This month the conversation is with Judith Key, the writer and artist.
Judith: I was interested in what you said about 'the daemon' and 'the editor.' (Previous ‘In Conversation’ blog with Jenny Alexander.) We all have daemons to a greater or lesser degree. It's that part of us we learn to suppress as we are growing up. As adults we control our emotions, and 'edit' our behaviour. On the whole it's a good thing. But that process of control can lead to all kinds of negative inhibitions too -- it can be a double-edged sword. When it comes to artistic expression,young children show a natural creativity, while adults are hampered by all sorts of hang-ups.
When I was
teaching art to adults, I saw how students were often afraid to make a mark, in case they 'got it wrong.' Each had an editor on her shoulder with an iron grip on the
For a long time I was like that with writing. I couldn't get the stories out. I didn't know why. I kept hitting a wall. For years I stopped writing altogether. It was an amorous tramp who freed me from it.
Sue Price: Oh, yes? Tell us about the amorous tramp!
Judith: It happened one February morning, when I was sketching in a nearby village. It was bitterly cold, but I was well wrapped up with woolly cap pulled down, scarf pulled up, fingerless mitts and old painting jacket, frayed at the cuffs and splattered with paint. I had my back to the village pump, looking towards the ruins of an old abbey.
A figure appeared, weaving up the hill, evidently
the worse for drink. He paused at the point where the road forked either side of the pump, and stood swaying, uncertain of which way to go.
To my dismay, I saw we were dressed almost alike - old jacket, woolly cap, scarf and fingerless mitts. If anything he looked the smarter as his jacket wasn't spattered with paint.
He must have misread my expression, because in the next moment I was buttonholed against the pump, and staring into his bloodshot eyes.
Then came the chat up line every girl dreads: 'Hello, Darling, going my way?'
Sue Price: I know what you mean -– and I often find myself writing about things I know nothing about, or scenes I find disturbing, because the ‘daemon’ has dragged me there. But if anything, I’m more scared of the daemon leaving me to find my own way! I know that, without it, my writing is mechanical. The ‘editor’ can’t do it alone!
Judith: But at some point the editor has to
get involved. When daemon and editor work hand in hand, I see it as a relationship like that between horse and rider, the one all power and energy, the other harnessing that energy and with a
guiding hand on the reins. When daemon and editor are at odds, it's more like a wrestling match. The work they are trying to create ends up as a casualty.
Judith: I'm inspired by landscape. Wild places. Heath, woodland, marsh. One of my favourite places is the Wash. It's an open, floating world. The editor in me sees structure, shape, tone, this colour set against that. But what excites me is the atmosphere, the shimmering light, the racing cloud shadows. Then I hear the lonely call of an oystercatcher, and I'm taken to a different level again.There is sadness and longing in those marshes.
Back home, a string of
monstrous caricatures flew from my pencil. (Daemon 6, editor 0). They captured the cat's character to a T! I knew it wasn't how the client saw her cat but I had to get them out of my system
before tackling the chocolate box image she wanted. I managed it, after bending both my will and my pastels to her doting vision. Commissions can be a nightmare -- (editor 6, daemon
Animals feature strongly in my stories, but it was only recently that I realised how that cat haunts me. Since 2010 I've written two children's books and a rough draft of a third. Flicking through them to see how I've progressed, I realise that all of them have scenes featuring the same scowling creature. And here it is again -- muscling in and dominating our chat. My daemon is a cat with attitude.
Sue Price: That’s okay -– I’m sure Blott can cope with even a psychotic cat spectre. What are you working on now?
Judith: Oh, I'm lugging my latest book, The Goat Boy, up the North
Face of the slush pile! I try to deal with it by visualising the slushpile as a parallel universe.
Lit. agent 1 - 'It's a nightmare -- I came into the office and there was this goat on top of the slush pile.'
Lit. agent 2 - 'It's that Judith Key again -- she never seals up her submissions properly. Don't put your hand in there -- last time she sent us a psychotic cat -- it had claws like Johnny Scissorhands, and I'm scarred for life.'
Lit. agent 3 - 'Think yourselves lucky -- A M Heath's had an attack of the Sterkarms -- the whole place has been taken over by battle hardened horsemen and time warps. Poor old Sarah Molloy's in a right state -- her desk's in the 16th Century, the photocopier's in the 21st, and the phones don't work...'
Sue Price: Thanks Judith -- for talking and for making me laugh! -- You should set up your own blog, and make us laugh reguarly!
If you want to see more of Judith's work, or get in touch with her, you can find her website here.
And here's the Blott mentioned in the conversation... (Blott is usually an ink-blue cat, a writer's muse, though he isn't in the cartoon below.)
You can find more Blott cartoons here