We are who we paint (or write)!

So, my art teacher said something very interesting today. We were doing portraits, and she gave me a black-and-white photo of Edward Hopper (Nighthawks) to tackle. (Because she likes to set me challenges.) It was strongly lit and his eyes were scrunched up against the sun so they weren’t actually visible. OK, I’m going to get technical here. I used Indian Red for the basic skin tone, which when I was working on painting Captain da Silva got nearest to the color I wanted. Which is also the color I use when doing self-portraits, as my skin tans that kind of reddish-brown. Again, not knowing the color of Hopper’s eyes, I used Payne’s Grey (which has a hint of blue in it) — the came that I use for, guess who, myself and the Captain.

As it happens, I had guessed right, but what Wendy (my teacher) found most interesting was that I had used myself as a kind of template. Something she says often is that the colors we like to use reflect our personalities. Today she took that a bit further, and got us all to show and tell. I should mention that several others had used black-and-white photos, and the rest of the class were working from drawings and sketches by other artists. Almost everyone had painted a person with the same eyes and hair color as themselves.

I freely admit that when I write in the first person, I am using my own thoughts and a lot of my personality. But I hadn’t realized how much of the visual reflects me, as well.


Pottering about…

So, I finally got round to seeing the last Harry Potter movie yesterday and I think that a great disservice was done to the book by splitting it in half. The first part of Deathly Hallows seemed to take place largely in the dark and consisted of Harry, Hermione and Ron running around and being snarky to each other. Part 2 had them arrive at Hogwarts and, er, there was a battle which the good guys won. End of story. OK, the dragon-escape from the vault was pretty good, and I wanted to cheer at the end when Neville came to the rescue, but there was a lot of padding in between, not to mention a lot of unnecessary yakking by Voldemort. (One of my pet hates is chatty villains.) Plus, you know, he never was that scary. Skulls without their skin = creepy. Face without a nose, not so much.
It’s a pity, because some of the earlier movies in the series were pretty good. Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince managed to improve on their source. Mind you, by the time the books came out, editors seemed to be too scared to tell J.K. Rowling to cut them down by about a third, with Deathly Hallows being about the size of the Oxford English Dictionary. Maybe that’s why the powers that be decided to make it in two parts…

Where do you get your ideas from?

Someone asked me this grand old standby today and as usual I had to admit that I have no idea. All of the stuff cooking away in my mind serves up stuff every so often; given that I’ve always been a fan of the fantastic, I suppose that the ingredients are a combination of things from the genre.
I was always going to be a fantasy writer. After all, the first stories we are exposed to are fantasies, from fairy tales to Alice in Wonderland, Oz to Dr Seuss, hungry caterpillars to Gruffaloes. And remember, for a long time, fantasy was confined to children’s fiction (although I never forgave C.S.Lewis when I discovered that the Narnia stories were Christian allegories) — with the exception of that grand old tradition, the English Ghost Story. Only when The Lord of the Rings became popular did fantasy for adults start to appear in quantity.
For a large part of my writing career, I have been writing ghost stories, using the tropes of the world of M.R.James. My first novel was of that world, and I still make the occasional foray into it. It wasn’t until the appearance in my life of Captain da Silva that I suddenly became a writer of dark, slightly crazy fantasy, and I think that Joss Whedon holds a large part of the blame for that. As, probably, does Terry Pratchett. Most fantasy before that was decidedly po-faced, the “high heroic” stuff being the worst offender. Sir Terry was all about the funny for a long time, whereas Joss put the funny into a horror situation right from the start. (You’ll also notice that my writing style owes much to Raymond Chandler, for which I make absolutely no apology.)
So somehow all my years of absorbing fantasy, horror, and sf muddle around in my mind and come up with stories. I don’t always know what’s going to happen — make that, I rarely know what’s going to happen. And I find that’s rather awesome, not to mention tremendous fun.

Some more answers…

So, two more questions I was asked. “What made you interested in writing about turn-of-the-century Portugal?” and “What draws you to sea stories and sailors?”

I’ll answer the second question first. I think most kids in England were brought up on sea stories, from the Odyssey to Treasure Island. But I have the sea in my blood! My father was in the Navy, and I learnt to sail at the age of about 15 on Lake Vyrnwy in North Wales. That was quite a long way from home: there wasn’t a body of water nearby that I could sail on. The nearest was a long bus ride away. Now I live in London, and the same can be said of that. I would love to live near the sea, and sail every day. That would be perfect. The most I can manage nowadays is to seek out islands…

Above is a picture from an old book which shows the seafront of Lisbon as it was in the early years of the 20th century. As for the other question, it was more a case of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” I have liked Portugal since my first visit to Lisbon more than 20 years ago; it instantly felt like home. But I hadn’t set any stories there until Captain da Silva came barging into a tale I was writing (set in Venice). This is how he came into my mind and went straight down on paper, in “Cats & Architecture” (first published in Supernatural Tales):

“Leaning against the wall, Captain da Silva watched, a frown on his face, as della Quercia inscribed an elaborate figure on the floor with chalk. He was an unremarkable man, not tall, his only memorable feature a pair of blue eyes— legacy of an English grandmother— but he had a competent, reliable look. Right now he was a little nervous, a little sceptical, a little annoyed; and more than a little sickened, knowing what his employer intended to do with the white cat in the cage which stared out between the bars with golden-green eyes. And he badly needed a smoke. Most of all, though, he wished very heartily that he had never got involved in this at all, but that would have been impossible anyway. He shook his head irritably, annoyed at wasting time on pointless speculation: della Quercia owned him, more or less. Owned Isabella, his ship, anyway, even if she was mortgaged to the gunnels— like everything else the Venetian had left of his forefathers’ empire. This house included. Da Silva had spent most of his life at sea, and had thought he had seen and endured enough to be pretty much hardened to anything life could throw at him. Until Arturo della Quercia had flung him into a world far removed from the mundane dangers of Cape Horn and the Roaring Forties; though he would’ve preferred a hundred-foot sea or a screaming hurricane any day, given the choice. Which, of course, he wasn’t.”

