Sunday, August 20, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: ADAM BROWNE





It's been too long since we've visited fellow artists' precious things: the KSP Residency kept me away from all but the most basic blogging, and since I returned to the day job, the weight of work has been ramping up so that I've had very little time to myself for such things. Thankfully, the skies have cleared (I can't wait to tell you about The 18 Month Plan tm) and we have a chance to get back to business with one of Australian Speculative Fiction's most divine lunatics, the brilliantly unique Adam Browne.


For a start, Adam's more than a writer: he illustrates his own works, and they have titles like Pyrotechnicon: Being a True Account of the Further Adventures of Cyrano de Bergerac Among the States and Empires of the Stars, by Himself (dec'd) (a wonderful confectionery of a book I was proud to read pre-publishing), "Other Stories," and Other Stories, and his latest, The Tame Animals of Saturn. He has a tendency not to appear in major presses: such is often the fate of truly original voices, and Adam is truly original-- if you'd like further proof, my favourite of his short stories involves the soul of Michael Jackson being implanted into an immortal spaceship, and grooming a street urchin to travel the stars with him forever. And that's the easy version of the synopsis.

Spend five minutes at Adam's blog, luxuriate in the writing and drawings, then come back here to enjoy an insight into one of the most intriguing and fascinating writers Australian speculative fiction has ever produced.

220px-Adam_Browne2_(crop)


I was trying to think of the right book -- I liked this idea and wanted to do it justice - but I was floundering around, looking at my bookshelves, considering this and that - The Dictionary of Angels by Gustave Davidson was one - others by Borges - and so on.

Then I chanced on this -  this Puffin edition of Arthur C Clarke's Islands in the Sky. The illustration on the cover was what did it - my Madeline cake; bringing back all the sense impressions of that period of my childhood - the years of absorbing every bit of Clarke's pro space propaganda ... space, where it's clean, where there's none of the mufflement and mess of a suburban family life - where, for Clarke, he would be valued for his intelligence, and not scorned for his sexuality...


book



I was going to be an astronaut when I grew up... It took me too long to grow out of that.

Growing up should be a feeling of increased power and freedom but often it's the opposite. 

Now I still love SF, but I tend to favor the eastern European style, which is all 'wherever you go, there you are' in its themes - the real Frontier is us - that sort of thing- see Solaris, or Upon The Silver Globe - also, from the West, Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora - a masterpiece.

I'm still grateful to Clarke for his heartfelt and lucid writing - he was using SF as a means to an end, in which he sincerely believed - even if I don't believe in the same thing any more, I'm still fond of the man. It was only recently that I realised I used to think of him as a friend. And really, thinking about it, I realise that feeling hasn't gone away.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY THINKS DEATH IS FUNNY, OKAY? OKAY?



I'd watch the movie. That's all I'm saying. Unless it had Adam Sandler in it. That shit's worse than death. But other than that...



0162


"No, actually. I don't think it would be cool if we all lived in the same house like The Beatles did in that movie, okay?"

Monday, August 14, 2017

TEN TINY TIPS FOR TINY TYPISTS

As part of my recent Residency, I was asked to provide a list of 10 writing tips, to be reproduced in the Centre's newsletter.

What the hey: here they are, for you to argue over.

  1. Know what you want to achieve from each session: it’s easier to get words down if you know where you want your story to go.
  2. Set reasonable targets: don’t try to achieve something that puts you under pressure before you start. Better to set a moderate target and exceed it, than otherwise.
  3. Be disciplined: writing time can be minimal. When you have it, don’t get distracted by other things. When it’s time to write, write and only write.
  4. Be regular: you don’t have to write every day, but try to set aside time on a regular basis. 500 words, once a week is better than zero words every day.
  5. Embrace your weird: nobody thinks like you do. If your narrative starts to deviate, take a chance on your instincts and follow it. You might be tapping into that voice that is uniquely yours.
  6. Tell your story first: turn off your internal editor until the first draft is done. Only edit once you have the narrative written. Never start editing until the story is told.
  7. Forget the marketplace: don’t worry about where the story could be sold until it is complete. There will always be a market, but there’s never been one for unfinished stories.
  8. Ignore your surroundings: if you want to complete stories, train yourself to ignore everything around you while you are working. Whether it is the laundry, your spouse, or a cocktail by the beach, they can all wait until you’re finished your session.
  9. There is no perfect environment: the world is too busy, noisy, and fast-paced to wait until you have the perfect combination of circumstances in which to create. Learn to work while surrounded by noise; while on public transport; on a variety of recording media… whatever it takes to get words down wherever you are, whenever you’re there.
  10. Ignore your muse: the world does not care if you are a precious, fragile creative soul. The world cares only for your completed stories. Be a professional, working artist: fly if you can, grind them out if you have to, but accept that your words are the only currency that counts.

SOME FREE LEE TO READ WHILE THE ADS ARE ON

On a whim, I entered a competition for 50-word short stories last week. I didn't win, so I thought you might like a little bonus reading material for your day: here are my entries, for your reading pleasure.


ASCENSION
The fences were electrified. Designed to keep us from the world. Topped by razors. Patrolled by wolves. Governed by black eyes. Grass stopped at their edges. Water refused to flow. Inside, damnation. Outside, gun barrels. I closed my eyes. I gripped the wires. I burned. I climbed. I flew.


MOTHER CALLS
Mother calls. We answer, our voices muffled. We strayed from sight, and it is late. Home promises warmth, and rest, and love. We have strayed, and cannot find our way. Mother calls. We answer. The earth is cold. It fills our mouths and eyes. Mother calls, and calls, and calls.


THE ASSASSIN’S BENEDICTION
The bullet changes everything. You hear it before you feel it: a whistle that nature has never produced. Then a punch that turns the world upside down. And she’s gone. Your love. Exorcised. Nothing is ever the same. Your life is a ghost. That is my gift to you. Knowledge.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY SHOULD JUST SIT THERE AND THINK ABOUT WHAT IT'S DONE

I have no excuse.


0068

"Don't be embarrassed, darling. We know there are some things a man just can't ask his wife for."
Laughing at farts. Cooking like Mum used to. Understanding the offside rule. 

