Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
  • History
  • May10th

    violette in the forest

    Lesson 1:  Never Trust a Wolf.

    People like David Attenborough would have you believe that wolves are harmless creatures, wonderful examples of nature at its finest – strong, noble, dignified.  Well, he’s wrong.  Fairy Tales have taught me that wolves are evil, nasty and cunning beasts who will stop at nothing to devour you whole.  Not only will they give you false directions while you’re wandering in the woods, they will even dress up in women’s clothes in order to deceive you.  If there isn’t a brave woodcutter nearby, you’re history.Henry on the wolf's back

    And, needless to say, you don’t want to be a harmless old grandmother when a wolf needs your nightie…  According to fairy tales, senior citizens the world over must be shaking in their beds dreading the knock that signals the wolf at the door.  Fairy tales show us again and again the sheer cunning of these canines as they manage to get inside and then, it’s goodnight Granny.

    And that’s not to mention the plight of those who choose to build their houses out of straw or sticks …  Fairy tales demonstrate over and over that these harmless home dwellers are persecuted not just by an ordinary wolf, but by a Big Bad Wolf.  And why?  Is it just because they construct their houses out of substandard building materials?  Is it because they don’t have the necessary council planning permits? No.  It’s simply because those inside these flimsy houses taste so good, especially roasted in a nice hot oven and served with plenty of apple sauce and crackling …

    But I digress.  Fairy tales have taught me: never trust a wolf.

     

    Lesson 2:  Learn to tell the difference between a wolf and your granny. 

    It might sound obvious, but this may be a vital survival step one day.

     

    Lesson 3:  Names are important.

    Fairy tales showed me just how important names really are.  For instance, if a character’s name happens to be something like Rumplestiltskin, you can bet your bottom dollar that he’s not going to be the romantic hero played by Leonardo di Caprio in a soon to be released big budget motion picture based on the fairy tale of the same name.  Or then again, he might, depending on what you think of Leonardo di Caprio.  Whatever, a name like Rumplestiltskin would be like someone today calling their baby SnortyBottomFartyBreath and expecting them to grow up a well adjusted and rounded human being.The forest

    In fairy tales if your name is Jack, forget about having a dull life.  I feel sorry for those males in fairy tales who happened to be called Jack, and all they wanted was to have a nice quiet life and grow up and become an accountant.  Fat chance.  Every Jack in a fairy tale is destined to become a Giant Killer, or to Be Nimble, or to grow enormous bean stalks and steal treasure, or to be Jack Frost, Jack Be Nimble or one half of Jack and Jill.

    Let’s face it.  If you’re a Jack in a fairy tale, you’re going to wind up an action hero whether you like it or not.  When there’s Careers Counselling at Fairy Tale School, they don’t even bother with Jacks.  They’re just pointed at the door marked Danger, Fame and Fortune and that’s that.  If you’re a Jack, don’t even think about doing a traineeship at Target.  Jack’s are glory bound, no questions asked.

    And you have to be lucky with names in fairy tales, too.  Look at Snow White and Rose Red.  A bit unimaginative, don’t you think?  It’s like calling your dog Mud Brown.  But anyway I’m glad they didn’t have any younger brothers and sisters.  What would they have ended up as?  Sky Blue?  Tree Green?  Butter Yellow?  Blush Pink?  They’d start to sound like they should be in a paint colour chart not a fairy tale.

    Whatever, Fairy Tales have shown me that names are important.

     

    Lesson 4.  Take Care of Your Feet.

    You never know.  They could be your ticket to marrying the Prince and living happily ever after, which sounds like a pretty good gig if you can get it, as long as he allows you your personal space with plenty of room to grow as a human being.

    A note: the glorious illustrations above are by Virginia Frances Sterrett who died tragically young and really deserves to be better known.

     

  • May16th

    I’ve been doing some research on the great picture palaces of 1930s/1940s Melbourne. Recently, I stumbled across the wonderful Harold Paynting Collection at the State Library of Victoria and discovered these images of the long lost Padua Theatre, Brunswick, Victoria.  Thanks to people like photographer Lyle Fowler, we can gaze on this extraordinary streamlined edifice that landed in suburban Sydney Road.The 2,000 seat theatre was opened to much fanfare in 1937 – footwarmers! Revolving stage! Crying room! Service!

    As with all the magnificent cinemas of this era, the Padua suffered when TV came along, so much so that its superb Art Deco interior was gutted in 1968 and it began a new life as the Metropole. Eventually, though, it was torn down in 1982(!). Today, a supermarket is on the site.

