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.

Sketching with words

The post on Illustrating Flyaway, over at Tor.com, has a few location sketches on it from when I went to Hanging Rock with Belinda Morris (yes, that Hanging Rock, and yes we had a picnic), trying to figure out how Joan Lindsay did it.

I also went out to the area around where I grew up, and which partially suggested the region of Inglewell in Flyway, and although I did get a few sketches on the way, it proved difficult for two reasons.

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(Thanks to the Cecilie Anne Sloane Postgraduate English Creative Writing Research Scholarship made both trips possible)

First, I was driving alone, and it turns out I find it easier to say “stop! pull over! back up!” if I am not in fact the person trying to get from A to B before nightfall. Second, I draw with line and shape more than light, and it was the light that twisted something in my heart and stomach.

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But I’d also deliberately abandoned any photography skills I had back when I first started seriously sketching, and there are qualities it requires real skill to catch in a photograph (looking back to Hanging Rock, it’s as intensely, dizzily beautiful in real life as in the book, but in photographs it is just as eerie as in the movie).

So I started dictating as I went. Not dictating paragraphs of prose — I haven’t got into the stride of writing that way. Just… sketching. Going over words, looking for phrases or descriptions or similes or ten ways of seeing a set of silos, in the same way I’d draw a Blue-faced Honeyeater again and again, trying to find the shape, the line, that means the light that I see.

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Not all of these show up in Flyaway. I went on this trip as part of the editing process, confirming my memories and tightening what I’d already written, checking the way the light shifted over a day, what it did on the road. What the road did. Recording bits of other places, for other stories. Memories. Small wonders.

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Beautiful horrors.

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Illustration Friday: Late

Late (black and white)

This week’s Illustration Friday picture is a sampler of scratchboard textures and also an illustration for one of my favourite books: Joan Lindsay’s Time Without Clocks, a memoir of artistic life (she was an artist and author, her husband an artist who became curator of the National Gallery) in Australia between the wars. She and her husband were visited by one of her old friends, and while the men were elsewhere, Joan and her friend sat in the living room working on a story they had been writing together when they were studying. The clock was broken, and so when they thought it was about four, they stuck a piece of paper to the clock with “four o’clock” written on it, and when they thought half an hour must have passed, updated it accordingly.

Here is a colour version:

Late (colour)