I know I've said this about a few people, but Jay Watson is one of the loveliest human beings alive. He's a giant of a man, tall and broad, and just big, but there's not an ounce of malice or intimidation in him. Quite the opposite: he's one of the gentlest, most caring people I've ever come across. And while it is often a truism, in this case it's simply true: there's not a person you'll meet who doesn't adore the man.
A passionate and long-time SF fan, he's been on more Swancon committees than is healthy, is one of the organisers behind the excellent CrimeScene convention, and is a friend and safe space for anyone who needs it. My first experience of him was sitting at a dinner table, throwing Goon Show lines at each other, and it's been a long, happy association ever since. Now here he is, in his own words.
Precious Things: Jay Watson
Jay's on the left.
My father made sure that I was interested in science and science fiction by exposing me to things like Doctor Who pretty much from birth. Because we were poor, we didn’t have many books in the house – those that we did have were ones that Dad picked up cheap at the second-hand bookstore. To this day, I still love the feel of a dingy old second-hand bookshop.
After we moved from Whyalla to Perth in ’78, I began to develop a love for the local library, to the point that I would go there as often as I could to get out new books to read, mostly about science and/or movies. Not long after this, my Dad picked up three books for me at a bookshop that I have treasured ever since – Star Trek 5 (stories adapted by James Blish), Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen (by Terrance Dicks), and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (by Alan Dean Foster).
They were the first books in my personal library (if you don’t count Little Golden Books or Dr Seuss) and, while they weren’t great literature or anything, they meant a lot to me. The Doctor Who and Star Trek books gave me a different perspective on the episodes that they covered, while Splinter of the Mind’s Eye helped to feed my blossoming love of all things Star Wars. They also helped me with my nascent interest in creating adventures for role-playing games, which I was introduced to around the same time by one of my (female) teachers.
While my Dad also introduced me to Tolkein, Asimov, Herbert, Clarke, Smith, Wells, Verne, and on and on, via the books he was reading, those three books still grace my shelves and will continue to do so for a long time to come.
I've always loved the visual arts: deeply, at a level beyond my capacity to articulate. No trip to a new town, a new State, a new country, is complete until I've experienced the art gallery, the sculpture park, the local museum. I think in pictures, explain in diagrams, communicate in sketches and arms waved around to delineate space and placement.
Sadly, as anybody who has been following my Thumbnail Thursday posts, or has seen the few cartoons I actually managed to finish and have published over the years, can attest, it turns out I can't draw for shite.
My sense of visualisation, however, is very strong. When I'm writing-- when it's going well, and the words are flowing at their highest swell-- I have a very clear image of what I'm writing about; so strong that, at times, I'm doing little more than transcribing what I see, rather than truly creating from empty cloth.
Still, words are an artificial construct, a mechanical choice between pre-forged components relying on a social contract between author and audience to assign meaning to the thoughts being relayed. (See?) When I experience an image; when I see the combination of light, colour, form and medium and it sparks of an emotional recognition in me; it feels pure, unrestrained.
If I could, I would. Until then, I rely on my own imperfect tools, and my own limited repertoire of creative skills. But here are five artists who do things to me I can only wish I had the talent to replicate.
FIVE FOR FRIDAY: VISUAL ARTISTS
Mad, murdering Richard Dadd, who slashed his father's throat while out walking, spent much of his adult life in Bedlam, and while there, completed intricate masterpieces detailing a world only he could see, halfway between myth, folklore, and the escapist fantasies of a man trapped in a physical and psychological hellscape.
His most famous work is probably The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, a stunning fantasy scene that became the subject of a typically epic Queen song. But the one below, Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane is my favourite of his works. There's something simply skewiff about the whole thing: the colours are subtly wrong, the dimensions just ever so slightly off, and the face... look at the face. Neither feminine nor masculine but a halfway hybrid; emotionless, dark pits of eyes staring with no message at all straight at the viewer; the almost-dancing sense of movement at odds with the heavy, lumpen nature of the physique.... it's a piece that transfixes me in delight and fascination.
