Interrogatives

My Neighbour Totoro (1988) film poster

To reiterate, I don’t do blog awards. But occasionally I like to see what questions are asked and answer them for my own amusement. And maybe yours too!

Blogger Jean Lee (of Jean Lee’s World) posed a handful of interesting queries for recipients of the Liebster award. Yours truly came up with these rather shifty responses.

What would you consider to be your earliest creative work that foreshadowed the passion to come?
Easy. Soon after I began learning the piano — from a Russian émigrée in Hong Kong — I’d progressed enough to compose my first piano piece, a waltz in Fmajor. This was around 1955, when I’d be six, going on seven. I never fulfilled that Mozartian precosity subsequently but I have since completed the odd original score, mainly miniatures, for piano, chamber ensemble or choir.

If you could gain your favorite living artist’s permission to create an homage of their work (for example, writing a fan fic story with your favorite character), who would you approach and what character would you write with?
This is terrifying, so terrifying I’d never ever contemplate it. So, if I could skew the question, I’d go with Jane Austen, who’s been gone a couple of centuries now. It’s possible to read her published novels and, using clues from the years she wrote them in, to draw up plausible chronologies of events in the novels. If it hasn’t already been done I’d complete a grand masterplan of who did what, and where and when, and then imagine the characters interacting. How cool would that be? What would Lizzie Bennett say to Emma, what would Willoughby think of Henry Crawford, would Fanny Price get on with Catherine Morland?

I’m always looking for strategies to fight back the distractions. How do you focus yourself in the Sea of Life’s noise to create?
I try to not have my mobile phone to hand all the time, social media being modern life’s greatest distraction, and I never ever take it up to bed with me. I do take it when I go for walks but mainly for its camera function, as I post a ‘carefully crafted’ Instagram photo most days. When I’m blogging I’m totally focused on that. The white heat of creativity, don’t you know…

What are the three most inspirational places you’ve ever visited?
Tough call, this. I’m a culture vulture so I’d go for cities — Florence, Paris, maybe Edinburgh — and the riches they contain, architectural, artistic, historical, cultural. Otherwise it’d be mountains and coast — the Alps, Pembrokeshire or the Gower in Wales, Vancouver Island, just to pluck some place names at random.

Time for the dead artists now! If you could sit down for a cuppa or a pint with any dead artist, who would it be and why?
One of the Breughels (father or son), or Bosch. Just for the intricacy of their paintings: so much to see, so much to ask about. I’d just hope they weren’t taciturn types!

What’s one stereotype people always apply to you because of who you are/where you’re from?
When I was a classroom music teacher lots of people, many of whom should have known better, assumed (a) I played a lot of instruments (really, piano’s my only thing) and (b) I knew every composer’s oeuvre, and especially the composer of the tune they were humming, even if it was off key. The answer to both enquiries was inevitably ‘No’.

If there’s one book on craft in your passion you’d recommend to every fellow artist in your field, what would it be?
David Lodge’s The Art of Fiction (reviewed here): everything you need to know about how great fiction works, told intelligently.

Favorite grilled food?
We don’t have a grill, but when we did it was cheese toast. As we live in Wales I suppose I should say Welsh rabbit. By the way, no rabbits are harmed in the making of this dish as it’s an aspersion the English cast on their neighbours’ supposed lack of sophistication. As is the supposed back formation ‘rarebit’. The French apparently just call it le Welsh.

What’s your favorite Disney film? No, Pixar doesn’t count.
I’m not a Disney fan, particularly, but I’m going for three different films here. Animation? The original Fantasia (though I haven’t seen the sequel) because it was so inventive. Live action? Saving Mr Banks, for all that it’s as schmaltzy as the Mary Poppins film it riffs on. Mixed live action and CGI? The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, though I’m not a C S Lewis fan either.

And speaking of films, what’s one movie you’re kind of embarrassed to admit you like, but you just can’t help yourself?
I’m not ashamed to admit to liking any film, but some adults are sniffy at anything fantasy, animated or orientated towards children. I’m going for all three categories with My Neighbour Totoro, as I’m unashamedly sentimental. If you haven’t seen it yet then do yourself a favour.

And now a couple of questions Jean had herself been given to answer:

Cat, dog, or other?
We have a cat. That’s enough. And she’s getting very demanding in her old age. I shall be devastated when she goes, but there are times when …

If your home was on fire and you could only save one book, which would it be?
Most books are replaceable. Or available from a library somewhere. If I couldn’t save them all it would be sad but not a disaster. A disaster would be losing a loved one, would be an awful accident to another human being.

If you had to choose one of your current projects to tell a group of strangers about, what would it be?
Hmmm. Would it be that definitive book about the Arthurian myth which I took copious notes on for a decade or two and which I often consider resurrecting? Would it be the Certificate in Creative Writing that I’m studying for in termly modules? Could it be my good intentions to improve my piano technique for continuing concert engagements with Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra?

No, I’m plumping for staying alive a bit longer so as to share good times with my partner, see our kids do well and enjoy our grandkids growing up. And maybe see a kinder world emerge in place of the looming disasters that threaten to engulf us all.


I’m not awarding awards to any awardees, you’ll be pleased to know. But if you feel you’d like to share your answers to any or all of these questions I for one would be interested. Truly!

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26 thoughts on “Interrogatives

  1. piotrek

    Great post, made me smile!

