Stories that lingered

Prompted by a question on Facebook, this is a list of short stories which have lingered, i.e. which occur to me off the top of my head. They aren’t value judgements, in fact I am certain there are stories that don’t occur to me because they fit so perfectly into the whole of their collection or anthology. But they’ve stuck, and that probably says more about me than them.

  • Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners” (in the book of the same title, but also online here) because it was wonderfully strange and folded and caught something true and should have been real.
  • Dirk Flinthart’s “The Ballad of Farther-on-Jones” (in Striking Fire), because it was lyrical and hopeful and contained all it needed to.
  • Shaun Tan’s “No Other Country” (in Tales from Outer Suburbia), because it, like the whole book, is achingly gorgeous. The serious undertones of some of its neighbouring stories enhance the jewel-like quality of this one and its art.
  • Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Dark” (in What I Didn’t See – the paperback has a really nice cover;), because it keeps inserting itself into my memory of other collections, and because terrible things happen but people do good things too.
  • M R James’ “The Diary of Mr Poynter” because of one particular moment of the mundane becoming unsettled. Almost all his ghost stories do this but this one was particularly low-key. And I like the design element in the plot.
  • Dorothy Sayers’ “The Haunted Policeman” (in Striding Folly, but I read it first in the Folio Society’s Crime Stories from the Strand) because it is a miniature painting, and a lovely little puzzle. It was also my first introduction to Peter and Harriet.
  • Henry Lawson’s “The Loaded Dog” (warning for some animal deaths) and/or “We Called Him “Allie” for Short, because of Lawson’s laid-back, tongue-in-cheek tone and, in the case of “The Loaded Dog”, the rolling, rollicking, dangerous inevitability of the plot.
  • Angela Slatter’s “The Badger Bride” (in The Bitterwood Bible – and by the way, the limited edition hardbacks of this are nearly sold out) because it is a small, perfectly formed legend curled into an angle of the interlocked stories of the collection.
  • E Nesbit’s “Melisande, or: Long and Short Division“, because of the knock-on effect of the plot, and the charm, and there being no real villain as such except for consequences (not unusual in E Nesbit’s stories), and because the silliness is played out soberly. Also maths.

Eclipse Online illustrations – December 2012

With another two brilliant stories to appear in Eclipse Online in December 2012, Jonathan Strahan and I ironed out some of the formatting for the illustrations. I had been leaning towards the all-over texture with which I was comfortable, but because the layout of the site was to be quite simple, Jonathan preferred a self-framing image, which made sense!

The first story was Christopher Barzak’s restrained “Invisible Men”, an alternate perspective of a classic. It never did what I expected it to, and reminded me more of Wyndham than Wells, using one of my favourite styles of narrator – tangentially involved, observant, apart.

The first image was a darling of mine – a combination of linework and solid texture, with one scan of the endpapers of my great-grandfather’s autograph album, and another of mysterious stains.

"Invisible Men"

Below it (above) is the final, which I do like  (although it is quirkier than the first) because I love drawing floating things. I should reread the story and see if the change of illustration style changes how I read it. I’m looking at the picture again now as I edit this post, and it amuses me.

The next story was Lavie Tidhar’s fragmenting, decades-encompassing social media biography “The Memcordist”. I had just met Lavie at World Fantasy (he won a World Fantasy Award for his novel Osama). It was at this late stage I realised Jonathan had tricked me into illustrating science fiction!

I tried to avoid the inevitable by dwelling on the memory of basil – my housemate had bought some and so I was able to directly reference it, and then eat it while adding colour on the computer. But it was a (deserving) victim of the decision to go for a self-contained style.

"The Memcordist"

And so here is a robot. Metal is an interesting surface to render, but reflections depend on their surroundings and in this case the illustration was in a white void. Adventures in drawing! Science fiction illustration is traditionally about brilliant sleek schematic black and whites, perfect reflections with a highlight of pale gouache, hard lines, bright lights… Occasionally I find a way into it which lets me have fun with lines instead of rulers, and fluid movement instead of angles. At this point I’m still exploring.

Eclipse Online illustrations – October and November 2012

In 2012, Jonathan Strahan relaunched his anthology series Eclipse as an online publication, Eclipse Online (through Nightshade Books), showcasing two original short stories each month. He asked if I’d like to be involved and I said yes (possibly with more vehemence than that implies!).

So, since October, I have been drawing two spot illustrations a month, for stories I am very lucky to be reading. I do so much reading for illustration that I don’t always get to read stories I’m not illustrating. The two, I am happy to say, overlap surprisingly often, but I don’t always know in advance that they are going to! And these are stories I’m so glad I haven’t missed out on reading.

October

The first was “The Contrary Gardener” by Christopher Rowe (fellow Steampunk! contributor, a story of a high-tech agricultural future with an ending which was not what I had come to expect from stories in such worlds. I sent Jonathan a selection – we went with the last. I like the bounding white clouds, but I still cherish a fondness for the brussel-sprout styled balloon.

"The Contrary Gardener"

Next followed the elusive KJ Parker, with “One Little Room an Everywhere”, a title with which I fell in love. The voice, the pragmatism, the gold leaf and icons – an enchanting story, and although it is a cautionary tale as much as a fantasy of magic and buildings, neither the main character nor the story itself are at all unlikable (a common failing of stories of ill-advised behaviour).

This illustration, too, is pen and ink with colour and texture added digitally. I do like this picture – it captures a little of what I enjoyed in the story.

"One Little Room an Everywhere"

November

The first story for November was Eleanor Arnason’s “Holmes Sherlock: A Hwarhath Mystery”, a detective story of translation, admiration, secrets and art photography, and one for which I struggled to choose a representative image because the alienness (or otherwise) of the Hwarhath was not for me the main point of the story – but could override an illustration of one of the more active or landscape images.

"Holmes Sherlock: A Hwarhath Mystery"

And last for November 2012 and this post, Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Firebugs”, a tale of joint and several individuality, arson and belonging.

With this story, I was trying not to be all Midwich Cuckoos and went for a more symbolic image. Because of the formatting of the site for Eclipse Online, the all-over background of this image and the last one would be discarded for future stories in favour of self-contained spot images.

"Firebugs"