September Short Book Reviews

History of the Kings of England (Historia Regum Britanniae)- Geoffrey of Monmouth. A 12th-century imaginative, odd, half-familiar, largely invented, entertaining account of Britain from its settlement by Brutus and other Trojans, through a variety of kings – including Arthur and his relatives – and queens and mighty men (some of whom liked to pick up giants, run to the coast and throw them into the sea), adventures and invasions and attacks on Rome, with a detour into the prophecies of Merlin. Such a very different world and view not just of history but of the writing of it.

My Family and other Animals – Gerald Durrell. In 1935, ten-year-old Gerald Durrell and his eccentric family (their relaxed, harried mother, the sensitive writer Larry, gun-mad Leslie and vague, romantic Margo) moved to Corfu, where for five years Gerald grew up in a very haphazard fashion among the people and animals and olive groves. Often I read a book and don’t want it to end, but also really want to know what happens at the end, so rush to get there. I did not want to find out what happened at the end of this book – I just wanted it to keep on doing what it was doing, indefinitely. Such a laid back, (sometimes hysterically) funny, gentle memoir, full of bizarre and lovely stories and descriptions that are always so accurate I could *see* the sea wrinkling around the coastline, or the haze of bees under the olive trees, or the erratic voyages of the family. The book is available in Popular Penguins so you should be able to pick it up for under $10 (Australian), and the 2005 BBC movie (I haven’t seen the miniseries) – though not on the same scale – is very true to the feeling of the book and stars the wonderful Imelda Staunton (as in Dolores Umbridge), among others.

Rapunzel’s Revenge – Hale, Hale and Hale. A short graphic novel retelling of Rapunzel in a fantasy Wild West. Sweet (at times a little too sweet) and fun, but with an edge of tales wilder than fairy tales: folk tales and tall tales and legends of the West. There was more multi-ethnicity in it than I’m used to in fairytales, which was a pleasant surprise (a bit like watching British shows after American ones: not perfect but better) and although I found the art more cartoony than my tastes usually run to, it definitely grew on me. There is an interview with Shannon Hale (on whom I already looked with favour as she had written a novel of my favourite fairy tale, The Goose Girl) by Karen Healey on Girls Read Comics which is the reason I tracked the book down, and I am glad I did.

The Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer. I like Georgette Heyer regencies: so irrepressible and fun and even if they end in a romance, not romances at all but funny novels full of wit and misunderstandings and vengeance and mistaken identities and carriage races and duels and highwaymen. This was an excellent example, with the poor orphaned cousin come to stay with family in London turning out to be the tremendously confident, independent, capable and irrepressible Sophy, who sets about rearranging everyone’s lives to her satisfaction. It has a wonderful ending, too – a proper, Diana Wynne Jones style, everyone-in-the-cast-descending-at-once, maelstrom, chaotic ending. With escaping ducklings. And a whippet.

Illustration Friday: Repair


After the sketchcrawl and the moleskine exchange, a quick and simple scratchboard illustration this week!

Sophy Hatter, putting Howl’s blue-and-silver suit back together again, after she cut it into little triangles to make a patchwork skirt, after it was stained but before it grew out of control. I was tracking down extracts of the book online (I’ve no idea who has my copy) and I’d forgotten how that suit is all through the book, right from Howl’s first appearance. And I remembered how much I liked it and how much I need to Read It Again Right Now (the movie is wonderful, but only really bears a resemblance to the plot of the book for the first half hour).

Seen in person, this is a very small illustration: 5.5cmx5.5cm (just over two inches square). The colour version (below) is about life-size, but you can see that larger on Flickr if you click on it.

I’m not sure about the black circle background yet. It is an effect I generally like (especially in chapter headers) but am still experimenting with. I think it might work better with an ink drawing or with at least a cleaner background. I’d like to do a more frenetic version of this picture as well – this is rather calm.

Repair (colour)


It was the 20th Sketchcrawl on Saturday, and as I had been wanting to do one and the Brisbane group plans fell through, I took myself sketchcrawling around West End, starting at the markets (the best in Brisbane – and the best cupcakes: pretty and tasty). For going it alone, it is surprising how many people I talked to. Sketching can be a great way to meet people.

