My days have a fairly regular routine—I work, usually for about five hours, and then I take a break and go for a walk.
Over the last month or so the weather has changed so I can walk beside a nearby river, although to call it a river suggests something much larger than the reality. Technically, it is a river and a tributary of the River Thames, but to look at, it’s more of a stream. Unless there has been heavy rain it’s shallow, mostly with a depth under 12 inches, and much of it is only deep enough for dogs to get their paws wet.
Where I walk, the river flows through a small green strip of land, but there’s still a lot of visiting wildlife. On most days I’ll see a heron, a little egret, ducks, coots, and overhead there will usually be a flock or two of ring-necked parakeets. Maybe once a week I’ll see a pair of kingfishers, although they move very quickly.
The river can look like a dirty muddy stretch of water, but a closer look reveals that there are hundreds of fish swimming around (literally hundreds, maybe thousands in the short stretch of river I walk along). Many of these hundreds are fry or fingerlings—I’m not sure where one ends and the next begins and I’m definitely not going to get in the river and assess what I’m seeing in detail.
The difficulty seeing the fish is that I’m looking at dark-colored fish, in dirty water, with a muddy background, and through a reflective river surface.
But seeing the fish is more a matter of looking, and knowing where and then how to look, and for what. The fish (as far as I can see) tend to congregate in the areas of the river which are deeper and lit by the sun. If I can see one fish, then I’m likely to see a shoal. Sun on the water means reflections so one lesson, if I want to see the fish, is to take my sunglasses.
Beyond seeing into the water, with each day I have become better at distinguishing between the movement of a plant waving in the current and the movement of a fish—whether the fast movement of a shoal of fingerlings or the slower pace of a full grown fish. So each day as I hone my looking skills, I see more which helps me learn how to look better the next day.
And as you might have guessed, this month I’ve been thinking a lot about looking and seeing. But first…
Before I go any further I want to say thank you. There’s a specific thank you, but I also want to add a more general thank you.
The Specific Thank You
After last month’s edition of Simon Says, a reader dropped me a note with some kind words and to tell me that she’d just bought Clementina.
I did reply, but the email seemed to bounce. In case my email didn’t find its way through, I’d like to say thank you to that reader for her kind words. I hope you enjoyed Clementina.
A few other readers got in touch and I responded directly, so I hope that everyone who wrote has heard from me. To everyone who wrote, thank you—I really do appreciate all the comments, reviews, and thoughts.
Drop Me a Note
If you’ve got anything you want to say to me—you don’t have to be kind, but it’s always nice—or if you’ve got any questions, you can always email me directly (drop an email to author at simon cann dot com).
After the Fire
You probably saw the images from Paris of Notre Dame burning.
The pictures were shocking and distressing, but we can take comfort that there was no loss of life. And the good news is just how much survived.
So many images have told the story in so many different ways. The wide angle shots showed the building seemingly entirely engulfed with flames and the close shots showed the detail of what has been damaged and what has been saved. And every shot expressed so much more than words alone could say.
I’ve been to Paris as part of my research for the Leathan Wilkey series.
Many times—often multiple times in a day and always several times during each trip—I’ve been past Notre Dame. But I’ve never been inside—I figured I’d wait until a very rainy day. Now it looks like I may not be able to get inside for a few years.
In the aftermath, thoughts swiftly turned to the rebuild and three approaches appear to have emerged:
- Rebuild the building using the same materials and techniques as were employed with the original building (with twenty-first century safety measures).
- Rebuild the building to look exactly the same, but using modern materials in non-exposed areas (for instance, using steel instead of oak, but with the steel hidden).
- Rebuild the building, but adding something distinctively modern in place of what has been lost.
Your gut will probably take you in one direction more than the other two, I know mine does. The old/modern tension is an easy one to differentiate, but the first two (like-for-like versus using steel joists) pose an interesting conundrum. What really matters: how it looks or how it is?
There have been several modern suggestions, perhaps the most impressive that I have seen came from Paris-based architect Vincent Callebaut. In some ways I really like this…in other ways, well, let’s just say I like it less. How do you think Leathan Wilkey would feel about this?
Each scene in a book will have a point of view—a perspective from which that scene is told. The two main approaches are:
- First person, where the reader is seeing the story through the eyes of a character—the Leathan Wilkey books are written in the first person.
- Third person, where the narrator is separate and the reader is seeing the scene as an outsider—the Boniface books are written in the third person.
In all cases, you can think of there being a camera, and the placement of that camera—inside a character’s head, on a character’s shoulder, away from the character and watching their actions—has an effect on how that story is told and how it is perceived by the reader. No one placement or another is better or worse—it’s all about the result the author is intending.
Thinking about the choices and the decisions photographers make when taking a photo can help an author focus more tightly on the aspect of the story they want the reader to see. And by equal measure, by highlighting one aspect to the reader, then another aspect can be understated or hidden.
Enough Looking and Seeing
That’s enough thinking about looking and seeing. I’ll be back in your inbox in June.
And just in case you’re wondering, I don’t only work for five hours a day—I do work for longer, but I take a long break before my second session of work.
All the best