Reflecting on 2018 and a Giveaway!

Reflection is always valuable, but the end of the year provides the perfect excuse to pause and reflect on one’s achievements and mess-ups with a view to planning for the year ahead. My husband calls it ‘scheming and dreaming’ and it’s one of my favourite things to do.

First, though, a look back on 2018. It’s been a good year for me writing-wise. Although the first half of the year didn’t yield many publishing credits the pieces that were accepted I was incredibly proud of, and it felt great to be part of the publications: Bonnie’s Crew – a fundraising poetry anthology edited by the amazing Kate Garrett – and Café Stories: The Dinesh Allirajah Prize for Short Fiction 2018. Dinesh sounds to have been an incredible man and I’m ever so grateful to Comma Press for introducing me to his writing.

In the last half of the year I also achieved some ‘firsts’: having a poem being published in Prole (which I’ve tried to get into a fair few times) as well as receiving my first pro payment for a speculative fiction story (‘The Green Man’ in Reckoning). Two other firsts were writing some science fiction poetry and seeing it published in Multiverse, as well as having my short story ‘ATU334 the Wise’ be featured in a podcast created by Shoreline of Infinity. There’s something very special about hearing a great narrator read your story (and knowing that other people are actually listening to it!). An article about small press publishing in Mslexia was another wonderful first. Publication in Atrium, I Am Not A Silent Poet and Zoomorphic (with a strange short fiction piece about jellyfish which I thought no one would ever publish) were also highlights.

 

Created during Inktober 2018

 

Having my essay ‘The Darkness Within, The Darkness Without’ win the short non-fiction category in the 2018 Nottingham Writers’ Studio Awards was pretty special too, and it made me brave enough to think that just maybe I could write more non-fiction about fairy tales. So off I went to offer an essay on one of my favourite fairy tales – ‘Bluebeard’ – to Luna Press Publishing for their Evolution of Evil in Fantasy and Science Fiction collection. I have to admit that I found the 3000+ word essay a real challenge as I haven’t written in an academic style for a LONG time. And in the course of writing the essay I wrote a ‘Bluebeard’-inspired short story (about 3000 words long) which I had super fun writing. The story took me a couple of hours over the course of a couple of days to write. The essay took me an hour or two every day for almost 6 weeks. A reminder to myself: fiction is easier to write than academic prose!

Amidst all this short story writing and academic writing (as well as all the work I do for my press) was the creation of a novella and the start of a non-fiction book. Now, the novella is finished but my editor-extraordinaire husband says it needs rewriting (he’s right, it does) and that perhaps I could explore some of the themes in more detail (I can, and I want to). But it does rather mean that the novella would then turn into a novel, which is something that I can’t commit to right now. The non-fiction book is interesting too…. Because at the last moment I decided to enter it into a prize thingy. Then it turned out to have been shortlisted (with some agent interest in it). I found out about it one Friday evening in the middle of cooking burgers for our dinner. I almost burnt the burgers whilst busy doing an impression of Galadriel from Lord of the Rings when offered the one ring by Frodo.

 

 

Me: (Addressing the astonished cat.) “You offer me your interest freely. I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this. (Arms slowly being raised while my hair floats about my face majestically.) In place of a dark lord/career author you would have a queen of prose! Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the dawn, treacherous as the sea. Stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love my books and despair!”

The cat fled, terrified, and thankfully I passed the test, calmed down a bit and rescued the burgers from setting on fire. Phew! The upshot of all this craziness is that the agent is still interested in the book but she needs to see a lot more of it. So, in 2019 I really need to get my non-fiction hat back on and to get typing! (Though the first thing I’ll have to do in January is my tax return. Damn it…!)

Lastly, taking part in #100DaysofWriting was a big help – I don’t think I would’ve written quite as much if it wasn’t for the incentive to write something every day, hence ensuring that each writing project trundled that bit further along to completion.

What are your plans for 2019? I’d love to hear about them. And if you leave a comment below I’ll enter you in my (somewhat belated) 6 year blogging anniversary giveaway in which I’m giving away these 3 goodies. 🙂

 

Goodies galore!

 

The giveaway will run until midnight GMT on Sunday 27th January 2019 and I’ll announce the winners shortly afterwards. (This offer is open to anyone living in any country, but if someone outside the UK does win, a contribution toward postage would be appreciated.)

Whatever your plans for the year ahead I wish you a very happy, healthy and creative 2019!

 

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The Art of Faerie


Welcome to ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ Carnival

This post was written especially for inclusion in ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of their latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience: The Forgotten and the Fantastical. Today our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘Fairy tales’.

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.
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When Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales was published I remember reading snippets of arguments/discussions online as to whether there should have been illustrations within it.

In an interview, Philip Pullman stated:

“I don’t think illustrations tell the right kind of story or add the right kind of atmosphere.

Illustrators typically turn them (the characters) into people – I don’t think they are people, I think they’re masks.

There’s no psychology in a fairytale. You don’t need to go into people’s back stories and talk about motives. Looking at other people’s adaptations, I realised what I’d like is a very swift telling that doesn’t clutter it up with description.”

Well… being a big fan of Women Who Run With The Wolves I think there’s a strong case for there being a huge amount of psychology in a fairy tale – but I guess that what Philip Pullman means is that, in general, the characters of fairy tales are stereotypes. They need to be pretty ‘flat’ so that the pacing of the story isn’t hindered by time spent exploring the character’s history or thoughts or feelings. They merely act so that the story can rattle along and impart its truths to us. Important things like:

Forests can be dangerous places if you’re in them all alone.

