Thursday, 30 August 2012

Goodbye, Sweet August

Phil and I decided to take the week off and focus on the next couple of posts to come.  We celebrated by taking in a showing of the Dark Knight Rises.  Enjoyable.

Well, we'll be back soon with some more goodies.  See you then!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Portrait of a Collaboration


The process begins with me writing a poem. Usually the character(s) involved will be a beast of some type, but not always (see Hrafna, for example).  In my visualising of the beastly characters that I create, I've been inspired by several sources: first, by my life-long fascination with animals. Second, by a wonderful novel that I read some years ago - Someplace To Be Flying by Charles de Lint.

This wonderful, and highly recommended story of animal people really awoke in me the idea of animals being in any one of three states in my stories, and moving fluidly between those states.
The states are -
Wholly animal,
Humanoid (though perhaps with some animalistic features),
Humanoid-bodied and beast-headed.
Such Therianthropes or shapeshifters form the heart of my poems.
Often, the characters are mainly envisaged as humanoid-bodied and beast-headed in my works, as they are often armed with weapons, and/or are engaged in activities that require hands.
It all depends though. One of my major characters, the sly Jack of Foxes, is, in my mind, usually in his fully-fox form.
So, I've got the poem, and I've got the character.
Let's take Nimravus Lord Daggercat as an example. He's a character that I've had in my head and on paper for quite some time. He's the main protagonist in a long, dark, (as yet unpublished on the blog) tale entitled 'The Burden', and he's also the subject of a pantoum that we published on the blog earlier this year.
Here it is again.

Sabre fangs be-webbed with gore,
With hammer struck from shatter'd stone.
Golden eyes red-rimmed and raw,
He comes 'midst blood and splinter'd bone.

With hammer struck from shatter'd stone,
Wrought by spikes of ice, and frost,
 He comes 'midst blood and splinter'd bone;
Elder lord of long and lost.

 Wrought by spikes of ice, and frost,
His soul is black, and wrung with doom.
Elder lord of long and lost,
Emerging from a whisper'd gloom.

 His soul is black, and wrung with doom.
Golden eyes red-rimmed and raw.
Emerging from a whisper'd gloom,
Sabre fangs be-webbed with gore.

  So I send the poem to Russ for an initial read and the collaboration begins.


No idea is too precious.

This rather unsentimental motto begins and ends many of our conversations concerning the development of the world described in Phil's Annals.  Its my belief that this succinct little phrase is responsible for much of the success (maybe not monetary, but certainly creatively) of our collaboration.  No idea keeps all ideas on their toes.  No setting can settle, no character find complacency, no detail definite.  This is the overlapping theme of our collaboration.  Its authority extends beyond our own ideas and dictates even those concreted in cultural and historic tradition (if Santa were in the Annals he wouldn't wear a red suit, or a green suit.  Santa might not even have a beard or a wobbly belly, and he definitely doesn't drink Coke).  A lot falls to the proverbial cutting-room floor. We strive for originality, something that no one has ever seen before yet find vaguely familiar.

First things first, the poem has to be written (or semi-composed with at least a bit of narrative direction).  Phil  already has loads and loads of material, and since his poems are largely contained in the same universe, many of the characters occur time and time again.  This makes the process easier as we go along.  As one character is defined visually, the amount of time given to exploratory sketching and discussion for each subsequent poem is often shortened and shaved (although I doubt there will ever be a time when Phil doesn't throw in something or someone new into a poem).  This is one of the most challenging, but exciting steps of the process.  For me it's reading his original material, and then immersing myself in research.  I typically look at all sorts of things.  But for this project, I am more and more drawn to the paintings, drawings and design of the late 19th/early 20th Centuries.  I've been looking at Mucha, Klimt, Schiele (my favorite), Waterhouse, Alma-Tadema, Gerome and Kollwitz to name just a few.  Even though the poems are often dark, often gritty and nearly always grim there is an undeniable sense of beauty and romance.  I think romance is dark, or at least our traditionally western notions of beauty (e.g. the Iliad, Romeo & Juliet, Tristan & Iseult, Edward and Bella (or so I'm told)) are mixed with tragedy and death.  Not to wax too lyrical, but the sunset will always be more romantic than the sunrise, at least to me, because its light is the last of the day, that pale and dying fire.

