'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Guest Post: Meet the Grimstones with author Asphyxia

Kids Book Review is delighted to welcome author Asphyxia to share the story of how her popular junior fiction series The Grimstones was created.

The Grimstones is a family of quirky, gothic puppets with large expressive eyes. I made them and their miniature home by hand out of recycled junk, scraps of fabric, and spare pieces of wood. The Grimstones first came to life on a theatre show, and from there they have travelled the world, performing at many of the great arts centres.

Now The Grimstones is a delightful book series, and these gorgeous puppets are waiting to meet you from between the covers. The Grimstones: Hatched is Martha Grimstone’s journal, her story told in her own words. Martha longs to cure her Mama of the lake of tears she cries every night, and she longs to get into her grandfather’s apothecary to learn all there is to know about the casting of spells. Martha ends up hatching a plan that is a bit too big for her, that may have disastrous consequences…

I won’t spoil the story by telling you what happens – let’s just say that Martha embarks on an amazing adventure that will lead her through a great many creative inventions with little touches of magic at every turn. The first three, Hatched, Mortimer Revealed and Whirlwind are already on bookshelves across Australia and New Zealand, and I’ve heard of many copies that belong strictly under their owners’ pillows – they are much beloved. I am now writing the fourth book, and have plans for up to six in the series.

What I will tell you is how I came to make the Grimstones. The seeds were sown in Guatemala several years ago. At that time I was a circus performer, and I was touring overseas with my show. After the tour, I had a little backpacking holiday in Guatemala.

On the street there I saw a dreadlocked man, Sergio Barrios, performing with marionettes. I was captivated, for despite the rough appearance of his puppets, they were so expressive that they seemed to be alive. After the show, I stayed, and begged Sergio to share his skills with me. Lucky for me, he did.

The first puppet I made was Bronwyn, and she looked just like me. Performing with Bronwyn was like playing with dolls, which it seems I’ve never entirely grown out of! I’d been a circus performer for many years, but decided puppetry would be my way forward. Although my audiences loved Bronwyn, she was too small for some of the larger stages I performed on. I started thinking about another puppet show, something bigger, something gothic… In my teens I was an ardent goth, and it seems that’s also something I haven’t entirely grown out of.

I started scultping with clay, just to see if I could make the kind of face I envisaged for my puppets, with big dark eyes, and my rough versions turned out even better than I dared to hope. I was hooked. I spent the next eighteen months holed up in my loft studio, creating my family of puppets and their miniature home.

While I’ve always loved making things, I’ve never had any special training in the making of miniatures, so I had to invent as I went along. I wanted every aspect to be lifelike, and to look as if it had been created a hundred years ago. I knew audiences wouldn’t be able to see each detail from the stage, but I didn’t want the illusion to be shattered after the show, when they might come in close and discover it was all made of foam and cardboard. I wanted them to find more: titles of books, details of spells, little notes tacked to the walls… I never dreamed that the Grimstones’ home would one day be featured between the pages of books!

A few years later, someone from Allen & Unwin saw the show, and we received a call asking if The Grimstones could become a book. I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had getting into Martha Grimstone’s head to 'help' her write her journal.

I am often asked if the Grimstones is based on real life, but it’s not. My every day life is boring to me, and the reason I love to create other worlds (through sculpting them in miniature, through performance, writing and other artforms…) is because I want to escape from real life. I like to step into a fantasy world, and live another life. And I think readers do too, which is why The Grimstones has become so popular. Their world is so delightful, we want to dive in and stay there forever.

You, too, can dive in and share the magnificent life of Martha Grimstone, through reading her diaries.

Whirlwind: The Grimstones 3 is the latest book in The Grimstones series and is now available at all good bookshops and online. You can find out more about Asphyxia and The Grimstones by visiting The Grimstones website.