Monday, 7 December 2015

Mud-witch – a short story collaboration

Isabel Greenberg's brilliant illustrations

Ever since I began writing stories, I’ve imagined the illustrations that might go with them. They’ve remained imagined, because I can’t draw and it’s taking enough of my time to improve my writing without starting from scratch with visual art, too. Papercuts are the closest I’ve got (you can see the results here). I’d rather given up on the idea that my stories would ever be illustrated by a proper, talented artist, since it’s not the done thing to illustrate fiction for adults. I find this baffling, personally – illustrations can do so much more than just repeat the words in pictures, and who doesn’t like to pause and linger over a patch of colour, a feast for the eyes after all that text?

My chance finally came with a project I’ve just completed for Microsoft. They threw me together with Isabel Greenberg, whose brilliant graphic novels are published by Jonathan Cape, and asked us to come up with an illustrated story in two weeks – using ideas we were supposed to glean from Twitter. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that, when asked for suggestions for, say, a character’s worst habit, Twitter mostly responded with nose-picking and toe-nail biting. Luckily there were enough weird or wonderful ideas that trying out all the combinations of my favourite character, setting and habit suggestions was a bit like playing a fiction fruit machine. E.g.:


Character
Habit
Setting


Webbed hands
Hiding other people’s things
Left luggage
Museum store room
Inability to say no
Clockmaker’s shop
By the river
Mars

Character
Habit
Setting


Medieval herbalist
Murderously clumsy
Over the hills
Refuses to say sorry
Small wood at midnight
Inability to say no
By the river
Museum store room


I wrote story ideas for as many different variations as I could. A misfit working in left luggage who swaps people’s belongings with odd consequences. A medievalist let loose in museum storage, trying out new recipe concoctions from ancient ingredients to dire effect. A folkloric creature with webbed hands, who lives by the river and cannot refuse wishes made on the objects dropped there…. Luckily Isabel and I are both drawn to folklore, so picking the favourite was easy.

I did write differently, knowing the story would be illustrated – mostly by missing out some details in the hope that Isabel would fill them in from her own imagination. This was really the most gratifying part of the experience, seeing how the mud-witch and her world looked to someone else. Illustrations and words from different heads can make intriguingly complimentary combinations, rather than repeating each other, and the mud-witch became a more sympathetic character in Isabel’s hands. I envy her amazing ability to do both words and pictures, and hope I can wangle working with an illustrator again. Grown-ups deserve pictures with their stories, too.

You can read the finished book online here, and watch the making-of video below!







1 comment:

  1. Lovely story and enchanting illustrations. Want me a bag of iced buns now! Thanks

    ReplyDelete