Midwinter

ASNI GOES DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: Travels in Middle Earth and 700 Years of Pop now available for digital download! - CD Baby ** Amazon MP3 * iTunes

Also available: Music CDs * Sheet music * Greeting cards * New Zealand photography

In this newsletter:
*** Living in the Wairarapa: Getting Up Early
*** News and Current Projects
*** Cool Things Friends Do: Iris Compiet
*** Pirates, Vampires, and Tall Dark Strangers (pt 1)

Living in the Wairarapa: Getting Up Early

The last couple of weeks, I've been trying this revolutionary new thing called Getting Up Early. — I should explain that for the last 30 odd years, I have been the most pronounced night owl, indeed the Platonic idea of a Night Owl, one might say. I would rarely be fully awake and functional before about 11 am, even at those times when I had to stick to a reasonably normal sleep rhythm in order to be somewhere to start work or study by 8 or 9 am. On the other hand, I've never found it difficult to stay up late almost indeterminately, so if the book I was reading was too gripping, or I really wanted to finish that painting or that essay, or get that website to work properly, then I'd find myself staying up until the wee hours of the morning on a far too regular basis.

I guess my healthy sleep rhythm must have got wrecked at some stage during my teens. And I've never even been much of a party girl! But all the good radio shows used to start at 11 pm: Bernhard Morbach's Early Music show, the new new thing at the time, alternating weeks with the even newer thing, "non European music" – and of course I had to listen! It was the very early dawn of what has since become fairly mainstream as "World Music", but was at that time distinctly the domain of esoteric nerds with an academic bent, such like myself. And if anything good was on TV, it would also be round that time of night. Besides, late in the evening was often the only time I could carve out to do things by myself, after school, homework, dinner, and after being released from the obligatory family ritual of sitting together in front of the TV in the evenings, watching a program my father had chosen (well, most of the time anyhow) – which was my parent's idea of being a Happy Family (and continues to this day to be my Platonic idea of Tedium and Wasted Time. Sorry, mom & dad).

Then of course, I have been a professional musician for a large chunk of my adult life, and being a musician generally requires reaching one's daily peak of alertness and creativity sometime between the hours of 7 to 11 pm. And let me tell you, one doesn't wind down from the headiness of a performance that finishes at 10 or 11 pm, to be ready to go to sleep in a matter of half an hour.

So the pattern has been stuck in a deep groove for a very long time, and although I didn't think it was ideal, I'd accomodated myself to the facts of life, and given up on the hope that I'd ever manage to turn into a morning person. Although lately, it did get to the point where it really wasn't funny: Getting up not much before noon – or occasionally, even after – I'd want to use the remaining daylight hours to do gardening work, or sit outside and catch some sun, or there might be a trip to the shops or the post office to make before they'd close, so often (especially now in winter) I wouldn't even get to sit behind the computer and start some serious work until after it got dark. Then of course, Idid want to get on with my work, or there might be a deadline to catch, so I'd work until 3, 4, sometimes 5 am. Then catch up on sleep and not get up again until noon, or even later. The Platonic idea of a Vicious Cycle.

I had started to establish a more efficient pattern after I moved here to Featherston, but that trip to Europe last year really threw me out of it again – I just never really got over my jetlag, apparently! And while I keep telling myself that I'm still putting in just as many hours as anybody, it does get more difficult to fit in social or business interactions at times acceptable to other human beings, and I would start my daily chunk of work already tired from doing tasks and chores that need to be done in daylight hours, rather than fresh and rested after a good night's sleep.

Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa

Early Morning in Featherston

Then a couple of weeks ago, I got to the point where I'd sleep until 2 pm, then work until 6 or 7 am, and see dawn come up the other end. Getting up at two in the afternoon, in midwinter, means there are less than 3 daylight hours left in the day. Not good for the mood, or the creativity – and indeed, it distinctly felt as if my inspiration had gone on winter leave off to a sunny island, without letting me know. So one of those early mornings after a night of work, I decided to give up on the pretense that I was going to catch a night's sleep, and had breakfast instead. And did precisely what I would do if I had just flown in from Europe with a bad case of jetlag: stayed up and did some more work and pottering about, then went to bed sometime in the early afternoon, and slept the clock round – well, more or less – until I felt justified to get up again at 5 am the next morning. And found to my delight (seeing as creative work does seem to come easier in the quiet and dark of night), that there are a full two hours of darkness left before day even starts, at this time of year!

