of Tam Lin and is a story of friends and language, cellists and hardware stores, idle stories coming true, forgotten friends, the varied uglinesses of the human back and the dangers of wandering into other people’s funerals. It is a light and luminous story with an almost completely impenetrable ending.

It is a good ending. I am always certain of that. I am sure it is a happy ending – I feel happy and satisfied whenever I read it. But working out how it is good, convincing my head as well as my heart, is an exercise I repeat on every reread. It is part of the power and charm of the book.

(If you’ve read the novel already, this is one of several articles which I’ve found helpful in deciphering the exact mechanics of the end: Fire and Hemlock reconsidered, but there are others out there. ETA: Here’s another: We only live, only suspire / consumed by either fire or fire – the novel isn’t “literary” but it is tremendous fun to examine from that angle).

In other news: I am planning to go to North America in November for World Fantasy and maybe also Illuxcon!