The Blackhope Enigma and The Crimson Shard and today are delighted to be part of the blog tour at the launch of The Crimson Shard.
The Inspiration of Alternative Worlds in Paintings
I have my wonderful parents to thank for my fascination with old paintings and the subsequent appearance of magical artworks in my novels The Blackhope Enigma and The Crimson Shard. I devoured their books about medieval and Renaissance art because of the strange and beautiful images in them. The paintings’ subjects were sometimes lurid and terrible: meticulous depictions of martyrs’ beheadings or devils taunting saints in the desert. There were works like Hieronymous Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, which were packed full of odd hybrid creatures, grotesque figures and objects in weird landscapes. I could look at these three images for hours, from the depiction of paradise on the left, earthly delights in the centre, to hell on the right, and wonder exactly what was going on in these scenes. Much of the work’s detailed meaning and symbolism may be lost on today’s viewers, though it is clear that the paintings serve as a warning against immorality and sinful behavior.
The Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. In it, a huge Romanesque tower is under construction, rising out of a sprawling landscape and precariously close to a harbor. The building is lined with arches and entrances that I have always found very enticing. I would love to join the hordes of tiny people in this picture, to be able to climb inside this construction or to go onboard the ships. The sense of space and drama never fails to draw me in. It was this quality that I wanted to emulate in my invented painting, The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia, which is at the centre of The Blackhope Enigma.
Some of my favourite paintings depict scenes from mythological stories. Piero di Cosimo’s Perseus Frees Andromeda is a great interpretation of a Greek myth about the hero freeing the princess from the clutches of a sea monster sent by Poseidon. This painting’s world has a lovely sense of space and depth, like The Tower of Babel, and invites the viewer inside to watch Perseus slay Cetus, the monster. The onlookers wear exotic and stunningly coloured robes and headpieces; the water is a luminous and clear blue-green and the houses on the distant hills are tiny golden gems. Even Cetus, with his odd flippers, tusks and curly tail, is gorgeous. I could imagine this sort of scene being played out in the marine underworld below The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia.
Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen, who illustrated folk tales and stories from European origins as well as from the Arabian Nights. I have always wanted to paint images that are as dream-like and evocative as these – and when the writing bug bit me, I wanted to do the same with words.
Readers have asked me whether The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia is a real painting that they can see somewhere. I’m flattered that they think it might exist and hate to disappoint them when I say I invented the painting and its underworlds. I also assure them that they’ve already ‘seen’ it in their mind’s eye.
The pivotal painting in The Crimson Shard is simple in comparison to The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia. It’s a mural of a door painted in the super-realistic trompe l’oeil (‘fool the eye’) style and transforms into a time travel portal under the right circumstances. Before I had even nailed down this novel’s plot, I knew it would involve murals that can fool the eye. I have always been surprised and delighted by architectural murals: windows painted onto plain walls, blue sky and clouds on a ceiling, books painted onto library shelves. I admire the trompe l’oeil artist’s ability to create playful magical illusions and to delight the viewer.
There is a long history of trompe l’oeil painting. One of my favourite examples is by the 18th century painter Henry Fuseli, whose paintings often depict the supernatural. He is best known for The Nightmare, but he also made a charming image called, appropriately, Trompe L’oeil, that features some of the loveliest painted wood grain ever, and a casually tacked-up sketch of farm animals. Not only do I want to touch that sketch and smooth out its wrinkles, I want to know what world it was painted in. I ask myself what is going on beyond the edges of that canvas in the rest of the scene that we cannot see and rejoice in the sense of wonder that paintings inspire.