As usual, if you want to see more detail, click on the picture to go to its Flickr page, and then click on “all sizes” above the picture.

The left page is Latin dancing in Brisbane square on Friday night – I liked the idea of the semi-silhouette of the woman in the coat, and used that again in the sketchcrawl. On the right, the sketchcrawl begins with a lemon sorbet cupcake and behind the scenes at The Cupcake Parlour’s stall.

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Here is a patient dog, and remarkably well-behaved given how close he was to cupcakes (the pink tablecloth on the right is the bottom of that stall) and two guitarrists, as well as a selection of headgear. At this point a lady shared my table and we chatted for a while about guitar and art and she invited me to her Bible study. I also had some lillipilli sorbet, but didn’t draw that.

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I think this is Davies Park, West End. It might just be an overgrown piece of verge – it’s sort of hard to tell, but it does join up to the playing fields and one corner of the markets. In retrospect, I like how the tree turned out, but at the time I was disappointed not to be able to capture all the gnarls and folds and curves. The thumbnail below it is of shoes hanging from phone lines in front of a jacaranda – only they turned out to be slingback heels and not sneakers as is more often the case. Then I visited Reverse Garbage (love that shop with its bins of “shiny silver stuff”, “small felt moons”, “perspex shapes” and strange and wondrous industrial offcuts). I saw a man carrying groceries home on his skateboard, then walked down to the vicinity of the Three Monkeys cafe and caught some father christmas on the way, but I am out of practice at making memorable wishes.

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At Gra Beeka cafe, I had some sticky sweet biscuits (but the buttery grabieh were my favourite) and ended up talking to some Canadians studying medicine at UQ, and sharing the brand of markers with one of them who decided to go buy a moleskine sketchbook. Then I had a late lunch at Three Monkeys with the girls from the house at Toowong (yes, I spent most of the day eating, that was partly the point), walked them to their shoe sale, drew young magpies who were pulling garage sale signs off a brick wall and wound up at The Music Kafe and listened to Sarah Haigh playing (triple-j unearthed – hehe, just found out she’s a lawyer too). I hadn’t heard her before, but really like her style and am looking forward to the new CD she said is coming out soon.

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Here are the semi-silhouettes again, people leaning in the open window to listen. I quite like that picture. Then evidence of me drinking alone. Sarah Haigh very kindly signed my book and gave me a copy of her EP and didn’t point out that I had left a letter off her name. Also, there is a robot pencil sharpener I bought at Avid Reader.

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 You can see other results of the sketchcrawl from around the world on the forums.

An Encyclopaedia of Improbable Games

I agonised for longer than necessary over the theme of my moleskine for the 42nd International Moleskine exchange, but I’m glad I did because I really like the theme I settled on: An Encyclopaedia of Improbable Games. I’ve cross-posted my entry from the exchange blog below.

I am tempted to make the actual game, because it was so much fun doing this part. But I also like just imagining the bits of the board beyond the edges, and what might happen in the game, and how much fun it would be to say, “Okay, bar fight! Isabella wins!”, or throw a Bad Luck Monkey at someone. I was laughing to myself most of the way home on Friday night, when I thought of it.

Crosspost: An Encyclopaedia of Improbable Games

I’m here! Late, but here! My moly is themed “An Encyclopaedia of Improbable Games”, and can be any sort of game: board games, card games, skipping games, dangerous games, bizarre, twisted, excessively complicated games – as long as they’re improbable!

Mine is a proposal for a board game called “Heroine Content – Remix!”, played with dice and turntables and cards and spinners and volcanoes. The title is more than a nod to the Heroine Content blog, and the game takes some of my favourite heroines and throws them into each others’ universes, because I do want to know how Isabella Bird would react if she met Han Solo, or how Anne of Green Gables would cope in a bar brawl in Tibet.

