I’m delighted to be writing a guest post for this wonderfully electrifying blog. I’ve been told I can write about anything I like, so long as it has something to do with writing. I’ve therefore decided to write about art, the pictorial kind.
No, I’m not being contrary or awkward, honest. The pictures I’m going to talk about are those that feature directly in my writing, primarily my poetry and one of my novels, A Darker Moon (which is available in all the usual electronic formats, so it is appropriate for this blog).
I am not a painter myself. The nearest I come to creating visual pictures is via photography (feel free to check out my photoblog if you are interested in the photographic images I create), but visual art is important to me, so I guess it’s not surprising that it features so frequently in my writing. As to why it’s important, I believe it has as much to do with childhood memories and experiences, as any deep-rooted psychological drivers (which I shall most definitely NOT be exploring here!).
I was born and grew up in London and childhood school summer holidays were not complete without a visit to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. There were also regular trips to the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kenwood House and assorted other historic properties and museums in the city. From an early age, my head was filled with images of fantastic paintings and works of art. Not surprisingly, as an adult, those images have coloured my writing (pun intended). As I am a poet as well as a fiction writer, you might not be surprised by this.
Ekphrastic poetry is quite common (Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, for example, and Sylvia Plath’s The Ghost’s Leavetaking, which was inspired by a Paul Klee painting). In my poetry collection Cats and Other Myths you will find the poem Crazy Jane, which is based on a sketch by the Victorian artist Richard Dadd. There is also Coyote, a poem that found inspiration in traditional North American Indian images of the self-same animal.
In my new poetry collection, Years Ago You Coloured Me, I have taken the inspiration of pictures a little bit further. There are various Ekphrastic poems such as The Horses, inspired by the George Stubbs painting Whistlejacket, which I first saw hanging in Kenwood House and subsequently in the National Gallery, and another Stubbs painting, Mare and Foals, which hangs in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. There are also poems such as At The Courtauld and View From Sheep Field Barn, Much Hadham (the latter winning third prize in the 2015 Yeovil Literary Prize for Poetry) which build on visits to the Courtauld Gallery in London and the former home of the sculptor Henry Moore in Perry Green, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire: poetry not inspired by just one work of art, but many.
Years Ago You Coloured Me is first and foremost a book about influence, resonance and memory, including my own. Given my childhood visits to art galleries, it is almost to be expected that fine art is among the echoes I’ve tried to capture in these poems. My novel, A Darker Moon, is a totally different book, however.
A Darker Moon is a dark-fiction novel of mythic rebirth and psychological collapse, as well as what makes us human. It relates the story of Abe, a lost and damaged soul who, like me, grows up in London and is influenced by the paintings and images he sees as a child. In particular, he becomes obsessed with the reoccurring image of a woman who looks like his mother, or at least the woman he thinks of as his mother, because all he has of her is an anonymous black and white photograph. He spends a lot of time in galleries trying to track down one particular painting, but clearly he has been influenced by other paintings he has seen. References to these are dotted, sometimes obliquely, through his retelling of his story. For example, there is Gainsborough’s Mr. Andrews and Dieric Bouts’ Man in Red, faces seen in pre-Victorian paintings and, deep within his sexual fantasies, images of Rodin sculptures and L’Origin du Monde by Gustave Courbet. How deep this obsession with the visual goes is not totally clear, but images are extremely important to Abe, including the vivid memory pictures he retains in his head:
“A small brown owl perches on my cot rail, its huge, yellow eyes, like two full harvest moons. It may only be a little owl, but those eyes are big enough to drown an infant, and I have a sense of falling, of being sucked in and down towards two pools of deep moonlight. It is my earliest memory.”
Abe’s fascination with pictures is, I admit, one I share. His obsessions and the rest of his dark and at times disturbing story, are wholly his.
Being a writer, if I admit to any obsession, it’ll be with words, but I am able to explore and indulge my love of painting within my poetry and the stories I make up. I can recreate remembered pictures with words, as well as building them into the words of a story or novel. Pictures and words may be different forms of art, but for me, I am fortunate that they so often go together.
About J.S.Watts: J.S.Watts is a British writer. She was born in London and now lives and writes in East Anglia. In between, she read English at Somerville College, Oxford and spent many years working in the British education sector.
Her poetry, short stories and book reviews appear in a variety of publications in Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the States including Acumen, Mslexia and Orbis and have been broadcast on BBC and independent Radio. She has been Poetry Reviews Editor for Open Wide Magazine and Poetry Editor for Ethereal Tales. She has written five books. Her poetry collection, Cats and Other Myths and a subsequent multi-award nominated poetry pamphlet, Songs of Steelyard Sue, are published by Lapwing Publications, as is her latest collection, Years Ago You Coloured Me. Her novels, A Darker Moon and Witchlight are published by Vagabondage Press. A Darker Moon and Witchlight are available in all electronic formats from the usual providers. Her poetry can be obtained in PDF format from Lapwing Publications. For further details, see www.jswatts.co.uk
About A Darker Moon: Abe Finchley is a damaged man, an orphan with no roots and no family ties. When he finally meets the woman he has been looking for all his life, he finds not just love and passion, but a dark and violent family history that spans generations into humanity’s deepest past.
Eve is the woman of his dreams; but dream is just another word for nightmare, and Abe knows all about those. Amidst a confused web of lies and secrets, Abe is trying to discover who he is and make sense of what he may become. More than just his future and his new-found love is at stake. When he discovers that he has a brother, a man bound by divine destiny to kill him, Abe is going to have to make a difficult choice. A choice that might redeem the world. A choice that just might destroy it.
A Darker Moon is a dark, psychological fantasy. A mythical tale of light and shadow and the unlit places where it is best not to shine even the dimmest light.
A Darker Moon by J.S.Watts (ISBN 978-0615706528) is published by Vagabondage Press
in paperback and e-book formats.