What I Did On My Holidays: Part the Third – World Fantasy and Brighton

Note: If you click on a picture, that should take you through to its Flickr page, where you will have an option to view a larger version.

Part One is here: Brisbane Airport and Oslo.

Part Two is here: Dartmoor.

After a last farewell to Dartmoor, a walk along the Cobb at Lyme Regis, an altercation with a lorry near the New Forest (huzzah for steady-nerved passengers and comprehensive insurance), and the GPS in a final effort to establish its supremacy taking us to Arundel Castle instead of the Metropole, Ellen, Delia and I arrived in Brighton for the World Fantasy Convention 2013.

That is Brian Aldiss with the tea.

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I don’t sketch at conventions as much as I used to, now that I know more people (one reason being Artist at Large at the Brisbane Writers Festival was so much fun was that I was officially meant to be drawing over talking). So I had a marvellous time at WFC, but did not draw many pictures. Most of my drawing was scribbling ideas during panels, e.g. this during the “Broads with Swords” discussion:

Swords

I did sit at the signing tables during the mass signing in order to draw everyone else – I learned last year that was a good vantage point. And one person did come up and ask me to sign a book I have a story in (ahem), so that was thrilling!

Here are two panels  of people you probably haven’t heard of: A YA discussion with Delia Sherman, Susan Cooper, Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, Will Hill and Holly Black, and Nifty Shades of Fae with Tanith Lee, Joanne Harris, James Barclay, Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett, Grahame Joyce and James Barclay. There are also a few Irene Gallo cameos in the pages, because I usually draw the people with cameras.

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Unfortunately, I was taken violently ill on Saturday evening and had to leave the art reception early to be miserable in my room. The hotel reception sent up Twinings Peppermint Tea as a sovereign remedy. Ellen also plied me with medicinal infusions the next day.

Taken Ill

As a consequence, I only have a tiny picture of my art at the show. I will post some better images of the pictures later!

Pictures at World Fantasy 2013

Absence of pictures aside, I had a wonderful convention – talked to a lot of people, mostly, which is the point. It is difficult to narrow down particular highlights, as I keep remembering things and people to mention – charming ladies’ literary dinners (after the ladies in question unpacked our car in a team while I sat trembling in the driver’s seat), operatic serenades over dinner with the Australian contingent, lunches where no-one simply shared common gripes or tried to curry favour but simply waved their hands and discussed shared enthusiasms (stories, Dianna Wynne Jones and Dorothy Sayers). And of course I wasn’t drawing during any of those conversations – I will try to draw you all next time!

Following the convention, Aimee (Aimee L, not Aimee-my-housemate) and I went touring Brighton. I drew Aimee photographing the giant seagulls. We also ate giant meringues. I bought this marvellous panorama history of Aviation (I want the Nobrow Press Leporello series to be longer and also all of them) and we visited the Royal Pavilion, where we both fervently wished for a coffee book on the subject of wallpaper restoration.

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The most touching moment was seeing the paintings of the music room when it was used as a hospital for Indian soldiers in WWI. It had the most beautiful ceiling, which Aimee is photographing here. We ate horrible hotdogs on the pier and collected Shelley to go to Thor II, and all the English people in the audience laughed at the scenes in Greenwich.

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The next morning, I caught the train to York, en route to Perth and London

American Daleks

American Daleks

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Neil Gaiman’s remarkable novel American Gods, a road-trip, murder-mystery, missing-identity, conspiracy, hustling, stranger-comes-to-a-small-town, Götterdämmerung of a fantasy. For me, it’s a pair with Diana Wynne Jones’ Eight Days of Luke – the grown-up, explicit, visceral, wry, partially-unrecommendable-in-certain-circles elder sibling of a novel with many of the same themes (as Stardust pairs with Howl’s Moving Castle). And in my head it is more than one book and world, as fits a cross-country novel in such a broad country – cold isolation of an ex-con walking by train tracks, hot southern funeral parlours, sweat and loss of hotel rooms, the baroque horror of a carousel…

In other news: A month and a half until I go to America! A little freaked out. Reminding myself that all I need is a passport, credit card and the will to eat my way across a continent.

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.

A Midsummer Night’s Dalek

A Midsummer Nights Dalek

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is also an excuse to practise drawing donkeys – one day the necessity will arise! I think it is a little better than the last one (for the same play – I am only practising donkey heads). Certainly cuter, and when drawing Daleks that is evidently the prime consideration.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not my favourite Shakespeare – I have not decided what is. Neither its title nor its stage directions are as wonderful as A Midwinter’s Tale (although I had to wait for J. K. Rowling before I learned how to pronounce Hermione). I am not certain why I resist it – perhaps because it conjures up such a floating, sweet image, although that isn’t what I get when I sit down and read it. Perhaps it is the general connotation it takes in the collective consciousness? A shame, if it is, because parts of it are – or should be – hysterically funny.

My current favourite references/adaptations/reworkings of it are:

  • Dead Poet’s Society (directed by Peter Weir and written by Tom Schulman) – for the ethereal tragedy (I get flashbacks to this whenever I watch House).
  • Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies – for a very funny, very nasty, very (what? respectful? faithful? something different but equal to that) Discworld take on the story, with all of the beauty that ought to be there and all of the horror and earthy bloodiness which makes the beauty terrifying. Also the stick-and-bucket dance. I commend to you Tansy Rayner Robert’s post on this book: Slash! Stab! A Lesson in Practical Queening.
  • Neil Gaiman’s short graphic story “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (drawn by Charles Vess and coloured by Steve Oliff) – for an interleaving of the play with its historical setting and performance, within the story of Sandman: complex, beautiful, complete.