The whole of last week, I've found myself wide awake and ready to bounce out of bed at 5 am, without the slightest effort. Which is just about the strangest thing that has ever happened to me, I mean, ever. It's not like I haven't been trying to do something about the skewed sleep rhythm before, many times, and beating myself up about not succeeding, too, but usually I tried to do it gradually, by setting up the alarm an hour earlier than the day before, and that has always been a massive effort, and never really worked in the long run.

This time, it feels like I've just skipped into a different groove. Maybe I have been a closet morning bird all my life? Contrary to what people might think, I do love the early morning – it is easily my favourite time of day. It's nice to get to experience it on a more regular basis!

I'm happy to report that I have now kept this up for approximately 2 weeks – ok, this week, what with the newsletter and trying to wind things up in time for it, things have been slipping a bit, but I still got up at 7 or 8 am, and the day I "slept in", I slept til 10 am. That would have been freakishly early, a couple of weeks ago! I fervently hope that I will manage to keep this up, and not let the next deadline have me come crushing down into the old rut (this very newsletter will be the test!).

I'm not sure that I positively get more work done – the day still only has 24 hours, after all – but I feel a million times better about myself! I guess it is true what certain people (you know who you are) have tried to tell me all my life: it is so much nicer to be done with the best chunk of the day's work, and *then* muck around in the garden while the sun still shines, or sit down by the fire with a well deserved book, rather than spending all day being stressed about not having gotten any work done yet.

Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa Early Morning in Featherston, Wairarapa

Early Morning in Featherston



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The Left Hand of Darkness, DVD cover draft The Left Hand of Darkness, DVD cover draft The Left Hand of Darkness, DVD cover draft, detail The Left Hand of Darkness, DVD cover draft, detail

New artwork: The Left Hand of Darkness, DVD cover draft :: London Art College assignment

News & Current Projects

As I am now entering the final phase of my London Art College Science Fiction and Fantasy Art certificate course, the assignments have become a little more ambitious. Earlier this month I submitted a DVD cover draft for a "yet to be made" movie based on The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. I had done a couple of watercolour illustrations for this book a few years ago (one finished, one incomplete), and decided to use them as a basis for my design.

After studying the DVD covers on my shelf at home, I realized that using a single "iconic screen shot" image for the front cover was not the most common approach: most movies on my shelf, especially those in the Science fiction or fantasy genre, sport a collage of portraits of all the main actors, along with big letter announcements of how many oscars the movie has won. Still, I felt that this particular movie required something less crowded, more Zen like as it were, so I created a digital version of the original watercolour painting, and a prominent logo which plays on the "yin and yang" themes of the narrative. I suppose by the time they get to make that movie, fashions will have changed, and they'll design DVD covers like they used to design covers for rock albums, back in the day... here's to hoping. ;)

For the back cover, I was going to need some "movie stills" giving the potential buyer/viewer a visual impression of what the movie was about: some key environments, and portraits of the main actors. The reason for going to the length of thinking up some actors who could convincingly be cast in the main parts, was that I could then use their faces as basis for my illustrations.

That movie, if it was to be made, would be something of a casting nightmare: About half the action is two people having conversations in a tent, or pulling a sled across an empty ice desert, so you'd need to find two actors who would be sufficiently strong to make and keep that interesting: there is rather an absence of action sequences and explosions to carry the excitement, so it really all hinges on the developing relationship between Estraven and Genli. Then, you'd need to find not just one or two, but an entire cast of people who could be convincingly androgynous. Thirdly, from the description in the book, I imagine the Gethenians as vaguely Inuit-looking in body/face type.

