Castlemaine Launch

Last Thursday, Castlemaine Library hosted the first launch of Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women. About seventy people came along and shared the celebration, one that’s been several years in the making.

The wonderful Carmel Bird gave the launch speech and began:

Once in a kingdom far far away there lived a kind and wonderful witch. In her generous witchy heart she nurtured a deep desire – she longed for a great book of stories, a book that recognised and celebrated the courage and cleverness and power of young women. The wonderful witch mixed a potion, stirred it in her cauldron, and watched the blue and green mist as it rose mysteriously from the pot. It was perfumed with lavender and honeysuckle, eucalypt and wattle, and it wove in and out of the treetops until it began to form into words that hung like spider webs on the branches. And the message was:

By Light and By Dark; By Night and By Day:

Summon Lorena Carrington; Summon Kate Forsyth; Search the wilds of Western Australia for Serenity Press.

And so she did. And lo – you now have before you the self-same book that the good witch desired.

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Many of you will know Carmel’s work. She’s a true literary genius, so I was rather pleased to keep my (relative) cool on stage next to her. She was incredibly gracious and clever and wise, and spoke deeply about the book and its place in the world.

This book comes at a time when women across the world are suddenly speaking out very loudly about the violence and oppression that have been accepted as a normal expectation in western society. Fairy tales, for all their pleasures, are a subtle and powerful way of speaking out. The term ‘sisterhood’ became current, I think, in the seventies, and what is being heard now is the voice of the sisterhood united and enabled by current technology. This book adds its voice in a dramatic and sometimes subversive way.

I spoke afterwards about the power of social media. How one well-timed tweet affected the course of several professional lives, and triggered the creation of a book (and more to come)! I also garbled a lot of thank yous and tried not to go wobbly in front of a theatre of friends and strangers. I also pulled a lot of weird faces.

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We had originally planned to hold the launch in the foyer connected to the library, but had to move the formal proceedings to the attached theatre due to large numbers (yay!). Here is some of the crowd milling about in the foyer afterwards.

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I’m so grateful to our local bookstore Stoneman’s Bookroom, and especially the dedicated people who work there. Here’s the incredible Katherine – oh and look, a pile of books!

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Castlemaine Library went above and beyond in their hosting of the launch, and I can’t thank them enough – just look at these lanterns they made!

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While it felt more than a little strange to have this first launch without Kate and Serenity Press (the pitfalls of geography and time…) they were certainly here in spirit, and there will be more launches to come! It was also a fantastic reminder of the wonderful community here in Castlemaine; filled with fellow creatives and supporters of the arts.

You can order Vasilisa the Wise from the Serenity Press website. Or win a free copy over at Goodreads! The giveaway is open until Jan 10th.

Or support your local bookseller: if they don’t have any in stock, ask them! They will be happy to order it for you, and it helps us too.

Thank you so much to all who came last Thursday. It was an incredible turn-out for a week day evening in a country town. And for those who live elsewhere, do keep an ear to the ground for launches in select capital cities early next year. We can’t wait to see you all!

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The Illustration Process

When you look at Lorena’s illustrations, do you see paint? Ink? Paper cut outs? Her work is certainly inspired by the incredible pen and ink illustrations of Arthur Rackham and the watercolour and cut-out works of Jan Pienkowski, but she uses an altogether different method. In an extract from a conference paper she recently gave at the Australian Fairy Tale Society conference, Lorena describes her method in her own words:

I work entirely with photography, which does surprise a lot of people. These works aren’t paintings or drawings. Instead I photograph many separate elements and montage them together in Photoshop.

We’ll go right back to the beginning of my process. My work always starts with what the landscape gives me. I collect small treasures – leaves, stones, animal bones – and photograph them, then file them into digital folders ready to draw from.

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As you can see below, the bridge of bones is made from an entire fox skeleton, with a couple other skulls thrown in for good measure.  A year or so ago, we had some friends staying, and they returned from a walk in the bush near our house with a bundle wrapped up in a silk scarf. “We have a present for you!” Unwrapping it with a flourish, they revealed a pile of white bones – a fox skeleton! Once I reassembled it, I was thrilled to discover it was completely intact, minus a few tiny toes.

I photographed them one by one on a light box, and assembled them carefully in photoshop. In the end, this image was created from 72 separate photographs, and was the basis for one of the illustrations for The Rainbow Prince in Vasilisa The Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women:

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I start by photographing the pieces I need, either on-location (usually squatting somewhere damp!) or at home on the light box. The light box gives me the silhouette that I need, which I then refine later in Photoshop. If I’m photographing a large subject, like a person, I set up the studio lights, lighting the wall behind the subject, but not the subject themselves.

Next, I upload the photographs to the computer and make any necessary adjustments. These are saved into in my *ahem* extremely well organised filing system, ready for use.

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I usually start a new image with the silhouette components. I either use them as themselves – trees, people etc – or I build creatures out of lots of seperate photographs. The fox bridge for example, or creatures I wouldn’t have a chance of photographing myself. Here are a few animals that I’ve created out of sticks, leaves, bones… stuff from the forest floor. When making a composite creature, I try to be conscious of their surroundings in the story and illustration, and use objects that you would find there. In that way, they are built up from their own ‘landscape’.

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Once I’ve built up the silhouettes, I layer in the background – itself often made from several photographs merged together. And there, after a process that can take anywhere from several hours to many days of collecting, photographing, editing, montaging and layering, we have a completed image.

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You can see Lorena talk further about Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women at the Athenaeum Library in Melbourne, this Thursday evening (July 20th) as part of the Australian Fairy Tale Society’s Fairy Tale Evening. Alongside singers, storytellers & writers, she will discuss the upcoming book and her creative process.

And don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Vasilisa the Wise. The first 1000 pre-orders come with a free gift, so don’t miss out!