So, once I've got about half a dozen books or so in front of me, I start sketching out ideas.  I try to keep these pretty loose unless Phil and I have had lengthy and detailed conversations regarding some of the more concrete visuals.  Then, I scan a whole bunch of stuff in to the PC and send them off to Phil for his take.  Then, its emails, redraws (sometimes quite drastic) and onto layouts.  Before we nail too many things down, Phil and I try to get together and talk about the poems.  We discuss which passages would be best supported by illustration and confirm details (like in the case of Hrafna, "Does she have two swords, one sword, no sword?").

Then, it's all down to painting or drawing.  I might still make small changes, and Phil might email me about slight changes to the text, but after that, it's just execution.

A quick sketch made with a biro pen.  A much leaner, more smilodon version of ol' Nimmy.

A composite of two sketches.  The border idea came out of nowhere, but I really wanted to include it.  Notice how he's still a bit too lean.  His hands are also very much like the paws of big cats.

Here he is, much bulkier.  His hands are more human.  I've also added some spooky crones in the background.  This was an idea I had (completely out of line with the text) and shared with  Phil.  He liked it, so we kept them in and Phil even changed the text to add them in ("emerging from a whisper'd gloom").  I think they add an extra level of creepy to the whole image.  Like a cat unhinged.


Well, here it is nearing the end of August at Old Moon Tower.  We're sitting here admiring the sunshine (and the hum of morning traffic) and talking about things to come.  Varou is well underway with at least (we think) four more parts to come, lots of new characters to introduce and one mother of a battle scene to wade into.  And once Varou has left centre stage there are many many more warm bodies to take his place.  We're also investigating different formats, and would love your feedback on where and how you would like to see more of the Annals (think Kindle/Android/iPad, or even more traditional formats...).  We can't wait to share more with you, and hope that you'll join us for the journey.

Ta ta for now TAoOMers!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


 Hello lovely readers! Well here we are in mid-August and the rain's beating a tattoo on the roof of Old Moon Tower, so, undeterred by the weather, I thought I'd pay tribute to the great pagan festival that's just passed - Lammas, also known as Lughnasadh. 'Tis the time of harvest, of the cutting of the corn, of the plenty of summer.
by Brian Froud

Inspired by The Runes Of Elfland, a wonderful book by Ari Berk and Brian Froud, sometime ago I wrote a poem telling a tale of Lugh the Celtic god of light...


The son of the Sun went walking abroad,
Whilst his father rode high in the sky.
He strode to the gates of the city,
Where the king, it was feared, soon would die.

The king lay a-bed with a most grievous wound,
Dealt by invidious hand.
So the cityfolk gathered in vigil to pray for their king,
But as well for their land.

The priests and physicians had strove for his health,
But no easement or cure hence came.
Scant hope to be had then for king or for land,
As their fates are as one, and the same.

Those without the gates could ne'er to come into
The city by dread proclamation,
Lest they brought with them skills that could succour the king,
Or further his court's reputation.

Spear in fist, at the threshold, Sowelu he stood.
The Sun lit his mane like a blaze.
The guard 'pon the rampart called down to the youth,
With a snort and disparaging gaze.

"Profession?" he bellowed, all welcomes eschewed.
Of politeness and charm he had none.
He squinted his eye at the Sun in the sky.
Squinted down at the son of the Sun.

"A wood-wright am I," the young lord replied,
"Working boards with renowned skill & grace."
"We have one within." snapped the impudent guard,
With an unimpressed sneer on his face.
"I am also a smith." the lord claimed with a smile,
"A master of alloys & ores."
The guard said "
Our smith is famed wide & far,
With abilities finer than yours."