Thursday, August 03, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY IS PRETTY MUCH GUARANTEED TO GO TO HELL

I'm just going to leave this here without comment, other than to say this is probably my favourite one so far: I haven't seen it since I scanned it a few years ago, and it still made me cackle. 
Also, it's a perfect example of how comedy turns on the choice of a single word: in this case, it's 'rarely'.
0021
"This is a small town, Father Michael. The bitches in the house rarely go 'Ho'..."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY REALLY NEED TO ESCAPE ITS DAY JOB

I spent a long time working for the Tax Office. A long time. 
Possibly a day too long.
0012
"He says it actually did buy him happiness, but now he just leases happiness back to himself through a wholly-owned subsidiary at a net loss and negative gears it to maximise the tax benefits."

Friday, July 21, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: A KARASS OF CAREER TWISTS

Last week, I touched upon five people who have had a direct impact upon turning points in my career. This week, I thought it would be interesting to consider another five people who have had an impact: not on specific turning points, this time, but in a more general sense.

Here, then, are five people who are in my writing karass not because they intruded at a specific time or place, but because they diverted the course of my river gently, or persistently, or in ways that cannot be singularly identified.

Five for Friday: A Karass of Career Twists

Thursday, July 20, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY MIXES UP ITS CREATURES OF THE NIGHT

This one's more whimsical than funny, but I quite like it. After inheriting three teenagers, and growing one naturally (with one more to come), this thumbnail, done during my child-free years, feels rather prescient. 
Honestly, if I never have to remind another human being that they have to brush their teeth ever again......
0128
Dr Jones-- Psychiatrist
"Crosses, garlic, running water... although we can't tell if the last one
is because he's a vampire or just because he's a teenager...

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

LAST CHANCE TO SEE... THIS WEEK, ANYWAY. MOSTLY.



Just a quick reminder that the KSP Christmas in July Literary Dinner, featuring readings by me, is on tonight. More details, including booking information, at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre webpage.

Also, don't forget tomorrow night when, just like Billy Connolly or Ronnie Corbett, I have an Evening With!
 
An Evening with Lee Battersby takes place at Mundaring Library, and will feature me talking about writing as abstract art, the fearlessness of children readers, and possibly dishing out a little of Magrit or Ghost Tracks to prove my point. You can see more details on the Mundaring Library website or book through Eventbrite.

presentation
 
No stranger to a stage, me.
 
 

Monday, July 17, 2017

HALFWAY... PLUS A BIT... PLUS A BIT...





Well, I missed posting last night, because I was out gorging myself on a brilliant Indian dinner at a restaurant with the 2017 KSP Fellows and Residents Group-- the life of a writer is a hard and dismal one, no?-- so I missed posting an update.


Dinner

They let me out in public, in the company of nice people. It's like they don't even know me.


Needless to say, I'm pushing on, and rediscovering some long-unused writing muscles into the bargain.

I've mentioned before that my day job has a habit of eating my life: it's high-stress, can require me to work extended hours and extended weeks (I have, in the past, worked 21-day weeks), and generally dominates so much of my time and thinking that personal tasks, hobbies, and sometimes the simply act of being just me (as opposed to the team leader, the City representative, the community punching bag...) gets discarded and forgotten.

This goes doubly for writing. By the time I've worked a long day, de-stressed, spent time with my family, and contributed my share to the domestic tasks required just to keep a family of four on the go, I'm in no shape to write. Or if I am, it is simply a damn sight easier to put it down when I reach a problem point than it is to subject myself to working at the task-- if writing isn't a joy, why am I doing it when I have such a short window for joy each day in the first place? As a result, I've slowly become a flabby writer, a lazy writer, a writer who would much rather be doing anything else than working out my skills and maintaining my authorial muscle tone.

Here, I don't have that luxury. I'm here solely for the purpose of writing, and rediscovering a sense of graft and discipline has been a priority.

These last couple of days, I've reached the end of my plot vision-- that small section of narrative that I can see beyond where I stand each morning-- where Ghost Tracks is concerned. The words have not flowed as easily, because I haven't had a clear vision of where they are heading, and I've lost trust in my ability to wing my forward and make everything work. I've had to sharpen my critical faculties, so that I could provide a mentoring session to an aspiring author and give meaningful and useful advice and critique.  And I've finished the one short story I had set up, and am having to rediscover how to crash research into a short period of time so that I can get back to the desk and get a word count down.

These are skills I'd let slip, and have had to push myself to rediscover. I've managed to maintain my self-appointed target of 2000 Ghost Tracks words, taking the overall total past 28,000, but it's been hard, and rewarding for that hardness.

I have a tendency to view myself, as a writer, the same way I viewed working as an improvisational comedian: spontaneously drawing upon my creativity and instinctively dipping into a well of material and references quickly enough to skate across any surface. What I had forgotten is that such an approach requires the most stringent, through, and extended preparation: what you see when I fling words out effortlessly is the quick flash of the moment, but it's the two decades of discipline and training that you don't see that enables me to do it.

It's the discipline and training I've let slip.

So this past week has been good for me. I've been forced to work, and then work beyond where lazy habit has taken me. And I have no excuses, no reason to turn away when things get difficult. I am serving an obligation, one I gave to the Centre, and to Luscious, and to myself: to be a writer, in the most professional, productive sense of the word. I'm in fight camp, and it's fantastic.

The next trick, of course, will be to maintain this discipline when I get back to the World, and that self-same stressful job that lurks just beyond next weekend with its smile full of sharp teeth. But for now the writing is the right type of work, the kind where you know the pain in your muscles is because you're building muscle mass, and you're going to come out of it the other side lean, and hard, and buff as fuck.


arnie

Id vuzz a dahk und stormeh nahht....

THIS IS THE BEST THING I WILL SEE ALL DAY

I could just watch this over, and over. 


Saturday, July 15, 2017

DAY SIX: NUMBERS FOR BETTER LIVING



Anybody who thinks numbers aren't beautiful has never been a writer. As much as I have a love of mathematics (much like I have a love of boxing: I'm not much cop at anything beyond the basics, but by God, I love what the form can do), it's the rise in pure numbers that gets my authorial mind smiling.

