Sunday, February 26, 2017

Start Making Sense.

When I was young, my grandmother used to read a magazine called The People's Friend. First published in 1869, it's still in existence. It contained recipes and knitting patterns and anecdotes from readers about their grandchildren, but is mostly famous for its short stories.  But the one thing I always remember from reading this magazine when I visited my grandmother is the cover art.

At the time, and through the eyes of a child, I thought the artwork was basic and not particularly skillful. I also thought the colours were wrong, that they were too primary. And since the artist, J. Campbell Kerr, produced a new cover each week, that perhaps they were churned out to meet the need.

I recently recalled Campbell-Kerr's name, and was surprised to learn she or he didn't exist. It was merely a pseudonym for a team of four watercolour artists who took turns to produce the covers. But during this moment of research, the main thing I finally understood after all these years is why I knew the colours were wrong. They weren't Australian colours.

The Australian landscape is quite different to the British landscape. The colours are different, the trees are a different range of greens, and on a beautiful spring day the grass, flowers and sky are more primary than the drier, harsher hues of the Australian experience. This is something I knew intellectually, of course, and have been aware of for many years, but when I finally connected this with Campbell Kerr's artwork it really hit home.  This art works in Britain.

But that's not all. As I explore the British countryside I am constantly amazed at how much of my reading experience now makes more sense. Even going back to The Famous Five novels, some of my favourite books when I was a kid, smugglers, secret panels, small islands, copses and coves feel at home in this landscape. Even the work of Tolkien and other British writers now gives me different images and interpretations to the ones I had growing up.

I expect this is completely true in reverse. When I read a story set in the Australian bush I can easily picture the sight, the sounds and the smells, whereas an overseas reader would overlay the text with their own understanding of a woodland.

Context and experience. Live and read widely.

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