Today I’m welcoming my wonderful co-creator, Lorena Carrington, to this blog, to write about the travels in France that helped to inspire her glorious illustrations in French Fairy Tales. All photographs in this post are by Lorena.
French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington
In late September last year, I touched down in France with a backpack, camera bag, and a draft manuscript of Sophie’s fairy tales. I was so thrilled to get the chance to work with Sophie, and happily circumstances (and the support of my family) aligned in such a way that I was able to travel to France to photograph the landscapes and chateaux in which her retellings are set.
My time there seemed to be peppered with the most wonderful and delightful book related coincidences. Our friends happened to be staying an hour’s drive away from Azay-le-Rideau, so I had a friendly welcome and enthusiastic tour guides for the first few days. The first chateau they took me to was once owned by the man who was said to have inspired the Marquis de Carabas from Charles Perrault’s Puss in Boots. The hotel I booked in the town of Azay-le-Rideau turned out to be the same one Sophie stayed when she visited, and from which you can see the chateau peeking out from between trees at the end of the curved cobble stone street. Crows followed me, through both France and Ireland, and allowed me to create the flock that surround Crow Castle with birds from almost every place I visited.
Azay-le-Rideau was the main reason I was in France. It is the chateau in which Sophie set her retelling of Beauty and the Beast, so it was extraordinary to have the chance to create illustrations from the very place the tale is set. The town is popular with tourists – cobbled-stoned and romantic – but I was there at the very tail end of the season so, while waiters and shopkeepers looked tired, it never felt crushed with holiday makers.
It’s a strange and marvellous experience to spend a week on one’s own in a place where you can manage to order coffee and a croissant (barely) but have no other opportunities for conversation. I was alone with my camera in hand and Sophie’s tales in my head. Free to roam as I wished, I spent a full day exploring the Azay-le-Rideau chateau and gardens. I had explored for a brief couple of hours with friends Jim and Yvonne the day before, but now I had the place to myself (and a hundred or so other tourists). The wonderful thing about exploring on your own, surrounded by a language you can only pick the odd word from, is that you feel a bit like a ghost. I could wander from room to room, doubling back when I wanted, pausing to spend ten minute photographing the way a spotlight falls on velvet brocade and feathers, counting the gold stitches on red wall paper. I tucked myself into corners, waiting for a room to clear to I could get a clear shot of a painted fresco that covered the opposite wall, lingered on staircases to catch soft window light grazing across rough stone. I stood in the rain photographing ripples in the moat, and crouched awkwardly in wet grass to peer under hanging branches. It also gave me the chance to notice so many small details that I may not have if I hadn’t been alone: the still-fresh hay smell from the plaited straw wall coverings, the feel of carved hand rails worn smooth by thousands of hands over hundreds of years, and all the tiny beasties carved into stone and wood.
While at Azay, I collected dead leaves and twigs, and took them back to my hotel bathroom later to photograph on a makeshift lightbox (my iPad). These small pieces of detritus from the grounds made up the Beast who lived there. I’m always conscious of the origins of objects that go into the creatures I make. They are made of the landscapes they inhabit, and none have ever been as specific as the creation of the Beast.
In the lead up to the release of French Fairy Tales I’ll share some stories about the specific illustrations, but for now I’ll leave you with a detail of the Beast in his castle.