Snakes, crocodiles, and cats — mummified!

This fall, one of the classes I’m teaching for CWC is called “Picture Perfect,” a program in which the kids take inspiration from art history and write a series of pieces.

Our first project is to explore ancient Egypt and make mummies. Long ago, I was in Egypt and explored many temples and ancient sites up and down the Nile, so this period of history is quite dear to me. I was able to tell the students a lot of personal stories about my time in Egypt.

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While I was in Egypt, I saw countless mummies: cats, crocs . . . you name it. So, as a fun inspiration for our first story in the class, we’re building mummies.

We started by making the clay figures and then let them dry for a week. Next, we began “embalming” them.

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This time, we tried something new: adding spices as part of the embalming process.

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I kind of like how it leaves some of them looking a little weathered.

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Next week, we’ll add some adornments by adding some metallic paint.

For now, the students are working on stories that tell how their characters came to an end (in most cases, an untimely one) and then entered the Egyptian afterlife. They also are working with some Egyptian hieroglyphics to create cartouches for their characters. (A cartouche is a particular shape in Egyptian symbology that signifies the name of a pharaoh.)

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Designing characters for the BC Library’s Summer Reading Club ~ Round 1

While I was touring through England and Ireland last month, I was approached with a delightful project: to illustrate the material for the library’s 2016 Summer Reading Club. It would mean following in some pretty big footsteps; in past years, the library has worked with some pretty talented illustrators: Jeremy Tankard, Shayne Letain, and Mike Deas—just to name a few.

However, I simply had to take this project. After all, the theme is “TRAVEL” . . . and I’ve done quite a bit of that recently (including being on an overseas trip when the project was offered). It just seemed a good fit!

The project is not without its challenges, since I need to design characters and produce illustrations that will speak to a wide age range, different cultural sensibilities, and both boys and girls. I decided I would chronicle each of the stages, as much as I can, on my blog . . . so here goes! Round 1 . . .

The first idea I came up with for a character was a “travel bug.” Here are some my sketches:

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Of course, the other thing I thought about is a general cast of animal characters, things that you might find in your backyard. So here’s my collection of rodents and other critters:

bat flyingsquirrel mouse snail worm

Our end task will be to come up with a team of three characters that are on a travel adventure. I have this idea of them using this steampunked book as a sort of portal passport. I haven’t gotten too far down the road of that design since I have been mostly concentrating on the characters, but here are a couple of sketches:

book gangflying

So far, the team at the library has liked a lot of the designs . . . I just need to make sure they’re not too cute so I can hit that “tween” audience. Yep, that’s a challenge, because I still need to interest the younger kids, too.

Well, as they say, back to the drawing board . . .

“Inspircation” Day 17: Walking London

Yesterday was the final day of this entire trip, and we spent most of it walking the great city of London.

We started off with a tube journey, however, arriving at Tower Hill to visit London Tower. I have been there several times, but I always find some new corner to explore. It was my mom’s first time, and I was determined that she see this iconic landmark.

I’ve taken many photos of this place in the past (including MANY doors), so this time I concentrated more on just exploring, rather than recording. But here are a few of the photos we took (including a couple of door details) . . .

tower-armory tower-blackhandle tower-handle traitorsgate

After the Tower, we had lunch and met up with a daughter of our friends back in Vancouver. She’s been living in England for almost two years. Coincidently enough, she was living in York when we were in the northern part of England last year and so we got to see her then and now she’s moved to London. So I’m not sure if she’s following us or if we’re following her.

Together we crossed Tower Bridge and walked along the south bank to the Globe Theatre. Marcie and I had been inside before, so this stop was really just a chance for the girls to visit the gift shop!

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globe-m&b

We continued on our way, across Millenium Bridge to St. Paul’s and then just kept on walking to our hotel, just as rush hour began to percolate. It seemed like every pub on every corner was teeming with patrons, so many of them that they were spilling onto the streets. It was quite boisterous. I think we must have walked 10 kilometers all over the city yesterday.

stpauls-family

Well, that was our trip! It was a simplified last day, and we are all feeling pretty beat. I would say that this “inspircation” was a lot more inspiration then vacation, but I’m feeling creatively energized and ready to head into a busy fall. Exciting projects await!

