Thursday, 2 November 2017

SMOKE AND MIRRORS – Dianne Hofmeyr

I grew up in a small seaside village and spent my time after school wandering on my own on the beach and walking the harbour quay daring myself to be washed off in a Spring Equinox tide, drawn by the glitter and gleam of the sea. I was alone... but not lonely… sort of wrapped in a permanent state of melancholic wandering.

So when I first came across an illustration in 1981, from Beauty and the Beast by Fiona Moodie, of Beauty lying next to a stream idly dabbling her fingers in the water while she moped, I recognised her mood.

At school I was fascinated by Velázquez’s Infanta Margarita Teresa in Las Meninas. She looks back at her parents who we don't actually see, but stand where we the viewer stand, with a certain hesitancy as if she is exploring who she really is. The inclusion of the mirror reflecting her parents seems to draw us in and questions reality and illusion. Is it reflecting the actual parents or reflecting what Velázquez is painting?

Years later when I came to live in London, I visited Venice for the first time. Then in 1998 I saw an exhibition at the National Gallery called Mirror Image with the byline... there is more to looking at reflections than meets the eye. Somehow odd threads were working their way into a story of a melancholy girl and Venice and mirrors. I’m not exactly sure when I realised that mirror-glass was the key to the story, but water was also part of it. Reflection. Inward reflection and outward reflection. What you see and what you don’t see.

These are all huge themes for a picture book. How to condense them? I found my imaginary girl in Daniela, a glassmaker’s daughter and without any prompting from me, Jane Ray drew her in a very similar attitude to Beauty in that picture book of 1981, idly dabbling her fingers in the canal water.

While I was working I was often at the V&A making quick notes on glassmaking and began a hefty file but once the story started coming together I collected the notes in a book I made, using semi opaque paper and envelopes and gilded paper to give the illusion of the secrecy that was part of early glassmaking. The date on these notes from the V&A, is 1998. Nineteen years later The Glassmaker's Daughter is finally published. 

 Jane Ray has an amazing ability to add small details to her illustrations that resonate and play with our subconscious. Subtle, even esoteric references, are made that can be enjoyed by the more astute, attentive child, but that don’t diminish the story if they aren’t picked up. In The Glassmaker’s Daughter, she paints one side of Daniela’s cap stormy with clouds and the other side sunny.  With the opening page she gives us Venice in all her moods by day and by night… something I had to edit out of the original text. The translucency of the glassware, is achieved with white outlines. In the scene where the lion-tamer falls into the canal, the lion is patched and rouged, as if for some burlesque show. 

So when people ask how long it takes to write a picture book, I never know how to answer, except to say that most are laid down layer upon layer, sometimes so deep, they can be traced not just to 19 years ago, but right back to childhood wanderings. And then the illustrator takes up the story and lays down her own memories. And hopefully the book meshes by a process of smoke and mirrors

The Glassmaker's Daughter is published by Frances Lincoln and out now.

Jane Ray has been nominated by IBBY UK fro the Hans Christian Anderson Award.

Zeraffa Giraffa, the play with a script by Sabrina Mahfouz, based on Dianne Hofmeyr and Jane Ray's previous picture book, is on at The Little Angel Theatre Islington and will move to the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham on 25th Nov.
twitter: @dihofmeyr


Stroppy Author said...

Looks brilliant! Is it out already?

Saviour Pirotta said...

What a brilliant, evocative post. And so much of it resonates with my own experiences. Growing up on a small island where I felt caged in even as a child, flight was my obsession. I spent days trying to learn how to fly. Perhaps childhood is the time in our lives when our stories are born. The Glass Maker's Daughter is such a rich, satisfying book.

Savita Kalhan said...

A beautiful story, Dianne, so beautifully illustrated.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thank you all. Yes its out and I'm also out after 16 days in hospital! Too long a saga to write here.
Saviour I honestly believe we become writers very early on... we just don't know it at the time. Did you ever see the picture FaRther illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith where a boy's father builds a flying machine and he follows in his father's footsteps (or wings should I say).

Dawn Finch said...

What a gorgeous post. Thank you for giving me a pleasant time wallowing in blue and beautiful images and words.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thanks... like that Dawn... wallowing in blue!