It would be easy, I suspect, to take a wholly unpleasant reading of the play – no doubt it has been done. I appreciate the role of that sort of reading and storytelling, but it usually feels to me more as comment/exercise than a distinct and independent Thing In The World. What I love about the pieces above is that none of them disregard the beauty which is associated with the story in order to rewrite it into nastiness. They are all truly beautiful. But the loveliness which could be merely pretty or at worst cloying is not only offset by the darkness: together they make something very solid and elegant and – without detracting at all from that – funny. All three have scenes which still, in recollection, make me laugh aloud (“this desk set was made to fly”).

I’m reminded of Catherynne M Valente’s story “A Delicate Architecture”, in which sweetness must be offset by the hint of salt and marrow. Which conveniently leads me to…

In other news: To Spin a Darker Stair, a boutique collection of two short stories by Catherynne M Valente and Faith Mudge, and illustrated by me, is on pre-order from Fablecroft Press (more news on the cover when it appears). Also, speaking of English takes on fairy queens (and taking on English fairy queens), I drew some pictures of Janet and Tam Lin for Illustration Friday.

Preludes and Daleks

Preludes and Daleks

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes, by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Mike Dringenberg, Sam Kieth and Malcolm Jones III. I don’t recall any grand pianos in it but am willing to be corrected. Teresa Nielsen Hayden did a wonderful reread of the first issue on Tor.com here: Re-reading Sandman: Issue #1, “The Sleep of the Just”.

While I was at work yesterday, the Dalek Game and #dalekbooks seem to have taken on a separate existence. Thank you to those who have posted and commented and followed – I am working back through my inbox!

Prints: Several people have asked about buying prints. I would love to be able to sell them, but want to do the right thing, so I have written to the BBC and Arts Law to find out what that is. If I get a positive answer, I will not stay silent.

And in other news: Kinds of Blue, an anthology of comics by my friends (I did the art for two) has been launched and is available to buy online! The YA steampunk anthology Steampunk! (with my first comic “Finishing School”) is available online and in stores – I will post a bit more about this soon. Friends and I went to see Monstrous Regiment at the Arts Theatre yesterday – their Pratchett play is an annual tradition, and this year’s Sergeant Jackrum is worth the price of entry alone. Today I am staying in and drawing Daleks.

Illustration Friday: Disguise

Last night, under the influence of too little sleep, I decided it would be an excellent idea to draw a paper doll for Illustration Friday (my last one was the butterfly catcher). A Regency masquerade was the obvious choice, but my Regency imaginings are frequently coloured by fairytales, thanks to the Susanna Clarke’s and Neil Gaiman’s overlapping variations on the era (“The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse” in Clarke’s Ladies of Grace Adieu takes place in the world of Gaiman’s Stardust, and Charles Vess illustrated both works).

Illustration Friday: Disguise

The images behind the figure are a page in Racinet’s Historical Encyclopaedia of Costumes. I drew the design in pen and ink (using the pencil sketch below to keep the parts aligned), then scanned it and added flat colours digitally before printing it and cutting it out with a craft knife, because it was late and my judgement was impaired. You can see from the sketch that at one point she was going to have a floral boa.

Paper dolls in progress

There are two design flaws, both of which would be easily fixed. The first is that the floor extends too far upwards. I did that to give support to both her hooves, but as a result the cape does not sit properly unless I cut right through down to the hem. The second is that when the hood is on there is a glimpse of empty space beneath her hair. That is what happens when one simply draws a paper doll without considering all the consequences, but it was my first cloak design so a useful lesson (dresses are much easier – they simply hang down in front).

The Graveyard Dalek

The Graveyard Dalek

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. It is something of an ueber-mashup since The Graveyard Book itself is a Gothic/Jungle Books reworking, and I started writing in “Here he lies where he longs to be” on one of the headstones before I remembered that’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s epitaph, not Rudyard Kipling’s. Rudyard Kipling’s headstone is quite austere but should have said “Good hunting”.

I am very fond of The Graveyard Book. My only complaint would be that it keeps to the Mowgli stories and doesn’t include Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, however Gaiman had already written the short, dark, wonderful “The Price”, which I can pretend is a Rikki-Tikki-Tavi tale.

When we were little, my sister had a tortoise-shell cat (she asked for a “puzzle cat”). It was christened Tootsie (probably for the movie), but proved to be a master snake-stalker and was renamed Rikki by my father, whose nicknames often stuck – see for example, the poddy-calf which started as Caramel and became Woolly-guts, and a vicious little beast. Tootsie/Rikki was only a small cat, so if she found a black snake she would stand on something elevated and stare and call until my father went out with a shotgun, which was all well and good unless the snake was under a corrugated iron roof. That time the echoes frightened her so much she took off to the scrub for three days. When we sold up we had to give her (and my cat, Panther) away because they were country cats. Rikki kept walking home through the bush, and so we gave her to friends several hours away, where I understand she settled down and amused herself beating up small dogs. Panther moved into an abandoned shed, grew very fat on mice and showed no signs of missing me.

(This Dalek goes with a shout-out to Angela Slatter, who has been bullying me about it. Peter M Ball, I’ve also drawn the one you liked and will post it soon. Tansy Rayner Roberts, I’ve drawn yours, I think – it’s a bit more violent than I expected but it was hard finding a title that translated to the theme adequately).