Blog post alerts: Two recent posts set me thinking about the exercises and games creative people use to hone their skills or explore their art. The first is The Wiggle Game, which illustrates a parlor game played by painters in Old Lyme, Connecticut: One would draw a set of random squiggles for the others to expand into pictures. The second is Tropes to Taste, which explores an exercise for altering worn-out devices and descriptions in fiction. Personally, I have never carried out such mechanical exercises in any sustained way, but I love reading about them. And I love Stillwater and Koo on the endpapers of Jon J. Muth's Zen Ties!
Picturing a World
Artist Karrie Fransman and her husband, IT guy Jonathan Plackett, collaborated on Gender Swapped Fairy Tales. He devised an algorithm to swap the genders of characters in fairy tales. She illustrated the results. To learn how two creative people work together, check out the video at the link above. It's charming and just might stimulate your own work.
The Billingford Hutch is an oaken chest in the Parker Library at Corpus Christ College, Cambridge, which was used to store collateral for student loans in the 14th C. It has three locks, each decorated with a motif that was inexplicable to the curators until a chance visitor identified it as moonwort—an herb which according to folklore can unlock locks and unshoe horses and which also figures in alchemy. Isn't all of a rich potential for inspiring stories?
Hamlet muses, "I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams." But what about good dreams? A History Blog post on a 16th C prayer bead prompts the question, How could a two-inch sphere that opens to an intricately carved interior be used in a story?
This striking double portrait caught my attention mostly because it's beautiful, but I lingered over it because it falls in the period of my work-in-very-slow-progress, "Anonymity." I checked, and, sure enough, Edmund Charles Tarbell (1862–1938) was an almost exact of the real Jeanette Smith whose story prompted my delve into the experience of women art students in Paris. (Surprise, surprise! Tarbell also studied at the Académie Julian.)
An article in the Guardian about the inner lives of dogs includes an observation on "the theory that all mammal brains share seven primary emotional systems: fear, rage, lust, 'seeking,' panic/grief, care, and play." Sort of like the Seven Deadly Sins for the 21st C? There certainly seems to be a human proclivity to list things in sevens; and it might be interesting to try to write a series of stories, each to illustrate one of these seven basic emotions (or those from another list). Perhaps with an animal in each!
Image via The British Library
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.
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.
Blog post alert: Something I would never have thought of: jotting down quick sketches—graphic or verbal—of what you see in the background while watching television series. Kathleen Jennings did. Read her post on TV Sketching—Backgrounds. Then try it!