There being rather a dearth of professional film actors who are Inuit, I decided to waive that requirement, after considering, and deciding against, all the main actors from Atanarjuat. Instead, I pilfered my main actors from Doctor Who! Genli was easy: being the only "standard human" male in the movie, I could take my pick, and I thought Noel Clarke had just the right mix of acting talent, male physique, and being good at "bewildered and lost". The Gethenians might have been actors or actresses, but I decided to go for women, just to bring out the contrast. Nina Sosanya got the part of Faxe the Foreteller mainly on account of being such a convincing boy/castrato in the BBC's Casanova. She looks a bit shifty in the photo I used as basis for my "still", and I figure that in the script, she might function as a sort of generic antagonist, representing the indifference and the suspicion Genli encounters everywhere.

For Estraven, I lit upon Chipo Chung – although she may be a bit young for the part, and the wrong age relation to Genli. I have only ever seen her in two small bit parts in Doctor Who, one of them in heavy Alien makeup, but I figured that if an actress manages to stay in one's mind after seeing her in a couple of small bit parts, she's probably got the goods, and I would love to see her in a main role one day. She has a great face for the part, but more importantly, she has a sort of aggressive energy which, I think, would fit the part of Estraven quite well – and which might also help explain why Genli initially dislikes and distrusts him/her. Wouldn't you be a little wary of that fortune teller in Turn Left?

I guess that drafting the script and casting the movie, on top of developing some environments and costumes, wasn't strictly a requirement to fulfil the assignment – and I've also already written the title song! So all I now need to do, is to negotiate the film rights, and find a producer. ;)

The Left Hand of Darkness: character sketch. Estraven and Genli The Left Hand of Darkness: character sketch, Faxe

The Left Hand of Darkness :: character sketches: Estraven, Genli, Faxe

The photography section on my website is now also available in German, and I am continuing to update the galleries, and add prints to my online print shops at Artflakes and DeviantArt. Just this evening, I have added a new gallery of rather striking shots of Mt Ngauruhoe, aka Mt Doom.

I have been keeping up with my new photography blog this past month, but wanted to first catch up with writing about the galleries already on the website. The new blog post about the Mt Doom images will follow tomorrow. One of the purposes of keeping this blog, is to set myself a schedule for adding new images and galleries to the site – a rather mountainous task! I aim to keep it up weekly, but I've been finding that selecting images, making them look good for print, and uploading them to the respective online shops, is a dreadful time eater, so I may have to slacken the pace soon, to once or twice a month. Do follow the blog, if you enjoy seeing pictures from New Zealand (and elsewhere, eventually) – and help me spread the word by sharing it with your New-Zealand or Lord-of-the-Rings loving friends on Facebook and Twitter, and on all those fan sites! :)

Designing and producing the 2013 Middle Earth New Zealand calendar will be high on my priority list this coming month, but times are rather busy: I have another four London Art College assignments to complete until early September (fortunately, they do not all involve scripting and casting a movie! ;)), as well as working on two paid web design projects, and continuing to hone my own pages. There is also the annual tax return, keeping the business ticking over, a frightening mountain of filing, a major furniture shifting project in my office, and a couple of things to make for the online shop, and then it will be almost time to start planning and promoting that exhibition at the end of the year!

Fortunately, the weeding and lawnmowing is not such a pressing issue at this time of year – though I have great plans for the garden come spring, and am getting my healthy outdoor exercise by pruning the hedges, fortifying the wind shelters, and gradually digging out a garden pond. I ordered a big stack of vegetable seeds (plus some useful, interesting, or plain pretty herbs and flowers) online this year: and I wish to acknowledge my sponsor: This Garden is Sponsored by Mommy. There will be quite a bit of seed raising to get through in the next few months! Can't wait to see it all grow. My aim this year will be to get some capsicums and chillies to actually ripen (after abortive attempts so far) – and on a whim, I ordered some okra seeds. No idea if the stuff actually grows here. But I guess I'll find out!

