Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Singing is gay

I watched a fantastic programme yesterday about the forming of a choir in a sports-biased boy's school. It was incredibly moving and I was gulping back tears for most of the time. I know - it's pathetic.

Ordinarily I have a low tolerance of this kind of thing - redemption through TV - but this project was different. David Tennant look-alike Gareth Malone made a real difference to the lives of these boys when he set up that choir. This is not the karaoke of 'talent' shows. There is real work here. These are not the look-at-me show offs that normally dive in front of the camera. Some of these boys had to be persuaded and cajoled out of their 'singing is gay' attitude.

There's not enough poetry in the lives of teenage boys. This film showed what a beautiful thing it is when boys are allowed to express themselves. They get such a bad press, but they are under such pressure not display the tenderness they all - all - have the capacity to show. It showed what a stifling and debilitating thing 'coolness' is. It showed that there is so much untapped talent out there. They should show this film in every secondary school in the land, despite the foul language (most of it from the exasperated Malone).

A choir is not so different from a team in a sports event. It certainly is about team-building and doing the best for the whole. The boys who stepped up and did the solos (the penalty shoot outs of choral singing) were amazing. It just shows what you can do, if you have the expertise and have the support of the head.

Music is such an undervalued part of many school curriculums. It shouldn't be. Art, music, poetry, creative writing - they need to be done with exactly the same commitment and rigour as maths and science. They are not more important, but they are as important. They change lives.

If you can, watch the whole thing on BBC iPlayer.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

And we will walk and talk in gardens all misty wet with rain

There are times when I can't listen to Van Morrison. But I have reinstalled some of his songs on my iPod and those words from Sweet Thing on Astral Weeks - we shall walk and talk in gardens all misty wet with rain - well, I've always loved those lyrics.

And whilst I'm letting my freak flag fly, so to speak, I should also say that I was in Fopp the other day and there was a tune blasting out that I knew but couldn't place. It sounded great and I was a little taken aback to discover it was Melanie. Melanie! The same Melanie who burbled on about roller skates and keys. That Melanie. It was Lay Down (Candles in the Rain) and appears on A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding In Your Mind, Vol 2, by Amorphous Androgynous which for some reason I didn't buy at the time, but I think I probably will. But download Lay Down immediately. It will make you feel better for the rest of the day.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Frosty skull

I had an email from Sarah Odedina today saying that Bloomsbury are going to go with the frosty skull cover idea I came up with many months ago for The Dead of Winter. I'm really pleased - both that they are going with an image I came up with, but also that they are going with something so bold.

I like Charlie Brooker in the Guardian. This latest piece about Apple evangelists is great. I don't hate Apple. I have an iPod. I like my iPod (even though it has a battery life of about ten minutes now). I download things using iTunes. I can see myself having a Macbook (as long as I don't have to call it that). But if I have to listen to another Apple cult member wandering towards me like a zombie saying, 'One of us, one of us,' and telling me what a rubbish program Word is or how terrible Windows is. I don't care. Shut up. Shut. Up. And that especially means you Stephen Fry. All new technology is the work of Satan. All of it.

And are Apple computers so great? I mean they are white and everything, with slightly rounded corners. But is that great design? White with rounded corners. Is that it? I loved those iMacs with the see-through coloured plastic backs. They were great. They were fun. But ever since they have simply churned out white 1960s retro space-age stuff. It's not ugly. But is it really so fantastic as a piece of design? White with tiny, wee keyboards.

And do they really work better? They are certainly more expensive. Contrary to what Appleoids will tell you, they are always having problems - all Appleoids have an Apple man (or priest, if you will) to come and sort these problems out. Constantly.

I do not feel the need to promote Windows in the way that Appleoids need to blart on about Apple, but Word works well enough for what I ask it to do. It's become far too complicated lately, I will say that (and the compatibility issue between Vista and XP is ridiculous). But when an Apple fan tells you Word is an awful program you do need to remember that they a) have never used it, or b) have the weird Mickey Mouse version that Macs use.

