Monday, 20 September 2010

Pictures on a Page: Penny Dolan

Encircled by light, a boy flies above the stage, mesmerising the audience. Who is he and how did he get there? The boy, I know very soon, is called Mouse. That aspect of my young hero appeared in my head some time after seeing flyers swooping on wires at the theatre. The image was bright and clear at the centre, but fuzzier around the edges.

So I nursed the picture, gently asking questions. “What exactly is happening here? Why? Where? Who are you, Mouse? How do you feel, way up there? Who do you know? And who knows you?” Gradually the picture grew. Mouse was a boy who was not much afraid of heights.

Other images hidden in my mind woke, stretched themselves and grew into other scenes in the story sequence.

Bulloughby’s crumbling school, far beyond sight of any other building. Nick Tick’s clockmakers shop. The canvas walls of Charlie Punchman’s puppet booth. The glorious golden auditorium of Hugo Adnam’s Albion Theatre, and more, all snipped from somewhere in my memory then reshaped and stitched into Mouse’s tale.

These were like the big beads on my story thread. Between them I needed the small but essential beads, and often I had to re-arrange the order or polishing dulled ideas until the pattern was as good as it could get.

I would love to plan, but my writing process is always visual. I have to wait for the picture. Does this habit come from bored hours staring at the narrative art hanging on classroom walls? Certainly, that Naughty Wet Lady Ophelia stuck in my mind more vividly than the meek, haloed virgins.

The best narrative paintings, story-wise, were seeped with possibility, with “what might be”. I once heard Quentin Blake, whose drawings are so beautifully alive, say that he tries to illustrate the moment just before the action happens. As a writer and story-maker, I’m greedy to make that moment, and to fill in the gaps between too. I want my words to make pictures in other people’s minds.

So where do your stories begin?

A BOY CALLED MOUSE is published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books on 4th October.


Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

I'd like to read this! And speaking of pictures, the cover Bloomsbury have designed is very nice indeed.

Savita Kalhan said...

I think being Mouse would be far more exciting than being a middle-aged woman who's afraid of heights! Will have to content myself with reading about his exploits.

adele said...

I saw this lovely looking book at lunch in Manchester the other day and it's even more stylish than it looks here. It has wonderful illustrations by Peter Bailey and altogether it's a most beautiful production of what I'm sure is a terrific book. Good luck for Mouse, Penny!

Penny Dolan said...

It is a most wonderful cover, Sarah. I feel very proud to have it on my book.

It was great fun being Mouse while I was writing him (apart from one or two severely sad moments.) Hey, I had no fear of heights, was nimble, could turn cartwheels and all manner of things. And you - middle aged? I don't think so, Savita.

Thanks for the kind words and good wishes, Adele. If anyone can bring the book luck, you can. Mouse and I thank you very much.