Let me show you. As of the close of business today:
  • 6700 words on Ghost Tracks, taking the text from 17,500 to a shade over 24,100.
  • 3000 words on Song of the Water, equalling 1 complete short story, taking the proposed collection to, in a beautiful piece of symmetry, a shade over 24,100.
  • 300 words on The Ballad of Arthur Williams.
Equalling 10,000 words since I arrived here.

See? Isn't lovely? Doesn't that make you smile? Because it make me grin like a freaking loon.

The other thing that made me smile like a loon today was my family deciding I needed to be taken out for dinner, and driving all the way here to pick me up and take me out. I'm loving this small taste of the life I want to live-- writing full-time; advancing projects on a daily basis; drinking up the solitary, reflective life of an artist-- but it means nothing without the love and support of those I love, and I've been missing them terribly. Everything I do, everything I sacrifice, everything I undertake: without them, it's ashes.

It's a small thing: a meal together, some laughs and togetherness. But it gives me the motivation to keep going and do them proud.


Batts.jpg

They followed me home. Can I keep them?

Friday, July 14, 2017

DAY FIVE AND STAGES THREE



A simple day, today. After the social butterflying and story completion of yesterday, it was time for a return to the word mines, and an attempt to get some serious traction on Ghost Tracks.

Having spent the last 4 days staring out at the same view, I decided to pack up my computer and head into the nearby town of Midland to write, just for the change of scenery. It worked: I managed 2500 words, and shaped up the next part of the narrative, so that the next day or two of writing should come as easily as today's.

That represents an important turning point for me: I'm not a plotter, which means that I rarely have more than a general sense of where I'm going in the short term. I usually know where I want to end up-- I have the ending of this novel all sewn up, for example-- but the details of the journey are often only discovered very shortly before the characters find out. In loose terms, my writing comes to me in three stages:
  1. The big picture: I've got a story to tell. I know how it begins ( A boy derails a ghost train, and has to travel to the ghost world to make amends). I know how it ends (Oh, it's so good. It's so great. You didn't think I'd actually tell you here, did you? ;)  ). I know the overarching reason behind the narrative (There's this [REDACTED] named [REDACTED] , and s/he wants to [REDACTED] by[REDACTED] a  [REDACTED]). And that's pretty much it.                                                                    
  2. The lilypads: like a frog trying to cross the Great Lakes, I know where I'm sitting. I can see maybe one, maybe two actions ahead. I know the lake is freaking enormous. I'm trusting that there are enough lilypads to get me across. before this morning, I'd written roughly a third of the novel. Paul, my protagonist, and Aoife, his sidekick, had escaped the first major set piece of the story, and had reached a surprise location. I know I want them to reach a completely different location by the time the novel turns towards the climax. How they get there, not so much.                                                                                                                                                 
  3. The details: all the fun bits to write, like dialogue, and new characters, and the bricks that make the wall that make the tower. Two days ago, did I know there would be a monster? And a family of abandoned children who lived in a cubby house they'd built from their memories? And that the monster would prove to be not a monster at all, but possibly the biggest victim in the whole book? Nope, nope, and uh-uh. But this is the fun thing, for me: the discoveries I make along the way. the surprises and magical moments where my subconscious tape me on the shoulder, and says "Hey, Rocky..." 
Rocky-Bullwinkle

And as we all know, the fun lies in the fact that it's never a rabbit. 

Yesterday, one of my junior interrogators asked me whether I wrote books so that I could read exactly the kinds of books I wanted to read. And the answer is yes, because I experience the excitement and wonder that a reader does, at pretty much exactly the same time. If I planned everything out, I'd already know, and what would be the point of writing it out?

Today was a good day, with excitement, and danger, and really cool things. Tomorrow? Who knows? But half the fun is getting there.

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: A KARASS OF TURNING POINTS

As much as I'm a died-in-blood-on-the-wool-of-the-lamb-that-lay-down-with-the-lion atheist, I've always had a bit of a leaning towards the fictional cult of Bokononism that Kurt Vonnegut espoused in my favourite of his novels, Cat's Cradle. It's a harmless creed of self-gratification, based around the tenet that you should believe the lies that make you happiest, and discard those fabricated, societal lies-- say, for example, family, government, or honour-- that cause you misery or harm.

My birth family imploded badly during the 1980s -- and my own growth has shown me what a flawed, deeply unhappy accidental grouping it was -- so the novel struck a cord when I first read it. Of particular attraction, and something I've held to ever since, was the notion of the karass-- a group of people linked by common affect or circumstance, for good or ill, even if they do not know it. The girl to whom I lost my virginity: part of my karass. The doctor who killed my first wife: likewise. The teacher who first noted my talent for writing and helped turn me away from the military and towards a life in the arts: you get the idea.

It is not the link forged by societal expectation that counts. It is the link forged by the effect upon my journey that is the strongest.

So what does all this post-pop-psychology-posturing have to do with anything?

One of the main tasks associated with my current KSP writing residency is to provide a mentoring session to an aspiring artist. I don't mentor as often as I used to. As I get older and my career gets more complicated, I find myself less and less sure about what I have to offer others, outside of straight writing advice. I'm less of an example, and more of an example of mistakes to avoid......
However, it does strike me as a timely opportunity to acknowledge five people who have provided important turning points in my career. Whether they know it or not, and whether they want it or not, they are-- inextricably-- members of my writing karass

Five for Friday: Members of my Writing Karass.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

DAY FOUR: ONE DOWN...... A DIFFERENT ONE DOWN......







It was a day of achievement today: after kissing Luscious goodbye (there are advantages to undertaking a residency within driving distance of home- a visit from your wonderful wife is one of them), I embarked upon my first engagement of the fortnight-- a forty-five minute interview by the participants of the KSP Press Club, led by my old pal and fellow author Melinda Tognini.


Press Club table.jpg
My press desk. How cool is that?

For an hour I was grilled by a merciless team of flint-eyed investigate reporters about my literary influences, whether ideas drawn from real life or fiction are more worthy, and exactly which iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy was my favourite (What can I say? Two comic book geeks in a room: we bonded...)

Press Club.jpg

Don't let those adorable smiles fool you. Gimlet-eyed journalistic assassins, one and all!