My moly

There is more detail if you go through to Flickr and click on “all sizes”, but here are some close-ups of the three visible figures and my favourite cards:


Now I want to make this game! Or at least some Bad Luck Monkey cards…

Illustration Friday: Late

Late (black and white)

This week’s Illustration Friday picture is a sampler of scratchboard textures and also an illustration for one of my favourite books: Joan Lindsay’s Time Without Clocks, a memoir of artistic life (she was an artist and author, her husband an artist who became curator of the National Gallery) in Australia between the wars. She and her husband were visited by one of her old friends, and while the men were elsewhere, Joan and her friend sat in the living room working on a story they had been writing together when they were studying. The clock was broken, and so when they thought it was about four, they stuck a piece of paper to the clock with “four o’clock” written on it, and when they thought half an hour must have passed, updated it accordingly.

Here is a colour version:

Late (colour)

September Short Reviews of Everything Except Books

Tropic Thunder. (Last month’s, but I missed including it). One of those movies I can’t enjoy for a few reasons, but much of which I enjoyed. Most of that enjoyment centred around Robert Downey Jr – I love seeing actors playing “serious” characters mocking themselves (Extras has redeemed a few in my eyes), and it cracked me up watching him overdo the facial tics and movements I had noticed over several watchings of Iron Man.

Not Quite Hollywood. Well. The first fifth was sex scenes from ’70s movies and I didn’t actually look at the screen much. I am glad I stayed though, because the rest was brilliant, one of those generous, outrageous documentaries rich with clips and anecdotes and glimpses of pulp Australian movies I would really like to see (especially The Howling III: The Marsupials heheh), and “Quentin Tarantino: Fan” waxing lyrical over them. I can’t recommend the documentary, thanks to the first part, but I wouldn’t mind having a movie night based on some of the contents.

In Bruge. My sister said the language in this one didn’t count because of the accents. And it was a beautiful, bizarre, hilarious little movie – like Lock, Stock etc, but pretty.

Son of Rambow. A lovely, funny movie about two primary school boys, one raised strictly and without television (Plymouth Brethren) and one a delinquent who decide to film a sequel to Rambo. It was full of adventure, strange French exchange students and flying guide dogs, and felt in some respects like remembered children’s novels, but never like a children’s movie. It was set in the ’80s, too, and the best scene takes place in the senior common-room: it is shot just like all those parties to which previously uncool kids get invited and initiated into drugs and alcohol and tattoos, except the drugs were popping gum and scented erasers and the tattoos were temporary, and the dancing was to Michael Jackson. I would watch the movie again anyway, but also for this scene.

Picasso and His Collection. I went to see this on its last day, and am glad I did. I am less of a Picasso fan than an appreciator, but seeing influences and cross-references and sketches and exchanges between dozens of artists was fabulous. My favourite was the Bakst costume sketch (top left):

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The Mummy 3. One good thing: Michelle Yeoh. Awesome, awesome fighting clothes. I want to have greying hair and take on zombie hordes and wear green silk culottes. The rest was dreadful. Oh, except the Yetis. They were unexpectedly kind of cool.

Wall-E. Really, really frustrating movie because I keep wanting to quote it and can’t. There was barely any dialogue! But intelligent (if occasionally problematic) and sweet and lovingly detailed: my favourite feature of Pixar films are the tiny surprises, Wall-E’s collections, the details of mechanisation, the beauty in small and ugly things.

Tattersalls Landscape Art Exhibition. This is on annually in the foyer of our  building and RachelT came over to spend a lunch hour wandering around with me, critiquing and admiring and getting lost in paintings and speculating what we would buy if we had a spare $10k, and what sort of architecture you would need to carry them off.

Holly Throsby Concert. Here are Deb and I – I was not quite as awake as I may seem in this picture. I do not have the constitution for concerts, and it was very nice that Holly Throsby told everyone to sit back down on the floor once she finally got on stage, so we could stay on our sofa and watch and I could try to stay awake by only closing one eye at a time, because it was very enjoyable and I like her music and it was a good concert.

Portrait Party Moleskine continues

I’m back on deck and catching up with moleskine exchanges. This is cross-posted from the Moly_X Portrait Exchange One. You can click on the picture to see it larger on its Flickr page.

Vast Expanses of Blue

Marina's moly - Sign-in

My contribution to the sign in page for Marina’s moly – I can dance, but I can’t dance well!

Marina's moly - Me

Self portrait executed in broad strokes (and illustrating the dangers of using flash photographs for reference).

Marina's moly - Marina

When doodling gets out of hand.