I started to collect books at a fortuitous time: the early 80s was the point at which books that had been published in the 1970s were filtering into the second hand shops, where young teens like me could afford them. And those books came from publishers like Ace, and Panther, and Pan, and the covers... oh, my God, the covers.
The 1970s were the greatest era of SF book covers ever. There, I said it. And at the forefront of those covers, at least to me eyes, were the mad spaceships, landscapes, and broken-future beauty of airbrush artist Chris Foss.
A master of light and asymmetrical design, Foss was science fiction for me. Forget Star Wars, forget Giger's Alien designs. When the future arrives, I want it to look like Foss promised me it would: full of vast, slab-sided experiments in colour and thunderous energy, with the sound of building-sized engines blowing holes in the vacuum of deep space.
I could pick any number of images that remain lodged in my unconscious, but my favourite remains my first: the giant, fallen robot of his cover for the Panther issue of Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel. Simply, truly, glorious.
Ah, the working class English upbringing. Where things that looks like things is what real art is, and anything else is poncy nonsense or summat wot my kid could do, innit?
Suffice to say, the surrealists hit me like a meringue anvil right in the third eye. I love Dali, I love Miro, Bunuel, and the writings of Breton, and the zealous insanity of Duschamp.... but of them all, it was Rene Magritte (and Max Ernst, of whom more later) who took my adoration, and gave me tools of quantification and recreation with which to engage in my own, meagre experiments (the closes any of them have come to fruition, the short.... thing, Brillig, can be found here)
Most famous for his brilliant works The Son of Man and The Treachery of Images, a personal favourite is the work below, The Voice of Space. I love its sense of scale, and weightlessness, its implied narrative, and the gentle idea that momentous thing can take place in spaces where there is nobody to bear witness.
Painter, sculptor, poet, graphic designer, surrealist. One of the first polymaths I encountered, and one that has provided me with endless fascination ever since. Max Ernst's life provided me with an early education in how an artist's experiences can be filtered through his artistic philosophies to create a third, multi-textured form of expression. I have drawn so much from his filtering of trauma and hardship that he will always be a central figure of my artistic ambitions, and of my karass.
My own small tribute was a story named after the painting depicted here: Europe, After the Rain, appeared in the Fablecroft Anthology After the Rain, and was, in large part, inspired by this piece, Europe After the Rain II.
Which is your Blake? The poet or the painter? It is hard to distinguish between the two: they correlated, at times perfectly, into an ouvre of singular intent and vision. But if I were to argue in terms of technique, I would say that his poetical output forms a wonderful example of a form that was practiced equally superbly by a number of peers, but his painting? Oh, his painting.
There was nobody ever quite like William Blake when it came to painting, and I would argue that there still isn't. His works are the stuff of fever-dreams, of a mind stretched into shapes unbidden and unrecognisable by the measures of his time. They are a pure expression of a singular, individual madness, so unique and unreal that even when he turned his talents towards the supporting walls of his Universe, such as his illuminations of the Revelations, it produced images unlike anything the mainstream could ever have expected. The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with Sun is what they got, instead. Open Dante, and Blake gives you The Lover's Whirlwind. Work in miniature, and you get my favourite of all Blake's work, an epic compression of scale, power and movement that is the A4-sized The Ghost of a Flea, reproduced below.
My stint as Writer-in-Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre approaches like a monster riding a runaway train over a cliff while on fire (Of course I'm ready. Why wouldn't I be ready? What would make you think that? Ha. Ha ha ha. Oh, you. Am I ready, you ask. Hahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaahhhhhccccchhh
From the 10th to the 24th I'll be ensconced in one of the Centre's delightful cabins; staring out at the beautiful gardens while I pretend to write; visiting writing groups to spread love, bonhomie and my usual blend of fatuous advice; mentoring aspiring authors who haven't yet worked out what a complete fraud I am; and generally living the life of a swanny writah dahling while I work on my next round of rejection fodder.