One of my greatest joys as a writer is working with kids-- with so many other, easier forms of entertainment available to them, you know that any kids who takes the time and effort to become involved in literature is there because s/he absolutely loves the stuff. That passion is palpable, and the questions and interests they reveal are usually fearless, and incredibly insightful. This was no different, and in the end, I had to be gently reminded that everybody had other things to get on with today, or I'd still be there, now.  And still comparing Yondu Udonta to Charlie 27, and explaining how chicken's eyes work. It was that kind of session...

Once I'd reluctantly retreated to my cabin, I turned my attention to Song of the Water. There's a point in every story where you can feel that the narrative has reached the final turn, and is beginning to sniff out the end. I hit that point with this story late yesterday, and was able to bring it in to a conclusion at a slice over 3000 words. It was my only writing of the day, so to be able to conclude something was reward for not moving on to more Ghost Tracks words. Tomorrow. In the meantime, there was just enough time to get the first words down on the next story, and a character I've been fascinated with for years.

Deeming

From pages recovered from a fire in the office of Colonel Bull, Governor, Melbourne Gaol, 24 May 1892.

They called me mad, and I called me mad, and damn us, we were all correct.

The Ballad of Albert Williams will focus on the compelling Frederick Bailey Deeming. One day I will write a biography of the man, but for now, tomorrow will involve furthering the action of Ghost Tracks, and diving into my research materials to thread out the narrative of this alluring lunatic.
Until then, a completed story means beery reward and boxing videos: time for me to explore the career of The Prince, Naseem Hamed.


beer
REWARD, PLEASE!

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY HAD TO BE THERE

Okay, so they're storming the castle, and the defenders are pouring hot.... oil?.... and there's a drunk guy.... and he wants a cold.... oil?......
You know, sometimes, I look back at these scratchings made ten or more years ago, and I think "Wow, I could have made something of myself, if I'd just pushed at it. I can see where it all could have fit together." And sometimes, well...... this.
No. I have no idea what I was thinking. I really, really don't.

0204
" 'Ave you got a cold one?"

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

DAY THREE AND FREE LEE



Day three of my residency, and apart from taking my work past a couple of notable milestones-- Song of the Water passing 2000 words and Ghost Tracks cresting 20,000-- today was notable for the appearance of a surprise guest.

There's long been a rumour of a ghost here at the Centre, and sitting alone in a perfectly silent chalet in the depths of the rolling gardens is a perfect situation for a lonely ghost to come silently through the walls and hang in the space between the door and the desk, staring through you into the depths of a million alternative realities.

Still, ghosts are utter bollocks that are only believed by tiny children and the utterly gullible, so it was a lovely surprise when Luscious rang me and asked if I fancied meeting up for lunch.

I might be up here by myself, but she is also flying solo this week, as the kids are at their grandmother's for the last week of the school holidays. She's happily having some me-time to get through some writing tasks, engage in some much-deserved self-indulgence, and generally make the most of some time to focus on herself rather than the needs of a noisy, scattermatter family. So lunch it was, and what are two authors with an afternoon and a writing chalet to do but spend the time writing? So, it was a dual effort this afternoon, resulting in my milestones and a couple of thousand words for Luscious on her new novel project.


Lyn chalet

The not-ghost of Luscious gets comfortable and writerly.

In other news, the details of my evening talk at Mundijong Library have finally been made public. Under the subtle title of An Evening with Lee Battersby, you can join me at the library next Wednesday, 19 July, from 5.45pm, as I discuss writing as abstract art, the fearlessness of children readers, and any other odd and humorous concept that enters my empty head on the night.

It's free, and includes light refreshments, and you can register here.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

KSP RESIDENCY: DAY TWO

My first full day of Residency, and it was important to set in place a routine that I can follow for my full time here. To that end, I started by being woken up at 2.30am: Greenmount may be idyllic, but it is also right under the departing flight path for Perth airport, and the planes are only a few hundred metres overhead and working hard to climb. Back in the day, I lived in Huntingdale, which is under the approach path-- I got used to the sound of aircraft overhead, but that habit has not yet reasserted itself.

First act upon finally leaving my warm and comfortable bed-- experienced traveller me had bought an extra pillow from home and a sleeping bag to spread over my duvet, so no shivering in the sub-zero temperatures of a Hills night pour moi-- was to get out and walk. I'm old and I'm fat, but I've always been active: a forty-five minute walk through the hills is perfect for energising me ready for the day ahead. Good old Pokemon Go provides-- five gyms in the surrounding streets makes for a nice circuit.

Even so, for a fat old bloke like me, it's not particularly easy: Greenmount has a commonality with Sydney in that the suburb was designed my MC Escher. No matter what direction you face, you have to go uphill, even if you turn through 180 degrees and face the direction you've just climbed up. Fifteen years of soccer and basketball as a kid has left me with a mild case of osteochondritis (fuckupus kneesii): climbing hills (and cycling, factoid fans) is fucking murder on my knees.
Back in my warm chalet, and with a bowl of breakfast in my guttiwuts, I was turning my attention to the day's work by 8.30.

I've got three goals for the fortnight, which makes it easy to split the day into three sections. First up was progressing Song of the Water, a short story based on CY O'Connor's suicide, which I'm aiming to include in a collection of stories involving supernatural interference in Western Australia's colonial history. It's early days, the story is still crystallising as I write, and I've been out of practice for a longer time than I'd care to admit, so the words aren't coming easily. I managed 1000 today, to add to the 300 I got down after my arrival yesterday. The words will come more easily, and quicker, the longer I'm here, so I was pleased with the amount I managed. This story is not likely to be a long one: I'll be finished in a day or two.

After lunch, I picked up Ghost Tracks. I'm 17,000 words in on this one, but had come to a shuddering halt as something had gone wrong, but I didn't know quite what. After reading through the manuscript it became clear: a character that had left the narrative too soon, and needed to be re-entered into the action. It took me an hour to do so, and another hour to forward the action to where that reinsertion all made sense: another 1000 words, and I'm well set up to crest the 20,000 word mark tomorrow.