Persistence pays, it seems, and I have finally managed to track down a nursery in Northland, which can provide me with those German variety prune trees. They had two German varieties on offer – Bühler Frühzwetschge, which rings familiar, and Wangenheim, which according to my admittedly rather cursory research seems to be used mainly as a root stock, but from the description, it might also be just precisely the kind of tree I was after. Clearly, I have now gone just a little bit beyond the stage of just sticking a tree in the ground and see if it grows. Who'd have thought that finding the right variety of fruit tree was such a science! Though I do find all this highly fascinating. Seeing that I couldn't decide which of those two varieties I wanted most, I put two trees on order, and expect to find them on my doorstep sometime next week.

Home and garden in winter Home and garden in winter Home and garden in winter Home and garden in winter Home and garden in winter Home and garden in winter Home and garden in winter Home and garden in winter Home and garden in winter Home and garden in winter Home and garden in winter Home and garden in winter Home and garden in winter

Home & garden, winter



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Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu

Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu

Cool Things Friends Do: Iris Compiet

Iris is a professional graphic designer and illustrator who lives in Vlissingen, The Netherlands. I met her on John Howe's internet forum – at one stage, she illustrated one of my poems, of all things, for the Theme of the Month! Like a few of the other keen up and coming illustrators I met on John's forum, she has on occasion been an invaluable source of feedback and advice. High time she got a feature in this newsletter!

"It sounds cliche, but I've always been drawing and painting, it's something I've done from a young age. Everywhere I went I took my paper and pencils with me. And if I forgot to take them with me I made sure I found something to draw on... anything... not everybody was too pleased about that... the stainless white table linen wasn't so stainless after I was done with it.

So I guess I knew from the age of 7 that I wanted to be an artist... that or a dolphin trainer, or work with monkeys or be an archeologist. Any of these would do me just fine. But I guess I outgrew my mad passion for dolphins and monkeys and the prospect of digging hours on end in dirt in all kinds of weather didn't appeal to me as much. I thought I'd be some kind of Indiana Jones, but turns out being an archeologist isn't as glamorous as that. So I chose the next best thing, become an artist. Because that way I could go out to zoos and draw animals or study historical things and draw those... see all the good things wrapped in one job.

Because I didn't have a clue as to what kind of artist I wanted to be, I just went to study at the University of Art in Breda. At that time the only illustration class they had was fashion illustration, and I was a lot of things but certainly NOT fashionable. So I turned to Graphic Design. I loved that. It is my 'day job' now. And at night I turn into a crazy illustrator splashing about paints, inks and what not. Sort of.

Believe it or not but back in uni I never really drew... sure the required things, but I totally forgot about my love for fairy tales, for the books that made me go 'ooh and aaah' when I was 7. You know, Faeries! It was frowned upon at uni so I stayed away from it all.... only to return to it in my final year. I graduated in 2001 with a multimedia experience of the story of Snow White. I wanted to tell stories, and I did some research for my final paper on this story. Turns out people only know the Disney version which is so very watered down, and the real Grimm story is so much more interesting. So I set about to breathe new life into it. I had so much fun doing that, illustrating the story and doing animations for it.

Slowly but surely the stories and the storytelling crept back into my life, and I got the idea to try my hand at illustrating. This idea was formed over at the John Howe forum, so I've got a lot to thank for to that forum!

I have so many people whose work I admire, famous and unknown artists. The list is way too long and I might forget about so many important people. To name just a few, John Howe, Alan Lee, Brian Froud, Jef Bertels, Larry MacDougall, Patricia MacDougall, Tom Taggart, Mark Nelson, Rossbach, Tony Ditterlizzi, Brom, Rackham, Waterhouse, Dan Dos Santos, Omar Rayyan, Allen Williams, Travis Lewis, Ian McCaig, James Gurney, Bobby Chui, Mark Ryden .... etc etc.. really I'm forgetting about so so many talented people now, I'm ashamed almost. But if I had to put up every name of every amazing artist... I'd still be typing next week.

My current job, I'm a graphic designer by day and by night I turn into a chaotic but passionate illustrator... I have illustrated several books in the Netherlands. By now the list is getting longer and longer, which is the best feeling ever. I work for various publishers. My first ever book was Spokenjagers by writer Martijn Adelmund (published under Maarten Kroon), with him I'm working on a very cool project concerning witches.

