If Harry Potter were a Wrimo, he’d buy his writing goods at Castle in the Air, a writer’s fantasyland in Berkeley, CA by way of Diagon Alley, full of Venetian glass pens, Roman leather albums, hand-formulated ink, sealing wax cooked in cauldrons, and more.
Castle in the Air generously donated a package of such sumptuous, old-world writing accoutrement for our summer fundraising drive. We talked to owner Karima Cammell to learn more about their reverie-inducing approach to creativity (and check out the section of their website dedicated to Wrimos).
What gave you the idea for a shop that speaks to the whimsy and fantasy of another era in our technology-oriented age?
I’ve always been inspired by the ideal of the Renaissance master’s studio. If it was good enough for da Vinci, it’s good enough for artists today! That period was characterized by a blend of the new and the old—scientific discoveries, trade between cultures who had just found one another, dragons at the edge of the map, and fairies at the bottom of the garden. It’s a lot like where we are now, trying to balance new discoveries with our longing for personal meaning.
As a young artist I was often told that my options were limited. The science world didn’t seem to support my artistic side, and the publishing world rejected my paintings as “not commercial enough.” Fortunately, my other hero is the children’s book character the Little Red Hen, who says, “Fine, I’ll do it myself!”
I had money set aside from some graphic design work I’d done, and I used it to set up a little greeting card shop and studio where I could work. I was frustrated by the idea that art couldn’t be commercial, so the shop and studio was an attempt to reconcile that. Even if someone had told me it wouldn’t work, I wasn’t about to keep listening to that sort of nonsense. Seeing my paintings and their story turned into a book was my biggest dream, and I wasn’t going to let anyone take my dream from me.
What is your favorite writing product in the store?
Speaking of flying, appropriately enough, my favorite writing tool is the Namiki Falcon fountain pen. It’s got an old-style flexible gold nib, and as I write the nib slows me down just a bit and brings my attention to the paper, and that brings some art to my shaping of each letter and word.
Do you ever use a quill to write?
Occasionally I do use a quill for writing letters to friends. I run an in-house publishing company at Castle in the Air called Dromedary Press. In our latest book—Pirate & Hoopoe—one of the main characters, named Pirate, uses a quill and sealing wax.
I used a quill to create a calligraphic letter purportedly written by him and enclosed a reproduction of it in each copy of the book. The splotchy nature of any writing done with a quill conveyed some of his madness. “Hand-done is best done” is one of Pirate’s favorite sayings, and it’s one of mine too, which is why I brew my own ink from oak galls to use whenever I write with a quill. Maybe I’m a bit mad myself!
Incidentally, Pirate & Hoopoe is the dream book I mentioned earlier, proving that with enough hard work dreams can come true.
I’m especially interested in the booklet On Gnoming: A Pocket Guide to the Successful Hunting and Cooking of Gnomes. Can you share one tip for hunting gnomes?
That pamphlet is one of our best-selling items at the store, and it’s going to appear as a chapter in a book this fall—Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop, published by Conari Press. It was written by my partner in Dromedary Press, Clint Marsh, under his pen name Reginald Bakeley. He’s mentioned that gnomes have a highly developed sense of smell, so it’s important that gnome hunters blend in, scent-wise, if they don’t want to frighten off the gnomes.
What do gnomes taste like?
As a vegan I’m not really qualified to answer that, but Reginald claims they taste like rabbit.
Are you going to write about gnomes in this year’s NaNoWriMo?
Right now I’m working on a book about trolls, actually. I hope to be done with it before November so I can tackle something new during NaNoWriMo. Some of my ancestors were magicians in Scotland in the 1930s, so I’m toying with the idea of writing something along those lines.
I kind of specialize in short books, or even wordless picture books, so it will be a real challenge to get to 50,000 words. Pirate & Hoopoe was about that length, but it was a collaboration with my birth father, Diarmid Cammell. He wrote nearly all the text, and we tinkered with it off and on for years and years.
I appreciate the focus NaNoWriMo provides. Getting to 50,000 words in 30 days is really throwing down the gauntlet, but setting such goals is an invaluable gift for all writers to give themselves.
Do you have a philosophy of creativity?
Being creatively effective has to do with knowing what is possible, and trusting that it can happen. We can combine two seemingly unrelated things and create something new. Water and powdered minerals can become paint. Paper and ink can become a drawing or words on a page. This kind of creativity is craft, knowing your materials and what they’re capable of.
Where creativity really takes off, though, is when we add our ideas to the mix. We already know our materials, and if we can trust our imagination and follow through with our ideas, then the sky’s the limit. I think of artists as standing on the edge of a cliff. The artist knows that, as crazy as it sounds, they can fly if they can only muster the strength to throw themselves off, to go for it. Creativity is courage incarnate.
And don’t forget to donate to NaNoWriMo’s summer fundraising drive for a chance to win the Castle in the Air package: