21 May 2018

PhD: Lolly Willowes

I keep promising to write more about my PhD studies, so here I go. Terri Windling recently wrote an article called "Hen Wives, Spinsters, and Lolly Willowes". I had never read Lolly Willowes, and as the title of my PhD thesis is "Tricksters, Witches, and Warriors: Rewriting a Patriarchal Narrative in Children's Literature", I had to check it out!
     Lolly Willowes was written by Sylvia Townsend Warner and was first published in 1926. Most recently it was published by Virago and remains a feminist classic to this day.
     On its face, it is the story of the evolution of a spinster into a witch. However, it is a thinly veiled cover for a woman finally coming into her own agency, her own voice, authority, validity, etc. She does not find her empowerment through a man or through marriage. (Although, I would argue that her allegiance to The Devil could be thought of as this marriage or deferral to a patriarchal authority.) Her discovery comes through a solitary exploration of nature, simplicity, and the disregard of social expectations. As Warner writes: "It is best as one grows older to strip oneself of possessions, to shed oneself downward like a tree, to be almost wholly earth before one dies" (Warner, 2012, p106).
     And while the story labels Lolly's self-discovery as the path of a witch, what woman hasn't come into her own agency in mid-life, following a similar path? Think of the Red Hat Society, Steele Magnolias, or any number of explorations of women past their 'prime', embracing their worth and shouting out to the world, "I don't care what you think!"
     These journeys of self-empowerment were once taboo and were regarded as women led astray. When in actuality, it was intelligent women disregarding the legitimacy of patriarchy and claiming their own paths. The only danger that lies in that exercise is the light shed on the patriarchy that would keep women subjugated, obedient, and silent. In our modern world, this exercise is called enlightenment, or feminism. Yet in Lolly's world, it was called witchcraft.
     There was the henwife who "held their destinies in the crook of her arm, and hatched the future in her apron" (Warner, 2012, p146); the spaewife who "sat on a creepie and stared at the smouldering peas till her eyes were red and unseeing" (Warner, 2012, p147); or the witch, of course. Of women who become witches, Lolly said, "Women have such vivid imaginations, and lead such dull lives. Their pleasure in life is so soon over; they are so dependent upon others, and their dependence so soon becomes a nuisance" (p234). Truly, who at this 'coming of age' hasn't felt the creeping on of invisibility, of the impotence of societal purpose, or the urge to throw care to the wind, when society seems to give so little care back? Lolly says that witches are simply "women living and growing old, as common as blackberries, and as unregarded" (p234). . . And all the time being thrust further down into dullness when the one thing all women hate is to be thought dull" (p235). . . "they are like trees towards the end of summer, heavy and dusty, and nobody finds their leaves surprising, or notices them till they fall off" (p236). Indeed, society doesn't like women to take control of their own fates.
     It's what I find again and again in my studies. Women demonstrating the same traits that are regarded as positive in male figures are regarded as negative in females. Male figures with certain characteristics are called tricksters, females with those same characteristics are called witches. Women are denigrated for showing characteristics of self-empowerment.
     Indeed, Lolly accepts her change and embraces it as one that brings her closer to nature - externally and internally - and brings her a great sense of peace in that she feels she is no longer existing to serve others (although, again, one could make the argument about her serving The Devil). It's the patriarchal framing of 'undesirable' traits as negative, alternative, or evil.
     And yet, by the end of the book, Lolly is most at peace embracing her most 'undesirable' characteristics, for that is when she truly feels her POWER. Because, as Lolly says, "Some [women] may get religion, then they're all right, I expect. But for the others, for so many, what can there be but witchcraft? . . . Even if other people still find them quite safe and usual, and go on poking with them, they know in their hearts how dangerous, how incalculable, how extraordinary they are" (p237). . . "to have a life of one's own" (p239).

Have you read Lolly Willowes? I'd love to read your thoughts below!

Warner, S.T., Waters, S., 2012. Lolly Willowes. Virago, London.