Never trust a stranger who is that little bit too interested in you.

Trust in your own gut instinct.

Another reason, I think, that the characters have little depth to them is so that we, as a reader, can add our own personalities to them. We give the characters our own feelings and thoughts and histories… and if we’re lucky, and not constantly immersed in the saccharine sweet reinterpretations of some of the tales, we can take away powerful emotional truths and find comfort therein.

But, but, but…

I have to (in part) disagree with Philip Pullman! Because, for me, the illustrations of some of these tales have absolutely bedded themselves deep in my memory, and I think that the best artists, the best illustrators absolutely DO “tell the right kind of story” and “add the right kind of atmosphere.” (Arthur Rackham surely being one of the best fairy tale illustrators ever.)

Grimms' Tales, illustration by Arthur Rackham

Grimms’ Tales, illustration by Arthur Rackham

Many of the Grimms’ tales are so very well-known and well-loved, and yet who can actually reliably remember and quote from the Grimms’ tales word for word? My point is that the actual words don’t matter so much, (these tales aren’t considered to be great literary works), they are simply ABOUT THE STORY. Stories take root in our minds… as do images.

I still have very fond memories of reading these books as a child. Now, I read them to my children and I’ve noticed that my daughter, in particular, loves the pictures, just as I did.

My old fairy tale books

My old fairy tale books

The pictures within these books really are somehow magical. I particularly love the quirky style of the Russian version of Cinderella. I was clearly so impressed by it as a little girl that I drew my own version of the Russian Cinderella (I found it only the other day still tucked into the book!).

Russian Cinderella

Russian Cinderella

I have always loved art, and I believe that these fairy tale images imparted in me a love of art and fine illustration. They inspired me to draw, to paint… and then of course I became all grown up and started putting up hurdles to creating (although, admittedly I wasn’t particularly encouraged by teachers). I remember walking around Tate Britain with my future husband years ago and being deeply moved by the amazing paintings of faeries and knights and other fantastical beings on show in their special pre-Raphaelite exhibition. I understood that I could never, ever, do anything as good as them. It just wasn’t a possibility.

The Dead Knight, by Robert Bateman

The Dead Knight, by Robert Bateman

Spirit of the Night by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Spirit of the Night, by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Many, many years later though, my children helped me to reawaken my passion for creating with paint and pencil. Being that bit older (and surely, wiser) I realized that I had to put in the time to make my art better. And so I began to put in the time.

One of the best things about learning to draw and paint nowadays is that students of art have the amazing resource that is YouTube. A while ago I was searching for a tutorial on how to paint a face in watercolour and I found something I was blown away by…

The music, by the way, is by the amazing Green Children. I watched this video so often that I asked for their CD ‘Strange Encounter’ for Christmas. It’s now a firm family favourite.

We were all intrigued by the name of the band and my husband discovered that it was from an old English folk tale ‘The Green Children of Woolpit’. It does have a rather sad ending, but it’s maybe something that I may put my own spin on one day…

As I practised my art I realized that some of my paintings had become successful enough to be put “out there” and my ‘Lady Seaweed’ on the front cover of The Forgotten and the Fantastical was one of those more “successful” pictures. As I wrote in the book about my story ‘Lady Seaweed’ or ‘Tristesse’:

“I painted the woman who graces the front cover of this book in one of those subconsciously-driven moments of creativity.”

Basically, I was doodling and having fun while listening to music and there was no pressure to create something perfect. Surely that’s where all art has to start from — the idea of creating as a joyful process.

So nowadays, one of my favourite family activities is listening to The Green Children’s ‘Strange Encounter’ while we either paint or doodle or draw. (I simply ignore the fact that the dishwasher needs unloading!)

A while ago I became a fan of The Green Children on Facebook, and I discovered that they’re working on another album (their third I think) and they posted that they were keeping themselves inspired in the studio by surrounding themselves with beautiful works of art. This was one of those pieces:

Arthur Rackham illustration of 'The Old Woman of the Forest' from the original book of Grimms' fairy tales

Arthur Rackham illustration of ‘The Old Woman of the Forest’ from the Grimms’ fairy tales

And so we have come full circle to the Brothers Grimm and Arthur Rackham, and the power of images (as well as story) to capture our imaginations.


***

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2015 book cover

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2015 book cover

The Forgotten and the Fantastical is now available to buy from The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) and as a paperback from Amazon.

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

Any comments on the following fab posts would be much appreciated:

In ‘Imagination is quantum ergo fairies are real’, Ana, at Colouring Outside the Lines, explains why we should all believe in fairies and encourage our children to do the same.

‘Wings’ — Rebecca at Growing a Girl Against the Grain shares a poem about her daughter and explains the fairy tale-esque way in which her name was chosen.

In ‘Red Riding Hood Reimagined’ author Rebecca Ann Smith shares her poem ‘Grandma’.

Writer Clare Cooper explores the messages the hit movie Frozen offers to our daughters about women’s experiences of love and power in her Beautiful Beginnings blog post ‘Frozen: Princesses, power and exploring the sacred feminine.’

‘Changing Fairy Tales’ — Helen at Young Middle Age explains how having young children has given her a new caution about fairy tales.

In ‘The Art of Faerie’ Marija Smits waxes lyrical about fairy tale illustrations.

‘The Origins of The Forgotten and the Fantastical — Teika Bellamy shares her introduction from the latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience published by Mother’s Milk Books.