"My skill on the tourney field few can surpass.
A great bull of battle is me!"
"Sir, your words can be halted;
All our knights are exalted full-unto the power of three."

"You have not heard my lines," he said,
Clearing his throat, and deftly arranging his hair.
"O bother ye not!" cried the guard with a laugh.
"We have wag-tongues & poets to spare!"
"We have one."
"Teacher of lore?"
"Of tutors & libraries we've many."

"Ten priests could be conjured away & we'd have twenty more.
Don't need any."

"In a city so great," said Sowelu,
someone must fend for your king?
A warrior I, of miraculous feats,
And a long arm with spear and with sling."

"Our walls are well-watched, and our roads are most safe.
O how hollow the ring of your words!"

"Not more doctors!"
"Oh please!
Now away. Flap your lips at the birds."

"Good guard one more moment," Sowelu bawled up,
"Before writing me off as a dunce.
You have many skilled fellows within your high walls,
But I have all those skills at once."

With this final pronouncement, the guard he did pause,
From heel to heel shifted his weight.
"Wait here please!" he said to the son of the Sun,
And rushed with his news from the gate.

So it was that the youth was invited at last,
To proceed with due haste to the court.
He hefted his spear and he went to the hall,
To garner the honours he sought.

Sowelu was asked to perform then a task,
As he stood in the midst of the hall;
Could he lift up a flagstone the size of ten bulls,
Then fling it up over the wall?
A curious need.
But small work indeed for Sowelu, the son of the Sun.
He let the stone fly with a flick of his wrist,
And grinned at a good job well done.

"One more task my young lord." came a pain-haunted voice.
"Take up that harp there and sing.
Warble a song of such beauty,
As to cheer up a care-weary king."

Of all of his talents, harp and song were his best,
And he smiled as he started to play.
The king and the court, they cheered and they wept,
As their hearts were full-clean swept away.
The stars were a-rising. The song reached its end.
He basked in the king's smiling gaze.
"Come mighty lord! Come sit 'pon my throne,
And rule there for thirteen long days."

Sowelu accepted.
For two weeks less a day, his rule was dynamic & true.
Great folk of all manner, they flocked to his banner,
And his fame, through the wide world it flew.

He embarked 'pon a life of adventures and charms,
And many fair prizes he won.
At the last, when he died (some say before time),
He was laid 'neath the Hill of the Sun. 


 All illustrations copyright their respective owners

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Varou: Hrafna

A full text version can be found at the bottom of the illustrated pages.

Varou: Hrafna

The fire had fallen to embering coals
At the hearth of the hall of Varou.
Pale dawn light found the chinks in the shutters
And crept 'pon the slumbering crew.

Varou's dozing ears pricked up from their rest
At the faint sound of mighty wings beating.
He hauled himself up to his feet with a sigh,
And trod through the hall to give greeting.

All 'pon a sudden the great door burst open,
Before half of the hall he had made.
In a trice were his crew all arisen and snarling,
Each reaching for bludgeon or blade.

Easy now lads,” sneered wolven Varou,
For this dawning has rendered us blessed.
For reasons, no doubt, that are urgent and grim,
A valkyr has roused from her nest.”

Over the threshold the valkyrie strode,
And into the hall of Varou.
She took in the chewed bones and pools of spilled ale,
Then regarded the Cur and his crew.

Fine were her features, yet gaunted and stern.
Her fathomless eyes were full-black.
She shook out her wings, oil-black feather'd,
That rose from her great muscled back.

The valkyrie wore a succession of hooks,
That hung from a harness of chain.
Its links had been forged from the souls that she chose
From the ranks of the battlefield slain.

She was Hrafna, the Raven of War.
Great Odin she loyally served.
She carried his word across all the nine worlds,
And his vengeance, when such was deserved.