Closing thoughts on Middlesbrough

I had a small window to wander downtown Middlesbrough before I caught the train on Sunday. It experienced its biggest boom during the Victorian era, which is obvious in the architecture. And while similar to Edinburgh in some ways, there were some distinct differences. For one thing, it was level. It was also set up very grid-like - easy to find your way around. I also really enjoyed seeing the tile-work on the exterior of several buildings like these.
And this - really look at the details on this building - stunning!
Of course, there are the traditional churches too.
Middlesbrough has an outdoor mall like Glasgow - several of the main roadways downtown have been transformed to pedestrian areas with outdoor cafes and such. While it was a bit quiet on a Sunday morning, it was easy to imagine it in full swing - delightful.
Middlesbrough was built on industry, and much of that has long since left, however, what is left is a charming city with some great ideas and great bones to build upon. I was charmed, must say. I hope to return soon.

20 May 2018

The Picture Hooks Conference

Saturday was the Picture Hooks Conference in Middlesbrough! Happily, Hollins University sent me to be their international representative for the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating program - a win-win for everyone since I'm already on the UK side of the pond, and Hollins is looking to increase its international enrollment. Here was the amazing line-up:
The reference room was transformed for the event - that's Viv introducing the day.
I put Hollins' brochures on all the chairs, and set up a hub from which to talk to everyone at the entrance to the room.
I wore my Hollins' lariat and talked to folks about the program all day. I also added a flip-chart where all those illustrators could draw 'thank you' to the library for so kindly hosting us (we had the entire library to ourselves! Here's speaker/illustrator Chris Mould adding his artwork.
I also got to hang out with old friends, which is mostly why I love to attend events like this. Here are Boris and YiVon with the completed art board.
Of course, the conference itself was amazing. Here was the cast of speakers.
Vivian French, of course, and: Jonathan Gibbs (my professor at ECA), Maisie Paradise Shearring (author/illustrator, and member of Orange Beak Studio), Chris Mould (illustrator), Ness Wood (Book Designer, David Fickling Books, and member of Orange Beak Studio), Pam Smy (former Professor at Anglia-Ruskin's MA in Children's Book Illustration and member of Orange Beak Studio), Deirdre McDermott (Picture Book Publisher and Creative Director, Walker Books), and Marie Moser from the Edinburgh Book Shop.
     All of the talks were wonderfully inspiring and expertly giving. I learned lots - despite years of conferences, I still do! My biggest take-away is that I should be posting more of my sketches online via Instagram. I'll set that up soon - watch this space!
     After the conference, several of us went for cocktails alongside that lovely view of the library and the museum and fountain. I love these opportunities to hang out with folks who share the same passions as mine, so I love, love, love conferences!

School Visits, Libraries, and Middlesbrough!

Friday, Vivian and I visited two schools to give our 'performance'. I don't know what else to call it really. Viv talks about writing and how to create story while I furiously draw what the kids come up with. It's awesome fun and goes over so well. No surprise really, as I remember that one of my favorite television shows as a kid was John Robbins' Cover to Cover. He read a story while illustrating it and every time I watched, I was completely enraptured. In person, it takes two of us to pull off that sort of magic. Here's an example of the finished cover from the first school we visited.
We leave the artwork with the schools and they seem tickled with it. We visited two very different schools. One was in the heart of Middlesbrough and was probably the most diverse group I've ever had the pleasure to experience, ethnically and religiously. Add to that, most of the students and teachers were dressed up to celebrate the royal wedding! Oh, and they had an on-site 'care-dog' - a friendly golden retriever who helps calm anxious kids, and loves being read to. Why don't all schools have a dog? It makes so much sense! The second was a Catholic school in the suburbs and could not have been any different. The kids entered the room quietly and orderly, wearing various school uniforms. Of course, kids are kids, and they're all enthusiastic when they get into what Viv and I share.
     After we finished our school visits we headed back to the Middlesbrough Carnegie Library to look around.
We went to check out the reference room where the Picture Hooks Conference would take place the next day. The doors were lovely.
And so was the library!
Even the radiators were works of art.
I especially enjoyed the exhibit on the first floor.
The library was celebrating the various families that had immigrated to Middlesbrough over the years and made the city the vibrant place that it is. For instance:
The Modern Museum sat right behind the library, so I was able to pop in there as well. I loved this tissue paper art. It was mounted on a window and with the light coming through it, it was just gorgeous.
Next to the museum is a sculpture that has become the insignia of Middlesbrough called the Bottle Of Notes - reminding the viewer of the world of stories and cultures that influenced the town.