I've illustrated several history books, did cover art for fantasy and other fiction books. Did some magazine illustrations and even worked on some concept art and character development for a Dutch animation. Also illustrated the novel Splitterwelten by German author Michael Peinkofer, illustrated a children's picture book called Hol voor Mol about a mole who's afraid of the dark... and so on and so on...

I hope this list will grow and grow and grow because there's nothing better than to have a child come up to you and say they really enjoyed reading the book and loved your drawings. And you know what, getting drawings from children, that's just the best compliment EVER!

Just today I signed a contract with a UK based agent, so I hope to get more jobs outside of the Dutch borders. I really feel that there is more out there and I just want to try to get a foot in. Who knows, if you don't try you'll never know if it's impossible!"

Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu

Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu

Q: What has been your favorite project so far?

I love all my projects, I try to give each and every one of them the same amount of attention. Be it a small project like doing artwork for a CD cover, or a big project like Splitterwelten. All of it has it's charm and I can't really chose any... it's just a buzz to do what you love, get paid doing that and just put a little bit of you in there. The idea that the book or CD or whatever is going to be seen by so many... and for so many years to come. That is just awesome.

Q: You seem to like drawing/painting old people, any particular reason for that?

Haha yes, I love imperfection... to me that is perfection. Wrinkles, crooked noses, everything that is slightly off... that makes me fall head over heels in love so to speak. Don't know why, I find it beautiful. You can 'read' somebody by the wrinkles I guess... and they are inspiration for my crazy witches, I love my ladies. They rock! Even though they might not be the most attractive of the bunch, they certainly can't be stopped and have a lot of confidence in themselves, perhaps something I lack at times. I wish I was more like my ladies... who knows, when I myself am old, grey and wrinkly.

Q: What are you working at at the moment?

At the moment I'm working on a cover for a Dutch book by Thirza Meta, the last part in the series. And a children's book for which I have to do 30 full colour spread illustrations. And besides that I have a lot of side projects, my own secret project together with writer Martijn Adelmund, and I'll be working on some artwork for a CD cover. And doing some personal pieces for next year when I'm returning to IlluXcon, I want to show some of my stuff there. I went there last year and it was the best thing ever. I had plans to go this year but sadly I had to postpone this trip.

There are several book projects I'm working on, but the most important one is the one about the witches, you can see some of the character sketches on my website. I'm sad to say I can't yet reveal too much because it is 'top secret' but it'll be funny. That's for sure. It stars my wrinkly ladies in all their wacky glory.

Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu

Artwork © Iris Compiet :: www.eyeris.eu



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Pirates, Vampires, and Tall Dark Strangers – Part I

... but first up, a public service announcement. Just in! Shawna Reppert's first indie publication Three Tunes now available on Amazon Kindle: Three short stories about the power of music! Check them out.

Recently while browsing Ebay, I stumbled quite by accident across the latest in publishing phenomena: it was displayed prominently on the front page as something I was probably looking for. I wasn't, but hey – nothing like a spot of random internet browsing on a topic you would not otherwise have dreamed of looking up. Yes, I live in the back of the woods, apparently, because I hadn't heard about Fifty Shades of Grey. In case you haven't heard about it either "Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic novel by British author E. L. James. Set largely in Seattle, it is the first installment in a trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of BDSM." (Wikipedia)

Apparently, this book and its two sequels, which have been published as e-books and print-to-order paperbacks by The Writer's Coffee Shop, a virtual publisher based in Australia (not what I would have called a major player in the book publishing landscape, at least not until they published this series!), has by now outsold Harry Potter – relying very largely on word-of-mouth recommendations, or what they call "going viral", in internet speak. According to whoever collects these data, the primary group of readers are women over 30 – and thus it has been dubbed "mommy porn" by the media, whose reactions to this "new phenomenon" have been copious. Nothing like a good excuse to read, and write about, a piece of trashy erotica.

