Friday, 19 August 2011

Exciting News

I have been asked to do some book review readings on the wireless. I have been approached by a local radio producer/broadcaster and asked to write a selection of book reviews to be aired over four Sundays in September. The readings will be about five minutes long, but I will also be including a variety of locally pitched top ten charts, and possibly some information about exciting up and coming releases.
All in all a fun and exciting challenge to be approached for. I had a sit down meeting with the producer/broadcaster yesterday and finalised the books. The show will have a limited run through September, but will be broadcast on the Internet too, so keep your ears pricked and alert!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

New blog header.

Just a quick message to say that I hope you like the new blog header. I decided to include a couple of my own illustrations from the Gormenghast project. The characters are the insurmountably talented Mr Peake's, but the reproductions are my own.

A Maelstrom of Images.

It has been a long time since my last entry, but the months have been packed with creative exploits. My illustrating, which until now has only been a fun distraction, has suddenly become a vital part of my paid employment. The last six months have seen me illustrate and build two campaign windows for Waterstone's. One centred around the centennial of Mervyn Peake, the second around the explicitly popular children's characters 'The Octonauts'.
It has been a very interesting process that has seen my artwork transition from a personal pleasure, to a professional work. My manager approached me with the proposition of building a clock face to put into a window to promote the works of Mervyn Peake. A window planned to coincide with his centennial. Being a fan of Peake's Gormenghast Trilogy I was thrilled at the prospect. Little did I realise what I would be setting in motion. 

I had no idea how to plan or execute a project of this type, and resorted to falling back on my fleeting experience of technical drawing whilst studying engineering. I put together a variety of rough design sketches and started a process of drafting and sourcing potential visual components. After a week I felt I had the beginnings of an idea for the clock face, and how to execute it.
I then made the mistake of sitting down with my manager to finalise the idea, and swiftly discovered he wanted more than just a clock face... Two large posters, a backdrop, and signage more to be precise. After a day of fervent scribbling I had drafted some rough ideas for each of the additions, and threw myself head long into the drawing.

I started with the two posters. I decided to create a collection of Peaks own artwork from The Gormenghast Trilogy including the characters names. The hope was to give both posters the feel of a visual roll call of dramatis personae. Thankfully Peake's visual style has a lot of cross over with my own drawing style, and was easy if time consuming to reproduce.
I then moved onto the clock face. This was a more complicated challenge because of its size. Drawn on one long roll of A0 cartridge paper, I outlined the face in several blocks, then filled them all in once the outlines were finished. From a purely logistical standpoint, my antique writing desk was only just big enough to fit the paper onto. Once the face was illustrated I drew the hands separately, cutting them out and mounting them onto the finished face. This ensured a continuity in the image behind the hands.
After the illustrating was completed, I used recycled POS card to mount the face, and then mounted the card onto a recycled OUP press cardboard dumpbin. Once the drying the process was completed the clock face was finished.

That done it was time to work on the backdrop. The city of Gormenghast is described as a vast sprawling castle, with the dominating Tower of Flints rearing above it all. I used images of real European castles to create an eight foot long back drop, which I then cut out of black sugar paper to give me the silhouette.
One quick portrait of  Mervyn Peake, and the parts of the window were finished and ready to be installed. The final installation looked like this:

The final installation was received well by the store, Waterstone's headoffice, and the publisher; with one member of the public asking if it was possible to buy the posters I had created. In retrospect I should have said yes. Every penny helps!

Off of the back of the success of the window I was asked to create an Octonauts display in the same vein. Feeling high off of the success of my Gormenghast work I readily agreed.

I started the window with one large overriding concern. I don't work in colour. Anyone who has the dubious honour of remembering the scratchings I did at art college can attest to the historically unsuccessful nature of those works!
That said I could happily outline all of the work before I had to consider colour, which is what I set about doing. The work consisted of a large seascape background, modelled on a scene from one of the Octonaut books, and a collection of character standees. I chose to draw Captain Barnacles, Kwazii Kitten, and Dr Shellington, as well as the large submarine the GUP-A, used by the underwater adventurers.
Once the outlining was completed, I couldn't procrastinate over the colour issue any longer, and went to have a chat with my friendly art shop assistant. He quickly pointed me in the direction of Derwent's Coloursoft pencils, that would give me the level of control I wanted, with a suitable vivid appearance.
A lot of colouring, several blisters (not nice on your hand!), and one broken pencil sharpener later I had coloured all of the characters and most of the seascape. To finish the larger areas of block colour on the seascape I used pastels for a quick fill.
I only had three weeks to get everything finalised and installed. Needless to say this resulted in a lot of all nighters, and one three day waking stretch, but was completed the day before the stores most important head office visit. The final installation looked like this:

Thankfully this installation was also well received, with photos even making there way to Fisher Price, the toy manufacturer.

All in all I am quietly satisfied with the final outcome of both installations. I have learnt how to apply my skill with a pencil to a larger more professional sphere. I am now giving more thought to how to combine my illustrating with my writing in greater depth. There is talk of more window work on the horizon, which I greet with a mixture of excitement and utter terror. But ultimately I'm not happy unless I have my head buried in some kind of creative endeavour, and Waterstone's are giving me the latitude to explore a new outlet for my madness.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,

I have finally come to a decision over what to work on next. I'm going to go back to 'The Birth of Martin James' and expand it from 5,466 words to something bigger. I have been staring at it for about a month, questing for a decision on what to do. The simpler choice would be to remove 466 words and submit it, but I can't see how to cut them without detracting form the narrative.

The more I have looked at it, the more areas I can see to improve. Areas where the narrative can be de-compacted, or where the addition of carefully crafted back story would drastically improve the emotional response of the ending. In its current state it is essentially a good idea. A good idea that with some time and work could be a fascinating story. I think with enough thought and planning it could be an interesting vessel for exploring the sense of 'unheimlich' that is increasingly pervading my perception.

