A dwarf, a snow witch, and a white rabbit—Halloween is just another week in the studio

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It’s no secret that Halloween is one of my favorite times of year. It’s an excuse to spend my time doing the same thing I do throughout the rest of the year—but without explanation or justification. Which is to build costumes and props. (I’m highly conscious of those stares coming from the clerks at my local Dollar Store when I’m frequenting their shop in Mid-May and buying an armful of wigs. In my defense, they’re not all for me. Some are for my art therapy and creative writing students.)

This year was a double-dip for me. The Surrey International Writers’ Conference always takes place the week before Halloween and this year I was invited to present. The conference had a theme on the Friday Night: Once Upon a Time Machine.

“You don’t have to dress up,” board member kc dyer told me.

Yeah, right. I probed further to find out that the “Once Upon a Time Machine” theme was basically to do with fairy tales. Or steam punk. Or both.

I could have easily just used my costume that I was working on for Halloween, but I’ll take any excuse to build. So I decided to go as steampunk White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.

The inspiration came when I found a hat in the local costume shop with a pair of rabbit ears and a clock on it. It didn’t quite make sense, since the designer seem to be conflating two characters: the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit.

But it was enough to get me started. I bought the hat, removed the cheap plastic clock and put on my own steampunked version using the lid from a glass milk bottle and a plastic plumbing component. I still wanted a proper clock for the White Rabbit to carry, so I started building the clock at the same time. Here’s my work in progress:

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As you can see, the cat was wholly unimpressed. Here’s the completed clock and hat. For the hat, I also ended up goggles decorated with different steampunk components.

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I still needed some other pieces for the costume. I swooped into Carousel Theatre’s annual costume theatre in early October and scooped up some great pieces for my costume, including a colorful vest. Then it was just a matter of tracking down a few other pieces, such as white gloves and a fake nose. Luckily, I had kept an old pair of round spectacles. People think I bought Harry Potter glasses at a costume shop, but these used to be my real glasses that I wore long before Harry Potter existed. Back then, we called them John Lennon glasses.

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The final costume came together very well:

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The costume was a big hit at the conference. As kc dyer told me, “That’s the best thing you’ve ever done.” (Well, I have written a book or two, as well. Which I thought was the reason I had been invited to speak at the conference—but, hey, I’ll take my invites any way I can get them.)

Speaking of kc, here is a photo of me and her at the conference. She went as steampunk fairy godmother. So, we pretty much rocked.

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After the conference, it was time to turn my attention in earnest to Halloween. My wife and I had decided way back in July that we would go for a Narnia theme. Marcie decided to be Jadis, the snow witch. I wasn’t entirely sure who I would go as. My initial thoughts were Digory from The Magician’s Nephew—I could wear an English boy’s suit and carry a silver apple.

But then I decided it would be more fun to go as the snow witch’s dwarf slave. He goes unnamed in the book, though in the Disney movie he is known as Ginarrbrik. I already own many bits and bobs that would go well with his outfit. The main things to figure out were the nose, the beard, and his hat.

As it turned out, my mom found a faux-fur coat at Value Village and was able to make me both a hood and a vest from it. I pinned my ears to the hood so that I wouldn’t have to contend them falling off all night (which they always do when I put them on my own ears.)

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As for the beard, I bought two of the exact kind from the costume shop then set out using pieces from the one to augment the other, distressing them with paint and braiding them with bits of twine. I didn’t want it to look too polished—after all, this was just a dirty minion of the snow witch!

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I was able to buy a fairly high-quality nose from the costume shop and just attached it with spirit gum. I also took snippets from the beard to attach to my eyebrows. Put it all together and the result turned out quite well:

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Here’s me with Marcie as Jadis:

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She ended up buying a wedding dress from Value Village then augmenting it was a white faux-fur throw rug. She made the staff with a Christmas ornament. As for the crown, she procured that from Etsy.

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A key part of the costume was all of her make-up:

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We attended our annual “Scooby-Gang” Halloween party. The costumes there can get quite intense. Here are some fun photos from the party . . .

First of all, here is the amazing cake made by my friend, Carrie. YES, that’s a cake. (And it tasted delicious. Though, admittedly, I ate a part that didn’t involve the eyeball.)

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Here’s this year’s host, Luke and Kallie, as a phoenix tamer and dragon tamer. The phoenix cried real tears and had flapping wings while the dragon could open it’s mouth. halloween2016_phoenixdragontamer

I guess Ginarrbrik can’t compete with Dilbert. He ended up getting a kiss from the snow witch. That’s my friend Jeff inside the costume. He built Dilbert from scratch.

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This is my friend Carrie (of cake fame) as a zombie hunter.

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My friend James also went as a zombie hunter.

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James has already stated in one of his blog posts that his costume has inspired his writing in all sorts of ways. That’s really cool—because it underscores something I’ve long believed: when you are a creative writer, you have to be creative in many areas of your life. And that’s why I spend so much studio time not staring at a computer screen, but building props and costumes. And that, takes us full circle.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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“Inspircation” Day 15: Exploring another city of literature

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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:

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Flying books in Bangkok

I was taken to a delightful restaurant bar the other night in Bangkok called The Bookshop. What a marvellous place! Bookshelves floated above and old-fashioned tomes fluttered up and down. Everywhere I looked, there was a feast for the eyes.

Unfortunately, my photos just don’t do it justice!

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It felt something like entering an Escher drawing. Or perhaps the magical library that we find in The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. And then I thought of this wonderful painting of Alice in Wonderland by Iassen Ghiuselev:

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