Birthday Cake

You may remember that I’ve done some illustration work for the online fiction magazine Fictive Dream. I love working for editor Laura Black and I also love being involved in the world of short fiction in this way. I’ve found the process of reading a story and turning it to something visual to be really satisfying in a way I can’t quite describe – there’s the challenge of “seeing” what the words say and then conveying it that I love.

Recently Laura asked me if I would illustrate another upcoming story for the magazine.  I did so, and the story appears today. It’s “Birthday Cake”, by Reshma Ruia.

As I usually do, I created multiple versions so that Laura could choose the one she felt best portrayed the story. I used a variety of techniques and materials- acrylic paints, acrylic inks, pen, and/or collage.

Before you view the art, though, here’s more info if you are interested in seeing past works of illustration for Fictive Dream – I’ve given a few links and if you want to know more, search my blog under the topic: Fictive Dream. 

September Slam 2018

Flash Fiction February 2019

Revisits 2019

And…here are links to the events at the magazine’s site, Fictive Dream.

Flash Fiction February 2019


Now, here are the two images I made – take a look and then go to the story and read it to see which one ended up doing the job.

8 thoughts on “Birthday Cake

  1. Laura (PA Pict)

    I love the combination of green and pink in both pieces. It carries connotations of spring and vibrancy and could, therefore, be read as celebratory and vital. It also read, to my macabre mind anyway, as decaying flesh, the green of rot. When I clicked the link to read the story, it became apparent that both interpretations of the colour choices coexist. I do like the chosen image best for the story, however, as the black background suggests something ominously creeping and a sense of isolation.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. I always try to do two images so Laura has a choice – for these, I did not have a favorite as I usually do. I was intrigued by the idea that food was not a sustaining force but a destructive one in this story, on several levels. The dark one I felt as you did, the happy cake giving off a dark feeling, and the lighter one, a fake happy that would contrast with the words. I thought the story was really good and I enjoyed doing this illustration.

  2. memadtwo

    I do like the dark one best for the story illustration. Revenge. But with a slightly different story, the 2nd one would have been perfect.
    The story has a lot going for it, but I was unhappy with the ending (I often am, for both books and films). They say revenge is sweet, but…I would have preferred she recreate what her mother did for her, giving to those in need. Then she could just come home, pack up, and leave with no explanation. To me that’s much more satisfying. (K)

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. I see what her mother did as cruelly manipulative, inducing guilt for having the nerve to want some attention for yourself, and even on your birthday, finding away to twist that feeling (I am sure I am reading my own history into this, it’s exactly what might have happened in my own family). In any case, it made total sense to me that the protagonist cut herself free this way. To me the story is all about taking, not giving (and I’m not excluding the protagonist from this, but from where I sit, she had her reasons). I made the white cake image thinking of it as being happy and light, as an ironic mention of what a birthday should be but sure wasn’t in this story. I especially liked using the pen to create images that I could cut out and mix around in the picture, which I did to create this one. I’ve done it before and I like doing it, I’ve got to try to remember it!

      1. memadtwo

        I didn’t see that manipulation at all, but now I do. I had a troubled relationship with my mother, but being Christian, she and my grandmother always emphasized giving and sharing what you had with others, so it didn’t seem strange. Of course religion is manipulative, but I don’t think that’s a bad lesson to teach children.
        Also revenge is a fool’s game, that I know for sure. It is satisfying in a story but the reality is that it follows you forever and eats you alive.

  3. Fictive Dream

    Thank you, Claudia, for these two fabulous artworks. As is often the case with your illustrations, I could have chosen either way. The combination of pink and green is important because that’s how the protagonist describes her childhood birthday cakes. The lighter of the two illustrations would have supported the story very well because I think it roots us in childhood and I liked the idea of an image that is slightly at odds with the story’s outcome (as you say, ironic). In the end though I had to go with the darker image because this is, after all, a revenge story. I’m interested in your point about food not being sustaining in this story – as you’ve noted previously – it’s the second time we’ve seen this in a story on FD. I must say, I hadn’t interpreted the mother’s approach as manipulative – there’s food for thought. Thank you again, Claudia.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      You’re welcome, and thank you. To me, this story had a very coherent theme and motivations for the main character, and the cake motif summed it all up to me – it symbolizes so many things here, youth, disappointment, revenge, and the twisting of what should be a happy day into something dark. And food as a general category is always full of symbolism in of itself, the nurturing idea of it, and so on, so there was so much to work with here.

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