Archive | December, 2016

Travels in América del Norte

23 Dec

Well, we’re in the depths of the English winter here and on most days the temperature struggles to reach double figures. So it seemed timely to cast my mind back to the summer, when I was in North America. I spent the first part of August in Mexico City in the company of my Colombian illustrator. Our wanderings in that city that she knows so well were the inspiration for the dystopian graphic novel that we’re planning to write. So I’m sharing with you some of the things that I saw in that mad and amazing city. The bright, hazy light makes it difficult to take decent photos (well, that’s my excuse, anyway). And it’s an opportunity to prove to the world that my command of the Spanish language still isn’t any greater. An undisclosed prize goes to the first person to guess in which of the buildings the illustrator and I would live.

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Mirando hacia fuera de la Ciudad de México

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A las montañas…

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Y más montañas

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La antigua…

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Y la moderna

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Los colores de la Ciudad de México (1)

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Los colores de la Ciudad de México (2)

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Los colores de la Ciudad de México (3)

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Siniestros abandonados automóviles negros, la inspiración para una distopía …

All text and images © PSR 2016

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World Building

18 Dec

“World Building” is a term often used in relation to imaginative fiction. It’s been employed especially with regard to science fiction and fantasy, genres within which entire universes are sometimes created. That’s precisely the enterprise I’ve been engaged in these last several years. I really have no idea how you’d characterise my work-in-progress. I eschew genre with all of its commercial implications. But there’s a heavy element of alternative history involved, posing the “what if?” question. How might the world look if some key event had turned out differently? And I’m forced to acknowledge, there are facets of sci-fi and the fantastic in there too. 

Part of the creative process for me involves taking world building literally. A child playing by himself in the attic of a villa is an important strand in the narrative. He’s making an imaginary world of his own out of Lego-like plastic bricks. One of the items we see him build is an ambulance. Since “the instructions” for its construction are included in a footnote, I had first to make that model vehicle for myself. And so a raid on my children’s toy boxes proved necessary, with the results seen below…  

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“You will need fourteen 2×8 and three 2×2 blocks for the base, roof and grille; two 1×4, twelve 1×3 and four 1×2 blocks for the sides; one 2×4 and one 2×2 block for the windscreen; one 2×4 and two 1×2 slopes for the roof front; one 1×4 door.  Detail may be added using two blue 1×1 blocks for the roof-mounted flashing lights, two yellow 1×1 ones for the headlamps and two red for the rear light cluster.”

A key aspect of this imaginary world, then, is the suburban villa and its roof-space. First I had to draw it, to crystallise for myself what it was that I’d imagined then to convey this believably to the reader. It’s inspired by the attic of a former workplace, but I still needed to perform a graphic walk-through to give the description credence. 

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A mythical country and its cities also form part of the context of the book, necessitating my immersion into the craft of mythocartography (is that a word? – oh, well, I suppose it is now). I’m as yet undecided whether to include versions of the maps in the finished artefact. Opinion among those who’ve seen the manuscript under development remains divided. One thing’s certain, though – I couldn’t possibly have navigated my way around that imaginary space without having sketched it out physically first. And how could it appear real to the reader if I hadn’t done so? 

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Mythocartography – a sneak preview

Working with other fiction writers, I’ve found that the worlds they’re building are at their least believable when they haven’t fully imagined them for themselves. For me, then, the lengthy processes indicated comprise one way of achieving greater authenticity. After all, if you haven’t fully imagined the world that you’re describing, how can you expect the reader to? A short extract follows, combining the child’s world with that of an imaginary city.

Those who’ve left the city-in-transit are not permitted to return.  The same held true for the capital during the era of the People’s Semi-autonomous Republic.  For all that, you could still exit and re-enter the city by means of a secret labyrinth.  At least, you could imagine doing so if you happened to be a small child.  Starting out from the top of the stairwell, you might enter the large storage cupboard occupied by various items of janitorial equipment – vacuum cleaners, mops and buckets, carpet sweepers, step ladders – and make your way to the back where a hatch opened on to the dumb waiter mechanism.  Crawling through this restricted space, you emerged into the attic above the tower.  You crossed the floor to the other side of the attic then squeezed through the door into the roof void above the extension, dragging yourself along the rafters to a further door that opened into another cupboard on the west-facing wall of the north wing.  It smelt of brick dust and rodents.  From there, you could re-emerge, slightly to the south of the city, covered in dust, soot and cobwebs, displaying scuffs on your shoes and trousers.  You’d have some explaining to do. 

All text and images © PSR 2016

Books Yet To Be Read

1 Dec

I’ve just been reshuffling the contents of the bookshelves at Sutton Reeves Heights, in preparation for exciting events. I’m pretty good at decluttering and find it immensely therapeutic – except when it comes to books. I once managed to give away over 800 of them, but that was some twenty years ago. I’ve taken quite a few to the charity bookstore today. But I could do with getting rid of a great deal more. The ones that I’ve read and might read again, the ones yet to be read… They arch their spines at me, defying me to put them out in the cold. 

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New bookshelves appearing…

I’ve alluded before to another trouble I have with books (click here to see). My problem is that once I’ve reached a certain point in a book, I feel that I can’t abandon it. This is ridiculous, of course. I’ve mentioned the difficulty I had in getting through Martin Amis’s London Fields and J A Baker’s The Peregrine. Both books had their merits but they were long and dragged on at times, taking me many months to complete. For the last six months or so, I’ve been stuck on Roy Jacobsen’s Borders. I really enjoyed his Burnt-out Town of Miracles and thought that Child Wonder was an evocative masterpiece. So when I found a newly-translated work by the Norwegian writer in my local bookstore, I bought it straight away. It concerns the Wehrmacht becoming mired in Stalingrad. And it begins promisingly enough, switching between one surreal vignette and another. But it’s left me feeling equally bogged down, somewhere around page 208 of its 281 pages…  

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And yet more shelves…

I’ve acquired two new books by one of my favourite writers, the French experimental novelist, Georges Perec. They’re sitting on those shelves, waiting to be read. They also happen to be his first novel and his last. The latter was thought to have been lost before being found in an attic a number of years ago. I was aware of Portrait of a Man from David Bellos’ superb biography of Perec, A Life in Words. But now I actually have a copy. And, yes, of course, only Perec’s first book could be his last… As for 53 Days, Perec died before completing it, unfinished by the writer rather than the reader. I already possessed a French copy that my father has been reading, but that’s another tale for another post. My American edition of the book – also translated by Bellos – has the extant text plus lots of notes the author made and curious-looking appendices. How exciting is that? And so I’ve come to a radical conclusion. I’m not going to finish reading Borders. Instead I shall start reading 53 Days, in tandem with the immensely talented Colombian illustrator whom I’ve previously mentioned.  

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… and yet more books

I’ve loved everything that I’ve read by Georges Perec, except A Void (La Disparation), his full-length lipogram, omitting the letter ‘E’. I admired it but didn’t much enjoy it, again taking several months to read it. Life a User’s Manual, on the other hand, I have read several times and experience the opposite sensation every time – I don’t want it to finish. That, it seems to me, is the mark of a novel’s success and an inspiration as I stumble toward the finishing line with my own latest work. 

All text and images © PSR 2016