“Inspircation” Day 16: Secret Cinema, Star Wars style

Yesterday, was such a full day, I didn’t even get a chance to blog at the end of it. So I’m doing a bit of catch up.

It was our first full day in London, and boy did we make the most of it. After a quick breakfast in our hotel, we hoofed it south towards Westminster Abbey. Marcie and I always prefer walking to transit, when possible, because, of course, you get to see so much more of a place. In this instance, we inadvertently ended up trekking along part of the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk. It borders some beautiful park land . . .

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We then arrived at Westminster Abbey and went inside to explore. I had been there previously, but it was the first time for Marcie and my mom. Collectively, I think our favourite part was the Poets’ Corner, where many famous writers are either interred or memorialized, including Chaucer, Austen, Wordsworth, Byron, Dickens . . . well, the list goes on and on.

We couldn’t take any photos inside, which started to really kill me as I encountered door after wonderful door. But at least we got a few pictures of the abbey just outside.

westminster_lef westminsterabbey_marcie

And, as it happened, as we exited the abbey, they were sonorously ringing the bells. Yesterday marked the day that the length of Queen Elizabeth II’s rule surpassed that of Queen Victoria. We heard that Queen Elizabeth wanted to keep the celebrations low key (after all, this occasion also marks the anniversary of her father’s death).

We stopped to get a picture at Big Ben, along with the hordes of other tourists (which is a fortuitous thing, since there are lots of people to take photos of one another). So here’s my big belly in front of Big Ben:

bigben_family

Afterwards, we headed to the Churchill War Museum. This is an amazing installation. Much of it is in intact from the way it was left at the end of World War II. It’s truly like a rabbit warren down there, with passages turning this way and that. It’s well worth the visit, but just make sure you do it in order and not get turned around like we did. (Which, should come as no surprise, given our history of getting lost on this trip).

I loved this wall of keys. These are the original keys from the period, which were used to open the various rooms.

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And here’s an original map—in fact, all the maps there were intact, left exactly as they were in 1945.

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And here’s the office of Churchill’s secretary:

churchillmuseum-office

As you can see by the above photos, the lighting wasn’t great, so we didn’t take a ton of photos and instead just chose to enjoy the experience.

Here’s a few doors from the day’s explorations . . .

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Then, in the evening, came the BIG EVENT. Months ago, Marcie and I booked tickets for Secret Cinema Star Wars. I had only found out about this event after we had planned our trip and since we were already planning to be in London during its run, we decided we better go. The tickets were quite expensive, but now, after having gone, I would have paid double.

Actually, I can’t even begin to express how amazing and surreally awesome Secret Cinema Star Wars. It was like walking into the movie. Or like playing some sort of Dungeons & Dragons game—except that it was the 5D version (6D, if you count the Force—and why wouldn’t you?).

Marcie and I had both been assigned identities months ago; she was Losa Starkiller and I was Joruus Macaque. Since we have been on the road a lot this year and coming all the way from Canada, we had not pre-ordered costumes. We had assumed we’d be able to buy costumes on site, so were much distressed when we discovered the shop is far away from the event. So, we arrived in our plain old clothes and there wasn’t much we could do about it. Everyone else, it seemed to us, was dressed head to toe in the most amazing costumes!

As it turned out, we did arrive at a stage of the event where we could buy some simple accoutrements, and we did—instantly we felt better.

But I get ahead of myself. Basically, the first part of the event focused on immersing us—the audience, the participants, whatever you want to call us—in the world that you seen in Star Wars: A New Hope.

Together, Losa Starkiller and I played Sabaac with Lando Calrissian, bartered with Jawas to buy valuable spice, drank engine oil in the cantina, watched the Modal Nodes play, sat at Aunt Beru’s kitchen (she served blue milk), witnessed Chewbacca break out of a Mos Eisley prison, were interrogated by imperial officers, personally booked passage to Alderaan with Han Solo, and were recruited—just the two of us out of at least two hundred people—by General Madine to prowl hidden corridors on the Death Star so that we could located Stormtrooper TK-144 and negotiate procurement of the secret plans vital for destroying the Death Star.

