Monday, 28 November 2011

I Write To Blah Blah Blah

I often get asked, "What do you write to?" This is one of those vague, unfinished questions I usually answer with, "I write to appease the creative demons in my head. I write to entertain. I write to BLAH BLAH BLAH." I am always given a strange look by the questioner before the questioner says, "No. No. What music do you write to?"

As a teenager, I never really associated music with my writing. Of course, I always had something playing when I was writing my teenage drivel, but there was never any thought behind my choice of music. The music never influenced the words, or put me in a specific headspace. It wasn't until I went backpacking through Northern Europe when I was in my early twenties that I began matching music to my writing.

I was in this beautiful town in Ireland called Kilkenny, settling myself into yet another hostel. I had arrived at the hostel a little after one in the afternoon and, to my amazement, I was the only traveller there. The only other people there were a couple of girls who were cleaning the place, readying it for the onslaught of weary bodies that would slowly be stumbling in through the day. It was a perfect opportunity for me to take a few quiet minutes and write in my journal.

The second I flipped my journal open and touched pen to paper (yes, I actually hand wrote in this journal), music began to play from a stereo somewhere down below. The music was filled with deep bass and quiet sadness and a longing hope. I had never heard anything so hypnotic and beautiful in my life. I ran downstairs and asked one of the girls what was playing. She said the song was called "All I Need" by a band called AIR. The album was called MOON SAFARI. I went back upstairs and wrote as the melodic and ambient album moved from one song to the next. And when the album ended I looked down at what I had written and couldn't believe what I was seeing. Where before my journal entries were half a page long and very general, I had now written a five-page tale of my journey from Cork to Kilkenny and it was specific and colourful and even entertaining (which journal entries usually never are). It was unlike anything I had written in my journal before.

I ran downstairs and shuffled through the collection of CDs the girls had with them and I began taking names down. Aphex Twin. Orb. Orbital. Moby. Boards of Canada. Massive Attack. Luke Vibert. DJ Shadow. The list goes on. And as my travels continued on through Ireland and Scotland and England and the Netherlands and Germany and Denmark and Sweden and Finland, I slowly built up my collection of electronic and ambient music. I'm not going to claim the music made me a better writer, but I knew I would need it to get me back to that perfect headspace for future writing.

My love of mid-nineties to mid-2000s' electronic and ambient music continues today. This is the music I write most of my books to. When this music is on in the background, my thoughts and my words become focused. Worlds and situations and conversations suddenly just appear. I wrote my novel THE KING OF ARUGULA while (mostly) listening to Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II. I wrote the sequel FOWL, SWINE AND THINGS THAT SEND SHIVERS DOWN YOUR SPINE while (mostly) listening to Boards of Canada's The Campfire Headphase.

Take a listen to this. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the most amazing pieces of music ever composed. It is a source of constant inspiration for me.

And this bit of dark playfulness always makes me smile.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Flombagoo: Hints of Pistachio and Peppermint

Last night I hopped on my wobbly Segway and rolled down Vancouver's busy sidewalks to Ayden Gallery where the opening gala for Kristian Adam's FLOMBAGOO was in full swing. After parking my Segway in a creepy underground lot, I wandered up to the gallery and spent the next three hours experiencing the most beautiful and magical creatures I had ever seen. It was a perfect way to spend a Friday night in Vancouver!

Thank you Kristian Adam, Nomi Chi, Megan Majewski, Kelly Haigh, Russell Alton and Ayden Gallery for sharing a piece of your imagination with me...and with the world.

Here's a little taste of what I saw:

Kristian Adam in front of "Polar Bear"

Megan Majewski painting live at the opening of FLOMBAGOO

Kristian Adam and Nomi Chi in front of their stunning collaboration MEXICAN WOODS

FLOMBAGOO runs until December 4th. So hop on your Segways and head on down to Ayden Gallery. It's not only a great way to spend a night, but a great way to support your local artists.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Wish I Knew Flombagoo... Oh Wait! I Kind Of Do!

