A look at Christmas ghost stories this year somehow sent me to Tales of Moonlight and Rain by the 18th C Japanese master, Ueda Akinari. In his introduction, the translator, Anthony H. Chambers draws on an analysis of Chinese stories about anomalies—the weird, the uncanny, the ghostly—to derive a typical structure for Akinari's tales (see pp. 22–24). Following it step by step can turn into a dandy writing exercise.
Picturing a World
With snow on the ground out my window on this first Sunday in Advent and first day of Hanukkah, I'm ready to consider today the onset of winter—even if the Solstice is still more than three weeks away. Besides, it gives me a chance to celebrate the illustrations of Danielle Barlow. Let's be grateful for whatever sustains us in these troubled times!
Image via Myth and Moor
Blog post alert: In the midst of my annual rereading of Greer Gilman's Moonwise and while I'm writing a short story about an artists' collective, along comes Bloomsbury Jamboree 2021 at Spitalsfield Life. Wonderful! It will certainly make you wish you could go to London and may give you ideas for your own holiday crafts or artistic ambitions. (And if you read Moonwise, you will know why I call Matilda Moreton's bowls Cloud Bowls.)
The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow is full of interesting discoveries and arguments. One idea grabbed my attention. Neuroscience, they say, seems to show that self-aware thoughts on a problem generally last about seven seconds. "[T]he great exception to this is when we're talking to someone else. In conversation, we can hold thoughts and reflect on problems for hours on end" (p. 94). Graeber and Wengrow point out that many ancient philosophers framed their writings as dialogue. I would add, think how often writers have written as though there were a devil and an angel or two sides of personality arguing with each other when they want to depict a mental struggle. The device can seem contrived, but maybe it arises out of more than convention.
The news that at eighty-seven Alan Garner has just published another novel—Treacle Walker—is reason enough to celebrate. No surprise: it's superb. As always, Garner's prose has the compactness, rhythms, and multilayered power of poetry. His imagination is vivid and odd. And it's all rooted in the part of Cheshire where he grew up and has lived almost all his life. Another reason to celebrate: he has made a gorgeous promotional video that shows the house in which the story is set, a copse that plays a part in it, and three talismanic objects.
Website alert: Attention art lovers and historical novelists: Essential Vermeer has links to all sorts of illustrated articles about topics such as Vermeer's palette, his paintings in their frames, music during his time, sources on the web of high-resolution images of his works, and much, much more. If you want to learn about the artist, his family, and his society, start here!
Image via Wikipedia.
The reward of blog-crawling on a rainy day was a post on "Harlequin Foods" at Victorian Paris. I knew that "pot-luck" soups were sold by street vendors to the poor, but get this: There was an entire trade in leftovers or rogatons from the kitchens of palaces, noble houses, fine hotels, embassies, and so on. The cook or the footman sold them to a vendor or reseller who came to the back door, and they began a journey of sorting and distribution until they reached a stall in Les Halles, where they might end up on a patchwork plate of mixed scraps more or less artfully arranged. In that form, they were called arlequins, probably because their patchwork appearance resembled the costume of the Commedia dell'arte character, Harlequin.
In the satirical medieval chantefable, Aucassin et Nicolette, the hero famously says he'd rather to go to hell where the handsome clerics, brave warriors, and lovely ladies go, than to heaven with dreary, ill-dressed, and pious. To my eye, the angels who manage to stay in heaven here look anxious, while the fallen are having a blast. Was there a touch of Aucassin in the artist, or do time and cultural distance make it hard to read expressions right?
Via Manuscript Art
A while back, Jackie Morris's otters on luggage tags gave me an idea for a story about a group of women artists working in a small city after a second pandemic. A time-travel story knocked it aside. Now, here comes Grace Ponder's deck of Yarn Tarot for Crocheters, Knitters, Spinners, and Weavers with the just the clue to jumpstart the neglected luggage-tag story again.
I was so taken with Chris Wormell's illustrations for Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, that I pre-ordered their new collaboration on Lyra's Oxford even though I treasure a first edition of the 2003 book with John Lawrence's woodcuts. The new one will be out soon. You can get a taste of it at Take a Look at Lyra's Oxford. Incidentally, The Artworks website looks like a source of inspiration for story ideas or details. More soon.