Which we did. Then watched Obi-Wan fight Vader, Luke destroy above said Death Star, and stood in the award ceremony to see the rebel heroes get their medals.

At the very end, we watched a version of The Empire Strikes Back. I say a version, because while the film played there was some live-action events going on, too.

There were no photos, phones, or devices of any kind allowed at this event, which made it an even more immersive experience. Honestly, the event would have been wrecked otherwise. But we did get a couple of photos outside at the end.

If you can go to this event . . . GO. Honestly. No matter how many words I write about it, it wouldn’t do the experience any justice. Best. Play. Ever.

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secretcinema_loot secretcinema-l&m secretcinema_marcieplans

Best. Play. Ever.

“Inspircation” Day 15: Exploring another city of literature

cecilcourt-lee

Well, we’re on the last leg of our “inspircation”. After we leave London, it’s home we go!

It was quite a travel day to get here today from Dublin. We work before 4 am, took a taxi to a teeming Dublin airport, flew to Bristol, took a bus to the Bristol train station, took the train to Paddington Station, then took the tube to Oxford Circus Station, then walked ten minutes to our hotel. Whew! Even as I write that, it seems a lot. The only thing we didn’t do was ride in a boat.

Marcie was excited to arrive in Paddington Station—here’s a photo of her posing with the popular bear:

marcie&paddingtonbear

The good news is that everything on the trip went without a hitch (I don’t think we even got lost, other than momentarily walking the wrong way once we got out of Oxford Circus) and I even had time to write while sitting on the train, occasionally lifting my head to watch the English countryside whipping past.

Despite this long travel day, I was desperate to get out into the city as soon as we got settled into our hotel. I have been here several times before, but I wanted to show my mom (who has never been here before) and Marcie (once before) some of my favourite corners.

And the first of those favourite corners is Cecil Court, a little street just off Leicester Square. We walked the whole way down, passing through Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square first.

trafalgar_mom&marcie

We eventually arrived at Cecil Court, much to my joy (and relief; I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sniff it out again). Cecil Court is a short lane (pedestrian only) that the home of the early film industry (just as it says on the plaque below).

cecilcourt_plaque

These days, the street is home to many book shops, including ones that sell first and early editions of books such as Harry Potter, Gone With the Wind, and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Many of these editions are signed. Yes—you can spend hundreds of pounds here. Scratch that. Thousands.

cecilcourt_firsteditions

The shop called Marchpane celebrates British children’s literature—one could shell additional hundreds of pounds here. The owner is a quiet gentle soul who indulged Marcie as she examined old editions of Alice in Wonderland plays that are far out of our budget. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass seem to be specialities of the shop.

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I did end making a humble but beautiful purchase, spending 25 quid on a print of an Alice in Wonderland illustration, which pretty much made my day.

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Oh, and the store is also decorated with daleks.

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After leaving Cecil Court, we headed on to Fleet Street, admiring the architecture and buzz of the city, and found the courtyard down to Temple Church, which is an old church built by the Knights Templar in the 1100s. We could not go inside, but I had done so on a previous visit, and there I saw the graves, with effigies, of some of the Templars. Today, we could just explore the courtyard and see the beautiful door.

templechurch_door

Nearby, but on the other side of the street is Ye Olde Chesire Cheese Inn. This is another favorite place of mine in the city, partly because of its cozy feel, and partly because it oozes history—literary history.  It was a regular haunt of Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Mark Twain, just to name a few.

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The pub consists of several floors of narrow cozy floors, with winding steps and dangerously low stairs connecting each. You can enjoy a brew in one of the cozy alcoves and imagine the old greats pontificating there.

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The pub is also the setting of the recent children’s book The Chesire Cheese Cat, which I read and enjoyed this past year. (I highly recommend it.)

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Down the lane from the pub is the former home of Samuel Johnson. We didn’t go inside, as it was past closing time, but I did get a picture of his door knocker, which after all, is all part of my important role as a collector of all things door-related.

samueljohnsonhouse_doorknocker
On the way back to the hotel, we passed a Waterstones and I picked up the latest—and last—book by my favourite author, Terry Pratchett. I was so distraught to learn of his passing earlier this year, but am ever so grateful that he gave us one last Tiffany Aching adventure. I can’t wait to read it.
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Tomorrow is another big day. We are headed to see a few more sights and then comes our evening entertainment: Secret Cinema presents The Empire Strikes Back!