    As a big Ghibli fan – I’d say they are “better Disney”, more sensitive, deeper, and Miyazaki’s princesses are way better role models for little girls – I’m very happy you share my enthusiasm for Totoro.

    There is nothing cuter than my two nieces humming the Totoro theme 🙂 While playing with little Totoro plushies my sister crocheted…

    But there is one person I can’t bring aboard the Ghibli ship – Ola, who has two wonderful kids, and for some reason refuses them (and herself!) this joy 😉

    1. Thanks, Piotrek! And I agree absolutely with your assessment of Studio Ghibli and, especially, its female role models. Curious that Ola holds out against them for her girls. Hopefully she’ll succumb and maybe be a bigger fan than you or me! Film 4 in the UK have been running a season of Ghibli films through August and we’ve been recording as many as we can (even the heart-rending ones like Grave of the Fireflies) to enjoy again at leisure.

  2. Pingback: Interrogatives — Calmgrove – Earth Balm Creative

    1. Thanks, Dale. I’m essentially a very private person, but I don’t mind drip-feeding little facts like these about myself to an audience such as yourself that might appreciate them and respond sensitively to them.

      1. earthbalm

        Like you Chris, I am a very private person but I am interested in the inspirations and motivations of a small group of people with whom I feel I can identify.

    1. Ha! Yes, Welsh rabbit is essentially a variation on croque-monsieur or croque-madame, though I always thought of it as either a toasted cheese sandwich or, more simply, a slice of cheese-on-toast heated under an electric grill, maybe flavoured with Marmite, pickles or chutney.

      Maybe, though, you’d be also tempted to answer these questions, Stefy? 🙂

  3. What great questions! I may be tempted to do it too. Also we love Totoro around here (esp my mom, who lived in Japan in the 50s and actually remembers it looking like that). Very fun to read your answers.

    1. Thanks, Jean, you can see how I was intrigued! I would love to see your responses too, if they appeal to you.

      Spirited Away was our introduction to Ghibli, since when we’ve never looked back. There are aspects of the background scenes in the Studio’s output which, though often full of nostalgia for Japanese life in the early to mid 20th-century, remind me too a little bit of Hong Kong in the 50s when I was growing up there; I know the cultures are different, but they wouldn’t have been so different then that there weren’t some similarities.

  4. Wee, look at all these awesome answers! You know, I’m going to admit it–I haven’t watched Totoro yet. Oh I’ve seen a bunch of Ghibli now, with only one that just didn’t jive with me (Ponyo, if you’re curious). I need to get Totoro from the library! The second Fantasia film has some AWFUL celebrity chats between the animation, and some of the animation is just plain dumb (Donald Duck is Noah. Really? REALLY?!) but a few are genuinely cool–“Rhapsody in Blue” is super awesome, and there’s a tiny bit with flamingos and a yo-yo that gets my kids laughing every time. Some day, if we ever meet, perhaps I can hear a performance of your waltz…? 🙂

    1. Glad you like my answers, Jean! I know what you mean about ‘Ponyo’—I wasn’t struck with it on first viewing but subsequently (especially watching it with a granddaughter, who was mad on the Ponyo character) I’ve grown to enjoy it. I hope you love ‘Totoro’ when you get round to it, also try ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ if you haven’t already.

      Thanks for the warning about ‘Fantasia 2’—I’d heard it wasn’t good and you’ve confirmed it for me, but maybe I’ll seek out those extracts you mention.

      I might do an audio recording of the waltz sometime, and if I do I’ll send it to you! 🎶

      1. Oh huzzah! I’d love to hear you play! With all three kids in school, I’m hoping to return to the piano. I know I won’t regain all my skills, but it’d be nice to feel *that* something in the fingers, you know? That tingle down the spine that only comes with song.
        Oh yes! We love Kiki here, and The Cat Returns, and Porco Rosso. But the kids say Spirited Away is too scary, the party poopers. 🙂

  5. Some great answers there, Chris. And I love that you’ve chosen the Brueghels and Bosch for your artists – I don’t know many people who would do that but they’re up there for me too, along with Hans Holbein, Durer, van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden. Those Northern Renaissance chaps were astonishing at capturing realism and narrative – so much more interesting to me than the idealised Italian equivalents. Have we discussed the Hunters in the Snow before? I have a feeling we might – just beautiful.

    Anyway, as I say, entertaining interview and nice to learn more snippets about you 🙂

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Lynn, I just found the questions irresistible!

      Yes, there’s so much to see in those near contemporaries’ paintings—I particularly liked the aerial view in the Elder Breugel’s ‘Children’s Games’—and that level of detail was also matched in Richard Dadd’s works, especially the famous ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke’ (which Pratchett alluded to in the second Tiffany Aching story). I love Italian Renaissance works too but there was a very different aesthetic going on in the Flemish and German schools at the time.

      And yes, ‘The Hunters in the Snow’—one of my all-time favourites which we may well have discussed before, I possibly may have used it to head up a book review . . . must check. 😁

      1. Ah, yes, poor old Richard Dadd – I remember learning about him when I was studying for my degree. There’s something bewitching about that level of detail, a miniaturist’s eye, as if he saw the world as a doll’s house. All inspiring stuff and I’m afraid, more lovely to me than any of Michelangelo’s chubby flying babies 🙂

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