Ladies that Launch

This past weekend I went to London for two launches–the Strange Chemistry Launch at the British Library, and Kim Curran’s launch for Shift at a pub in Richmond.

It was an amazingly fun weekend, though also rather terrifying as I was giving my first reading of Pantomime to a roomful of strangers. This tinged Thursday with anxiety as I had a busy morning at work, travelled for five hours, got ready as quickly as humanly possible at Kim’s, downed a gin and tonic in nothing flat for a bit of Dutch courage, and then made my way to the launch. Amanda, my editor and the mother of Strange Chemistry, looked lovely in a floral dress. There were three SC authors there–Kim Curran, Jonathan Howard (guess he’s not a lady that launches), and me. There’s me reading to the left. I’m amazed at how happy and relaxed I look in that photo, considering my knees were shaking the whole time.

It was great to put faces to a few online names, such as Kaylie who interviewed me last week. I also met Sam Copeland, Kim’s agent and the agent who pointed me in the direction of Juliet, my now-agent, and agents Molly Ker Hawn and Jenny Savill.

Lou Morgan, Juliet Mushens & moi
Man as Machine

The next day we went to the Wellcome Centre and I saw an exhibit I’d been really keen to see–Superhuman. It detailed the ways humans have been striving to enhance themselves from ancient times to modern day and postulations to the future. There was a prosthetic toe from the Egyptian era and a plan of how near scientists feel we are to the singularity. It was both inspiring and really, really depressing. Humans are both extraordinary and terrible creatures.

Then in the evening was Kim Curran’s launch for Shift! It was really wonderful to see all her friends and family supporting her and I bought my signed copy of Shift. It was very relaxed. I met James Dawson, author of Hollow Pike, who was lovely, and met a few of Kim’s friends. I also met Kim’s good friend Miranda Dickinson, author of The Fairy Tale of New York and It Started with a Kiss, among others. To the left is Kim beaming as she signs her book.

Saturday was a day of lazing and then far too early on Sunday I was back in Aberdeen. Now it’s frantic packing and I’m off to Chicago and Worldcon! Hooray!

And in the Dragon was a Story: The Edinburgh Book Sculptures

This past Saturday was the launch of the Scottish Tour of the Edinburgh Book Sculptures. Most bibliophiles will know this tale, but if you haven’t heard about it, an anonymous artist gifted libraries, a theatre, book festival tents, and a bookstore around Edinburgh with lovingly crafted sculptures made from books. With them she (all we know about her is that she’s a she) left little notes. A delightful little mystery took place around the city and word spread around the world as ten sculptures appeared, and then a surprise eleventh for Ian Rankin, the author whose books had been used in several of the other sculptures.

I’d read the news articles last year when it spread across the internet, and I was really excited when they came to my library where I used to work. The GiftED tour was arranged by the Scottish Poetry Library and Edinburgh’s UNESCO City of Literature Trust. They’re in Aberdeen until September 6th and then they’ll be travelling to Dundee, Wigtown, Glasgow, Dunfermline, and then back to the Scottish Poetry Library.

The first thing that struck me about the sculptures from afar when I snuck in was that they seemed so small and innocuous. I couldn’t get a clear look at them until after the launch, which was great. Two writers, one with the awesome name of Rapunzel Wizard with dreadlocks to the back of his knees read short, humourous poems, some of which had props. In the photo to the left he was finding anagrams to various officious terms. I particularly enjoyed his distilling of his favourite books into haiku. Martin Walsh, the other writer, didn’t have quite as flashy a style, but his work had a quiet humour and complexity that I also enjoyed.

I expected to enjoy seeing them in person. What I definitely didn’t expect was to be moved to tears by them. I had to blink rapidly. Seeing all ten at once in their displays was almost overwhelming. So much time, care, and love had been spent on these, and to not take credit and gift them to the world to show how important reading and words and stories are is simply incredible. Whoever you are, mysterious artist, thank you. Onto the photos. Unfortunately my camera phone does not do them justice. For proper photos and for more of the photos of how they fit together, you can also look at Chris Scott’s photos on his blog Central Station.

Worth mentioning is that a book about the sculptures has been published, entitled Gifted – The Tale of 10 Mysterious Book Sculptures Gifted to the City of Word and Ideas. While the editors of the book have no idea who the artist is, they were able to communicate with her via a pseudonymous email address, and in it is a note from the artist and a lovingly illustration on how to make a “poetree” as well as a map of Edinburgh as the end paper. It’s a really beautiful book and £10, and for my it was a tenner well-spent. Some of the proceeds go to helping libraries.