An interesting question

Since I’m new to this blogging lark, I’m open to suggestions and ideas about what to write. Rachel, my book manager, gave me a few, and the first was one that made me think! It was this:
For you, what is the relationship between painting and writing?  How does one inform the other in your work?
At first the question surprised me, and then I realized that of course there is a relationship. I am, of course, a very visual person (my day job has always involved both design and writing). When I wrote my first novel, I drew a picture of the narrator of the journal sections, and I would take a look at it before writing in order to get into character. So naturally, when I realized that the Captain was going to be around for a while, I did the same thing, and here’s that first drawing. And I did rely on it for a good long time to get his voice, although now it comes easily.

As I got more into the DaSilvaverse I started doing portraits of the other characters. Harris I had always thought looked like Adam Baldwin, so he was easy to do, and so was Pierce, whose appearance I’d based on a friend of mine (sadly no longer with us). For most of the other characters, I had a general idea about their appearance, and from time to time I’ll be watching something on TV and think “that actor is how ……… looks”. I don’t feel I have to, or want to, write detailed descriptions of people, being more of a believer of one or two details to fix appearance or character.

The Captain’s father

This is Luis da Silva’s father, Sebastião. As “Demon Weather” begins, they haven’t seen each other for thirty years. Sebastião da Silva is an artist, now widowed. Father and son have a long journey to get re-acquainted.

Captain da Silva

Here’s an outsider’s view of the Captain, from “Arkright’s Tale”, first published in “No. 472 Cheyne Walk – Carnacki: The Untold Stories” which Rick Kennett and I co-wrote.

“I met up with the Isabella’s master, Captain da Silva, to discuss the matter. I took to him at once: he was an interesting fellow. What you might call an old sea-dog, a man in his forties with an eyepatch that gave him a very piratical look. He spoke perfect English, luckily — even to the extent of making a joke about my name being a good one for someone involved with ships. It turned out that he was also the owner of the vessel, which he had apparently picked up for a song in Venice when the previous owner disappeared leaving a mass of debts. But there was, as I was to discover, more to Captain da Silva than met the eye.”

Montague Pierce, bookseller and antiquarian on call

This is an extract from “The Low Man and the Angel of Death”, which first appeared in “The Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter” last year.

“Pierce was not only a bibliophile, but one of those rare creatures who could actually make money out of his passion. He had a talent for finding the unfindable, the lost and the legendary. He had rooted out copies of “Albertus Magnus” and “Egyptian Secrets” for that Venetian that even his minions hated, a rare early edition of “The Long-Lost Friend” for an American called Yandro with more money than sense, and even “The Book With No Name” for an unpleasant young Englishman named Alesteir Crowley, a volume that even some of those who acknowledged its existence refused to touch. The antiquarian had felt much the same about its purchaser.”

Pirece makes his first appearance in Demon Weather.

The Tale of Ed Harris, ship’s officer and werewolf

So I thought it would be a useful thing to post a little about my characters. Here’s an extract from “Mark of the Beast”, which can be found in “Best New Horror 13”.

“I remember. I remember. It was the George Washington from Liverpool to Riga. Freezing Baltic waters. Rime on the sheets. Danny O’Leary got pneumonia and nearly died. We put into port a day before it iced over, and there we were, stuck fast till she thawed. And wolves in the streets, leaving pawprints in the snow and yellow stains of piss on the frozen buildings. Marking out their territory. Hell, folks said they was even out on the sea, running on the ice.

So what the devil was a sailor supposed to do, take up woodcarving?

It was poker was my undoing, like my Ma always said it would be. Except I don’t reckon she meant it like it happened. I didn’t go with no hookers, didn’t want to catch the pox. Didn’t go drinking, at least not too much, rots your brain. Took care of my brain and my prick but lost my goddamn humanity when I stepped outside for a smoke to clear my head.

Yellow eyes in the night, hot and yellow as molten gold poured into a mould, the same deep fierce glow. Lips, black, stretching back from a mouth full of fangs. Smell of decaying blood, new blood.

And I’m dead.

Only I’m not.

Then, a month later, pain. Excruciating pain. My spine is broken, my legs and arms dislocated, even my skull feels like it’s exploding. I fall to the floor screaming. Some bones stretch, some shrink, everything re-forms. It feels like there’s hot lead running in my veins. It hurts so much I have no more breath to cry out, and it goes on and on and on and a furnace heat builds until I think I’m really on fire, with actual flames shooting from my skin. But I can’t see them burning because when I open my eyes their perception has changed, the entire concept of seeing has altered.

I don’t see with my eyes anymore, but with my nose. Sight is no more than shadows. The sense of smell is totally overwhelming, the scent of blood irresistible.

I’m a wolf.

So I go hunting.”