    What a loss.

    argus 1937

  • December12th

    Recently, I was  cleaning out an old relative’s garage and I came across bundles of ancient magazines. One such stack was devoted to an obscure journal called The Australasian Sophist. Among articles about bush ballads, inland explorers and rough-hewn heroes of the past was a recurring column of surprising scientific content. The expert who answered correspondents’ enquiries is anonymous, but as I read column after column, I couldn’t help forming an image of a crusty, intolerant, combustible know-it-all who lacked the genial lovability that would make him a household name. Was he a real academic? Was he as knowledgeable as he claims, or as good-looking? Despite extensive research, I’ve been unable to find the answer to any of these questions. The Professor will remain a mystery, I’m afraid – but his wisdom can live on. To that effect, I reproduce one of the columns below, edited only slightly to fill in some unimportant parts that were eaten by silverfish.

    Ask The Professor

    Dear Professor,

    My friend says that scientists have found that birds are actually too heavy to fly.  Is this true?

    Signed Flighty.

    Dear Flighty,

    First, let me put you straight on one thing.  You’re not fooling anyone with this “my friend says” business.  As soon as I hear that, I know that it’s someone trying to cover up their embarrassing lack of knowledge by palming it off on a mythical companion.  It’s the same for “I read somewhere”.  Pathetic.

    Birds too heavy to fly?  For a start I’ll assume that you’re not dumb enough to be thinking about emus and kiwis and ground lovers like that.  I’ll take it that you’re referring to the usual, everyday birds.  Sparrows and seagulls and howler monkeys and stuff.

    Well, I may have a surprise for you, my shy friend.  Recent research has actually shown that birds are too heavy to fly.  But what about, I can hear you ask, what about all those passerines and raptors I see flitting past my window every second of the day?

    This, my unlearned friend, can be explained by two hitherto unknown phenomena.  Phenomenon 1 is Persistence of Learned Memory, or the After Image Effect.  Put simply, this means that because you’ve seen pictures of flying birds many times, when you look out your window you unconsciously superimpose the image of the flying birds onto the background of the sky.  Simple.  I’ll leave the rest to you.

    Phenomenon 2 is the Enhanced Buoyancy Effect.  Have you ever noticed that whenever you accidentally ram your vacuum cleaner nozzle into a split in a feather pillow, then swap the hose around to blow instead of suck, the way the feathers immediately defy gravity?  Especially if you have the nozzle pointing upwards?  This is a demonstration of the Enhanced Buoyancy Effect in birds.  Put simply, feathers are actually repelled by air.  In other words, birds are actually squeezed upwards, thanks to the action of air on their feathers.  This, of course, explains why birds have claws – to grab hold of perches, the ground and pirates’ shoulders in an effort not to shoot upwards like a cheap champagne cork.  And it also explains the customary nervous disposition of most birds.

    Of course there are some nit-pickers who may claim that Phenomenon 1 (the Persistence of Learned Memory) and Phenomenon 2 (the Enhanced Buoyancy Effect) actually contradict each other.  This, of course, has been reconciled by the Avian Uncertainty Principle, which states that wherever birds are concerned, either Phenomenon 1 or Phenomenon 2 explains why they don’t fly.

    All in all, it’s a relatively straightforward set of affairs, really.

    The Professor.

  • October25th

    Writers have many challenges. Getting a pencil to a perfect sharp point. Coming up with alternatives to ‘Once upon a time’ to start a story. Finding time to count our enormous sacks of money. Things like that. With The Extraordinaires, my most recently released series I encountered a challenge that I hadn’t confronted before: the intricacies of using a real life character in a work of fiction.

     

    One of the joys of writing fiction is being allowed to make up stuff. It’s fun, and when you’re a Fantasy writer, you get to make up huge bucketloads of stuff, which is extra fun. So when, for a change, I decided to set a book in the real world and include some real, famous people as characters, I had to do something different. I had to stick to the facts. Read More | Comments

  • October10th

    Extraordinaires coverI’m happy enough with my Extraordinaires series SS front cover smallbeing called Steampunk, but I’m more and more coming to think of it as Historical Fantasy.

    And by Historical Fantasy, I don’t mean Alternate History (stories in a world like our own that has taken a different historical path) or standard Fantasy that’s set in a world somewhat like our own except for added magic – (see my Laws of Magic for this).

    I’ll take a stab a definition of Historical Fantasy, even though I understand that definitions are tricky: Historical Fantasy is a story set in an actual, definable historical time and location, but with elements of the fantastic included such as magic, gods or imaginary creatures.

    Yes, it’s arguable and on the margins there are exceptions and ‘should be includeds’, but that’s the fate of every definition.

    Historical Fantasy can be a real joy if you love Fantasy, but have grown tired of the standard Fantasy setting – a quasi-mediaeval, Northern European milieu. Historical Fantasy uses the best aspects of Fantasy in fresh, new places.

    Here’s my list of Five Great Historical Fantasy Novels

    Bridge of Birds – Barry Hughart

    Oh, do read this book. Barry Hughart called it ‘A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was’ and it’s an utter delight as Master Li (‘I have a slight flaw in my character’) and Number Ten Ox, his assistant, have a series of remarkable adventures in a magical landscape full of extraordinary characters. It’s rollicking, hilarious, suspenseful, eye-opening and the ending is both profound and moving.

