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Picturing a World

Queen Elizabeth I and a book

Blog post alert: Isn't this a great portrait of the princess who would become Queen Elizabeth? I love the jewelry, the damask, the gold braid, her natural coloring (no white lead paint!), and especially her holding her place in a book with a finger. Of course, it's posed; but in a story, that last touch could be such a good hint in characterizing a particular kind of person when she is interrupted. The image comes from a British Library post, Portraits of Elizabeth I, about a current exhibition.

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Treacle Walker

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.

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Yarn Tarot by Grace Ponder

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.

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Spectrum of persuasion

This month, my library book club is reading What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad. When I picked up my copy, the librarian told me she had asked four different people what happened at the end and received four different answers. After reading the novel, I can see why. We sometimes send around questions ahead of time, so this month I did and led off with one about genre. I think it's helpful in evaluating other books, too, or even thinking about our own writing.

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Ego boost

Cathy Salter, News from Boomerang Creek (2015)

When when your novel has slipped onto the remaindered tables and then into obscurity, you still hope that it found a few readers who recognized what it was about and valued it. What a joy, therefore, for me to run across Cathy Salter's's post from last spring, Notes From Boomerang Creek: Where the light falls. Even though we are now at the beginning of autumn, I can't resist quoting her concluding paragraphs.

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Clearing the Clutter (6): Angel, goddess, or dangerous lady?

I had labeled this image, saved from a medieval moraized Ovid, as "Teeth in open mouth" because depictions of teeth are rare. What interests me now, however, is the expressions on the faces. At first glance, the wings seem to say "angels." But the lady is clearly up to no good, and the young man seems uneasy despite his crown.

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Clearing the Clutter (4): Writer in library

 
Oddly enough, I remembered this watercolor as "Lady Pole in Her Library." Nope, the artist was Thomas Pole, an American transplant to Bristol, England, a doctor and Quaker preacher—no titled lady involved. Still, you know me: it's all about using images to prompt story ideas. And quiet as it is, In the Library has some suggestive clues.

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Clearing the Clutter (2) Farm plan

Another image I have run across as I review my files is this one from Farm Crops in Britain. I love models and diagrams and illustrations that can help me visualize settings within a story. This page, for instance, is packed with information about walls and buildings and activities for a farm in stony country. I tucked it away for reference; but in addition, Stanley Roy Badmin was a pleasant illustrator and landscape artist. I'm glad I discovered him—and have now rediscovered him!

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Motivation

I have now visited the Nikolai Astrup: Visions of Norway show at the Clark twice, once with no prior preparation and once after reading the catalogue. To prepare for a third visit, I have begun reading Pavel Machotka's Cézanne: Landscape into Art in hopes of discovering useful ways of thinking about the paintings; for Astrup's deeply felt response to his native landscape remind me of Cezanne's. What Machotka unexpectedly gave me, too, was a way of thinking about a story I've been working on.

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Faiyum face

Having finished a rough draft of my time-travel story, I've decided to press on with another idea in a genre new to me, set in a dystopian near future. At this stage, while I'm trying to bring my main characters into focus. Suddenly, in a blog post on a Gold necklace found in Roman baths in Bulgaria, up comes this face, a Faiyum portrait in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland.

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