How it pains me to quit from the heights of Valhalla,
And stoop to this ale-sop hall.
Your descent from your honour continues apace,
But forsooth 'tis a short way to fall.

Orders I bring from a father,
To his faithless and dissolute son.
Reluctant am I for to treat with your like,
Yet the Spear-Shaker's will shall be done.

The Moonsong has echoed the Westerland gorges.
Fell savageries rise in the high Hackled Moor.
The Black Cub of Fenrir has howled for the banners;
The packs of King Lugvann make muster for war.

From Thüle, the white Varulfuren are sailing,
Cleaving the spume of the whale-road's track,
To join up their might with the Westerland Vargrmen,
Slavering, snarling and hot for attack.

My Lord Odin decrees that this challenge be answer'd,
To oil the spear-shaft, and hone at the sword,
To strap tight the war-board and shrug on the mail,
To saddle the wave-horse that snorts in the fjord.

The All-Father's chosen come roaring from Valhöll;
His undying Einherjar girded for battle,
And the Royal White Dragon has sent forth Old Ochs,
Who comes with his horn-tossing horde of white cattle.

All this has occurred as you cower here quaffing,
As you gorge and carouse with your spew-spattered crew,
So douse your dolt skull in an icy-rimed bucket.
You sail for war with no further ado.”

Enough!” snarled Varou, “The Grave Lord commands,
And in my response he shall not find a lack.
Now away to my father, announce of our coming.
Snare wind 'neath those pinions that sprout from your back.”

He turned to his crew, “The Raven has croaked.
We'll sweep oar for slaughter, pull hard for the harrow,
For I am Ulfhednar, the Child of Rage,
And I am to wolfman as she to the sparrow.

Come my bears, my mighty-thewed monstrous berserkir,
Your muzzles shall drench red in Varulfur gore.
Sharpen your tusks, my boar-head Svinfylking,
Your swathe to the Vargrmen starts at the shore.”

To the Peryton hied they, combat-caparisoned;
Paragons each, of war-mongering beast,
Planning the vex they would make 'pon the wolfmen,
And picking their teeth of the yesternight's feast.

For a day they made way 'pon a north-westing whale-road,
By a brash autumn guster that billowed the sail.
When the squall came a-screaming, they bent to the rowlocks,
And squinted their eyes 'gainst the cold, stinging hail.

The squall, it was old now and heavy with spite.
With crackling lashes it whipped at the waves,
Bidding them plunge down with oar-snapping fury,
And hurl Varou's crew to their watery graves.

They shook out their sinews and pulled up to war speed,
Heaving their way to the storm's swirling eye.
Varou drew his longaxe and leapt to the prow,
Howling disdain at the roiling sky.

Think you to cast us to Njord's briny locker?
Those who have tried, no tales can tell.
You shall not drown us squall, for we are the drowners,
Blessed by Kuthulu who sleeps 'neath the swell.

Flee foolish squall, ere my wrath further waxes,
And I swing the Hew at your sizzling heart.
Her blade was deep-forged by the Sons of Ivaldi.
T'will trouble her scarcely to hack you apart.”

The Peryton hauled to a freshening wind
As the sun wester'd red and the clouds shrank away.
They rounded the rocks at the End of the Land,
And steered to the Pole Star as dusk slew the day.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Russell's Curio Corner #5

Howdy all!  Welcome to August.  I hope everyone's summer has been decent, despite the rain/drought/rain-drought/drought-rain.  By now I'm sure the kiddies are getting restless, so I thought I'd whip up some TAoOM fun for the days when your stuck inside 'cuz it's too hot/wet to go outside.  SO, here you are you lucky so-and-so, your very own TAoOM finger puppets to color and cut-out for endless hours of your very own annals.

Enjoy, and feel free to share any of your masterpieces with all of us here at the Annals!  If you'd prefer the puppets in PDF, here they are.