Tuesday, May 17, 2016
William Stobbs has appeared once before on this blog and elicited at the time a number of appreciative comments from people who knew either him or his work. He's been one of my favourite illustrators since discovering the book Gianni and the Ogre that I originally blogged in 2009. So it was a delight to discover that he also illustrated a book by my current favourite author, William Mayne: Summer Visitors. Stobbs illustrations for this one are a little less stylized than for the orgre book but nonetheless they are just so assured and fine whether illustrating figures or landscapes there is an exquisite use of black line and white space, there is a real sense of the neo-romantic about his landscape work in particular. Above all you can tell that here is someone who genuinely understood the process involved in getting his artwork into print because these images zing from the page even on soft, not particularly good quality paper. He was a real master of his craft and deserves to be better known. The book, I am afraid, is one of the Mayne titles that I have on the shelf to read but not yet...
Sunday, May 15, 2016
In these days of the Internet and the Google image search, it is easy to assume that all the thousands of works of art in thousands of museums and galleries round the world can be brought to the screen in a hi-res full-colour image in a moment of seconds. But it's not true. It is why I sometimes pick up black and white photographs like this one because you just can't assume that it will be on the Internet when you get home from the antique shop or car boot sale or whatever...
Sure enough, this stunning and quite large format photograph was produced by the State Art Museum in Copenhagen and depicts a beautiful work by Danish sculptor Johannes Hansen which I can't find illustrated anywhere else on the net.
Saturday, May 07, 2016
Sunday, May 01, 2016
I was delighted to acquire these two original illustrations by someone called Lorna Thomas. Clearly they are for a book telling Celtic myths and legends but I can find no record of such a book nor of any of Ms Thomas's work on other titles: which seems odd seeing as just from the evidence of these two alone, she was clearly a talented illustrator at a professional standard. Perhaps she married and changed her name. The two images are actually on the same sheet of parchment paper but were two large to scan together.
Saturday, April 30, 2016
Three vintage postcards picked up today. The first, (above), because it just makes you smile. The second, (below) because of the delightful message on the back in which Grace tells Ciss all about her fancy dress costume. Real-photographic postcards like this one were produced by photographers who simply printed a photograph directly onto a stock postcard and so very often the one in your hand today might be one of only a handful ever produced and, one has to imagine, often the only one surviving.
"My Dear Ciss, Here I am in my fancy dress. The walking stick is the prize I won, second prize. We both did enjoy ourselves. All the beads are real amber, dad's gold silk curtains are around me, the scarf on my head is the blue one you bought at Mr Privett's sale. Don't you think I make a good East Indian Princess?"
The third postcard (below), has a slightly darker edge to it. It is written in pencil now too faint to decipher even for a German-reader, which I am not, for that is the language it is written in. The presence of the ink stamps saying "Abraham" all over it is horribly reminiscent of Jews in Nazi Germany having a "J" stamped on their passports, and having to change their names to either Israel or Sarah, though the postcard predates the Nazi era. It could simply be a child called Abraham with a home printing kit having fun. Any insight from FFEP readers is, of course, always appreciated.
Friday, April 29, 2016
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
A Game of Dark
by William Mayne
(Hamish Hamilton, London: 1971)
I have been reading quite a lot of what used to be called children's books, more usually labelled 'young adult fiction' these days. Some of it has been modern and some 'vintage'. William Mayne has been a significant discovery in the vintage category. It has been claimed that he was one of the greatest writers of children's books in the twentieth century and, equally fairly probably, he has a reputation as one of those children's writers as much, if not more read by adults than children. Certainly, I had never read any of his books as a child despite being of the right vintage myself. Nonetheless, I have read a number now and, given that I have chosen this book among them, you might be right in assuming this is going to be more of a recommendation than a review!
The title is not misleading, this is a dark tale. In the first scene Donald Jackson, our boy-protagonist, is 'coming to' in his classroom from a fugue-like state. He has little memory of where he has been or what he has seen but as the book progresses these switches back and forth between his here-and-now reality and "another place" become more and more vivid until it is difficult for Donald to tell which 'reality' he prefers. We see him go to a fantasy world more and more often as problems in his home life get worse. His father is physically and emotionally crippled, his mother is hard pressed to find enough compassion for her husband to have any to spare for Donald. As the book unfolds we learn more about a family tragedy that connects all these things and we see a father who is using his religion as an excuse to punish himself for undeserved gilt.
The device of having a child character live half in the real world and half in fantasy is by no means unique to this book but I have never seen it done so brilliantly. The fantasy world in which Donald finds himself is indeed one which has many of the tropes of the fantasy genre: knights, beasts, dark-ages style towns and culture. But Mayne's is full of stench and cowardice, ignobility and fear. There is also no direct analogue, there is no talking down to the child reader saying: his fantasy is this because it corresponds to that in the real world. Instead the two worlds are separate and unrelated in many ways and they really only share one thing, a choice that has to be made. The easy thing to do is to make the two worlds relate, to show how the character is running from an unhappy situation in the here-and-now into a place where he has control or where he can find respite from his worries. Mayne is so much cleverer than that.
Where Mayne truly excels though, and this is a paean I could sing of all his novels I have read so far, is in his observation. I have rarely read a book, let alone a supposed children's book, where the characters have felt so real and so full of their own life and history. Not just Donald, who is brilliantly portrayed with all the qualities of adolescence from the adorable to the disgusting, but also the adults in the book, his parents and the somewhat overly chipper Vicar in the here-and-now, and the pragmatic knight in the other place, every character is beautifully observed, sparingly recreated and in the end sympathetically shown to us with a great love, no matter how awful they might at first appear.
Mayne wrote over a hundred books, of the four or five I have now read this was the darkest and the best and I can wholeheartedly recommend it. But I am looking forward to diving into some of the remaining 95+