In June 2010 Crow Toes Quarterly took a dollop of M.S.T. Company's brilliant head typist Michael Sasi, two tablespoons of surreal children's artist Kristian Adam and one sprinkle of the wonderfully unique Ayden Gallery, and we mixed it all together in a giant bowl. After pouring the mixture into a large pan and baking it for three months at 350 degrees, ANIMALOPOLIS was ready to consume. ANIMALOPOLIS was an art exhibit... a collection of short stories... a completely unique event. The exhibit was also the centerpiece of Crow Toes Quarterly's 14th Issue, which remains the most popular issue of the magazine to date (and can once again be purchased HERE).

ANIMALOPOLIS was a great success, and it was such an inspiring experience for me that I couldn't wait to do it again. Unfortunately, I just couldn't get another event together before I closed CTQ's doors in early 2011. This, my friends, was a crying shame, because on November 4th, Kristian Adam will be unveiling his new exhibit FLOMBAGOO at Ayden Gallery and it is some kind of special. Had it appeared in Crow Toes Quarterly, our little arts and literature magazine for children would have gone global.

To celebrate FLOMBAGOO, I thought I'd share with you a little information about the artist and about the way his art affects me. Kristian Adam is, in my humble opinion, one of the most creative, inspiring artists in the world. I know this is a big statement, but I base it on how I feel when I view his work. Kristian's surreal, playful paintings and illustrations fill me with childlike wonder and joy. They put me in a world I'd love to live in forever. And I guess that is why I own so many of them. My home looks more like a Kristian Adam gallery than a home. No word of a lie!

I met Kristian in 2007 by way of M.S.T. Company's Michael Sasi (another person who inspires me greatly, who will be talked about in length in a future post and who will probably be mentioned often in this blog). Michael had submitted a story to Crow Toes Quarterly called MARCH OF THE FAT BABIES. A collection of paintings unlike any paintings I had ever seen before accompanied the story. They were exactly the types of paintings I had imagined gracing the pages CTQ when the idea of the magazine came to me. The prints in my hands were filled with strange characters who all had big, revealing eyes. Hooks held up landscapes, babies carried houses on their heads and little girls worshiped slices of cheesecake. When I shared the work with other staff members, I heard the same thing over and over again, "He's like Dali for Kids." It was an easy designation at the time, because it was the only way to describe something so different... something so new.

We published MARCH OF THE FAT BABIES in Crow Toes Quarterly's 3rd Issue and Kristian's painting THE PUMPKIN GANG graced the issue's cover. The art that accompanied FAT BABIES inspired me to write a word from the editor (or what we liked to call A WORD FROM YOUR HUMBLE NARRATOR) about the thin line between fascinating and frightening, and how things we deem strange or outwardly terrifying can actually be quite fascinating when you take the time (and the chance) to learn about them.

When I finally had a chance to meet Kristian, I didn't hesitate for a moment. I met Kristian and Michael at Granville Island in Vancouver and we spent several hours talking about art and writing and life. It was then that I learned that Kristian Adam is so much more than just a "Dali for kids". I learned that Kristian is someone who sees the world differently from the way I see it. And the way that he sees it is beautiful and scary and innocent and thought provoking all at the same time. This view of the world can be seen in every painting and drawing he does.

From that first meeting, Crow Toes Quarterly and Kristian Adam built up a great partnership. His work appeared in seven more issues and on the covers of The Fifth Issue, The Seventh Issue, The Ninth Issue (which was an original piece painted for M.S.T. Company's hilarious story SUPER RUPERT) and, of course, The Fourteenth Issue (ANIMALOPOLIS).

When I had decided in early 2009 that the CTQ Staff needed a new staff portrait, Kristian was my obvious choice for creating such a thing. Using the staff's old head shots, he re-imagined The Narrator, The Staff Villain, Ogilvy the Lackey and Poinsettia Park, and in doing so, gave them new life. His brilliant staff portrait graced the wall of our office and our website for the last two years of our existence, and is still up on the wall in my office. When I think back to my days with CTQ, his staff portrait is the first thing that enters my mind. Powerful.