I'll also be helming a workshop:
World Building 101 will be an intense, 3 hour session in what I do best-- bringing the odd into the mundane; tipping normality so that it doesn't look quite right, whatever angle you view it from; and generally injecting a note of weirdness into your work. We'll be discussing, and practicing, the elements of fantasy world-building, and smashing through a series of exercises designed to give participants the beginnings of a whole bunch of different fantastical stories. You can see my full itinerary here, including the literary dinner on the 11th July, for which tickets are still available.
The workshop takes place from 1-4pm, Saturday 22 July, at the KSP in Greenmount. Bookings are open now through Eventbrite.
There's not much to say about this one. Okay, yes, Barrabas was chosen first time out. But isn't it nice to see him coming back to defend his title. May the odds be ever in his favour.
"Choose now: Jeremy Smith or Barrabas!"
"Between you and me, this is all getting a little bit old."
"Between you and me, this is all getting a little bit old."
Colin Sharpe is one of those irritatingly handsome men who you can't hate because he's also extremely likable and manages to keep the terrifying things he does to kittens a secret. He's a father, a cyclist, a rock-climber, hockey player, an Inventory Controller and an artist, but not always in that order. He has been involved in many aspects of Perth fandom, in many different roles, and was proudly one of the editors of the superb manga anthology Xuan Xuan.
Here he discusses his passion for comic books, and reveals his Precious Thing as an issue that those of us who were there at the time will recall with the kind of horrified fascination that we had the first time Johnny Depp sucked, or Al Pacino did that weird shouty thing he does, or the first time we saw Rob Liefeld's work, or heard a Mariah Carey song, or realised Steven Segal was serious......
Precious Things: Colin Sharpe
My most precious literary possession is one that may come as a surprise to some, perhaps not to others, and for those that immediately know of it, and what it represents, it does come with preface, and a story.
When Lee asked what my most treasured literary possession was, it did not spring to mind immediately, I had to let the question percolate. I started to think of all the books I own, of all the texts I keep coming back to, and what has shaped me the most over the years, artistically. Comics, I started to think, it’s obviously a comic.
Graphic narrative is my preferred medium, and although I like working in colour sometimes, some of the best artwork and graphic storytelling I’ve ever seen, is black and white, and my favourite artists do their work in this way. I thought about the comics I have in my collection, and I realised that there was only one work that has shaped me artistically more than any other, Cerebus.
Cerebus, as a whole is one of the most beautifully drawn comic books I have ever read, and it was consistently drawn, once Dave Sim partnered with his background artist Gerhard, in a way that I still take inspiration from. The storyline quality varied greatly from its start as a parody of Conan and other pulp adventures, to many other sources, and evolved into musings by Sim on politics, religion and gender. The story along with the fantastic art in the beginning were what drew me to Cerebus, and when I get to the issue that is the most treasured, the art is what kept me coming back, and the story in a quite different way. Lee asked what is my most treasured literary possession, and there are many issues to choose from, but there is one issue that stands out, and the reasons to choose it are complicated, and I will try and explain, as concisely as I can, what they are, and what it means to me.
The issue in question is 186.
For those of you who know of it, the preface and story I mentioned at the start become clearer, but for those who don’t, this issue is the one where the narrative is violently disrupted by ‘Viktor’, an analogue for Sim the creator, who writes an essay about the male ‘light’ and the female ‘void’. It is every bit as bad as that may sound, and it was a very lengthy read, in the middle of what many would have described as a more intelligent funny animal story up until that point. It was a turning point for the work, after which it descended into what I will describe as madness, as it became clearer and clearer that the creator actually meant, and believed, that an entire gender were nothing more than a void that consumed the other’s light, their soul and creativity.
This issue coloured all before it, and certainly soured all that came after. I did continue to buy Cerebus until it ended at issue 300 (it was slated to end at that issue for a long time before issue 186 came out). At first, I thought it must not be the author’s true intent, and later it was more for the art, and as a record of what I would then aspire not to be.
