I've been asked by DoctorMO to write a guide entry about the Bonita Sara stories, because, according to him, one or two other H2G2 users are interested in them. So, what shall now follow, will be the definitive guide to the world of Bonita Sara, from the author, namely, my good self. Taking a cue from my copy of Sophie's World among other sources, I shall begin with the appropriate initial disclaimer:
The right of David Edwards to be identified as the author of the 'Bonita Sara' stories is hereby asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
And with that somewhat tedious piece of legalese out of the way, let me take you by the hand and introduce you to my assorted collection of faeries!
The entire Bonita Sara project began ultimately as a result of my accidentally alighting upon the art of Charles Faris, whose art can be viewed by visiting http://www.charlesfaris.com/. I was actually searching for Victorian faerie art on the web, in the days when I was still a neophyte search engine user, when Charles's site appeared in the endless listing of irrelevant entries and stood out. A quick visit told me that I hadn't found the Victorian faerie art that I was searching for, but I foound something else - a treasure trove of stunning images crafted by a man with a singular vision, and after leaving favourable comments upon his web pages about his work, he contacted me. Thus began, back in March 1998 or thereabouts, E-Mail correspondence lasting over four years, which continues to the present. Charles began exhibiting his art as part of a project to raise charitable donations to support children with terminal illnesses, one of whom, Vanessa Banuelos, became his favourite model and muse shortly after experimental laser surgery to treat vocal chord tumours, which fortunately succeeded. Vanessa has since blossomed into the kind of young woman who stops traffic, and whose smile leaves young men entranced in her wake - some of Charles's finest artworks feature her, and in that respect she could be thought of as his very own Jane Morris, but without the obsessive entanglements that led Rossetti to paint Astarte Syriaca ...
It was in October 1998 that I completed the first of the Bonita Sara stories, The Tale Of Princess Alula, which was partly inspired by his picture White Rock Fairy, and partly written as a rather lengthy 'get well soon' card for a young lady called Kristen Orihuela, who maintains a web site under the nickname of BluePixie (see her web page here). Shortly after this, I wrote a second story, featuring a character inspired by Charles' image Northern Spring, followed shortly by another story inspired by a third image of his, called Cocoon. I sent these to Charles, and he was rather taken by them, as was another of Charles' fans, a woman called Lynne McMullan, whose account of her daughter's reaction to the picture was amusing in a gentle, innocent, almost 19th-century sort of way. I had partly aligned my writing style to echo that golden era of story-telling for children, and so, embarked upon the story that seized Charles' attention, with Lynne McMullan's account of her daughter in mind. This was Tale Four, Rhodina's Surprise, and Charles was so delighted with it, that he created an artwork specially for it. By now, the Bonita Sara series was developing a life if its own, and during a particularly disastrous Christmas in 1998, I threw myself into writing to fend off my woes. The result of this was the writing of around 40,000 words in eight days: Tale Five, The Pixie With The Broken Wing, Tale Six, The Magic Unicorn, Tale Seven, The Journey, Tale Eight, Florencalina And Carolessa's Reconciliation, all flowed from my keyboard at this time, along with a story written specially for Charles, called The Blue Fairy Of The Dark Forest, my first 'commission', if you like, and a separate tale called Rose's Letter. By now, Bonita Sara was developing into a complete world all of its own, and so, I began maintaining several other documents to support this, including a complete database of the flora of this world, which now occupies around 300K of text as an old-fashioned WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS document!
Charles produced a scintillatiing artwork for Tale Five, of one of the central characters, Cali Lasseia, who has since become a kind of 'alter ego' persona for me on various bulletin boards, and around the same time, produced the Golden Unicorn picture which inspired Tale Six. My account of the character of Pashalina in that story led Lynne McMullan to suggest that the character bore an uncanny resemblance to her young daughter, Pickles, and so, Pashalina has been one of the mainstays of the Bonita Sara series ever since - indeed, Tales 17, 25 and 31 were written as birthday presents for her fifth, sixth and seventh birthdays. More Charles Faris artworks provided inspiration for following members of the saga, Morning Dove and Rainbow featuring as bit-part characters in Tale 11, which first saw a character called Sabinalessa come to life, who was based uupon Lynne McMullan (having decided to bestow wings upon her daughter, I could hardly leave her out!). Then, Charles produced a picture for which he didn't have a name, featuring red-headed twins guarding a magic gemstone, and asked me to name the twins - thus Tale 14 cme to life, along with two characters rejoicing in the names of Erythraleia and Rubeialessa. In case anyone is wondering, this is a symptom of my partially Classical education - I regularly raid Latin and Classical Greek for ideas - and by this time, I had begun work on a Lexicon for Bonita Sara (this remains, as yet, unfinished). Charles then produced the incandescently lovely Lavender, which inspired the central character and holder of the title role of Tale 15, Miralessia. Another artwork followed on, featuring some tropical butterfly wings I had E-Mailed to him as a JPEG, which became the source for Tale 16, Jaminalessa The Jewel-Wing Faerie, and by now, the world of Bonita Sara was becoming populated with an ever-growing character list, requiring the maintenance of a character database (some entries of which are, tut, tut, still incomplete).
Four and a half years on, Bonita Sara now encompasses no less than 33 completed tales, comprising around 700,000 words, and includes all manner of strange flora and fauna related to my multifarious passions. Tale 18, Lei'o'nai'a And The Submarine Faeries, for example, relates to my passion for coral reef fish, which I still can't afford to keep sadly, and once again, assorted taxonomic guides were raided to populate the coral reefs with sparkling, iridescent fish to live alongside the mermaids, which first saw the light of day in Tale 14.
