One of the best things about writing stories is that you get to leave things in other people’s heads – things that might last them a lifetime, and that they will imagine in ways quite different from the way you did when you actually wrote the story. When Gary Blythe illustrated The Toymaker, one of the first things he said to me was that he could draw a thousand pictures and never come up with the identical one I’d had in my head. Then he drew the most wonderful pictures. My favourite of his is still the portrait he made of Marguerite. There is such a cruel glint in her eye, and unless you are looking for them, you don’t straight away see her rows of needle sharp teeth. Ever since I first saw Gary’s roughs I’ve always been thrilled to see pictures people have drawn after reading something I’ve written.
Having read The Toymaker Jim Kay produced his own portrait of Anna-Maria and Lutsmann – it’s on my stairs – and though it’s all framed now, one of my favourite things about it is that if I take it out of the frame and turn the paper over I can see on the back where Jim started to draw Anna-Maria, changed his mind and started again on the other side. I see the picture each time I pass. I love the way that Anna-Maria and Lutsmann are looking in opposite directions and are just so shifty.
But over last weekend I had another picture treat. A graduate artist, Shelley Higham, wrote to me to tell me that she’d just finished her degree and had in part based her final project on The Toymaker. She’d drawn views of Felissehaven during the carnival and I asked if I could post one of them here. So, this picture comes courtesy of Shelley. I’ve always liked those carnival masks, and the Venetian plague doctors with their long beaked masks are particularly creepy. Maybe one day I’ll have to write a story that has them in – dark Venetian alleyways, canals and gondolas – and something very bad in the palace of the Doge.
This last ten days saw Bea’s – my youngest daughter’s – birthday. We got a load of balloons from Wells and brought them home in a black dustbin sack to stop them blowing everywhere. But it did mean that when we got them home early they had to hang around for a day like a small dark cloud against the dining room ceiling.
The trouble with balloons is that they do linger for a long time after a party, especially if you haven’t the heart to stomp around bursting them all. They just slowly loose all their enthusiasm. We’ve got a whole floor full now of balloons that have lost their enthusiasm. Believe me, there are few sadder sights.
I found a pig this week. I’d like to pretend that he was a real one, but sadly not. He was lying in a puddle of mud in the middle of a field and had by all appearances been there for sometime. It was difficult to say what colour he even was, but two trips through the washing machine sorted that. He’d lost an eye and had two large holes in his face, but nothing that couldn’t be sewn up. I took him to the village shop and he sat for several days on their counter in hope that someone might reclaim him, but no-one did so he’s come back home with us. It reminds me a bit of all the lost and found toy bear/cuddly panda/dog (delete as appropriate) picture books I’ve ever read. He’s rather endearing but I’m not even tempted to write a lost pig story.
Since starting a facebook wall, I’ve discovered the joys of stop-go animation. It usually happens that I’m staring vacantly into space trying to think of what to write next and a vision of Lego men being chased by an Easter egg, or a story written in alphabetti spaghetti on a dinner plate, or Elvis Presley hiding in a fridge comes to mind and then that seems like a better thing to do than stare into space. The Elvis in a fridge clip was even more of a distraction as I had to find the figures and make the kitchen. If you click on my Facebook button you can see the end result. Worryingly, I’ve just imagined what Elvis would look like scoring a solo-effort goal against AC Milan or Barcelona.
I spend an inordinately large amount of time day dreaming. Sometimes stories come out of the day dreaming, but usually it’s just a way of wandering off when I should be doing something else. One of the things I often think about is the past and here is an example. It’s a railway ticket from September 23rd 1894 from Bath (or Bristol) to London. Now, I live in Somerset and whenever I go to London I catch the train from Bath. I make exactly the same journey as whoever had this ticket in their pocket one hundred and nineteen years ago, but how very different the train and the things they would have seen from the window. It makes me want to go back and do it as they did it, only I can’t do that other than by day dreaming. But what a thing to be able to do if you could – be able to spend a day in the past. I’ve even got my train ticket already.
Another distraction to writing is my lovely, old, snoring dog. She’s asleep on the floor next to me right now and the racket she is making is quite extraordinary.
It’s May Day. I usually put a sprig of the blossom in my buttonhole to celebrate it, only there isn’t a scrap of it out yet so that will have to wait. But it’s just too fine a day to spend indoors writing, and I’m already thinking about making some sandwiches and a flask of coffee and going and sitting on top of the hill behind the house. From there I can see out towards Glastonbury Tor and clear across the Somerset Levels. But if I do that it means the things I had meant to get done today – which include writing – probably won’t get done at all. Writers have to have a great deal of self discipline, they have to stick at it and get the book done – only, it is such a beautiful day…
I’ve always liked odd things, our house is full of them – pots and bottles that have never been opened and are a hundred years old, deer and badger’s skulls, nests blown from the branches of trees. I’ve always wanted a brazil nut pod too – the individual nuts you see in the shops are just what comes from inside the pod. I suppose it’s something about the fact that we never see them, and that they come from somewhere so far away. I like the romance of it all. Well, now I’ve got one. The family who gave it to me told me its story. It had belonged to their grandfather who’d worked in Brazil during the last years of the 1800’s. He brought it back with him. It’s never been opened, it’s just as it grew in that hot steaming Brazilian forest over a hundred years ago – it’s even still full of the nuts. They didn’t want it anymore (how could they not want it?) and now it sits on our piano like a small time machine.