I ran into this wonderful creative team on twitter, and lured them over because… you have to see this. So, a guest blog from Phil Lovesey…
Some years ago, whilst teaching Swift to a disinterested group of English A-level students (it was a sunny Friday afternoon, and the lure of their oncoming weekend was far more powerful than wading though the symbolic significances behind Gulliver’s Travels) we came across “the most filthy, noisome, and deformed animals which nature ever produced . . . restive and indocible, mischievous and malicious…” the Yahoos in the country of the Houyhnhnms; perhaps Swift’s finest satire on the greed, barbarity and corruption apparently innate in all human life.
The ensuing conversation, I shall remember for a while, as a student at the back raised his hand, a perplexed look on his weary face.
“This book’s rubbish, sir,” he complained. “You’d think this Swift bloke would have bothered to at least think up an original name. It’s just lazy, getting it off the internet like that. We’re not even allowed to Google essays, yet he just rips it off and passes it off as literature!”
Another student confessed to being ‘quite interested’ as she didn’t even realize ‘they had internet back then’; whilst a third at least tried to go with the theme, proposing that ‘Googles’ would have been a better choice than ‘Yahoos’, as really ‘nobody uses Yahoo no more – it’s like, so last year.’
It was an exchange which I like to feel that even the great J.S might have enjoyed, if only for its unintended irony. (As a footnote to this story – I met with a perplexed parent of one of the students sometime later who admitted being a little confused when I returned her son’s internet plagiarized essay, only to be told quite adamantly by said parent that ‘We only used Yahoo, like the book says – none of it was from Google, not a single word of it.’)
I was reminded of this Swiftean episode the other day when writing the second of the Most Majelicus series of Matlock the hare adventures. It had been a long day, and I was just finishing a chapter where our unlikely majickal-hare hero is crossing high above Trefflepugga Path in a hot-air balloon, accompanied by three ‘Snoffibs’ – creatures who content themselves with amassing vast amounts of majickal-wisdom for no other purpose than their own vanity. I wondered if I was happy with the name ‘Snoffibs’ (a crude anagram of boffins) and duly consulted my wife – the illustrator and creator of all the Matlock artworks.
“Jacqui?” I griffled (or ‘said’, as you would griffle…) “All these stories, all these characters, all this majickal-dalelore that we create – what happens if it gets changed around in the future?”
I told her about Swift, and how I suspected that perhaps he wouldn’t be too pleased to see his Yahoos transformed by a corporate multi-national internet giant into a glossy search-engine purporting to be your online ‘friend’ as it diligently obeys your every search whim like an obedient slave. “I mean,” I griffled to her, “it’s hardly coming across as a mischievous and malicious, is it?”
At which point she put down her brush – (she was finishing an illustration for the new book featuring Ursula the white hare-witch, Proftulous the dworp, the dripple and Matlock having a crumlush brottle-leaf brew in his small cottage garden, deep in the heart of Winchett Dale) – and calmly griffled, “Surely it’s not really about what we think, is it? It’s about what the creatures would think. What would Matlock think, or Serraptomus, or the dripple, or Proftulous, or Goole…or any of them?”
And this, of course, is why I love her – she has what can only be defined as innate, unflappable Dale-logic; for in the way of all things creative, we tend to people our majickal-world of Winchett Dale with creatures that perhaps hold closely to our own values. And no, I’m not sure the creatures would be concerned or worried even the ‘oidiest’ bit….and neither would the Yahoo’s be, either…
One of the reasons Matlock stubbornly ‘bliffed’ his saztaculous way into our lives was because to our peffa-pleasant surprise, people wanted to know more about him. Beginning as just a series of collectable miniature artworks Jacqui painted then sold on eBay two years ago (and still does – somehow managing in between everything else to produce a new artwork or Matlock sculpture every week) people simply wanted to know more about the majickal-hare – where he lived, what did he do, what adventures did he go on, who were his fellow creatures in Winchet Dale? They wanted maps and handmade books. We developed a language – Dalespeak, using ‘griffles’ for words – then set about to create majickal-dalelore, blending hare legends and myths from across the world to begin to define the system of all hares’ ascension, the most-majelicus tasks they have to undertake, together with other majickal-dales Matlock and his ‘clottabussed’ but loyal friends would be taken to during his saztaculous adventures.
In the course of the last two years, the world has grown, and as quite contended middle-aged luddites we set about to create a website and try and master social networking and the beginnings of a weekly Matlock blog. Our teenage ‘leverets’ have helped (born to the digital world – a saztaculous resource for folk like us), together with the support of family and friends.
My previous books were published with HarperCollins – my agent refused to even show the manuscript for ‘The Riddle of Trefflepugga Path’ to them, thinking no doubt the whole notion of Matlock as hare-brained – so we decided to publish it ourselves, and to date reaction to it has very pleasantly surprised us. It’s not pretending to be a great work of modern literary fiction, it’s simply what it is – a four hundred page journey into another world – one that Jacqui and I have the most ganticus privilege being able to bring to all out here, in what the creatures of Winchett Dale call ‘The Great Beyond’.
The other day, Leveret number 3 came up to us and said ‘I put Matlock the Hare into Yahoo. It came up with loads of results.’
Jacqui simply smiled, saying nothing, and it was only then that I truly realized the wisdom of her griffles…