Website alert: An article by Peter Carey on writing The True History of the Kelly Gang has just introduced me to the series of paintings by Sidney Nolan that inspired the novel, one of his best. No doubt about it, encountering these strange pictures could set off a wild desire to tell stories! For more images, see also Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly—in Pictures.
Picturing a World
Sixteen years in the making and still counting. An Incunabula Press project to publish a fine edition of John Crowley's fantasy novel, Little Big was officially launched in February 2004. It is to be illustrated—or decorated—with details from artist Peter Milton's surrealistic etchings. Hopes for publication in 2010 led to the design of the title page. The Little, Big website allows you to read a sample chapter on line.
What interests me for this series of blog posts is the idea of combining an existing novel with totally unrelated existing artwork. People ask, would I like to see an illustrated edition of Where the Light Falls? Well, of course! I began this blog to show readers the paintings, sketches, and photographs that influenced me while writing the novel. An e-book with links to such works would be one method of illustrating it.
From the dust jacket: "Tatterdemalion is a collaboration between writer Sylvia V. Linsteadt and painter Rima Staines. Together they have created a vivid post-apocalyptic novel in which the northern California of the future is imagined through images and stories rooted deep in the traditions of European folk tales."
I bought a hardback copy of the Unbound edition of Tatterdemalion because I love Rima Staines' art but can't afford an original painting. If I understand Linsteadt's post, A Needle, An Egg, A Novel Being Born at Folklore Thursday, she, too was responding to the pictures but the two of them created the novel together. Certainly, their contributions combine synergistically to elicit dreams, fears, imaginings of what the future holds for the human and more-than-human world. It's a book that haunts me.
Jackie Morris's superb paintings and Robert MacFarlane's intriguing "spells" combine in The Lost Words to make a book that is greater than the sum of its equally splendid parts. You would treasure a print of any of the pictures; you might memorize one of the clever acrostic verses (spells as MacFarlane punningly calls them) to chant against the evils of our days. Together with the book's size, depth of color printing, and lovely page design (including a set of puzzles that delight once you figure out what they are doing), they combine into a classic.
Throughout December, I treated myself to slowly working through Jackie Morris's Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow, which was as wonderful as I had hoped. Now with Christmas behind me, I am going through it again, and it's better than ever.
In a post at Folklore Thursday, Some Words about the Quiet Music, Morris tells how the book originated in designs for Christmas cards in support of Help Musicians UK and how the imagery led to stories. And not only hers: "The cards began to gather their own stories, connections made between those who sent them, received, later found cards."
An author may collaborate with an artist to produce a book (see my previous post on L. Frank Baum and W. W. Denslow). Authors who also draw or paint as amateurs may produce illustrations either skillful enough or charming enough to be used by their publishers (e.g., J. R. R. Tolkien and Arthur Ransome). It's something altogether different, however, when an accomplished artist uses sketches and drawings as part of the process of writing a novel. I'm thinking of Mervyn Peake because I've just been reading his Gormenghast novels.
As a lover of illustrated books, I've been thinking about how their stories and pictures relate. Which has primacy, the text or the illustration? One quick criterion: the text is likely to be supreme if it has been illustrated by more than one artist—even if the original illustrator worked closely with the author.
Take the example of L. Frank Baum and W. W. Denslow. They worked as a team on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and held joint copyright. An article in the online Public Domain Review, which publishes a selection of pages from that first edition, shows just how delightfully successful they were in blending story, picture, and page design. The edition I grew up with had a set of illustrations by Eveyln Copelman, which were commissioned by Bobbs Merrill after World War II to take advantage of the popularity of the Judy Garland movie. Even as a child, although I loved the book, I wasn't that crazy about these pictures.
Blog post alert: Herminie Waternau (1862–1913) would be an almost exact contemporary of my character Jeanette in Where the Light Falls. Her courtyard study shown here was made in 1908, the year in which my work-in-(very slow)-progress about Jeanette's sister Mattie is set. You can understand why I was fascinated to learn about her this morning! Four of her Parisian pictures illustrate James Gurney's post on 100,000 high-resolution images newly released by Paris museums. Check out Gurney, check out Waternau's Paris.
Blog post alert: Another scale model! This one from 1932 of a London hospital. As a bonus, all the images at the History Blog's World's largest medical galleries open at London's Science Museum can be greatly enlarged. Click on the pediatric ward here, for instance, and then click again for a high-rez image of marvellous, story-telling tiles on the walls. Again, useful for historical fiction writers.
Blog post alert: An illustrated Spitalsfield Life post on rediscovered dioramas of Petticoat Lane will delight anyone who loves scale models, dollhouses, miniatures, and such. They can also give valuable visual clues to historical fiction writers. Enjoy!