I have found some more books that will give me additional perspectives on how to construct the narrative. I will be returning to Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space alongside a collection of post-modern fiction writers. I am also spending more time viewing Japanese animé as it seems to be a wealth of conceptually clever narrative construction.

The first step is going to be a series of cursory and in-depth fractal plans to work out what needs to be written. I also intend to go back to basics and build character profiles (not that their are many characters in this piece). I hope that working through the basic construction techniques again will help me to develop the habit of using them.

I will post more, probably including some thoughts on the construction techniques, as when I am complete them.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011


Well I'm a little behind in keeping my blog up-to-date. The last month has been an odd combination of creative endeavours. I spent four very busy days working on a submission for an innovative form magazine. It involved a lot of illustrating in a short space of time.

Sadly the submission was rejected, but I wasn't surprised. The piece is nigh on un-publishable, as the form is so very different from the norm, and the single piece was longer than their magazine!
I pushed to complete it more for the act of finishing and submitting a piece of work. Needless to say it was nice to experience the act of submission properly, and it's my first rejection! Probably the first of many, but at least that means I'm writing.

Since then I have been spinning my wheels a little. I can't decide what to work on next. I have been reading a lot of books to find some inspiration, but am struggling. I have instead focused my attention on physical creative exploits. I have started a project to modify my computer hardware into a 'Steampunk' or 'Vicmod' style to better suit my writing desk. I have invested in the majority of materials needed to rebuild my monitor, but need to wait for next month's pay to finish buying them. I have converted an old kerosene lamp to electric, which sits by my bed with a flickering candle bulb inside. Not a lot of light, but a nice addition in the evening.
The modifications are challenging, and I'm learning a lot more about electronics and working in metal. They are also expensive in time and money, and I'm a little worried I'm putting too much time into them.

I have it in my head to finish and submit another piece of fiction in the next month or so. I have a more conventional piece of writing from my Mres that could be tweaked and redone with only a week's work.

I just can't seem to focus myself at the moment. The dreaded 'What is it I'm trying to achieve?' question has reared itself in my head again. The sensible part of my brain is telling me to get a full-time job, finish my savings, and move back to the seaside. Certainly I would be happier (have more money, friends, maybe a girlfriend) on a day to day basis, but wouldn't have the time to write. If I am serious about being a writer, it makes sense to stick it out here...

I think I'm just struggling to blow into my own sails at the moment. It can be hard to push forward when you have no help, and moving back to the coast  seems so very appealing. Truthfully it's not worth running away. I need to tough it out and see what I can get done.

This post seems to have turned more into a stream of conciousness moan. Not quite what I had intended. I shall wrap it up on the resolution to get the next piece of fiction written and submitted. I will endeavour to blog more regularly on how it's going.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Book Reviews.

I have a new review up on the UBG for My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher.

I haven't posted for a few weeks as I have been  busy reading and researching. I have been trying to get a better idea of the medical science behind exercise, to help me approach the fit for 30 challenge in a better fashion. I will post more on the BBE blog.

On the arts and writing side there is some news. It looks like my book reviews are going to change venue. Without wanting to go into details, the UBG stuff may be coming to an end. This poses an interesting question. I can shift my reviewing to Waterstones, and indeed I am signed up for proofs through the company. I have two sitting on my shelf waiting to be read and reviewed. However, to my mind, hosting them all through work seems to lack a certain artistic credibility.
I endeavour to keep a healthy distance between my work at the big W, and my writing. Although the two are somewhat entwined, I try not to bring my artistic endeavours through the front door.

This leaves me wondering if I should find another review site to host my scribbles. I could always stop writing anything but the work related reviews, but that seems a waste. The third option is that I could push this blog into a review blog. I admit that this option is tempting, but troublesome in its own ways. I would have carte blanche to review anything, but would have to foster strong relationships with the publishers, which is a lot of work. It's not impossible, but would take up all of my free time outside of work; leaving no time for writing.

I don't think it's wise to lose the writing time, even if I'm not yet committed to a new project yet. Ultimately that is where my career, life, etc lie. It makes the most sense to ask around and find a new reviewing venue.

Sunday, 13 February 2011


I have been reading from the Oxford Journals today. It's dense, complicated theory that is rooted in many different academic fields. I possess nowhere near enough cultural critical or philosophy theory experience to fully appreciate the multidisciplinary nature of the work. I'm working on broadening my theory base, although it will be years before I can think on the same level as Dr Greg Garrard. It has suggested several new titles which I have added to the reading list. Ecocritical theory specific works that should be read.

I can't make my mind up whether it is comforting or infuriating to know that It will take me so many years of hard study to be near as good as these theorists. I'm a smart guy, with a 1st class research masters, but the sheer scope of some of the multidisciplinary research is near stupefying. I'm wading through the high end academia while reading from the bottom up too, with the hope that in a few years I will hit a happy medium where I can treat at something approximating the same rigour.

It leaves me arguing with myself on how far do I want to follow this route. Am I aiming to be a creative writing lecturer, or do I have my sights set on being a critical theorist? A blend of both is probably the healthiest choice. An area of expertise alongside the act of writing. Perhaps having been away from university for a handful of years is the reason for this feeling of stupidity. Like I'm wading through intellectual molasses. I shall persevere and push through. One laden step after another.

On a different note, I had some success with a new character, writing several brief sketches of exploration. I shall make sure to keep up with the practice alongside revisiting all elements of the writer's tool kit. It felt good to work on something new. A comfort to know I'm still capable, adept even, at drawing deeper connotation in simple prose.

It would seem I am right on track.