a non-existent land ruled by a deluded writer, Her Royal Highness Justine Brown

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Upcoming Festivities

Greetings, everyone... we interrupt Our Progress to invite you to a party in honour of one of our best friends, Mr. Phil Smith of the band Corsage. In August we will see the launch of their wonderful new CD/book, "The Longest Days of the Year" (book design courtesy Mr. Hugh Brown of Tin Press, London). We will open the festivities with a reading from our fiction, "The Siren's Secret" (illustrated by the star artist Dame Darcy), and also "The Book of the Yazedi", a novel in the works. Beautiful artwork will be on display by Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol and Miss Diyah Pera, and Miss Alexandra Oliver's brilliant book of poetry, "Where the English Housewife Shines", will be available for sale. Please join us on the evening of August 31st, 2011, at the Waldorf Hotel in Vancouver, Canada. All are welcome. We hope to see you there!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Last Seen Wearing: Alice Spotted in London

Our intrepid reporter has favoured us with the style scoop of the season: Alice, lately of Wonderland, has been spotted once more, wandering the labyrinth we call London, hair a-flying and dressed in-- of all things-- black track pants and a honeysuckle-pink-pashmina-topped-off-by-a-shimmery-Indian-silk-scarf. Something enticing has brought our Alice popping up from the London Undergound, where she currently resides somewhere between stations. We are willing to wager that Alice is preparing her look for the Royal Wedding. What else but an occasion of state would bring her out in such an outlandish getup, if not this sort of occasion? Like so many of us, Alice is asking herself what she will be wearing on April 29th. (Photo collage features Diyah Pera and Cathy Mann on camera and costumes respectively)

Having emerged from under the arches of Hildreth Mews, Balham, she promptly disappeared. Upon closer inspection of the place our reporter (court reporter, that is) (ahem)-- all at once discovered a yoga studio (Bikrams?! yes, that notorious hotbox), a fancy Italian hair salon (Milano, featuring Pietro, hairdo-ist supreme), and a rather New Age style beauty establishment. You say you think this was me, you say? Outrageous. Let us move on.

There is no small amount of controversy surrounding the Royal Wedding. As monarch in exile somewhere in a virtual land, we find it easy to understand it easy to comprehend the irritation, for day after day our post remains empty of a certain cream and gold invitation. Bizarre, to say the least. On the 29th, then, the city will be awash with rival kings, queens, knaves and jokers, waves upon waves of them; those of us who choose to acknowledge the day in question will have trouble enough simply deciding what to wear, be it tiara, coronet, CROWN, tophat, those nouvelle riche "fascinators", mask, fearsome anarchist balaclava, or simple showercap. Beyond endless, these possibilities. They range from zero to infinity, and then some.

And since we have had the great good fortune to be going for a boat ride on the Thames (our family celebrates TWO birthdays on That Day), we will need a court reporter of our own just to jot down the list of what we wear. Even Alice will have to decide whether she wants to play cards on our pleasurecraft rather than take her chances at the palace. Who knows what square she might get stuck on...

The paparazzi in waiting Alice fell into the pink slipstream of the velvety rosepetals our prized flower had magicked from her glowing fingertips, scattering and sprinkling them behind her as she made off; the photo-hounds sniffing as she fled. They furiously snapped the girl snapping stems on Nightingale Lane, then spotted scanning the underbrush for keys, vials, pills and potions-- and rabbits-- on Wandsworth Common. Halting the hunt for a moment to focus, the paps looked up to find her (ta-dah!) gone. Vanished. How frustrating!

Still, we all have our hopes. One of the photo-shoppers found a scrap of silk chiffon caught on a bramble-- using this one can build an image of her outfit. Melon is the colour she'll wear (it's so hot this season). Envision Alice in a melon chiffon dress, spinning, whipping, dancing the dust away... forgetting. Finally she reaches the Thames and waits for a boat.

On that day her dreamboat will float up alongside, her dream date at the helm. Unobserved by all save the satellites she'll climb aboard. Too late the thirsting paparazzi arrive, only to stare after the departing ferry. Giving up, they return their attention to the enigma of Kate Middleton's dress; all they know is that it will issue from the McQueen suit of cards.

In any case, we will leave the wearing of white to the future queen (what? No, no, I mean Catherine Middleton). Alice and I will battle it out on a rosy lawn who gets to wear red, and in what shade, with what background. Some will point to the Wars of the Roses, while others will point to us. Alice is just a pawn after all, while Justine is a Queen. And here in the royal realm of Justinetopia, meaning is everything, you know. (sips cup of tea, finger aloft)

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Some Thoughts on 'the spooky art'

I collect skeletons. Yes. I favor the Mexican variety, little clay figurines which proliferate in autumn, the season of the Day of the Dead, a.k.a. All Souls Day or All Hallows. This is the day after the night before Hallowe'en. Whichever term you prefer, it's all the same ancient holiday, Catholic with strong dashes of paganism. Visitors are sometimes a little shocked by my collection, and I myself hide them away from time to time. Why do I keep them? I think it's because they explain one dimension of the creative process.

The amazing writer Martin Amis quotes Norman Mailer when he describes writing as 'the spooky art', spooky because it obliges you to spend so much time in the company of dead things-- memories and persistent images which haunt us until we can make something out of them. In order to do this we have to wander through a kind of cemetery, disturbing the ghosts and rattling the bones. Sometimes it feels disrespectful, as though we were subjecting our memories to undignified treatment, especially since, as fiction writers, we have to perform transformative experiments upon them, recombine the ingredients and mix them up if we are to produce something new, i.e. characters who have lives of their own and are not merely pale shades of people we have once known or merely observed from afar.

No wonder, then, that writers feel strange when they are in the grip of inspiration-- they are shaking the sleeping dead awake, coaxing the spirits to chatter. And they spirits return the favor by grabbing the writer by the lapels and shaking in return, up, down and every which way until the words get out onto the page. And that's just the notes phase, or the first draft.

Just as you begin to want to put these airy beings back to sleep, they hold a house party in your mind, conscious and unconscious, and they invite a bunch of strangers as well. Oddballs wander in and out of the labyrithine spaces of your brain. You hear voices coming from unseen rooms, and you struggle to make sense of what they're saying, to transcribe it all. Who is this or that creature you keep seeing, and what do they want? You want to be free of them so you can laugh at your past experiences and imaginings in peace.

There is something deeply carnevalesque about the writing experience in full swing. And this is why I prefer black comedy to any other sensibility. You unleash a half-funny, half-frightening Mardi Gras of celebrants and then hope to appease them. Writing hard and missing sleep is actually, of course, a great piece of good fortune, but it can also feel like a penance.

Finally, if it all comes together as you hoped and you produce something readable, you are reborn into the present reality and can begin to live it once more-- until the next time, if you're lucky and there is a next time. So there you have it, neatly arranged in a weird little box: the reason I collect those skeletons.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


... to this world, the final sign (as if one were really needed) that I have become quite silly indeed. This corner of the imaginary kingdom we call creativity is a platform for me to trumpet various things, such as previous publications, upcoming launches (see also Tin Press on the web), and works-in-progress. Prepare to be stunned (yes!) by my various activities and displays of magic.