Finally, as the darkness fell and the rain came with it, I rugged up and turned my attention towards a bit of non-writing writing. I'm in the final throes of completing a Diploma of Project Management through work, and with the need to finish by the end of July or face having to pay to re-enrol in a prohibitive number of units, I can't afford to take a fortnight away. An hour of delving into quality management techniques to finalise some online essays was quite enough, thank you very much.
So, there's my routine established, and hopefully it'll bear significant wordage in the remaining 12 days here. Now it's time for a Skype call with Luscious, a bowl of warm soup, and bed with some licorice allsorts and Loki: Agent of Asgard.

And the aircraft can sod right off tonight......

Monday, July 10, 2017

2017 KATHARINE SUSANNAH PRICHARD WRITERS CENTRE RESIDENCY





It is upon us: this morning, I packed myself up, hugged Luscious and the kids goodbye, and hied me to the other end of Perth to commence my 2-week live-in residency at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre.

I'll be working on 2 projects while I'm here: Ghost Tracks, the children's novel wherein the protagonist derails a ghost train and is forced to travel to the otherworldly dimension to make amends; and the collection of short stories about supernatural incursions into historical events in Western Australia. In addition, I'll be attending some writers groups, conducting a workshop, and being a part of some events throughout my stay.


Research books

Oh yes, that's how a themed collection starts. Oooh, ahh, what a great idea.
But then there's research, and carrying a million freaking books, and screaming...

I arrived this morning at about 10am, and settled into my cabin after saying goodbye to Luscious. Residents are housed in one of three chalets in the back garden of the Centre, and there is very little suffering involved: they're gorgeous.

Aldridge


'Aldridge' the cabin where I'll be spending the next 2 weeks. 


Nicely appointed, clean and comfortable. A perfect nesting spot. 


That's my view. Hellish, I tells 'ee! Hellish!

Upon settling in, I was surprised to see that I'd be sharing my fortnight with an old friend: it seems someone had left behind an illustration by my friend Kathleen Jennings, the superbly talented Queensland artist. It was pinned to the corner of the noticeboard of the room, and will provide a friendly face during the writing hours.



A beautiful work by a truly wonderful artist.
So, here's my appearance itinerary while I'm here. If you want to come along and catch up with me at any of these, mention this blog post and you will receive 15% of all advice that I give you! (NB: that 15% will be the last 15% of each sentence, which may make things harder to understand.)

Thursday 13th, 10am - 12pm: Press Club. I'll be interviewed by a posse of aspiring writers aged between 10-17, who will then upload their interview onto Youtube as part of their day of writing activities with my old Curtin University pal and fellow author Melinda Tognini.

Tuesday 18th, 6pm - 9pm: Literary Dinner. I'll be the guest at a Christmas in July themed dinner here at the Centre. I'll be reading from Ghost Tracks and one of the stories I'll be working on. Combined with games and entertainment based on the evening's theme, this promises to be a fun night out, so book now.

Wednesday 19th, 5.45pm - 7pm: Meet the Author, Mundaring Library. I'll be spouting my usual ranty passion about writing as abstract art, comfort food versus guerilla warfare, and my journey from aspiring nobody to middle-aged eccentric. It'll be fun. More booking details in a day or so once it's all finalised.

Saturday, 22nd, 1-4pm: Workshop, World Building 101.  Learn tips and tricks to help you build a believable secondary world, complete with weather patterns, fantastical creatures that work, and methods of insinuating the weird into everyday settings. Plus a metric tonne of writing exercises to help you reach that special point of exhaustion enjoyed by practicing writers. Book now.

Sunday 23rd, 10am - 12pm: KSP Fantasy, SF & Horror Group. I'll be dropping in on this bi-monthly group, that used to be my own special stomping ground in my early writing days, to talk shop, listen to people's work, offer my own latest effort up for critique, and run and exercise or two into the bargain. It'll be just like old times. Only in colour.

But the main object of this residency is words. So, with a short break to meet Andrew Levett and Julie Twohig, two writers undertaking Fellowships at the same time I'm here, I got stuck in and hit up a quick 300 words on Song of the Water, a story centred around CY O'Connor's suicide, which will be my first work while I'm here.



It's alive, I tell you! Aliiiiive! 

So, that's it for today. Tomorrow: more wordage, a decent walk through the hills, and reheated lasagne for tea. It's a hard life.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: ANDREW McKIERNAN

Andrew J McKiernan is a writer and Illustrator, living and working on the Central Coast of New South Wales. His stories have been everywhere since he first appeared in 2007, the length and breadth of his talent resulting in multiple Aurealis, Ditmar and Australian Shadows Awards nominations, and a metric fucktonne of Year's Best anthology appearances. He was Art Director for Aurealis Magazine for 8 years and his illustrations are as good as his stories, the talented bastard: you can see a bunch of them over on his website, as well as on covers and internals all over the shop. He even looks natty in a hat, a skill I envy with much greenness of the eyes.

Here then, is he, hat and all:

Precious Things: Andrew J McKiernan

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 I thought that choosing a single Precious Thing from all my Literary Precious Things was going to be a difficult task. I have a personal library of over 2,500 books. When we bought our house, a major criteria was having enough library space to store and display them all. I'm not a hoarder, really. All of those books are important to me. They're mostly first editions and books that have had a lasting impact on me as a reader, a writer, and as a person. I thought choosing just one Precious Thing would be really hard... but it wasn't. As soon as I walked into the library, I knew exactly what I would choose.

When I was a little kid, my grandparents on my mother's side were a huge influence on my early development as a reader. My grandmother was the night-cleaner for our local Public Library, and she would often take me with her when she worked. While she cleaned, I would wander the eerie half-darkness of the library shelves, allowed to choose whatever books I wanted to reader... even from the Adult or Reference Sections! And, at their home, my grandfather had an old set of Charles Dickens books in hardcover that he had been given as a young boy in the 1920s. I would spend hours at my grandparent's house just leafing through those books; first, when I was too young to read them, just looking at the illustrations, but later on delving deep into the strange Victorian worlds of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.

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I adored those books. I coveted them.