Of course, the main reason we were there was for the Picture Hooks Conference the next day. So I went back to the hotel across the street and sank into the ultra-soft bed to rest-up...

18 May 2018

To Middlesbrough with Hollins and Picture Hooks!

This weekend I am attending the Picture Hooks Conference in Middlesbrough, UK - sent as International Outreach Representative for Hollins University. But first, I traveled down one day early to do school visits with my dear friend and mentor, Vivian French!
The train down was one of my faves because it runs along the coastline, which is stunning.

All that yellow is the rape seed blooming - it's one of my favorite things to see in Scotland!
The windows of the train weren't very clean, but you get the idea - these are not photoshopped at all!

It was fun to pass by North Berwick and notice the gorgeous spots were I have actually stood.
In Dunbar, I noticed this poster for my friend Karin Slaughter's newest best-seller, and sent her a picture.
I had to change trains in Darlington, which was an adorable little train depot.
Viv picked me up at the train station and we walked to the hotel in the heart of downtown, which is lovely. Here's the cathedral that was sticking out the top of our heads in the first image.
And this is the view from my room.
Middlesbrough is adorable and I am loving my visit here - and the very soft bed at the hotel!

Friday Links List - 18 May 2018

From the BookWeb: ABC Children's Institute to Feature More Than 70 Authors and Illustrators (in New Orleans, June 19-21)

From The Mixed Up Files: Inspiration for Famous Authors (by Laurie Edwards) - I might add Glasgow and trains in Scotland!

From Lee & Low: The Diversity Gap in Children's Book Publishing, 2018

From FutureLearn: Pictures of Youth: An Introduction to Children's Visual Culture (Free course from the University of York!)

From Brightly: Then and Now: How Fairy Tales Continue to Invite Us to Think Harder and Smarter

From The Bookseller: BookTrust invites publishers to discuss gaps in children's reading

From LitHub: The 12 Most Popular Libraries in the World

From PW: YA Authors Respond to Teen Activism

From Channel 4 News: Has The Odyssey been mistranlated? Powerful words from the first female translator of The Odyssey!

From The Bookseller: Waterstones to open Stockbridge Books in Edinburgh - interesting to me!

From Janice Hardy's Fiction University: Plot Problem? Fix It Fast with a Retcon - helpful!

From Muddy Colors: Digital Art is not "Real Art" (and other myths)

From Parade: Book Rich Environments Initiative Gives Books to Families in 'Book Deserts'

From Bookshelf: An Earthquake-proof Bookshelf - makes a lot of sense!

From Brightly: Places to Stash Books at Home to Encourage Reading - Stan suggested the refrigerator too. Why not?

From The Federation of Children's Book Groups: Klaus Flugge Prize Shortlist and Giveaway

From Muddy Colors: 12 Reasons Why Bob Ross is a Better Artist Than You Are

17 May 2018

Friends in Edinburgh!

It begins again! Spring has sprung and friends are arriving to visit Edinburgh. We get the great pleasure to hang out and introduce them to our fair city. This time it was Chip and Sheree Sullivan, colleagues and friends from Hollins University. Chip gives historical lectures on the Viking Cruise Lines - a nice gig that gets them free travel. Sweet!
     They only had a few hours, so got a small portion of the 'loop' that we typically share. Here we are on North Bridge.
We did a quick run up the Royal Mile where they were able to duck into St Giles Cathedral - which truly is stunning.
We spent most of our time together over a wonderful lunch at the Witchery - a medieval-styled setting on the Royal Mile which was positively delightful, and so, so good to catch up!
If you're coming to Edinburgh, I put together a map and tips I share with friends. Or you can subscribe to THIS IS EDINBURGH, which is a great resource for up-to-date events in our sweet town.