While some reviewers tried to frame the whole thing as a triumph of feminist sexual liberation (finally! Mommies are allowed to read, and talk about reading, porn!) – others reacted with thinly disguised moral outrage. Seems that to this day (never mind the nineteenseventies), certain predominantly male people are extremely uncomfortable with the idea that women – and not just loose little college students or promiscuous (everyone knows they're promiscuous) professional women, no, "mommies", by the Lord! – perhaps even your very own privately owned stay-at-home wife – sorry, "full time home maker"? Heavens forbid! – might read about, think about, fantasize about, even possibly *enjoy*, sex.

For instance, the (male) reviewer – likely a cultured individual with liberal leanings, who would himself never touch a piece of porn with a ten foot pole (yeah right) – for the well-known British, or it might have been American, media outlet which I have unfortunately failed to bookmark, and been unable to find again in the media noise, but which provided me with a laugh-of-the-day, and is ultimately responsible for my putting this topic on the agenda for my newsletter. Citing from memory, it went something like this: "not that the reviewer had a problem with the fact that this book was addressed at a predominantly female, and predominantly more mature readership, but wasn't it regrettable that the relationship being depicted was one between an extremely dominant man, and an extremely submissive woman? Wouldn't this encourage women to let themselves be exploited, and have all sorts of noxious side effects?" Sure, I thought. That must be the problem with this mommy porn. Because porn addressed at a male readership generally depicts emotionally healthy and power-equal male-female relationships.

A couple of weeks later, these gloomy voices of doom have been drowned out by the general media euphoria about the book's bottom line. No one finds fault with a thing that sells, though most reviewers seem to agree that the story is extremely poorly written. Which just goes to prove that bottom lines have a major influence on moral, if not artistic judgement. I wish that principle would only hold for something as innocuous as a piece of badly written erotica. It would be a happier planet if it were!

More reviews: stuff.co.nz (very funny) * nydailynews.com (agonized. Not the review I was looking for, but it aims in the same direction, though with a tad more self awareness than the review I had in mind!)

Shades of winter, Wairarapa Shades of winter, Wairarapa Shades of winter, Wairarapa Shades of winter, Wairarapa Shades of winter, Wairarapa Shades of winter, Wairarapa

Shades of winter, Wairarapa

Those people who think that erotic fantasies addressed at a female readership are the new revolutionary thing invented in the 21th century, must have been living in blissful ignorance of most of what most women actually read, and have read, and written – or told, and been told, for the last several thousand years. Goodness. Most women's life, traditionally in most societies all around the globe – and even though we try to deny it, still predominantly in our own – is supposed to be primarily focused on enticing a good husband (boyfriend, partner, sugardaddy), and keeping him, and being a good wife (girlfriend, partner, sugarbaby) to him. Among other things, to this day it remains a widely common, and highly socially acceptable way for a woman to ensure her economic survival. Ask those of us who try to do without!! – And while focusing on that, women are not supposed to wonder about, think about, talk about, teach each other about, write about, fantasize about sex – ever??

I won't even go as far back as the Middle Ages, or talk about the Thousand and One Nights, or the Japanese pillow books, or dear old Sappho. As far as Modern Age European, English language literature goes, the romance novel has been around for the last, uh, nearly three centuries. Ever since Samuel Richardson published Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded in 1740, followed by Clarissa or, the History of a Young Lady in 1748 – the original rape fantasy.

If you haven't spotted the S/M – or D/s, or whatever the appropriate terminology would be – elements in aunty Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, go read it again. That book enjoys enduring, and genuine, popularity with young female readers to this day, on a par with much more recent authors. And do I need to mention the Catherine/Heathcliff thing? – Apart from the classics, there is a whole time honoured genre of historicizing pulp fiction known as Bodice Rippers, and if you had any doubt what that was all about, here is what Google brings up as a collection of book covers in that genre. Me Jane, you Tarzan? Or me Scarlett O'Hara, you Rhett Butler?

Just about every historical novel I have ever read, features more or less lengthy, more or less explicit, more or less (usually less) realistic descriptions of various erotic encounters, at intermittent intervals. Some of these books are perfectly serious works of patient scholarship and informed imagination, in as far as their depiction of the various historical settings goes. But apparently one can't write an adult book without a good sex scene. Even – I would even tend to say, "particularly" – in a genre which is picked up primarily by women. Go figure.

