It's always a delight when a writer in a well-ploughed field comes up with an inventive twist. I think that's what happened when Liz Williams introduced her wose character, Hob, in Blackthorn Winter. Once upon a time Hob was human, but he has been transformed into an animated figure made of sticks and is being chased by otherworldly dogs. He reminds me of Charles Vess's illustrations of Charles de Lint's Apple Tree Man as well as corn dollies, the infamous Wicker Man, and, of course, woodwoses. Yet as far as I can tell, he is Williams' own contribution to the world of the folkloric imagination. If anyone knows of another analogue or origin, please leave a comment. Meanwhile, brava, Liz Williams!
Picturing a World
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!
Website alert: To supply a detail in a story, I was looking at images of street sellers in The Cries of London at the British Library. The playbill seller interested me, but I didn't see any way to download the page from the British Library site. A quick web search led me to this reproduction of the same plate at the Sound and History site—and, wow! all kinds of useful material for the historical novelist!
A review by Kate Macdonald sent me to my interlibrary loan catalogue and, sure enough, I could borrow Comet Weather by Liz Williams. So I did. I loved it and went back to search for its sequel, Blackthorn Winter. No go. I'd have to buy it. Hmm. There were two more titles in the Fallow Sisters series— I took a chance and bought all four. Am I ever glad!
Nikos Ghika is known to me largely as a close friend of Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose travel books are among the best ever written. In Tearing Haste, Fermor's correspondence with Deborah Devonshire, is on my bedside table now, and Ghika comes up in it from time. Ghika's own work is well worth exploring as in and of itself, but what captures me in Mystras is its stimulus to a writer's imagination.
Ottilia Adelborg (1855–1936) is another of the Scandinavian female artists who was an almost exact contemporary of the real (and the fictional!) Jeanette. She studied at the Swedish Royal Academy at the same time Jeanette was in Paris and may have studied in France later herself. She became a children's book writer and illustrator. The English-language edition of her Clean Peter is available online.
She also illustrated other writer's books, such as The Wonderful Adventure of Nils Holgersson by Selma Lagerlöf, for which this watercolor is a preliminary design. I haven't read the Lagerlöf book (which is available in a new translation), but this picture of a daydreaming boy and a tiny figure climbing out of the chest could suggest a story just by itself, don't you think? Or prompt a poem about the nature of imagination?
Website alert: At his instructional website Sight-Size, artist Darren Rousar has posted an article, Carolus-Duran's Methods, that provides historical context, a good summary of the topic, many illustrations, and a video. Duran's methods are well known, but it's good to see a demonstration. Furthermore, this self-portrait was new to me because it is privately owned. It was auctioned in 2018 by Bonham's, a reminder that galleries are a good source of images.
Letters to Camondo by Edmund de Waal, the July selection for my public library's book club, is a book about archives and memory, memorials and loss. I read it a first time with interest. A second reading to formulate discussion questions (see below) deepened my interest to admiration, sorrow, and gratitude.
It's the glasses. Dark glasses, no less! The medieval iconography of Moses with horns is goofy enough, but these spectacles are irresistible. The question is, What to do with the picture besides use it to expound an oddity in art history? Maybe let it provide a model for some imaginary wizard? I like the idea of substituting a goat's face for the man's.
Incidentally, the Hagenau Bible, from which the picture comes, also illustrates a moment in publishing history, the move into mass-produced books through a rationalized system within scriptoria. Might the head scribe of a magical scriptorium be a demon?
Anna Nordgren—another Scandinavian female artist who studied first at the Académie Julian and then with Carolus-Duran! She was in Paris at just the time the real Jeanette or my fictional character could have known her. She even exhibited at the Salon of 1879, which plays a part in Where the Light Falls. If I had known Lady in a Train Window when I was first researching the novel, I wonder how it might have shaped my imagination?