Issue 186 of Cerebus marks two halves of Sim’s work, the first of which inspired me to be a comic artist. It showed me that there were other ways to draw comics, that you could tell all manner of stories with incredible art, and that they didn’t have to be about superheroes with miraculous powers. It showed me that you could publish them yourself, and that you could create a community around your work, the letters pages in the back of Cerebus could be as interesting as the book. The letters section also included previews of other independent books and artists, many of which rank among my favourites still.
The second half of Cerebus, after 186, inspires me to be better than Sim was. To create work that unifies and elevates us all, rather than belittling half of us. Issue 186 had a preview for Terry Moore’s comic Strangers in Paradise, which is another of my favourite comics, and that led to discovering Poison Elves, and Charles Vess, and Thieves and Kings, and many other of my favourite comics. Issue 186 of Cerebus is my most precious literary possession, and the reasons for it to be so are complicated, and messy, but it did ultimately shape me.
Not in the way the creator intended perhaps, but there is a lesson in that as well.
Back when I was growing up, it's fair to say that the explosion of artistic experimentation represented by the post-war literary boom, the New Wave, the Sixties, sexual liberation, good music, haircuts longer than a piece of peach fuzz, and colour television hadn't really reached my hometown of Boganville. When I first started to entertain the idea of becoming a writer, benchmarking options were fairly thin on the ground: what i looked on as some sort of aspirational holy trinity consisted of everybody's starter for 10: Asimov, Bradbury and Heinlein.
It's far to say, I don't exaggerate when I say going to University was the saving of my soul.
Over the years, I've stumbled across countless authors who have filled in gaps in my education, my understanding of the Universe, and paved the way for me to become an infinitely better human being than I was the day I first walked across campus (First, yes, I pretty much do separate my life into before and after day one of Uni, and second, if you think I'm an arsehole now, that's probably fair, you should have known me then).
So, for today, here's a list of five authors whose works I remain in love with, who continue to inspire me, and for whom I am, unashamedly, a fanboy.
FIVE for FRIDAY: AUTHORS
Voice. Pure, individual, unique voice. The man writes crime like nobody else. From The Black Dahlia on, everything Ellroy has written-- and make no mistake, he writes a brilliant story-- hinges on that helter-skelter, edge-of-madness voice. Every Ellroy novel is a carnival ride through the sticky residue of the human soul, and it's utterly, utterly compelling. He's probably most famous for his LA Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, and White Jazz), but the Underworld USA trilogy, especially the middle volume, The Cold Six Thousand, is his great tour de force.
Nottingham-born author of hidden histories of London, covering topics like the City's funerary practices, criminal underworld and insane asylums, I am an unabashed fanboy of Catharine Arnold's work. Her book Necropolis: London and its Dead was the source text for the development of Magrit, and I could be mining her work for inspiration to my dying day. Check out Bedlam: London and Its Mad for another astonishing read.
I've been a Mieville fan ever since I reviewed The Scar for a website on first release. I've assiduously laid my hands on everything I can find ever since. I love his slightly-gothic worldbuilding; his long, looping approach to plotting; and his use of mundane props as indicators to deeper weirdnesses beneath. And, in what seems to be a peculiarly English literary tradition, his notion that the weird itself be presented as mundane and unworthy of comment: what is, just is, and it is the imposition of the outside voice, that insists on seeing the weird as weird, that causes the disruption of reality. The City and the City is, for me, his best work, but I also have a deep love for The Iron Council.
Lethem occupies a place I want to manage, straddling speculative and realistic works and themes and seamlessly moving between them at will. I first came across his story collection Men and Cartoons when it was gifted to me by a fellow writer, and have jumped on everything I can find since. His not-quite-SF work, As She Climbed Across the Table, about a woman who falls in love with, literally, nothing, is among my very favourite works.
Philip K Dick
I don't really know what I can say about Dick that hasn't already been said, or written, or filmed, or blogged, or printed on a tee shirt. I mean, come on: Ubik. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Or, you know, pretty much literally anything the man ever wrote. Fucking genius.
Sometimes, when life throws you lemons, you just have to find a good quality gin to go with it. We all gots stuff, amirite? Even werewolves need walkies.
"Just wait thirty minutes, it'll all be fine."