16 May 2018

VIDEO: Ursula K. LeGuin Documentary Trailer!

Book Riot recently shared the trailer for the Kickstarted documentary about Ursula K. LeGuin. Click the image below to go watch. Wowsa, I can't wait to see this!

Wall Art at Seven Stories

One of the treats at Seven Stories is all the art on display, and not all of it is in frames. Some of it was drawn directly on the walls. For instance, the bear from I AM BEAR (CLICK HERE to read my interview with the illustrator, Sav Akyuz).
And best of all is the artwork by Chris Riddell, Children's Laureate.
I kept looking for pencil lines - surely he didn't draw these freehand? But yes, I think he did.

It even said so.
What a talent! I do hope I get to meet him one day.

15 May 2018

Coloring Page Tuesday - Reading Otter

     Everyone should be able to see themselves in a book, even otters! CLICK HERE for more coloring pages, and if they add joy and value to your life, please...
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my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

13 May 2018

Comics at Seven Stories

One of the treats of my recent visit to Seven Stories in Newcastle Upon Tyne was the current exhibition: Comics.
I've been asked to add an element about creating graphic novels and kids comics to my Picture Book Design course at Hollins University in our MFA in Writing and Illustrating Children's Books program, so I've been trying to familiarize myself with the genre. Happily, there were tons of examples on display, and I just plopped down and read. (Little did I know Yaxi was taking my picture!) I was reading ZITA THE SPACE GIRL.
Fine, I got a picture of her indulging too!
In the Seven Stories store, I saw a copy of Nate and Vince Evans' TYRANNASAURUS RALPH (read my interview with these creators HERE). I also read DEREK THE SHEEP, which had me laughing out loud!
     The nice thing I'm learning about this genre is the vast range of genres within the genre. There are graphic-novel-like picture books like David Wiesner's TUESDAY or anything by Toon Books, wordless graphic novels like OWLY, 40-page graphic novels for kids like DEREK THE SHEEP, longer mid-grade graphic novels like SMILE, ROLLER GIRL, or EL DEAFO; and of course, there are the superhero fares. Heck, Random House just announced a new imprint of graphic novels for kids and teens - READ HERE because this is a booming field! I've decided to concentrate on the ones for the younger set, of couse, multi-cultural mid-grade graphic novels and 40-pagers. Happily, they've been getting so much press recently, it's easy to research:

From PW: Middle Grade Storytelling Goes Graphic
From The Scottish Book Trust: 10 Diverse and Inclusive Comics
From Multi-cultural Children's Books Day: A list of links to resources on Diverse Graphic Novels

And I'm happy to say that The Encyclopedia of Black Comics will be waiting on me when I get to Hollins this summer!
I came across a great list of must-read graphic novels for kids at BookRiot, and I'm working on a slideshow to share with students. That said, I am open to your fave suggestions! Leave them in the comments below!

The Archives at Seven Stories

The main reason we Child Lit folks went down to Seven Stories last week was to visit the archives.
They're actually stored in another building, so an appointment is required to have items brought over to the main building. Curators, PhD researchers, Fellows, and Archivists shared treasured pieces from the collection with us. For instance, just on this table are two of Philip Pullman's manuscripts; original artwork and dummies by Edward Ardizzone; and original artwork from Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes by her sister, Ruth Gervis. Wow.
We also saw original artwork by Nick Sharratt, and a gorgeous book dummy/sketchbook that I'm hoping someone can tell me who did it as I didn't write it down. I'm looking right at it in this photo as I was positively enthralled by seeing the creative joy in these original pieces!
I've been trying to get back down to Seven Stories ever since my last visit, for exactly a trip like this. Truly, what a treat to geek-out with people as passionate about children's literature as I am!


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