illustration

Flash Fiction, maps, and a poetry pamphlet

It was the Northern Short Story Festival on Saturday, courtesy of Leeds Big Bookend, and I went along to take part in the Flash Fiction Slam, a kind of competitive open mic. There are lots of photos here on Flickr including an unfortunate/amusing one of me with what can only be described as an expressive reading face on. Masses of variety on show, I was outclassed by Lynn Bauman-Milner doing a dark and intense take on Cinderella while I opted for The Invisible Woman, which you may have read here on Reflex Fiction recently. Neither of us won.

Mark the artist (who’d come along with OneMonkey to be supportive) and I ended up talking to the illustrator Simon Smith for ages. There are photos of that too, if you’re interested. Among other things, Si worked on Stories from the Forests of Leeds with Daniel Ingram-Brown, a genius idea where writers (amateur and otherwise) around Leeds created characters based on area names then developed stories around them. I would love to see a Bradford version (naturally) and if all else fails maybe Mark and I could initiate it ourselves. Hmm…

Coincidentally I was looking at an old map of Haltwhistle this week and the story ideas within the names on that sheet alone were fantastic: Hot Moss, Galloping Rigg, Baty’s Shield, Foul Potts, Clattering Ford, Windy Law, Foul Town, Crooks, New Angerton, Fairy Stairs, Witches House (ruin), not to mention at least 3 castles. I urge you to go look at the fabulous old Ordnance Survey maps there on the National Library of Scotland site, they’re amazing whether you’re interested in history, your neighbourhood, or quirky old places to build a story round.

Lastly, lest I forget, the International Women’s Day poetry pamphlets from Bradford Libraries are out now, with my poem in. Dead excited to get this through the post:

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Sixth annual International Illustrator Appreciation Day

Whose word-enhancing art are you going to appreciate today? Five years ago I tried to boost the profile of artists quietly providing book covers and magazine illustrations. In the last few days, by coincidence, I’ve had my attention drawn to this vote for artwork (suitable for a future book cover) at Spark. Hard to choose, but I particularly liked Monsters and Marvels by Luke Spooner, Snake Bones by Rodrica Cogle, and The Carrot is Mightier Than the Sword by Sean Greenberg.

It’s also been a week for comics exposure, what with Dave Gibbons being created Comics Laureate in the cause of literacy, so in case it’s not your usual medium why not check out some freely available volumes? There’s The Only Living Boy at NoiseTrade, and a whole graphic novel list at Free Online Novels (including 2 written by me, with fabulous art by Mark Pexton, which you can get here).

Go hug an illustrator, tell them I sent you

It’s the second annual International Illustrator Appreciation Day – I know this because I made it up a year ago. The aim was to draw some attention (no pun intended, I swear) to the illustrators who interpret and enhance stories (or novels, with cover art) and enrich the reading experience. It’s probably more relevant if you read a lot of sci-fi or fantasy but I’d like to encourage you to take this opportunity to highlight an artist you’ve enjoyed in a recent magazine, or leave a comment on someone’s blog. You might think they won’t care, but even apparently successful artists may well appreciate some confirmation that someone’s noticed what they do.

To that end, I’ll point you at Darren Winter, stand-out artist in the last Interzone I read, and of course Mark Pexton who hasn’t been in Interzone for a while but we’ll forgive him because he’s been working on our stunning graphic novel (I’m allowed to refer to the art as stunning, I didn’t do it).

International Illustrator Appreciation Day: October 22nd

Talking to my artist friend LeMat the other day (now mainly reverting to the use of his real name Mark Pexton on his art, just to confuse everyone), I realised what a rough deal illustrators get. Whereas writers might (and do) sometimes complain about editors, low pay rates and a lack of appreciation, when was the last time you saw anyone mention the illustrations or cover art from a magazine? Mark’s had a full-page illustration in each of the last 3 copies of Interzone, and has apparently provided illustrations for the next 3 as well, but no-one seems to mention any of the illustrations in reviews, except to list the featured artists. He’s done a book cover, which adds a real atmosphere, but no-one mentions his name (except presumably in small print on the back cover). Even in magazines where the writers are paid, the artists often aren’t, not even with a contributor copy. To add insult to injury, illustrations are often classed as lower status than gallery art.

Cover illustrations, whether for books or magazines, are the first thing to catch the reader’s eye. Before I know what a novel’s about, I’ve got to notice it, pick it up and read the synopsis – what makes me do that? The cover (colours, image, lettering) have to convey some idea to me and look attractive enough to make me single that book out from all the surrounding ones. That takes some doing in the overloaded bookshelves of the modern world. So why aren’t the artists more prominent? Occasionally there’ll be a Quentin Blake, but mostly there are hundreds of Mark Pextons.

In a short story magazine, it’s easier and cheaper to leave the illustrations out, so there must be some reason why magazines like Interzone continue to include them. They can help to enhance the atmosphere, set the scene, and even to catch the reader’s eye in a way that the opening line of the story might not. I notice Mark’s illustrations because they’re usually familiar to me and I have a personal connection with them, but I confess I’m often guilty of overlooking illustrations. Or rather, I don’t mention them – they must filter through on some level because I’ll picture a character the way they’ve been drawn, or I’ll read the story waiting for a robot to appear and feel cheated when it doesn’t, because there was one in the main illustration.

Our reading lives would be less rich without illustrators, though we may not always realise that. I’d like to declare October 22nd International Illustrator Appreciation Day – phone an illustrator of your acquaintance, write a blog post, send an email or leave a comment on someone’s website (here, if you like), but somehow let those great artists know that they’re not being ignored.