When the curator of the tour introduced the exhibit, she also said that just that morning she had received a very exctiting call from Edinburgh–the anonymous book artist had struck again, leaving 50 paper flowers with a quote by Orson Welles scattered about the Ediburgh book festival. So maybe each year she (or another artist) will gift us with more little paper wonders to remind us of the power of libraries, books, words, ideas…

Photo: The Edinburgh Reporter

Random Research: Magic, 1400s-1950s

Magic, 1400s to 1950s – edited by Mike Caveney, Jim Steinmeyer, Ricky Jay, Noel Daniel

Product description (from Amazon):

The scientists of showbiz. Magic has enchanted humankind for millennia, evoking terror, laughter, shock and amazement. Once persecuted as heretics and sorcerers, magicians have always been conduits to a parallel universe of limitless possibility – whether invoking spirits, reading minds, or inverting the laws of nature by sleight of hand. Long before science fiction, virtual realities, video games, and the Internet, the craft of magic was the most powerful fantasy world man had ever known. As the true pioneers of special effects in human history, magicians have never ceased to mystify by perpetually making the impossible possible. This book celebrates 500 years of the dazzling visual culture of the world’s greatest magicians. Featuring over 1,000 rarely seen vintage posters, photographs, handbills, and engravings in one 640-page volume, it traces the history of magic as a performing art from the 1470s through the post-WWII years. Through sensational images and clear and insightful accompanying text, “Magic” explores the evolution of the magician’s craft, from its early street performers to the brilliant stage magicians who gave rise to early cinematic special effects; from the 19th century’s “Golden Age of Magic” to groundbreaking daredevils like Houdini and the vaudevillians of the early 20th century.

Review and Response:

I bought Taschen’s giant circus book when revising Pantomime (see review here). I found it incredibly helpful and really wanted this book, but damn if it wasn’t expensive. When I got my book deal, my husband bought it for me as a congratulations present for my sequel. Well-played, husband, well-played.

I thought the Circus book was big. This one is even more gigantic–clocking in at 16 pounds and around 650 oversized pages. I could weight-lift with this thing. I could hit someone with it and do some serious damage.

The book is separated into subsections:

Foreword: Wizards of Wonder

Introduction: To Please and Cheat the Sight

Chapter 1: Conjuring Life and Death: The Essence of Illusion

Chapter 2: Devilish Deception: The Origins of Wonder

Chapter 3: From Black Magic to Modern Magic

Chapter 4: The Supernatural and the Spirit Worlds

Chapter 5: Masters of the Golden Age

Chapter 6: The Great Touring Shows

Chapter 7: Chains, Blades, Bullets, and Fire: Daring and Danger in Magic

Chapter 8: Magic in Vaudeville and Nightclubs

As with the Circus book, each Chapter was in English, German, and French, along with all the captions of the photos. The essays are well-written and give insight into overarching trends in the history of magic. So many magicians had different personalities and styles. This book touches on both the ones well-remembered today–Houdini, Thurston, Kellar, Carter–and some of the lesser-known ones, like Ionia. The lithographic posters are extraordinarily lovely, and some have two-page spreads. Some of them are quite rare. This book is absolutely gorgeous, and if you’re a magic afficianado, it’s a must-read to have a clearer idea of how magicians have evolved over the years to reflect the cultural zeitgeist. Through the years, we’ve grown more cynical, and the audience became increasingly aware that magicians were fooling us, but enjoying the tricks all the same.

Image from Erin Morgenstern’s blog

Want to see more magic stuff? Check out my Pinterest boards – Magic Posters and Magic Photography.

Random Research: The First Psychic

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done one of my Random Research blogs. Let’s bring that back, shall we?

The First Psychic: The Peculiar Mystery of a Notorious Victorian Wizard – Peter Lamont

Book Description (from Amazon):

He was simply the greatest psychic of all time. He was also the first – before him, the word ‘psychic’ did not even exist. The feats he performed were so extraordinary that Victorian scientists had to invent the term in order to explain them. The man who became the world’s first psychic was Daniel Dunglas Home. Now almost entirely forgotten, Home was a household name in Victorian Britain, a man of inexplicable ability who divided opinion wherever he went. Hated by Dickens and defended by Thackeray, denounced by Faraday yet mysterious to Darwin, insulted by Tolstoy but patronised by the Emperor of France and the Csar of Russia. The astonishing feats he performed, and the bizarre personal life that attracted so much controversy, are little known today outside the esoteric world of psychical research. He rarely appears in the biographies of the many great Victorians who knew him as few could openly admit to such a controversial acquaintance. This book will finally introduce one of the most remarkable and enigmatic figures in history, and the strange and seemingly inexplicable events that occurred in his presence.

Review and Response:

Reading this book, it is incredible that Home isn’t better remembered today. John Anderson, The Wizard of the North and Home’s rival, is better known.

