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Picturing a World

Gurney on imaginative fiction

Blog post alert: Author-illustrator James Gurney has posted a Q&A on his world of Dinotopia well worth reading. He makes the point, for instance, that fully illustrated books are immersive and provide triggers to deepen the reader's involvement in imagining that world. One answer to a question, however, startled me.
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Sketches for Flyaway

Kathleen Jennings, early story sketches for Flyaway

Blog post alert: Readers of this blog know how much I admire Kathleen Jennings' illustrations, writing, and Taunadel blog. Reading an essay at Tor.com, Illustrating Flyaway: Kathleen Jennings on Creating Art and Prose Together, has me wondering whether those of us with no art training could nevertheless doodle our way to visualizations that move our fiction. Worth a try! And do read Illustrating Flyaway: it has great pictures of finished work and silhouettes as well as sketches, adn you can get a high-rez version of this early-sketch page.

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Flyaway

Kathleen Jennings is the first to say that her new short novel, Flyaway, is not for everyone. But if you are a fantasy-fiction aficionado, yes. If you keep an eye on the arts Down Under, yes. If you are a fan of illustrated books and especially Jennings' own silhouettes, yes. If you are interested in how to adapt traditional European folklore to modern settings in the rest of the world, yes. And if you want to observe a skillful unfolding of one plot (the gothic story) that at the same time explores a quite different center of emotion (a damaged yet potent friendship), yes.

 

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Peake illustrations

Blog post alert: The British Library has announced acquisition of 300 drawings by the writer and artist, Mervyn Peake.  You can read about it in a blog post by curator Zoë Wilcox, Mervyn Peake's scariest drawings saved for the nation. In covering the story, The Guardian quotes Wilcox: "We know that he drew whenever he got stuck with his writing, in order to help him imagine what his characters might say and how they might speak." For those of us with no training (and little talent), doodles still might be an interesting way to unlock creativity.

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Little Visitors

A recent post at Spitalfields Life reproduces this picture and the pages it illustrates. In The Little Visitors, two girls visit a knowledgeable aunt in the English countryside. She teaches them many things and tells the story of how she once rescued a slave boy by purchasing him to give him his freedom. For us, the fraught layers of history, agency, privilege, etc., make this picture and its story complicated. But the idea of two clever girls in Regency England visiting a learned aunt? Now, that offers possibilities for flights of compositional fancy!

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Kitchen garden

Uh-oh, a couple of weeks ago, I dreamed I was inside a crossword puzzle. The dream is hard to remember clearly, much less describe (more surreal that an Alice-in-Wonderland card game); but the upshot was that the next morning I quit doing puzzles, cold. Now, as I finish my breakfast cup of tea, I'm reading Helen Gammack's Kitchen Garden Estate (2012) instead. It's perfect. Paper that's a delight to feel, many illustrations, and short, information-packed discussions of a wide array of gardening practices for raising edible and medicinal plants.

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Naughty, naughty

Website alert: I hope this link to a copy of Poetical Sketches of Scarborough for sale will be viable for a while. It's a source for a set of twenty-one lightly satiric illustrations of life at the English sea resort of Scarborough in 1812. For anyone researching public baths in the early 19th C, voilà! The picture also fits my running theme of using imagery as prompts for original fiction. Obviously, there's a story here. 

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Biscuit tin

A poor student in my current fantasy story occupies a sparsely furnished attic room and makes do with a storage chest for a desk. It was enchanting, therefore, to come across this 10th C illumination of St. John: William's desk leapt right out. I've been debating whether to give the young man a writing board or portable desk (I think I will), but what really caught my attention was that box the good saint is sitting on. It looks like a biscuit tin! I collect images of medieval scribes at work and room interiors, and I've never seen anything like it.

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Alcott story

Under the headline Unfinished story by Little Women author Louisa May Alcott published for first time, the Guardian reports on publication of "Aunt Nellie's Diary" in the Strand magazine along with a call for authors to complete it. So here are three possible writing exercises: (1) Complete the story in Alcott's style. (2) Update the story to a different period and see where it leads you. (3) Imagine a writers' group that tackles such a challenge, then write a story about their doing so. Even if you just chuckle over the idea, have some summer fun!

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Hokusai hand puppets

My mother was a marionettist who made her own puppets, which means I've been aware of the things since childhood. Nevertheless, I have to confess that despite years of editing books on East Asia, I was taken utterly by surprise—and delighted!—by Hokusai's depiction of hand puppets. I know a little about Kabuki  and Noh theater but nothing whatsoever about Japanese puppets. It's a topic to explore, that's for sure.

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