Last week I noticed in the Technology section of the Guardian that there is a bit of a problem with the preposterously named Snow Leopard operating system on Macs. In some 'unlucky' instances, all of the photos stored in iPhoto are deleted or overwritten when you upgrade. All your photos gone. Poof!


Saturday, 26 September 2009

The backs

I rode over to the Backs today and took some photos from Queen's Road. I had spotted a while back that the buildings here looked fantastic in the late afternoon light. King's College Chapel is such an extraordinary structure with those minaret-like towers at each corner and the gigantic west window. It is easy to take it for granted, seeing it almost every day as I do - until you see it in light like this.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Undead books

Holy neck, Batman - we seem to have been taken over by teenage vampires. Those graphic designers certainly have run through every design possibility from A to B.

Great Marina Hyde piece in the Guardian today about Geri Halliwell. Marina Hyde has rehearsed her celebrity-culture-as-harbinger-of-the-apocalypse shtick many times, but it still makes me laugh.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Art, bicycles, furniture, illustration.

I'm off to London today. John Clarke, my studio mate, is showing some of his paintings at our friend Malcolm Harding's furniture showroom in Shepherdess Walk. Malcolm's private view invite promises 'Art, bicycles, furniture, illustration', which is a combination you don't see every day.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Colour can be creepy too

I have been thinking about doing some paintings based on my writing and have therefore been thinking a lot about how to paint Victorian and Edwardian interiors. Because of black and white photography and the kind of engravings Ernst was employing in Une Semaine de Bonte, it is easy to forget that there was colour at the turn of the century.

Lots of it.

Edward Gorey was very good at seeing that one of the features of interiors of the period was the way they were saturated everything with surface pattern. Women in patterned dresses stand in front of foliate wallpaper with swirling rugs beneath their feet. It is all a bit dizzying.

One of the painters who managed to capture this in oils was Edouard Vuillard (who along with Felix Vallatton and Pierre Bonnard was part of Les Nabis, a grouping of avante garde Post-Impressionists). I have just bought this little Thames and Hudson book about his life and work and it fairly shimmers when you open it.

Although the paintings are beautiful and richly colourful, there is also something weird - even disturbing - about the density of pattern. Some of them would make surprisingly successful book jackets for Edwardian ghost stories, I think.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Loser continued, continued. . .

So Tales of Terror from the Black Ship has floundered and the Booktrust Teenage Prize shortlist has sailed on without her. I must admit I was very honoured to be considered, but the Black Ship doesn't strike me as a 'teenage book'. It does not have 'knife' or 'knickers' in the title and features no snogging at all.

Actually, neither do any of the books on the shortlist.

I notice at my local Borders there is a very amusing 'Teen Gothic' stand where all the books covers are black with the occasional splash of read and feature sulky-looking teenagers who seem really miffed about, like, totally being a vampire and stuff.

Maybe Black Ship fits here, I thought. But I can hear all those books saying, 'Yeah, right,' and sneering out from under their floppy fringes.


Sunday, 20 September 2009

Is that a pangolin on your head, ma'am?

I have been looking at Max Ernst's Une Semaine de Bonte quite a bit recently. Ernst had the brilliantly simple idea of cutting and pasting together sections of found engravings and putting them together into a kind of crazy narrative. He has been enthusiastically ripped off by illustrators ever since.

The unexpected juxtaposition so loved by surrealists (and embraced by illustrators and advertisers) can be a bit wearing, I find. But here it really works. It is a brilliant, weird, and surprisingly naughty book at times, at turns funny and nightmarish. Edward Gorey acknowledged it as an influence on his work and it clearly informs the work of Andrzej Klimowski.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Nobody tosses a dwarf!

