Hair Synchronicity

Sometimes, we invent our characters’ backstories. At other times, they write themselves.

In 1898, during the restoration of the Romanesque church of Westerwijwerd, a slab of plaster fell away, uncovering a fresco from the first half of the 14th century. It’s likely made after an example from the 12th century, and shows to Frisian warriors fighting with lance (“kletsie”) and sword. The duellists have a typical Frisian hairstyle, a status symbol for powerful medieval Frisians.

The medieval mural in the church of Westerwijwerd.

I recognised the hairstyle; my grandfather has it on a photo of him as a small child, and he still had it as an old man: shaven, except for a “tuufke” on top. It seems to me a ‘go to’ northern hairstyle in the early 20th century, and I wonder whether it’s a continuation of that old-Frisian hairdo. If it was merely practical, wherefore then the tuft?

My grandfather Hemke and grandmother Willemmina, mid-1950s.

In the middle ages the northern Dutch coastal area was a feudal society in more than one way. Rich farmers and their family clan ruled their own little fiefdoms, and they often had their strongholds in which they could retreat in times of war. And war there was often, as there was no central authority, with pope and emperor far away, the area functionally an island and rife with feuds.

This is the background we borrowed for the setting of The Red Man, in which the farm girl Ymke lives in an area of perpetual war between the local nobility. In The Return of the Uncomplaining Child we learn that our warrior woman Kaila has been in the northern region as a mercenary. Ymke doesn’t ask her on which side she fought – where nobility fights over a piece of land, the people living on it inevitably lose, whoever wins.

But then, looking at that old-Frisian hairdo, it struck me: In Ymke, she’s got a girlfriend from ‘up north’, but her mohawk haircut also comes from there!

Kaila and Ymke.

New Book Trailer

We’d already made a book trailer for The Red Man and Others when it came out on Kindle. For this, we took the Red Man himself as a starting point, and then connected Ymke and the farm she grew up on to the Otasfaust, where she met Kaila. As we were launching the expanded paperback of the story collection (available here) we thought it’d be a good idea to give it a new book trailer. Here it is:

The idea we had was to focus on The Return of the Uncomplaining Child, as this is the longest story in the book, and the one in which Ymke, Kaila and Sebastien meet up. As it’s written from Ymke’s point of view, we decided to do it from her perspective, using the first lines of the story, as written by her. We’d already used a medieval style of drawing for the chapter headers of the paperback, and we felt that this would also suit the narrative of the trailer. So, I set to work doing the drawings from Ymke’s diary. I had fun with that, even though Ymke’s a better writer than artist!

We recorded the sound in GarageBand, with separate files for the narration and for the Brotherhood of the Wheel’s chanting. The bell is actually a dinner gong – our cat Polly doesn’t like the sound, and her struggle throughout recording and editing was real! The various Brothers were all me, chanting in different registers, taped on several tracks and then ‘audited’ and mixed. GarageBand is quite flexible, and where a Brother had a good voice but no rhythm, I could still go in and cut – his -track – up to match.

We filmed the ‘live’ bits in our library by candlelight. It’s not something I’d recommend, as the footage came out quite grainy, but if it’s good enough for Kubrick (Barry Lyndon) it’s good enough for me. It’s Angeline you see there, wearing quite a bit of jewellery appropriate for Ymke, like a northern Dutch bracelet with blood coral and a clunky Nibelungen-style armband. The goose quill pen came from a ‘medieval writing’ kit, but augmented with a modern nib. Various odds and ends from around the house, including the Lewis chess piece queen, made up the backdrop.

I edited the video in iMovie. First I laid down the sound, then cut the footage over it, which I’d first sorted into three folders: No (terrible), yes (stuff I’d like to include), maybe (not great, but some elements may work as a cross-cut). I also created the title card in Pixlr, a free, online Photoshop-like program: it’s black and white text on a green screen, which iMovie could then lay over the footage.

It’s all fairly straightforward, and nothing that takes a very steep learning curve: Google is your friend here too – it’ll direct you to ‘how do I do this’ pages and YouTube tutorials. This is all software that was free online or bundled with my computer, and when working digitally, imagination is the main constraint. If the result is rubbish, then scrap it and try again, or try Plan B. It’s absolutely possible to create something aesthetically pleasing, evocative of your book, and tempting to readers.

And – did I really burn one of my drawings? No, of course not. I’d scanned and printed it, and mounted the page in the book. I’m not very precious about my art, but torching it would go a bit far even for me!