Released sometime in the early 1920s (they have no dates on them), the Charles Dickens books were printed in London by Collins Clear-Type Press. The books are small, almost palm-sized. Cloth-bound. Burgundy in colour with gold text and decoration on the spine. Each one is illustrated by artists as wonderful and diverse in style as AA Dixon, J Eyre, AH Buckland and WHC Groome (did illustrators only have initials intead of first names back then?). Oliver Twist is 'Illustrated throughout' with 'Ten Photographs in Character', with photographs by FW Burford of young urchins and grizzled old men in period costume, each one meticulously staged. It is an amazing and beautiful collection.

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Sadly, my grandmother passed away in the mid-1990s. My grandfather hung in there, despite his leukemia, living on his own until he too passed away only a couple of years ago. I miss them both.

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These then, are my most Precious Literary Things: the love of books my grandparents and parents instilled in me; the hours I spent roaming the local library alone at night while my grandmother worked; and the set of beautiful 1920s Charles Dickens hardcovers that were passed on to me. A set of books that now hold pride of place on a top shelf in my own library.

Friday, July 07, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: WRITING HOMES

As of Monday, I start a two-week residency at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre. I'll be away from my home and family, tucked up in a little cabin, where I'll be pounding away at Ghost Tracks and a bunch of stories for my untitled-horror-stories-set-throughout-Western-Australian-history thing I've been chipping away at for god knows how long. I'll also be delivering a public talk and a workshop, mentoring an aspiring novelist, and attending a literary dinner at the Centre-- I'll post an itinerary so you can join me in the general merry wassailing and biscuits.

For the moment, however, I thought it would be timely to visit some of the other writing destinations that have housed me over the last 16 years, and provided me with an opportunity to do something other than sit alone, in a room, crying tapping out silly things on my keyboard.

Five for Friday: Writing Homes

Thursday, July 06, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY SMASH!

Let's be honest. The Hulk is the comic book version of Paul Revere: anything you fit into that whole "Hulk SMASH!" vibe is going to be as funny as "Give me (insert here) or give me death."
Or, at least, funny to me.
This is the inside of my head. You all just live here.
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"HULK REVERSE!"
"You know, that really is getting old..."

Sunday, July 02, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: CLAIRE DAVENHALL


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I first met Claire Davenhall several years ago, as an entrant to the annual outdoor sculpture exhibition I coordinate for my day job. Claire made an impression on everyone at the exhibition: partly because she's quite physically small, and she had a habit of lugging things like 8 foot high, solid steel shark fins up and down the beach, but also because there was a time where she seemed to coincide the exhibition with the birth of her children-- giant shark fins are one thing; giant shark fins being lugged about by she-must-be-ready-any-moment pregnant women is a whole different class of funny!
I've had the very great pleasure of watching Claire's art practice grow over the intervening years, and frankly, I'm taking credit: she's my discovery, and now that she's exhibiting at things like Sculpture by the Sea and Swell Sculpture Festival on a regular basis, it's about time I got my finder's fee.....
You can see Claire's work on her website. She's a fantastic talent, a lovely person, and as you're about to read, a real weepy :)
Precious Things: Claire Davenhall


Most people who know me, know me as Claire Davenhall the Visual Artist or Miss D if you happen to be one of my students. But there is a side that most people don’t know about, its a quiet, hidden side which remains largely undiscovered, my love of mountains and climbing.
My most precious literary treasure was given to me by my climbing partner to read during my Art Degree Show in 2000. We both knew of its existence, long before it was even written and when I finally got a hard copy in my hands, it's the first book I read cover to cover in one sitting. It made me cry out loud.... And in the quietness of the gallery space, it seemed to amplify my cries and made people come over and ask me if I was okay???
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This book still haunts me... I dream about this book at pivotal moments in my life... It’s the story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates climbing the West Face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, a true story of two climbers following their dreams and facing their demons. The climax of the book is after they reach the summit; Joe breaks his leg and is helped back down the mountain by Simon. Unable to hear Joe’s cries for help, Simon unknowingly lowers him into a crevasse. Faced with being dragged over the edge to his death, Simon makes the decision to cut the rope to save himself.

Inside

It’s a questionable act in climbing, whether to cut the rope to save yourself and leave your partner for dead. Many hope they never find themselves in this situation. But in this case, Joe survives the fall and believes Simon must still be on the other end. As he pulls on the rope, expecting to feel Simon, he discovers the rope has been cut… It’s gut wrenching and heart breaking, reading his account of how he pushed himself to the limit of human endurance to survive.
Joe never once blamed Simon for his actions, but simply dedicates the book: ‘To Simon Yates for a debt he can never pay.’
The book is so beautifully written. In 2003, Touching the Void was made into a film and I had the honour to watch a preview in the Lake District where they showed the film in Ambleside at the local Church. The reverence in the church by the climbing community was astounding and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life.
‘Its not just a book about mountaineering. Ultimately it is about the spirit of man and the lifeforce that drives us all.’ Magnus Magnusson
NB: I still sleep with my ropes safely under my bed… dreaming of the mountains I still have yet to climb!
 For more info: http://touchingthevoid.com

Friday, June 30, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: ONE ALBUM WONDERS

You know how it is. Some artists release a string of songs that speak to the innermost tremblings of your soul. No matter where you are in your life, somehow they seem to know, and find that connection, so that whatever is happening, you can pick up an album, or turn to your playlist, and find the words, and the music, that pick at the tendons of your feelings and bring your heart, and mind, and soul together in a syncopated, three-minute burst of perfection.

And then, you know, there's Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop.





Somewhere in between, there's a strange beast, or at least, in my listening life there is. Over the years, I've fallen deeply in love with an album, only to find that the love is pretty much exactly one album deep. Sure, there's the occasional songs here and there, for a while. But never that tumultuous wrestling with my feelings, never that look across a crowded playlist that says You. Me. One the floor. Right now. Don;t even take your clothes off. I'll chew through them myself. Some of these albums have been with me for years, and yet, they've never inspired me to go much further in pursuing that artist's career, or my emotional reactions to their work.

Leaving aside Best Of's, which are a different thing entirely, here, then, are five albums that I've carried with me since their release, which are still, lock-stock on my playlist in their entirety, but which are unburdened by company.


Five for Friday: One album wonders.