By the time I reached Tale 20, which was a birthday present for Lynne McMullan (I conspired with Charles to have him produce an artwork to go with it, and Lynne was delighted with the end results!) I had injected philosophical musings into the saga in a heavier manner than previously, taking my cue from Sophie's World, and repeated this in Tale 27. Then, Charles produced a heartachingly lovely image based upon my adorable niece Carol - I E-Mailed a JPEG scan of her photo to Charles, and the result is a special part of my Charles Faris art collection. This coincided with the writing of Tale 21, which was an immense affair, the largest of the tales to date, at over 40,000 words, and led to the character of Carolaia (based upon my adorable niece) featuring in Tales 22 and 23. Another Charles artwork led to Tale 28, and along the way, I resurrected a childhood passion for exotic fossil creatures, populating Tale 26 with Titanotheres and Mastodons, and introducing in Tale 29 a fearsome marine creature based upon a Jurassic-era predator, Liopleudodon ferox, which at 75 feet was the largest predator that ever lived. Tale 30 is a somewhat individual way of revisiting my passion for keeping aquarium fish, Tale 32 allowed me to experiment with bioluminescent life forms in dark forest nooks, and Tale 33 was a tying up of some loose ends from Carolaia's assorted adventures from Tales 21 to 23.
Thanks to Charles's generosity, in teaching me a few things about using Adobe PhotoShop, I have branched out into art of my own, and several of these images appear as characters in later tales, most notably Tale 32. Doubtless they shall fuel yet more characters in subsequent additions to the saga, indeed I am fishing around for ideas for Tale 34 as I write this, and have already alighted upon an interesting possibility based upon a photograph I played with in PhotoShop - watch this space and see what materialises!
So, by now, some readers of this will be asking some questions. Such as, "What is Bonita Sara all about?" Well, one answer that immediately springs to mind, is that it is a vision of a world in which schadenfreude is all but absent, a world in which some of those nice, cosy 19th century certainties about right prevailing actually comes about, and within which the assorted characters are good-natured, helpful souls who provide an antidote to some of the nastiness of modern times. It may prove overly sentimental for some tastes, and somewhat naive in its vision for others, but while other writers who create worlds seem intent upon populating those created worlds with dark, sinister characters who are inevitably up to no good, and letting them ride roughshod over the weak and the helpless, I thought it would be a pleasant change if someone created a world in which a gentle, altruistic value system prevailed. There are some moments when the tension builds up, and in Tale 29, which features my gigantic marine predator, some genuinely scary moments for the two mermaid explorers, but hardly anyone gets hurt (the poor old spider back in Tale One being an exception), and on those occasions when assorted characters fall prey to assorted malaises, there is always someone on hand to step in and perform the Dr Kildare role. In fact, one of the running themes throughout the saga is the curing of ailments, partly reflecting the fact that I was brought up in the heady 'can-do' optimism that hung over for a time from the late 1950s into the early 1960s, before the cynicism set in, and from a very early age had a passion for science. Consequently, medicine plays a significant role in Bonita Sara, in part because it dovetails nicely with Charles's charitable aspirations, and also because it allows one of my principal characters to find a vocation that will, in future tales, be of importance, but I won't spoil the surprise here. Oh, and my passion for Pre-Raphaelite art even gets a look in now and again! Tale 26 features two characters based upon a painting by Sophie Anderson, which boasts possibly the most amazing title ever to adorn a canvas - Take The Fair Face Of A Woman, And, Gently Suspending, With Jewels, Flowers And Butterflies Attending, Thus Your Fairy Is Made Of The Most Beautiful Things. DoctorMO has already alighted upon the appearance of assorted musical instruments in Rossetti paintings that have cropped up here and there in the saga, although that isn't the complete story - the 21-stringed lyre from Tales 21 and 22, for example, also has part of its origins in a similar instrument played by Sappho of Lesbos, circa 600 BC - my Classical side coming to the fore again! No doubt he will alight upon other little snippets, being as he is an avid collector of my work, and now, one of the tasks facing me as I put together future tales, is finding ways of eliciting that knowing smile from him as he peruses the contents!
Those readers of this account who are familiar with Brian Froud and his work, will instantly see that my vision (taking many of its visual cues from Charles Faris) is substantially different from Froud's - if any kinship exists at all with visions other than Charles Faris' blaze of technicolour pyrotechnics, then the nearest parallel, at least in terms of what lies beneath the surface, would probably be with Cicely Mary Barker. Other important strands that form the bedrock of the Bonita Sara ethos, are the importance of loving, stable relationships, and the importance of learning - horribly unfashionable among the cynics these days, but then, the cynics have had their way for over a generation, and look at the mess they've left behind ... the latter of those two strands explains much of the choice of language, which again, is inspired by the notion that expanding a young reader's vocabulary and stretching the mind are noble endeavours. I am tempted to say that we are now reaping the consequences of the abandonment of such worthy aims, but risk donning a slightly cynical hat of my own by saying so, albeit, I hope, at a highly individual and jaunty angle ...
And so, the time has come to don a somewhat more mercenary hat into the bargain. I am still, although it is an uphill struggle, seeking a publisher for my work, although persuading various establishments to turn their gaze away from Harry Potter and product placement for more than five nanoseconds is a Herculean labour. But, I remain convinced that Bonita Sara is a world whose time has come: publishers simply need a little gentle prodding in the right direction, and so, I say to my readers to date, take up your barge poles and start prodding!
If I were asked to sum it all up, I would say this: Bonita Sara is a resolutely individual vision of what could be, a world in which no-one needs to be afraid to take up the clarion call of Richard Buckminster Fuller, and dare to be different. Where else will you find magic Pandas building an aquarium for a mermaid and two faerie friends?
~ David Edwards