I was channel-hopping and caught a bit of The Fellowship of the Ring on TV. There is something a bit hilarious about the whole exercise. The script is pretty silly - 'Nobody tosses a dwarf!' being one of my favourites. Those stick-on, sticky out ears are distracting, particularly on Cate Blanchett where they look like they are going to start fluttering like butterfly wings. That strange collection of accents - Middle Earth seems to be located halfway between Yorkshire and Los Angeles. We have the whole trilogy in a boxed sets and I remember getting bed sores watching them in all their directors cut, extended (!) glory when we lived in Norfolk.

I have to confess to being fairly immune to Tolkien. I don't really know why. I ought to love it. But there is something about the word 'elf' that sets my teeth on edge. The boys who read Tolkien at my school listened to Genesis and Yes and though I can't really hold Tolkien personally responsible for that, it is just too painful a memory to get past.

Peter Jackson did do a great job on the look of the movie though. He is like one of those great nineteenth century painters, but working in film instead of paint. Obviously the landscape of New Zealand plays a huge part, but you still have to find the locations, pick the day and frame the shots. He definitely has a painters eye.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Death ray

Ian Lamb was in touch to tell me that Death Ray magazine are going to give me a mention in the November edition. Ian has given them a short story called The Merchandise and they have sent a list of questions for me to answer by way of an interview. Death Ray (in spite if their scary name) have been really supportive of me, I have to say.

I've also been in touch with Adrian Downie about doing something for the Tales of Terror website to mark the publication of Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth. We haven't quite come up with anything definitive yet, but I'll keep you posted. Adrian is a bit of whiz at these things and we are both keen to do something a little bit different.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

247 tales

I took this photo over the weekend when it was still beautifully sunny in Cambridge. This chap has taken up residence across our front door, ready to catch anyone foolish enough to try and visit.

Actually we had Ross and Mardi and kids over on Saturday night, all the way from Tasmania. Sort of. They are over from Tasmania, though it's not strictly true that they came specifically for our cooking alone.

A big box of books arrived from Bloomsbury: my advance copies of Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth and the paperbacks of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship. They will be in the shops any day now.

I had a reminder from Ian Lamb, who has worked (brilliantly) as publicist on the Tales of Terror books, that I promised to write a contribution to his excellent 247tales scheme at Bloomsbury. The aim is to get young people to contribute their own stories on a monthly theme (mine being Ghosts) with a restriction of 247 as a word length - (hopefully) inspired by a Bloomsbury author writing their own 247 tale.

Follow the link if you want to see some of the existing contributions. If you are between 8 and 16, why not have a go? You might win £75 worth of Bloomsbury books and get your work up on the 247tales website.

Go on.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Painting heads

For the last couple of days I have been trying to get back into painting and did these three author portraits - Poe, Stevenson and Kafka. They are doodles really, although they are doodles in acrylic on small (smaller than A4) canvas. Poe is probably the most successful - but that might simply be that his face was already the better image.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Tunnel's mouth

More exciting post today. The first copies of Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth arrived. The hardback and paperback editions of the tales of terror books leapfrog each other. The hardback of Tunnel's Mouth comes out at the beginning of October at the same time as the paperback of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship.

It's great to see the whole set out and it is always good to see the very first hardback editions, handsome in their dust jackets and lovely David Roberts cover (who has illustrated the book as usual).

Monday, 7 September 2009

The day it rained forever

I thought I ought to show you one of Francis Mosley's new paintings - to hopefully encourage you to go and take a look at the real things. I think its true to say that they mark something of a departure for Francis, and a really interesting one. This painting is called The Day it Rained Forever and I think it's rather lovely.

I've known Francis for over twenty-five years now and shared a studio with him in Shoreditch for many years before we both left London for pastures new (although he made a brief return to the capital before moving to Bath).

I had been working from my bedroom in my flat in Finsbury Park and saw an advert for a studio space to share - possibly in the Association of Illustrators magazine (1984 I think it must have been). I had worked in a shared studio before - in Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury. That space was a basement with little or no natural light and working at home seemed - and was - preferable.