Daisies of the Galaxy: Eels

Sometimes an artist rises out of nowhere, hits you over the head like a gong, and then disappears back into obscurity such that you can't find them and spend your entire time wondering what the hell just happened. Four songs across a great, big, long bunch of years aside, this is pretty much what happened with me and Eels.

First there was Susan's House and Novocaine for the Soul. A while later there was the Shrek movie and My Beloved Monster. Many, many years later, there was a documentary on didhedidn'the maybe killer Robert Durst, and the theme song Fresh Blood.

And in between, there was an album with so many depths and twists and nasty little corners that I've spent years curled up with my headphones on, picking its black baroque little heart apart. Nothing fits. The music doesn't fir the instruments. the lyrics don't fit the message. the rhymes don't fit the lines and the line lengths sure as fuck don't fit what's being played behind them. It's a magnificent, absurd, glorious tangle that verges, at times, on a surreal masterpiece. It will be one of my favourite albums until the day I day.

And nothing the artist has done, before or since, has ever come within a country mile of having the same effect upon me.




 

Come On, Feel the Illinoise: Sufjan Stevens

Once upon a time, a man said he was going to release 50 albums over 50 years: one for each state in the Union, starting with his home state then spreading out until every corner of his country had their own soundtrack, charting all those moments and characters that they may not want to acknowledge, but which were inextricably linked with their heritage.
To date, I think Sufjan Stevens is still stuck at two. It really doesn't matter, because while Michigan was okay, Come On! Feel the Illinoise! is an outright masterpiece. Covering topics as diverse as Superman, Al Capone, John Wayne Gacy, alien abductions, killer bees, and all points in between, it's a swirling, operatic love letter to a history that he is steeped in. The only problem is, like Eels above, it is so good, so perfect, that it is enough: I've never had any need to listen to much of anything else, because why do so when I can just listen to this magnificent opus again?






Happy Soup: Baxter Dury

Possibly the only album I've ever purchased because I felt sorry for a character in a film biopic. I've been a lifelong fan of the legendary Ian Dury, so when I learned of the Andy Serkis-driven biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, I was all over it with knobs on. And something very interesting transpired: most of everything I'd ever read about the man focussed on, naturally enough, him. But the movie took a slightly different turn. There's a lot in there about his relationship with his son Baxter, and, frankly, how Ian spent his entire time spectacularly fucking it up. Which led me to want to find out about the fate of his son, because the movie ends with him still a youngster, and I needed to know, dammit!

Which led me to his recording career. Which led me to the song Happy Soup. Which led me to downloading the album about half a minute after I'd listened to it.

Which, strangely, has been enough. I love the song. I love the album. But it doesn't obsess me, the way his father's work does.

But I do love the song.






God Shuffled His Feet: Crash Test Dummies

I know so many people who hate this album. For a while there, upon first release, you simply couldn't escape it. The first single, the irritatingly-titled Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm was everywhere. It simply didn't sound like anything around it at the time, and it still doesn't, really, not for all the demi-hipster posturing of bands that have followed. Somewhere, deep within its semi-diffident lyrics and monotone slacker delivery, there was a message that demanded you wade in and remove it, rather than wait for it to arrive in your lap fully-formed.

Frankly, the whole album is like that. It's oblique to the point of indifference, a study in measured allusion and literary pretension that I've never really been able to shake. I've picked up a couple of CTD songs from other albums along the way-- The Winter Song is a favourite-- but nothing sticks like the way this odd, distancing album does.






Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia: Dandy Warhols

An album powered by a song that featured in a TV show I hate and a movie I hate, by a band I'd never heard of. What could possibly go wrong?

Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia is less an album of 13 separate songs than a concept album of 13 separate threads that intertwine between each other in a swirling soundscape that occasionally pauses for half a breath in order to switch directions and talk about something else for a while. It's a perfect fusion of obvious pop influences, catchy hooks, and what passed for philosophy at the fag end of prog rock. And I loves it with much lovingness.

I've heard a lot of songs by The Dandy Warhols. I've never been remotely fussed by them. But for this one moment, they dropped their derivative obviousness in exactly the right measurements onto exactly the right tunes in exactly the right order at exactly the right time. And it's really bloody good.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY CLAIMS THIS PLANET ON BEHALF OF ITSELF

It's a good, old-fashioned SF trope: what if the aliens we contact are so far in advance that they don;t see us as equals. But the trope stretches farther, and farther back than that: Voltaire's story Micromegas, published in 1752, shows aliens that consider Earth unpopulated because nothing so small as humans could bear intelligence. Upon interacting with us, they change their opinion: we're idiots.
This is my own, small, visual contribution to that trope. 
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"One small step for a Vilognian..."

Sunday, June 25, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: JAY WATSON

I know I've said this about a few people, but Jay Watson is one of the loveliest human beings alive. He's a giant of a man, tall and broad, and just big, but there's not an ounce of malice or intimidation in him. Quite the opposite: he's one of the gentlest, most caring people I've ever come across. And while it is often a truism, in this case it's simply true: there's not a person you'll meet who doesn't adore the man. 
A passionate and long-time SF fan, he's been on more Swancon committees than is healthy, is one of the organisers behind the excellent CrimeScene convention, and is a friend and safe space for anyone who needs it. My first experience of him was sitting at a dinner table, throwing Goon Show lines at each other, and it's been a long, happy association ever since. Now here he is, in his own words. 
Precious Things: Jay Watson

Image may contain: 2 people, beard and text
Jay's on the left.

My father made sure that I was interested in science and science fiction by exposing me to things like Doctor Who pretty much from birth. Because we were poor, we didn’t have many books in the house – those that we did have were ones that Dad picked up cheap at the second-hand bookstore. To this day, I still love the feel of a dingy old second-hand bookshop.
After we moved from Whyalla to Perth in ’78, I began to develop a love for the local library, to the point that I would go there as often as I could to get out new books to read, mostly about science and/or movies. Not long after this, my Dad picked up three books for me at a bookshop that I have treasured ever since – Star Trek 5 (stories adapted by James Blish), Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen (by Terrance Dicks), and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (by Alan Dean Foster).