More recently, there has been – is – Slash: a subgenre of the thriving fanfiction scene driven very largely by young (and some not quite so young) women writing for their own enjoyment, and that of their peers (copyright laws being in the way of making it a professional pursuit). These women apparently like to fantasize about same sex relationships between male protagonists of popular fantasy series – Harry Potter being a particularly richly mined one that comes to mind. Ok, there is also heterosexual Harry Potter fanfic, but the prime candidates for the fanfic treatment appear to be Harry, Draco, and Snape, in various combinations. The latter, I presume, in his incarnation as Alan Rickman. I don't find the book character very slashable at all (if anyone, I'd have slashed the book Remus Lupin with someone, but tastes differ) – but not even my pronounced goldfish temperament is entirely impervious to Alan Rickman's, errr, charms. But then who knows? I'm not a fanfic girl, myself. Though I have a couple of friends who keep me up to date – and then there is always DeviantArt, for the latest trends in who slashes who.

Moving into the realm of stories told on screen, what did you suppose all this recently so popular stuff about Vampires is all about? Buffy, Twilight, True Blood, you name them. I recently borrowed the first season of True Blood, feeling that as a full time fantasy artist and blogger, I should catch up. Can't say that it is my cup of tea, but at least I now have a fair idea of what everyone else seems to be getting out of it! Talk about thin disguises. It did not surprise me in the least, when I learned that Fifty Shades of Grey originally was a Twilight fanfiction about two of the characters from that series (which I am not familiar with) – the author just renamed them, in order to be able to publish the book. But even I can guess which one's the vampire!

Stepping into a Gauguin, Wairarapa Stepping into a Gauguin, Wairarapa Stepping into a Gauguin, Wairarapa Stepping into a Gauguin, Wairarapa Stepping into a Gauguin, Wairarapa Stepping into a Gauguin, Wairarapa Stepping into a Gauguin, Wairarapa Stepping into a Gauguin, Wairarapa Stepping into a Gauguin, Wairarapa

... and btw, Gauguin just painted what he saw! Sunset in the Wairarapa.

The middle of winter is a good time to take virtual trips to tropical islands: I'm not sure if it was brought on by reading about other people's kink, or simply by the bad weather, but I developed a sudden craving to sit by the fireside and re-read one of my favourite romance novels from way back when I was a teenager. M. M. Kaye's historical novel Trade Wind is set in mid-19th century Zanzibar, which was at the time one of the last bastions of the African slave trade. The novel hovers somewhere in between well-researched historical fiction, and all-out bodice ripper. Definitely no 50 Shades of Grey, but about as windswept-pirates-and-passionate-damsels-in-crinolines as I ever go in my reading habits. I'm sad, I know.

M. M. Kaye is an author whom I find hard to place on the imaginary continuum between literature and trashiness. Then again, the very urge to make that sort of judgement is probably a remnant of my German Bildungsbürgertum upbringing, when one constantly had to apologize for reading – and enjoying to read – anything more lightweight than Goethe or Thomas Mann. Or perhaps it's because I am not overly familiar with the tradition she writes in – romances and mysteries in the line of Daphne Du Maurier or Agatha Christie – and thus I'm stuck with having to compare her writing to books which aim at different goals altogether, which is not terribly fair on the author.

Born in Simla, which was at the time British India, in 1908, as the daughter of a well respected British colonial government official and a party loving socialite mother, Mary Margaret – or "Molly" Kaye spent the first 10 years of what appears to have been a singularly happy childhood "speaking Hindustani better than English", and assuming she was unequivocally Indian – " just a different caste", as she puts it. That illusion was shattered brutally when she and her sister where sent to England to attend boarding school, were they were the constant subject of bullying, on account of their "foreignness". No wonder, then, that identity crises and questions of cultural belonging play a major part in her fiction!

... To be continued ...

Arohanui, from Asni



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Good night!