But time had moved on and my home situation was different. So I turned up to what was in effect an interview at the studio in Charlotte Road. The existing studio members looked through my folio and asked me questions and they clearly thought I would fit in because they invited me to join them. The illustrator Inga Moore was one of those original members. She later moved out and for a long while I shared with Francis, Louise Brierley and John Morris.

Francis and I both worked for newspapers at that time. We both used to do stuff for The Times. Francis used to do the restaurant review illustration I remember. And when we weren't doing that we would occasionally have long conversations about art and the meaning of life, something we still do at intervals , though sadly now mostly by email or phone.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Private view

I have been meaning to mention the fact that my old friend Francis Mosley is having a private view of his new paintings in Bath this coming Saturday, September 12, from 11-6pm at The Old Malthouse on Cambridge Place, Upper Bristol Road. He is showing with another painter called Charlotte Moore. If anyone reads this blog and lives in or around Bath, then why not go along?

If anyone reads this blog that is.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Paperback Black Ship

A couple of advance copies of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship arrived in the post today from Bloomsbury. Its always good to see the paperbacks. The hardbacks are lovely, of course (and the hardbacks of Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth should be arriving soon), but most of us read paperbacks and it is the paperback that you hope will fly off the shelves. It has been nicely done as usual with lots of good quotes (including one from my old mate Chris Riddell). It is in the shops at the beginning of next month.

I was particularly pleased with the linking story in Tales of Terror from the Black Ship. I think it is a good story in its own right - and that is very important to me with these books: that the linking story should not simply be a contrivance tacked on at the end.

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship is the only one of the tales of terror books to have a theme. That also works well I think. It is something I may return to in one form or another. . .

Friday, 4 September 2009

Small canvas

I went in to the studio again today. I did a couple of charcoal drawings and did a bit of painting. I bought some small canvases a while back - small enough to scan in on my A4 scanner. I was only really having a play about, trying to get back into the swing of using a brush rather than prodding a keyboard. If I do anything I think is worth showing I'll scan it in and let you have a look.

I have to say that none of them came out as well as my son's painting shown above. It is tiny - the size of a large matchbox - and it was done as a gift for my birthday. It is of the hill near the hamlet we stayed in on our recent trip to the Lake District.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Wild is the wind

It was my son's last day of his school holidays yesterday and we used it as an excuse to go for a slap up feed in Lavenham. We had toyed with the idea of going blackberry picking as well (which is becoming a bit of a last day of the holidays tradition) but it wasn't blackberry picking weather.

We went along to the church this time. There are nice lichen encrusted gravestones with weathered skulls and cherubs. If the words 'nice' and 'gravestones' don't fit together for you, then they will probably be lost on you (and so would a large part of my photographic output). There are some good miserichords and bench ends inside, though the bench ends are pretty damaged. No demons among the bench ends, but there is the occasional dragon.

And today has been wild here in Cambridge. There is a fierce wind sending clouds racing across the sky. The willows are tossing their heads like heavy metal fans. Its Autumn all of a sudden.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Payne's Grey is no more

I went into the studio today. I hadn't been in for months. As always there had been a flurry of activity from my studio mate, John Clark, who has been busy painting some large canvases. I saw John last Saturday and he was so enthusiastic about what he had been doing. I rarely (who am I kidding - never) feel such unbridled enthusiasm for my own work and it is quite inspiring.

I sent my last Payne's Grey in to the New Statesman today. They are moving and redesigning and Payne's Grey has been given the bum's rush. David Gibbons, the designer there (who I have known for many years and worked with at the Independent), was very kind about the strip and I have to say it has been a pleasure to do over the years. I wish them luck with the redesign.

But it does mean that my last tenuous contact with newspapers has come to an end. I have contributed illustrations to magazines or newspapers or both for going on for thirty years, more or less continually. It gives me a slightly dizzy feeling to think I won't do that again.

Having had a sabbatical from editorial illustration - real illustration to a brief rather than a stand-alone spot - I find myself attracted to the idea of giving it another go. If anything occurs then I'll let you know. . .