From Bedtime Stories

Dave McKean meets the Wolfman

Busy with book stuff, but here’s a bedtime story I’ve been saving. Except it isn’t a really bedtime story. But it is how the artist Dave McKean answered my favorite question, and his answer certainly qualifies as an early influence, so I say it counts.

The first thing I really remember sort of having an affect was this terrible, boring, bland, banal television program called Nationwide that was on in England at about 6 oclock. It was just local news, it was dull and boring. And, you know, you’d come home from school, my Dad would come home from work, and it was just on in background, we’d have some tea. It was just drab stuff, you know, go out to see the latest patch of cabbages growing in Norfolk, I mean it was just dreadful stuff. And one evening they said “Now we’re going over to the Isle of Wright for a story, and younger viewers may find this disturbing.”  This had never I mean this was really a strange thing to say, and we all went like this [slowly turns head away from imaginary tea to imaginary television] and this piece came up with these families reporting that they had seen this figure who was erect like a man, but very shaggy. And people had been calling it a wolfman. And this particular couple said that they had woken up at three in the morning and seen this figure in their doorway, and it bounded down the stairs and out of the house. Now the context is the thing, the context is banal program about local events, and it was a strange story, totally deadpan, absolutely played straight. I still don’t know if they were joking. It might have been April the First, might have been a stupid joke like the spaghetti trees. It might have been, but I still don’t know, and it terrified me. It absolutely terrified me, and I absolutely remember, with the hallway there in the doorway, doing this [wakes up with a start, checks the imaginary doorway] to see if the wolfman was there. 

You don’t know what you take from these things, but I think what I took from it is context is everything. You play one expectation against something else. It’s very powerful. And actually that’s something I’ve always tried to do in the stories, the things that we’ve done. You think you know its one kind of story, and you twist it or change it…

(Transcribed from the Q&A following this event.)

The First Story I Remember

My book exists. It moves through the world. Total strangers might be reading it right now.

I’ve been interviewed twice this week; once by Nancy Holder, author of novels and comics and books about Buffy, and once by Megan Kurashige, writer/performer and fellow Clarion grad.

Here’s the first interview at The Enchanted Inkpot.

Here’s the second at Fantasy Matters.

It was strange and entertaining to be interviewed. Both sets of questions made me remember all sorts of things about my book and the writing of it that I had completely forgotten. And then Megan went and asked my very favorite question, the one that started this blog:

MK: You curate a wonderful collection of bedtime story memories on your blog. What is the first bedtime story you remember?

WA: Ha! I’ve been asking authors this question for years. It was only a matter of time before someone asked it back at me.

My parents had different gifts when it came to bedtime stories. My mother was much better at reading them. She did the voices. My father was better at making them up on the spot. He got bored while reading aloud. His mind would wander and his voice would slip into monotonous autopilot. But he told far better stories if he got to use his own words.

The very first one I remember was about Flash Gordon. We had just watched the movie adaptation at the drive-in (the silly one with the Queen soundtrack, starring Brian Blessed’s teeth). I was convinced at the time that a) the events of the movie had actually happened, and b) that Dad would know what happened next. So I demanded an immediate and swashbuckling sequel, and he made one up.

The Girl on the Ceiling

The anonymous author of the NYC Palimpsest Project revealed her first bedtime stories in a series of ephemeral chalk graffiti. I spent days tracking down these scrawled messages to assemble the stories they describe.

The artist’s first tales at bedtime were all about a girl whose name matched her own—only backwards. This backwards girl lived on the ceiling. She ate pork chops for breakfast and cereal for supper. Her reversals led to all sorts of hijinks and escapades.

She might tell us more, but we’ll have to wait for the sidewalks to clear.

Bradley Beaulieu Solves Mysteries

Bradley Beaulieu, author of The Winds of Khalakovo and co-author of Strata (with Stephen Gaskell), tells us this:

Unfortunately, I came from one of those households that didn’t read books much. I don’t recall any being read to me when I was very young. The first ones that I do recall—and I read them myself—were the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. I can’t remember what particular books I read first. The Tower Treasure? Perhaps. The Secret of the Old Clock? Could be. Since this is a bit of revisionist history, I’ll choose The Sinister Signpost as my first book, if only for the silly yet somehow cool cover.

This brings up an important question: If you could choose your first and most formative bedtime story, which one would you pick?

Stephen Gaskell rides with Captain Pugwash

Stephen Gaskell struggles to remember the following:

I can barely remember bits of my novel’s plot a week later, so this is unreliable as hell, but I seem to remember having Pugwash read to me as nipper. Captain Pugwash was the bumbling, honourable leader of a ship of pirates, and always got into funny japes with his crewmates and enemies as they sailed around dangerous seas in The Black Pig. The artwork was beautiful, with colourful, rotund pirates making exaggerated expressions, and I think it gave me a lifelong love of that breed of old-fashioned adventuring that informs a lot of my fiction today. Great memories!

Stephen is one of the good people who strives to put science in his science fiction, and he recently released an e-book co-authored by Bradley Beaulieu. “It features giant solar mining platforms, skimmer racing through tunnels of fire, and a dangers rebellion.” For more information, and for old-fashioned adventuring on the surface of the sun, go browse in this direction.