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.
Picturing a World
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!
Blog post alert: Escape to Epping Forest! Admire the Eeyore huts built by local inhabitants. No point except it's lovely (and, of course, just might inspire a story). Via Spitalfields Life (and thank you).
… plus c'est la même chose. Via the Indiana History Blog.
Yea! Shaun Tan, the wonderful, original, astonishing artist who is also a wonderful, original, astonishing writer, has won the Kate Greenaway medal. It's hard for me to say which of his books is my favorite—maybe Tales from Outer Suburbia, maybe Rules of Summer, two picture books that capture the wackiness of childhood and modern life. I also love The Singing Bones, retellings of Grimms' fairy tales with Tan's odd sculptures to illustrate them. And now Tales from the Inner City, deeply strange and incisive. I pre-ordered it and read it slowly when it came out, a story at a time. Each leaves you saying, "Oh," softly, sadly, a little ashamed to be human, but grateful to the more-than-human world for being and to Tan for expanding your perception of it. For more about the award, click here.
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.
Main Street Rag Publishing has just brought out a new chapbook of poems, How to Prepare Escargots, by my old friend, Elaine Fowler Palencia. No one is better than Elaine at turning quietly homely images into startling, sometimes explosive, insights. To illustrate the point, here is a poem that brilliantly fits the theme of this blog in ways I would never have come up with myself.
1. Writing Fiction
Lay out your tools:
a plastic spatula, a dinner fork.
It doesn't matter.
Throw away your watch.
Start building your house
from the roof down.
A post, Undine Love: Reprint, new art, at Kathleen Jennings' blog took me to the reprint of her story, "Undine Love," in full at Tor. What a treat—both the story and the silhouettes! They are a reminder that updating a fairy tale or folkloric motif can be a great way to begin a story of your own. The backbone of plot comes essentially ready-made, leaving you free to work on other aspects of composition—setting, character, dialogue, incidents (as opposed to the underlying structure). The talent to illustrate would be a big bonus—and might just affect the tone and finished piece. Wish I had the talent and the training!
Blog post alert: For those of us still self-isolating at home, the excuse for an occasional ride through the countryside is welcome. Also always welcome to me: discovery of a new artist contemporary to Jeanette! In this case, check out Mildred Anne Butler (1858–1941), via GurneyJourney.
I think we can all agree that one of the saddest things about the current pandemic is the way it has forced children into isolation. Worse things than being cheated of graduation exercises can happen to teenagers; but for younger children to be cheated of grandparents and playmates? That's worrisome for their psychological future. Strange how we bring our preoccupations to looking at images. I think I would always have loved the way this little girl, held in by the fence, looks out at us. At another time, I might have related it to feminist concerns or formalist art-history observations on Morisot's technique. Now it seems somehow emblematic of summer 2020, even for the privileged few. Beautiful, potent, rueful.
Image via Art and Artists.