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They were the first books in my personal library (if you don’t count Little Golden Books or Dr Seuss) and, while they weren’t great literature or anything, they meant a lot to me. The Doctor Who and Star Trek books gave me a different perspective on the episodes that they covered, while Splinter of the Mind’s Eye helped to feed my blossoming love of all things Star Wars. They also helped me with my nascent interest in creating adventures for role-playing games, which I was introduced to around the same time by one of my (female) teachers.
While my Dad also introduced me to Tolkein, Asimov, Herbert, Clarke, Smith, Wells, Verne, and on and on, via the books he was reading, those three books still grace my shelves and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

Friday, June 23, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: VISUAL ARTISTS

Full disclosure: if I could play guitar the way I wish I could, I probably wouldn't be a writer. If I could act as well as I wish I could, I probably wouldn't be just a writer. If I could draw, or paint, or create visual art... ah, if I could only do that.....
I've always loved the visual arts: deeply, at a level beyond my capacity to articulate. No trip to a new town, a new State, a new country, is complete until I've experienced the art gallery, the sculpture park, the local museum. I think in pictures, explain in diagrams, communicate in sketches and arms waved around to delineate space and placement.
Sadly, as anybody who has been following my Thumbnail Thursday posts, or has seen the few cartoons I actually managed to finish and have published over the years, can attest, it turns out I can't draw for shite.
My sense of visualisation, however, is very strong. When I'm writing-- when it's going well, and the words are flowing at their highest swell-- I have a very clear image of what I'm writing about; so strong that, at times, I'm doing little more than transcribing what I see, rather than truly creating from empty cloth.
Still, words are an artificial construct, a mechanical choice between pre-forged components relying on a social contract between author and audience to assign meaning to the thoughts being relayed. (See?) When I experience an image; when I see the combination of light, colour, form and medium and it sparks of an emotional recognition in me; it feels pure, unrestrained.
If I could, I would. Until then, I rely on my own imperfect tools, and my own limited repertoire of creative skills. But here are five artists who do things to me I can only wish I had the talent to replicate.
FIVE FOR FRIDAY: VISUAL ARTISTS
Richard Dadd
Mad, murdering Richard Dadd, who slashed his father's throat while out walking, spent much of his adult life in Bedlam, and while there, completed intricate masterpieces detailing a world only he could see, halfway between myth, folklore, and the escapist fantasies of a man trapped in a physical and psychological hellscape.
His most famous work is probably The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, a stunning fantasy scene that became the subject of a typically epic Queen song. But the one below, Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane is my favourite of his works. There's something simply skewiff about the whole thing: the colours are subtly wrong, the dimensions just ever so slightly off, and the face... look at the face. Neither feminine nor masculine but a halfway hybrid; emotionless, dark pits of eyes staring with no message at all straight at the viewer; the almost-dancing sense of movement at odds with the heavy, lumpen nature of the physique.... it's a piece that transfixes me in delight and fascination.
Dadd

Chris Foss
I started to collect books at a fortuitous time: the early 80s was the point at which books that had been published in the 1970s were filtering into the second hand shops, where young teens like me could afford them. And those books came from publishers like Ace, and Panther, and Pan, and the covers... oh, my God, the covers.
The 1970s were the greatest era of SF book covers ever. There, I said it. And at the forefront of those covers, at least to me eyes, were the mad spaceships, landscapes, and broken-future beauty of airbrush artist Chris Foss.
A master of light and asymmetrical design, Foss was science fiction for me. Forget Star Wars, forget Giger's Alien designs. When the future arrives, I want it to look like Foss promised me it would: full of vast, slab-sided experiments in colour and thunderous energy, with the sound of building-sized engines blowing holes in the vacuum of deep space.
I could pick any number of images that remain lodged in my unconscious, but my favourite remains my first: the giant, fallen robot of his cover for the Panther issue of Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel. Simply, truly, glorious.

Foss

Rene Magritte
Ah, the working class English upbringing. Where things that looks like things is what real art is, and anything else is poncy nonsense or summat wot my kid could do, innit?
Suffice to say, the surrealists hit me like a meringue anvil right in the third eye. I love Dali, I love Miro, Bunuel, and the writings of Breton, and the zealous insanity of Duschamp.... but of them all, it was Rene Magritte (and Max Ernst, of whom more later) who took my adoration, and gave me tools of quantification and recreation with which to engage in my own, meagre experiments (the closes any of them have come to fruition, the short.... thing, Brillig, can be found here)
Most famous for his brilliant works The Son of Man and The Treachery of Images, a personal favourite is the work below, The Voice of Space. I love its sense of scale, and weightlessness,  its implied narrative, and the gentle idea that momentous thing can take place in spaces where there is nobody to bear witness.

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Max Ernst
Painter, sculptor, poet, graphic designer, surrealist. One of the first polymaths I encountered, and one that has provided me with endless fascination ever since. Max Ernst's life provided me with an early education in how an artist's experiences can be filtered through his artistic philosophies to create a third, multi-textured form of expression. I have drawn so much from his filtering of trauma and hardship that he will always be a central figure of my artistic ambitions, and of my karass.
My own small tribute was a story named after the painting depicted here: Europe, After the Rain, appeared in the Fablecroft Anthology After the Rain, and was, in large part, inspired by this piece, Europe After the Rain II.
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William Blake
Which is your Blake? The poet or the painter? It is hard to distinguish between the two: they correlated, at times perfectly, into an ouvre of singular intent and vision. But if I were to argue in terms of technique, I would say that his poetical output forms a wonderful example of a form that was practiced equally superbly by a number of peers, but his painting? Oh, his painting.
There was nobody ever quite like William Blake when it came to painting, and I would argue that there still isn't. His works are the stuff of fever-dreams, of a mind stretched into shapes unbidden and unrecognisable by the measures of his time. They are a pure expression of a singular, individual madness, so unique and unreal that even when he turned his talents towards the supporting walls of his Universe, such as his illuminations of the Revelations, it produced images unlike anything the mainstream could ever have expected. The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with Sun is what they got, instead. Open Dante, and Blake gives you The Lover's Whirlwind. Work in miniature, and you get my favourite of all Blake's work, an epic compression of scale, power and movement that is the A4-sized The Ghost of a Flea, reproduced below.
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