“Inspircation” Day 14: Exploring a city of literature

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We sure enjoyed exploring the literary aspect of Dublin today! So many great writers have come from this city: Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw . . . the list goes on and on.

We started our morning by visiting the Writers’ Museum. Even though it is only a two-minute walk from our hotel, we had decided to save it for the last day of our time in Dublin, a quiet Monday after the wild sports weekend that saw the high street (where we are located) teeming with hordes of sports enthusiasts.

Dublin is one of the relatively few places in the world that has UNESCO status as a city of literature (the others, as we learned, are Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, Reykjavík, Norwich, Kraków, Heidelberg, Dunedin, Granada, and Prague).

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The Dublin Writers’ Museum is a quiet place, full of humble display cases that exhibit the books and biographies of the city’s most celebrated writers, poets, and playwrights. Many first editions of books are on display, and you can also see many of the possessions of these creators, such as pipes and typewriters. Here are a few photos from our visit . . .

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After this pensive experience, we headed towards the Temple Bar area of town to visit the Leprechaun Museum, which promised to feature live storytelling and an immersion into the fairy folklore of Ireland. Given my career as a fantasy writer, this sounded like something I would immensely enjoy.

Alas, it was a disappointment. To be fair, I think the experience depends greatly on which storytelling guide happens to lead you along. Ours seemed rather disinterested and lacked a lot of storytelling ability (since Marcie and I both make our livings as storytellers, we felt rather qualified to make this judgment!). I have to say, I find it rather ironic that we’ve met so many vibrant storytellers in this city—taxi drivers, the bus drivers, barkeeps, and everyday folk—and the most lacklustre one was the one we paid to see.

Oh well. At least we got a dorky photo of us all standing inside a giant novelty book:leprechaunmuseum_book

Disappointed, but undaunted, we headed further into the Temple Bar area of the city. We loved the atmosphere this part of Dublin. The streets are cobblestone and the shopfronts colourful.

dublin_templebar_shopfronts

They sure do celebrate writing in this city—you don’t have to look very hard to find evidence of it. Walking along the River Liffey, we came across the Bachelor’s Pub, which has an entire outside walk devoted to quotes from Dublin’s writers.

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Also, you can find plaques on the sidewalks throughout the city commemorating locations from James Joyce’s Ulysses:

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Eventually, we found Joyce himself at the Temple Bar (the pub, not the area) and enjoyed a drink with him . . .

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I will confess that I haven’t found tons of doors to collect in Dublin. They are mostly Georgian in style and while admittedly colourful, they look all too new and fresh for me. I like my doors old and weathered! But here’s one that caught my eye  today, nonetheless . . .

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We’re now ready to head back to England, with a flight into Bristol, and a train ride across to London where more adventures await us.

“Inspircation” Day 13: Exploring Ancient Ireland

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Wow.

Today was simply incredible. We headed out of Dublin on tour to visit Newgrange tomb and the Hill of Tara. Marcie had booked this tour months ago, after much research, and she sure hit the jackpot with Mary Gibbons. She was an excellent guide, giving us so much history in such a short time, but by putting everything into the context of world history, it wasn’t remotely overwhelming or confusing. Nor was it simplified and patronizing. I highly recommend her tours (you can check out her website here.)

The neolithic Newgrange site limits the amount of visitors it accepts, so that was one advantage to us having a pre-booked tour. (Even during our time there, we saw people get turned away; you can’t simply drive up and expect to get in.) The other good thing about this policy is it just means there are less people on the site. It’s a spiritual place, and that wouldn’t quite be the same if you had to wind your way through a crowd. In fact, they wouldn’t even let our whole tour group go to the site at the same time. Instead, they divided us and sent us on a smaller bus for separate sessions. When it wasn’t our turn to go, we explored the interpretation centre (and the gift shop, where we bought a beautiful print).

