Myths, Magic and Mayhem
Myths, Magic and Mayhem – Lao Lao of Dragon Mountain
There is wildness and anarchy in a blank piece of paper. Anything can happen – a story, a drawing, a recipe, a letter! Over the years of working with my story, Lao Lao of Dragon Mountain, inspired by the Chinese craft of paper cutting, I’ve grown more and more intrigued by the magic and creativity of paper. Fill the space with words and an evil emperor sits on the throne. A dab of paint and a dragon flies across the page. Fold and cut some paper and suddenly it’s snowing... it’s as close to magic as I can get.
I’ve always been a maker. And my teachers were always women – most especially my mother who taught me to knit and my grandmother who taught me to sew. (I love that passing on of skills between generations.) Nothing I made ever quite looked as it did in my imagination, but I learned the importance of process, of experimentation, of having a go as well as the truth of that old saying: practice makes perfect.
What has this to do with Lao Lao of Dragon Mountain? It’s that connection between craft and stories to make sense of things. They both travel the world and time only to re-emerge fresh and ready to enter our hearts and work their magic. More than ever in this time of pandemic and lockdown we recognise the powerful themes that we find in the ancient stories as we grapple with our own fears – death, powerlessness, loss of freedom, of being deprived of meeting those we cherish as we are locked in our own towers. And what has sustained me, but stories and craft. I have written stories and poems, told tales, read books aloud to my family, whilst making countless cotton masks (even using the leftover fabric to piece a patchwork quilt!)
I knew Lao Lao had to be an old woman as she would be the one with the necessary skills, the keeper of the old traditions of place and culture. And choosing a craft as a central theme in a story, especially one that readers can experience for themselves, is a great starting point into discovering a culture. As another old saying goes: I do and I understand. I was fortunate enough to have
Sha-Liu Qu, the paper cut artist, teach me how to cut the paper cuts featured in the book; a butterfly, a flower, a snowflake, and of course a dragon.
In the person of Lao Lao, it was always my intention to celebrate everyday women and their unnoticed skills. Lao Lao is self sufficient – she grows her own food in her garden, she has time for children and a generosity of spirit to share her creativity without needing anything in return other than knowing it has brought pleasure.
So why have her rescued by a dragon?
The dragon is of course a metaphor for creativity. It empowers us, allows us to fly, to escape, and to see beyond. The story ends with Lao Lao riding on the back of the dragon in a perfect partnership. Her creativity not only sets her free, but allows her to gift the whole world – her paper cuts become blossom, flowers, fruit and snowflakes.
So why not do as Lao Lao does: take a simple piece of paper and a small pair of scissors...
Fold it and cut it
And turn it around
Open it up
And see what you’ve found.