I may be a little biased now because Kristian has become a friend, but all you have to do is take some time to look at his work and you will understand why I am such a fan. FLOMBAGOO may be his most accessible exhibit to date, which means, there will be something there for everyone. Kristian has incorporated real animals with his surreal characters and the merging of real and surreal is playful, emotional and awe-inspiring. If you've never seen Kristian's art inside a gallery before, FLOMBAGOO really is the perfect place to start.

Opening November 4th, 2011 - 7pm to 11pm

New paintings by KRISTIAN ADAM

Nomi Chi
Russell Alton
Megan Majewski
Kelly Haigh
Bling Squared


Free Admission

Live Music

Live Painting

Artists in Attendance

Licensed Event

Exhibition Closes December 4th, 2011

Monday, 31 October 2011

A Brief History With Ghosts

One of the first things I did when I started Crow Toes Quarterly Magazine was come up with a list of fifty inspirations. This list contained authors, artists, books, famous literary characters and all things spooky. It was my way, in those early days, to give contributors an idea of what I wanted CTQ to be. One of the very first things on that list of inspirations was GHOSTS.

Ghosts have been a part of my life since I was a young child. When I went to summer camp as a kid, it was the night camping in the woods I looked forward to the most, because I knew we'd spend our nights around the fire telling terrifying ghost stories. I have spent a good part of my life since then trying to write a ghost story as terrifying as the ones I told as a kid.

Until I was a young adult, ghosts were only characters in the stories I read and wrote, and in the movies I watched. And then I moved into a wonderful old(er) apartment complex in Richmond, British Columbia called Apple Green. The complex was built in the early seventies and was designed to be an adults-only complex. In the late nineties they changed this designation and young families and first-time home owners started moving in. Many of the original owners stayed until they passed away. And of course, many of the original owners passed away inside their homes.

We never asked about the past of the apartment we had moved into, but it was clear from the first day that we weren't alone. It began with very strange behaviour by our cat. He would stand at the end of our bed and his fuzzy head would follow something moving around our room. In the middle of the night he would shoot up and arch his back and start growling for no apparent reason. Through the day he would run circles around the apartment yowling. Then one day when I was sitting in my living room watching television, I heard something that still gives me shivers today. I heard someone get up out of the chair in my office. It was that squeaking sound of the loss of pressure as a body lifts up off an old swivel chair. Just get up off of your chair and you'll know the sound I'm talking about. My cat, who was comfortably asleep on my lap, shot up and dug his claws into my legs. He growled, jumped off me, then ran to the office. A few seconds later I heard him tearing down the hallway away from the office and under the bed where he hid the rest of the day. I was so scared I couldn't move. And I didn't until my wife came home.

After that day, I started hearing footsteps in our hallway and glass tinging in our kitchen. Eventually, the sounds in our home became common sounds and we just learned to live with them. Eventually, we learned that whoever was there with us wasn't malicious or out to scare us. They were just there. Being. Until the day my sister-in-law and her boyfriend saw something they couldn't quite explain. They were visiting the grandparents, who lived three doors down from us (and were original owners in the complex). As they were saying their goodbyes at the front door, the two of them caught sight of a young girl walking through our closed door into our apartment. I wasn't told about this for several weeks, but the night they saw this girl I was woken up by someone pushing on my shoulder and whispering in my ear, "Wake up." I shot up, just as my cat had so many times before. My haunches were up and my heart was pounding, because I could still feel the pressure of the hand that had pushed my shoulder. I could still feel the tickle of the whisper in my ear. I looked around and my cat was sound asleep at the end of the bed. My wife was sound asleep beside me. Was it a dream? Was it real? Whatever the case was, after that night I never heard another ghostly sound in our apartment. It had become clear that whoever had been there with us had accepted our presence and moved on.