The Newgrange passage tomb is 5,200 years old and is easily the oldest tomb I’ve ever visited, older than those I’ve seen in China, Korea, Central America, and even Egypt. One of the things that make the Newgrange site so special (in my opinion) is the artwork engraved onto the stones. If you have any familiarity with Celtic art, then you will recognize the triple spire and other organic patterns. (Though the Celts didn’t build Newgrange—it far outdates their arrival in Ireland. I guess we just now associate these motifs with the Celts.)

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You can walk around the entire mound and see the structure.

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This is the entrance to the tomb:

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We were allowed to go in, escorted by the on-site guide. We ducked and squeezed our way through the passageway until we reached the chamber where there were once cremated remains stored. The mound is a monument to the sun; at dawn on the winter solstice, a shaft of sunlight beams all the way into this chamber through the “window” that is situated above the doorway. Of course, we weren’t there on the winter solstice, but they recreated the effect with artificial lighting. I can only imagine how amazing the real event would be.

You cannot take photos inside of the tomb. I was quite okay with that, since it is such a spiritual place. But I did want to record something inside of there, and so I made some sketches in my notebook. You will see on the page below my simple doodle of one of the basins that was used to hold the urns of cremated remains. (The other sketches were ones I did outside.)
newgrange-sketchbook

After our visit to Newgrange, we took the bus back to the drop-off point, and walked across the River Boyne, which is the spiritual centre of this area. This place is so steeped in history! Once we were back on the bus, Mary Gibbons told us all about the famous people who have come from this region, and about the famous Battle of the Boyne. I won’t go into that here—mostly because I can’t tell it the way Ms. Gibbons did and I won’t pretend at being an expert in Irish history. But what I can do is show you the photos Marcie took of the river:

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The next stop on our tour was the Hill of Tara, which, according to tradition, was the most important place for the High King of Ireland.

Our time here started with a visit to The Old Bookshop, which is located in a stone cottage. The owner, Michael Slavin, delivered a short slideshow to describe the site to us. Oh. And when I say slide show, I mean in the traditional sense, including the old fashioned clicking carousel and dust-covered transparencies.

I adored this bookshop. It had a wood fire going that you could smell from outside and the books are mostly used, so as Ms. Gibbons described (aptly), “It’s like heaven in there.”

Marcie and I each ended up buying books from that shop (both on Irish fairytales and folklore).

hilloftara_bookshop

After the bookshop, we headed out to the actual site. The first thing we came upon of interest were these two stones:

hilloftara_twostones

According to legend, one would attempt to drive a chariot through these two sacred stones. If the person in question was a worthy candidate for a king, the stone would part, giving him a path through. If not—well, I guess it was time to get a new chariot.

Next on our walk came the Mound of Hostages, which is another passage tomb, like Newgrange, but much smaller, and not as old. You can see inside it through the barred doorway:

hilloftara_gateway

After this, we explored the surrounding landscape and eventually made our way to the Lia Fáil, or the stone of destiny. This was another challenge that a prospective king would face; if the stone roared upon touching it, then it meant you were worthy.

Marcie and I faced off to see who was the most worthy, and I eventually gave it a try.

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hilloftara_lee_stoneofdestiny

In all likelihood, it won’t surprise you to learn that the stone did NOT roar for me. I guess the wee bit of Irish I have in me didn’t help my worth in this instance.

Below, are a few more photos of the surrounding landscape. The vistas are beautiful and, apparently, on a clear day, you can see “three-quarters of Ireland.” I don’t know about that . . . but I do know that we lost my mom while visiting Tara. She wandered off on our own accord, which shocked us, because so far on this trip she’s never let us out of her site. So we assumed she was looking for us, and we went looking for her, only to eventually find her in the gift shop. Oh well. She’s far more comfortable with the country settings than the city ones!

hilloftara_landscape

hilloftara_thistles  hilloftara_verticalvista

Well, that was our day! It was pretty spectacular, and I even managed to get some writing done on the ride back into the city—I simply can’t help being inspired by all of the lore and legends here.

I’ve been collecting so many doors and door ornamentations on this trip, but today I didn’t photograph any. Though, I suppose you can count the entrance to the Newgrange tomb as a doorway.

Tomorrow is our last day in Dublin, and we are going to explore the rich literary history of the city.