Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Faiths and empires gleam

Nabokov describes the writing process as the interplay of inspiration and combination. And that was certainly my experience in creating this scene to introduce the character known as Talisin, aka Gus, aka... (Ah, but that's a revelation we should save for another time.)

The idea of Gus first appearing in a mental asylum went right back to a brainstorming week at Bromfield Priory Gatehouse in 2003 with my wife Roz and fellow Mirabilis creators Leo and Martin. We had gone to fill in the details of our story so we could pitch it to David Fickling on Halloween. Out for a drive in search of jam and scones, we passed a poor, lost, shambling old fellow standing beside the road and I remarked that somebody who at the start of the Year of Wonders was locked up for thinking he was Hannibal or Merlin might very soon turn out to have been right all along.

Five years later, as the first episodes of Mirabilis finally cranked into existence ready for the DFC's launch, I was sitting on the lawn of my mother’s house in Surrey on a very summery spring day, possibly with a cold beer in hand but just as likely with a cup of tea. Leaning back in my chair with the sunlight in the branches, I was building the set of Gus’s asylum cell in my mind while the reality around me was of a warm day with bees grazing drowsily and the scent of blossom in the air. And so the scene became the simple reversal of that: Gus in his cold stone cell was the reality, and the idyllic countryside became what his imagination had painted over it.

I guess the main theme of Mirabilis is that reality and the imagination are part of one continuous spectrum – that reality is actually what happens inside the human mind, in fact. So this scene was the perfect way to mark the appearance of Jack’s unreliable mentor and the start of Jack’s acceptance of “the world turned upside down”. I’m always immensely grateful when the Muse does all the work and just drops the finished idea in my lap like that.

Inspiration over, the combination part just meant swiping a few perfect lines from Shelley (if you have to steal, steal from the best) and some fun research into archaic slang. The title of the episode, "The Wrong Side of Bedlam", was yet another ready-made package from the Muse. On a good day, a cold beer or a cuppa is all a writer needs.

The scene, incidentally, is the opening of Chapter Two in the Winter book and was the start of episode six when Mirabilis was being serialized in the DFC. I had planned to mark the beginning of outright fantasy by having the masthead run sideways down the page, as you can see in my original sketch. But David Fickling had decided as a point of editorial style that mastheads would always run across the top of each strip – or, if not across the top, at least consistently in the same position. So when this episode actually appeared (in DFC #34) the masthead was in its regular position.

This page also happened to be the one we picked for Nikos to try out as colorist. As soon as we saw how brilliantly he handled the contrast between the vernal landscape and the grim stone cell, we knew we had found the fourth member of our team.

To read the whole episode you've got a choice. The web comic on the Mirabilis site, the flipbook on BookBuzzr, the Kindle mini-episode or the EPUB version. Don't say we don't spoil you.

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