Another, more terrifying experience I had with ghosts took place in Lillooet, British Columbia. In 2001 my father, who lives in Abbotsford, took on a contract in Lillooet and spent a good deal of each week working up there. While in Lillooet he lived in a basement suite that overlooked the canyon. The view from his front window was stunning and the history that had happened just outside his front door was shocking. In the 1800s a man named Matthew Baillee Begbie, also known as "The Hanging Judge" was said to have sentenced several men to die by hanging from a tree that just so happened to be a few hundred steps down from my father's basement suite. We knew this, having learned about Begbie in many high-school history classes. And when my wife and I decided to do a weekend trip to Lillooet, a walk to "The Hanging Tree" was definitely on our agenda. When we finally saw it, the tree was a ghost of its former self (having been beaten up by the weather and burned by a firebug through the decades), but the history that went along with it still gave us chills.

That first night in Lillooet, while lying in bed talking about our day, we both heard a familiar sound...familiar only because we had heard it in so many movies about the old west. It was a sound I can still hear when I think back to that night. It was the sound of a tree creaking as a rope that had weight connected to it swung back and forth. Creak...Creak...Creak. I remember looking at my wife and saying, "You don't hear that, do you?" The paleness in her face gave me the answer I didn't want to know. I remember her pushing me and saying, "I'm sure it's just the house settling or something, but go see what it is just to make sure." At this point my heart was beating so fast and I was shaking so much that all I could say in response is, "Are you crazy?"

But the creaking sound did not stop and eventually I made the bold and stupid decision to leave the bedroom and check things out. I stepped through the bedroom door and looked over the living room, which was lit in a green glow from an alarm clock set up on the television. The creaking sound was all around me. I mentally prepared myself and flipped the light switch. When the light came on the sound stopped instantly, but something else, even more terrifying happened. I suddenly felt immense rushes of freezing air blow through me. Once. Twice. Half a dozen times. And every time a rush went through me I shivered so violently I almost fell to the ground. I had seen and felt all I needed to see and feel. After the seventh rush of cold air I ran back to the bedroom and slammed the door. I repeated to my wife and to myself, "There is nothing out there. There is nothing out there." My wife did not look convinced. We huddled in the bed until fatigue finally took us over and put us to sleep. The next morning I phoned my father and asked him why he didn't tell us his suite was haunted. He laughed and said, "What are you talking about? I've never heard, felt or seen a thing."

And that's the funny thing about ghosts. My father has always said he didn't believe in them. Because he doesn't believe, he can rationalize every little thing that might be a ghost. His explanation was the house had been settling, just as we had tried telling ourselves. Whereas he believed that explanation, we did not. And so, the ghosts opened themselves up to us. I never returned to my father's basement suite in Lillooet, but I still talk about that night, especially when I'm out camping and we're all sitting around a fire telling ghost stories.

It's the closest I've come to creating that childlike feeling of terror through a story.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

My Office of Inspiration Has No Walls

When I was young one of my favourite television shows was The Ray Bradbury Theatre. I particularly enjoyed the way the show began with Bradbury walking through his office looking at all trinkets and treasures lining his walls and shelves, talking about how everything he needs for inspiration is right there in front of him.

I don't have a spectacular office like Bradbury does, but I do have inspiration all around me. It's right out my front door. It's at my fingertips when I'm surfing the Internet. It's in storefronts and on street corners when I take a wrong turn on my way to a soirée in the city*. It's in the conversations going on around me when I'm sitting in a café talking with friends.

I am inspired by writers and painters and poets and musicians and actors and all the people who believe the world can be better. Ultimately, I am inspired by the creativity in all of us...and the creativity that exists in the natural world (Mother Nature may just be the greatest artist of them all!).

This blog is my place to share with you some of the people, places and things that inspire me...that get my imagination running and help me with my words. And it is through this blog I hope you can find a little inspiration for whatever it is you are doing.

*I have only ever attended one soirée and it was quite a stuffy affair. I was served crackers with watercress and brie as a man wearing a monocle droned on about the type of stocks I should invest in. It was not the soiree that inspired me, but the trip to it.