    The Stress of Her Regard – Tim PowersThe-Stress-of-Her-Regard1-194x300

    Tim Powers is one of the masters of Historical Fantasy. In The Stress of Her Regard he takes us early 19th century Europe and the world of the Romantic Poets. Shelley, Keats and Byron are substantial characters, and the remarkable night at the Villa Diodati  where Mary Shelley created Frankenstein in the presence of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Dr John Polidori. This is the central part of a vast and brooding story that weaves in and out of the gaps in history. Sensational!

    TemeraireTemeraire – Naomi Novik

    Now we’re in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, but with dragons. Do I need to say any more?

    Soldier of the Mist – Gene Wolfesoldier of the mist

    One of our great speculative fiction writers, Gene Wolfe wrote one of the great Historical Fantasy books in Soldier of the Mist which is set in the Greek-Persian wars in the fifth century BCE. The main character suffers a head injury and so has amnesia – but he can also see gods, spirits and supernatural creatures. It’s a majestic book.

    The Terror – Dan Simmons

    Some might put this in the horror basket, but I’m going to appropriate it for Historical Fantasy, mostly because of the amount of research that’s gone into this cracker of a novel. It traces the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845, in which two steamships went searching for the fabled North-west Passage through the icy seas to the north of Canada. It’s no spoiler to tell you that everyone dies, for that’s the historical record. Simmons, however, uses chilling(!) Inuit mythology to explore a possible reason. It’s breathtaking.

  • September19th

    The Boy’s Own Paper was a long-running (1879-1967) magazine that, in some ways, helped to establish and perpetuate the essence of the British schoolboy. Originally, its purpose was educative and it never really lost this function. Science, history, sport and geography featured heavily in its stories and articles, but there was always a healthy dose of adventure and escapism.

    The 1950s was perhaps the height of its popularity. Interaction between the editor and readers was common, with schoolboys all over the world writing letters full of questions or observations about their world. These exchanges are often delightful, and provide a delightful insight into a long-ago world.

    R. Wilmot of New Malden in Surrey wrote: ‘Most boys like to think they have a girl friend, especially the 13 to 14 year olds. I would like to see an article on how to get a girl, and when you’ve got her, how to keep and please her. I would also like to see more articles on music in B.O.P as I am a trombonist in the Tiffin School Band.’

    The Editor’s reply is priceless: ‘We will bear the suggestion for an article on how to keep a girl friend in mind ! In the meantime there is an article on keeping Golden Hamsters on pages 34 and 35 of this issue.’

     

  • August18th

    If you’re writing Fantasy, namesmedieval big can be a real headache. You want names that are distinctive, evocative and resonant, without sounding ‘just made up’, and that put a real strain on the old creative gland. The answer lies, as it almost always does when writing Fantasy, in History. For  realistic sounding names for that multi-book epic you’re writing try the Medieval Naming Guides site.

  • July26th

    amoco

    Ah, the Internet and its wondrous offerings! I stumbled across some archival video and the memories came back. Believe it or not, younlings, there was a time when petrol companies successfully linked themselves with the back to nature movement, all in the days before unleaded fuel, too. Driving and Hippies? Why not?

    Look at these and be at peace. The first is from 1972, the second from 1975. Different times, different ways.

  • May24th

    Oh, how I love history. And books. And books from history.empire

    Here’s a real gem: the contents of the 1911 edition of The Empire Annual for Girls, which should tell you a thing or two from the title alone.

     

    THE CHRISTMAS CHILD — MRS G. DE HORNE VAIZEY

    The story of a happy thought, a strange discovery, and a deed of love

    ANNA — MRS MACQUOID

    A girl’s adventure for a father’s sake

    TO GIRLS OF THE EMPIRE — MRS CREIGHTON

    Words of encouragement and stimulus to the daughters of the Nation Read More | Comments

  • August28th

    I’ve been promising this for a while. It’s one of the things I stumbled across in my researching. How I love serendipity.

    La Gazette du Bon Ton was essentially what we’d call today a fashion/lifestyle magazine. It was published in Paris from 1912 to 1925, and offered a limpid glimpse of the world of the upper class French, with utmost style, taste and refinement. The most distinctive aspect was the illustrations, which were splendidly rich and elegant. Noted illustrators and artists featured their works in the pages of this journal, people such as Bernard Boutet de Monvel, Georges Lepape, Georges Barbier and Pierre Brissaud and their depictions of the fashions from the most haute of haute couture houses is the last word in chic. The incidental detail in these illustrations are a goldmine for a writer, too, with furniture, transport and architecture providing a backdrop for some of the most attractive gowns and suits imaginable.

    I’m gradually putting together a selection of some of the best of these illustrations. Here’s the first selection, with more to come in future. Click on each thumbnail for the full file.