Born in Scotland, near Edinburgh, he immigrated with his family to the US at a young age. He suffered from poor health. Throughout his childhood, strange events followed him–he predicted several deaths and recounted strange visions that proved to be true.

He eventually decided he simply must inform the world about Spiritualism, and traveled the world, offering seances and hoping for patronage. He became most well-known for his extraordinary levitations.

Scandal also followed him. A wealthy widow “adopted” him and gave him large amounts of money, who later recanted and claimed Home had tricked her under spritualistic distress and sued him. He married a young daughter of Russian royalty and Alexander Dumas was his best man. By all accounts, he loved her deeply, but she died of tuberculosis. He later married an older, wealthy Russian.

Home was a study in contradictions. He claimed to be fervently devoted to his cause. Most knew him as earnest and mild-mannered. Yet at the same time, what he did was most likely all trickery, meaning that his very personality might also have been a ruse. Did he manipulate most of those around him, or was he actually who he claimed to be? But if he was a fraud–he was never caught, despite how often people tried to expose him.

A very interesting and recommended read.

Birthday under the Big Top

It was my birthday on the 4th, and so Craig and I went to see the circus.

The last time I’d been to see the circus was during the summer of 2010 when the Chinese circus was in town. I took non-stop notes when I last went because I was about 1/3 of the way through the first draft of what would become Pantomime. Now, two years later, I was just about finished with the edits of that same book as I went to see the Dutch circus. It was a cool feeling.

I love seeing circuses from different countries. The Chinese circus was flashier, with painted dragons and more contortionists and unicycles and the like. The Netherlands’ circus featured double-Dutch, naturally, and was a bit more understated but no less skilled. They also had a live band above where the performers came out, which I thought a nice touch.

Some photos:

The Big Top in mist.
Yes, this is Scotland. In August.
That is my face.
The contortionist. Blur to the left is the arrow.
The Flying Aces! Urge to run away and join the circus as an aerialist: strong as ever.

It was a lovely birthday.

Books read in July

July was quite the reading month.

1. From Dark Places – E.J. Newman (short stories, fantasy, dark, horror)

2. The Prince of Mists – Carlos Ruiz Zafron (YA, ghosts, WWII)

3. Cinder – Marissa Meyer (YA, science fiction, fairy tell retellings, cyborgs)

4. Locke & Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft – Joe Hill (graphic novels, fantasy, horror)

5. Locke & Key Volume 2: Head Games – Joe Hill (graphic novels, fantasy, horror)

6. Locke & Key Volume 3: Crown of Shadows – Joe Hill (graphic novels, fantasy, horror)

7. Locke & Key Volume 4: Keys to the Kingdom – Joe Hill (graphic novels, fantasy, horror)

8. Handsome Heroines: Women as Men in Folklore – Husain Shahrukh (folklore, short stories, fables, crossdressing, gender)

9. Sorrowline – Niel Bushnell (MG, fantasy, time travel)

10. She – H. Rider Haggard (classic, Victorian, fantasy, adventure)

Pantomime Cover Artwork Revealed!

It’s been an exciting last few days for Pantomime. Last week I received my structural edit from Strange Chemistry, which is a milestone! This edit was fairly light (whoohoo!), though I’ve got some tweaking to do, definitely. 

The next exciting milestone is that I can finally share the cover art for Pantomime! The text is still to be confirmed. I am so, so, so happy with it it’s unreal. It’s my wallpaper at work, at home, on my phone…everywhere. I had a couple of image ideas in my head as I was writing the book, but I’d never thought of having my main character in a mask, and it works so well. Amanda’s vision brilliantly encompassed the mystery, magic, and secrets of Pantomime. Tom Bagshaw aka MostlyWanted has made a truly gorgeous and stunning piece of artwork. Go look at his online portfolio to see more incredible art.

But first, take a look. Is it Gene Laurus, or is it Micah Grey?

About Pantomime, and my first two lovely, lovely blurbs:

R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass – remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone – are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

“Micah is the most wonderful, complex, brave and contemporary teenage hero I’ve read, facing issues of identity and responsibility that will resound with any reader who has felt like an outsider. Pantomime is loving in its detail but hints at so much scope to come. I raced through this book, desperate to know what happens next. ‘Look out behind you’ Robin Hobb…”
– Bryony Pearce, author of Angel’s Fury and winner of the Leeds Book Award, 2012

“Welcome to a world of shills and showmen, fading tech and circus freaks, where nothing and no-one is what it appears. An absorbing, accomplished debut.”
– Elspeth Cooper, author of the Wild Hunt series

More information on Pantomime at Strange Chemistry’s page for the book, including some places where it’s available for pre-order. *cough* Also, stay tuned for another reveal of the final artwork later on!